Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Short Discourse on the Trajectory of a Chalk Projectile (Or how I lost a battle and how I wished it would have turned out)

During my college years as a physics undergraduate, I attended a chemistry class wherein the professor takes pride in putting her field of study in the pedestal. She is one of those professors who will fight to death to defend that her chosen field- in her case, chemistry- is the most important field of knowledge.

In one of our introductory classes, we were discussing chemistry in general as the central science. She discussed how all the other fields simply support the claims of chemistry.

So she was going over her class list and asking every student to debunk the notion that chemistry is the central most important science. But when the student answers, she would simply create another argument to prove that chemistry is indeed the central science.

So she started asking everyone until she arrived at me. She called my name, 'Mister --,. I raised my hand and stood up. 'You're a physics student. So how can you prove that physics and not chemistry is the most important field of science?'

I was sure that she would just negate everything i would say so i did not even think of a very elaborate argument. I simply said in a very non-convincing tone, 'In Physics, we study how the world works.'
She paused for a while and looked around the class and grinned. I was simply waiting for the ultimatum. Then she spoke, 'So, how does the world work?'

I knew that was coming all along. But i'm not in any position to argue with her so i simply answered, 'We're still studying it'. And that's it--the class eroded with laughter and she just smirked as if saying 'I rest my case'.
Some years after that fateful day, i look back and realize how a loser I was, not being able to fight for what i believe. One time i wondered what would become of me had i fought back. In fact i made a scenario of what I wish happened then.
She was looking at her class list when she calls my name. 'Mister --,. I raised my hand and stood up. 

'You're a physics student. So how can you prove that physics and not chemistry is not the most important field of science?'

'In Physics, we study how the world works.'

'So, how does the world work?'

And then I would say, 'According to rules.' She would just look at me and say 'Go on'.

'Everything in our physical world works according to rules devised by nature. How the earth revolves around the sun is governed by the Laws of Planetary motion. How some chemicals react with each other is governed the law of thermodynamics. When a ball is thrown, it follows a trajectory governed by the law of motion and gravitation. We study those things in physics. So, everything can be explained by physics from a planet revolving to a ball thrown.'

She was simply staring at me thinking of a very good rebound, for everyone from the class knew that she was on a very low position right now. And then she got up.

She asked in a very attacking tone, 'Ok so how would you solve this problem, if I throw this chalk to your face, will it hit you or not?' At that point her ears are becoming red with rage and defeat.

So I answered her matter-of-factly, 'There are two scenarios to that problem,' I said, 'One, if you are very much annoyed by the fact that you have been defeated; that chemistry is actually not the most important science, then you will throw the chalk and try to hit my face. However, two, if you are reasonable enough to accept those facts, then you will put that chalk back to the table and debate with the class in a very civilized manner or you could throw it somewhere else. Either way, I will not get hit by that chalk because you will not be able to put into consideration the following factors; First, air resistance provided by the huge ceiling fan above me. Second, the mass of that chalk which is definitely very small since it has low density. Third, the low initial velocity provided by your weak arms. And fourth, my speed of evasion. Did that answer your question?'
Yeah, I know it’s kind of made up and very improbable but one can dream, right?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Absence makes the heart grow

Movie Review for The Lovely Bones

I’m writing this on a dark night where my head has slowed down to a halt. I’m sleepy. My head is heavy with images. If I close my eyes, pictures linger in my mind. Image of dried-up roses. Surreal landscapes. A sinkhole. A model ship in a bottle. Teenaged retro-style girls. A serial killer. A doll house. Cornfields.

The Lovely Bones, a film by the great Peter Jackson, is in some ways a collage of unforgettable images. Just as the main character, Susie Salmon, tries to capture her life with her film camera, Jackson tries to capture and tell the story using a series of images or moments.

That heroic moment when Susie saved her brother’s life. That giggly moment when Ray first talked to Susie. That scary moment when Mr. Harvey invited Susie to his den under the cornfields.

And then those images after Susie’s death. Each scene depicts a very fantastic scenery– from a clear lake to a vast flower field. Or a winter wonderland. Or an autumn retreat. You will stop in awe with every set piece and you will admire the CG glory of it all.

The movie is worth watching if just for these amazing pictures. Storywise, there is not too much backbone to support it. You will know from the start that the narrator has been murdered. You will know a few minutes later who the murderer is. Hence you will not be given a chance to wonder nor a plot point to be curious at.

One could almost see the futility of Susie’s journey. What’s her purpose of staying? Why doesn’t she move on? What does she want? You’ll soon realize that she just wants her murderer to pay for what he did although we were not shown any indication on the film. (Or maybe she just want to kiss Ray first. I don’t really know.)

What is amazing though is how the theme of the film summed up nicely everything that happened and how Jackson has translated this to the screen. Towards the end, we were shown what happened to the people who knew Susie after her death. Her parents have moved on and became stronger. Her little sister grew up and found her love. Her murderer died of an accident. In the ending Susie narrates that these are the lovely bones that had grown from her absence. Moments that happened because of her death.

This gives a perfect explanation to the saying “Death is just the beginning”. Well, death may be the end for one person but it is a fresh new start to everyone else.

I read somewhere that death gives a new perspective to life. Perhaps, the film just want to show that every moment in one’s life gains a new meaning when death is factored in. Susie’s death is trivial– we were not even shown any grim funeral. Yet what we saw, the reactions to her death, those small moments have big impacts. Even scenes before her death were put into perspective. As photographs, they serve as memories, mirrors to her life as it has been.

One could say, the film has no deep story. But what it manages to show successfully are the moments that had grown from this lack thereof. Sometimes, absence makes things better–the way the town’s sinkhole in the movie has in a way defined the town’s lifestyle. The lovely bones that had grown around an absence.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Movie Review for Splice
For me, scifi stories have a very strange yet close connection with horror stories. Horror stories utilize our fear of the unknown, or of the abnormal or of the new. Scifi stories on the other hand utilize our curiosity for the unknown, our tendency to explain the abnormal or to understand the new.
Usually in Scifi/Horror stories, the scifi aspect provides the plot, the horror aspect is derived from the context.
In the movie Splice, the scientific plot is nothing but scary, two genetic scientists (Elsa and Clive) on a project of splicing DNA of various species into a single creature in the hopes of synthesizing useful products from these organisms. But pressured by their sponsor, the scientists began doing guerilla labwork and did the unthinkable– they spliced human DNA with their specimen (which they named Dren). What would follow is a very strange rendition of Oedipus complex.
The movie is full of bizarre twists and turns. As it turns out, Dren was ‘grown’ from the DNA of Elsa, which makes ‘it’ her daughter (although one could argue that it is her sibling or even just her clone). In the movie, Elsa and Clive treated her as if she was really their daughter. In another strange turn, sexual tension between Dren and Clive led them to have sex, which in a twisted way is just natural since Dren is Elsa and Clive loves Elsa. (Mind you, Elsa caught them doing the act just to add to the weirdness of it).
Now, Dren obtained some characteristics from those species where her DNA is spliced from. One such is the ability to change gender. Right after Clive and Dren have intercourse, Dren seemed to have died. But this appeared to be just a metamorphosis to becoming a male.
Soon after transformation, the male Dren started hunting the scientists. A chase occurs until Dren manages to rape Elsa and kill Clive.
The movie ends with Elsa, who seemed to have survived, sitting in a conference room with their sponsor where she signs a non-disclosure agreement. She then stands up and walks toward the window and we realize that she is pregnant. So, Dren who is Elsa’s ‘son’ now has a child with Elsa. That makes Elsa the bearer of her son’s child– or her grandchild.
As with any science-gone bad stories, the story revolved around a very noble cause. In this case that cause is creating a means to cure all kinds of diseases of humankind.
But as with any real stories, nothing comes out perfectly in the end. There is always a factor that would mess everything up, be it a greedy global company, a scientist taking things personally, the list goes on. That is the real world.
In the real world, throughout history, science has always been associated with horror. The Manhattan Project, the Nazi science etc.
It is important to note that the horror here is not really what science produces in itself. It’s not the nuclear bomb that we invent or the half-human, half-lizard that we create.
The horror here is that in reality we humans are so capable of doing much, much frightful things than these and that we humans actually have the frightening power to create, invent or discover things that may intentionally or unintentionally cause horrific events in our lives.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Data Limiting and Circumvention: A PostHuman Tale

A few years ago, there was a report published on an American publication which showed that on the average a person consumes about 34 gigabytes of information daily. This amount of information comes from various sources; TV, radio, books etc.

Based on this report, I began writing a story on what would happen if the government began limiting the data consumption of each person. What if there were implants embedded into the brains of every citizens so that when the limit is reached, the person will no longer be able to receive any more data?

In my story, this data censorship will lead to the evolution of human perception. To maximize and/or continue data reception, people will resort to various tactic. People may begin specializing in only a few senses and block all the others. People may try to filter unnecessary information input such as static, noise neglible pixels etc. People may train to just absorb fragments of the data but optimize their mind so that they can reform the fragment to its full form. Etc.

You can read the entire story here.


With this new lifestyle, the citizens have minimized their dependence to information. Newspapers became adjunct and replaced with leaflets containing thoroughly condensed daily news. Television shows were revamped completely. They would now only include 1 to 2 minute shows in their programming. Likewise, the music industry was rebuilt from scratch and embraced the MIDI technology wholeheartedly as the main medium for the songs.

This is just the first part of a big story that I'm not sure would be finished.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Symbolic Urban Design

In the anime series, Full Metal Alchemist, in a world where alchemy is a commonplace (much like gasoline or electricity in our world) the Fuhrer King rules the city of Amestris. The king is in turn just a part of a shady group of people who is in control of the country. In the series, it was revealed that this group has planned to build the city from the very start into a form of a transmutation circle. A transmutation circle is a symbol, which when tapped correctly by a skillful alchemist, can give great powers to its designer. The King's group (the Homunculi) has an end game of turning the city into a transmutation circle which will transmute all its citizens into a powerful philosopher's stone, a relic capable of multiplying the powers of alchemy of the user.

I was intrigued by the concept of a whole city being built for one sole purpose, as an aesthetic or perhaps a functional symbol such as a Transmutation Circle. This concept has also been glossed over by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman in their book Good Omens. In this book, they explained that the highway M25 in London is created in the image of the Dread Sigil Odegra. They also explained that this is the reason why motorists who pass into this highway seem to be possessed by evil and never reach the exit without experiencing carnage and frustration through out the route. According to the book, this feat is an acomplishment of the devil Crowley and that he considers this a "bad job well done".

In the US, conspiracy theorists have long believed that the country is being controlled by a group of individuals linked to Satanism or Freemasonry. They show as proof the Washington street layout which, according to them, forms a Luciferic symbol of an inverted star representing a goat's (devil's) head. This has become a center of many fictional works from authors like Brad Meltzer and Dan Brown.

It's interesting to know that it is possible for a whole bustling city or urban sprawl to be built just to serve one purpose; as a symbol, a sign, a building block, a unit which fits into a space of a larger puzzle.

A Grand Design as one might say. Every component, sub-unit or area of the city consciously or unconsciously is contributing to one purpose. In Amestris, the buildings form the symbol (the circle) while the citizen form the ingredients. In the M25, the highway itself forms the sigil while all the motorists become some sort of sacrifice to feed the dread sigil. While in the case of Washington, the streets form the symbol.

A common denominator for the designs is the existence of an overseeing entity to make sure the vision is complete, whether it is the Homunculi, the Devil himself or the Illuminati. I wonder if there are other real cities formed in similar circumstances?


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