Friday, September 23, 2016

Star Wars - Go back or go rogue?

Spoiler alert for this review of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens". It is now 9 months after release so that should be OK for most of you.

I was disappointed by the lack of originality and the flirting with in depth themes which failed to develop. "The Force Awakens" came across as a nostalgic remake of "Star Wars: A New Hope" (1977) with a female lead character a lot like Luke Skywalker. It did not make sense to me to change the home planet from "Tattooine" to "Jakku". "Jakku" seems identical to Tattooine so why not go all the way with nostalgia and revisit Tattooine? This film revisits everything else.

Within the limits of this retelling there was some writing craft in ingeniously rebooting the story characters and elements 30 years later. It was fun to see the "Millenium Falcon" emerge from a junkyard. I began to think that it was a little implausible that a spacefaring civilisation would have so little technical advance in 30 years that an old spacecraft would be competitive with the current models. Then I remembered that our civilisation currently has only one spacecraft design for human space flight and that is "Soyuz" which is a 50 year old design.

IMO it is a good element and a rare example of emotional complexity to have the great love story of Han and Leia turn to separation, with sadness and shock that their son has become the new Darth Vader. It is unfortunate that status appears to be inherited a lot in this universe. OK so Anakin Skywalker was apparently an egalitarian new talent emerging from a poor family. Which raises a question about  the female lead character who I keep thinking of as "Daisy". Error, that is the actress -  pauses a moment to look it up - "Rey". Is "Rey" an upwardly mobile poor person with talent? (As I hope). Or will it be revealed that she is really the descendant of someone great thus adding Star Wars to the thousands of years of propaganda that supports privilege and status by inheritance rather than by merit.

The standout impression for me is the flirting with elements of the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s by using some elements that then go nowhere. IMO this is a lost opportunity to make a far better film as in depth and drama than what I see here. The unexplained 3-way political play in this universe looks to me like a retelling of the story of the Spanish Civil War with the "First Order" as the emerging Nazis, the "New Republic" as the Spanish Republic, the "Resistance" as the International Brigades and the planet "Tokodana" as Guernica. IMO this would have been a better film if it had done more retelling with these elements and less with the "New Hope" elements.

There is a new hope of a different kind. Currently in production is a Star Wars spinoff movie, as in a side dish to the main course, titled "Star Wars: Rogue One". From its IMO excellent trailers and some website comment this may achieve some more originality and depth. As in a "war film" with something worthwhile to say about oppression and rebellion. It may even achieve some complexity. Trailer quote - "If you continue to fight, what will you become?" Online speculation suggests that the lower status has given the director more freedom to interpret the "Star Wars" universe, although news of reshoots has given rise to speculation that "The Suits" have stepped in to remove the edginess. The biggest Star Wars drama now is to see what turns up in December. Can "Rogue One" deliver some originality and depth?

Speculation about Rogue One reshoots:

Rogue One trailer on Youtube:

Monday, June 20, 2016

Battle of the Webcasts! Elon vs Jeff. Elon wins!

A current big entertainment for Techies is the Space Race between SpaceX led by Elon Musk and Blue Origin led by Jeff Bezos. While possibly equal in terms of technology achievements, Elon's showmanship is attracting lots of attention and love. Part of that is the live webcasts of his rocket launches which have a genuine drama to them as in will the experimental landing bring joy - or groans as another crash relives the glory pioneer days of 1960. Jeff has been secretive up until now. But today Jeff gave us a first live webcast of a Blue Origin flight.

Where's the showmanship, Jeff? OK, I took it in from about 5 min before launch to the end. Not one human being appeared. The camera stayed on the rocket waiting to go while 2 unseen humans provided a commentary. Contrast this with the SpaceX webcasts hosted by enthusiastic engineers who bring it all alive, including women who are fast becoming beloved of educators everywhere as science career role models for girls. Variety of camera points of view with action cams on the rockets ready to take us into the critical moments and these are getting better with each launch. And we get clips about the rocket work the hosts and hostesses have been doing.

The audience views say something - from the most recent webcasts.
Blue Origin (19 Jun 2016) 177,728 views
SpaceX most recent (15 Jun 2016) 600,378 views
SpaceX breakthrough (08 Apr 2016) 1,561,346 views - historical landing at 27 min

Blue Origin (19 Jun 2016)

SpaceX  (27 May 2016):

Friday, February 5, 2016

Tech Story - Project "HiTechFromLoTech" - SteamFlash Rocket Motor

Update - Project HiTechFromLoTech now has its own blog - the story continues at:

My "maker" attention was well captured by the SpaceX booster retrieve success of 21 Dec 2015. Thinks, can we on a smaller scale do exciting tech by putting ideas together in interesting ways? And what more practical activities can we come up with to get school students excited about tech? Needs a name - "Project HiTechFromLoTech".

That train of thought quickly led to the amazing Peter Beck.
Peter made a breakthrough by observing that batteries and electric motors have improved recently so it is now possible to simplify and advance liquid fuel rockets with electric fuel pumps.

I started gathering info about those amazingly powerful hobby – model – aircraft etc LiPo batteries.
Thinks .. can we go further than a support system - can a powerful battery directly propel the rocket? Some calculations suggest that it MAY be possible to run a rocket directly from a LiPo battery via an Electric Flash Boiler.

This is NOT like the fearsome “Skycycle X2” flown by Evel Knievel where the water was kept in a high-pressure heated container.
More effective (and safer) here to carry cold (or small advantage warm) water which feeds into a small “flash” unit heating a small amount of water to steam at any one time.

As of today, Sat, 06 Feb 2016, I have made a trial nichrome wire heating coil and I am close to the first water boiling experiment. Watch this space! Or should that be - "Watch this .. Space!".

References and Links:

Zuppero, A. Schnitzler, G. Larson, T. (1998). Nuclear-Heated Steam Rocket Using Lunar Ice.

SpaceX (2016) "The Falcon Has Landed" | Recap of Falcon 9 launch and landing.

Wikipedia (2014). Steam Rocket

Youtube (2013). Snake River Canyon jump 1973-EVEL KNIEVEL Awesome video!!

Update - Project HiTechFromLoTech now has its own blog - the story continues at: