Archive for August, 2014

Six movies about the future

9 August 2014

In the past two weeks or so I purchased six movies on disc. One of them (ostensibly) has nothing to do with the future (one of the Lord Of The Rings series) and one is marginally about the future (mostly about the near past) but included here as a kind of reality check. The first one on the list was purchased earlier.

During the last week I watched (or re-watched) all these movies on my new A/V system (see previous post). Let’s list them out in the order they were released:

The Mouse that Roared (1959, based on a 1955 novel).
2001 A Space Odyssey (1968, Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke collaborate).
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005 – based on an idea that started around 1978).
Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006 – based on historical events of the previous ten years).
Oblivion (2013 – based on a graphic novel by Joseph Kosinski).
Elysium (2013 – based on an idea by Neill Blomkamp).

I mentioned writers’ names for most of these films, but I won’t get into who those people are and what their purposes are. They are all dealing with timeless themes that we, as a “maturing” society, are being pushed into whether we like it or not.

The Mouse that Roared deals with the human potential to blow up planets and dreams up one fanciful handling for this “little problem.” The remains of one less fanciful result of this technology exists in the form of the asteroid belt. Yes, several researchers are quite sure it was once a planet. Hubbard is quite sure that planet was destroyed in a war.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide (the movie – I haven’t read the book) begins with the total destruction of earth by a moronic group of bureaucratic ETs. I wonder if Adams knew how possible this actually is! Of all these films, it is my favorite.

To me, A Space Odyssey (which obviously refers back to the ancient Greek Odyssey and its hero Odysseus) is mainly a setting for 2 major works of music: Also sprach Zarathustra and The Blue Danube waltz, and “four highly modernistic compositions by György Ligeti that employ micropolyphony…” (Wikipedia). Though definite themes regarding Man’s reliance on machines, etc., exist in the story, these seem downplayed in favor of pure art.

Who Killed the Electric Car documents the events surrounding the creation and destruction of a fleet of battery-powered cars by General Motors Corporation between the years 1995 and 2005. The biggest problem with these events was that GM was less than forthcoming concerning their motives in creating the cars and their subsequent plans to destroy them. Out of over 1,000 vehicles produced, only about 40 were not destroyed, and all those had their engines removed. The cars were not destroyed because they didn’t work; all the cars worked great.

Now we jump to Oblivion. Here we get a bit more on the edge, partly because the whole story is never told; you have to piece it together yourself. As the story goes (if you re-linearize it) in about 2017 earth is attacked by ET invaders. Some of the survivors of the war are made to think that they won, and that more survivors left on earth who are still fighting are of ET origin. However, the situation is actually reversed. The ETs did win, leaving a huge artificial intelligence craft called the “Tet” (tetrahedron – it looks like an inverted pyramid) to run the place. When the Tet was first approached by a human craft, it captured its crew, wiped their memories, cloned them, and used them as its workers. The cloned workers thought the Tet was theirs, but it wasn’t. It was an ET machine. By implication, most if not all of the human clones looked like the commander of that last human ship (Jack Harper played by Tom Cruise) or one of his female crew mates (called Victoria). Jack’s real-life wife was also on board that ship, but in a rear compartment in “delta sleep.” At the last minute, when the original Jack realizes they have been fooled, he releases the rear compartment which eventually (60 years later?) lands back on earth. The Jack we are following when the movie starts (#49) is having memories of his earlier times with his real wife. Apparently all the Jacks on earth share these memories to some extent. Jack #49 finally figures this all out, and accomplishes a suicide mission to blow up the Tet. Two years later Jack #52 finds Jack’s wife living with her two year old daughter at Jack #49’s hideout in the hills. They agree that #52 is a good enough copy to make it work.

Elysium (after an early Greek concept of a kind of heaven on earth, reserved for special people) is contemporaneous with Oblivion. But no evil and deceptive ETs this time. In this story all the evil comes from humans. The movie is basically a scifi action flick. Elysium is an invitation-only space colony. Most people on earth were not invited. Earth has been allowed to deteriorate into a place that is almost unlivable. And yet it still remains overcrowded! The story tells how, by a series of somewhat unlikely events, all of humanity on earth get accepted for citizenship at Elysium. The hero, again, dies in order to save the human race. Several bad guys die, too.

Common Themes

Concentration on the physical

Physicality has been a prime fascination for us since it was invented. And that was a long time ago! Yet we have also always given importance to the non-physical, and Hubbard discovered more than 60 years ago just how important it is. Many others besides Hubbard have realized that assigning cause for the creation of physicality to that same physicality makes no sense. If physicality WAS created, then only something non-physical could have created it. Many people, even scientists, have had to admit that all the evidence points in this direction. Yet none of these movie-stories take us in that direction. A Space Odyssey probably comes the closest, with its long sequence of abstract images near the end, accompanied by bizarre modern music. And then the hero dies, and when he comes back to earth he sees it from the eyes of a glowing being that looks like a fetus. The imagery is extremely abstract!

And again, only A Space Odyssey tries to deal with the idea that evil entered into the human psyche from some poorly understood and enigmatic source. Even the computer HAL 9000 somehow gets infected by this mysterious source, and is only turned off by the hero after killing several humans in its care.

Deception

In these stories, standing in, in a way, for the world of the non-physical, we have deception. It is actually a major theme in the first movie. A tiny “country” declares war on the US for the sole purpose of losing the war and collecting foreign aid. Then at the end of the movie, the “Q” bomb which this tiny country has come to possess turns out to be a dud. But this is kept secret because that bomb has become the key to world peace.

In A Space Odyssey, the US space agency decides to keep secret the fact that it has found evidence for the existence of a higher ET intelligence on the moon. It instead spreads the story that there is a disease epidemic on the moon base which has been placed under quarantine. Likewise, the two astronauts try to deceive HAL that they plan to turn him off, but HAL finds out by reading their lips, while keeping his own plans to kill all the humans on his ship a secret from them.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide, being a comedy, does not dwell on this subject so much. However, it does deal with all sorts of supernatural phenomena and ideas, and postulates a large and vibrant ET community. This is more in line with other popular scifi stories such as the Star Trek series, the Star Wars series, and other “space opera” stories that are actually laced with big doses of possibility.

Who Killed the Electric Car makes a strong argument for a deceptive angle to those events. GM swears by its version of the story, but the facts just don’t add up. There was obviously oil money at work, and that means banking interests, and that means City of London. And that leads to a pretty much proven den of thieves. Yet no one can come out and just talk about that aspect of life on earth!

Oblivion is all about deception and in particular, mind control. This is a much-rumored ET ability and demonstrable at the human level in the form of stage hypnotism. Mechanisms for “mind control” definitely exist and have been used. Yet the average person is told almost nothing about this, even through these movies. This was Hubbard’s bridge into the realm of the spiritual (the non-physical) and it could be that be for all of humanity if we could just confront it. I am aware, however, that it is a subject not easily confronted.

In Elysium deception is mostly of the classic good-guy versus bad-guy form. When skillfully done, such stories show up the weaknesses of evil. Yet, when the hero has to die at the end, the incentive to fight evil does dull a bit.

Advanced Technologies

This is of course a hallmark of scifi. It made sense in the times of Jules Verne (France, late 1800s) but starts to feel a bit quaint now. The question now is not how advanced technology can get, but how does it work, how do we make it, and is there any way to make it safe in human hands?

These are eternal questions when we realize that advanced technologies have been in use in the various “space opera” societies for millions of years. They include all those recently (past 200 years) discovered on earth as well as many more yet to be discovered. Being familiar with Hubbard’s findings on this subject, one becomes curious about aspects of it that most popular stories don’t touch, such as: How do these technologies get rediscovered on developing planets? Do any of the discoverers ever become aware of where their knowledge came from? How much imbalance between helpful and harmful uses of technologies can be tolerated before a society starts to decay? How decayed (really) are the space opera societies that still exist, after using such technologies for uncountable thousands of years?

Elysium concentrates on medical advances and the use of robots to control (police) people. These are all real possibilities. It touches on mind-machine interfaces, which the Matrix movies are famous for. But I think this theme is not well thought out. In A Space Odyssey (and Star Trek) people just talk to the computer system and it does what they ask…usually. The issue of how a machine mind could be corrupted is important and not much developed in these stories, though many of them use it as an important plot angle. The idea that a being could directly take over a computer is not much touched on yet in scifi, yet per Hubbard’s work is a distinct possibility.

Questions that really matter

None of these films are particularly good at delving into the questions that really matter. I like Hitchhiker’s Guide because it at least plays with some of them a bit.

One theory on why this is is that the story writers are just not that aware.
Another theory is that such discussions are being actively suppressed by a ruling group whose power depends on us not confronting and working out real answers to these questions.

Here are a few:

Is there any way to make biology a viable game, or should we abandon it in favor of more robust life forms?

Could the whole deteriorating trend in the universe ever be reversed?

How would a society work if biological beings in it had supernatural powers? If it was only the ruling classes? If it was everybody?

What can a race do if its planet is destroyed? Can it do anything? Is it worth it?

If we could create a new game in this universe, one that has never been played before and rises into tone levels that most of us lost the ability to maintain thousands, if not millions, of years ago, what would it look like?

HDMI Exposed!

9 August 2014

It all started innocently enough…
I was wandering the aisles of my local Shopko when, there it was, seemingly alone on its shelf…a Blu-ray edition of Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968). I had never seen it. Well, I thought, I should pick it up and find a way to play it…

Digital Video

Blu-ray is a data storage technology. A blu-ray optical disc has roughly 25GB of storage capacity compared to 5GB for a DVD. It uses a blu-violet laser to read the disc and a smaller spot size.

The importance of this technology to “the industry” is digital video. Digital movies have become a huge business. They are also a most potent way for corporate America (or the global military-industrial complex – however you want to look at it) to get its messages across to a live audience. Story telling has always been used for this.

In the Old Days of video, the picture wasn’t digital. It was an analog signal combined with digital synchronizing signals. It was used for TV for years. Movies used film; they still do. But now the frames of film can be digitized into digital video. They put films onto video tapes for TV shows using a similar process. Video tapes were the first way for consumers to buy movies and watch them at home. But that video was very coarse compared to the film it was made from. And so the pressure was on to bring video up closer to the quality of film. Digital video was seen as the answer.

Home movie watchers want an experience more like they get at a movie theater. And that means “high-definition” (HD) video and “surround sound” audio. People have “theaters” in their homes all set up to view movies the way they are shown in a movie theater. And blu-ray gives people a way to buy (or rent) high-definition movies on disc.

Encoding

Digital data of any type must be stored using some sort of coding system. It’s just a binary number until it’s decoded and its significance to humans (if any) is retrieved. Computer science has worked out hundreds (if not thousands) of coding schemes to turn data that means something to people into streams of binary numbers. In its digital state, data is relatively meaningless. But while in that state it can be reliably manipulated to include, for instance, encrypting, which then requires someone who wants to decode it to also have a decryption “key.” Both of these features of digital data – encoding and encrypting – are seen as valuable to people who think they have the “rights” to the data and should be able to charge others for the privilege of using it.

HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface)

When I got home with my blu-ray disc, I discovered that none of the optical disc players in my house were blu-ray compatible. That means I had to purchase a player. I looked online and found a refurbished one at NewEgg for what I thought was a reasonable price and purchased it. When it arrived a few days later, I found out that the player had only one output on the back: HDMI.

I had heard of HDMI, but I had no equipment that used it. My DVD player outputs analog video and audio; easy to make copies from this output. But HDMI is totally digital; difficult to make copies from this output. That’s why “the industry” likes it!

Actually, the HDMI system is pretty cool. It has four channels of very high speed digital, transmitted on “differential” twisted-pair lines the way ethernet signals are. These channels can go really fast. That means they can squeeze high-definition video PLUS up to 8 channels of digital audio (32 channels with version 2.0) through an HDMI cable, plus let the source of the signal “talk” to the receiving equipment to ensure all licensing fees have been paid by the manufacturer of the receiver!

None of this solved my problem of not yet being able to view the movie I bought.

And I didn’t see buying an HDMI TV ($500 and up) as an option.

Handling the video signal

Video is relatively easy with HDMI. I have computer monitors with DVI inputs (another digital video connection system) and the signals are compatible. Just get an adapter that has DVI on one end and an HDMI connector at the other. Then connect disc player to monitor with an HDMI cable.

Problem: No sound!

Handling the audio

Older blu-ray players had analog audio outputs (I am told). I couldn’t find one. I tried a gizmo that converts HDMI to VGA video (that’s analog but for computers) and analog audio. My player talked to it and decided it wasn’t licensed. Nothing came out!

At this point I went a little crazy. I tried my best to research it all out on the internet and make the right decision. From what I read it sounded like I needed an “A/V Receiver” and maybe even an “A/V Preamp.” A/V preamps specialize in pulling the audio out of HDMI signals. They are considered “top end” and are très cher (very expensive). Not an option.

I settled for an older A/V receiver. It had lots of audio amplifiers. If worse came to worse, I could use them for something else. It had an HDMI input, so I figured all would be good. I wanted to make sure I would have one that worked so I bought two of them! The first one arrived, I opened it and got out the manual, and there in the fine print…”the audio signals which are input into the HDMI IN cannot be reproduced on this receiver.” Wow. I had 12 60 watt audio amplifiers at my disposal and still…no sound!

The next day I went back to Shopko and got a blu-ray player there that was on clearance sale for $70. It had a coaxial digital audio output. I remembered that the receiver had a coaxial digital audio input. I was going to be in business.

I haven’t studied the manual for my Sherwood RD-5405 Audio/Video Receiver yet. It’s a computer-controlled gizmo like all these “modern” electronic things are. But I read enough to figure out how to connect it up to some speakers I had laying around, and to my new blu-ray player, and to one of my computer monitors, and I finally got to watch the movie I’d purchased about 2 weeks earlier!

(See the next post for more about some movies I watched.)