The Null Device

2007/9/28

Blog of the day: Mark Mardell's Euroblog, in which a BBC Europe correspondent writes insightful pieces on news stories concerning the EU, such as the prospect of Belgium splitting in two, the clash between Poland and the EU, and the (receding) prospects of a federal "United States of Europe".

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2007/9/27

Wired has an interview with Ridley Scott about the soon to be released final cut of Blade Runner:

It's the same as trying to do a monster movie. You know, Alien is a C film elevated to an A film, honestly, by a great monster. In this instance, my special effect was the world. That's why I put together people like [industrial designer] Syd Mead who were actually serious futurists. The big test is saying, Draw me a car in 30 years' time, without it looking like bad science fiction. Or, Draw me an electric iron that will be pressing shirts in 20 years without it looking silly. I wanted the world to be futuristic and yet feel — not familiar, because it won't be — but feel authentic. One of the hardest sets to design was the kitchen. It's easy to fantasize about Tyrell's giant neo-Egyptianesque boardroom, but imagining a bathroom and kitchen in those times, that's tricky. Nevertheless, fascinating. I love the problem.
The piece also includes pullquotes from various luminaries about Blade Runner:
J. Craig Venter, Geneticist:
"The movie has an underlying assumption that I just don't relate to: that people want a slave class. As I imagine the potential of engineering the human genome, I think, wouldn't it be nice if we could have 10 times the cognitive capabilities we do have? But people ask me whether I could engineer a stupid person to work as a servant. I've gotten letters from guys in prison asking me to engineer women they could keep in their cell. I don't see us, as a society, doing that."
Ray Kurzweil, Futurist
"The scenario of humans hunting cyborgs doesn't wash because those entities won't be separate. Today, we treat Parkinson's with a pea-sized brain implant. Increase that device's capability by a billion and decrease its size by a hundred thousand, and you get some idea of what will be feasible in 25 years. It won't be, 'OK, cyborgs on the left, humans on the right.' The two will be all mixed up."

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The question of how to reconcile religious practices with modern technological realities where their founders' assumptions do not hold has arisen again, as the world's first devoutly Muslim astronaut prepares to go into space, taking with him a document written by 150 Islamic scientists and scholars assembled by the Malaysian space agency on Islamic practice in space:

Dr. Kamal Abdali, a cartographer who is also Muslim and who has written (.pdf) extensively on determining the qibla, favors the great circle route, but adds, "Prayer is not supposed to be a gymnastic exercise. One is supposed to concentrate on the prayer rather the exact orientation." He points out that in a train or plane, it's customary to start in the qibla direction but then continue the prayer without worrying about possible changes in position.
Yet the option to pray while facing a point in space brings up another problem. Muslims face the ground to pray, in part to avoid any hint of pagan sun or moon worship ("Prostrate yourselves not to the sun nor to the moon, but prostrate yourselves to Allah Who created them, if you (really) worship Him" (The Quran, Fussilat 41:37). If the Ka'aba projection happens to line up with the sun or moon, purists might believe the prayer invalid.
Questions like these will continue as more and more religious astronauts travel into space. When is sunset in low Earth orbit if you're experiencing a dozen sunrises and sunsets in every 24-hour period? When does Sabbath begin on the moon, where the sun sets once a month? When is the first sighting of the crescent moon if you're on Mars? Religious councils of all faiths will have plenty to keep them busy for years.

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