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The Biology of B-Movie Monsters 120

Ant writes "The Biology of B-Movie Monsters is a published paper about the reality of movie-monster anatomy in 2003. In the paper, Michael C. LaBarbera explores the implications of extremely large and extremely small fantasy creatures, whose mass, volume and surface-area scale at different rates as they are shrunk/enlarged (e.g., ants can carry many times their body-weight, but if they were the size of tigers, they'd be crushed under their own carapaces). Other issues covered include the respiratory difficulties of Mothra, the biomechanics of Jurassic Park dinosaurs, and the reason E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial is so effing cute.."
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The Biology of B-Movie Monsters

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  • Chicken. (Score:5, Funny)

    by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <aussie_bob&hotmail,com> on Saturday September 02, 2006 @02:40AM (#16028856) Journal
    Sadly, LaBarbera completely avoids the issue of whether Godzilla steaks taste like chicken. Enquiring minds want to know.
  • ET (Score:3, Funny)

    by megrims ( 839585 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @02:52AM (#16028865)
    ET was designed to be cute!?

    I shall never trust the film industry again.
  • by Richard W.M. Jones ( 591125 ) <richNO@SPAMannexia.org> on Saturday September 02, 2006 @02:54AM (#16028866) Homepage
    This classic paper, On Being the Right Size [ucla.edu] written by JBS Haldane in 1928 covers the same ground in a very readable style.

    Rich.

    • by hotdiggitydawg ( 881316 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @04:39AM (#16028989)
      While we're talking B-Movie monsters, it's worth mentioning the recent paper [arxiv.org](PDF warning) by a couple of physicists proving the nonexistence of vampires and ghosts [abc.net.au]. Interestingly they didn't show zombies couldn't exist - although they at least came up with a more plausible explanation.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Vampire mythology deals with the problem by positing that only some who are victims are turned to vampires - I'm surprised even a joke paper is ignorant of this (even Bram Stoker's book which arguably launched the modern vampire myth was careful enough to note that vampires choose whether their victims should become vampires in turn).

        As for ghosts - supernatural forces by definition are not natural forces. But if you want to deal with "walking" and moving through walls we only need to posit that ghosts exer
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by grahamlee ( 522375 )
        They did show that zombies which bite you and turn you into other zombies couldn't exist, for the same reason that the vampires couldn't. Although didn't the Romero trilogy end up with the entire world being zombies except for one human outpost? Anyway, the existence of zombie poison has been widely [webster.edu] documented [dhushara.com] for decades. It's not merely a plausible explanation, it's the explanation.
      • by benwb ( 96829 )
        Their research on vampires is flawed though. They assume that every time a vampire feeds the human is killed and a new vampire is created. Except in a few cases of recent fiction, most vampires in the western tradition return month after month to the same victim, or do not kill when they feed.
      • Wow, I don't see a publication out of this one. I could have dashed this off in an afternoon *and* had someone proof-read it for me.

        The 'research' isn't particularly detailed. About 15% of the paper is devoted to explaining how heat is just energy moving around. Although I'm not a believer, this paper is essentially saying "Ghosts etc. can't exist because they violate the laws of physics." Duh.
        • this paper is essentially saying "Ghosts etc. can't exist because they violate the laws of physics."

          Well, um, being that it was written by a bunch of physicists and all, for a bunch of physicists (since it's on arXive), isn't this to be expected?

          Now, I'm sure if the professors from the Womens Studies department write a followup paper, that'll be some really good reading.

      • by Dirtside ( 91468 )
        The problem with the way that they show vampires can't exist (geometric progression) is that they assume that no vampires ever die. In most vampire fiction, vampires are frequently killed via wooden stake, sunlight, fire, decapitation, or other means. So as long as the rate of vampire death was high enough, vampires could continue to exist in small numbers, without wiping out humans.

        There's also the fact that most vampire fiction these days doesn't assume that being bitten automatically turns you into a v
      • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @04:53PM (#16030830)

        While we're talking B-Movie monsters, it's worth mentioning the recent paper(PDF warning) by a couple of physicists proving the nonexistence of vampires and ghosts.

        Ghost can't be touched => ghost can't touch the floor => ghost can't walk.

        Unless, of course, the ghost can fly (for example, by expelling neutrinos or some other hard to detect particles that nonetheless can have nonzero momentum) and is simply pretending to walk to mess with your mind - one would imagine that after overcoming death gravity would not be much of a challenge ? Or maybe the ghost is walking on the ghostly version of the stairs - a bit like it's still wearing clothes despite the clothes not being alive when it was alive (in other words maybe the stairs are part of the ghost) ? Or maybe the ghost is actually somehow imprinted in the house and is just projecting an image of itself walking ? Heck, maybe the ghost is normally dormant (since it has no functional neurons) but jumps into living brains when some come near, and you sense its presence in your body as chills and strange visions ?

        About the sudden cold it's hard to say anything, since the author failed to say anything but suggest that there might be drafs in old houses, which is certainly true but does absolutely nothing to prove the nonexistence of ghosts or even rule them out as the possible source of sudden cold.

        In other words, the paper fails to prove anything about ghosts but plenty about its author's lack of imagination.

        The proof against vampires runs into even simpler problem: a vampire is supposed to be an intelligent being with full access to its logical faculties. In other words, a vampire is quite capable of understanding what will happen if it lets everyone it feeds upon to become a new vampire, and can easily prevent this just by destroying the corpse. In fact, several vampire mythos (such as Dracula) indicate that in order to become a vampire you must drink vampires blood; simply being drained dry by one kills you dead.

        Now, I understand that it may be hard to think about the existence of ghosts and vampires seriously; however, when you start accusing others of "pseudoscience", you'd damn well better get even basic logic right yourself. A half-assed paper is half-assed and does no one any good. The paper fails to show that the existence of vampires or ghosts is "contradictory to simple facts". The writer of the paper should devote less time to accuse others of lack of critical thinking and concentrate on improving his own.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by quin_chance ( 975766 )
      I've seen most of this before in various places, although the colourful comparisons lift it above the normally high school-like accounts.

      I think the writer could do with a few more palentology lessons before reassessing the comments on JP though.

      He seems to have a biologist's preconceptions that life then is exactly the same formula as life now... with species occupying identical niches to those today, a vision that's as alien and unreal as the pro-evolutionist's "Noah couldn't get the triceratops up t

    • by tinkerton ( 199273 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @06:15AM (#16029153)
      consists, surprisingly, of two parts. The part about inertia is famous. The other part is about scaling laws, why bones must become thicker if you scale up an animal and so on.
    • One somewhat glaring mistake: "As a matter of fact an insect's muscles, although they can contract more quickly than our own, appear to be less efficient; as otherwise a flea or grasshopper could rise six feet into the air."

      Earlier in the paper he had talked about how small animals fall slower because they have a higher surface area to weight ratio; the same thing applies to jumping.
  • Classic Hollywood (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chaffar ( 670874 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @02:58AM (#16028870)
    I don't think anyone expected Hollywood to actually WANT to have accurate physics in their movies, all that counts is "how cool" they look. It's not a bad thing, mind you. Who'd want to see a King Kong that would die 'cause his bones snapped from the shear weight of his body?
    Pretty cool read though... shocking to see an article that isn't split into 14 pages to cash in on advertisers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chabil Ha' ( 875116 )
      I know this is slightly off topic, but along that same vein, I was thinking about the Matrix the other day. I mean, if you were stuck in a little pod from birth until adulthood, do you know how atrophied your body would be? I doubt you coauld even reach adulthood. I mean seriously, you're muscle mass would be practically nil. Your eyes wouldn't be able to see much at all since they've never been exposed to light. You wouldn't be able to walk. Talk. Manipulate your arms and hands. About the only thing
      • by afd8856 ( 700296 )
        I think I read somewhere about "exercising" with the mind. Basically, when you're imagining that you're exercising, the muscle mass grows, although not as much as if you'd do real exercises.
      • by Cyno01 ( 573917 )
        Remember the scenes after he was taken out of the pod and hes on the ship, where hes full of needles, i assumed they were electrically stimulating his muscles to rebuild him.
  • Cacoon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sporkme ( 983186 ) * on Saturday September 02, 2006 @03:07AM (#16028878) Homepage
    When my dad and I first watched Cocoon http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088933/ [imdb.com], few words were exchanged for most of the movie. toward the end, when the old people were on the boat fleeing the US Coast Guard, my dad stood up and shouted, "There is no way in hell that a little pleasure yacht like that could outrun a Coast Guard cutter!"

    So he was totally satisfied that intergalactics and geriatrics would hit it off, he believed without question that aliens visited earth in the first place, and did not quiestion that the first notion the US government would have had was to chase down a pleasure boat, but once that boat had exceeded its real-world limitations, he was totally disillusioned.

    So my dad is a boat man. This guy is a body size ratio man. Neither seem to posess the skill of suspension of disbelief, a prerequisite for watching a movie. I further the "waste of time" motion.
    • Re:Cacoon (Score:5, Funny)

      by Flounder ( 42112 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @03:47AM (#16028936)
      Think that's bad? Try going to see ANY WWII war film with a group of military history buffs. I saw a yelling match break out in the middle of Saving Private Ryan over the authenticity of the German squad structure as depicted in the final battle scene.
      • That's a different category, thats a historical recreation, which isn't based on entirely fiction at all. If its a recreation, they should at least do a good job. BTW If they are true WWII buffs, they would have hated Pearl Habour
    • Oh common. . . (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ookabooka ( 731013 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @04:30AM (#16028973)
      I think its perfectly natural to forgive inaccuracies like that if you aren't familiar with the material. For instance, my mother is horrible with computers, she knows that they can't do half the things they do in the movies, but it doesn't really bother her. Now have her sit down and watch tv show House (She's a doctor) and she will fret the whole way through. What am I getting at? It's easy to look past the 1 or 2 facts you know about a subject and enjoy the fiction, but if you are an expert it's natural for your mind to dissect it.

      So while I watch House and think "I doubt that that many people could get soo many rare diseases" she thinks "Those test results aren't indicitive of that, why don't they screen for this? That disease can't progress that quickly. That disease doesn't present symptoms like that at all! Doctors don't go to patients houses like that. " etc etc It's hard to shut that voice out.
      • by zenhkim ( 962487 )
        > It's easy to look past the 1 or 2 facts you know about a subject and enjoy the fiction, but if you are an expert it's natural for your mind to dissect it.

        My big pet peeve is when they show some actor/actress *pretending* to play a musical instrument, only their hand movements don't match the notes being played. It's like the notorious Japanese monster movie imports that came with dubbed English voice-overs that totally did not synch with the people's mouths -- only instead of being hilarious, it's mad
        • The worst case of this was in one of the Spy-Kids movies (yes, I watched them...), when the kid is playing a guitar solo while strumming.
          • The best place to go for this sort of thing is Bollywood....I saw one film where Amitabh Bachan [wikipedia.org] (one of Bollywood's biggest stars) was somehow playing a guitar with a big thick white glove on his left hand. Not that it mattered much because he didn't move his hand anyway, he was just strumming.

            On the other hand, kudos to Val Kilmer in Top Secret [imdb.com]...he sang all of "his" songs, and I noticed that he was actually playing the guitar in at least one scene (and a barre chord no less).
      • ...nobody in my family can watch medically themed shows. Dad's a surgeon, Mom's an OR nurse turned hospital administrator, I'm a surgical device rep turned healthcare IT consultant. When we're not trying to beat each other to the diagnoses, we're screaming over the inaccuracies.

        Suspension of disbelief only works if you willingly decide to shut off your rational mind and buy into what you're seeing. I'd argue that not only does one's level of expertise in the field being portrayed play a role, but also

    • by Anonymous Coward
      - the Coast Guard had the slowest maritime vessels on the water back then... an outboard with a 50HP engine could outrun an 82-, 95-, or 110-ft cutter (and most others in inventory)...
    • by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @04:58AM (#16029034) Homepage
      The point of the article isn't to make fun of B-movies. The point is to teach science in an entertaining way.
    • Re:Cacoon (Score:4, Insightful)

      by asuffield ( 111848 ) <asuffield@suffields.me.uk> on Saturday September 02, 2006 @05:12AM (#16029052)
      Neither seem to posess the skill of suspension of disbelief, a prerequisite for watching a movie.


      "Suspension of disbelief" is a skill exercised in creating a movie - specifically, it's the art of creating a movie that is unrealistic, but not so unrealistic that it triggers the "wait, this is a load of crap" instinct in the watchers. It's the difference between reasoned speculation and juvenile wish-fulfillment. It's the trick of creating a movie that "makes sense" even though it's fiction. It's okay to be unlikely but you have to avoid unreasonable or impossible or the intelligent parts of the audience are going to (rightly) say that your movie sucks.

      It is, in absolutely no sense, the job of the watcher to make the movie not suck. The watcher is the customer. They are paying the maker to make a movie that doesn't suck. If you make a movie and expect the watcher to make it not suck, then you (the maker) need to pay them to watch it, because they're the one doing the work.

      A movie that fails to entertain you is not your fault for being a bad watcher, it's a bad movie.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fatphil ( 181876 )
        I'd like to agree with you, I dearly would. However, if movie makers simply kept to the believable, then none of them would ever make any movies. They have to aim a movie for the demographic sector which they believe will be forgiving of the unbelievable aspects - i.e. will suspend disbelief.

        If you are not prepared to suspend disbelief because you insist that superman must obey the laws of conservation of energy and momentum, then it's not the film-makers fault - it's your fault for going to a movie where t
      • Re:Cacoon (Score:4, Informative)

        by robson ( 60067 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @10:45AM (#16029746)
        "Suspension of disbelief" is a skill exercised in creating a movie - specifically, it's the art of creating a movie that is unrealistic, but not so unrealistic that it triggers the "wait, this is a load of crap" instinct in the watchers. It's the difference between reasoned speculation and juvenile wish-fulfillment. It's the trick of creating a movie that "makes sense" even though it's fiction. It's okay to be unlikely but you have to avoid unreasonable or impossible or the intelligent parts of the audience are going to (rightly) say that your movie sucks.

        The willing suspension of disbelief [wikipedia.org] is the viewer-side term for the phenomenon. What you're describing, the author-side element, is called verisimilitude [reference.com]. That is, the creator's ability to infuse a believability into their work, even if that work involves unrealistic elements.
        • Okay, so I didn't correct the OP's poor terminology. The point is that it's an effect for the viewer and an action for the autor.
      • by Dirtside ( 91468 )
        There's an old saying about movies -- audiences will accept the impossible but not the improbable.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      My friend told me that Dawn of the Dead (2004) was unrealistic, because the zombies run in it.

      Thats because he is a zombie man.
    • Neither seem to posess the skill of suspension of disbelief, a prerequisite for watching a movie.

      I have had this problem since my early teens, and it does make movie-watching difficult. I realized how annoying my problem was when watching one of the Indiana Jones movies in the theater. I don't remember which movie it was, but he was of course in some subterranean passage, and one of the booby-traps was activated by one of the sidekicks blocking the sunlight streaming through an opening. Immediately

  • by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {erauqssemitelcric}> on Saturday September 02, 2006 @03:56AM (#16028943) Homepage Journal
    i think it would be absolutely impossible to explore the subject matter he does without talking about Alien [imdb.com] (and i suppose its followup, Aliens [imdb.com] as well, with its exposition of social insect behavior)

    Alien is almost an excellent primer on parasitology, taking some of the more bizarre lifecycle aspects of certain parasites and insects, and exploding it into a scifi universe where humans are the host (with some great neato "what if" aspects of contemplative exobiology like acid for blood, organometallics for an exoskeleton that can resist the vacuum of space, the mouth-within-a-mouth, etc.)

    wikipedia has a good exploration of the subject [wikipedia.org]

    the point is, Alien satisfies both mass audiences with requisite scares, but it also satisfies the scientifically-minded audience, because it begins with a good grounding in biology and expands upon it in a scholarly manner. Alien is entertaining on both a shallow bug out manner, and is also fodder for intellectual rumination as well. so many movies are just one or the other (usually the former), and it is very rare to find a movie that can do both very successfully like Alien
    • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @06:02AM (#16029132)
      Alien satisfies both mass audiences with requisite scares, but it also satisfies the scientifically-minded audience,

      ORLY? How does the Alien grow from the tadpole that bursts out of the crewman's chest to the full-sized adult, without eating anyone or thing? (Apparently there was a cut scene showing the humans it had caught paralysed and used to incubate more Aliens (like wasps, etc) so it never eats anything at all -- unless it sneaked into the galley and microwaved a TV dinner.) And let's not even consider the economics of an interstellar freighter shipping ore; no ore is that valuable or rare. Yeah, a fun movie, many good things about it, but not at all scientific.

      • by NoMaster ( 142776 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @06:55AM (#16029226) Homepage Journal
        Not to mention how rarely people in space go to the toilet. I mean, in almost every space sci-fi movie or series there's usually at least one or two scenes where everybody eats - well, the captain, senior crew, and important visitors at least (you never see redshirts eating, but they never seem to last long enough for the hunger pangs to set in anyway...)

        But I digress. The crew of the 'Nostromo'? Fair enough, I would have shit myself when that squeaky thing jumped out of his chest. But Kirk, Spock, McCoy, & Scottie? Plenty of times we saw food go in, but never come out. (Actually, that may explain the bloated mess that is Shats today - but what about Nimoy?). We saw Yoda cook a couple of big meals, but never saw him dropping the kids off at the pool. Capt'n Mal & the crew had meals in almost every episode, but 'Serenity' doesn't seem to have a head?

        And you can't tell me that, after a few drinks at the cantina, Han Solo didn't have to go and drain the main vein to make his bladder gladder...

        • by M1FCJ ( 586251 )
          That's why I love FarScape. In one episode Chrichton relieves himself at a corner in the landing bay, in front of the visitors to Moya. Absolute hilarious. Also the bit about the toilet paper... That was just brilliant. Uncharted SF, where no man or woman ever dared to go before...

          FarScape also contains lots of mucus and vomit - they are quite open about bodily functions.

          • Farscape also had Rygel, who was pretty much a floating sack of gross bodily functions. But I'm just glad you didn't pick me up on my 'Serenity' error ;-)

            • I'm surprised no one caught it. I'm not a big fan and have only watched the series once, but I do remember a scene where the captain uses the toilet and there's a sink that flips down or something like that. But maybe that's because my dad is a plumber and I can appreciate the innovative design of the bathroom to save space.
        • by 1u3hr ( 530656 )
          Not to mention how rarely people in space go to the toilet

          There's the scene in 2001 when Floyd is puzzling with the instructions for the Zero-G toilet. But most SF spaceships have some magical artificial gravity so toilets should be fairly conventional.

          An early Babylon 5 episode had a couple of guys going to a urinal and doing their business.Lots of toilet humour and gratuitous bathroom nudity on Enterprise, but no actual toilet scenes I can recall.

        • the new version at least. I remember a couple of scenes in the john.

          I think it may be universal I don't know of many shows that include going to the bathroom scenes. I don't remember Lassie ever leaving a pile on the ground but I don't think it implied that Lassie didn't have to crap from time to time, it just didn't need to show it.

          I would like to see some scifi movie/show deal with the effects of faster than light travel sometime. I don't think anyone ever has any side effects from traveling across

        • Not to mention how rarely people in space go to the toilet. I mean, in almost every space sci-fi movie or series there's usually at least one or two scenes where everybody eats - well, the captain, senior crew, and important visitors at least (you never see redshirts eating, but they never seem to last long enough for the hunger pangs to set in anyway...)
          what is this obsession you have with the captain's log?
        • by Sloppy ( 14984 )

          We don't usually see people shitting in space movies, because frankly, most people don't want to see that. It's not just space movies; it's all types of movies. Unless the movie is about toilet "humor"(?), it probably happens off screen. Nevertheless, I think I remember something about a complicated-looking zero-gee-toilet instructions sign in 2001. And in Babylon 5 (ok, that's TV, but so what?), we know there are bathrooms, because we see them used as secret-meeting places.

          As for Alien, there's a hint

        • Capt'n Mal & the crew had meals in almost every episode, but 'Serenity' doesn't seem to have a head?

          In the pilot episode we see Mal zipping up and pushing a foldaway head back into the wall of his cabin. I assume that each crew member's cabin has the same facilities.
      • How does the Alien grow from the tadpole that bursts out of the crewman's chest to the full-sized adult, without eating anyone or thing?

        We don't know. But that doesn't mean the film asserts that it's somehow "magic." You can't assume that something is unrealistic simply because you don't have a clear view of it. Unexplained != unrealistic. I would concede it's one of the most glaring questions raised by the movie, though.

        I have heard it postulated that the Alien did eat some parts of the ship itself

        • by 1u3hr ( 530656 )
          We don't know. But that doesn't mean the film asserts that it's somehow "magic

          The film doesn't assert anything, it just happens with no explanation at all. If something appears out of nowhere (as a couple of hundred kilos of Alien flesh), that is magic. The only possible explantion is that it (in its "tadpole" form) found a can opener and some tins of bully beef. Or maybe the engineers left some pizza crusts behind the machinery (though they'd be a few decades old....

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Creedo ( 548980 )
        In the Alan Dean Foster novelization, the alien tore open food packages that the crew used. So, it's not true that it didn't eat. Also, part of the point of having the cat onboard was vermin. I imagine that the alien fed on them as well.
        • by 1u3hr ( 530656 )
          In the Alan Dean Foster novelization, the alien tore open food packages that the crew used. So, it's not true that it didn't eat

          The novelisation is not the film. But at least it shows someone noticed this was a problem. And what do the vermin eat on an ore carrier that goes years between ports?

          Here's a disgusting thought: maybe the alien ate sewage.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Creedo ( 548980 )
            The novelization was based on the original script, so it was at least originally going to be addressed, then cut for time, I'd imagine. In the novel, the alien had broken into the food locker, and ripped everything open. Of course, all of the "food" on the Nostromo was recycled waste, so basically everyone was eating sewage.
      • by ffflala ( 793437 )
        And let's not even consider the economics of an interstellar freighter shipping ore; no ore is that valuable or rare.

        That's so true. Everybody knows that interstellar freighters stick to much more valuable things than ore. I mean, come ON.
      • by Creedo ( 548980 )
        Actually, I noticed one other belated point. The freighter was not hauling ore. It was a fully automated oil refinery. Basically, they extracted oil from other planets, loaded it onto this huge super freighter/refinery, and by the time the ship made it to Earth, it had a cargo of refined petrochemicals for plastics production and whatnot.
    • by Gnavpot ( 708731 )

      Alien satisfies both mass audiences with requisite scares, but it also satisfies the scientifically-minded audience

      Perhaps. My very first thought when seing this story was:
      "I wonder if they can explain how an alien is sucked out into space through a 20 mm hole."

      One should think that most living organisms with the exception of jellyfish will be able to withstand a pressure difference of 1 bar over such a tiny area. But of course - it may be possible that the pressure in that spaceship for some reason was 1

      • Not to be pedantic, but that scene was in Alien: Ressurection... However, I have a similar question with Space Truckers [imdb.com]. Wouldn't a table just as easily been "sucked" over the hull breach rather than George Wendt's posterior?
    • Argh, you're talking about Alien, and the article mentions E.T., which brings up a painful memory.

      I went to the midnight opening of E.T., knowing almost nothing about the movie. All I knew was that Spielberg -- you know, the guy who made JAWS -- was involved, and I had recently seen Alien.

      I had certain expectations, as you can imagine. They were not met.

    • Yeah, the aliens of the Aliens movies are kind of neat, but they seem to defy conservation of mass: they sometimes grow enormously quickly without obvious food sources. Also, for a parasite that wants to use a human host to spawn, they are killing their hosts too quickly.

      The Aliens movie also have serious problems with space travel: the colony is apparently 2 lightweeks from Earth, but it is far too warm and too light for that.
  • Scaling in aircraft (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bromskloss ( 750445 ) <auxiliary.addres ... [ ]om ['l.c' in > on Saturday September 02, 2006 @04:02AM (#16028950)
    Sometimes you see RC airplanes hovering (propeller upward), which tells us something about the scaling of engine power versus mass. And this RC helicopter [youtube.com] does crazy things you would never see a large version do. Very cool.
    • Hmm wait for night stick a bright light on it and fly it over field and wait for the reports of lights in the sky moving in a way that couldn't possibly be man made to flood in. I always liked the flying lawnmower http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zT60SkXN1UY [youtube.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Gah. Two points;

      * Engine power /does/ scale with volume, in fact rather better than that due to various economies of scale. If model engines really were more powerful per unit mass racecars would have thousands of tiny engines instead of one large one. There are in fact full-size propellor planes that can hang on the prop, but most planes aren't built with such extreme power-to-weight ratios because things like payload and range are more important.

      * This author once again makes the idiotic 'lift is proporti
      • by ffflala ( 793437 )
        What plane can hang on its prop? I've never seen it. But I HAVE seen the old airshow trick with planes that can't manage it -- the plane flies straight up, decelerating as it goes, it hangs for an instant, then stalls, it falls backwards and the nose drops, once it has speed enough for the wings to produce lift it pulls out of the dive. Makes your gut hang just watching it. Incidentally, at the moment it hangs the engine noise is considerably louder than it is otherwise.
        • by cr0sh ( 43134 )
          While you were responded to with an article on a real aircraft that actually flew (there are movies out there showing it taking off, flying level, and landing - the Air Force did some weird stuff back in the 50's and 60's) - I don't think that is what you were looking for.

          While I too have also witnessed at an airshow what you are talking about (indeed, it is called a "tail-slide" - also, as a kid I once flew a paper airplane I made which did the same, but it only happenned once), I have also seen an airplan

  • Published Paper? (Score:4, Informative)

    by drphil ( 320469 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @04:58AM (#16029035)
    Sorry to nitpick, here, but this is not a "published paper" as described in the parent post which implies some sort of scholarly work. As others have pointed out, this ground has been well-plowed before and there are no citations. This is an "educational resource" provided by the U of Chicago - reuse of the ideas are free, and you only need author's permission to reproduce charts, etc, and you can't, of course, freely incorporate the exact text into something you are going to sell.

    It's a pretty good site, actually, IMHO. Archive is worth a couple of hours of browsing.

    From the home page:
    "The University of Chicago, through a consortium of 14 leading educational and cultural institutions called Fathom, provided high-quality, free educational resources on the Internet from January 2000 through March 2003.

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  • Movies get better (Score:4, Insightful)

    by suv4x4 ( 956391 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @05:35AM (#16029094)
    Very interesting article and I've learned a lot. Here's one more:

    could an invisible man be a reality? Maybe, who knows, but one thing is certain: to be invisible, photons should pass straight through you, so you are in fact invisible. Your eyes won't be able to register anything and you'll be effectively completely blind.

    So I guess that's the other side of the coin, noone can see you, but you can't see anything at all.

    On the point whether we should "suspend our disbelief" when going to see movies: depends on the movie. For a fantasy movie with magicians, elfs, and trolls, suspending your disbelief is only natural.
    But a "sci-fi" is called a "sci-fi" since it's based on a scientific probability. Of course most people do not specialize in biology and chemistry and all this and for them it's all the same.

    But you can see for yourself how amazingly irritating it is for a Slashdotter to watch a movie with preposterous ideas about computer technology and Internet (err infinite detail raster photos and magic "password hacking" boxes anyone?).

    However we gotta give it to Hollywood. I know it's modern to bash movies nowadays, but just compare the level of sophistication of modern sci-fi movies with what people were fed in the 50-s. It's definitely better, and definitely has more science put into it.
    It's the only thing we can expect with an increasingly better informed and discriminating public as people are nowadays.
    • by kbg ( 241421 )
      Why is it necessary to have photons pass through you? Wouldn't be enough that the photons "behind you" (releatively speaking) are recreated in "front of you". That way you could still see but be invisible to everyone else.
    • If you google around, there have been several discussions on Slashdot and elsewhere of so-called meta-materials which can essentially deflect light around an object. No light bouncing off you = no way for a human eyeball to detect you. It's interesting, and apparently theoretically possible and compatible with physics as we know it.
      • by suv4x4 ( 956391 )
        If you google around, there have been several discussions on Slashdot and elsewhere of so-called meta-materials which can essentially deflect light around an object. No light bouncing off you = no way for a human eyeball to detect you. It's interesting, and apparently theoretically possible and compatible with physics as we know it.

        And if they deflect around you, again no photons reach your eye so you're blind again. The only way would be that you have some device that uses other range of frequencies, OR a
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zero_offset ( 200586 )
      Why would you assume things like bones, blood, and all the other tissues of the body could somehow be rendered completely transparent yet functional normally, but not the rods and cones in your eye? It's easy to dream up a lot of explanations if you're also willing to accept an absurdity such as invisibility: perhaps the rods and cones are so sparsely distributed that they are effectively invisible to nearby observers. Or perhaps the rods and cones only subtly deflect the incoming photons instead of absorbi
    • by renoX ( 11677 )
      >But a "sci-fi" is called a "sci-fi" since it's based on a scientific probability.

      Well more like it has 'science buzzwords' sprinkled here and there: I still remember the movie Stargate, where they detect instantly where a probe is and the probe has just been teleported several light years away..

      That plus learning to speak egyptian in one week was a bit too much for me.
  • The article seems decently written to me and enough content to go along with it. It is an exercise into this person's field of study and did illustrate several principles to me. I say this subject would be a start to figuring out how aliens might be constructed but that's another academic exercise.

  • By Larry Niven. Same idea, but with superheroes.

    The text of the story was on http://www.larryniven.org/ [larryniven.org] , but I can't find it now.
  • FTFP:"As I said, diamond is just a form of carbon, and like the more prosaic forms will burn quite nicely."

    His area of expertise may be invertebrate biology, but not apparently, basic chemistry. Flamethrowers won't ignite diamonds. Diamonds may be combustable under certain conditions, but are not flammable, and won't "burn quite nicely" - certainly not as a result of flame-throwing ant-killing military rampages of the sort in Them!

    • by Badge 17 ( 613974 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @03:14PM (#16030542)
      Definitely not physics or chemistry - the section where the author tries to puzzle out the physics of shrinking is just wrong:

      ... halving the number in each cycle of shrinkage. But molecules are integer quantities; sooner or later, this strategy is going to lead to half a molecule, which won't work.

      The "half-molecule" explanation is kinda naive. In a gram of material, there's on the order of 10^23 molecules - or around 2^77 (a lot of halves!). To move from a linear size of micrometers to meters is 10^6 in linear dimension - or 10^18 in number of molecules. Running into half-molecules isn't the problem - it's that you're dealing with many fewer molecules - so new physics scales come into play!

      Another way to shrink an object would be to decrease the distance between an atom's nucleus and its electron cloud-atoms are, after all, mostly empty space. I'm not enough of a physicist to have any intuition about what this would do to basic physics and chemistry, but one result of this strategy would be to leave the object's mass unchanged.
      ... OK, we'll let the fine structure constant of the Incredible Shrinking Man be four. This is fine until all your electromagnetic interactions start to diverge.
      • OK, we'll let the fine structure constant of the Incredible Shrinking Man be four. This is fine until all your electromagnetic interactions start to diverge.

        Well, there's another way to change the size: If you make the electron mass larger, the size will shrink as well: The atom radius goes like 1/mu, where mu is the reduced mass of the electron. Since the electron mass is only about 1/2000 of the nucleon mass, and the number of electons for a neutral body is the same as the number of protons (and therefore

  • B-Movie What??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @12:01PM (#16029980)
    Who cares about the biology of B-Movie monsters? How about the biology of B-Movie Actresses instead? Brinke Stevens and Julie Strain are my favs, and they span the gamet between small and sexy to big and sexy.

    I mean, think about it for a moment. What surface area do you really care about? The monster's hide, or the amount of boobage exposed? Does anybody really watch those movies for the monsters, or for the showers?

  • Them (Score:4, Funny)

    by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @12:04PM (#16029992) Homepage Journal

    He's partly right about the ants in "Them." I live in New Mexico, and while these ants are indeed impressive-looking, they aren't really all that dangerous. Even children learn pretty quickly, that the way you defend yourselves against these things is to break their legs. The real social problem related to these insects is that juvenile delinquents are always torturing Them. Something about it is just too irresistable.

    But then there's that persistent rumor about them having diamonds in their joints. It's not true, and it just creates a poaching problem. You wanna come to NM and get fined for giant-ant poaching? Ok, come on over and get your ass fined. You'd be shocked out how much it costs, and it's a significant source of our local governments' revenue.


    • You know, I once did a year of Homeland Security outside of WSMR (right outside the gates, at the DATTS facility. When they gave us the tour and showed us the reactor that they used to test military vehicles, the staff raised the reactor machinery from it's watery 30 ft grave and locked it into place.

      Right then, a scorpion crawled off the reactor. I spent the next year waiting to see a huge arachnid tear its way out of that building, knowing my M60 wasn't gonna stop it.

      Goddamn New Mexico.....
  • I read practically the same article in a Readers Digest in the late seventies.

    Anyone have access to a Readers Guide to Periodical Literature?
  • I hope the author gives some credit to Isaac because it sounds exactly like a chapter in "The Solar System and Back", which was published in 1970.
  • Isaac, as the commenter says, did lots of good stuff, not just on aliens, but also on weird chemistries and strange physics. For a look at a how-to on coming up with aliens that make biological sense, They came from outer space: Real Aliens [molvray.com], published in 1997. The whole business of imagining aliens is a great topic. Until we've found a few thousand other civilizations and get hemmed in by reality, there's not much in the way of limits, either.

"Consider a spherical bear, in simple harmonic motion..." -- Professor in the UCB physics department

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