Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

I happened on clerk dogs, a new movie recommender, the other day.  They are still in beta and are missing data in many key areas of film, but they are definitely worth checking out.  Like Pandora, clerk dogs uses human editors to classify movies along several dimensions.  Indeed, the founder Stuart Skorman (also founder of calls it the movie genome project.  Of course, another movie recommender (also, still in beta) is using that term.  Stuart goes on to say:

We have designed this innovative search engine for the movie buffs who have seen so many movies that they’re having a hard time finding new ones (or old ones) that they will really love. I hope you find hundreds of great movies!



This is a problem I’ve been noticing with Netflix lately.  I would be pretty sure I’ve seen every sci-fi movie worth seeing that has been released if all I had to go on was Netflix’s recommendations.  I gave clerk dogs a shot, starting with my favorite movie.  They seem to have done a decent job with classifying Brazil and a number of the similar movies they have listed are indeed similar in many ways to it.  When I first visited the site, they showed the similar movies on a grid and said whether it was “more dark”, “less disturbing”, “more violent”, and so on.  If that functionality still exists, I can’t find it.

However, you can “Mash it” to find movies that fit your mood.  Pick your base movie and mash it.  Then change the sliding scale to decide what sort of differences you are looking for.  Can you say kickass?

I applaud clerk dogs for a job well done.  I’ve already found a number of movies that Netflix was hiding from me.  I added them to my Netflix queue though so I guess they are still benefitting.

Michael Crichton died yesterday of cancer at age 66. Crichton was a favorite while I was growing up and was probably a big influence in my decision to pursue science as a career. I blazed through The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Eaters of the Dead, Prey, and others. I thought Prey was pretty cool in terms of exploring emergent behavior, though the level of suspension of disbelief was especially high.

A couple of years ago, I read State of Fear. It really played off my cynicism and I started looking into the possibility that the whole global warming thing was bogus. The more I looked, though, the more it became clear that it was Crichton’s points that were bogus. At that point, I lost respect for him. Thinking back now, it’s clear that one of Crichton’s most common themes was the danger of science unhindered by morality and pursued without caution. That’s a good goal, I think. Despite the fact that he went overboard railing against environmentalism, he managed to educate readers about science while keeping them entertained.

On balance, I think it is a good legacy.

Top 48 Sci-Fi Adaptations

Posted: 26 August 2008 in Uncategorized
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I just saw this meme on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and since he didn’t tag anyone, and I’ve never done this sort of thing before, I figured what the heck.  Just as he tagged no one, nor will I.  This is for my fleeting amusement and as an escape from the joys of moving.  The chain-letter-like aspect of “tagging” people is somewhat repulsive to me.

From Box Office Mojo’s list of Top 48 Sci-Fi Films Based on a Book (or Story) (1980- present). Some of the titles on this list look suspicious. (Was Cocoon really based on a piece of written fiction? There’s a difference between an adaptation and a novelization.)

Here are the rules.

– Copy the list below.
– Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.
– Italicize the movie titles for which you started the book but didn’t finish it.
– Tag 5 people to perpetuate the meme. (You may of course play along anyway.)

And now, the list…

1. Jurassic Park
2. War of the Worlds
3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
4. I, Robot
5. Contact
6. Congo
7. Cocoon
8. The Stepford Wives
9. The Time Machine
10. Starship Troopers
11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
12. K-PAX
13. 2010
14. The Running Man
15. Sphere
16. The Mothman Prophecies
17. Dreamcatcher
18. Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
19. Dune
20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
23. Battlefield Earth
24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
25. Fire in the Sky
26. Altered States
27. Timeline
28. The Postman
29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
30. Solaris
31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
32. The Thing(Who Goes There?)
33. The Thirteenth Floor
34. Lifeforce(Space Vampires)
35. Deadly Friend
36. The Puppet Masters
37. 1984
38. A Scanner Darkly
39. Creator
40. Monkey Shines
41. Solo(Weapon)
42. The Handmaid’s Tale
43. Communion
44. Carnosaur
45. From Beyond
46. Nightflyers
47. Watchers
48. Body Snatchers

I’ve read most of the books on that list that I’d consider worth reading.  Any recommendations for the ones I haven’t?

An afternoon in Seattle

Posted: 10 August 2008 in Uncategorized
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I got to spend much less time in Seattle than I did in Boston, though I did manage to walk around the city a bit.  I visited Pike Street Market, which looked like it would have been awesome if I could have gotten there much earlier.  In the evening when I got there, things were closing down.  I also walked to the Space Needle and kicked in the $16 to ride to the top.  It’s a bit expensive for the ability to ride an elevator and take some pictures, but it was so peaceful at the top (even with the tourists) that I think it was worth it.

I have been told by many people that Seattle in the summer is spectacular and I have to agree.  The temperature was very moderate, the weather was mostly good, and there were people everywhere.  It’s a very clean and vibrant city.  The customer service at most places was consistently the nicest I’ve ever encountered, which was really surprising.  I hadn’t heard anything bad, I just didn’t expect it.  The only drawback I saw was that there were a crapload of homeless people, and they were very forward with asking for money.  There were also a lot of street musicians, and I’m not so sure most of them weren’t homeless.  One guy with no shirt was channeling Kurt Cobain.  It was so stereotypically Northwestern grunge that I wanted to laugh.

I managed to finish two books on the journey:  The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer Lytton and Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery, both of which I picked up in Boston.  The Coming Race tells the story of a man who ventures to a strange land and encounters a race of post-humans who have discovered a powerful energy source called vril.  It’s an interesting early commentary on individuality and communism, untainted by the failed Soviet experiment.  I highly recommend it if you like early sci-fi like H.G. Wells or Jules Verne.  Spaceman Blues is the complete opposite.  It’s modern poetry-made-prose.  I’ve always enjoyed experimental sci-fi.  If that’s your thing, too, then you’ll probably like this.  I can see this book being taught in literature classes in the near future.  I picked up Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko for something to read on the flight back.  It was originally in Russian, so of course I’m reading the translation.  There has been a movie made of it, which I’ve seen and is why I picked it up.  The movie rocked, and the book is great so far.

And now for the pictures.

Steampunk Death Star

Posted: 30 March 2008 in Uncategorized
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Just stumbled on this really cool site if you like steampunk and Star Wars. Being a huge fan of both, I recommend checking it out. If you’re a Star Wars purist, avoiding it might be healthier. The reimagining of Jabba the Hut and the Death Star are the best imo.

Steampunk version of the Death Star from Star Wars

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke died yesterday.  He touched many lives through his writing and his ideas had an impact on me at an early age with short stories like “The Nine Billion Names of God” and movies based on his books like 2010 (which I saw in the theater) and later 2001 (which I saw as a young man).   His novel Rendezvous with Rama is being made into a movie and IMDB is quoting 2009 as the release date.  I thought it was interesting to find out he had been living in Sri Lanka for some time.

I visited my family in Ohio this past weekend and my uncle made a few interesting points.  He’s an old-school spring engineer, meaning he learned coming up through the trade rather than by going to school, and he supervises a number of employees at a relatively small spring company.  My grandfather used to own a spring company called, shockingly enough, Adams & Sons Spring Co.  That was later bought out and a number of the employees were moved to a different plant, including my dad and uncle.  So anyhow, my uncle was telling me a story, which I won’t go into, but the heart of it is that you should not wait for people to hand you “what you deserve.”  If you are a leader, regardless of your job title, then lead.  If you see someone who needs help, don’t wait for them to ask you.  Help.  Show that you have the initiative.  That’s probably fairly obvious, I mean we’ve all heard it before, but it came at a particularly important time for me.

I’ve been on twitter for a while now, though I don’t update it super-regularly like some people.  It’s fun and I hope more of my friends start using it, but I’ve noticed an interesting trend.  Just about anything is open to potential spam.  Friendster is sick with it.  MySpace is abominable.  LinkedIn seems fairly immune and I’ve gotten very few spam friend requests from Facebook.  Twitter has so far been very good about it, but there is a new trend that I’ve found interesting.  You can follow people and people can follow you on twitter.  So your status updates are public and potentially seen by thousands of people.  How do you increase the number of people who follow you?  Follow them, of course!  I’m having random people follow me left and right.  It only helps me, since I don’t follow them back, but it’s interesting to note.

I just watched Next starring Nicolas Cage and Jessica Biel.  Oh and Julianne Moore.  I liked it a lot, mainly because it brought together a slew of my favorite elements:  people who can see the future (precogs) and nuclear explosions.  And other explosions.  Plus it was based on a short story by one of my favorite writers of all time:  Philip K. Dick.  Now if they had only found different actors than Nicolas Cage and Julianne Moore, we might have had a more appealing movie.  Spoilers beneath the fold.  This isn’t so much a review as a statement of what I found cool about it.


Ants are awesome

Posted: 17 March 2008 in Uncategorized
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Researchers in the video below filled an ant colony with concrete and dug it out to see just how exactly the colony was organized underground. The results are just plain awesome. Ants farm fungus and use livestock (aphids), build cities and wage wars. What the video refers to as a hive consciousness is emergent behavior: each ant following a series of simple rules results in a collective behavior that appears to be driven by a single conscious mind.

City by Clifford D Simak

This reminds me of one of my favorite books growing up: City by Clifford D. Simak. Simak seems to be a virtually forgotten author these days, though you can occasionally find his books in a Barnes & Noble (and of course, widely available online). City was probably his best work and had an incredible vision (it was written in 1952). I won’t spoil much, but he introduces the idea of a colony of ants that is given the opportunity to survive many winters. They learn to produce heat on their own and make several appearances as the tale unfolds over hundreds of years. I highly recommend it and it’s one of my favorite sci-fi books of all time. I’ve also read The Goblin Reservation and The Visitors by him and I can recommend the former. The latter I still enjoyed, but if you are going to check out anything he has done, make that the third choice. Simak has an easy-to-read style that incorporates fantastic elements into what would otherwise be hard sci-fi, raising interesting philosophical questions in the process.

A short while ago, I wrote about the movie The Island starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. The studio was sued by the makers of Parts: the Clonus Horror for copyright infringement. A judge agreed that the case could proceed to court, at which point it was settled for a rumored 7-figure amount. Netflix, in a moment of recommender system success, presented me with none other than this movie! Fortunately for me, it was the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version. As usual, it was hilarious and far more enjoyable than if I had watched this atrocious bomb of a movie with no commentary.

Spoilers about Parts: the Clonus Horror and The Island are to follow.



Posted: 21 January 2008 in Uncategorized
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I just got back from watching Cloverfield. There are very few movies so interesting to me that I will actually go by myself to see them. I had tried to get a friend to come along, but he complained of “homework” and other such nonsense, and Donna can’t handle anything with monsters in it. Without spoiling anything, I will say that the movie was absolutely freaking awesome. It was definitely a brilliant new take on the classic monster movie.

Since this is my blog, let me just rant quickly: people who bring six-year-olds to movies like this are bad parents. You’re just not a good parent if you do this. You are bad. And stupid. You may think your kid can handle it, but you are wrong. And stupid. Ok, back to the movie.

Spoilers follow. I am putting a preview here to take up space on the page to prevent you from accidentally reading further if you don’t want to see the spoilers.