Saturday, November 26, 2016

Arrival (2016)


Interruption to our normal programming…  Beware: Major Spoilers!

I haven’t felt like writing a review of a film in a long while. My previous movie musings are still available over at (mostly defunct) CelluloidSeduction.blogspot.com. After seeing this year’s ‘Arrival’, with major theme of communication, I am prompted to express my thoughts, rather than a review, on what makes this movie worth seeing.

Amy Adams, her of ‘American Hustle’ and ‘Batman v Superman’ fame, is chief protagonist, professor of linguistics Louise Banks. As the synopsis goes, the world’s nations teeter on the verge of war, Banks and her elite team of investigators, working for the US government, race against time to find a way to communicate with the ‘visitors’. Hoping to unravel the mystery, Banks takes a chance that could threaten her life. and quite possibly all of mankind.

Based on the short story by Ted Chiang, ‘Story of Your Life’, is a sci-fi conundrum, so to fully appreciate this movie you should cease reading anything more. I mean ANYTHING, even watching the trailer, as going in blind is the best way to experience this visceral masterpiece.

So stop here and come back when you’ve seen it.

Right, how was it for you? On a down-to-earth basics level it’s not bad as sci-fi goes, not many explosions or comic one-liners or mad-cap save-the-world heroics. These do exist in Arrival, but they are a whole different animal.

Some die-hard fans of ‘true sci-fi’, come out asking ‘what’s all the fuss about’? While others, leave this movie feeling like they’ve experienced something profound.

Questions about time, language, and ethics resonate throughout, just as you think you’ve figured it out something changes, ‘til suddenly you get it! Although the Aliens have their strange pictorial language, I worked out more or less that they are communicating with our protagonist via memories. Although there is some debate on this, as  the Aliens ‘experience non-linear time’. Therefore, the consensus is, Banks is actually living the future, or something.

Anyway, like all good sci-fi, the science doesn’t quite add up. There are flaws, no movie is ever perfect, but these flaws make for great debate. I predict this will be one for the annals, much like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although, as a former geek, I must admit that these past few years I’ve missed out on a lot of the contemporary stuff like Interstellar.

So, for me personally, this film is more about prophesy, after all, prophesy exists to avert catastrophe not predict it. That’s what I’ve read. This is the crux of the entire story… if you know something about the future and have a choice to change it, do you… and who do you tell about it?

There is a lot going on in this, a lot of clues mentioned in passing remarks, nuances, that it’s easy to miss the message.

At one point our man from the CIA says, to paraphrase:  ‘Of course there’s an alien threat as there is ‘NO ONE WORLD LEADER’ for them to talk to.” What is he trying to say, you can only wonder in paranoiac ways.

Arrival is many things to many people – if you’ve ever loved and lost, hoped and dreamed, regretted and reminisced, and pondered the age old questions of who we are, and where did we come from, you’ll find it all within the experience that is Arrival.

In essence this is no ordinary sci-fi movie, and you’ll either like it or think it slow, boring nonsense, but by the time you reach your conclusion, it’s already too late.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Musk Military Might

Obama cares, but so does Musk

April 2016... The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday awarded billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX an $83 million contract to launch a GPS satellite, breaking the monopoly that Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. have held on military space launches for more than a decade.

The Global Positioning System satellite will be launched in May 2018 from Florida, Air Force officials said.

Who was seen down at the Pentagon in June? CNN’s Ryan Browne lets us in on a not-so-secret secret meeting…

Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, met with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter Wednesday as the Pentagon looks to raise its technology game.

The focus of the closed-door get together was "innovation," according to a Defense Department spokesman, although Musk is also looking to win more government business for SpaceX, which launches satellites into orbit.

Neither Carter nor Musk spoke to reporters after their meeting, but Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook said Monday that Carter "has been reaching out to a number of members of the technology community to get their ideas, their feedback, find out what's going on in the world of innovation."

Musk tweeted Thursday about the visit and included a reference to the Marvel Comics' Iron Man character. He is thought to have partly inspired that character in the 2008 "Iron Man" film.

When asked by CNN's Barbara Starr if Musk's role as a defense contractor would complicate the meeting with Carter, Cook said: "The secretary knows very well the rules and regulations required, and how to keep those issues separate and apart and transparent."

Carter has focused intensely on promoting links between the Department and technology companies from the private sector, making a number of trips to Silicon Valley and establishing the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUX) in Silicon Valley and Boston.

Speaking in San Francisco in March, Carter said DIUX centers would allow the Pentagon "to better tap into the region's innovation ecosystem and build relationships with local companies."

He said one of his goals as secretary "has been to build and in some cases to rebuild the bridges between the Pentagon and America's wonderfully innovative and strong technology community."

The Pentagon is also inviting certain approved hackers to test the department's cybersecurity as part of its "Hack the Pentagon" initiative. According to Cook, the "controlled" pilot project will offer "bounties" to hackers who can identify and improve the Department's cyber vulnerabilities, a practice that is common in the private sector.

Musk is already playing a role in the defense industrial complex. His private space exploration company, SpaceX, has been actively competing for military contracts, seeking to provide rocket launch services to get military satellites into space.

The process of awarding the contracts has been at the center of a contentious fight on Capitol Hill.

SpaceX sued the Air Force in 2014 over what is said was an unfair process for competing for satellite launches before it was certified for military space launches in 2015.

The company successfully landed part of its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in April. SpaceX's landing could lead to possibilities of the company reusing rockets for future launches, potentially saving money and even time. Musk tweeted Tuesday that he hopes to reuse a space rocket this fall.

The only other certified launch provider is the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. ULA's Atlas space rocket uses Russian-made rocket engines.

Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. John McCain has slammed the Air Force and Department of Defense for continuing to rely on a space rocket that uses Russian-made engines.

During a January committee hearing, McCain charged that the use of Russian RD-180 rocket engines meant that the U.S. is "giving tens of millions of dollars to corrupt oligarchs." McCain also said the Russian company that manufactures the engines is overseen by board members that were placed under sanctions in the wake of the Russian armed annexation of Crimea in 2014.

"They are a bunch of thugs and cronies of Vladimir Putin, some of them are ex-KGB," McCain told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, referring to the board members in question.

But the Air Force and the Pentagon have been reluctant to completely stop purchasing the Russian engines, fearing that doing so would make ULA uncompetitive and leave SpaceX with a monopoly over military space launches. 

Being no fan of Russia, if Hillary wins the election, would she push for change?

Next up… Musk on Mars!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Musk's Sucker Punch


Back in 2015... "Elon Musk walks briskly onto the stage as hard rock blasts in the background. The guitar riff, which sounds like entrance music suitable for a professional wrestler or a minor-league cleanup hitter, fades out, and Musk surveys the crowd, nodding his head a few times and then sticking his hands in his pockets. "What I’m going to talk about tonight," he says, "is a fundamental transformation of how the world works."

The 44-year-old CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX (and the chairman of the solar energy provider SolarCity) is wearing a dark shirt, a satin-trimmed sports coat, and, at this moment, a knowing smirk. An admirer of Steve Jobs, Musk is an heir to the Silicon Valley titan in some psychic sense, but in a setting like this, he’d never be mistaken for the Apple founder.

Jobs worked the stage methodically, with somber reverence and weighty pauses, holding tightly choreographed events on weekday mornings for maximum media impact. Musk’s events, which are generally held at the press-¬unfriendly hour of 8 p.m. Pacific time, have a more ad hoc feel. His manner is geeky and puckish. He pantomimes and rephrases, rolls his eyes, and cracks one joke after another—his capacity for expression barely keeping pace with the thoughts in his head.

Musk begins by showing an image of thick yellow smoke pouring out of a series of giant industrial chimneys, contrasted with the Keeling Curve, the famous climate-change chart that shows more than 50 years of carbon dioxide levels soaring toward a near-certain calamity. It could be mistaken for something out of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. "I just want to be clear," Musk says, with a nervous giggle, his accent betraying his boyhood in South Africa. "This is real."

His comments on this April evening, in front of a raucous crowd of Tesla owners (and some reporters) at the company’s design studio in Hawthorne, California, are quintessential Musk—weighty but also a bit cheeky. They’re also just preamble. His electric-¬car manufacturer is launching a new product line: large batteries that store energy in homes and even larger batteries that do the same for utilities and businesses.

The Powerwall, a slender appliance designed to be mounted in your garage, comes in five colors and starts at $3,000; the Powerpack, an 8-foot-tall steel box that looks a bit like a utility transformer, is aimed at the energy industry and costs roughly $25,000. These prices are roughly half of what competing battery manufacturers charge.

"The issue with existing batteries is that they suck," Musk says. "They’re expensive. They’re unreliable. They’re stinky. Ugly. Bad in every way." The idea is to pair the new Tesla products with solar panels—either on the rooftops of homes or in large-scale solar farms—that will store energy during the day, when the sun is shining, so that it can be used in our homes, for free, at night instead of energy from power plants that produce greenhouse gases.

Musk thinks it just might be the key to solving the problem of global warming. He explains that if the city of Boulder, Colorado, population 103,000, bought a mere 10,000 Powerpacks and paired them with solar panels, it could eliminate its dependence on conventional power plants entirely. The U.S. could do the same with only 160 million of them. Then he offers even higher figures: 900 million Powerpacks, with solar panels, would allow us to decommission all the world’s carbon-emitting power plants; 2 billion would wean the world off gasoline, heating oil, and cooking gas as well.

"That may seem like an insane number," says Musk, but he points out that there are 2 billion cars on the road today, and every 20 years that fleet gets replaced. "The point I want to make is that this is actually within the power of humanity to do. It’s not impossible."

... Musk's Gigafactory will be unveiled soon.

(If you are interested in reading more of Max Chafkin's factory article go to: https://www.fastcompany.com/3052889/elon-musk-powers-up-inside-teslas-5-billion-gigafactory)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Musk's Super-highway

"I like velvet jackets, what's wrong with that?"
Part 5... By building a reliable rocket at an affordable cost, SpaceX hopes to be able to take small satellites into orbit for a fee of around $6 million. This is half the standard rate in the aerospace business to take something into space. The company already had two customers—the U.S. Department of Defense and the government of Malaysia.

"Many times we've been asked, 'If you reduce the cost, don't you reduce reliability?' This is completely ridiculous," 

Musk explained to Fast Company writer Jennifer Reingold. "

A Ferrari is a very expensive car. It is not reliable. But I would bet you 1,000–to–1 that if you bought a Honda Civic that that sucker will not break down in the first year of operation. You can have a cheap car that's reliable, and the same applies to rockets."

Musk serves as the chief technology officer of SpaceX. All employees are shareholders, and the company's casual but committed atmosphere is reinforced by the workday presence of Musk's four dogs. He no longer sleeps at the office, however, for he has a home, a wife there, and in the garage a McLaren F1, a $1.2 million car that is the fastest production, or non-customized race car, in the world.

He has testified before members of the U.S. Congress on the possibility of commercial human space flight and has also established the Musk Foundation, which is committed to space exploration and the discovery of clean energy sources.

The Foundation runs the Musk Mars Desert Observatory telescope in southern Utah, as well as a simulated Mars environment where visitors can experience what life on Mars might be like, including waste-burning toilets.

"I think human exploration of space is very important," he told Reingold. 

"Certainly, from a survival standpoint, the probability of living longer is much greater if we're on more than one planet."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Musk in Space

"Okay, I exaggerated, it's this big!"
Part 4... Musk thought that maybe he might be able to build his own rocket instead. He began contacting innovators and technicians in the American aerospace industry, and he managed to lure some experienced engineers and technical specialists away from companies like Boeing and TRW to come and work for him at SpaceX's headquarters in El Segundo, California. He had a much more difficult time attracting venture capital for this idea, however.

"Space is pretty far out of the comfort zone of just about every VC on Earth," he admitted to Matt Marshall of the San Jose Mercury News. Instead, he was forced to put up his own money to build what would become the first reusable rocket in the private sector.

Musk and his new SpaceX team began to build two types of Falcon rockets. The name came from the "Millennium Falcon," the spacecraft in the Star Wars movies. The plan was to build a rocket by using existing technology and at the lowest possible cost. The Falcon I, for example, uses a pintle engine, which dates from the 1960s. It has one fuel injector, while standard rockets used by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) generally use what is known as a "showerhead" design that features several fuel injectors. The company also needed a theodolite, which is used to align rockets, and instead of buying it new, they saved $25,000 by finding one on eBay.

There are other, equally expensive costs associated with rocketry. Since Musk's design would be reusable, the company needed to get back the rocket's first stage, which the rocket sheds as it leaves the Earth's atmosphere. The part usually falls into the ocean, according to safety plans, but retrieval at sea is expensive.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (1953–) is ranked the seventh richest person in the world. Allen has used his wealth to finance SpaceShipOne. This private manned spacecraft, built by aircraft design pioneer Burt Rutan (1943–), was the first of its kind to reach suborbital space twice, which it did in 2004. For this two-time achievement, SpaceShipOne met the conditions of the $10 million Ansari X prize, established by the X Prize Foundation to encourage private entrepreneurship in aerospace.

Doom video game co-creator John Carmack (1970) founded a computer game development company called id Software in 1991. He is considered one of the most gifted programmers ever to work in the gaming industry. He was one of the creators of the successful Doom and Quake games, which sold millions in the 1990s and attracted legions of devoted fans.

In 2000, Carmack funded a new venture, Armadillo Aerospace in Mesquite, Texas, with the goal of building a manned suborbital spacecraft. It lost its bid to win the Ansari X prize when its vehicles ran into technical problems and crashed in 2004 and 2005.

In 1995, Jeff Bezos (1964–) launched Amazon.com, an online bookseller that became one of the most impressive successes in American business history. With an estimated personal fortune of over $5 billion, Bezos began donating some of his wealth to various philanthropic causes, but he also established an aerospace company. His Blue Origin, like Allen and Carmack's ventures, is also committed to manned suborbital space flight. His project is to be propelled by a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and kerosene and is a vertical-takeoff and landing-vehicle.

Companies that contract with NASA charge $250,000 to bring such parts back, but Musk found some ocean-salvage companies that knew how to handle sensitive material. He found one that agreed to do the job for just $60,000. The Falcon does not have a specialty computer on board, which can cost $1 million alone to install and maintain. Instead its computer is a basic one that uses the same technology as an automatic teller machine and costs just $5,000.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Musk knows Cash is King


Part 3... In February 1999 Compaq Computer Corporation bought Zip2 for $307 million in cash, which was one of the largest cash deals in the Internet business sector at the time. Out of that amount, Musk was paid $22 million for his 7 percent share, which made him a millionaire at twenty-eight. In 1999, he used $10 million of it to start another company, which he called X.com. This was an online bank with grand plans to become a full-range provider of financial services to consumers. The company's one major innovation was figuring out how to securely transfer money using a recipient's e-mail address.

Musk's proven track record from Zip2 helped it gain serious attention and generous investors right away. Two important executives signed on with him: investment banker John Story and Bill Harris, the former chief executive officer of Intuit Corporation, the maker of the best-selling Quicken accounting software as well as TurboTax, a tax-preparation program. Harris was appointed president and chief executive officer of X.com, with Musk serving as company chair. The company received a generous infusion of $25 million in start-up capital from Sequoia Capital, a leading venture-capital firm in California.

X.com went online in December 1999 with a bold offer for new customers: those who opened an online checking account with X.com received a $20 cash card that they could use at an automatic-teller machine (ATM). If they referred a friend, they received a $10 card for each new member who signed up.

Within two months, X.com had one hundred thousand customers, which was close to the number reached by its major competitor, Etrade Telebank. But consumer skepticism about the security of online banking was X.com's biggest obstacle to success, and there was a setback when Musk and the other executives had to admit that computer hackers had been able to perform some illegal transfers from traditional bank accounts into X.com accounts. They immediately started a new policy that required customers to submit a canceled check in order to withdraw money, but there were tensions in the office about the future of the company.

In March 2000, X.com bought a company called Confinity, which had started an Internet money-transfer presence called PayPal. PayPal was originally set up to let users of handheld personal digital assistants, or PDAs, transfer money. It had only been in business a few months when X.com acquired it, and Musk believed that its online-transfer technology, which was known as "P2P" for "person-to-person," had a promising future. He and Harris did not agree, and Harris resigned from X.com in May 2000.

Five months later, Musk announced that X.com would abandon its original online bank and instead concentrate on turning itself into the leading global payment transfer provider. The X.com name was dropped in favor of PayPal.

PayPal grew enormously through 2001, thanks in part to its presence on eBay, the online auction Web site where person-to-person sales were happening in the hundreds of thousands. When PayPal became a publicly traded company with an initial public offering (IPO) of stock in February 2002, it had an impressive debut on the first day of Wall Street trading. Later that year, eBay bought the company outright for $1.5 billion. At the time, Musk was PayPal's largest shareholder, holding an 11.5 percent stake, and he netted $165 million in valuable eBay stock from the deal.

By then Musk had already moved on to his next venture. In June 2002 he founded SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies. He had long been fascinated by the possibility of life on Mars and was a member of the Mars Society, a nonprofit organization that encourages the exploration of the red planet. Filmmaker James Cameron (1954–) is one of several notable Mars Society members.

Musk wanted to create a "Mars Oasis," sending an experimental greenhouse to the planet, which in favorable alignment of the planets is about 35 million miles distant from Earth. His oasis would contain a nutrient gel from which specific Mars-environment-friendly plant life could grow. His plan had a cost of $20 million. But then he learned that to send something into space with the standard delivery method, a Delta rocket made by the Boeing Corporation, would add another $50 million to the cost.

Musk even tried to buy a rocket from Russia, but realized that dealing with the somewhat suspect international traders who dealt in such underground, or illegal, items was just too risky.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Entrepreneur Elon

"Yeah, it's this big!"

Part 2...   Elon Musk was a multi-millionaire by the time he reached the age of thirty-one thanks to his creation of the company that became PayPal, the popular money-transfer service for Web consumers. Musk has become one of a new breed of what the New York Times called "thrillionaires," or a class of former high-tech entrepreneurs who are using their newfound wealth to help turn science-fiction dreams into reality.

Musk is the founder of Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, a company based in El Segundo, California. In 2005 SpaceX was busy building the Falcon rocket, which he hoped could some day make both space tourism and a colony on the planet Mars realistic goals for humankind.

Musk is a native of South Africa, born in 1971 to parents who later divorced. His father was an engineer and his mother—originally from Canada—was a nutritionist. Musk was fascinated by science fiction and computers in his adolescent years. When he was twelve, he wrote the code for his own video game and actually sold it to a company. In his late teens, he immigrated to Canada in order to avoid the required military service for white males in South Africa.

It was still the era of apartheid, the South African legal system that denied political and economic rights to the country's majority-black native population. Musk was uninterested in serving in the army, which was engaged at the time in a battle to stamp out a black nationalist movement. Thanks to his mother's Canadian ties, he was able to enroll at Queen's University in Kingston, one of Ontario's top schools.

Musk had planned on a career in business, and he worked at a Canadian bank one summer as a college intern. This was his only real job before he became an Internet entrepreneur. Midway through his undergraduate education, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics and a second bachelor's in physics a year later.

From there, he won admission to the prestigious doctoral program at Stanford s. He moved to University in California, where he planned to concentrate on a Ph.D. in energy physicCalifornia just as the Internet boom was starting in 1995, and he decided he wanted to be in on it, too. He dropped out of Stanford after just two days in order to start his first company, Zip2 Corporation. This was an online city guide aimed at the newspaper publishing business, and Musk was able to land contracts with both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune to provide content for their new online sites.

Musk was just twenty-four when he started the company, and he devoted all of his energies to see it succeed. At one point,he lived in the same rented office that served as his company's headquarters, sleeping on a futon couch and showering at the local YMCA, which "was cheaper than renting an apartment," he explained in an interview with Roger Eglin of the Sunday Times of London.

Still, the company struggled to fulfill its contracts and meet the payroll and other costs, and he looked for outside financing. Eventually a group of venture capitalists, investors who provide start-up money to new businesses, financed Zip2 with $3.6 million, but he gave up majority control of the company in exchange.