Tasering Leia: The Science of Star Wars

12 08 2008

Scientific American has a great feature on Star Wars, coinciding with the imminent release in US theatres of the animated Clone Wars film. There is also an interview with Jeanne Cavelos, author of The Science of Star Wars, canvassing xenobiology, cloning, robotics, human survival on a range of exoplanets with varying conditions, intergalactic travel, and laser weaponry:

What about laser weapons? Are we any closer to having those, and are they realistic?Who wouldn’t want to have a blaster? They are so cool. Right now we have low-powered lasers than can blind people, or higher power ones that burn skin or clothing—kind of like a long-distance flamethrower. The most powerful lasers we have that I know of have about 2.2 megawatts of power, which can destroy enemy missiles from thousands of miles away. These are rather similar to what we see in Star Wars.

But for these lasers we need enough equipment to fill up a truck or even a building. We can’t exactly fit this laser technology into a holster just yet. The best lasers are still only 30 percent efficient and the rest of their energy is lost as heat. You also have to cool the laser down to keep it working properly, plus you need to put a lot of power in to get a lot of power out.

There are wireless TASERs now about the size of a flashlight. They send out an ultraviolet laser beam that breaks up air molecules between them and the target. This releases ions, and then electricity can be sent through the air to knock someone out, or even give them a heart attack if you’re not careful. It’s kind of similar to when Princess Leia was stunned by the storm troopers near the beginning of the first movie [Episode IV: A New Hope]. There are also prototypes of stun grenades that superheat moisture in the air, which makes an explosive flash and bang that can stun people.

Cavelos also sheds light on The Force and the logistics of light sabers. You can read excerpts from The Science of Star Wars here.

Things they’d have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City XVI

2 06 2008

The week in fundie . . .

  1. Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion reports on calls from within the evangelical wing of the Church of England to convert British Muslims, on the grounds that “Our nation is rooted in the Christian faith and that is the basis of welcoming people of other faiths,” and despite the fact that in the nineties the Church leadership distanced itself from an organisation established to evangelise Jews (a point on which the evangelicals, Bartholomew notes, remain silent).
  2. The Spanish Inquisition Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has decreed that “anyone trying to ordain a woman and any woman who attempts to receive the ordination would incur automatic excommunication” from the Catholic Church. Kiddy-fiddlers are still welcome, however. (Yahoo News)
  3. When it comes to the separation of church and state and the issue of whether there should be a religious test for public office in the US, Democrat member of the Indiana State House of Representatives David “Dave” Cheatham doesn’t beat around the bush. He argues that “Any public official should have as a top priority the goal of serving God and living a life as a witness for Jesus.” The separation of church and state is, for Cheatham, a “one-way street”:

    Religion and faith should be able to affect government policies and practices, but government should not interfere with legitimate religions. Restricting prayer in school and the reading of the Bible and the Ten Commandments was never intended to be the affect of the 1st amendment. Government has over-stepped their authority. Government’s relation to religion should be one of “benevolent neutrality.”

    “Benevolent neutrality,” means neutrality towards the religions Cheatham is prepared to recognise.

    government should not be used to favor a particular religion over another as long as the religion is a legitimate faith with the belief in God. Cults and other pseudo-religions are not really religions in my mind.

    Via Fundies Say the Darndest Things.

  4. Villagers in Orissa, India bound and gagged a woman they accused of being a witch, dragged her from her home to the local crematorium, and burnt her alive. This happened last week. It happens to dozens of Indian women every year. (Reuters)
  5. At an Anonymous rally in Glasgow, police ordered protesters to take down placards labelling Scientology a cult. Similar action was taken against a protester in London last month. (Sunday Herald)
  6. According to Jason Leopold at OpEdNews, some US soldiers are distributing Bibles and other fundamentalist Christian material translated into Arabic to thousands of Iraqi Muslims, in order to convert them to Christianity. Members of the 101st Airborne Division have been provided with a special military edition of Bible Pathway Ministries‘ Daily Devotional bible study book, and are using them, according to an officer in the division, “to minister to the local residents.” Elaborating upon this blatant violation of the Establishment Clause, Chief Warrant Officer Rene Llanos explains that “We need to pray for protection for our soldiers as they patrol and pray that God would continue to open doors. The soldiers are being placed in strategic places with a purpose. They’re continuing to spread the Word.”
  7. In the Filipino province of Leyte, the Catholic Church is considering tithing in order to keep its parishes afloat financially. This is in a country in which 26.9 percent of families were deemed to be living below the poverty line in 2006. (Inquirer.net)
  8. How much irony can you pack into one story? ABC News Online reports that moderate Muslims rallying in Jakarta in favour of religious tolerance have been attacked . . . by baton-wielding radical Muslims. The moderates were protesting against Indonesian government plans to ban the Ahmadiyah sect, considered heretical by many other Muslims. Read the rest of this entry »

“Greeg! Dud you hear thet?”

22 05 2008

Today’s useless trivia concerns “Figwit,” a long-forgotten phenomenon of the Peter Jackson-directed Lord of the Rings movies.

“Figwit” was an extra–just a chair-filler at the Council of Elrond with no speaking role–but such was his popularity back in the day that Jackson decided to give him a few lines in Return of the King:

“Figwit,” by the way, stands for “Frodo Is Great . . . Who Is That?” So, who is he? Read the rest of this entry »

Computer says no.

10 04 2008

Is there a difference between lying and lying for Jesus?

9 04 2008

If you’ve spent any length of time in the atheosphere over the past month, you’ll be aware of the by-now-infamous “Expelled from Expelled” debacle involving PZ Myers. Myers himself gives the most entertaining account of what happened (but see also Matt’s series of posts on this incident). Basically, the producers of Expelled have been so desperate to get bums on seats that until very recently (hmmm) they were encouraging people to sign up on the movie’s website for private screenings, and to bring guests. Myers (who appears in the film as is thanked in the credits) signed up, arrived at the Mall of America screening with guests in tow, had his name checked off, and was then pulled out of the queue by a security guard, acting on the specific instructions of the producers, who threatened Myers with arrest if he attempted to enter the theatre. What the producers failed to notice is that one of Myers’ guests was none other than Richard Dawkins (who has written his own piece on the incident), who announced his presence to an ashen-faced producer Mark Mathis in the Q & A session after the screening.

Sure, it’s one hell of an own goal for the creationist movement, but for me the bigger irony lies in the tremendous amount of spin the producers and other ID luminaries have attempted to put on this incident, given Expelled‘s overarching thesis–that evolution –> atheism –> the Holocaust–and, by implication, antievolutionists’ claim to the moral high ground. (The motto of the production company behind Expelled reads as follows: “Producing world class media that stirs the heart and inspires the mind to truth, purpose and hope.” (Emphasis added.)) The creationists have been manifestly dishonest about the “Expelled from Expelled” fiasco–that much is certain–but they also seem to think they’re doing the right thing.

So here’s my question. Under what circumstances is mendacity theologically, ideologically or ethically justifiable?

Things they’d have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City VI

30 01 2008

The week in fundie . . .

  1. A court in Cairo has rejected the request of a Christian convert from Islam to have his new religion printed on his ID card. Why? Because “Monotheistic religions were sent by God in chronological order… As a result, it is unusual to go from the latest religion to the one that preceded it.” Without an ID card, you can’t get a job, buy property, open a bank account or send your kids to school in Egypt. Isn’t theocracy wonderful? (Independent Online)
  2. Speaking of the profound good that can only come from mixing religion and politics, women in Gaza feel under increasing pressure to cover their heads, according to a UN report. Over the wall in Israel, women are not allowed to serve as religious court judges (yes, they have religious courts there), conversion to Judaism is only recognisable by Orthodox rabbis, and if you have no official religion you can be deemed to be “unmarriageable.” (Haaretz)
  3. Even fundies recognise that “American Judeo-Christian values are not the equivalent of Western values.” As Ronald R. Cherry tells it, “Judaism and Christianity are religions born in the ancient Middle East, and both are rooted in Biblical text and faith. Western values were born primarily in ancient Greece and Rome, and are rooted in reason.” Amen, brother! (Renew America)
  4. The Archbishop of Canterbury wants to ban Five Public Opinions. (Times Online)
  5. The A-Word: verboten in Hollywood? (Talk To Action)

The Hobbit: Peter Jackson’s back on board

20 12 2007

This is fantastic news. I’ve been a Tolkien junkie since I was 15 years old, and couldn’t wait for the New Line adaptation of Lord of the Rings, having been sorely disappointed by Ralph Bakshi’s version. I loved Fellowship, found it difficult to get past some of the plot changes in The Two Towers, and was a little let down by Return of the King, though it’s growing on me.

I’ll have to revisit my copy of The Hobbit again, and it will be interesting to speculate about how well it will translate to film in the hands of Jackson and co. I guess they’ll be looking for a new Bilbo, given that Ian Holm will be pushing 80 (doubtless appearing much as he does at the end of Return of the King) by the time The Hobbit is released.

Via Pharyngula.