Killer Robots from Outer Space

Helmet, Persian, Iran, 18th Century

We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology E.O. Wilson

For many years now Israel has been prosecuting a clandestine war against Iran, aimed at disrupting their nuclear program. Most of the acts that have come to light are in the form of assassinations of Iran’s top level nuclear scientists (a couple of dozen by now) that are engaged in the alleged development of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Early hit jobs used rather pedestrian methods to kill, like poison, but as the body count has risen Iran’s own defensive measures have necessitated ever more novel approaches, like the delivery of limpet mines onto car doors by passing motorcyclists. Today, the New York Times (pay wall) published an article that details the methods used last November to kill Mohsen Fakrizadeh, the father of Iran’s nuclear program and an Iranian Deputy Defense Minister, who exhibited “an insouciance bordering on fatalism”, with his insistence on driving himself. According to this piece, Israel had been gunning for him for years, with many failed attempts in the past.

With an approach that is reminiscent of the modus operandi employed in the 1997 action-thriller The Jackal, Israel’s Mossad settle upon using a remote-controlled machine gun as the murder weapon. Unlike in the movie the Mossad did not control their weapon from somewhere nearby, but a thousand miles away in Israel. The satellite datalink involved had a latency of 1.6 seconds, making hitting an individual driving a moving car, all the while overcoming the bucking of the machine gun seemingly impossible. The Mossad purportedly employed an undisclosed combination of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology to overcome this latency problem, according to the article. Fakrizadeh was killed, but his wife sitting next to him in the front seat was unharmed. The Times article read like something out of James Bond.

Dune-ish

Dune-ish

A trifecta of blockbuster Sci-Fi and fantasy shows are scheduled to be coming to your local streaming services this fall. They include adaptations of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (September, Apple TV), Frank Herbert’s Dune (October, HBO) and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (November, Amazon) famous books. All three projects will be serialized, allowing for a more in-depth treatment of each work’s original voluminous storylines. Apple is planning on some eighty episodes, to be produced over ten years for the Foundation series. Amazon has produced eight episodes for this season’s showing of the first Wheel of Time novel, Eye of the World. Jordan wrote twelve books in his series, so this project too could run for many years.

Dune, the one that has generated the most buzz of these three projects premiered at Cannes this week, to mixed reviews. It seems to have the highest production values and the most star-studded cast of the three and apparently is also serialized like the other ones. Although this fact wasn’t much heralded and this appears to be the source of most of the complaints. Cannes audience members sat down expecting a complete retelling of the book, but only got to see the first one of who knows how many episodes. They were left hanging after two and a half hours when the movie just stopped. Billed for months as the Dune movie, its onscreen title was Dune: Part One.

Dune has twice before made the leap from the printed page to the screen. David Lynch infamously tried and failed in his camp adaptation of the book. Later the Syfy network was more successful with its miniseries format that was closer to the source material, but never captured the grandeur of the novel. Part of the problem in adapting this work to the screen is the large and unwieldly source material of the book. Lots of introspection doesn’t help any either.

It seems clear to me that all three projects are vying to capture the magic that the Game of Thrones series once wielded. I came late to that series; however I had begun reading George R. R. Martin’s books before the TV series debuted. I actually met him once, when he came to a local Sci-Fi convention. I had become disenchanted with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series after having read eleven of his twelve books. They all seemed to repeat the same plot and have similar endings. I’ve read Dune many times, but I have never read Foundation. I tried once or twice, but could never get into it. I already subscribe to all three streaming platforms and look forward to seeing their new offerings. It remains to be seen, if I will have the patience to follow any of them for ten years.

Starlink

When we were camping at the Grand Canyon last month, we witnessed a most unusual sight in the night sky. We saw a Starlink satellite train. Starlink is a satellite network that Elon Musk’s SpaceX corporation is launching even now. When completed in a few years, it will be composed of thousands of satellites that will blanket the earth’s skies worldwide, bring the internet to every corner of the world. Eventually, each satellite has its own individual orbit, but immediately after launch, because of SpaceX’s unorthodox card-dealing technique for deploying the 60 Starlink broadband satellites that are boosted into space at the same time, they temporarily form a Starlink train.

The Grand Canyon is a dark sky park, the sky was perfectly clear and the timing of the event that we witnessed couldn’t have been better. It was dark, but it wasn’t that long after sundown, allowing the already set sun to illuminate the satellites that were 500 miles above us. I didn’t have the wherewithal to photograph the sight, but plenty of other people have. I chose this example from Twitter, because the scene includes a full moon, so you have an idea of how bright these satellites really are. For us, it was a moonless night and I swear, at the Grand Canyon they seemed even brighter then they appear in this video, brighter than any star in the sky.

As the train passed overhead the campground erupted with cries in the dark of, “Look at that!”, “What the hell?”, “What is it?” Fortunately, I did have the wherewithal to answer these cries in the dark and announced, ” They’re Elon Musk’s Starlink new satellite network.” I’m sure I headed off a UFO panic. Anne was angered by the sight. It is a dark sky park and these satellites are light pollution, but subsequent research has indicated that these train formations are only temporary. The individual satellites will still be bright, but no brighter than the jets flying in and out of the neighboring Albuquerque airport. 

Time Tunnel

Time Tunnel

There is an old curse that goes, may you live in interesting times, which I guess is apt for these times. Except if they’re so interesting, why then are they also so darn boring. We sit home alone, sheltering in place, doing our part to flatten the curve. Our days have fallen into a regular rhythm, governed by a routine that varies little from day-to-day. Each day is so much like the last one that it is all too easy to lose track of time. Which day is today? Is it the weekend? Of course it is, but what you should be asking is it the long weekend or the short weekend? The high point of each day is our walks together. Sometimes we just head out the front door and walk around the neighborhood. Others, we drive a little and then walk in Forest Park. We are lucky in this regard. We have always been lucky to live so close to this park. It is like a bit of the country, in the middle of the city. While the county parks have been closed, it is nice to still have this city park. The closures of its golf courses and some of its roads have only enhanced its enjoyment for us, making our half of the park all that more secluded.

For today’s walk, we added a picnic lunch. Who says that you can’t dine out in the time of pandemic? To enhance our experience and make it more special, I made cucumber sandwiches. It is supposed to get warm today, with the mercury climbing into the eighties, but we’ll stay cool, as cool as a pair of cucumbers.