Knowing 2009 – IMDb

Only just caught this movie on TV. Reading the Rotten Reviews inclined me not to bother, but there was an intriguing difference between the average professional critic and the average punter on this one. About 2/3 of the critics panned it, while about 2/3 of the punters praised it. That usually makes for an interesting revelation. I think I’m with the majority for a change. Which worries me because a fair chunk of that majority probably see this movie as “End Times Porn”.

I don’t object to far out fantasies. One of my all time favourite book/series is the Dune Saga (six written by Frank Herbert and 3 co written by his son, Brian and Kevin Anderson.) It’s completely fantastical and largely based in a series of physical laws which simply do not and could not hold sway in this universe. But it works because, once you agree to suspend disbelief and go with it, it is entirely self consistent.

That is what works in this movie as well. You have to get over the extraordinarily implausible time capsule prediction starting point and the apocalyptic end point and just ask “yeah, but if it DID happen like that, what would you do any different to what Cage’s character actually does. The story has the courage of its convictions. None of your soppy hollywood happy endings. The world does end, and the whole point of the predictions was not to enable warnings and successful attempts at warding off the disaster.

That was irrevocable and even, apparently, a species capable of understanding the chaotic workings of a star to the point of being able to predict a super solar flare pointing exactly in the wrong direction (for Earthlings anyway) about half a century into the future and capable of travelling interstellar distances; even such a species was incapable of preventing the disaster. So the point was, presumably, only to bring together the two kids, Abbi and Caleb so they can be rescued by the aliens and, together with a few dozen other pairs of similarly kidnapped (we presume) kids from around the planet, could be used to seed Homo Sapiens 2.0 on a distant protected planet.

On which basis, I’m prepared to forgive the catastrophic runaway explosion sequence which gratuitously boils the surface of the earth at the end of the story – despite the event “only” being a giant solar flare which, though it really could plausibly clear the ozone layer and wipe out most living organisms on the planet, would certainly not cause any kind of runaway global chain reaction in the Earth’s crust.

Regrettably, the deaths would come much more slowly and painfully than that. It would take a couple of centuries for everything to die. It would probably take 5-10 years to reach a peak.

But gotta admit, either way, it wouldn’t be a happy ending and it is gratifying, occasionally, to watch a disaster movie that dares to follow its principles to a logical conclusion. Oh, and the disasters they did create for the movie were some of the most convincing I’ve ever seen. We certainly had plenty of warning, they weren’t going to pull any punches…

Knowing 2009 – IMDb.

Supernova SN 2011fe spotted just 11 hours after it exploded | Mail Online

This observation is typically material for Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog or Daily Mail Watch both of whom are the repository of stupid errors made by the tabloid press. But neither have picked up on this one to date, so I’ll fill in.

I grant you this is not going to keep you awake nights, but at the risk of appearing pernickety, the author of this errorfest appears to be a professional science journalist. Which is why his main error, repeated several times, is inexcusable. The Type 1a supernova is NOT the “brightest category” of supernova. If anything, it’s likely to be the least bright as it results from the smallest possible stellar mass capable of going supernova.

It’s true significance is that it is the highly predictable result of a white dwarf “accreting” extra mass from a companion star. At a certain critical mass (the “Chandrasekhar limit” – just under 1.4 solar masses), the star collapses and triggers the supernova. Because it is so predictable, its consistent brightness can be used as the “standard candle” required to measure the vast distances we have to cope with when we look beyond our solar system and galaxy. Most memorably, it was the observation of hundreds of distant Type 1a supernovae which allowed us to discover the accelerating expansion of the universe in the late 90s.

The real significance of this reportage is that it reminds us we cannot trust this newspaper (and many others) to be telling the truth.

Sometimes, of course, they are deliberately trying to deceive or obscure the facts in pursuit of their not so hidden agendae. But just as often, they fail simply because they don’t have the skills or intellect required to distinguish between fact and fiction. That limitation is not restricted to matters scientific. It’s just easier to demonstrate here than elsewhere…

Supernova SN 2011fe spotted just 11 hours after it exploded | Mail Online.

City lights could reveal E.T. civilization

City lights could reveal E.T. civilization.

This has to be one of the most naive notions I’ve come across from a serious scientist in recent years.

How long have our cities been visible from, say, 10 light years plus? At most a century.

How long do you think we’re going to be that ludicrously wasteful of energy? At most another century.

So, assuming, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that we’re a typical Level 1 species, there is likely to be a 200 year window of opportunity during which anyone who has a telescope pointed in our direction, and happens to be looking for such evidence, might notice the excess and apparently artificial light emerging from the 3rd planet of a rather ordinary star in an outer spiral arm of the galaxy.

The chances are about even that there are potential observers who will, one day, pick up our own electric blip, some time in the next few million years. And there’s a similar chance that we’ll spot at least one neighbour going through the stage we’re currently passing through. In a few million years…

More generally the chances of any level 1 species spotting any other level 1 species are truly astronomical. Spotting a level 2 species, on the other hand, assuming they wish to be spotted, will, I suspect, be a whole lot easier. They’ll put up a sign that can be identified unequivocally as an artifact by anyone with the technology to capture the data within a couple of billion light years.

The artifact will be so obviously artificial and so obviously huge that there will be no room for doubt that we are seeing the product of an advanced intelligence with effortless control of their environment on an astronomical scale.

For examply, they might arrange an arbitrary bunch of stars by nudging them out of their natural orbits and into a mathematically meaningful pattern indicating some universal constant like pi, or perhaps something more exotic, which takes us years to decode and teaches us what it takes to marry relativity to quantum mechanics.

Now that kind of ET might we worth looking for…


given the ludicrous manner in which the tabloids hype even minor threats (like the recent revelation that each hour you spend watching TV reduces life expectancy by 22 minutes, or the fact that drinking any amount of alcohol reduces or extends life – depending on the day of the week and whose research they’re hyping at the time. And so on…) I’m almost keen to see what happens to the tabloid headlines the day that NASA announce – with deep regret – that the asteroid headed for us in 2034 (or whenever) has a 60% chance of hitting the planet…