Monday, 25 February 2013

New to Netflix UK - 25/02/13

Only two movies this week...

Superbad - Three teens go out of their way to secure alcohol for a party in an attempt to impress the girls. One of the more superior items in the genre, Superbad showed that raunchy humour could also find a relatable story to engage its viewers in.

Middle Men - An account behind the rise of internet porn in the 90's. While the story can drag at times, the film benefits greatly from an excellent cast and remains as one of the few films to tackle the subject manner in such an entertaining way.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Asteroid (Meteor) Mining - The Basic Concept

I noticed that there was some interest in the news post last month concerning the go-ahead date for the space mining operations therefore I have decided to offer a bit more detail into what this will encompass.
[I would also like to clarify that it is technically asteroid mining. By definition asteroids remain in space and only once they enter earth's atmosphere do they classify as meteors.]

Is Asteroid Mining a Good Idea?
  One of the main arguments for the start of a space mining program is the obvious fact that we are currently consuming the earth's resources at an increasing rate. Much of this problem stems from the fact that modern technology relies heavily on precious metals which due to their limited availability results in them being expensive to process. Current mineral deposits won't run out in the near-near future but they will eventually run out. We need to look at either alternative materials or alternative sources and while many seem to choose the former there are some who are beginning to believe in the latter.
  Another benefit is that this will increase the interest in pushing forward space technology. In the last 50 years, the technology required to get into space has made huge advances and yet it is still incredibly expensive and risky. We've already seen a huge leap in space exploration this century with the start-up of many private companies (with SpaceX and Scaled Composites being the two biggest names) and pretty soon we're going to start seeing space tourism for the first time ever, however this is a limited niche in the market. The creation of a mining program will expand that niche market to allow for others to come along and come up with new and cheaper way to get objects up into space. Essentially, we’re talking about starting an industrial revolution in space.

  On the other hand, one of the big problems is that to achieve this advancement in space-flight technology, a huge amount of money needs to be invested into the program (we’re looking at billions of dollars) as the required technology to make this venture successful does not exist yet. This means that whoever is involved will be putting up huge sums of money without any payout for a while and many investors are not comfortable with such a long-time investment coupled with an unknown chance of failure. This hasn’t however turned most people off and the program has attracted the bank accounts of Google CEO Larry Page and Hollywood Director James Cameron, both of whom are no strangers to this type of investment (Google have set up the Google Lunar X which awards a $20m prize to the first private lunar rover while Cameron holds the record for deepest undersea dive). As a result it seems that the interest required to make the mining operation worthwhile is not yet enough however this will definitely change if and when Deep Space Industries announce their first successful mining mission.
  While it’s all very well to get a mining craft up into space there’s still the problem of actually getting it to land on an asteroid to begin the extraction process. The average asteroid speed is governed by its orbital rotation around the sun (much like the planets) and normally registers around 25km/s. Although up in space this does not amount to much, it does leave a very small timeframe from which the asteroid can be mined without the craft disappearing into space, presenting another obstacle that needs to be cleared before any progress can be made. In addition to this, the time to get a mining craft into space, onto an asteroid and start extracting minerals could under current circumstances take well over a year therefore the deployment time also needs to be significantly improved.

Economic Viability
  In the end the biggest factor that will affect whether a space mining program will be successful or not will be how much money it can make. As I’ve already pointed out, the initial costs are massive however they also need to factor in the cost of each mission. All spacecraft are limited by their payload on account of for every pound of weight you take into space you need a certain amount of fuel to get it there. As a result all launches are rated on a cost of fuel per weight ratio, which currently stands at around $10,000/lb and is the main reason why space travel is so expensive. Pioneers believe that in the next 10 years the ratio could be as low as $500/lb, but again this requires huge amounts of money to be invested to make it a reality.

  Asteroid surveys have shown them to be mineral rich, particularly in rare-earth materials such as platinum and gold. Platinum currently has a market value of around $25600/lb, so assuming you can extract the mining craft’s weight in it then you have essentially broken even for that mission. Also when you consider that a 1km wide asteroid could hold more precious metals that have ever been collected on earth, the financial opportunity could be huge in the long run.

  A key current financial problem would be that repeat launches would prove to be significantly expensive. One innovation would be to allow the mining craft to jump from one asteroid to the next, essentially making it a one-launch vehicle. Assuming the craft is not responsible for transporting the collected minerals back to earth and acknowledging the fact that it won’t be able to be upgraded or fixed, the only significant problem would be in refuelling the craft, however there is an easy fix.

  As well being high in minerals and ores, asteroids are also rich in water (ice) and this could prove to be an invaluable resource for any future space project. Water is used in many instances as propellant for spacecrafts as it is not likely to combust unexpectedly, but it is also one of the most valuable resources in space due to its limited [almost zero] availability. Taking into account that to transport large quantities of water into space to begin with can cost millions of dollars, the idea of having a ‘reservoir’ ready and waiting would reduce the cost of many space-flight missions by a significant factor. It is highly likely that mining companies will charge for water much like oil companies charge for petrol.

How Does It Work?
  One of the greatest problems that will be faced will be to find a way to allow for mining to take place over a long period of time without the asteroid continuing on its planned orbit. There is a lot of discussion at the moment over the possibility of pulling asteroids to orbit the earth. The obvious benefits here will be that the speed of the asteroid will decrease substantially but also that it will always remain in close proximity for travel to and send resources from. This method isn’t without its controversies however with the majority of people pointing out the disastrous effects should the asteroid decide to collide with earth. There is also the issue of how to get a kilometre-wide asteroid to orbit the earth to begin with however scientists believe that the same technology used to pull them into orbit with us could also be used to push potential meteors away.

  Then there’s the issue of the actual mining process which, although techniques have not exactly been discussed in great detail, there are only a few ways in which it can be carried out. The obvious method would be to drill as this allows for sensors to pick up mineral rich deposits and target them accurately however there are also talks of ‘combing’ the asteroid in order to ensure that a maximum possible area is covered. This method also allows for a much higher degree of accuracy over choosing which ores and minerals to collect and which to dump. With no oxygen available, all motors would have to be electrically powered and would therefore be heavily performance limited.

  There is also a lot of debate over the return system. The crafts themselves could serve as vessels for carrying the raw materials, given that it requires a lot less energy to re-enter the atmosphere than to leave it, but then you are still stuck with sending it back once it has been unloaded, again factoring in further launch costs. One popular method is to send them back down in containers or pods which would then be collected by the mining companies.

Political Repercussions
  One of the greatest worries over the space mining innovation is who will benefit from it. It is a highly restricted industry with only a few wealthy key players but if they are able to pull it off it would give them full control over a wide range of materials that are key in modern society. This in turn would put them at a huge financial advantage. What this would then lead to is essentially watching the rich get even richer. This could also lead to political instability among world leaders if all the benefits of the campaign were only ever seen by a few elite countries. The last we want is for control over mining rights in space to develop into a scenario similar to the oil monopoly.

  So what’s the solution? The original Space Race was a competition between two countries on the brink of nuclear war however it has now become a beacon of combined efforts between countries all over the world. Countries who 10 years ago wouldn’t have even dreamed of having a say have managed to establish and launch a space program. The concept of space mining has the potential to act as a unifier between nations, with everyone benefiting from the rewards so long as everyone has a chance to be involved or ensuring that everyone gets a taste of the profits.

Final Thoughts
  Space really is the next big conquest and to motivate an entire industry to invest in it is the only way it will ever get the scientific leap it needs to succeed. The risks are certainly high but the rewards, properly moderated, could be instrumental in mankind's dream of living among the stars.

Sources (check out for more information)

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Listen Now - Upstream Color Soundtrack

[Update: As of now it seems as though the soundtrack has been removed. You can still buy it however from most online retailers.]

Back in 2004, engineer-turned-film-maker Shane Carruth unleashed unto the world Primer, a low budget sci-fi time travel movie that to this day still astounds viewers with it's complex narrative.

Upstream Color, his follow-up film, proved to be more mind boggling than Primer and managed to amaze audiences as well as infuriate them. Apparently a big piece of the appeal was the music, also composed by Carruth, and it is now available to listen to online via his SoundCloud page.

[via io9]

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

How to Prevent a Meteor Striking the Earth

Last week saw a rare event where not only did we have an asteroid pass by at record distance from the earth, we also had one strike it. The effect of the impact in Russia, while it was responsible for a heavy amount of casualties, could have been a lot worse and the talk in the scientific community is back to 'How do we prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future'.

The reason why the meteor wasn't detected was on account of being too small and faint to see in the night sky. Ironically this means that we currently have to hope one of the larger meteors hits us to ensure that we know it's coming. So what can we do to prevent such wide-scale destruction?

Currently, we possess no certified technology to alter the path of the asteroid, which makes our most plausible current option to evacuate the area of impact. This means detecting the object a good few months before to ensure minimal human casualties. This however is not a brilliant option as this assumes that the meteor is small-scale to prevent mass ecological damage and also a meteor of any size striking a built up area (with or without people) will likely cause huge economical repercussions.

Nuclear Weapons
Humanities first option when presented with an alien threat is 'Can we Nuke it'? While this is still a grey area (many scientists believe that a controlled explosion could vaporise the majority of the asteroid, allowing for smaller debris to break up in the atmosphere) there is still the concern that we are detonating a radioactive device above our planet with no real knowledge as to what the long term effects could be.
I'm pretty sure there's also a treaty banning the use of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere therefore this currently remains a bad idea.

Other Weapons
When nuclear weapons are not an option, we turn to normal missiles for help. While a safer method in that there's no radiation, the explosion would not be enough to detroy the meteor completely and therefore we would have to hope that our atmosphere would take care of the rest.
If North Korea's "space program" is ever successful they may become our only hope.

Fighting Fire with Fire
Newton's Third Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction therefore some believe that by launching another object into space it is possible to deflect the asteroid.
While technically a sound theory, the biggest problem would be managing to get an object that has enough mass to deflect a 1km wide asteroid into space to begin with. Although it is possible to deflect an asteroid enough to miss the earth with an object of small mass, the deflection would have to occur a long long way from earth to have any effect. Current detection techniques do not allow for this solution.
(Mind you, Futurama pulled it off therefore it has to be accurate...)

Beams and Gravity
Using the theory that by deflecting the asteroid from it's orbit, even by just a little, could prevent a catastrophic collision, scientists have been looking inventively into the use of ion beams. This would effectively push the giant rock enough that it would bypass the earth.
Similarly, other's have been using the idea of sending an object to fly along-side the asteroid and allowing the gravitational attraction (weak though it may be) to change the course of direction.
Again these methods rely heavily on us having enough warning to ensure that we can alter the asteroids path.

Sci-Fi Methods
Who said scientists were never inventive? Other proposals also include turning the asteroid into a make-shift ship and steer it out of the way, basically recreating the movie Armageddon and an orbital defence network (which could prove useful against alien invasions).

It is worth bearing in mind that more people die in the space of a month due to war and conflict than have ever died as a result of all the meteorite impacts in recorded history. While arguably the earth has never been more populated with human life, the need for such a way to defend ourselves could be attributed to an increased sense of paranoia brought on by science fiction and in fact there is nothing to worry about.

Perhaps the need to prevent an asteroid collision is as necessary as trying to prevent an earthquake or a volcano, which is impossible to do. All we can do is set up ample detection systems to give us enough time to evacuate to safety when they strike.

Monday, 18 February 2013

New to Netflix UK - 18/02/13

Once again there's very little to chew on. Very disappointing guys, very disappointing.

The League - Situ-improv comedy series about a group of 'friends' and their fantasy (American) football league. Season 4 has just been added of this very funny series. Highly recommended for those who like It's Always Sunny and The Office.
The Proposal - To avoid deportation back to Canada, a hard-ass boss forces a co-worker to marry her despite the hatred between them. It's a by the books comedy that is still somewhat enjoyable to watch.

Daddy Day Care - After his business fails, a down-on-his-luck father opens a day care business, because why not. Kids somehow enjoy it but adults will weep at how far Mr Murphy has fallen.

Spy Kids 1 & 2 - Two children find out they are the offspring of the world's top spies and end up saving the world - twice. It's camp, goofy fun but it's still entertaining to watch.

Thunderbirds - A horrendous live-action adaptation whose only purpose is to show how good the series truly was, even by today's standards.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Rant - A Good Day to Die Hard (and Avoid the Cinema)

I don't understand why Hollywood feels it has to dumb down movies for UK audiences just to make sure that it can squeeze more pennies from our wallets. They played a similar trick with Die Hard 4, where all the swearing and violence we've become used to in a Die Hard movie had been taken out. I'm not saying it makes the movie any better however upon viewing the uncut version I felt as though I had enjoyed it more.

So here we go again. A Good Day to Die Hard, a movie sequel that no one really wanted, is finally opening in the UK but with a 'special' cut to take it down to a 12A rating (from what sounds like a 15). This to me seems pointless. No other European country has had this version made for them, so why have we been singled out? Oh yes, it's because the BBFC decides that you have to be a certain age to enjoy movies whereas other countries have the common sense to entrust it in the parents.

Normally I would be happy to blame the UK rating system, something which I've always highly disagreed with, however this isn't a case where the material might be too much or sensitive but rather with Hollywood wanting to attract a younger audience to make more money. For me this feels like we've been provided with an incomplete version of the movie, which I refuse to go to the cinema and pay full price for. I'm not saying that the swearing and violence will make the movie better (all the reviews already point to it being pretty damn dreadful), but if I go and see a bad movie from one of my favourite franchises I at least want to see the complete package, especially if the violence and profanity help induce a factor of nostalgia from the original, which is still one of the best action movies out there.

I don't understand why UK audiences put up with this. Why settle for an incomplete movie, even if it isn't meant to be any good? Don't allow the fat-cats at Hollywood to dictate what we can and cannot see just so they can make money.

I understand there are a few people out there who share the same point of view however, judging by the healthy box office receipts the movie has had, it isn't enough. Take a stand people.

Monday, 11 February 2013

New to Netflix UK - 11/02/13

The only addition this last week appears to be the Netflix Exclusive 'House of Cards'.

Reviews coming in have been very strong, with many praising Kevin Spacey's performance. I'm hoping it will prove to be a big success as this will hopefully encourage Netflix to invest in more TV shows (most importantly bring back cult favourites from the dead).

Monday, 4 February 2013

New to Netflix UK - 4/2/13

The latest offerings to the site.

Get Shorty - A lone shark chasing down a customer ends up embroiled in complex situation which he then tries to manipulate for his benefit. It's an entertain romp that looks at the seedier side of Hollywood politics and boats an impressive cast.

The Sons of Katie Elder - Four brothers reunite and decide to track down the man responsible for their fathers death. Classic western with the Big Duke himself and one of his better films that didn't involve John Ford.

Felicia's Journey - A pregnant young girl, searching for her lover, befriends a middle-aged man who harbours a dark secret. Not an easy film to watch due to its dark overtones however a compelling performance by Bob Hoskins ensures that this psychological thriller will haunt you long after it's over.

Priceless - A woman who has been living of rich men for most of her life finds herself teaching the tricks of her trade to a young waiter when she's unexpectedly dumped. Light and fluffy French rom-com with a charismatic performance by Audrey Tautou.

The Pillars of the Earth - Miniseries chronicling the construction of a cathedral in 12th Century England, depicting the varies political and religious influences that plague it. A well made adaptation of the Ken Follett novel that makes of the most of it's stellar cast to deliver a gripping plot.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Stanford Research Department Looking at Noiseless Jet Engines

Gizmodo reports that the Centre for Turbulence Research at Standord is currently imploring the use of a super computer to crunch numbers to help build a silent jet engine.

The implications of this would be huge as noise is currently one of the biggest disadvantages of using jet engines. Current noise regulations for aircrafts can often result in the performance of the engine taking a hit just to ensure that the noise levels are within the legal limit.