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) 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!