Thursday, December 24, 2009

Are the Na'vi Nazis?

Warning: Spoilers ahead. If you have not seen Avatar yet, go see it now. Twice. Or, if all this nonsense I noticed isn't coincidence, maybe don't see it at all, but it has to be a coincidence.

A lot of people have compared Avatar to Dances With Wolves and FernGully, due to the superficial resemblance of the plots of those movies. However, neither of those movies quite matches the plot of Avatar. Costner's character wasn't sent out to infiltrate the Native Americans; he was basically abandoned at an outpost and met the Native Americans out of boredom. And I never saw it (note to people my age and older who keep bringing this up: why did you see a cheesy not-even-Disney cartoon that came out in 1992??), but I don't think the logger guy in FernGully was sent to infiltrate the fairies, since IMDB says they live in a secret world (thus, presumably, nobody knows they're there). There is a much closer real-life analog to Jake Sully (the hero of Avatar): Hitler. Bear with me.

In Avatar, Jake Sully, a war vet who was wounded in combat, was sent by the RDA Corporation to infiltrate the Na'vi. In 1919, Hitler, a war vet who was wounded in combat, was sent by the Reichswehr to infiltrate the German Workers' Party. The Na'vi are an indigenous population that doesn't let anyone near them who doesn't look like them (thus the avatars). The German Workers' Party was later renamed the National Socialist (German: Nationalsozialismus, abbreviated Na'zi or Nazi) Party. We all know what the Nazis thought about people who didn't look like them.

It doesn't stop there, though. Despite not quite fitting the Na'vi ideal (he has too many fingers, he wasn't born there, his face is shaped wrong, and, of course, he's part human), Sully rises through the ranks of the Na'vi to lead them. Likewise, despite not fitting the Nazi ideal (born in Austria, not tall enough, black hair, rumors that he may have been part Jewish), Hitler rose through the ranks of the Nazis to become their leader.

Jake has a mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine. She runs the avatar program, and teaches Jake how to act and how to speak. SPOILER NOT IN THE COMMERCIALS: She is imprisoned with Sully, but dies shortly after that imprisonment (during an escape). Hitler also had a mentor, Dietrich Eckart. Eckart was one of the early founders of the German Workers' Party, and, according to Wikipedia, "Eckart became Hitler's mentor ... teaching him how to dress and speak, and introducing him to a wide range of people." Eckart participated in the Beer Hall Putsch with Hitler, and was arrested and jailed with him. Eckart was released due to illness, and died shortly thereafter. OK THE SPOILING IS OVER.

The code name for Avatar while filming was Project 880. Among Neo-Nazis, 88 is used as a code to identify one another (H is the 8th letter of the alphabet, so 88 means "Heil Hitler").

I have to be wrong about this, right? James Cameron didn't just make a 230-million-dollar Neo-Nazi movie, did he?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Today in Geek, 20091223

It's technology day among geeks today, apparently.

Video-stitched cellphone streams go widescreen. Microsoft has developed a system to stitch together cellphone videos of the same scene to create higher-resolution videos. I highly recommend the video. Neat idea!

Body Heat Energy Generation. They say this is for "micropower devices," but I wonder how much power you could realistically harvest from non-intrusive devices. They say they can get about 100-600 microWatts for a wristwatch-sized generator. Is that getting close to something that could recharge my cellphone and/or run an mp3 player?

Typing With Your Brain. Researchers presented a study at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society in which they were able to consistently predict the desired letters of patients "at or near 100 percent accuracy." Other studies have had similar success, apparently, but this one promises much greater speed, more the "you think it, it happens" that we expect from mind-reading computers. Sure, it requires electrodes implanted in the brain, but that seems like a small price to pay.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Still Favorite Music from 1999

Everyone else is doing best-of-the-decade lists, but I'm going to try something different. Instead, I went back and gave a listen to some music from 1999 to see what I still like after a decade. Note: I think some of these songs might really be 1998 or 2000, but iTunes thought they were 1999, so I'm going with that.

10. "My Own Worst Enemy" by Lit
This song is just so fun. I don't have anything deep to say about it, which seems fitting for this song. Wait, is that deep?

I don't think I ever heard anything else by this band, but this song was on the radio here in Austin all the time for a while, and I still love it.

I'm a sap for Tori Amos songs, especially the ones that sound really depressing. "1000 Oceans" fits that bill.

This one is cheating a bit. I don't know whether I ever heard this song until this year, but I fell in love with it. It just makes me so happy.

Looking back, I kinda wish the prequels had just consisted of some trailers and this song/video. We could have been spared all trace of Jar-Jar.

I like Fiona's version of this song (from the Pleasantville soundtrack) better than the Beatles version. Is that wrong? The video is pretty sweet, too.

4. "Rainbow Connection" by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
Kermit was clearly punk at heart.

3. "Lucky Denver Mint" by Jimmy Eat World
I've loved Jimmy Eat World since I first heard them. Then I heard them live on SNL, and they were absolutely terrible. Their studio stuff is still pretty good, though, as long as I block out all memories of that performance.

2. "Babylon" by David Gray
This is the song that makes me really happy for having done this trek back to 1999. I'd forgotten all about this song, but I really love it.

1. "Porcelain" by Moby
If you'd asked me in 1999 or 2000 what I'd like best from 1999 when 2009 rolled around, I'd probably have to ask you to repeat that sentence a couple times so I could figure out what you're asking. But even if I made it through that sentence, I don't think I would have ever guessed this song. I wouldn't have even guessed it when I dug out my music from 1999 to compile this list. I honestly didn't like it very much at all when it came out, but it has really grown on me.

I'm sure I've forgotten something that I would love if I heard it again, perhaps something I never bought or otherwise acquired (and thus didn't have in my collection for my "Year=1999" search). Let me know what you think I missed in the comments.

Today in Geek, 20091222

I didn't see a lot of geekiness today, but some of what I saw was pretty awesome. These are the ones worth talking about.

New DNA Analysis Method Drastically Cuts Time and Cost of Genome Sequencing. I think genetically tailored medicine is about to lead us to a medical revolution on the order of the discovery of vaccines or Lister's hand-washing campaign, and faster DNA sequencing will likely be useful for that.

Medicine Awesome
Robotic Knee Helps Perfectly Healthy Runners Run Even Better. Prosthetics aren't just for people who actually need them anymore. A Japanese team has developed a device that straps  to the leg and helps you run faster. Gentlereaders, we can rebuild us! We have the technology!

That's it for today. What did I miss? Certainly there's more out there!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Today in Geek, 20091221

Today we reaffirm that we are living in the future. Hurray!

Mexico City Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage. Mexico City just legalized abortion two and a half years ago, but now they've jumped ahead 30 years to leapfrog over most of the United States. At least DC managed to pass it a few days before. Supporters of the Mexico City bill were chanting "Yes, we could!" That makes me smile a lot.

Focus on the Action to Avoid Headaches During 3D Movies. When you go see Avatar (if you haven't already), keep this in mind. Your brain really doesn't like stuff being 3D but out-of-focus, and trying to get around that gives bad headaches. Trust me on this one; I spent too much time on my second viewing looking at stuff in the background, and it played havoc on my head and stomach. I may have to go see it in non-3D so I can look for those extra little details (for example, that it takes place over several months leading up to August 24, 2154; Wikipedia says that's the anniversary of the patenting of the motion picture camera, I'm guessing that isn't a coincidence).

Video: The Asteroid That Will Almost Hit Earth. NASA produced a video of Apophis passing Earth on April 13, 2029. It'll pass just 18,300 miles above the planet's surface. Assuming we pass peak oil and civilization has fallen by then, I plan to remember that date to use it to secure a following in my post-apocalyptic cult; an asteroid passing that close should be interesting in the sky.

Color-Shifting Contact Lenses Alert Diabetics to Glucose Levels. Soon diabetics will have a heads-up display of sorts, allowing them to see when they need a shot of insulin or a candy bar. Today diabetics, tomorrow killing machines sent back from the future!

Groovy Teeth Suggest Dinosaur was Venomous. The story itself is cool, but it's also sort of an example of a (probably intentional) "crash blossom," a word I just learned this morning meaning "a headline that can be misconstrued." The New York Times claims that's a buzzword of 2009, but I think it's possible only the New York Times staff have heard that term.

Mad Science
Our of the Blue, DARPA Seeks Means to Manipulate Lightning. They all laughed when DARPA put giant red balloons all over the US, but DARPA's going to show them! It's going to show them all!! Muahahahaha!

Did I miss any geekery? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Today in Geek, 20091218

This is the entirety of what geeks can think about today, rightfully so:

It was just so very, very beautiful. I loved everything about it. I could not possibly recommend it more. I've been trying to take it easy to avoid setting expectations too high, but I don't think expectations can be too high. I've often wondered what it would have been like to be an adult geek in 1977 when Star Wars came out. Now I know. Thank you, James Cameron.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Today in Geek, 20091217

Today was a good day to be a geek. There may have been a huge discovery in physics, there were at least two stories that seem too far fetched for science fiction but are actually happening, and I found a new hero. Let's start with the physics.

Experiment Detects Particles of Dark Matter, Maybe. Researchers may have detected dark matter, the stuff that probably makes up about 80% of the universe, in a mine in Minnesota. The signal wasn't strong enough to say for sure yet, but the signal they got was the signal they expected if the stuff is real, so that's a good sign.

First Commercial 3-D Bioprinter Fabricates Organs to Order. Ok, the printer is still in early testing, and the company that makes it says arteries and veins are five years off, with actual organs more like 10 (by their estimation), but if this thing works out, that'll simply be amazing. Theoretically, particularly combined with stem cell research, the printer could be used to print organs using your own cells, so they could build an organ that your body couldn't possibly reject. That's pretty darned awesome. Of course, I couldn't help thinking about how awesome the technology will be when combined with artificial meat. Mmmm, custom-designed meat.

Mad Engineering
Robotic Insects Could Pollinate Flowers and Find Disaster Victims. Some engineers want to design robobees to help pollinate flowers (since the real bees are still dying), and probably to find disaster victims, and, presumably, eventually to take over the world. I applaud your efforts, sirs.

$300 Sci-Fi YouTube Video Lands $30m Movie Deal. The article originally put the amount at $300 million (and still mentions that amount as of right now, which would put the deal higher than the budget of Avatar). Regardless, the story is basically this: a guy made a 4-minute movies and posted it on YouTube, and Sam Raimi made a $30 million dollar deal with him to see what he can do with real money. I don't care if the resulting movie sucks, this guy is my hero. Here's the short that got him that contract:

Three days in a row. Wow. Maybe this is a thing again. As usual, let me know in the comments if I missed anything.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Today in Geek, 12/16/2009

Today's headlines were full of geeky medical news, but I have to start with the story that has me nearly giddy.

Nearby "Super Earth" May Have Oceans, Thick Atmosphere. We found a planet that probably has a huge ocean of liquid water. It probably doesn't have life, but we're getting closer. As a researcher put it in another article on the subject, "This planet is a harbinger of what’s to come. It’s not just that we can study this one object in more detail. It’s the torch, telling us about this new thing that’s going to happen." This planet has astronomers talking about the likelihood that we'll find an inhabitable (and possibly inhabited) planet soon, and that's just awesome.

Dying Star Mimics Our Sun's Death. Have you ever wondered what our Sun will look like after it eats the inner Solar System? Ok, probably not, but I have, and now I know. Researchers with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have released a video of a pulsating nearby star going through its red giant phase, the same phase our Sun will go through in about 5 billion years. Keep in mind that, at its largest, that star is roughly the size of the orbit of Mars.

Synthetic Nano-Platelets Added to Blood Cut Healing Time in Half and Artificial Red Blood Cells To Aid Drug Delivery, Imaging. Two independent teams released news today about advances in fake blood. The first team produced "artificial red blood cells," essentially tiny packets that could be used to deliver drugs, dyes, etc deep into tissues (because they're small enough to fit through capillaries). It doesn't look like they could be targeted yet, but just getting them to fit into such small spaces is a big jump. The second team produced synthetic platelets to help stop bleeding faster. The nanoparticles work pretty much the same as platelets, crosslinking to clot the blood. Treating wounds with the nanoparticles—or injecting them to help with internal bleeding—cut bleeding time in half in rats. Assuming they can be mass produced and pass testing, I can imagine these being very useful to EMTs.

Scientists Decode Entire Genetic Code of Cancer. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what this one means. Cancers are caused by combinations of many, many mutations. No individual cancer patient has the same set of mutations as any other cancer patient. So I'm not sure yet exactly what they mean by this story, but scientists have apparently mapped the 30,000 mutations associated with melanoma (skin cancer), and the 23,000 mutations associated ith lung cancer. I'll have to dig deeper to figure out what that means, exactly, but it sounds like it's probably a big deal.

Crowds of Bacteria Turn Gears a Million Times Their Size. I love this video. The bacteria aren't really doing anything "useful," they're just swimming around randomly... but the shapes of the gears translate those random motions into work (turning the gears in the desired way). I love the idea of future devices being powered by the random motions of bacteria.

Today was a pretty big day in geek. Did I miss anything? If so, let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Today in Geek, 12/15/2009

I have been terrible about blogging. Wow. Let's just put this shameful period behind us, shall we?

To do so, I'm going to start a new tradition by revising an old tradition. The title pretty much explains it. Here are the geekly stories that piqued my interest today:

D.C. Council Approves Gay Marriage. There's a good chance D.C.'s overlords in the US Congress will overturn this law, but the Washington, D.C., City Council passed a measure today to legalize same-sex marriage in the District. Strong work, D.C.

Locked-in man controls speech synthesizer with thought. Locked-in syndrome is the condition where a person is completely paralyzed (unable to move any muscle and thus unable to communicate), but completely aware of their surroundings. I know I'd heard of it before they featured it on House, so I think at least two medical dramas showed how terrifying it would be. That might change soon, now that a locked-in man has controlled a speech synthesizer with thought. That's just unbelievably awesome. Such technology will also come in handy in the construction of my mecha, so that's good news, too.

Mad Science
Swiss Geologist On Trial For Causing Earthquakes. An experimental geothermal energy project triggered earthquakes in Switzerland, so now the guy in charge is being tried. Sure, they're spinning it more as an industrial responsibility kind of thing, but it sounds to me like they may have caught a real mad scientist (it was an experiment to see if this process would work for energy production, so he wasn't just a mad engineer).

Tech Tips
Create Instant Navigation Shortcuts from Android's Home Screen. Someone at Lifehacker noticed that we can create one-touch shortcuts for turn-by-turn navigation on our Android phones now. For example, I have a button on my home screen to navigate from wherever I am to my house. Neat.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Hits Blu-Ray April 6. Dammmmmit. I don't think I'll be able to hold out until they put out the extended editions months later (my guess: just before The Hobbit comes out in December 2011). How many times are they going to convince me to buy these movies???

That's it for today. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.