Archive for February, 2009

Eleventh Hour: Nanofilms

By Eric Wolff | February 27, 2009 4:48 pm

Eleventh Hour LogoA small part of me despaired after last night’s Eleventh Hour: A virus passed by skin-to-skin contact  caused a self-generating nanofilm of metal to spread all over the skin, which then made everyone with the disease susceptible to lightning strikes. In the immortal word of Bill Cosby: Right.

But start reading enough about nanofilm, and anyone would discover there’s actually some real science out there that can justify parts of this plot. Think of the episode as a kind of pointillist canvas, with each dot of discovery forming the big picture of a Sci Fi plot device.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Medicine
MORE ABOUT: Eleventh Hour, nanofilm

Battlestar Galactica: Self-Repairing Materials

By Eric Wolff | February 26, 2009 5:50 pm

Screenshot from Battlestar GalacticaIn a comment to Stephen’s last Battlestar Galactica post, Bionic Man asked: “Is there a real-world equivalent to the Cylon bio-metal? How far along is research into self-repairing materials?”

At this stage, the research into self-repair could best be described as promising — certainly promising enough to motivate several of the top materials research teams in the world to work on the project, and promising enough to inspire significant investment by major corporations like Airbus. Plus, anyone who solves the myriad problems behind self-repair is sure to be richer than Midas, maybe even richer than Bill Gates.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biotech, TV

Eureka: Non Lethal Weapons

By Stephen Cass | February 25, 2009 5:53 pm

Scane from Eureka Comic BookThe second issue of the Eureka comic book series is out. Our favorite small-town-that-happens-to-border-the-government’s-most-advanced-research-facility-sherriff, Carter, and his deputy, Jo, are continuing a manhunt.

Because they are interested in taking their quarry alive, Carter is equipped with something he has taken to calling a “bubble gun.” The gun immobilizes its target by shooting out a temporary force-field that forms a bubble. In the real world, bubbles—or more accurately, foam—actually are the basis of a gun designed to immobilize enemies.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Comics, Weapons

Putting The Science in Science Fiction

By Eric Wolff | February 23, 2009 5:11 pm

Diamonds in the Sky bannerFor anyone who likes their science fiction so hard you could use it to carve your initials in a diamond, check out Mike Brotherton’s free anthology, Diamonds in the Sky. Brotherton, an astronomy professor and novelist,  got funding from the National Science Foundation to put together a free online anthology of sci-fi stories that get their facts right even as they explore strange new futures.

Contributors include Brotherton himself,  Alexis Lynn Gleitner, and SciNoFi pal Kevin Grazier. A few of the tales come off on the didactic side — a talking dog literally asks for an explanation of dark matter as a distraction from the plot problems at hand — but others smoothly intertwine science and story telling. The Moon is a Harsh Pig brought wit and verve to an explanation of the moon’s phases, and In the Autumn of Empire was an amusing tale that let the author vent some frustration about scientific misunderstanding.

The Diamonds anthology includes all the usual tropes of aliens, faster than light travel, hybrid talking animals, and so on and so forth, but they’re all either grounded in the scientific theories of today, or they use ideas that follow current trends in scientific thinking. Taken together, the stories make a convincing argument that Hollywood and scifi writers of all stripes need not butcher the facts to tell a ripping yarn.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy

Eleventh Hour: "That Drank The Milk From The Cow That Ate The Fish That Ate The Maggot My Father Bought For Two Zuzim…"

By Eric Wolff | February 20, 2009 6:36 pm

Eleventh Hour LogoForgive my indulgence in an old Jewish folk song in the title—it just seemed to fit  the plot of last night’s episode of Eleventh Hour so neatly.  We open on a helicopter pilot who died in a fiery crash after mercury poisoning caused him to go blind mid-flight. Soon, other people in the town start showing symptoms of the same contamination, forcing Hood and Young and the newly introduced Felix Lee to trace the mercury down the food chain. Here’s what they found by the end: Mercury in Lake Michigan -> maggots -> herring -> fish meal -> dairy cows ->milk -> people.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biology

Knight Rider: Zoe's 3D Show Off

By Eric Wolff | February 19, 2009 6:24 pm

Screen shot from Knight RiderEveryone loves a good hologram, right? Ever since we saw a tiny Darth Vader delivering orders to an Imperial officer in Star Wars: A New Hope, the idea of having a 3D chat with a friend has lived on in our minds— Well, my mind, at least. On last night’s episode of Knight Rider, Zoe made a rendering of an entire street, with a moving car, and had it float in the air in front of Michael Knight and co. Now we know she was showing off her computer prowess to justify why she got to be Billy’s boss, but I had to wonder whether such a thing is possible.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: TV

Battlestar Galactica: When Metal Goes Bad

By Stephen Cass | February 17, 2009 9:25 pm

Screenshot from Battlestar GalacticaOn last Friday’s episode of Battlestar Galactica, the crew of the Galactica finally ran up against a problem that is the bane of aerospace engineers: metal fatigue. Fatigue can affect anything built with metal that is subjected to stress, but airplanes and spacecraft can be particularly vulnerable. As shown on BSG, metal fatigue starts with tiny cracks you can’t see. Subjected to repeated cycles of stress, these microscopic cracks grow. Left unchecked, they can cause a structural member to fail abruptly, sometimes with catastrophic results.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: TV

Eleventh Hour: Who Needs Clones?

By Eric Wolff | February 13, 2009 5:01 pm

Eleventh Hour LogoLast night’s episode of Eleventh Hour took a plot from the first episode and took it to the next level: From a failed human cloning experiment to success. We learn within the first ten minutes of the episode that Dr. Jacob Hood’s nemeiss, the evil geneticist known as Gepetto, has cloned humans, implanted the embryonic clones into women, and successfully brought them to term. We learn later that Gepetto cloned the babies with her own DNA so she can harvest one of them for a new pancreas, which she needs to live. Of course taking a pancreas means killing the baby, so Gepetto would be guilty of murder along with any number of additional violations of the law.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biotech, TV

Knight Rider: Kitt Takes Control

By Eric Wolff | February 12, 2009 4:08 pm

Screenshot from Knight RiderEver since Knight Rider had it’s reboot a couple of weeks ago, we’ve been watching KITT grow into himself as an independent entity. This week he chafed at taking orders from Michael Knight, and the pair had two pretty hilarious spats. But late in the episode, KITT showed off his new autonomy by disobeying orders and taking control of another vehicle. In this instance, Michael had been arrested by a Drug Enforcement Agency agent, and was on his way to jail. KITT hacked into the agent’s car’s  “RoamStar” satellite system to take over the controls of the car and drive it in such a way that Michael was able to escape.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Artificial Intelligence, Cars, TV
MORE ABOUT: Knight Rider

The Saucer Fleet

By Stephen Cass | February 10, 2009 6:06 pm

Cover of The Saucer FleetOne of the best publishers in the space business, Apogee Books, has just come out with The Saucer Fleet, by Jack Hagerty and Jon Rogers. This book is a follow on to the authors’ well-regarded Spaceship Handbook, and focuses on the fictional armada of flying saucers that dominated comics, movies and television during the 50’s and 60’s.

With a foreword by DISCOVER’s very own Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, The Saucer Fleet dissects in great detail flying saucers from classic productions such as This Island Earth, Forbidden Planet and The Invaders, and looks at their impact on the audiences of the day. As well as a detailed synopses of the movie or show and extensive production notes giving the history and background of how each fictional saucer was brought to life, the authors also use frame-by-frame analyses to create engineering diagrams of saucer exteriors and interiors (often struggling with the fact that the interior set designers didn’t care overly much about matching up with the scale shown by the exterior models.) Dedicated model-builders can use these diagrams to build their own reproductions, but any science-fiction fan will get a kick out of seeing how much thought and effort went into designing these deceptively simple spacecraft that once thrilled or terrified audiences.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books, Movies, TV, Utter Nerd
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