Mon, Sep
27
2004

Ouch!

Mon, Sep 27, 2004

Best line in a scathing movie review goes to Mr. Cranky in his review of First Daughter:

After this movie is over, you’ll know what muscles you use to cringe.

Link courtesy of Everything is in Flux


totalrecall.jpg

Speaking of bad movies, I caught a bit of Total Recall yesterday.

Actually, that’s unfair. The writing of Phillip K. Dick’s original story (We Can Remember It for You Wholesale) manages to shine through and give the thing some decent lustre, but everything else about the movie (the acting, the scientific implausibilities, going to Mars) is so flawed as to be funny.

For instance, there’s the scene Arnold’s character comes to Mars, with agents from “The Agency” hard on his heels. Now, let me just say that the Agency in the real world would be unable to find their posterior with both hands. In the real world, any suggestion that a government agency was engaging in rampant unplanned gunfights with enemies in public would probably result in Congressional commissions from here to indefinite-time-period-of-your-choice (phrase courtesy Erin). The agents are remarkably easy to fool, and haven’t been taught about the dangers of explosive decompression.

So Arnold’s character arrives on Mars, the agents identify him and, of course, start shooting — in the terminal building, with lots of people and exterior glass windows around. A single bullet hits a window and, boom!, everybody’s clutching at every nailed-down object in order to avoid being sucked out into the Martian “vacuum”.

Problems with this:

  1. Mars is not a vacuum. The effect would probably be greater than the sudden decompression of a plane at 40,000 feet, but it’s not as if the colony windows stare out into open space.
  2. One bullet is enough to shatter the only line of defence between the Martian colony and the outer Martian surface? Who built the colony, a slum lord?
  3. The decompression continues for a good minute, until somebody has the presence of mind and the strength to drag himself to the big red button marked “close shields.” A screen helpfully alerts that there’s an explosive decompression in progress (gee, thanks!). So, let me get this straight: the computers can detect an explosive decompression, but it takes a human to do anything about it? Who designed this colony, Microsoft? Maybe the colonists didn’t download the patch.
  4. Pressing the button closes not only a honking big metal shutter over the vanished window, but shutters over every single exit in the terminal. Arnold is able to escape his pursuers as one of the shutters close (the terminal shutters, incidentally, close after the window shutter stops the explosive decompression, allowing Arnold to escape without simultaneously battling hurricane-force winds). When the agents try to pursue, terminal officials tell them they can’t open the shutters because “they’re all connected”. Yup, the Martians bought Microsoft Colony 2070. They should have invested in Linux.

It’s interesting to see the eighties take on the future, which is apparently all brutalist concrete architecture and grunge, the complete opposite of the fifties jumpsuits and chrome, but equally unrealistic. One posh hotel room in whatever Earth city Arnold lives in (Washington?) has to be one of the ugliest hotel rooms I’ve ever seen (and I’ve stayed in some pretty cheap motels), and I’m surprised that any society could build this stuff without architecture critics going into open revolt.

The movie is also gratuitously violent. There’s a remarkable scene where Arnold tries to escape in the subway, and the agents open fire as he ascends a very crowded escalator. Everybody ducks, but some poor soul in front of Arnold gets struck by machine gun fire. Arnold procedes to use this guy (who jerks theatrically every time he gets shot, suggesting he’s still alive) as a human shield. This prompted me to ad lib:

“Hi, I’m Fred! Ow! Ow! Ow! I have a wife - ow! - and two young daughters. Ouchie! They’re named Kelsey and Ashley. Ooo! I graduated valedictorian at Georgetown U! Aiiee! I’m a manager at a supermarket — Ow! Ow! Ow! — and I like to play street football! OWWWW! Remember me!!!! Urk!”

The Matrix had a similar disturbing disregard for human life, but it was more artfully presented, and at least gave some plot reasons for it.


Hydrogen Fuel Cells; Not Just For Cars Anymore

This article from the Globe and Mail talks about how fuel cell technology is being applied to real estate. Buildings such as the 120,000-square-foot Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability in Vancouver are getting taken off the grid with the installation of 250 kilowatt fuel cells. As long as the building maintains a steady supply of hydrogen gas, its power needs will be met.

Whether or not the building pollutes depends entirely on where and how their hydrogen is produced. Hydrogen requires a lot of electricity and is essentially a battery that bottles energy. How is that electricity produced? If it’s by a coal or oil power plant, then in terms of pollution we’re back to square one. On the other hand, if it’s solar, wind or geothermal energy, we’re ahead.

Either way, the installations show that hydrogen fuel cells are starting to become cost effective. Although costing roughly $5000 per kilowatt, this cost is close to that of installing battery backups in some buildings and, as the technology improves and becomes more widely used, it’s likely that the prices will come down.


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