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User Journal

Journal: Re-imagined Insight to challenge Prius' ascendancy

Journal by u-bend
In what probably amounts to good news for consumers eying a hybrid for their next vehicle purchase, Honda is resurrecting the "Insight" name, this time in the form of a five-seat, Prius-like hatchback. The automaker's announcement included the tantalizing statement that the cost would be "significantly below [that of] hybrids available today," but provided no further details on pricing. Although Honda may have some trouble unseating Toyota's dominance of this particular hybrid market, hopefully the Insight's reintroduction will help to make hybrid cars even more affordable to consumers. This is also welcome news to folks like myself who, after the initial flurry of excitement when the now-retired original Insight was introduced in '99, were left scratching their heads at Honda's hybrid strategy as Toyota picked up their dropped ball and ran with it.
Music

Journal: Popcuts music service aims to split the market difference.

Journal by u-bend
Today on a work break, I read a CNN article about a new online music retailer that rewards its members by giving them a cut of future sales of a song they initially buy. The earlier a song is purchased, the more the person gets paid when it is subsequently purchased. The company is called Popcuts. Although even the CNN article expresses doubt over the long-term efficacy of the business model, I think it's an interesting idea. The founders are trying to strike at a market that doesn't really exist yet in any substantive form, namely one that ideally appeals both to artists and labels who want to sell music, and to fans, who want music for free, or to be somehow invested in the distribution of it.

So, sound business practices (or lack thereof) aside, my interest was piqued, so I uploaded my latest mostly-finished, semi-polished (i.e. probably not going to have too much time to revise, so consider it done for now) song to the service to check it out. For those interested in a service's design and user experience, the artist editor is nice and clean, easy to use, and beats the pants off of some social networking sites I could mention.

The end result? Who knows? I think it's a cool idea though, regardless of whether it works or not. Here's the song, which right now is not available anywhere else, unless you've broken into my backup server at home. It was instantly available in the new items list on the home page as well, but I'm sure it's long since been replaced by newer songs. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this service.

I originally published this on my blog here.
User Journal

Journal: Near Extinction for Human Race 70k Years Ago

Journal by u-bend
In recent news from a subject that has always casually interested me, it seems that some now believe that the human race nearly became extinct about 70,000 years ago. We've heard human population fluctuation stories before, but this is the first I can recall that involves such a dramatic reduction, which, according to the article, had the population down to as low as 2000 individuals before the species' comeback. Interesting tidbits from the article:

The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age.

And:

The migrations of humans out of Africa to populate the rest of the world appear to have begun about 60,000 years ago, but little has been known about humans between Eve and that dispersal.
The new study looks at the mitochondrial DNA of the Khoi and San people in South Africa, who appear to have diverged from other people between 90,000 and 150,000 years ago.

Movies

Journal: 'Sunshine' is a must-miss... at least for Slashdot crowd. 3

Journal by u-bend
Well, being a cautious Danny Boyle fan, I went ahead against my best judgment and saw Sunshine this weekend. The premise, about our Sun burning out roughly 50 years from now, and our noble attempts to rekindle it, was suspect from the start, but I thought that Boyle and writer Alex Garland would be coming up with a plot that would make certain tramplings upon the laws of physics as we currently know them at least somewhat swallowable, as they ably did with other scientific Macguffins in 28 Days Later. I was totally wrong. Here are the most obvious physics problems that I can recall off the top of my head:

1. Star of our sun's age and mass dying out billions of years before it's due to (crappy excuse for a crappy premise of a crappy movie).
2. Space-time getting messed up from gravitational acceleration towards an object with the mass of our Sun--this is plain-old silly in my opinion; as far as I know, you'd have to get reasonably close to light speed in order for this to happen--if that were to happen to objects close to the Sun, we'd have bigger fish to fry in our solar system on a daily basis, like what are we going to do about the small black hole we've discovered in the same place as the Sun--bad times all around.
3. Sound in space--I know, this is an old movie convention, but come on, this was exactly the type of movie that should have been trying to be accurate. A rare example of good space physics in a movie is 2001. Serenity is pretty good in this respect too, but its TV series Firefly was even better.
4. The likelihood that we could build a shield that could withstand the heat of the Sun's corona, which in real life is much hotter than the surface. Couple this with the fact that once you're in the corona, anything behind the shield is toast. Moreover, the payload would be vaporized long before it reaches its target.
5. The idea that you could "restart" a star, let alone with a tiny bit of material. I know, it's supposed to be a chain reaction, yadda yadda, but PLEASE, once a star has converted all its fuel to heavier elements such as iron that cannot be used for nuclear fusion, you're done. Find another star and live there, cause yours is not coming back. Jeez, thought everyone knew that, duh.

Those are just the ones that come to mind. I suspect that's just scratching the surface of the physics problems, never mind the problems with the plot (e.g. is it likely that the world's best and most dedicated scientists are all petty, jealous, mean-spirited, and prone to such obvious and gross errors?). Additionally, many of the actors seemed mis-casted, and the dialogue was wooden at best. In fact, the best parts of interaction between the characters were the expository Alien-style sitting-around-the-mess-table sections. It's a shame that this movie didn't inspire or scare the way the Ridley Scott classic did. In case anyone's still planning on seeing this, I won't reveal the big plot turn at the middle of the movie. Suffice it to say that the intended effects--surprise, fear, tension, suspense, as far as I can tell--are not achieved, and I spent the second half of the movie in just as much incredulous boredom as I did the first.

You could ignore all 5 of the above trounces upon physics if the plot turn at the middle of the movie was at all revealing, insightful, or surprising, or showed you something about humanity that you didn't already know, or conspicuously pointed out something in a novel way, or, oh never mind. I've probably wasted even more of my life on this silly movie than is advisable.

Visually and auditorily, the movie is strong. The visual effects are stunning and the sound effects are jarring and effective. But... it's not enough. The implausibilities and shortcomings of the plot and premise outshine (so to speak) the masterful way in which the movie was filmed and edited.

Wikipedia has a good entry about stars, that may be informative, and may ruin your enjoyment of some of these types of plot devices (if you already didn't know these things), but I'd rather know than enjoy--I'm masochistic that way! There's also a good entry about our Sun. The lifecycle section gives you roughly the perspective you need on the scientific follies clumsily employed in the movie. Really, I know it's JUST a plot device, but people should be doing their homework better these days, and much of their target audience is going to know better anyway. If you're going to go ahead and write a movie with this premise, you HAVE to explain why the Sun's having unexpected problems 5 billion or so years before it's supposed to.

I know, lots of this information is known and considered obvious to much of the Slashdot crowd, and my understanding of physics is dwarfed by many of my peers here. But my point is that the movie's plot sucked in a manner that egregiously outweighed my ability to accept the scientific laziness that pervaded the film (a laziness that became so annoying that it began tempting me in my boredom, to construe it as contempt that the writer had for his audience's knowledge of the Universe). For this reason alone--the way in which Garland/Boyle insult their target audience--the film should be ignored, and definitely scores as a must-miss for the Slashdot crowd.

If you'd like to discuss this movie in a non-Slashdot environment for whatever reason, go here.

It's not so hard to lift yourself by your bootstraps once you're off the ground. -- Daniel B. Luten

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