Saturday, December 22, 2012

Should Teachers Carry Concealed Hand Guns?

From a gun professional: On teachers carrying concealed weapons:

"The single best way to respond to a mass shooter is with an immediate, violent response. The vast majority of the time, as soon as a mass shooter meets serious resistance, it bursts their fantasy world bubble. Then they kill themselves or surrender. This has happened over and over again." (Here's the full article.)

Only in a world where everyone has a gun for killing others--does this kind of logic even work. I'm not denying guns work as defensive tools. But they ARE designed to be LETHAL. 

Even trained professionals have accidents, from time to time. So nobody can tell me it's a good idea to carry hand guns (concealed or not) where children are involved. Because it's NEVER a good idea.

Limit the guns to almost nill, however, and this logic is revealed to be somewhat questionable. Pro gun activists might point out how seemingly impossible it would be to get rid of all the guns. I'm not disagreeing. It is a seemingly impossible task. But consider this: The gun problem is this magnitude because we MADE it this MAGNITUDE.

Saying that it is impossible is just an excuse to keep guns. Let's get rid of the excess. We don't need semi-automatics. Heck, civilians don't need machine guns or anything of that caliber (pun not intended). More guns isn't going to help fix anything.

Only in an imperfect scenario with an already established GUN PROBLEM does strategy like "more guns" trump basic logic.

Moreover, only when you treat schools like WAR ZONES does this sort of thing make any kind of sense.

But we're not talking about the Gaza Strip here. We're talking about U.S. classrooms.

Do you see the problem here?

Here's my logic: 

"The single best way to respond to a mass shooter is to not have any mass shooters."

The question remains: is this even possible?

When we have half of the other modernized countries on the planet that can pull off little to no shooting, and other related gun crime, then you had better bet your bottom dollar that it's possible.

Does it mean it will be easy? No. Will it be economical? Not likely. But possible? Yes.

The question is, what ware you willing to do to fix this problem?

If the answer is more guns--then I'm sorry, all you've done is light another match in the middle of the worst forest fire in recorded history. That's not logical. That's suicide.

Meanwhile, from one of my dear friends who is a teacher like me, in response to the recent news about the Virginia Bill which would order teachers to carry concealed firearms:

"When this day comes I will leave the field of education. Fighting guns with guns is not the answer."

So what the gun professionals are saying is: In order to have safer schools you need to have teachers who carry guns, because we have a gun problem.

That's the opposite of logical. That's stupidity.

While I'm sure some teachers agree, most of them, most of the teachers I've talked with at any rate, share my friend's sentiment.

The day teachers and educators of children are required to carry guns is the day our schools become war zones, and smart teachers everywhere will simply get out. Quit. We'll walk out of the schools and go find other jobs. Safer jobs. It's also the day that home schooling becomes a much better alternative to public schooling.

So the gun professionals aren't providing any viable solution that fixes the problem. They are merely adding fuel to the flame, and potentially, going to ruin our entire educational system in the process.

Do their methods work? Yes. I'm not denying that. But what they seem to be overlooking is the context. Their methods are designed for war zone type scenarios. They are bringing these scenarios to the schools and into the classrooms. 

While good gun strategies will work against those who use guns, what I'm saying is minus the guns we wouldn't need such strategies in the first place.

What we need now is better policies. Not necessarily more gun laws--there are already regulations galore--what I am saying is--we need BETTER POLICIES.

So instead of using tax payer dollars to arm teachers with guns, many of whom would walk right out if they were ever asked to do such a thing, we should be using tax payer dollars to fund better mental health care, psyche screening, and counselling for children, teachers, and schools.

Let's begin by addressing the root of the problem, which is mental health. The guns debate is just the icing on the cake of a much richer, much darker, issue. Let's address the violence and the violent tendencies of Americans. Let's fund the programs and professionals to help heal peoples' minds before we start handing out more guns.

Then, at least, we won't have teachers threatening to quit en masse because you forced them to carry a gun into a classroom. All that teachers packing guns ensures is that the ticking time bomb is just a few ticks away from some stressed out teacher breaking and then killing their whole class and then themselves. When teachers begin to carry guns, this scenario is INEVITABLE. It's only a matter of time.

The classroom is the LAST PLACE ON EARTH you should ever have to see the presence of a gun.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gun Control and on Other Gun Related Problems

For more gun related statistics please visit Gun

This is bound to be a politically charged topic, considering recent events. That said, this is more of an opinion piece than an analysis, so please do not take everything I say as ipse dixit.

Growing up my childhood imagination was forged, in part, by the visionary genius of Gene Roddenberry. Star Trek encapsulated his humanist message. An optimistic message in which he envisioned a future where humans had worked together to achieve everlasting world peace.

The universe, however, is not always such a peaceful place. Nor is there reason to be so optimistic. And so, even Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock still needed guns. Laser guns.

Only in a perfect world could we exist without guns. Yet we live in a world that is far from perfect. Just turn on the news, and what constitutes newsworthy is usual the worst examples of human behavior, and human failing, you'll probably ever see. It is the furthest thing away from that optimistic future vision of Gene Roddenberry. 

Even so, we must not shirk away from addressing these very real problems and facing these very real questions.

I am for gun control. Ever since the The Seattle Jewish Federation shooting in 2006, where the crazed gunman Naveed Afzal Haq shot six people, I have had my eyes wide open to the effects of gun related crime. Maybe it was the fact that I heard the shots a few blocks down the street from my hotel. The pops sounded like firecrackers going off. At first, I thought perhaps some kind of festival was underway, but the flood of squad cars and wailing sirens which rushed passed me gave me the first clues that something a lot more tragic had transpired.

A couple days later I would finish orientation for Jet Programme and head to Japan. With the shooting fresh in my mind, I reveled at how Japan, a country smaller than California with the population of half of the entire U.S., was so peaceful. On top of this, there wasn't a gun in sight. Most likely because, in Japan, owning firearms is illegal in most circumstances. 

[Coincidentally, the Yakuza--Japan's version of the mafia--do acquire illegal guns. But they usually only use them on each other. The public is still relatively safe--so I am sorry if I don't buy the excuse that if we had less guns the bad guys would use them more to commit violent crimes. The reason the Yakuza limit their gun activity is because it draws way too much attention to them. But the cultures are different. Maybe Americans are less honorable. Maybe American criminals would take over. Maybe. I tend not to be so pessimistic  Even criminals want something more than just your wallet. So maybe the bad guys would get all the guns and take over is simply a bit of hyperbole? After all, we'd still have law enforcement agencies and the military to protect us. Let's give them some credit.]

In Japan, gun related deaths (including murder, suicide, accidental) equate to less than 0.02% of 100,000 persons in the 120 million population. Additionally, this is the TOTAL tallied percentage since 1998 to the present! It's not even a big enough number to get it to appear on a simple bar graph. That's how minuscule gun related deaths are in Japan.

The same is true of Denmark and Sweden.

The same is true of Singapore and Hong Kong.

This is in stark contrast to the near 10% per 100,000 gun death rate in the U.S. every year.

All things being equal, it would take Japan 50 years of non-stop gun crime to match the same deaths as the U.S. for just one year. (Actually, it would be more like 500 years to account for the decade long gap of no gun violence in Japan, but never mind--the point stands.)

After a little research the sheer statistics begin to jump out at you. It's actually quite simple math. The chart at the top shows that places with more guns have more gun crime. This statistic hold across the board.

Little to no guns = little to no gun related deaths/crimes. More guns = more gun related deaths/crimes. Even more guns, then, even more gun related deaths and crimes. This is called a trend, and the trend is always the same. There are always exceptions to every rule however, but there aren't enough counter examples to make any valid argument against the statistical trend of an increase in guns directly relates to an increase in gun crime.

It is that simple, at least statistically speaking. 

Don't let anybody's gun-cultist-dogmatic-second-amendment proclamations convince you otherwise. Guns are bad news, no matter how you want to tally it.

But gun control lobbyists must be reasonable here. It's not simply about sheer statistics. Statistics point to frequencies which allow us to make predictions based on the change of frequencies of events. Strictly speaking, the statistics suggests it is always better to have less guns. But this is different than having no guns at all. America is a gun culture, so taking the guns away is not a realistic option. Limiting them with strict policies which limit their proliferation, and the types of guns which would make it into the hands of the public, is a wise step toward reversing the trend of gun crime. Baby steps, as they say.

Let's be careful though, statistics can sometimes be interpreted incorrectly too. A good example of this, luckily, bolsters the gun control argument. Those who cite a steady (statistical) decrease in gun related deaths in the U.S. often fail to cite the steady (statistical) increase of gun related attacks, which have increased a whopping 50% from 2001 to 2011. Gun crime is on a statistical increase in the U.S. 

It's only the fact that modern medicine and excellent, fast responding, medical care can be provided that gun deaths are preventable. 

So why all the gun crime?

What we need to realize, however, is there are other factors at play here. In a recent OP piece, Journalist Dan Carlin writes:

People want to focus on the guns as the problem, but we have a culture in the U.S. where guns are ingrained and where they have been so for centuries. The use of them has seeped into us. It is the desire to use them that's different. To think the guns themselves are the problem we would have to believe that the Canadians, Europeans and others with lower homicide levels all would like to kill each other at our rates...they just lack the guns to make their wishes a reality. That's ridiculous. The truth is that these other societies don't have as much murderous intent as Americans. Why not?

There is a oft ignored psychological component to gun crime. To simply blame it on the access one has to weapons of lethal destruction is simplifying things too much and neglects to look at the lethal intentions of a disturbed mind--and what caused that poor mind to become disturbed in the first place.

As Carlin points out, although we may not like  the sound of it, Americans are much more prone to violence. Not all Americans, mind you, but a very specific group (or mentality) certainly are.

This is made even clearer when you compare non-gun related crimes, such as rape (the most under reported of crimes). Again, to compare to Japan (because of population and economic similarities) in 2005 there were over 95,000 rapes reported in the U.S. whereas there were barely 2,000 reported in Japan. Even if we doubled Japan's population to match it with the U.S., there would still only be roughly 4,000 reported cases of rape compared to the nearly 100,000 in the U.S. for the same year.

What does that say about our country? 

What it says is, Carlin isn't wrong. Americans are much more violent than other nations. Knowing this, is it really wise to allow unhindered access to firearms and lax policies which overlook this fact? Perhaps, we might want to begin looking into why these violent tendencies inflict Americans more than other countries and cultures. What is it about being American which makes us more prone to violent acts?

All the more reason, perhaps, to implement stricter gun policies such as screening for mental illness by imposing mandatory psyche evaluations for all gun owners.

In reality, taking away the guns from Americans is an impossible endeavor. It's simply unrealistic. It would be a logistics nightmare. How do you track over 170 million guns? Tracking them all down and taking them away would be even more futile. Half the people would use those guns against you screaming the second amendment at the top of their fanatic gun-cultist lungs. The more rational folks would hide them away. Take the guns away? It's just not gonna happen.

The fact of the matter is, we're stuck with a gun problem. So the question is, how do we address this problem? When I talk about gun control, I am thinking of policies which would help prevent future gun related deaths.

I have some basic, rudimentary, ideas about how we could proceed though. Such as imprinting micro bar-codes on all ammunition to track the sale and trafficking of illegal firearms. It would also help manufactures tag defective or outmoded batches of ammunition and make it easier for recalls.

I am for the idea of placing microchips into guns which would upload number of shots fired in real-time to police agencies. The chips could serve a dual purpose by also being a GPS tracker. So, for example, if a gun fired more than once in a downtown area, or at a school, then this would alert the authorities instantly. Then, using the GPS, they could quickly locate and apprehend the shooter before the 911 calls started flooding in.

I am for mandatory psyche evaluations for all gun purchases, no exceptions. Additionally, I would like to see an annual to bi-annual mental health check up for all gun owners, no exceptions. If you're required to take a drug test just to receive food stamps, I think it's a fair compromise to ask that you get a psyche evaluation in order to purchase a gun. 

One of the arguments which pro gun activists love to use is that most people who own guns do not have mental problems, so let them keep their guns. This is such a bad, horribly flawed, not to mention fallacious argument. Human behavior and mental stability is not a fixed thing. Various factors can cause various people to experience a psychological break. Crimes of passion are often such events. Suicides are another key example.

The idea here is that there be readily available health care would enable us to better catch and prevent future psychological breaks of violent rage from doing too much damage. Especially if we can take their guns away before they go off the deep end, so to speak. If the person, for whatever reason, fails the psyche test, they will be under a court order to hand over all their weapons until the appropriate time that they can get the proper help. 

Do we really want the crazies with itchy trigger fingers and an axe to grind with society to have access to guns?

Of course, not. The real question is, how does one fund all this? Easy. Tax guns. Tax them lots.

If people want their weapons that badly, they should be prepared to pay for my safety and the safety of everyone who would rather not ever see a gun in their life. Life is to short to be spending any portion of it staring down the barrel of a gun.

Taxing guns seems fair though. After all, smokers had to do the same when cigarettes turned out to be lethal. Tobacco got taxed so heavily that people were sure it would tank the tobacco industry. But it's stronger than ever. People can still suck down a cancer stick, or a carton of them, and never bat an eye at the injustice of taxing cigarettes to death. For the cigarette addict, it's till death do them part.

So Tax guns just as heavily, I say. Give people less of an incentive to go out and Willy Nilly buy one. Make it harder to own one. Make it harder yet to keep owning one.

Meanwhile, those who still want, or need, a gun can still have access to them. 

(UPDATE) My friend informed me that wildlife agencies who use freelance hunters to help quell pesky overpopulation problems of animals which disrupt the ecosystem would be unfairly burdened by increased gun related taxes. In such cases special permits could be granted and these folks could enjoy a discount on their required gun purchases. Simply put, there are ways to work around minor issues like this while at the same time addressing the bigger issues.

I do not deny there are areas in the U.S. where a robber will just kick in your door, walk into your home, hit you upside the head with a baseball bat and take whatever they want from you. Hey, if you need a gun to, as my friend says, protect your person from violent morons, then, I totally get that. It's America, after all. The Wild Wild West never truly left the American identity.

But if cigarette taxes can help aid cancer research, why couldn't gun taxes aid gun control policies which make sense?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Where is Everybody? A New Approach to the Fermi Paradox

"Where is everybody?" is the question the physicist Enrico Fermi made to his colleagues in 1950.

The Fermi paradox (or Fermi's paradox) is an observation regarding the scale of the universe and probability that intelligent life should arise in the universe prolifically given the age and size of the universe yet, oddly enough, the lack of extraterrestrial evidence contradicts the statistical predictions of abundant intelligent life. Hence the paradox.

For example, if we crunch the raw numbers, there are an estimated 200–400 billion (2–4 ×1011) stars in the Milky Way. There are approximately 70 sextillion (7×1022) stars in the visible universe. That's like a sagan multiplied by a sagan squared, a number so ludicrously large that we can't even begin to wrap our minds around it.

Here's the thing though, even if intelligent life is capable of occurring on only a fraction of a percentage of life sustaining planets around these stars, simple probability suggests there should still be a great number of extraterrestrial civilizations extant in the Milky Way galaxy.

Even so, when we look up at the evening sky with our powerful telescopes, we see nothing to reflect this prediction of abundant life let alone signs of intelligence proliferating our universe.  This very realization led Fermi to his famous question, "Where is everybody?"

With an observable universe (that is the stars, planets, and galaxies within our purview) of 46 billion light years, it stems to reason that it is a statistical anomaly that we haven't yet detected any signs of intelligent life. No contact with Bracewell probes and no traces of any Von Neumann probes either, although the universe is old enough for the statistical probability of the existence of such devices.

In fact, like the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called "The Inner Light" where Captain Piccard has an encounter with a Bracewell probe which relays to him the information of an extinct civilization, we should have at least contacted a probe containing information of, at the least, a bygone civilization. But still nothing. 

Personally, I find the question fascinating, as well as the implications. The implications being, either intelligent life is much rarer than we realize, or that something is fundamentally wrong with our observations and subsequent calculations. Then again, it could be both these considerations. It's really hard to say, since our data is extremely limited.

However, I am inclined to think the solution lies somewhere in realizing our limitations. 

Allow me to explain it another way. Because our telescopes can only view the ancient past of other galaxies, let alone our own galaxy, and only within a 93 billion light year sized sphere, it stems to reason we are experiencing an optical limitation. 

Our eyesight into the universe is extremely far-sighted. It stems to reason we need to devise a bi-focal type of lens--and by lens I mean technology--which can work in tandumn with other technologies to allow our multiple images of the universe to converge showing us both the ancient past of space-time as well as the more recent, or current, state of the universe.

The telescope is an invention of the 17th century, and as such it is rather difficult to get an accurate image of the universe as it currently is. The light a telescope detects when observing the universe is from the ancient past, the beginning of the universe. Not the present. The only way to see "further" beyond the horizon of sight would be to magnify past the point of the singularity. This is impossible using devices like telescopes--or even probes--since we are not capable of faster than light travel. In fact, we may never be able to break the light speed barrier, so theoretical physicists must brainstorm about new ways in which to get past this cosmic sized hurdle.

So, as we well know, telescopes are inadequate devices to see the universe as it is currently developing right now due to the physical laws such as the speed of light, a limiting factor which dictates the speed at which information can travel.

So we cannot see those distant galaxies as they are but only as they were billions of years ago. There is no method of "seeing" them as they are now by using age old technology like a telescope.

One of the problems with the Fermi paradox, as I see it, is that it views the question "Where is everybody" as an equivalent to "Why haven't we seen anybody?" The Fermi paradox is assuming we are still thinking in terms of what we can see using telescopes and radio-waves, both ancient technologies as of the present.

Could such a thing as a clunky set of lenses and a big tube of metal wrapped around them see far enough into the universe to detect E.T.? It's not out of the realm of possibility, but it's not very likely either. Not unless E.T. was standing on our doorstep knocking on the door asking for us to let him in--but then there would be no paradox. It's precisely because E.T. is missing that we must heed Fermi's paradox and seriously consider what it is trying to tell us.

Radio-waves  as a means of sending information between star systems are also highly inconvenient. The expanse of space and the time it takes for radio-waves to travel is simply far too great to make intergalactic communication efficient, which is why things like Bracewell probes, Von Neumann probes, or subspace (also called hyperspace) relay stations were postulated in the first place. 

But these too rely on the same outmoded appeal to ancient forms of technology. In addressing the Fermi paradox I firmly believe we have to realize an upgrade in our technology as well as our thinking is necessary if we are ever to solve this riddle.

Although I fancy myself a science-fiction writer, and not a scientist, I think one such answer might be found via the realm of quantum mechanics, namely the area known as quantum entanglement.

Recently, scientists have figured out a way to create space-time crystals. They also have postulated how to give the crystals different spins. Instead of utilizing resource costly things like Bracewell and Von Neumann probes, or the seemingly impossible attempt to create man-made wormholes like we see in science-fiction shows like Stargate, I speculate that some brilliant future scientist(s) will figure out a way to create binary messages using the spins they give to space-time crystals, and then using quantum entanglement they will create messages which will be capable of populating all regions of the universe (a nice feature of quantum mechanics which we could exploit).

In fact, one might assume that other intelligent alien civilizations have already done so, and the messages are out there waiting for us to discover them, much like how we discovered the cosmic background radiation of the universe. 

We just have to look harder, not look further. That's the key to unraveling the Fermi paradox.

Using quantum entanglement in this way, to bypass optical limitations  would effectively allow us to detect messages, both past and present, which may be permeating all of space and time this very instant.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Evolution of the Book: From Ink to Digital Ink

It is strange to me that there is a still this stigma regarding the general acceptance of an e-book as anything other than what it is--a book. To some people, if it doesn't contain paper in-between two glossy covers, it can't possibly be considered a book. 

Those reluctant to switch over to a digital reading platform often cite their fondness of the tactile sensation of holding on to a paper book--as if that's a "reason" for dismissing digital e-books. Others cite that they want to support the "traditional" publishing industry. Support them doing what? Not publishing digital books?

Because, it seems to me, as the market place changes and upgrades, they're simply going to have to get with the times. I support a publishing industry that can adapt to the technology of the era. After all, the same happened with the invention of the publishing press which gave rise to mass market books in the first place. If the publishing industry is incapable of adapting the technology, then maybe it deserves to die out. So I don't actually get what people are supporting when they use that excuse, except to say, it's just an excuse not to have to buy an e-reader.

In fact, it seems the big publishers are slow to make the digital switch over too, although many have and will continue to do so. University presses are even more reluctant to make the switch-over it seems. But I don't see why. We're not dealing with a different medium here. It's just a different type of book.

There are paperback books. There are hardcover books. And now there are digital books.

It's as simple as that.

The fear that the publishing industry is going to disappear and vanish forever if you don't cut down trees and use up all the paper is an illogical one. The publishing industry will survive, just wait and see. But how will it survive? By publishing e-books.

The controversy isn't so much about the technology itself, but the way in which the technology changes the publishing landscape.

It is the ease at which one can publish a digital book, and set their own price, that makes it easy for Indy authors to get their work out there and take a huge chunk of the landscape away from the traditional publishers. E-books and digital self-publishing changes the business landscape--the dynamic in which the traditional publishers used to do business now has completely been overtaken by the rabidly growing e-book market.

It means the traditional publisher will have to take the Indy market seriously, thanks in part to the prominence of e-books (and the push by and their excellent Kindle e-reader which in turn elevated the self-publishing industry thereby allowing authors like me who want to bypass all the politics to do so and get on with what we love doing most--writing).

The digital self-publishing Indy market is now the traditional publishing houses main competition, whether they like it or not. helped to realize this, and there is no changing it, as has all the books.

Literally. They have them... all. And they offer them in digital format too. This has forced companies like Barnes & Noble to compete by creating their own e-reader called the Nook. A fine device in itself. And now B& offers a digital self-publishing service like Amazon's KDP, called PubIt!

Distributors, like Amazon and B&N, now control the type of books which get made instead of the publishers, but this makes more sense to me, since the distributors are often more in touch with who is buying books and what type. 

So what does this all mean? It means companies like did some major landscaping, and now the terrain is a little different, and some people feel out of their depth with the unfamiliarity of it all. But I found that just by buying a Kindle and familiarizing myself with it, that sense of unfamiliarity quickly turns into a sense of familiarity. The book isn't dying off--its simply evolving.

The sooner publishers realize this fact and the sooner they start respecting Indy writers, and it seems many are moving in that direction, and the sooner we can stop whining about the demise of the book.

The book is here to stay. It's just bound by megabytes and digital displays instead of paper and glue. Welcome to the future, now.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Daughter of Sol: A Science Fiction Novel

I have just begun writing my science fiction space opera series called Daughter of Sol.

It will be a couple years off yet before completion, as this is the most ambitious fiction novel I have ever begun. I want the science to be believable even as it is largely an intergalactic fairy-tale. It's the culmination of my life long love for science fiction and my passion for theoretical physics coming together under one collective umbrella of my imagination.

I have created a mock-up "teaser" cover, which was intended only as a sort of promotional gimmick but has steadily been growing on me. I may try to snag the rights to the background image as I am considering using it for the real novel. 

The background space art comes from the talented folks over at GT Graphic Design and Photography. Check them out if you get a chance!

All this, however, just to explain why I haven't been blogging as much recently. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Embracing Technological Change: A Cautionary tale form Japan

I apologize up front if this sounds like a gripe. It sort of is. But then again, perhaps it's more of a cautionary tale.

You see, I've lived in Japan for over seven years now, soon to be going on my eighth, and after just a brief couple more years I'll have been here a decade! Wow, time really flies when you get swept up in the hustle and bustle of life's current.

I have constantly had to battle a strange phenomenon here in Japan. It is the divide of technological know-how and actual access to technology.

In my experience, Japanese people are on the low end of technological know-how and understanding, which is sort of paradoxical since we all realize Japan is always on the cutting edge of technology.

And this is true. But only partially true.

Japanese firms, corporations, and technology companies are on the cutting edge, because ever since Japan's post war restructuring they have had the jump-start on being able to produce such new technologies. Thus the private sector of business excels at generating new technologies for the consumers, and--to a large extent--it is what drives the Japanese economy.

Meanwhile, for how much technology they have at their fingertips, your average Japanese citizen is way behind on the learning curve when it comes to new technology.

Although Japan had DVD technology at the same time as the U.S., DVD media did not actually permeate mainstream culture until half a decade after Uncle Sam adopted it as a standard for digital media storage.

The same problem can be seen today when looking as SD card technology, which is, ONLY now (as of 2012), beginning to become affordable because it's breaking into the Japanese commercial market. Even just two years ago a high end 32 Gig SD memory card would set you back $200 in Japan. Today you can get the same for about $80.

But even so, Japan still sells the SD cards at a premium. Why? Because there's not as much demand for them. They aren't part of any kind of standard. A quick search shows me that a Sandisk Extreme Pro. 32gig which loads 95mb/s is still approximately $20 more in Japan than in the U.S.

I find this peculiar, because Japan has more SD cards floating around in digital cameras and mobile phones than any other country on the planet, yet when it comes to simple memory storage, it's not even thought of as a viable option.

Likewise, I sense that Japanese people have a general reluctance to adopt a new technology.

I have my theories.

Much of Japan is a graying nation. Elderly people often have a harder time keeping up with the lighting fast pace of ever changing technologies as we move toward the Singularity. Additionally, there is the generation gap between those who grew up with the technology flow, and those who did not. For whatever reason, it's this general reluctance which makes them slow to the up take.

Sadly, this reluctance to adopt new technologies and adapt along with it increases the more rural you go (geographically speaking). But this is strange to me for a different reason, there really is no such thing as "rural Japan." Even the most remote village is just an hours drive before you find yourself in the middle of a thriving city. At the same time, thriving cities are only a short two hour hop on the bullet-train to a mega-city like Tokyo, Osaka, or Fukuoka.

In other words, there is no real geographical barrier preventing new ideas or new technologies from permeating all of Japan. Except for the attitude, nothing should be preventing Japanese people from trailing the technology curve like the tail of a comet trails its body.

Let me paint you a picture of how bad it really is out here in "rural Japan."

I work in the Japanese education system (privately contracted). My schools, as well as my board of education, are equipped with decade old IMBs or NECs twice refurbished.

Some of them still even have floppy disk drives! I kid you not.

Meanwhile, they have maxed out the machines specs so they will be able to run Windows XP. Not Vista, mind you. Not Windows 7. Not even Windows 8. We're talking a decade old software here. It is matched by the fact that most of these computers are running MS Office 2003. More decade old software.

This is true for nearly ALL of "rural Japan."

Only the city schools, usually vocational high schools and colleges, have updated to the latest generation of software. One of the local universities of technology in Kumamoto, the town I live, bought ALL their educational staff third gen iPads to use in the class. I remember it well, because it made the front page of the city newspaper. But that's here in the "big" ole city. Not out there, you know, in the rest of Japan.

I once asked my BOE why they simply didn't buy a couple new computers for all the schools or obtain refurbished computers which are capable of handling the latest gen software. I was told that is was because they simply didn't have the budget for it.

No money. Okay, I get it. All schools have such financial woes--even in Japan.

That spring, my BOE bought 52 inch. full 1080 capable HD tvs (SHARP Aquos) for the schools. They didn't buy just one television, though. They bought one for every single classroom at every JHS and Elementary school! That's nearly two dozen HD televisions!

Granted, the cost of a single HD television has dropped considerably in the last few years, but to claim they don't have money for some new computers or software, but then turn around and purchase nearly two dozen $600 televisions is, well, kind of suspect.

If they didn't have any money, where did all of it come from when they needed to buy new televisions?

Ah, that's just it though. It's not about the desire to upgrade, but the necessity. This television buying splurge, which has been seen throughout Japan, largely has to do with Japan's sudden conversion to digital television only. Analog ceases to function.

But that was a forced change. If the television companies and the government hadn't enforced the change, well, people would still be using the old tech.

My confusion comes from the fact that they blew their entire budgets on buying TVs. Why not by just a dozen TVs and then spend the other half on a dozen new computers with the latest software?

In today's age, you can get a nifty laptop for $600.

My guess is simply this, this general technological disinterest, which is rooted within much of Japan, is to blame. As far as I can tell, nobody sees a need for updating the computer lab or the teachers computers. My fear is that Japan is only going to make the upgrade when the technology leaps so far ahead that the old tech becomes outmoded, like the whole digital TV thing.

I find this a frightening prospect. Being forced to change, by necessity, can never be easy. Waiting for it to happen is unwise. My hope is that in the future Japan will phase out their old technology gradually, while adopting and adapting to the new technology. Sometimes you have to paddle a little bit to ride the wave, but once you get on top of it, it's smooth surfing.

What Japan seems to be doing, however, is the opposite. They are paddling out to sea and are facing down an ever growing tsunami. Let's hope the worst doesn't happen. Japan, after all, has all the technology. It would be quite ironic if its greatest obstacle to come in decades was due to its lack of interest in keeping up with technology.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Knowledge of the Gods: A Defense of the film Prometheus (Part 1)

Knowledge of the Gods: A Defense of the film Prometheus (Part 1)

Jonathan R. Lack over at wrote a scathing in depth review of Prometheus in an article called “The 100 most glaring logical issues with the film Prometheus.” Apparently he really hated the film, since his conclusion is, and I quote, "[T]his movie is stupid."

No big surprise here. Many movie goers came to the same conclusion. I don’t see why. I thought the film was superb. Then again, I heard the International version, which I first saw in the theater  is the uncut rated R version being released on DVD. So I waited to review the film until I could get the definitive edition. This review is about the Bluray release included in the four-disc collector’s edition.

Now, I recently wrote a review of Prometheus defending its intelligence, and I went out of my way to make it clear that most people who didn't get it or felt it was stupid were, in fact, making a statement about their own intelligence. Granted, that statement won’t win any points in my favor, but even so, upon listening to the director’s commentary I was pleasantly surprised to hear Ridley Scott voice the same opinion.

Usually I ignore movie reviews, as it inevitably seems that everyone is a critic. But when there is a substantial group attacking a film, and a film I think is rather excellent, I pay attention. I want to see if it’s just a fan boys complaining, and mostly it is, or if there is a genuine complaint. A lot of people seem to follow the herd and will dislike a film simply because their friend said it was crap. Word of mouth can be damaging, in such cases. Just look at the excellent John Carter of Mars movie. One of the best science fiction films to come out in years, and because of bad marketing and some promotional blunders, nobody knew just how good it really was. So negative reviews began pouring in, and it was clear that most of the people writing the reviews hadn't even seen the movie!

However, on the rare instance when a reviewer takes the time to do a very detailed criticism of a film, then that’s the review I’m interested in. Jonathan Lack (from here on JL) wrote just such a review. JL goes out of his way to list 100 reasons why he feels Prometheus is a stupid film. After reading his reason, however, I feel the majority of them simply don't hold water.

What follows is my response to JL’s complaints.

[Warning: This is an in depth rebuttal to an in depth analysis, and is spoilers from beginning to end. If you haven't seen the film, then go watch it first and then come back later. If you've seen the film a dozen times, give or take, then I'll let you be the judge of whether or not JL's complaints are valid and whether or not my rebuttals adequately address and ultimately answer them. My responses to JL's complaints are in blue.]


Like any science fiction story, we must acknowledge that the science always plays second fiddle to the story. Prometheus is what is considered Hard Sci-Fi, meaning, it is based off real science and all the technology and concepts should at least be feasible. I felt the film stayed true to the spirit of science and I didn't see anything in the film which was out of the realm of possibility, but JL begs to differ. Let’s consider what he has to say and see if his complaints hold up, shall we?

Part 1: The Engineer's Sacrifice

1. What is the planet in the opening sequence? We never find out, and while ambiguity is fine in theory, what few conclusions the viewer can make given subsequent evidence make absolutely no sense. For instance, if we assume that the planet is Earth, major logical issues arise, because…

It's Earth.

What biology tells us is that unicellular biological life arose on earth circa the Mesoproterozoic Era (c. 1600-1000 Ma). Multi-cellular life is separated from its unicellular cousins by over 500 million years. So it is not difficult to assume that there would be mountains with green fungi and water on the Earth's surface in the beginning of Prometheus.

The competing hypotheses for the origins of complex life include: The symbiotic theory, the cellularization (syncytial) theory, and the colonial theory. In the film Prometheus, however, the filmmakers are employing a concept found in genuine science which claims that the ingredients for life may be extraterrestrial in origin. In 2009 NASA confirmed this possibility with numerous samples taken from comets which all had the amino acids needed for the formation of the complex life.

Here's the thing though, if aliens, like the Engineers in the film Prometheus, did land on the planet Earth 500 million years after unicellular life arose, there is nothing to suggest they couldn't have kick started multicellular life. So JL's first argument is not withstanding.

2. This cannot be the origin of life on Earth. It is what we are led to believe later on as we learn more about the Engineers, but science tells us that life began hundreds of millions of years ago, and the terrain we see in the opening sequence – mountains, rivers, snow, etc. – is consistent with the modern geological era. When life originated on Earth, the planet would look almost entirely different. Even if we just traced humanity back to primates, we would be in a different geological era.

Land masses, i.e. continents, stabilized in the Paleoproterozoic Era (c. 2,500 to 1,600 years ago). During this time bacteria which use the biochemical process photosynthesis arose to produce oxygen. Things which use photosynthesis usually turn green. Roughly 600 million years after this is when multicellular life would have arisen, so JL is wrong about the science. A simple Wiki search shows it is very possible to have a green planet 500 to 600 million years after the start of photosynthesis. In the film only tundra and green lichen appear. The rest is all rock or cold water. So the opening scene actually matches up with the geological time frame and is not incorrect.

3. If it is not Earth, what is the point of this scene? The only way this sequence actually serves Prometheus in context is if it depicts the creation event characters discuss later on. But if it’s not Earth – and it cannot, by simple math, be Earth – then it serves no point in the narrative.

Well, it's Earth. See rebuttals to 1 and 2. Deal with it. Moving on.

4. If we share a perfect DNA match with the Engineers, why does the sacrificial Engineer’s DNA have to reconstitute itself? We see the DNA break up and reform before starting cellular mitosis, but this is not scientifically possible or necessary since Elizabeth Shaw later discovers humans and Engineers share the exact same DNA strands, indicating simple sexual reproduction and environment-based evolution, not complex DNA reconstitution.

This is just a cinematic representation of the symbiotic theory of the multicellular generation of life. It's probably not visually accurate, but come on, it's a fictional movie for crying out loud. Not a science documentary. The thing to take away from this though, is the science isn't that far-fetchedThe symbiotic theory is one of the three leading contenders for describing how life may have actually arose on planet Earth.

5. There are no thrusters on the Engineers’ ship. When the Engineers’ spaceship leaves the mysterious planet, we see no propulsion system of any sort that would allow it to fly. Even in futuristic science fiction, the laws of physics should be obeyed.

The Engineers are an advanced race which were technically and intellectually superior to humans 500 million years before life even arose on Earth. So if they couldn't figure out how to manipulate the magnetic fields and use a magnetic levitation drive, with nearly a billion years of technologically advanced science between us and them, and the Prometheus basically a toy rocket by comparison, I would have to admit that I'd be surprised.

I'm not expecting your average movie viewer to be on the scientific cutting edge or anything, but hover cars are not exactly a new concept. We've seen hover cars in all kinds of films, from The Fifth Element to Star Wars to the Matrix to Back to the Future. Just because those vehicles had blinky lights and glowing undercarriages doesn't mean they're more or less realistic than the Engineer's ship. The whole idea behind Prometheus is that there is a mysterious advanced civilization so superior to us that they seem like gods. If their ship used puny thrusters... or generic binky lights... well... that wouldn't be very god-like, now, would it?

The fact that the Engineer's ship rose slowly, more like a dirigible than a rocket blasting off, suggests it was using some kind of magnetic field manipulation to break free of the planetoids gravitational pull. To me this seems something a super advance race of beings would be capable of doing.

Besides this, NASA has been looking into anti-gravity technologies since. The Russian physicist Dr. Eugene Podkletnov, at Tampere University of Technology in Finland, claimed to have created anti-gravitational fields while working on rotating superconductors in 1995. The Max Planck Institute of Physics has also done research in this area. Ning Li and her team theoretically demonstrated how a time dependent magnetic field could cause the spins of the lattice ions in a superconductor to generate detectable gravitomagnetic and gravitoelectric fileds. In a 1999 issue of Popular Mechanics science magazine, Li claimed to have developed a working prototype anti-gravity device. As recent as 2008 Martin Tajmar et al. claims to have discovered artificial gravitational fields around rotating superconductors.

There's more, but I think this is all I need to make my point that if an advanced alien civilization began such research over 500 million years ago, is it really out of the realm of possibility that they figured out how to manipulate gravitational fields? Not at all.

But it seems the only reason JL objects at all is because he's hung up on blinky lights and the cool effects of fiery thrusters--and could care less about what the story is trying to say.

Part 2 – The Beginning of the Voyage

6. “I think they want us to come and find them.” Why?

Let me see if I can answer this without resorting to sarcasm. Why do they want the humans to come find them... um... just taking a wild guess here... but maybe it's because they left a star chart behind? A star chart that matched up with a real solar system no less.

At this point I am not entirely sure if JL was watching the same movie I was, because I thought that clue was perfectly clear. They even said it was a "map" and then they follow that map and it led them to the giant red X on the map. It doesn't answer the exact why of the Engineer's purpose for leaving the map in the first place (never mind that this question is probably what will lead us into a sequel), but it just seems to me that using some simple abduction, we can deduce that maps with arrows all pointing to a giant red X on them, and the arrows all point to the same location on each map, is usually a good indicator that they're meant to be followed. The guy in the cave painting is pointing his finger, as if to say, go there. All one needs after the initial confirmation that it's a real star system is the curiosity to follow the clue to its logical conclusion, "Maybe they want us to find them?"

This is a logical issue that plagues all of Prometheus, but it begins here. Dr. Shaw and Dr. Holloway see a cave painting where a large figure points at a series of circles. Dr. Shaw says the above piece of dialogue. Even if they had a way to know for sure what those circles meant, and who the people in the paintings were, what about the picture indicates humans are meant to go on an epic voyage? Dr. Shaw’s reasoning is never provided.

Except that it's not a message so much as it's a map. Again, giant red X's always mark the spot. Now remember the mission is basically to go to that spot and see if there is any life. Why that spot and not another different one? Well, because they were given a map that lead to that spot! Does JL really think it would make more sense for the scientists who pieced together a highly accurate star chart from various ancient signs from multiple unrelated ancient civilizations simply ignored that. Oh, it's just a coincidence. If that's the case, then where's the motivation for them to seek funding, get a Prometheus, and fly to an alien world? Oh, wait, there is none. There would effectively be no plot device to get the plot going. The story would end before it ever began.

7. Unit of Measurement Issue: 3.27 x 1024 km is the distance given for how far Prometheus has travelled from Earth. Using kilometers is ridiculous. Cosmic distances are not measured that way, but through special cosmic measurements, like parsecs and light-years, that were created so every scientist or observer could be on the same page about celestial distances.

While I agree that light years and parsecs are the standard means of astrological measurement, all a parsec or light year really is, is a measure of kilometers. I see nothing wrong with stating the astronomical units exactly. A parsec is 30.857 x 10 to the 12 kilometers, so it wouldn't make much sense to say, "Sir, we've almost traveled a fraction of a parsec." In actuality, there is no real glaring logical issues here.

8. Why are Dr. Shaw’s dreams fully edited with multiple angles and cross fades when David watches them?

Because the software which translates the dreams into visual images is programmed to display them cinematically, since that's what humans have grown accustomed to? Does it even matter? It's just a cool scene in the story. This is one of those instances where there is no harm no foul. Just roll with it people.

9. Who is the little girl with the violin seen in dreams and other ship images over and over again? Again, ambiguity isn't an inherent problem, but when there is no interpretive context, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Ever heard of a music video? Complaints like this annoy me, because there is really no purpose to bring them up in the first place. Basically JL is saying he doesn't like this violin scene because he can't see how it fits into the story. But why does every little element need to fit into the intricate plot precisely? Can't it just be dressing to add a bit of texture to the film? It's not too hard to think that humans would take music into space. Heck, astronauts do it all of the time. Does it need to have a meaning? Or is JL just over thinking things way too much?

I should mention that in the deleted scenes the violin sequence does actually play a more significant role in the plot. There is a cut scene where Dr. Shaw is on the emergency vehicle hiding behind the bar, and the Engineer stops to enjoy the music. He follows the music with his hand, showing in a brief glimpse, that he appreciates music--and perhaps shares a closer connection to his human progeny than we were earlier led to believe. But that scene got cut out of the film, and the Engineer comes off as cold, cruel, and helluva frightening. I like the scene, and am glad they included it on the special features.

Ridley Scott goes one further on the commentary stating that music is a universal code, a type of language that transcends cultures, and this is true. He had it in his mind that music might be used as a means of communication between intelligent beings, sort of like in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters film. Although this is just background information from the Director's commentary, but it shows perhaps the motivation for the scene.

10. Why does the Prometheus begin flashing red warning lights, having other lights flicker in and out, and start tipping from side to side when it nears its destination? We see no evidence of any outer interference that would cause these issues.

Wind turbulence perhaps?

As I recall, there is substantial discussion about a storm picking up in the film as they are landing. "Now that's weather!" one of the crew members shouts.

It seems that on a planet with an atmosphere similar to Earth's, there would be air currents. When they land there is cloudy dark skies with lightening, not exactly indicators of friendly weather. The storm picks up later on. In fact, the storm plays a key element in the plot. So, as I figured it, they're basically flying into a storm, and just set down a few hours ahead of it. Why is this so hard for some to piece together? Does there have to be exposition for every freakin' scene? One of the things I liked about this film was that it didn't hold your hand. It didn't consider its audience to be a bunch of dupes. They landed, and a storm came. So it makes sense to consider that, perhaps, they were getting nipped by the approaching turbulence of that same storm.

11. How could David, an android, play a flute? As a robot, he would be in no need of lungs or a diaphragm, so where would the air needed to blow into the flute come from? In fact, Holloway and David converse, while prepping for the first expedition, about how David does not breathe, therefore not having the capacity to blow air into a flute. David can presumably speak without lungs or a diaphragm because he has a voice box or chip – which is how he can communicate after his head is severed – but he wouldn't be able to play a flute.

It could be said that David doesn't breathe because he doesn't have to breathe. However, this doesn't mean he doesn't have lungs. Even the most primitive robots around today, such as Cardiopulmonary resuscitation mannequins have lungs. It would make sense that David, a highly sophisticated android, would have lungs too. Whether or not he needed to use them is a different matter.

Meanwhile, I have a much bigger problem with this criticism. There is a scene in the movie where one of the crew says it is strange to see David eat food. David simply replies that the reason he eats is to create the illusion of being human, because humans become extremely uncomfortable around robots that don't look entirely human. Therefore these humanism's help to create an illusion of normalcy. I think it's safe to say we can assume the breathing is another feature built into David's design to complete that illusion.

Now here's my problem, the fact that this conversation is actually in the film, makes me think that this gripe is a rather silly one. It's one thing to over think the finer details of a film, it's entirely another thing not to think at all when critiquing the film. I think this gripe reflects the latter rather than the prior, and once again shows the logical deficiency here isn't to be found in the film itself.

Part 3 – The Arrival

12. Why does David not know what ‘casualties’ are when Meredith Vickers asks him? As a hyper-intelligent android, shouldn't David have a dictionary in his memory banks?

David isn't confused about the term, he's saying, "Casualties, mum?" As in, "WTF do you mean, bitch? I gotz it under control!" Then Vickers gets pissy with him, "Did anybody die?" And he reiterates, "No, mum." David clearly knows what casualties are, he's just answering Vickers in a British accent. It's strange that this is the second time JL has been tripped up by British conversation. Here's an idea, watch some British television once in a while! For Pete's sake!

13. The geologist tells the biologist “I’m here to make money.” Why would Weyland hire someone motivated solely by greed for this crucial mission? Seriously. Over a trillion dollars were spent preparing the voyage, and the mission is to seek out the single biggest scientific discovery in human history. I understand that the scientists were not briefed beforehand for security reasons, but wouldn’t you try finding someone a little bit more…eager?

So, my question is why couldn't Earth's best geologist also be a bit of a mammon worshiping douchebage? I mean, there is nothing that says a professional can't have vices. Why is this even a complaint? Maybe the guy just happens to be the best at the job--and at the same time--be a total prick. Also, from my viewing I felt the geologist character was a bit of a coward, explaining why he may not have been overly eager. So again, I don't see why this is a complaint about the film. It's called character building.

14. Why is Guy Pearce playing an extremely old man? The make-up is awful, the performance is hokey, and it’s all because Pearce is not Weyland’s actual age and has to overcompensate wildly. Why could they not hire an actual elderly actor. In fact, since Pearce’s old man voice sounds almost identical to legendary performer Malcolm McDowell, who happens to be much closer to Weyland’s actual age, why not just hire the actual Malcolm McDowell?

No, the makeup isn't awful. The dude is supposed to be over a hundred years old. It's like JL has never actually even seen an extremely, older than dirt, person before. They actually look like Weyland looked in the film.

Additionally, in the special features Guy Pearce asks the exact same question, why pick me to play the part of an old man and not an elderly actor? He then answers that question. Ridley Scott wanted to portray Weyland with an exuberance and determination which is found in people typically more youthful. This energy of a stubborn old man comes out in the imperfect performance of a younger man playing an older one. I for one think Pearce did a marvelous job. The end scene when the Engineer awakens and Weyland is trying to talk to him was extremely convincing. Again, I don't think this is much of a valid complaint.

15. The position of hieroglyphic circles would not lead Prometheus to a specific spot in space. This is the explanation Dr. Holloway gives for how they found the planet, but there are multiple flaws in his reasoning. First, if these cave paintings really were separated by centuries, star coordinates and positions would be drastically different to each separate culture, as they move and change through time. Even then, five circles painted simplistically on a wall could never serve as actual cosmic coordinates to a tiny, minute section of space, because the universe is incredibly vast. That pattern of five circles would appear all over the Milky Way galaxy, let alone other galaxies. It’s not nearly specific enough to serve as a map.

This is the first valid nitpick we come across, but again, it really doesn't matter. This is one of those instances that the storytelling trumps the science because length and pacing to keep the plot moving along are more important than going into technical specifics to explain how the scientists may have pieces together the puzzle. The piecing it together isn't what's important here. The important thing is they did, and it lead them to the planetary system which gets the story rolling. So although the criticism about the technical aspects of stellar cartography is correct, it's irrelevant as such details are superfluous and aren't needed to progress the plot. It's much easier to suspend one's disbelief and just go with it--because hey--it's a freakin' fictional movie--not an astronomy documentary on how to read star charts.

16. What does Dr. Holloway mean by a “galactic system?” This is what he calls the place they are going, but he describes the system as a star similar to Earth’s sun with a nearby planet and moon. That would technically be called a solar system, like the one Earth exists in.

Actually, this is incorrect. The Solar system is just what we call our planetary system which revolves around our sun, which happens to be named Sol. Ah, Sol, Solar, get it? There are also star systems minus any planets. The technical term used for other star systems is "extrasolar" or "exoplanetary" systems.

So the question remains, is Holloway's techno-babble incorrect? I don't know. We could assume he is referring to a galactic coordinate system, or galactic system for short. As he is talking about identifying the star system they have arrived at, it makes sense to talk about it as a galactic system. Just saying.

17. Odd syntax: “There seems to be a planet,” says Dr. Holloway, “but there is a moon capable of sustaining life.” Why can the crew’s interstellar scanners pick up minute details like a life-bearing moon with absolute certainty, but only ‘seem’ to show an entire planet?

This is an example of a movie viewer simply making himself confused because he didn't pay attention to the movie. They knew the planet was there. But when they got there they found out it's not capable of supporting life, which is what they have come all this way to find. Low and behold, there is a small moon which is capable of supporting life. It makes sense that this moon was either hidden by the massive gas giant it orbits, or that their long rang scanners weren't precise enough to pick up the moon the first time around. Now that they have arrived at their galactic coordinates, they discover the moon. Not that hard to follow.

18. Why does Dr. Shaw assert that the paintings are “an invitation?” It seems like a very broad assumption to make based on such a minuscule amount of evidence.

See my answer to 6. 

Additionally, Holloway earlier states that "Maybe they want us to find them." But this is ultimately their "thesis." However, I would like to reiterate something  here. If all the ancient civilizations of mankind did have the exact same "star chart" hidden in their ancient art, then wouldn't that be an indicator that something wanted these civilizations to discover the same thing? If so, that denotes intelligence behind the symbol, and if the symbol is an arrow pointing in a direction to a destination, then that seems pretty obviously a type of invitation to follow the yellow brick road.

I felt I had to paint a broader image of giant arrows all pointing to the same spot... because, to me, that would be an implicit sign to, you know, go in that direction. It also happens to be why I find this complaint so stupid. JL is basically standing on this road with blinking arrows, arrows from various paths which all point in the same direction down this exact road, see? But JL asks, "What on Earth could it all possibly mean?" I mean, seriously? It's a rather numskull gripe if you ask me.

19. Why do Drs. Shaw and Holloway assume the tall creatures in the paintings are aliens? The only distinguishing characteristic about the so-called ‘aliens’ is that they are tall, and pointing at circles. Why do those circles have to be planets? Why do those beings have to be aliens? What makes Shaw and Holloway think of such a thing in the first place, let alone assume it to be undeniably true? Still, it’s not nearly as massive a logical leap as…

This complaint is technically about back story. Yeah, we don't know anything about their research other than they have collected all this data about these types of archaeological artifacts, and, well, that's all we know. Maybe they have other information the audience is unaware of that leads them to that conclusion. In this case, the back story isn't necessary. It's stated they are extraterrestrial, for whatever reason, and that's all we need to know.

20. What reason does Dr. Shaw have to assert that the aliens “engineered us?” Here’s how the exchange goes in the film. “We call them engineers,” Shaw says. The geologist asks why. “They engineered us,” she replies. No further explanation is given. Shaw simply makes the ridiculously cavernous leap from ‘cave paintings with stars’ to ‘we have found the origin of all life on Earth.’ She has not a shred of evidence – not even a little detail that suggests her larger conjecture – to prove this, and yet she asserts it as absolute fact. When the Geologist continues to grill her on the point, as any sane person would, she has no answers, no evidence, no shred of logical reasoning to explain why the entire history of human scientific theory is now null and void. All she says is “It is what I choose to believe.” Which is infuriating, and leads me to my next point…

Again, this deals with the working hypothesis about the origins of life being extraterrestrial in origin (this is the conceptual part of the science in this science fiction). It's part of the premise of the film. Assuming humans still haven't solved the abiogenesis riddle fifty to sixty years from now, it makes sense that alternative theories would come to the forefront of investigation. The fact that they are investigating human life to be extraterrestrial in origin to begin with probably means they ran into such dead ends. As such, I don't think this is anything to complain about. It's just trivial, minor details that needn't be hashed out. I am beginning to wonder why JL is so hung up on these non-questions though.

21. How can Elizabeth Shaw be considered an actual scientist when “It is what I choose to believe” is her only reason behind a trillion dollar interstellar voyage? That’s not science. That’s not even logic. Believing wholeheartedly in something without a shred of proof is closer to religion, and even then, most faiths can point to some real-world event that fuels their belief. Not Dr. Shaw. She’s just insane, and everyone around her goes along with it without batting an eyelash.

Obviously JL didn't watch the film. It's what Weyland chooses to believe too, albeit for entirely selfish purposes. So Weyland isn't funding a 'scientific' mission in the normal sense. He's funding a personal expedition, a search for the fountain of youth--eternal life--which just so happens to be masquerading as a scientific one.

22. Who is the Prometheus sending messages to? Holloway, Shaw, and David discuss how they have had “no response” from the planet, but what was the message? Who were they sending it to? If they have never been to or mapped out the planet, how and where would they send it in the first place? Even digital messages need another digital receptacle. They can’t just be sent out into the ether in hopes of getting a response.

This is simply protocol. If you received an intelligent transmission from another planet, you ping them back in response, thus signaling that you received their message. The SETI Institute is sending out messages right now hoping to get a ping back from E.T.

The reason Prometheus probably sends out a message, is simply to see if anyone is home. Not getting a response, they decide to investigate.

23. Holloway, David, and the script do not understand basic linguistic theory. David tells Holloway he can communicate with the aliens “provided your thesis is correct.” There is no possible way Holloway could formulate a thesis about alien language in the first place, and if he did, no expectation for it to be true. I assume his thesis is that the basis of human languages come from the engineers, which is not only completely and utterly unfounded and unverified by the film’s internal logic, but absolutely impossible in reality. The thesis supposes that humans must be taught how to communicate, or to have it instilled, but it’s actually a natural ability all humans possess. That is why we have had thousands of languages throughout history, even though, for a long time, humans from one part of the world could not communicate with humans from other parts. Even if that weren't true, for Holloway’s thesis to be correct, all languages would have to have the exact same foundation, but they don’t. Chinese and English, for instance, are completely different. There is no possible way David could trace all human language back to one sole root and somehow learn to speak the Engineers’ language.

Holloway's thesis is that multicellular life was "seeded" by extraterrestrials. It has nothing to do with language or linguistics. Moreover, David is studying Sanskrit, which is the basis for all human languages on Earth. If he can figure out the code of human language, then it would simply be a matter of deciphering patterns of speech for an alien language. Assuming Holloway's thesis is correct, that our DNA comes from the aliens, then our biologies might be similar and our capacity to learn language might be similar as well.

My guess is that David, being an android, and having learned all of Earth's languages (from the Sanskrit up—sorry, couldn't resist), is looking for linguistic patterns which might help in learn the Engineer's language. Later in the film, he learns to read their symbols, and then again in the stellar cartography room he learns the patterns on the console by watching the hologram and listening to them speak. So it makes sense that he had enough information to put together basic linguistic patterns and formulate a rudimentary version of the alien language.

24. How does the Prometheus just happen to land exactly where they want to be as soon as they arrive? No scans of the place, no geological surveys; the Prometheus just happens upon a massive alien structure where all the film’s action will take place the moment they arrive.

In the film, they spotted what appear to be ancient runway marker when the Prometheus comes down out of the atmosphere, markers similar to the Nazca lines found in Peru. Since geoglyphs are man-mad, it makes sense the Prometheus would have picked that spot to land. Again, it's all right there in the film. No big mystery. If you want a more technically satisfying answer, here it is: the Prometheus is a two trillion dollar spaceship with state of the art computer and navigation systems, which probably scanned the moon as they orbited it and the ship's computer picked the ideal location to land, which just so happened to be an ancient launch pad for an alien ship. Again, no big mystery.

Part 4 – Entering the Monolith

25. Why is Holloway so insistent that they enter the structure right away, when it’s almost night? No scientist would ever lack that much caution. Nobody on that crew would go along with him. Does no one worry about safety?

Not in a science fiction movie that is the precursor to Alien. This is about building suspense. We know they know better. But their intrepid desire to explore and their abundant curiosity get the best of them, and it causes the audience to scoot to the edge of their seats. "You fools!" we scream. "Don't you know any better?" Maybe they do, maybe they don't. But the story would be less compelling if everyone always went by the book. But we're talking about the Alien franchise here, and how does the saying go again? "In space, no one can here you complain." Yeah, something like that.

26. Why does Holloway want to know if the structure is natural or not? How the hell could it be natural? It was obviously constructed. Not five minutes ago, he uttered the words “God doesn’t build in straight lines,” so why does he assume God builds architectural formations?

Okay, so JL answers his own gripe to complaint #25 by actually quoting the very lines from the movie (from the very scene I referenced as the rebuttal to his previous complaint?). Okay, I have a complaint about this article, but I probably should just keep it to myself because it will come off sounding overly mean. I will say this much, it has something to do with logical consistency.

27. How does the crew know where to go in the structure? The Geologist says “Pops are saying this way,” but it’s all just one big circle, and they don’t even know what they’re looking for yet, so what sort of directional measurements are they using?

Well, they start walking in a circle then, don't they? Oh, and I think he says "Pups" not "Pops." It's the swanky accent, but I'm pretty certain the other dog cliches, such as the howling at the moon routine that Fifield does, is a dead giveaway.

28. Why does Holloway take his helmet off? What if the scans were wrong? He would die almost instantly. Even if he had complete faith in the scans, no scientist would ever do something so unsafe, not just for their own health, but because exposing one’s breath to their surroundings could contaminate the archaeological site. And why, then, does everyone else just go along with Holloway, take their helmets off, risk their lives, and contaminate the hell out of the incredible alien cavern?

Because he's a balls to the wall adventurer! This is what classic sci-fi is all about! Danger Will Robinson! Illogical Captain. Why does Dr. Who always rush into the most dangerous areas with nothing more than a sonic screwdriver? Why does Captain Piccard always beam down on away missions when he's not supposed to? Why is it whenever someone finds a new Stargate, turns it on, they decide to walk through it not knowing where they'll end up? Why? They're bold adventurers and risk takers. It makes the show exciting! Don't like it? Don't watch sci-fi.

29. Provides wrong definition of ‘terraforming’ when explaining presence of breathable atmosphere. In a theoretical terraforming process, the whole planet would be covered, not just one contained outpost, and the other goal would be to make the earth arable for crops. Whatever this is, it is not the result of terraforming.

I didn't remember any mention of terraforming, so I had to go back and watch this part of the film again. Actually, the statement is spoken as a suggestion, "They were terraforming here." It's just thrown out there by Millburn, as a suggestion for how there could be oxygen like on Earth, his theory, "They were terraforming." The line probably would be less confusing if he would have said, "They must have been terraforming." But on a closer viewing of the scene, it doesn't seem to be a problem. Nobody else agrees with him, so it is quickly forgotten, much like this complaint, and the story moves on.

30. How does David know how to enter codes into the walls and read the written language fluently? Even if the alien alphabet were somehow connected to primitive Earth languages, David could not magically become fluent from such minor amounts of information. And even if we ignore that, how on earth would David know anything about this complex code system on the wall that have no basis in human communication? Where would he derive the knowledge from?

He has pattern recognition software and advanced algorithms which allow him to figure it out.

This technology already exists. Most frequently employed in Photoshop software like Adobe Photo. Every 'touch up' feature uses this sort of technology to magically take out a blotchy spot and replace it with a replicated pattern which the software recognizes by scanning the surrounding patterns, then using an algorithm, generates the same patterns and replaces the splotch. Retina scanning and finger print biometric security are other examples of pattern recognition software. There's also Automated ECG interpretation software developed by Hewlett Packard to be incorporated into clinical devices. Then there is IBM's WATSON.

I'm sure David, being a highly advanced android, would have no problem computing an alien language. Heck, we have iPhones that talk to us, and almost all recent computers have voice recognition software. Combine all this and you get a means to figuring out alien symbols. Additionally, in the scene, David actually get's it wrong once, testing the panel, and does something different to activate the holograms running down the hall--a sort of video playback of what happened 2,000 years ago on that spot. So this shows that David is actually learning through trial and error and doesn't just automatically know how to work the alien tech.

31. Where did the Prometheus security officer go? Before the crew disembarks, Shaw speaks to a security officer, who demonstrates his weaponry. Where did he go off to? Once they enter the structure, he’s just gone.

He stayed on the ship. Besides, I don't recall real astronauts always taking a security detail whenever they land on the moon. He was there just to "See that the are safe." This could mean that he has prepared them for eventual problems. But Shaw states right off the bat that there will be NO guns of any kind. No weapons means the security officer is just extra baggage and isn't needed. Since this is plain as day in the film, and the no weapons thing was asserted so forcefully, I don't see this complaint as anything other than the expectation of the viewer *wanting the security officer to accompany them on the mission. But he wouldn't have anything to do, so they simply did what the story called for, left him on the ship.

32. Why would the Geologist run away terrified upon seeing the dead body? Actual Geologists also study fossils, and since the body is thousands of years old, it has been fossilized. He should be fascinated by the opportunity to study alien fossils, but instead, he runs away. And why would the Biologist – whose mission in life is to study organisms – be frightened by the chance to study an extraterrestrial corpse?

We have already established that the Fifield and Millburn characters are the Shaggy and Scooby of this film--a couple of yellow bellies. There's no reason to try to rationalize why they don't do their jobs, the point is they're both too stricken with cowardice to do their jobs, which is why they ultimately turn tail and bail out on the mission, only to end up getting lost. Asking why they'd be frightened is simply asking why didn't the writers write more mundane characters. It's a stupid complaint. The fact that they are cowards makes them flawed enough to create tension in the film.

33. Why does David just start messing with stuff in the room? Yes, David has a ‘curious personality,’ but wouldn't the sophisticated android be programmed to least know and follow the scientific method, operating with caution and documenting his findings?

David has an IQ of over 300 (see films commentary), so maybe he's not "messing" per say. Maybe he's intuitively keen as to the functioning of the ship. Also, David is programmed for an altogether different mission from the rest of the crew. This is what makes him such a dangerous character--it's his secret agenda that brings all the chaos and destruction upon everyone.

34. “I think we've affected the atmosphere in the room!” Why would they not have thought about that before, like when they took their helmets off in the first place, which automatically affects the atmosphere? They could have destroyed the single biggest scientific find in human history because they were so gun ho, and when they see the atmosphere changing, nobody takes personal responsibility for the mistake.

This complaint is rather stupid. This scene is after David opens the door to the sanctuary against their judgment, so in essence, the viewer here is merely reflecting the views of all the characters that told David not to open the door--but were too later, since David had already opened the door. Which means this complaint has already been addressed by the film, which means, there is absolutely no reason to bring it up.

At any rate, after David opens the door to the sanctuary, they find out that this changed the atmosphere in the room, which is causing the egg-like canisters to liquidize, which David takes a sample of, and this all ties into David's secret agenda.

35. What’s the giant face on the cliff? When the crew runs away from the violent sandstorm, we see a giant face in the side of the cliff, a big carving like Mount Rushmore. Why is it there? What is its purpose? Why do we never see anything about it again?

Yeah, it's definitely there. Maybe the big structure they're in was elaborately carved out to look like the head in the sanctuary, and the storm blasts away the sediment and build up over the past 2,000 years to reveal the specter like face lurking underneath. Or maybe it's just some cinematic foreplay? It doesn't really matter. It's spooky, and just an artistic choice, and makes the sequence more frightening. Does the mysterious face need to be a key point in the plot? If so, the question would be, why? And how would this progress the plot? Asking ourselves this, we can clearly see there is no answer. As such, it's probably safer to assume is was just an artistic choice to add more texture to the film, maybe a little foreshadowing.