Here’s a random memory triggered by an unrelated Facebook post I read.
When I was a physics major, one of my professors, referencing a carnival ride, actually said, “Centrifugal force doesn’t exist. What you’re experiencing is centripetal force pushing you in.”
I responded, “But if centripetal force exists, doesn’t Newton’s Third Law of Motion demand that centrifugal force also exist? Wouldn’t that be the force your body exerts back on the wall?”
Boy, was he pissed. Of course he knew that the “reactive centrifugal force” existed. This is the force that you exert on the wall in reaction to the wall pushing you towards the center. It’s a very real force. However, even back then, I was killing people for linguistic imprecision. I couldn’t help it. It was a legitimate question brought on by a quirk in how physicists label these topics.
“Centrifugal force” is used differently from “reactive centrifugal force,” which is stupid. All forces have a reactive counterforce, so why qualify it as “reactive”? Unfortunately, that’s the linguistic convention, but when you say “centrifugal force doesn’t exist,” it misleads people who otherwise have a grasp on what you’re teaching. Physics professors should make it clear that there is an outward force, but we experience a misperception that this outward force is acting on us. In fact, the outward force is acting on the wall (or whatever is forcing you to take a curved path). Without “reactive” modifying it, “centrifugal force” refers to the misperception rather than the very real force.
If you want more details on the physics, here’s a relatively short lecture on this topic (about 12-1/2 minutes), though it doesn’t discuss the issue I’m raising here. In fact, it makes the same mistake. I originally provided a paragraph explaining some concepts the lecture takes for granted, but that paragraph would probably have made things worse. 🙂
You may have expected this to be about science, or language, but it was really about me being a pain in the ass.
On April 3, 2020, I posted my observations made during the quarantine watch party of Shazam. During a resultant discussion on Facebook, I referenced haters of the film, to which my friend, Erik, responded, “I’m sure they’re out there, but I can’t think of anyone in my real life who saw it and didn’t like Shazam.” My impression is that people hated the film, but Rotten Tomatoes says otherwise: critics at 90%, and audience at 82%. This reminded me of a nearly identical conversation with Erik about District 9, and Rotten Tomatoes tells the exact same story: critics at 90%, and audience at 82%. (I’m going to try not to get distracted by how weird of a coincidence all of this is.)
Sometimes when I post about a movie, all I get are negative reactions. Sometimes all I get are positive reactions. In either case, I don’t really know whether I should view the movie in question as a guilty pleasure or myself as one of the sheeple. (Reign of Fire remains a guilty pleasure at 42%/49%.) Our Facebook and Twitter streams provide relatively small amounts of data and aren’t random sources. There’s too much commonality in our respective audiences, especially considering that, even if you feel you’re open-minded, you probably live in a bubble. I’m not just talking about political bubbles, but also social bubbles defined by hobbies and such.
Don’t let the squeaky wheel dictate your worldview. Take it for what it is: sometimes thought-provoking but rarely dispositive of anything important. You may make a mistake far greater than this one.
As opening night for Star Trek into Darkness (also my birthday) approaches, I wanted to make sure I reserve the opportunity to say, “I told you so,” even though there’s little chance that opportunity will actually present itself. My cousin, John (aka, @kesseljunkie) and I are big fans of the much-maligned Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (“TFF”). As a movie, it has its share of problems, but as most of you will agree with that statement, I won’t bother to justify it. Where I will take you to task, however, is with the character of Sybok.
Just a Little Misunderstood
As one of the six or so humans on the planet that actually read the novelization of TFF (John being one of the others), I have a deeper appreciation for the character of Sybok. Sybok was not just some lunatic. His reasons for accepting emotion spring from his mother’s views, which were seen as heretical by most of Vulcan. As geeks that are stereotypically considered outcasts for our interests, this is a character that we should have all embraced. Unfortunately, Sybok’s backstory was never fully developed by the film. This is understandable, as a book always has more room to do so than a movie, but it was a missed opportunity to say the least. While we didn’t necessarily have to agree with Sybok, we should have had a ton more sympathy for him, but unless you read the book (or are a completely delusional Star Trek apologist unable to criticize the franchise at all), you probably weren’t left with the same impression as I.
A Perfect Antagonist
The destruction of Vulcan gave us the opportunity to revisit and reimagine Sybok. This is a Vulcan who embraces his emotion, and his people were all but wiped out because of Star Fleet’s failure to protect the planet. Sure, that’s an unfair criticism in light of the advanced technology of the attacking ship, but people who do bad things, especially when motivated by anger, generally don’t have the firmest grip on logic. In fact, that’s the whole point of Sybok’s character. He has all the advantages of being a superhuman Vulcan without the logic to restrain his selfish impulses. There’s a lot of potential for a good story if a cataclysmic event pushed him over the edge.
Could I Be Right?
The trailers and actors’ interviews have hinted at reasons Sybok could be the villain. Cumberbatch jumps from a great height and exhibits exceptional strength by throwing around a large piece of metal during a fight. (Vulcans are stronger than humans.) Cumberbatch has referred to his character as a terrorist, but one that thinks he’s doing the right thing by Star Fleet. (This is right in line with the way Sybok thinks and acts.) Sure, Sybok wasn’t a Star Fleet agent in the other timeline, but with the destruction of Vulcan, and with few friends among the survivors, perhaps Sybok was recruited for a task for which he was quite suited: Getting revenge on the Romulans. We know the Klingons interacted with Nero from the last movie, and we know they play a role here. Perhaps they’re siding with Sybok, who’s changed his mind about what he has to do.
John pointed out to me that the scene from the trailer where Kirk and Spock are performing the “live long and prosper” salute through a pane of glass (mimicking their last actions in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan) in fact could be Spock and “JohnHarrison.” It’s clearly Spock, but the other sleeve is charcoal in color, which is the color shirt Cumberbatch is wearing while standing behind the pane of glass. The voice over then says, “Is there anything you wouldn’t do for your family?” Was that line spoken to Kirk, whose family hasn’t played a significant role in the reboot, or Spock, who is Sybok’s family?
Does all of this mean that John Harrison must actually be Sybok? Of course not. He could easily (probably?) be an augment, or perhaps even the Khan (which would be a tremendous shame). Gary Mitchell seems unlikely at this point, but still a possibility. All I’m saying is that Sybok would be a reasonable choice based on everything we’ve seen, and in this author’s humble opinion, would be the best choice. It would throw off everyone, and it would open the door to a proper telling of the character’s backstory.
All that being said, I doubt it’s Sybok, but if it is, the IMAX Airbus theater in Chantilly, VA is going to have at least two geeks standing up during the big reveal, shouting, “Nailed it! We told you so!” (8:55pm showing on May 17 if you’re interested.)
But probably not, and that makes me a little sad.
Side Note: Why Not Khan?
For those not wanting to read the IO9 article to which I linked, let me explain quickly why Cumberbatch shouldn’t play Khan (besides the obvious concern of “been there, done that … twice already”). Back in the old days when Star Trek was less about bells and whistles and more about story and the big three, almost every episode was a kick in the gonads of racism. What could possibly be more ironic and insulting to the “superior race” crowd than a “master race” led by a “darkie.” An Hispanic actor playing an Indian superman? Perfect. The Nazi’s were turning in their graves. Casting a white guy to play that role misses a lot of the point Roddenberry was trying to make. By itself, it won’t ruin the film or the Khan character, but it would make the character a little less meaningful.
I’ve have the Matrix movies playing in the background while I work on some trademark matters. I know that many people hated the second and third movies, Reloaded and Revolutions, and I wasn’t a big fan of them either. I find it annoying that no one in the movie can speak in a normal tone of voice, using either yelling or a whisper. No, that doesn’t make you sound cool. It makes you sound like a pretentious idiot who thinks he’s cool. However, I had to watch them again because I wanted to do so within the context of an interesting fan theory I learned by spending too much time reading Cracked.com.
The theory goes like this: What you know as the Matrix is a computer simulation. That’s simple enough; no surprises there. What you know as the movie’s real world is also a computer simulation. The Matrix is a simulation within that outer simulation. What this means is that Zion is a computer simulation, and Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and all the other pretentious serial whisperers are computer programs. The reason for the existence of the layers is that the computer programs (i.e., Neo, Morpheus, etc.) are being trained to think like humans. They’re being taught to express love, to place the needs of others over themselves, and generally to govern their behavior by more than mere statistics. (Think of Will Smith’s monologue in the also-maligned I, Robot. He points out that a human being would have known to save the girl rather than him despite Will Smith being the statistically-correct choice.) The fan theory also explains Neo’s superman powers outside the Matrix. If the “real world” is just another computer simulation, then it’s explainable that a blinded Neo can see the machines, that Neo can affect them with his powers, and that Agent Smith was capable of “possessing” a “real world” character, Bane. Finally, this also explains that the trilogy didn’t really have an ending. Neo just won, not for some logical reason, but because … he just did. All the Agent Smiths just exploded because Neo … I don’t know … infected them? Well, who cares? No explanation for how that happened is necessary. It’s just important that he did. I guess the programs learned their lesson, so it was no longer necessary for there to be a war.
The theory has one downside I see: An anticlimactic ending. If what I’ve described is what was going on the whole time, then as the credits roll, you’ve got to be thinking, “So no one was ever in any danger? This whole thing was essentially an elaborate movie … to the characters _in_ the movie? Awwwwwww, shucks! I was apparently watching some nerd writing lines of programming code for six or seven hours.” On the other hand, that’s what you’re doing in real life anyway when you go to a movie, especially one like Megamind that’s nothing but computer animation.
While I didn’t need to watch several hours of the movie to appreciate the fan theory — I probably could have not watched it as all — it made the movies completely different films at least worthy of the rewatch. Neo, et al. the programs are learning hope, love, forgiveness, and many other things that machines currently can’t learn, but above all else going beyond one’s programming and exercising free will. Perhaps it’s only through “living” these experiences that the lessons can ever sink into artificial intelligence.
Or not. I’m no expert in artificial intelligence. It’s a neat theory, though, and one that makes for decent drama. Just ask Commander Data.
Do you want to tell me what’s bothering you or would you like to break some more furniture?
Human bonding rituals often involve a great deal of talking, and dancing, and crying.
This vessel…I give… she takes. She won’t permit me my life. I’ve got to live hers.
[In a gravely, reptilian voice] Hsssssssss!
If you’re going to get nasty, I’m going to leave.
Well, either choke me or cut my throat. Make up your mind.
Sir, there’s a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder.
I have never understood the female capacity to avoid a direct answer to any question.
Another dream that failed. There’s nothing sadder.
We’re not here to conduct a field experiment in human biology.
There’s nothing disgusting about it. It’s just another life form, that’s all. You get used to those things.
Women are more easily and more deeply terrified, generating more sheer horror than the male of the species.
Too much of anything, … even love, isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Logic and practical information do not seem to apply here.
I’m trying to thank you, you pointy-eared hobgoblin!
You mustn’t stop me. You’re my lover, and I have to kill you.
I am incapable of destroying or interfering with the creation of that which I love so deeply– life in every form– from fetus to developed being.
Witch! Witch! They’ll burn ya!
I’m not Herbert.
Bonus quote for when you walk in on others having sex: You’re a traitor from a race of traitors. Disloyal to the core. Rotten! Like the rest of your subhuman race. And you’ve got the gall… to make love to that girl!
Now, Star Trek and Star Wars fans have yet another reason to be competitive with one another.
I know, including Gaila from the latest Star Trek movie is cheating. It’s not an Original Series picture, and the fact that it’s from an alternate timeline involving the original crew is no excuse. I don’t care, and neither do you.
I’ve never seen a single episode of Firefly even though I’ve had a friend’s copy of the entire series on DVD for over a year now. Maybe I should watch it, or maybe, like Ferris Bueler’s Day off, if I watch it as a 44-year old-adult, it won’t be nearly as good for me as it was for you when you were young 20-something’s.
STE is a much-maligned series in the Star Trek franchise. Though I can understand why relatively new Star Trek fans didn’t like it, I never quite understood why fans of TOS didn’t. Sure there were problems with the writing; the temporal cold war was annoying and never truly resolved, and they never should have forced the Borg and Ferengi into the storylines. However, for those who’ve been with Star Trek from the beginning, we’ve seen it as a morality play first, and bells and whistles second. The futuristic setting was interesting and important. It was interesting to see where humans were going and important because it told us that somehow, despite the threat of nuclear annihilation, we were going to make it. Nevertheless, the reason we were going to make it was because of our social evolution, not our technological evolution. Greater technology, by itself, simply gives us the means to destroy ourselves. We have to rise above our instincts and insecurities to make it to the 22nd century. Story was what mattered.
So, how did we go from cross burnings to not batting an eyelash when we meet an energy-based being? We can certainly see the first part of that evolution by looking at how our real-world societies have (and haven’t) evolved since the 60s. We can also see how we’ve evolved from the Original Series to the Star Trek: The Next Generation (“TNG“) era, a time at which diversity was so extensive that we threw up our hands and surrendered to it psychologically-speaking. What’s missing is our future. By “our,” I mean those of us living in the 21st century, and those that will live in the 22nd century. What can we and our descendants expect? Star Trek: First Contact gave us a hint. First contact with the Vulcans “unit[ed] humanity in a way that no one ever thought possible, when they realize they’re not alone in the universe.” Deanna Troi, Star Trek: First Contact. That’s great, but it’s also a bit idealistic. Even if humanity no longer hated itself, could we really expect that to mean the end of bigotry instantaneously? STE answered that question, and that’s why I loved it. It told a part of the story we needed to see, both in terms of our social evolution and technical evolution. The jump from TOS to TNG wasn’t nearly as fascinating to me as the jump from right now to TOS, because that’s what will affect people I actually know, including me.
Two of the best episodes in all of Trek history were Demons and Terra Prime, a two-part series starting Peter Weller (a.k.a., Robocop) as a xenophobic human. He united black and white, male and female, gay and straight, and faithful and atheist against a common foe: Anyone who wasn’t human. It demonstrated that humans are as bigoted as their circumstances dictate. By that, I mean that whoever is most different at the time is the target of our bigotry. Sure, looking at green-blooded, pointy-earned clones of Satan, we’d probably lose focus on how we hate each other, but that focus had to go somewhere, and sure enough it did. Humans developed great resentment towards Vulcans. Of course, there wasn’t much outright hostility, but then again bigotry nowadays doesn’t often result in physical violence, but that doesn’t make the bigotry any less real. Also, humans were getting something out of their relationship with Vulcans, so that helped to mollify that resentment.
Or so my theory goes.
Still there was a story to tell there. You may agree or disagree with my point of view, and you may have preferred a different direction for Star Trek canon. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that we’re analyzing social issues, which is what made Star Trek one of the most important series in the history of television. That analysis is the mission of the Star Trek franchise. Whatever legitimate concerns you might have for the quality of the writing, with Star Trek: Enterprise, mission accomplished.
Unless, of course, phase cannons weren’t glamorous enough for you.
I’ve forwarded this picture every time I’ve received it in a social media stream, and I’ll continue to do so in the future even if you tell me that you’re sick of seeing it. I find this fascinating and decided to post it here to give it some sense of permanency for myself, as well as to further the current discussion surrounding the Curiosity’s landing on Mars.