Elon Musk will deliver this year’s most anticipated aerospace speech on Tuesday at the International Astronautical Conference in Mexico. The talk, “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species,” marks a singular moment for the man who has upended the global launch industry during the last five years and will now finally peel away some of the layers of his grand vision to colonize Mars—and possibly other places in the Solar System.
It was mooted in some aerospace circles that Musk might change the focus of his much-advertised speech at the IAC meeting after the loss of a Falcon 9 rocket earlier this month (the second), the cause of which remains unknown to the public. However, its central theme will remain how to address the challenges of creating a self-sustaining colony on Mars. Indeed, SpaceX recently added a livestream of the talk to its site, complete with a photo of Mars. Clearly, Musk and his company are pressing ahead with their Mars ambitions even as the very difficult, real-world work of assessing an Earth-bound rocket failure continues.
After the speech it seems likely that details about Musk’s much-hyped architecture for Mars exploration—the big spacecraft known variously as the Mars Colonial Transporter or Interplanetary Transport System and rocket, the BFR—will capture the most attention. Everyone wants to see these vehicles, which undoubtedly will ooze magnificence. But at Ars we’ll be watching for something much more prosaic, namely, who pays for all this?
"I want to be the very best"
22-year-old Nathan Wall warned his mother that there wasn't room for two pokémasters in the house. So, when his 48-year-old mom Sharon asked her son how to get Pokémon GO, Nathan decided to send her on her first Pokémon journey.
Nathan instructed her to bring a coded card to the register of a local Tesco and say 'I want to be the very best.'
She did it.
“Why am I so freaking excited about this movie? Check out its cast: Tilda Swinton. Chris Evans. Jamie Bell. Alison Pill. John Hurt. Ed Harris. Octavia Spencer. South Korean actor Song Kang-ho, who was excellent in Park Chan-Wook’s 2009 vampire movie Thirst. I’m feeling Pacific Rim levels of anticipation here. Higher, even.” That’s what I wrote the very first time I heard about Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, all the way back in January 2013. I have been looking forward to this movie for seventeen months. To say I had high expectations going into it is like saying Michael Bay is mildly fond of explosions. Because I was looking forward to it so very much, potential for disappointment was high. So it goes.
But was I disappointed? Readers, I see a lot of movies. Most of them are good. Some are great. A small number I love. And every once in a while I see a movie that leaves me vibrating with energy as I leave the theater, knowing that what I just saw will stick with me probably for the rest of my life, or at least until the inevitable robot overlords come and conquer the planet. Snowpiercer is one of those.
Snowpiercer was the subject of a much-discussed controversy where its US distributor, The Weinstein Company, wanted to edit the film to make it more palatable to mainstream American audiences (“their aim is to make sure the film ‘will be understood by audiences in Iowa… and Oklahoma…’“). Ultimately that didn’t happen, but the compromise was that an uncut Snowpiercer would only get limited release. I don’t know what movie Harvey Weinstein was watching—maybe he thought “Woah, South Korean director and some Korean dialogue, what is this, some art-house foreign shit?! People will never watch that!”—because for all that what I saw has some seriously dark content, an incredibly bleak worldview (humanity dies because it tries to fix global warming), and is packed full of metaphors about class issues and human nature, it is absolutely an entertaining, even crowd-pleasing, movie.
The plot is fairly basic. As anyone can glean from the trailers, Snowpiercer takes place in a world beset by a new ice age. All what’s left of humanity lives on a train, where they’re separated into the haves and the have-nots. One of the have-nots, Curtis (Chris Evans), leads his people in a revolution. The whole movie is just them trying to get from the back of the train to the front. But Snowpiercer never gets boring. Your favorite characters never feel completely safe. You never know if you’re going to leave a car where an intense action sequence took place and enter one where people straight from the Capitol scenes in The Hunger Games are nightclubbing their hearts out like there ain’t no tomorrow. You might think you know where the story’s going… but you don’t.
There’s a darkly surrealist tone to Snowpiercer that’s reminiscent of Terry Gilliam, if Terry Gilliam weren’t quite so… Terry Gilliam-y. There’s weirdness in this movie, for all that it’s more accessible than a Brazil or a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. During one blood-pumping fight scene Curtis slips on a fish. Again: Chris Evans slips on a fish. Tilda Swinton takes her false teeth out at one point for some reason. There’s a scene where our grizzled revolutionaries encounter a chipper elementary school teacher (Alison Pill) who leads her charges in a rousing singalong about how great Wilford, the God-like owner of the train, is. It’s ridiculous, but it works. The darkness, the action, the humor: Everything fits. This movie could’ve turned into a hard-boiled mess at any given point, but it’s so carefully stylized, so precise, that I accept things which I would never let fly in another movie (“That character’s clairvoyant? OK, I’ll buy it.”).
One of the reasons it works is that Snowpiercer is a visual masterpiece—the entire thing literally takes place in a series of boxes, but it’s never boring. Some of the dialogue’s a bit awkward and stilted at first, but as soon as you accept you’re watching a heavily-stylized surrealist dystopian sci-fi and not a gritty, “Nolanesque” (as they say) sci-fi actioner, grrrrr, it all comes together. The key to tapping into the tone of the movie is something a character says late in the film: The experience of living on the train has driven everyone on it ever-so-slightly (or more than ever-so-slightly) crazy.
That brilliant creative decision on the part of Joon-ho and screenwriter Kelly Masterson leads to great performances from the entire cast, which is another huge reason why Snowpiercer didn’t fall on its face. You have never in your life seen another performance like the one Swinton gives in this movie, and I know you can say that about most Swinton performances, but trust me on this—you need to experience it. Incidentally, her character, Mason, was a man in Le Transperceneige, the graphic novel on which Snowpiercer is based.
And Chris Evans. Oh, Chris Evans. Curtis has similarities to Evans’ most famous role—both he and Captain America are men trying to be both a good person and a good leader when everything is stacked up against them. You can make a case for (or, for that matter, write fanfic about) Curtis being Cap in a particularly grim AU. But Snowpiercer strives for more than the MCU’s solid (but fairly basic) level of entertainment. With Snowpiercer, Evans gets to show you how good an actor he really is, and man oh star-spangled man does he deliver. Between this and Sunshine, he’s been in two of the best sci-fi movies to come out in the past ten years, hands down.
In a cast as big as Snowpiercer‘s, you’d think there’d be a weak point, but there really isn’t. Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Song Kang-ho, Ed Harris, Ewen Bremner, Ah-sung Ko, Luke Pasqualino, Marcanthonee Reis, and Vlad Ivanov all terrify, infuriate, intrigue, and/or cause intense emotional pain in turn. The only thing about Snowpiercer I really didn’t like at the time I was watching it is the visual effects of the frozen hellscape outside the train. Frankly speaking, it looks fake. But the more I thought about it, the more it grew on me. Like I said, Snowpiercer is an incredibly visually stylized movie. The world outside the train is supposed to look fake, to look distant and unreachable and unreal, because for the people on the train… it is. It’s mere feet away, but they’ve lost all hope of ever setting foot on it again. The train is the only thing that’s real.
I fear The Weinstein Company, with the aforementioned limited release, is trying to bury this one. It’s been out in other countries for months, and many people already illegally downloaded the French version in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s release (and why didn’t TWC put Snowpiercer shortly after it to capitalize on Evans mania?). Going into Snowpiercer I felt like I was one of the few people who hadn’t seen it yet, and I got into an advance press screening weeks before it even came out in the States! I’ve seen the trailer in a movie theater once—once—at an indie theater that plays trailers for whatever its upcoming movies are. Not in a Regal theater. Not in an AMC.
All this is to say, it looks like The Weinstein Company doesn’t think all that many people want to see Snowpiercer. They don’t think a weirdo dystopian movie with a South Korean director and partially Korean dialogue where one of the main actors (the always excellent Song Kang-ho) is mostly unknown to American audiences and Chris Evans slips on a fish has mainstream appeal. Prove them wrong. Snowpiercer comes out next Friday, June 27th. If you can, if it it’s playing near you, see this movie. Pay to see this movie. Take your friends, take your family, take your pet fish. Stand up for original sci-fi that’s not Transformers 4 or, yes, Captain America 3.
And see a damn fine movie in the process.
There is always time for a late Friday edition! The Weekly is a collection of bookmarks, normally 4/5, pointing at articles, docs, screencasts, podcasts and anything else that attracts my attention in the clojure-sphere for the last 7 (or so) days. I add a small comment so you can decide if you want to look at the whole thing or not. That’s it, enjoy!
conway.clj Searching for programming perfection is very healthy activity when constrained in a controlled environment (such as spare time and not at work!). This is the very essence of programming katas and less formally any small problem that can be solved multiple times at will. Game of life is one of such small problem that is fun to solve. There’s plenty of game of life in Clojure (I have my very own posted at https://gist.github.com/reborg/09752a1409688365541bda89489d2c6f) and this is one example. I like the predetermined encoding of the neighbours space, the reduce on the tick entry point that can be put in a loop. You probably have yours, feel free to share @reborg.
Design, Composition, and Performance Here’s one from Rich that I never watched. In terms of pure talk performance this is probably one of his best (IMHO): a concise, to the point, coherent exposition (like always, but possibly more this time). I very enjoyed the first part where Rich is teaching how to design, which is essentially about taking things apart on several different dimensions before putting everything back together. The second part is about comparing programming with instrument playing and despite still being an interesting topic, it becomes more about music than anything else. Still from this second part, an interesting take away is that instruments (like programming languages) aren’t designed for the first 5 seconds of beginners experience. Some complexity in Clojure for beginners seems to be related to this aspect. I’d come back to this talk (transcriptions are available) to learn more about good design, especially at the beginning of a project.
(((Bruce Durling))) on Twitter: “Any clojure people going to use spec…” Interesting tweets on specs, design up-front mindset, when to use, how to use them. clojure.spec is definitely pushing the Clojure community to discuss about the benefits of types (as well as the problems related to them). This twitter thread illustrates some of the possibilities: use them all the way down, at the boundaries, for generative testing only, upfront, spec-after and so on. The first question from Bruce is about using them along with Plumatic/Schema. Schema for coercion, core.spec for generative testing.
Category Theory for the Working Hacker Tried hard, but got lost somewhere in the middle :) I suppose that if you can get away without understanding all the details, then the picture you have is exactly as described by Phil: something simple made complicated. I have enough brain to understand that there is something powerful in there, an useful unification of concepts. With category theory, you can work in the abstract for so many things at once: logic, programming, sets, types etc etc.You just need to replace the placeholders and everything is connected back together in your favourite field. Applied category theory is probably more relevant when the types are exposed by the language, so it probably pays off to lear some of it if you are a Haskell programmer. With Lisps, category theory can still make sense, but it’s not a game changer.
Combining Clojure macros: cond-> and as-> Despite the good offering from the standard library, there are entire libraries of extensions to threading macros, because they are so useful and flexible. This post is not a library so you’re free to copy and paste. The example combines cond-> with as-> just in case you need the placement of the threaded expression to appear in different places in a cond-> like thread. The proposed macro is short and easy to read.
jimpil/fudje: Unit testing library for Clojure Never had specific issues with Midje, although nowadays I’m using it mostly for historical reasons (it was the first serious testing framework around, designed around concepts I was used to in OOP). Specifically, this library mentions a couple of problems with Midje: the load of dependencies and the large syntax that Midje brings in. It also mention the need of AOT compiling code with tests but never had that need personally (being tests always outside the uberjar). If those are your problems but you still like the mock-driven TDD this library can be for you.
Linux developers are going to have more than one choice for building secure, cross-distribution applications.
Ubuntu's "snap" applications recently went cross-platform, having been ported to other Linux distros including Debian, Arch, Fedora, and Gentoo. The goal is to simplify packaging of applications. Instead of building a deb package for Ubuntu and an RPM for Fedora, a developer could package the application as a snap and have it installed on just about any Linux distribution.
But Linux is always about choice, and snap isn't the only contender to replace traditional packaging systems. Today, the developers of Flatpak (previously called xdg-app) announced general availability for several major Linux distributions, with a pointer to instructions for installing on Arch, Debian, Fedora, Mageia, and Ubuntu.
Quebec and Ontario dairy farmers returned to Parliament Hill with their tractors and a cow this morning, snarling Ottawa traffic in another rally demanding stricter controls on cross-border trade and compensation for international agreements they say have left them at a disadvantage.
Spotted in Tallahassee. (via 1620somewhere)
I OWN THAT OWL!!!
My co worker brought her dog to work
How to scar someone for life.
These jowls were made for flappin’. [video]
(photos via EverythingFerns)