Zombie Smashing: Z Nation Premieres!

https://i2.wp.com/www.blastr.com/sites/blastr/files/styles/blog_post_media/public/Znation_bat.jpgNever let it be said that the zombie apocalypse is going out of vogue, as it now seems that The Walking Dead has some competition. It’s called Z Nation – a show that premiered on Sept 12th on the SyFy channel – and which takes a similar, but altogether different approach for dealing with the zombie pandemic. Whereas the former is dark in tone and the characters seem to lurch from one tragedy to the next, this new series is all about zombie smashing!

As creator Karl Schaefer said of his creation, comparing it to its immediate rival:

If you’re going to go through the apocalypse, would you rather be with the people onThe Walking Dead, who are always kind of miserable and not having any fun, or our guys that are out to go kick some zombie ass?

I know my answer, and I have to say I’m a little peeved as well as impressed. Kicking zombie ass was what my series Whiskey Delta was supposed to be about! In fact, reviewers of that series have said how much they like a story where, for once, the military isn’t totally incompetent and knows how to deal with the infected and the undead hordes. Man, I haven’t felt this ripped-off since J J Abrams’ Revolution first aired!

https://i2.wp.com/www.cinemablend.com/images/sections/67248/Z_nation_67248.jpgBut enough about my half-assed grievances. As with The Walking Dead, World War Z, and a slew of other zombie franchises, the storyline revolves around a motley group of survivors who have come together in the aftermath of the collapse of civil order. In addition, the zombie concept is based on a virus that takes people over and reanimates their bodies once they die. But alas, there’s a big twist, which you will see in the trailer below.

Z Nation debuted to 1.6 million views for its premiere on Friday, September 12th, which is fairly modest for a Syfy drama series. But the network pointed out that this is a record for an acquired show produced by an outside party (Sharkado production company The Asylum made Z Nation), and that noted more viewers watched Z Nation than the most recent telecasts of The Leftovers on HBO, Teen Wolf on MTV and Doctor Who on BBCA.

https://i2.wp.com/www.cinemablend.com/images/sections/66519/_1406817935.jpgAnd interestingly enough, those ratings were comparable to the premier of The Walking Dead‘s fourth season fall premier, provided you add a decimal point in there. Yes, in a strange case of convergence, the WD episode “30 Days Without an Accident” garnered a total of some 16 million viewers, beating out the 2014 Winter Olympics AND the Beatles TV movie entitled The Beatles: The Night That Changed America.

So yes, it’s got some catchup work to do if it wants to be a contender for the top spot, but it’s really just getting started. Suffice it to say, I will be watching this show from now on! Check out the trailer and see if you agree:


Sources:
blastr.com, insidetv.ew.com

Cast of Star Wars VII Announced!

star-wars-episode-7Happy (early) May the Fourth everyone! This year, I thought I’d get on this fandom anniversary early by passing on some franchise news that was just released from Lucasfilm and Disney regarding the upcoming relaunch of the Star Wars franchise. After months of speculation, the cast for the upcoming Star Wars movie has finally been announced! The news came this past week in a post on StarWars.com, where  companies spelt it out for all the fans who have been eagerly awaiting the news.

In addition to Mark Hamil, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher – who will receive top billing as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia – Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker will also be reprising their roles as Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2. Also, the movie will star several notable actors in new roles, including acting great Max von Sydow (The Tudors, Minority Report, Snow Falling on Cedars, Judge Dredd, Needful Things).

starwarsAlso, Adam Driver (Girls, Lincoln), Oscar Isaac (Robin Hood, Sucker Punch, Drive), Andy Serkis (who brought Gollum to life in LOTR and the Hobbit franchises), Domhnall Gleeson (who played Bill Weasely in the Harry Potter series), and British television stars John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were announced, though has is not yet been announced what characters they will be playing. But since the upcoming movie will be taking place 30 years after Return of the Jedi, it’s fair to assume that the focus will be on these characters rather than on the original cast.

In a photo release this past Tuesday (seen below), director JJ Abrams is seen having a roundtable discussion with the cast at Pinewood Studios in the UK. Note the body of R2-D2 which sits unboxed behind them, having no doubt just been brought out of storage. JJ Abrams, identified by his spiky hair and glasses, can be seen sitting to the left of R2, with Harrison Ford to his right, Carrie Fisher two seats down, and Mark Hamil seated opposite to the far left of the photo.

star-wars-episode-7-cast-announceWhen news of the cast was released, Abrams was quoted as saying:

We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud.

This, the seventh film in the Star Wars franchise, and is slated for a December 18th, 2015, release. In addition to Abrams directing, he is also collaborating on the screenplay with Lawrence Kasdan, the man who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk are producing, and John Williams returns as the composer.

star-wars-prequelsI think I speak for fans and geeks everywhere when I wish them all luck! Lord knows we could all use a really decent Star Wars sequel, especially when so many of us felt so utterly let down by the prequels! However, I think it is fair to say that Abrams and the rest should not be too concerned about what the fans and expect. If this latest installment is to be a success, it must not be overly aware of itself or its legacy. Such was part of what brought the prequels down in my estimation, and like everyone else, I just want to enjoy what comes next!

Good day and May the Fourth be with you all!

Source: starwars.com

The Future of WiFi: Solar-Powered Internet Drones

titan-aerospace-solara-50-640x353Facebook, that massive social utility company that is complicit in just about everything internet-related, recently announced that it is seeking to acquire Titan Aerospace. This company is famous for the development of UAVs, the most recent of which is their solar powered Solara 50. In what they describe as “bringing internet access to the underconnected,” their aim is to use an army of Solara’s to bring wireless internet access to the roughly 5 billion people who live without it worldwide.

Titan Aerospace has two products – the Solara 50 and Solara 60 – which the company refers to as “atmospheric satellites.” Both aircraft are powered by a large number of solar cells, have a service ceiling of up to 20,000 meters (65,000 feet) and then circle over a specific region for up to five years. This of length of service is based on the estimated lifespan of the on-board lithium-ion batteries that are required for night-time operation.

solara-50-titan-640x320The high altitude is important, as the FAA only regulates airspace up to 18,000 meters (60,000 feet). Above that, pretty much anything goes, which is intrinsic if you’re a company that is looking to do something incredibly audacious and soaked in self-interest. As an internet company and social utility, Facebook’s entire business model is based on continued expansion. Aiming to blanket the world in wireless access would certainly ensure that much, so philanthropy isn’t exactly the real aim here!

Nevertheless, once these atmospheric satellites are deployed, there is a wide range of possible applications to be had. Facebook is obviously interested in internet connectivity, but mapping, meteorology, global positioning, rapid response to disasters and wildfires, and a whole slew of other scientific and military applications would also be possible. As for what level of connectivity Facebook hopes to provide with these drones, it’s too early to say.

internetHowever, TechCrunch reports that Facebook would launch 11,000 Solara 60 drones. Their coverage would begin with Africa, and then spread out from there. There’s no word on how fast these connections might be, nor how much such a connection would cost per user. Perhaps more importantly, there’s also no word on how Facebook intends to connect these 11,000 satellites to the internet, though it is obvious that Facebook would need to build a series of ground stations.

Many of these might have to be built in very remote and very hard to administer areas, which would also require fiber optic cables running from them to hook them up to the internet. In addition, Titan hasn’t produced a commercial UAV yet and have confined themselves to technology demonstrations. What they refer to as “initial commercial operations” will start sometime in 2015, which is perhaps this is why Facebook is only paying $60 million for Titan, rather than the $19 billion it paid for WhatsApp.

Google_Loon_-_Launch_EventAs already noted, this move is hardly purely altruistic. In many ways, Facebook is a victim of its own success, as its rapid, early growth quickly became impossible to maintain. Acquiring Instagram and WhatsApp were a savvy moves to bring in a few hundred million more users, but ultimately they were nothing more than stopgap measures. Bringing the next billion users online and into Facebook’s monopolistic grasp will be a very hard task, but one which it must figure out if it wants its stock not to plummet.

To be fair, this idea is very similar to Google’s Project Loon, a plan that involves a series of high-altitude, solar-powered hot air balloons that would provide wireless to roughly two-thirds of the worlds population. The idea was unveiled back in June of 2013 and has since begun testing in New Zealand. And given their hold on the market in the developed world, bringing broadband access to the developing world is seen like the next logical step for companies like Verizon, Time Warner, Comcast, and every other internet and telecom provider.

Wireless-Internet-1One can only imagine the kind of world our children and grandchildren will be living in, when virtually everyone on the planet (and keeping in mind that there will be between 9 and 11 billion of them by that time) will be able to communicate instantaneously with each other. The sheer amount of opinions exchanged, information shared, and background noise produced is likely to make today’s world seem quiet, slow and civilized by comparison!

Incidentally, I may need to call a  lawyer as it seems that someone has been ripping off my ideas… again! Before reading up on this story, the only time I ever heard the name Titan Aerospace was in a story… MY STORY! Yes, in the Legacies universe, the principal developer of space ships and aerospace fighters carried this very name. They say its a guilty pleasure when stuff you predict comes true when you are writing about it. But really, if you can’t cash in on it, what’s the point?

Consider yourself warned, Titan! J.J. Abrams may have gotten off the hook with that whole Revolution show of his, but you are not nearly as rich and powerful… yet! 😉 And the meantime, be sure to check out these videos of Titan’s Solar 50 and Google’s Project Loon below:

Titan Aerospace Solara 50:


Project Loon:


Source:
extremetech.com

The Future is Here: Lab-Grown Burgers!

labmeat1Artificially-created meat has long been the dream of futurists and researchers, a means of solving world hunger and improving health at the same time. Efforts to create it using 3D printing are coming along, but another research firm has offered a different approach – in vitro grown meat. And at the same time, this lab-grown alternative offers consumers the chance to improve their health by eating something more nutritionally balanced.

The breakthrough comes to us from a group of researchers led by Mark Post, a Vascular Physiology professor at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. To make the burger, he and his team began with a kind of stem cell called a myosatellite cell that is taken from a cow’s neck. These cells are then placed in growth medium that the researchers have formulated to allow them to grow and divide. The resulting cells are grown into 20,000 strips of muscle tissue which are assembled into beef.

labmeat0This is an encouraging development for a number of reasons. First of all, a 2011 joint-research study between the University of Oxford, University of Amsterdam, and a number of environmental research organizations, cultured meat required up to 45 percent less energy and up to 96 percent less water to produce, generated up to 96 percent less greenhouse gases and, without animal herds of flocks to tend to, requires 99 percent less land.

Second, Post’s recipe for a lab-grown beef burger contains no fat, compared to its rather fatty organic  counterpart. And while fat is responsible for giving a burger much of its taste, Post insists that his recipe tastes “tastes reasonably good.” In the coming weeks Post plans on cooking his burger at an event in London where participants will try the in vitro meat – adding salt and pepper to taste.

labmeatHowever, the process is not completely devoid of reliance on actual cows. As already mentioned, the original stem cells that make the process possible have to come from a living cow. In addition, the muscle cells were grown in fetal calf serum, a necessity at this point since the process is still in its infancy. It’s hoped that in the future the burger can be produced without any material of animal origin.

And of course, the technology needs to become way more scalable before it can be considered viable. For example, between the cost of extracting the fetal cow tissue and turning it into meat in a lab, a single burger took roughly $325,000 to produce. But ultimately, this feat was all about pushing the boundaries and challenging notions of what is possible.

3d_meat In addition, as technology improves and the process is refined, costs will come down. And as Post said in an interview, the point of developing this process was to demonstrate that it can be done:

Let’s make a proof of concept, and change the discussion from ‘this is never going to work’ to, ‘well, we actually showed that it works, but now we need to get funding and work on it.’

While it may be several more years before in vitro burgers replace old fashioned farmed burgers, but the feat is a delicious victory for environmentalists and scientists alike in search for alternate ways to feed the world’s addiction to meat.

Funny, all this talk of lab-grown meat is giving me a sense of deja vu. Didn’t somebody write a story about this exact kind of thing not that long ago? Oh yeah… it was me! Well that’s just great, now I got to sue J.J. Abrams and the University of Maastricht? Lord, why do you torment me so?

Sources: singularityhub.com, pubs.acs.org

Star Trek Into Darkness

StarTrekIntoDarknessIMAXposterPTParamountHello folks! This weekend, I finally managed to get my butt to the movie theater to catch a summer blockbuster. It was the first time in months, perhaps a year, that the wife and I caught a movie on the big screen. And as my geekiness demanded, the movie we caught was the second installment in the J.J. Abrams relaunch of the classic franchise: Star Trek Into Darkness. And while I am obliged to provide a review, I am also bound by the spoiler code, so what I am about to say shall be as vague as I can possibly make it.

As I’m sure you all know, the second act in any series is meant to be the dark one. And while it is hard to top an event like the loss of an entire planet – Vulcan getting obliterated in the first film – this movie really did revolve around a certain downturn in the series. In addition to their being the concept of the enemy within, there is also the prospect of impending war, of vengeance overpowering good reason, and people sacrificing who and what they are in the process.

StarTrekIntoDarknessNot only did all this call to mind some of the larger ethical concerns arising out of the “War on Terror” – such as vengeance vs. justice, preemptive violence, and being rulec by fear – there was an even a dedication at the end of the film to all veterans who have served since September 11th, 2001. Apparently, this was because the makers knew the movie would be released in 2013, when many soldiers overseas would be returning home.

And of course, the movie was also an homage to the second installment in the original series. As I was forewarned going in, though not in any detail, this movie pays tribute to The Wrath of Khan in many places. While this was to be expected – I too suspected as much from several early hints – it did get a little tedious at times. After awhile, it didn’t so much feel like a wink and a nod as much as a repetitious pattern.

Still, the pace of the film, the big reveals, and the way it all played into the original story arc, but again with changes due to the temporal shift that took place in the first movie, all made for a very exciting and awesome experience. A couple of times I looked over to my wife and whispered “I knew it!”, and I quietly screamed my applause at the end. She laughed, I explained things to her, it was all good!

So if you haven’t seen it yet, and consider yourself a Trekkie, geek, fan of action sci-fi, or all of the above, get on out and catch this movie before the summer is out!

Barely Political’s Star Trek Parody

Star-Trek-universeHere we have the hilarious satire group that produces musical parodies under the name “The Key of Awesome”, back for more with a parody of Star Trek. Most likely made in honor of the honor of the successful relaunch of the franchise, here we see Spock and a lady Vulcan subordinate come together for Pon Farr. And of course, its all done to the tune of a particular slow jam, with hilarious results!

I have yet to see Into Darkness, but I’m lobbying hard to accomplish this that weekend. How can I be expected to do reviews and keep up with the latest in pop culture and science fiction if I don’t occasionally get out to see a vastly overpriced relaunch??? Enjoy the video:

Star Wars News!

star-wars-episode-7You’re not going to believe this. But just 15 minutes ago, on his Facebook feed, George Takei announced that he will be starring in the upcoming Star Wars remake. Not only that, but he had a few newsworthy items to share about the upcoming sequel that the studio has not been sharing just yet. These include the name of the new film and when filming will begin.

Friends, I am thrilled to announce that I’ll be starring in the Star Wars reboot directed by JJ Abrams. I’ll be playing Master Ceti Maru, a member of the Jedi High Council. The new film, entitled “Star Wars: Galactic Empire,” is greenlit and will begin filming sometime early next year. It is truly a moment for The Star Alliance. Thanks to all my fans for their decades of support.

You may not think it, but even a little hint like the name of the film can tell you volumes. In this case, it would seem to confirm what Hamil has been saying, that the movie would be set in a time when the children of Han and Leia were growing up, a time where the Republic had been resurrected and was fighting the remnants of the Empire to take control of the Galaxy.

In addition, since he will be playing a Jedi Master, its clear that in this time period, the Jedi Order has been restored. So Luke won’t be the only one anymore. Perhaps he’ll just be the head honcho, which is a bit of a change-up ever since Yoda passed away. What’s more, Takei was sure to provided a little mockup photo to get fans in mind of what he would like sporting a Jedi robe and a lightsaber (I see he went with the Windu model). Excited yet? I know I am.

Addendum: It’s officially midnight, so Happy April Fool’s Day! George, you’re one mean SOB!

georgetakei_jedi