24 entries categorized "Science"

The Armageddon Debate: Lauren's Opening Statement

Note: @DaveG34 and I have agreed to debate the merits of the movie Armageddon. Background info is here. The statement up for debate today is, simply: "Armageddon is a good movie." I represent the PRO side; Dave represents CON. My opening statement is below; Dave's is here.


By Lauren McILoveThisMovie,Man

Picture1 In defending the movie Armageddon, one finds more than her fair share of opponents. Roger Ebert gave the movie one star, calling it "an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained." Countless other reviewers shared his assessment, piling on critiques of its acting, writing, and pacing--not to mention gaping holes in scientific reasoning that you could, I dunno, fit a Texas-sized asteroid through.

Today, I stand up to those critics, and to my debate opponent Dave, to say that Armageddon is indeed a good movie. Now, defending Armageddon is no easy task--but then again, neither is AWESOMELY DRILLING A HOLE IN AN ASTEROID AND SAVING THE WORLD. But that didn't stop Harry Stamper, A.J. Frost, and their lovable band of blue-collar drillers-cum-NASA world-saver-ologists. So it won't stop me, either--because I LIKE this movie, dammit. And you can be all Bruce Willis and tell me not to like it because it's not good enough for your daughter, but at the end of the day I'm still going to go lie by a barn with this movie and let it traipse animal crackers over me while talking to me in a bad Australian accent, because I see the goodness of this movie even if you don't. And hopefully, much like in the movie, you will come to see my viewpoint in the end, just like Harry warmed to A.J. (Hopefully you will NOT be nuclear bombed/obliterated upon coming to this realization.)

The crux of my argument for this movie is thus: you can't deny how unbelievably thrilling and moving it is, even with all its little flaws. See, what its discreditors fail to appreciate is that Armageddon achieves the very height of cinematic drama and suspense by brilliantly combining several of the most compelling themes ever to appeal to human nature into one riveting tale. 

Since our earliest beginnings, mankind has been fascinated with the concept of how our world will end. On a grand scale, the movie touches on this mesmerizing concept of armageddon, and combines it with yet another eternally enthralling concept: man's struggle to use his wits to defeat the relentless forces of nature. Few things strike our collective conscious so profoundly as teamwork, whether it is in the larger struggle of humanity as it marshals whatever technology and progress it has at hand to defeat the natural forces that would destroy it without a care or thought--or in the microcosmic setting of a few regular Joes banding together under a gruff but determined leader to achieve success in a daunting, near-impossible task. The layering of these themes within Armageddon rouses fear, pathos, pride, and good ole-fashioned patriotism. Add to that the human angle--a romance blooming in a time of impossibility; a father guided by love for his daughter and hope for her future--and BAM, YOU JUST GOT GOOD MOVIE-D IN THE FACE. The dynamics between Grace (Liv Tyler) and Harry (Bruce Willis), Grace and A.J. (Ben Affleck), and Harry and A.J. make the urgency of the crew's doomsday mission that much more palpable by focusing our attention on a trio for whom everything is at stake. I don't care who you are, that's just good-ass storytelling.


Armageddon has its awkward moments--my defense would be incomplete if I didn't acknowledge them head on. For example, the science is admittedly preposterous. The movie's Wikipedia page has an entire section entitled "Scientific Inaccuracies," which notes: "NASA shows the film as part of its management training program. Prospective managers are asked to find as many inaccuracies in the movie as they can. At least 168 impossible things have been found during these screenings of the film." Fair enough. But I have to ask--need the science hold together for a movie to be good? I'm pretty sure a lot of the shit in Harry Potter wouldn't hold up in a NASA training room either, but people seem to like that.


Maybe that's not enough to convince the real science sticklers out there, but try taking the words of Susan Sontag into account. In her essay "The Imagination of Disaster," Sontag writes that "Science fiction films are not about science. They are about disaster, which is one of the oldest subjects of art...to this day there is nothing like the thrill of watching all those expensive sets come tumbling down." Fucking exxxxxactly, Susan, THANK YOU. I took science class to learn science. I'm watching Armageddon on FX at 11 p.m. on a Monday because shit's blowin' up and it's awesome.

Ehhh, the dialogue in the movie is, uh, occasionally . . . thin. I'll just give you that one. But allow me to point out that Armageddon was the highest-grossing movie of 1998. Why? Because people liked it. WHY? Because we can't all be the NASA scientists in the movie who know the best way to do everything and be right. (Those guys were nerds and lame anyway, as a matter of fact.) As the movie points out, sometimes perfection isn't what you need to get the job done. Sometimes you need the rag-tag team of not-good-enough elements to magically come together in literally world-saving Gestalt. Maybe that's what's going on with this script--did you ever stop to think of that? DID YOU?

It is my ultimate position, then, with regards to the topic of this debate, that no, Armageddon is not a good movie; it is a great one. My thoughts about it can, in fact, be summarized with pretty much all of the lyrics to its signature song, Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing." Every moment spent with this movie is a moment I treasure, and when it's on I don't wanna miss a thing. And I totally don't feel weird about calling a movie baby and saying I want to listen to it breathing, because people, according to the transitive property of movie-song logic, Steven Tyler was basically singing that song about his daughter. So I'm the more normal one here.

The Armageddon Debate: Dave's Opening Statement

Note: @DaveG34 and I have agreed to debate the merits of the movie Armageddon. Background info is here. The statement up for debate today is, simply: "Armageddon is a good movie." I represent the PRO side; Dave represents CON. Dave's opening statement is below; mine is here.


By @DaveG34 

To those of you unfamiliar with pork products, Scrapple is created when you take all the tasty, useful parts out of a pig and then throw the rest into a blender, turn it on, and heat the result. Armageddon is the Scrapple of cinema. It takes a bunch of random, totally ridiculous, unexplainable events and throws them together into an action movie. If network executives were being honest with audiences in 1998, they would have named this film “A Serial Happening of Inexplicable Things.” Or, well, SHIT.

SHIT begins in a way only acceptable in a pre-9/11 world, as meteors shower down on New York City, destroying buildings, cars, and human life. The focus, however, remains on the health and well-being of a dog named Little Richard. Priorities, it turns out, are not Michael Bay’s forte. Next, we visit an oil rig1, where Bruce Willis shoots Ben Affleck - with a gun! – and no one seems remotely surprised. Like, oh yeah, this is our friend Harry - he just randomly shoots people with guns. Question: Harry appears most likely to belong to which of the following: a) a world-saving NASA mission, b) Rahway State Prison, or c) J-Date. If you guessed B, you're right. Also, surprisingly, C.

Then there's the whole "rest of the movie,” wherein our heroes become astronauts, land on an asteroid, drill through an undrillthroughable material, and save the day. Meanwhile, the President of the United States is somehow willing to blow up the asteroid prematurely, despite knowing that as a result, EVERYONE IN THE WORLD WILL DIE. This seems mildly irresponsible, doesn’t it?2 But fear not: Harry Stamper, the J-dating Affleck-shooter, has more power in this movie than the President, and he of course saves the day. Another example of crazy-ass shit happening is when Ben Affleck drives a space vehicle over a massive, miles-wide chasm. Really, the film takes on a whole new life if you just watch it as one really long deleted scene from Good Will Hunting.

In addition to its mind-blowing randomness, Armageddon is also a wholly unoriginal movie. And this is not just because a better asteroid-toward-earth movie, Deep Impact, came out the same year.3 Armageddon recycles a plot from every heist/war movie ever. Close your eyes for a second and imagine the movie The Sandlot. Now open them. I realize there are some Armageddon-y plot holes in the whole reading-with-eyes-closed direction, but I’m just getting into the spirit of the film. Now think of Armageddon while remembering the Sandlot. IT'S THE SAME F'ING MOVIE. In the Sandlot, a rag tag group of kids use cunning and high tech gadgets to place themselves at great risk to prevent what they, as kids, believe to be the apocalypse (the signed ball being eaten). In Armageddon, a rag tag group of men use cunning and high tech gadgets to place themselves at great risk to prevent an actual apocalypse. In the end of the Sandlot, the older leader (Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez) risks his life to save his protégé. In Armageddon, the same fucking thing happens! Armageddon is The Sandlot, with higher stakes and less heart.4

 Armageddon also misused its resources. I understand that the special effects are the true stars of the movie, but the best actors in this film are given very little to do. Bruce Willis plays Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck plays Ben Affleck5, and Billy Bob Thornton plays the role of a generic bureaucrat. But Steve Buscemi is basically told to play an amped-up version of Steve Buscemi, and Owen Wilson, arguably the film’s most dynamic actor, is barely in the movie. Wilson and Buscemi would be a pretty good leading duo in a comedy these days (undoubtedly about a humorous, brooding Texan and his high-strung, eccentric friend). Here, Buscemi is rightly used as the comic relief (though really, he's cast once more as the most eccentric person of a bunch of eccentric people)6, and Wilson has only a few lines before he dies. I think. I dozed off and when I woke up he was no longer in the movie. Really a phenomenal use of Owen Wilson here, by the way. I’m sure he only got the role in the first place because Sir Lawrence Olivier turned it down. And Michael Clarke Duncan appears as well, playing against type as a large, sensitive, black man. He is actually one of only two people of color in the entire film, but he does share with the entire cast the propensity to overact. The faces made in this movie are amazing. People are sad. People are mad. Brows are furrowed. Frowns are frowned. Armageddon could have accurately been entitled White Men Making Faces. There’s also a crazy Russian guy, because, well, how could there not be?

In the end, Armageddon will be remembered for its special effects, its obnoxiously-overplayed soundtrack, and its exploration of the sexual possibilities of animal crackers. But it should also be remembered as a film that challenged us – in a bad way. Enjoyment of this film on any level requires a suspension of disbelief. So does Spiderman, or for that matter, Congress. But the ridiculousness of this movie lies not primarily in its elaborate plot or its flashy effects, but in its unoriginality and the absurdity of its execution. It not only insults our intelligence, but also challenges our willingness to sit idly by while our intelligence is being insulted. It is a fun movie, no doubt, a blockbuster meant as an escape from our troubles.7 But it is also, for lack of a better word, SHIT. Any honest discourse about this film must acknowledge this truth.


1.          Acceptable only in a pre-Deepwater Horizon world

2.          Kinda puts Obama-care in perspective

3.          Rather than relying on special effects, Deep Impact explores the metaphorical deep impact (not very subtle, but whatever) of the apocalypse on a group of individuals. Also, Morgan Freeman is the President! And while we're on the topic, Armageddon and Deep Impact being released simultaneously would be like Lord of the Rings coming out alongside a movie called God of the Necklaces. It's pretty ridiculous. 

4.          To complete the analogy, Steve Buscemi is Squints, Owen Wilson is Bertram because he just disappears, Max is Hamilton Porter, and James Earl Jones is awesome.

5.          Acceptable only in a pre-Gigli world

6.          See also Con Air, Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, Airheads, the Wedding Singer, Big Daddy, Mr. Deeds, Big Fish

7.          Because our troubles are surely worse than an asteroid heading toward earth, a strangely murderous President, and Harry “Challah at Me” Stamper’s shooting spree.


Let's Read an Article Together: Orangutan in a Diaper on a Cruise Edition

It's time for another installment of Let's Read an Article Together. Today's article comes from Newslite, a British site whose tagline is "it barely qualifies as news." I beg to disagree, because this is one of the most important stories I have read in 2010.

The article begins below. As with the first installment of this feature, my comments are in blue italics.

Abandoned orang-utan goes on first-class cruise

An abandoned baby orang-utan has made his way to new home -- by travelling as a first class passenger on cruise ferry. 

WTF. Is this how British people spell 'orangutan?' And what is a 'cruise ferry?' Does that just mean cruise sh---OMG, A PICTURE OF A BABY ORANGUTAN HOLDING A BOTTLE SITTING ON A BOAT, OMG OMG OMG


No, British website photo captioner, I have not. Also, "Credit: Monkey World" is the only photo credit I hope to ever see ever again in any story about anything.

11-month-old Silvestre was rejected by his mother at Santillana Zoo in Spain and as a result was being taken to Monkey World sanctuary in Dorset.

Silvestre's mother is awful and I hope she has terrible karma and never gets to go anywhere cool like Monkey World, or have any Disney movies made about her life, unless she is the villain and Silvestre is the star and I could go see it in a theatRE, which is how I am spelling it in case Sylvestre is reading.

But because he had to be kept close to his keeper, special permission was given from the British authorities for him to travel on board a ferry.

Glad the British authorities are keeping busy these days.

As a result, Silvestre had his own four-bed cabin for the journeyand spent most of the time swinging from the ladders and bunks.

Sorry, Emily, but this is what we should have done on our cruise.

With that sort of behaviour he should fit in perfectly on a EasyCruise holiday.


There will never be another picture as good as this picture.

A spokesperson for Monkey World (please let that be my job title some day, please let that be my job title someday) said: "Now at Monkey World, Silvestre is meeting his new adopted family. His new family are all Bornean orang-utans (Pongo pygmaeus), a different species to him, but their behaviour is very similar. 

I'm sure Sylvestre noticed.

"Silvestre will grow up with his adopted family at Monkey World learning all the skills and behaviour that he will need to mature into a well adjusted adult male Sumatran orang-utan."

This paragraph is what TV pilots are made of.

Andrea González of Santillana Zoo added, “Santillana Zoo Foundation is involved in the conservation of Sumatran orang-utans and our first goal is the welfare of all our animals, especially Silvestre. He spent his firsts 11 months of life being cared for by our staff and seeing his two sisters, Victoria and Juliana, from time to time. From now on he will live with his new family at Monkey World, which will help him to develop a natural behaviour and a social life as an orang-utan.”

What? We are just ending this there? Does he ever get to see Victoria and Juliana again? On holidays, maybe? Can we rescue them from that awful mother and send them on cruises and make sure everyone has a happy end and--OMG, PICTURE OF A BABY ORANGUTAN IN A DIAPER, WHAT WAS I SAYING? NEVER MIND, IT DOESN'T MATTER.


Or, "What Lion Poop Has in Common with Edward from Twilight"

From an article in Washingtonian about lions, and what it takes for lion cubs to be born:

"The keepers collect fecal samples from the lion yard every day. To tell whose poop is whose, they add green peas to Naba’s food, black-eyed peas to Shera’s, and rice to Luke’s. Other zoos use edible glitter or cake dye."

I don't know about you, but my day has been officially made by the fact that somewhere out there, lions are literally shitting glitter.

Sometimes the world isn't so bad.

A Lot of Textbooks Are Going to Need to Be Reprinted

OK, humanity, pull the car over.  We can stop evolution now.  We've gotten there: the ultimate point of all of this.  We cannot improve.

Someone has invented shoes that hold candy.

Yes.  You heard me.  First there was the discovery of fire; then, the invention of the wheel.  And then someone put candy in shoes.

Scientists, please revise the evolutionary diagram as follows:

Thank you.

(groundbreaking news via)

A Near-Lock for the Nobel Prize in Bandage-ology

I was informed today of a recent, groundbreaking study that has concluded the following:
Fast is best for Band-Aid removal: scientists - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)_1260835860395
Yeah.  Wow.  According to the article:

A study at Queensland's James Cook University used 65 medical students who removed Band-Aids either quickly or slowly, and ranked their pain reaction from zero to 10.

Quick removal returned a pain score of 0.92 in comparison with 1.58 for those who chose the slow approach.

If you are like me, you have probably always thought that scientific research is conducted in sophisticated laboratories like this:

Or this:
Well, it turns out that the truth is closer to this:
Which is . . . AWESOME.

He Also Hates Ice Cream, Pizza, and Warm Woolen Mittens

Prior to yesterday, I thought that people were mostly good.  And then I read this article about a man who wants pandas to die.

According to the article:

The BBC wildlife expert Chris Packham has questioned the millions spent trying to save the giant panda from extinction and suggested that the bamboo-eating bear should be allowed to die out "with a degree of dignity".

Apparently Packham believes that, among other things, pandas are at an "evolutionary dead-end" because of their reliance on bamboo, and that it it makes sense to "pull the plug."  Yes.  Those are his words.  Pull.  The.  Plug.


Seriously, Chris Packham?  Anti-panda?  That's the stance you're going to take?  Really?

Needless to say, I am having a bit of trouble wrapping my head around this one.  However, I am also curious to hear what other issues Mr. Packham has an opinion about.  Maybe he his career goal is to find scientific reasons to hate things that were previously only thought to be lovable.  If that's the case, I would like to propose some ideas for journal articles he could write.  Like this:


Or maybe this:


Or perhaps:


He might as well.  Once you're known as the guy who wants the pandas to die--well, it's not like you're going to come back from that.  It's time to just enjoy being an asshole.

Dinosaurs for Sale!

Opportunities for dinosaur ownership just don't come up often enough these days, but Oct. 3 is looking promising.  That is when, according to this article, approximately 50 "impressive, museum-quality" natural history artifacts, including some dinos, will be auctioned off at the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas.  The big seller is supposedly going to be a T. rex named Samson, with an estimated value of $2 million - $8 million. According to the article:
Prepared at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Samson’s skull is regarded as one of the finest and most complete T. rex skulls in existence, and displays 22 teeth. The skeleton contains approximately 170 bones, more than 55 percent of the total bone count of an entire skeleton.
That's nice, but this is not the best economy, and we don't all have millions of dollars to be spending on fossils.  That is why I have browsed the auction catalog and come up with some more budget-conscious picks to bid on.  All of the following picks come in well under the million-dollar mark, with auction values starting as low as $1,000!

Best Bargain-Bin Item: Lot 1, "A Fine Fossil Fish"

[Estimate: $1,000 - 1,250]

According to the catalog description, this Diplomystus dentatus specimen is a "requisite acquisition for any serious fossil fish collection."  More importantly, it is also looking like the cheapest thing you can buy in this particular auction--well, either this or the lame-ass "Ammomite with Bite Marks," but frankly, if you're going to drop a grand on a fossil, it shouldn't have a bite taken out of it.

Best Thing to Buy if You Really, Really Like Vertebrae: Lot 19, "Triceratops Vertebra"

[Estimate: $1,250 - 1,500]

If you buy one vertebra this year, I recommend you go with a Triceratops vertebra.  Their vertebrae have a "distinctive appearance" featuring "three horns and a large bony frill, which, besides giving this creature lasting celebrity, may have served several purposes."  From the looks of it, I think one of these purposes could definitely be 'most awesome pencil holder of the past 35 million years.'

Best Thing to Impress the Ladies: Lot 21,"Set of T. Rex teeth"

[Estimate: $7,500 - 10,000]

Some background: a couple years ago, I was in a bar with my sister Kate and her friend Ashley.  Ashley was approached by extremely hardy-looking man in a Hawaiian shirt.  Despite it being Saturday night at a bar, this man was dressed like a.) he was on a boat, and b.) he had never been anywhere else in his life other than on a boat.  Not knowing what to say, Ashley simply pointed to the shark tooth he was wearing around his neck and said, "Sweet tooth you got there, man."  The guy looked Ashley directly in the eye and said, "Lady, I've got a shark tooth at home that's as big as your hand."  The amount of confidence in this statement led me to believe that this comment had been used to impress many, many women in the past.

Which brings me to this item.  I cannot say the shark tooth line successfully worked on Ashley, but I can't help but think that if it had been an entire set of T. rex teeth that man had mentioned having at home, well--he and Ashley would probably be married by now.

Most Practical Purchase: Lot 30, "Pair of Dinosaurs Known as 'Xenia' and 'Ben'"

[Estimate: $500,000 - 600,000]


This is a true recession special.  For an estimated $500-$600K, you get two Late Cretaceous Einiosaurus Ben procurvicornis (a Triceratops relative) skeletons for just a fraction of the price of one T. rex.  The fact that E.p. is not one of your big-name dinos definitely does not mean you aren't getting quality here!  Ahem: "The virtuoso mounting of these specimens is exemplified by the treatment of Xenia's skull, which can  be turned from side to side. The skeleton is completely modular: almost every bone can be removed from the armature for scientific study; metal clips and cradles are used to secure the bones to the armature."  Additionally, "Ben's" skull can be rotated along two planes, up-and-down as well as side-to-side."

Dude, I know exactly what I would do if I had this pair of dinosaurs.  Xenia would stay at home on display in the  living room (note to self: get way bigger house ASAP).  Then I would pull Ben along behind me all day in a giant wagon, and whenever anyone asked me a yes-or-no question, I would say, "I don't know--let me ask my DINOSAUR.  Ben, do you think we should have turkey burgers for dinner?"  Then I would shake Ben's head yes or no in response.  Because I could.

Best if You Can't Afford an Entire Duck-Billed Dinosaur: Lot 22, "Dinosaur Arm"

[Estimate: $9,000 - 11,000]


Yes, it is possible to buy a full Edmontosaurus annectens ("duck-billed dinosaur") skeleton, but like I said: bad economy.  Instead, let me recommend this tasteful single arm of the same species.  The listing boasts that this lovely arm is "offered on a custom stand," which is a relief, because I have seen those generic, non-custom Edmontosaurus annectens arm stands they sell at Kmart, and those things are CRAP.

Those are my picks, but there's plenty more to see in the auction catalog here.

The Future Is Coming, and It Looks Like a Giant Lego Pulling a Rickshaw

Yesterday The Big Picture put up a collection of photos of robots, and it was awesome.  Here are some of my favorites.

Evidently this is a robot showing off its ability to manipulate delicate objects, but I thought it was just the villain from Inspector Gadget preparing to enjoy a cold beverage.

This is an underwater robot called RoboLobster.  It was designed to perform the highly complex task of reminding you that RoboLobster is the coolest word ever.

This robot will eat your brains.

I love that there is a robot that can shoot nets to capture robbers.  Like the scientists were thinking, "I know!  Let's make a state-of-the-art, futuristic device that employs law-enforcement techniques inspired by those 1920s movie bank robbers who stole those big dollar-sign sacks!"

"Farmer Wu Yulu drives his rickshaw pulled by a his self-made walking robot near his home in a village at the outskirts of Beijing January 8, 2009." 

I want a giant Lego Man FarmBot.  Now.

"The 350,000 yen (US$3,480) Paro, a cooing baby harp seal robot fitted with sensors beneath its fur and whiskers, is developed by Japan's Intelligent System Co, to soothe patients in hospitals and nursing homes."

This may be the best invention of all time.

Someone Call Bruce Willis

Umm, did you happen to feel a strong breeze yesterday?  Maybe it was the crap weather--OR MAYBE IT WAS THE SECRET ASTEROID WHIZZING BY EARTH AT 12 MILES PER SECOND.

I try not to be an alarmist, which is hard when you watch as much TV as I do and therefore are trained to believe that every phone is tapped, every person is a potential murderer and every little cough or ache is a sign of cancer.  But, with effort, I am generally able to remain convinced that everything is going to be relatively OK. 

And then I see headlines like this:

Surprise Asteroid Buzzed Earth Monday

Um, How surprise-y are we talking about?

 Discovered only days ago, asteroid 2009 DD45 zipped between our planet and the moon at 13:44 universal time (8:44 a.m. ET). The asteroid was moving at about 12 miles (20 kilometers) a second when it was closest to Earth.

"Discovered only days ago?"  Um, this shit does not fly with me.  I was under the impression that technology was at the point where we were aware of this kind of thing a lot sooner.  I don't know where I got this impression (OK, maybe I do), but it seems reasonable enough.

Now, it's not like we are talking about the Texas-sized asteroid that threatened to put an early end to Ben Affleck's relationship with Liv Tyler (as well as the rest of the Earth) in Armageddon.  According to National Geographic, this is a small asteroid:

At just 65 to 164 feet (20 to 50 meters) wide, the asteroid "was much fainter than anything visible to the naked eye" even during close approach, Spahr said.

However, according to New Scientist:

That rivals the size of the asteroid, estimated to be as small as 30 metres, that slammed into Tunguska, Siberia in 1908, creating a powerful blast that levelled 2000 square kilometres of forest.

So sure, this asteroid would have only destroyed a small fraction of the Earth's surface.  BUT THAT'S A BIG FREAKING DEAL IF IT'S YOUR FRACTION OF THE EARTH IT SLAMS INTO.

In conclusion, I would like to respectfully request that the scientists in charge of space stop misappropriating their time and resources and doing stupid things like demoting Pluto and MAKE SURE HUGE ROCKS AREN'T ABOUT TO KILL US ALL.  Thx.