Monthly Archives: May 2019

Why old-school sci-fi is more relevant now than ever.

April was a busy month for me, with lots of flying. And lots of flying means lots of movie-watching or reading or both. Herewith, a quick review of some highlights and some discussion thereof…

On one flight I re-watched Tarkovsky’s Solaris for the umpteenth time. IMHO, it’s aged well. Sure, there aren’t today’s special effects, but that doesn’t matter. And anyway, the Hollywood version from 2002 is apparently low on effects too. Indeed, this is no Star Wars or Matrix or some other sci-fi blockbuster. This is the thinking person’s drama-mystery sci-fi flick. And anyway (again!), I haven’t seen the 2002 version with Amal Clooney’s husband starring ). I wonder what it’s like. I guess the dialog may be the same so it’s surely worth a watch. It’ll differ perhaps only in that there’ll be no smoking indoors (on space ships!), and there won’t be a VCR in sight ).

Not seen the original Solaris, and you’re a thinking Homo sapiens? Then you really must. Why? Many reasons (e.g., the question: ‘is it better than ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’?’:) but here’s a very ‘current’ one: AI.

For Solaris, nearly 50 years ago, was already telling us that artificial intelligence could become more human than, er, humans themselves. In the film, a higher intelligence – the Solaris Ocean – is the one doing the experiments on humans – not the other way round. But that’s by-the-by. The central theme is a questioning of what it is to be human, of identity, of our ‘reality’. By way of example, here’s a quote from the film: an interaction with an artificial person – one being a clone of the human lead character’s long-dead wife, created by the Ocean:

We have no interest in conquering any cosmos. We want to extend the Earth to the borders of the cosmos. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror. We struggle for contact, but we’ll never find it. We’re in the foolish human predicament of striving for a goal that he fears, that he has no need for.

[…]

I think that Kris Kelvin is more consistent than both of you. In inhuman conditions, he has behaved humanely. And you act as if none of this concerns you, and consider your guests – it seems that’s what you call us – something external, a hindrance. But it’s a part of you. It’s your conscience. And Kris loves me. Maybe it’s not me he loves, but he’s simply protecting himself. He wants me alive. That’s not the point. It doesn’t matter why man loves. It’s different for everyone. It’s not Kris. It’s you. I hate you all.

I would ask you… Please don’t interrupt me. I’m a woman, after all. You’re not a woman and you’re not a human being. Understand that, if you’re capable of understanding anything. There is no Hari. She’s dead. You’re just a reproduction, a mechanical reproduction. A copy. A matrix.

Hmmm. And talking of a matrix – one could say the film’s a forerunner of the Hollywood blockbuster starring Keanu Reeves (at a stretch). But I digress…

Not only did I re-watch a classic sci-fi movie, I also re-read a classic sci-fi novel – H.G. Wells’ Time Machine – perhaps the perfect complement to Solaris, for it, too, is about tragic contact between Homo sapiens and non-Homo sapiens.

Btw – it was, I think, Wells who first came up with the idea of folks traveling through time not by magic but through the use of technology. He also introduced the idea of the fourth dimension – space time. And when you think this book was written nearly 125 years ago (!!), you have to take the proverbial hat off to Mr. Wells ).

There’s a bonus when reading books as old as this. There are words in them that are alien to newer generations – like ‘ink’, for example. So there are history lessons dotted throughout such books, and that’s important, for, as we all know, if you don’t know the past, you won’t know the present, never mind the future…

Another btw: it was Wells who guessed that stars, at the end of their lives, turn into red giants. Science hadn’t worked it out back then; Wells imagined it – scientists later confirmed it ).

After watching and reading two retro-futuristic masterpieces, I was inspired to re-read a third – the book on which the film Solaris is based: Stanislaw Lem’s – 1961! – novel of the same name. So I did. And I highly recommend you do too!

That’s all for today folks. Back soon!…

 

 

 

(Motoring through) marble marvels in Taiwan, pt. 3.

Hi folks!

Herewith, my next dispatch from Taiwan…

I’ve already told you about the footpaths that run through the tunnels here. Well there’s a road too – the Central Cross-Island Highway. Built – and in some places chiseled – in 1956–1960, back then it was quite the pioneering engineering feat. Still today they’re renovating and improving it. And they’ve got their work cut out: there are frequent earthquakes, and typhoons cause flooding and mudslides. They dig out new sections for the cars, and the old ones get passed over to tourism.

Read on…

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Marble marvels in Taiwan, pt. 2.

Next up on my marble-mountain trekBaiyang Waterfall Trail.

Curious story alert!…

In the ’80s, they wanted to build a hydroelectric power station here. They got as far as damming up several parts of the gorge and gouging out drainage tunnels that ran through the rock, but then the project was canned. But what to do with tunnels? Of course – use them as tourist tunnel-paths! One of the tunnels is forever leaking (safely) – which makes for perhaps the most interesting of all the tunnels here:

Read on…

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Marble marvels in Taiwan – pt. 1.

Hi folks!

Oh my gigabytes! Yet again I’ve returned home with a zillion photos full of impressive emotions and emotional impressions!…

Right; now, where shall I start? Yes – the most interesting: the Taroko National Park in Taiwan – here.

An amazing place! Mountains… – made out of nothing but marble! The local tectonics here have gifted the place with marvelous marble constructions that come from the depths of the ocean and reach up thousands of meters. The highest peak here is that of Nanhu mountain, weighing in at some 3742 meters above sea level – and all of it marble! In fact, the whole island of Taiwan is the result of subduction of two tectonic plates: the Philippine Sea Plate slipped under and pushed up the Eurasian Plate, including this super selection of formerly underground marble; the elements over the millennia did their erosion thing, and the result is these here monumental rock formations. And the process is still going on today.

Blue water on white marble:

Read on…

My yearly ‘hi’ – to delightful Dubai.

Dubai. Oh my, oh my. A unique, splendid city. I’ve written about the place plenty here before, and it also features in my Top-20 Best, Must-See Cities of the World list. I’d been here before many times. And I looked it up – yes – this visit was my 12th!

I was first here in 2005, when we signed our first partner agreement in the region. Ever since, practically every year there’s been an event of some kind I attended – an exhibition, partner conference, F1 race, etc., etc. But I like it so much I sometimes come here just to chill on the beach for a day or two or three. And I try and stay in the unparalleled Atlantis too ).

I also find the place fascinating due to all the construction that’s always going on here – it’s one of the largest and busiest building sites in the world. I remember at the beginning of the 2010s someone saying that around a quarter of all skyscraper-high cranes were in Dubai (I reckon the other three-quarters were in China:). From the world’s tallest buildings to daring artificial islands. It’s nice to return every year and see what new audacious real estate project has been added to the existing zillion ).

Here are a few pics from 2008, right after Atlantis was opened, and two years after Palm Jumeirah was finished:

Read on…

The museum in Baku – hard to out-do.

Hi folks!

After Hannover – we were headed southeast – over to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, for a conference for our partners from the Middle East, Africa and Southern Asia. Quick report: everything was just great (as usual). Everyone went home with new knowledge, better motivated, fully sated, content and happy. The event took place in one of the three swish Flame Towers, and the views therefrom were very impressive, as could be expected:

Now for some touristy stuff, since we’d scheduled several hours free in the city. We opted for the Heydar Aliyev Center, which fairly amazed us with its design and exhibitions.

First – the shape: Oh my Guggenheim! And what’s best is that its shape changes as you look at it from different angles ).

Read on…

A flight over to Hannover – for the 20th time!

I recall reading somewhere once – I think it was in a German tourist guidebook – that: ‘If you’ve no special reason to go to Hannover, then there’s no real point going there.” Bit harsh, I remember thinking at the time. However, it turns out that it’s also one of my most frequently-visited cities. I carefully went through my records, and low and behold, I’d been to this German city a full 19 times. Well I was there again just the other week – a jubilee: my 20th visit! Accordingly. On this special occasion, I figured it would be appropriate to get out my trusty Sony and get some serious snapping in – since we had a full half-day free in the city. And that’s just what I did. Herewith – the results of that snapping.

Hannover in spring – cherry trees blossoming…

Read on…