Friday, February 22, 2019

Israeli Moon Mission


Today, Israel launched its first moon mission. If successful, the tiny spacecraft will make Israel the fourth nation to land a probe on the moon. (I would list the first three, but that would be telling.) It will also be the first time a private company landed a probe on the moon, as opposed to a government.

The spacecraft is named Beresheet. This is a transliteration of the first word in the Bible. In Western transliterations, it is usually spelled Bereshith. It means “In the beginning,” and that is the Hebrew name for Genesis.

Since I can’t get a public domain picture of the spacecraft, here is the first part of Genesis:



Since Hebrew goes from right to left, Bereshith, or בּרּאּשּיּתּ  is the first word to the left of the number 1. (There are too many dagheshes in the letters, but this is what I had to work with.)

So go to the moon, little craft. And the rest of you read Genesis. It’s good for you.


Monday, February 4, 2019

Deepfake—Jennifer Lawrence and Others


I’ve just discovered the deepfake phenomenon. Seriously, for the first couple seconds of this, I thought, “So that’s what Jennifer Lawrence looks like without her makeup.”

I can’t embed the video because of copyright issues, but here’s

[Steve Buscemi’s face on Jennifer Lawrence]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXfq3BHu1SM

Yes, this has been done before by multi-million dollar studios. But now this can be done cheaply in a short amount of time.

It gets more serious. Here is how lip movements from a real video can be altered.

[Obama’s lip movements altered]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiBrzxm9taQ

Note that the actor is not lip-synching. Obama’s lips are being altered. You may have seen movies featuring pigs with animated lips. But this is being done realistically with a real person. And again, this can be done much cheaper now.

Now here’s how easily a person’s voice can be faked.

[Cloning a voice]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnFC-s2nOtI


I’m aware these are different technologies. But imagine them melded together and easy to access in a few years. Anyone with a sufficiently good computer and enough patience could fake a video of you. Anyone could take a video and some audio of you from Facebook or some other source and come up with a deepfake video of you saying anything.

The nightmare scenario is someone putting a deepfake video of the president online, saying he has launched nuclear missiles towards Russia, China, or North Korea. On a more personal level, it could be a video of you saying something racist, or admitting to a sexual scandal, or bragging about embezzling from work.

In the anime series Ghost in the Shell, videos are no longer used in the future as evidence. One murderer hacked the security footage to substitute a detective’s image for his or her own. This caused consternation among the police when that detective arrived.

I’m not sure how all this will turn out in the future. But it may be important to include in science fiction stories.

In the meanwhile, to include an image in this post, and for those of you who thought I was uncharitable towards Jennifer Lawrence, here’s the soundtrack for The Hunger Games.

Hunger Games [Original Score]
Order from Barnes & Noble
Order from Amazon

I recommended this and other instrumental music here

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War


Joseph Loconte’s book, A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War is advertised to be an account of J.R.R. Tolkien and  C.S. Lewis in the First World War. So it was with great eagerness that I started to read it.

Unfortunately, I have to report it is no such thing. Readers of this blog will know this is not a negative blog, so this is more of a warning concerning truth in advertising.



Loconte is obviously an educated man who has done a good amount of research. His chapters are quick essays on important and somewhat overlooked aspects of societal trends before and during the war. He reveals how eugenics was popular among intellectuals in America and Britain, as well as in Germany, and the influence Darwin’s family had on it. He describes in detail how liberal theologians tended to identify the kingdom of God with their own nations, whether Britain, France, Germany, etc.

What is frustrating is he tends to describe an important movement or trend in society, then state that it must have had a great influence on Tolkien or Lewis. He may use no quotations, or a quotation from one of them that kind of has to do with the subject, or a quotation that has nothing to do with it. And he sometimes describes The Lord of the Rings incorrectly.

Back to this not being a negative blog. If you want a series of essays on those societal trends, with occasional quotations from Tolkien or Lewis, or other thoughtful people, this book can be eye-opening.

What really killed it for me was when Loconte started to have some good quotations from Tolkien, then he revealed he was getting them from some weighty tome out there called Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. I stopped reading Loconte’s book halfway through. Maybe I’ll get that other book.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Hymns at the Mall


This is a little late. At a mall before Christmas, I noticed a group of Indian singers assemble. The women were wearing traditional saris. So I prepared myself to listen to some multi-cultural music. I was quite surprised when they sang Christmas hymns.



They are the Indo Seattle Christian Fellowship. After singing traditional hymns in English, they sang in Hindi, Telagu, and Tamil. So yes, multi-cultural music, and a good time was had by all.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Movie Review: Anna and the Apocalypse


Singing teenagers. Dance numbers. Bloodthirsty zombies. What’s not to like?

Anna and the Apocalypse is a fresh take on zombies. We’re tired of seeing pointless violence by scary beings who can’t be reasoned with—and those are just the humans! Now we have gleeful high schoolers hacking and bludgeoning their way through hordes of the undead. And it’ll put a smile on your face.

As for the plot: Zombies attack. High schoolers fight back.

A standout scene is Anna singing and dancing her way through a cemetery. It’s all fun until . . . well, that would be telling.


A lot of the singers are brilliant, but the movie pretty much rests on the shoulders of Ella Hunt, who plays Anna. (She was previously in Robot Overlords, which I’ll now have to see.) Lovely voice. And she stays in character while singing, which is just uncanny on her part.

There is also a musical within a musical—a Christmas play the students are rehearsing. That singing and dancing is suitably horrid.

Thankfully, there are no nude or sex scenes. There is some foul language. And the beheadings are just barely off-screen.

Most of the songs are not specifically about zombies. I liked their youthful exuberance so much, I ordered the CD.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Blonde Dream


I think it’s important for writers to write down their dreams. Here’s the latest, from the night of December 5th.

Brit Marling
photo by Gage Skidmore

I stood in a store with glass counters before it opened. The woman training me emphasized I was to be part of an elite team training others. Instead of clocking in at the start of shift, we would develop a unique signature. I developed mine as HOBBIT. She also said we would skip through lunch breaks to continue training. I wondered if this was legal. We would each carry around some large, bulky box that possibly had training materials.

Four more members of the elite team walked in, all female. The lead woman walking in was a slim blonde with long hair. She was about my height. She was smart and attractive, and I hoped to spend time with her. She had written her signature, Brit Marling, on her right cheek in cursive.
I wrote my signature, HOBBIT, on the front of my right shoulder. I saw that at such an awkward angle, the letters came out distorted.
For some reason, I hadn’t shaved in a few days. My whiskers had grown long in patches, sticking out in odd angles from my face. I hoped the women would not notice.
We were now sitting in a lecture hall, students at an elite school. I was sitting directly in front of the blonde, with my row a level down from hers. I hoped I could spend time with her. The lecturer was a typical bearded type with glasses. He was standing at an overhead projector and going forth on a Christian subject.
A fellow with fuzzy hair and beard interrupted. He said in a helpless voice, “I’m close to following the teachings of E. It’s similar to Amish. You know, it stays close to the earth.” He meant he was thinking of abandoning everything and joining some religious agrarian community.
The lecturer looked offended. He said, “You know E. is anti-semitic.” He immediately produced an overhead transparency which he put on the projector, showing E. with unkempt hair and beard, part of a protest. He clearly held up a protest sign with an anti-semitic slogan.
The fellow said, “I know” in a way that showed he didn’t change his helplessness or his thinking.
The lecturer went on to loudly denounce E.’s teaching. He ended by saying to the fellow something like “Grow up!” but not so pedantic. He added, “I don’t have time for this,” and went back to his lecture.
After the lecture was over, I walked across the street to do something. I returned to the incredibly large lobby. The blonde was standing there with three other women. I walked up to them, mainly interested in her. They quite naturally accepted me as part of their conversation.
We walked off together. The blonde was now much taller than I was and wearing a thick coat. It now seemed we were part of a medical school. She said, “We were discussing how we have a pinched nerve.”
I said, “You mean, how you have a pinched nerve.”
She smiled and said I was right. “It was left after a procedure I had.”
One of the other women had light brown hair. I stared at her face a few moments to get familiar with her features.
There were now just three of us walking. The blonde offered to introduce us to Donald Trump. I agreed.
We were now in a hotel, and we walked into a conference room. The three of us didn’t seem to be students. Donald Trump was on the other side of a long table. He was in a business suit, and he seemed to be a famous businessman, not president. He spoke in his fast, sales pitch style. He offered to adjust the blonde’s spine.
She lay face down on the table. She was no longer wearing her thick coat. She pulled up her top somewhat to reveal her lower back. I said, “I need to leave.”
She said, “Why?”
I gestured and said, “Bare skin.”
She didn’t get it and said I should stay.
Trump continued to speak in his sales pitch style. He said, “I will now adjust the T3 vertebra.”
[This was completely incorrect. The T3 vertebra is thoracic 3, in the mid back. He was about to adjust L5, in the lumbar region.]
Even though he was standing to the right of her, he somehow did a chiropractic kind of adjustment to her L5, shifting it from left to right.
The blonde got up and was immediately better. Now wearing her heavy coat again, she offered to pay him fifty dollars, getting the fifty dollar bill out of her pocket.
Trump produced an envelope. He said if she wanted to, she could give it to a favorite charity of his. He announced the registration number of the charity. He held the envelope so a closed-caption camera could see the number on the envelope. He obviously realized he could get in trouble for accepting a fee for a service he was unlicensed to perform, and for doing it in a hotel. 


#

Since this was my dream, I know the interpretation of it. I’ve redacted the names of the innocent, and the guilty. Have fun with any comments, but only the dreamer knows the interpretation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving for Sarah Michelle Geller


Sarah Michelle Geller (most famous for her role as Buffy the Vampire Slayer) posted on Instagram, “I’m just going to pin these up all over my house as a reminder not to overeat on Thursday.”

I’ll let you guess which pictures she chose. Her Instagram.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture that’s free to use.


photo by David Shankbone 

Which brings me to my own parody of urban fantasy. Dee and her friend Hope are NOT grown-up versions of Buffy. They have their own personalities. In this scene, Dee had walked in on her friend Hope, who happened to be dressed up in a French maid’s outfit in anticipation of her husband coming home. After some laughter, Hope went off to change. The idea is to parody urban fantasy by showing things from a housewife’s viewpoint.

#

She heard Dee call her name. Hope grimaced at the maid’s hat in her reflection, noting the polyester didn’t keep its shape well. “It’s no bother. We French maids change all the time.” She wondered if vampires could really blank themselves from mirrors at will. No wonder the females don’t bother with makeup.
Still with the one earring in her hand, she began to work on the left one when she heard Dee’s muffled voice again. Something bad. And how had she missed the sound of a struggle on the sofa?
Hope kicked off the little black shoes. Her nylon-stockinged feet zigged and zagged on the carpet as she charged into the living room.
Two vampires. Stockings or no, she tackled the female vampire on top of her friend.
It was a klutz move, but it worked: She and her opponent both ended up on their backs. But the female vampire was on top of her, smelling like it had slept in some ditch alongside the freeway. “I just vacuumed, you stupid vamp!”
Dee was still on the sofa, and Hope got a glimpse of her friend turning into a whirlwind. Now free of the female vampire, Dee whipped a leg up over her shoulder and kicked the male vampire who was holding a sack over her—dead in the face.
“Hey, great soccer kick.”


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Star Trek Bohemian Rhapsody


No, you cannot go until you see the bottom of this post.

The movie Bohemian Rhapsody is out. But you haven’t truly experienced it until you hear it in the original William Shatner:

Scaramouch! Scaramouche!

Which brings me to my own Star Trek credit. My short story “Yeoman Figgs” was published in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds V some years ago. This is a real Star Trek publication, not some fanfic.



You can read the start if you manage to look inside at p. 33. But if you like what you see, please buy a copy at Amazon or Barnes &Noble.

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