Thursday, 29 December 2011

Mission Accomplished: Ghost Protocol

Review of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

by Luke Kristopher Davis

No backup, no extraction and limited tech for Ethan Hunts newly assembled team. They are linked to an explosion within the Kremlin, Russia and throughout the film they try to prove their innocence and who the real villain is.

Brad Bird's and Cruise's film definitely has a different feel to it, the action is more gutsy, the injuries are more fatal and the plan is more impossible. The latter may be a dramatic consequence of the plot i.e. the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) has been shut down by the president and the team are literally fending for themselves. This plot decision adds a new layer of enjoyment to the film as you have this thought that if they fail, they have no extra agents and hence they all fail. Every deadly encounter with gunmen, cars and the environment holds much more tension and vulnerability.

Ethan as an agent is much more determined to complete his mission and to help reinstate the IMF's name. However, he has aged as a character (much more psychologically than physically) and this carries weight throughout the film, he does what he does best but with less invincibility.

Tom as an actor plays Ethan extremely well and keeps to the evolution and continuities of his character. He is also his own stunt man and performs the usual car jumping, wall flight engaging and action combos very well. An addition (not a small one) to his stunts sees him alongside the burj khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world. Whilst watching this I felt a tad nervous for him, it was a long way down and you feel like saying 'c'mon Ethan... there's gotta be another way'. Top marks for Cruise in this film, if it's his last one and it probably is then what a way to go.

Michael Nyqvist, the Swedish actor, known for 'the girl with the dragon tatoo' and the like stars in this film. Watch out for this one. 

Ethan's team stars; Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton star as Benji, Brandt and Jane. Benji as we saw from MI3 is a gadget wizard, who knows all the gizmo tricks an impossible mission could need. He has a greater role this time round as he takes to the field and brings not only his tech skills but some well needed humor (don't worry the humor is pro).

Paula stars as an agent which we haven't seen before, she is no newbie however... she is experienced, deadly and very very sexy. She has a way with hand to hand combat and looking good under cover (in the Mission Impossible sense that is...).

Jeremy who starred with Colin Farrell in 'SWAT' plays a mysterious analyst for the secretary of the IMF. He joins Ethan when things turn ugly. His uselessness is odd until he shows who he really is....

The team are taken to corners of the globe to run from their accusers but most importantly to stop those who they accuse of planning destruction. Sublime feats, professional film-manship, excellent characters and all out action define this film.

Avoiding this blast of a film is a mission impossible.


Monday, 26 December 2011

Brain Food: Week Uno!

This weeks brain food is a delicious meal of a podcast, book and video!
(starter, main and desert) 

Check out the latest podcasts from the infinite monkey cage!
The physics vs chemistry debate brings humor and science to the listeners.

Basic writings of Bertrand Russell is a collection of essays and musings on a range of topics from education to relativity. His intelligence, wit and loyalty to logic and truth are woven in these pages.

We'd be better off without religion: Christopher Hitchens.  He may have passed away but his irreverent arguments, atheism and clear as the blue sky reasoning are still with us... in video form ....

Inside North Korea

Death of big brother, Kwan-li-so, witnesses and satellite photographs

By Luke Kristopher Davis

Isolated from the world since the rein of King-il-Sung, North Korea has become a cold, deluded and power monopolized nation. Their 'beloved' leader (pictured above) has fallen due to a heart attack but his totalitarian  infrastructure still stands in all of its atrocities. Will the death of King-jon-Il initiate any internal political rebellion or movement? This may be unlikely as a surprising amount of North Koreans show actual distress and sadness through their mourning of their once leader. Also the dictatorship has been running for over half a century, which being longer and more painful than Qaddafi's regime means more time is needed to devise any political upheaval.

This video explicitly shows the absurd emotion the people felt over his death. One has to ask whether all of them are honest as the punishment for not mourning properly is either a sentence to a decade of starving labor or death. 

What is more likely however is the increase of external international pressure on the North Korean government to at least reduce the physical impingement of human rights on its citizens and to release prisoners from the kwan-li-so (Penal - labor camps)  and other detention facilities. This will come about through the good modern secular way: media, media, media and a bit of courageous secret service/ government services decision making. Also to help this would come from more escapees and former guards who have taken refuge  in South Korea, China or even the United States:

'In his 1997 history Korea’s Place in the Sun, Bruce Cumings predicted, “... if and when the [North Korean] regime falls, we will probably learn of larger numbers [of people held in prisons and reform-through-labor camps] and various unimaginable atrocities...”' David Hawk U.S Committee for human rights in NK

I think it is appropriate to replace the 'regime' in the quote with the death of King-jon-Il as the grapple over the nation and the National security forces (guards of camps) will leave room for escape for some extremely lucky Koreans.

Detention facilities, witnesses and Satellite location photographs 

Image: United States Committee for human rights in North Korea (after a good research session)

The brutally starved child that struck you as you entered this article is most probably a product of one of these facilities. This is just one of the inhumane truths that you will find after reading evidence from witnesses from the camps (which will be provided here). It is unclear how much of the North Korean populace know about these camps, they may know about certain punishments for certain political disloyalty... make that any disloyalty to the government but not about the '1984' like re-education camps. Even with such knowledge it is extremely difficult for anyone to escape the borders, contact any international help or even to revolt internally.

As you can see from the image the camps are spread all over the territory but only a few are near any sort of border. From the camps that are shown it seems as if they are meant to be hidden from external eyes. The image shows 13 camps that have been photographed, but the numerical ordering of the camps (derived from witnesses, such as guards) are higher than 13. This could mean there are more camps to discover which is not  a good sign for anyone. 

The camps function and label are divided by its degree of severity and importance. For example there are 'lifetime' camps which include political prisoners who go through starvation, painful labor, torture and psychological mistreatment due to a 'wrong doing'. There are re-education camps for those who are not as hostile as others but are in need of indoctrination, it is not clear what the method of indoctrination is but a part of it includes physical beatings which happens in all of the camps. The prisoners include some of the family of those who have committed a crime against the 'dear' leader and the communist/ totalitarian ideology. 

'In the kwan-li-so, tens of thousands of political prisoners —along with up to three generations of their families — are banished and imprisoned without any judicial process for usually lifetime sentences. Their sentences entail slave labor in mining, logging, and farming enterprises in the valleys of mountainous areas in north and north-central North Korea.' David Hawk U.S Committee for human rights in NK.
This law that any wrongdoer's family for three generations have to be captured and imprisoned is simply barbaric and it is one of many absurd consequences of the delusional regime. The working (communist) party urge that any factionalist, rebel or disloyal Korean may pass down their hatred or wrong view down the family and must be stamped out. This concept, that an idea or feeling can be passed genetically or that strongly down three generations is scientifically wrong. Also the fact that the regime is trying to 'stamp' out any diverging view from communism and the regime is a sign of control of the worst kind. Fundamentalism gone mad. How on earth do they think that controlling the intellectual freedom and emotions of a nation is just? I think the North Korean regime have lost any reasonable notion of just a long time ago.

Here is part of a witness' account of his time in four penal-labor facilities:

WITNESS: Former Guard AHN Myong Chol,    
Kwan-li-so Nos. 11, 13, 26, and 22

'AHN Myong Chol was a kwan-li-so guard. Ahn was born in 1969 in Hangwon, South Hamgyong
Province. Ahn came from a good Korean Workers’ Party family, so for his compulsory military service, he became a bo-wibu (National Security Agency) police guard assigned, consecutively, to four different kwan-li-so: No. 11, at Kyungsun, North Hamgyong Province, from May to August 1987; No.13, at Jongsong, North Hamgyong Province, from August 1987 to the winter of 1990, except for four months during this time when he was sent to the much smaller prison No. 26.

Ahn’s guard duties included making deliveries by truck to various parts of Kwan-li-so
No. 22. This assignment gave him unusual mobility within the camp, even for a guard.
He learned much from his conversations with other guards while making deliveries to
various sections of the camp. His work at four of the camps provided him with comparative insights into the functioning of the kwan-li-so system. Also of interest is his guard
training and indoctrination. 

Ahn reports that the prisoners were referred to as “emigrants.” Great stress was placed
on the harm and threat that “factionalists” posed to the revolution; how factionalism
produces class enemies; how factionalists and class enemies have to be destroyed like
weeds, down to their roots, through the yeon-jwa-je three-generation family-incarceration system; and how guards have to exercise their control duties so as to reveal to the
class enemies the dictatorship of the proletariat. Like some of the former prisoners, Ahn
recalls the shock he felt upon his first arrival at a camp, where he likened the prisoners
to walking skeletons, dwarfs, and cripples in rags.'

 Number 22

No.22 (marked as no.5 in the overview photograph... second closet to Russia) acts as the head quarters for the Kwan-li-so and is run by “Chosun People’s Security Unit 2209”. It is 31 x 25 miles in area coverage and there are approximately 1000 guards,  600 admin staff and around 50,000 prisoners. Most of these prisoners are family of those in lifetime camps. The prisoners are made to do severe agricultural labor and other repetitive work which is part of their punishment as found in the U.S human rights report:

'Ahn reports that the annual agricultural production quotas for Kwan-li-so No. 22 were as follows: 400 tons of corn, 100,000 tons of potatoes, 50,000 tons of lima beans, and 10,000 tons of red peppers per year. The camp also grew Chinese cabbages, radishes, cucumbers, and eggplants, and had a distillery that produced soy sauce and whiskeys. No. 22 mined coal that was shipped to the Chongjin Thermal Power Plant and the Chongjin and Kimchaek Steel Mills.'
 This is beyond disgusting. Innocent North Koreans are being punished for disobedience of a delusional leader and system! The regime is also using the prisoners to generate capital and to establish trading contracts.
Slave labor rings a bell here, but hold your horses, the regime pays the prisoners 500 won a year. 1 won is nearly equivalent to 1 dollar which at this minute equates to 0.64 of a pound. Therefore the prisoners receive £320 per anum + being beaten, starved, ripped away from any notion of freedom, happiness and hope.

There are reports of over 1000 prisoners, mainly children, who die of malnutrition. Deaths were also caused from overly excessive beatings:

'In fact, Ahn says, there were so many deaths from beatings that at one point the guards were warned to be less violent.'

Marriage in the camp is allowed to privileged prisoners (who the hell counts as a privileged prisoner?) but sex is banned. There is one account which a pregnant woman was executed for having sexual intercourse with another prisoner. In some camps the women who have sex are ridiculed and beaten.

WITNESS: LEE Soon Ok, Kyo-hwa-so No. 1

'Soon Ok was born in 1947 into a privileged and stalwart Korean Workers’ Party family. Her grandfather had fought in Kim Il Sung’s Manchurian army against the Japanese occupation of Korea. Her son was enrolled in Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, open only to children of the elite. Trained as an
accountant, Lee rose to become a supervisor in the No. 65 Distribution Center in Onsong, North Hamgyong Province, which distributed Chinese-manufactured fabrics to party and state officials. She was arrested in 1986 in what she believes was a power struggle between the Workers’ Party, whose
members run the nationwide distribution system, and the public security bureau police, who were not satisfied with the amount of goods being provided to them by the distribution centers. She was charged with theft and bribery and held for seven months in the Onsong bo-wi-bu (National Security Agency) ka-mok (jail), where she was tortured severely because she refused to confess to the allegations against her. Then, upon her expulsion from the Party, she was transferred to an In-min-bo-an-seong (People’s Safety Agency) provincial interrogation center, where she was held for another seven months and further tortured.

To escape even further torture and threats against her family members, Lee ultimately
agreed to sign a confession. Afterwards, she was given a public trial and sentenced to
fourteen years at Kyo-hwa-so No. 1, located at Kaechon, South Pyong-an Province,
where, among other things, the prisoners manufacture garments. Though she originally
worked in the ordinary sewing lines, she was eventually transferred because of her
accounting and managerial experience to the administrative office of the prison, where
she had the opportunity to observe and learn a great deal more about how the prisonlabor camp was run.'

Number 22 and number 1 are examples of the sick, twisted and damn right irrational actions of the North Korean regime which was recently under King-jon-il's command. If the world sent out more reports, more photographs and more evidence about camps like this, I don't think North Korea will be able to stay hidden and as it is for much longer. This may sound very un-empirical and sloganish but as human beings we do have a moral duty towards others, this may in fact be wired into our biological systems, but it is there. As inhabitants of a secular nation where information and its playground sit on the pedistool, we have a duty to use it to increase awareness of the disgusting ignorant facism that still pervades on the surfaces of earth.

Here are more satellite images and a video taken from a documentary:

Number 14

Number 18

Let's bring down ignorance.

thanks to U.S committee of human rights for north korea and to David Hawke

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Worlds Greatest Brains: Albert Einstein

By Luke Kristopher Davis

“Yes, we have to divide up our time like that, between our politics and our equations. But to me our equations are far more important, for politics are only a matter of present concern. A mathematical equation stands forever.”

This philosophy was embedded in Einstein’s life. He spent most of his time as a physicist reveling in thought experiments and solving new and prevailing problems in physics, hoping that his solutions will be imprinted into the eternal rulebook of reality. At many moments of his life however, his political and moral nature took hold of him and he would fight for freedom, pacifism and the protection of the world from Hitler through the Atomic bomb. He was one of the key figures who signed Bertrand Russell’s petition for nuclear disarmament. Einstein was an ecstatic genius who was adept in applied mathematics, physics and philosophy, without this German born patent officer our science today would look very different. Not even different… just plain wrong.
As a child Einstein was a slow learner. Many pin this down to a form of dyslexia or shyness, it might be neither. This slow learning did not impede his education, it enriched it:

“I sometimes ask myself how it came about that I was the one to develop the theory of relativity. The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about problems of space and time. These are things which he has thought about as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up.”
Were you ever given a physics, math or biology homework which made you think about it longer even if you had already solved it? This is what Einstein did. His brain was such that, he contemplated and inquired into the fundamental nature of phenomena and he questioned what he was taught. This determination to find the true answer that was driven by his restless curiosity stayed with him until his death. Even the physicist himself said:
“I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious.”
An interesting neuroscience research project would be to theorize from MRI scans, what brain structure or amount of grey matter causes a large curiosity. The need to understand and accumulate systematic facts. One day maybe.
At the age of twelve Einstein met his long life friend, mathematics. He was an exceptional mathematician. Many say that he flunked his maths entrance exam… this is nonsense. Einstein scored very highly in maths and physics but failed the liberal arts section.
Through his teenage years he developed his intellect and education through building mechanical devices and reading books given to him by his two uncles. He read the works of the philosopher Kant and later read the papers written by the great physicist James Clerk Maxwell.

Einstein finally graduated from the polytechnic university of Zurich with a degree in physics. He wanted to obtain a teaching position at the university but as a student he was lazy, rude and eccentric which pissed off most of his professors. He couldn’t get a position.
Though the young Albert was in luck. His friend recommended him to a Swiss patent-office where he would spend a year or so as a patent clerk. Einstein had to assess the inventions going through the office and this required his physics knowledge.
What is so unique and quite frankly odd is that whilstBertie over there -> was working in the office he wrote three of his most important and ground-breaking papers. He published a paper on Brownian motion, the photoelectric effect and the special theory of relativity.
What exactly is Brownian motion?  Well… Brownian motion (named after the botanist Robert Brown) is the random movement of particles suspended in air. It can be observed by placing a smoke particle in a test tube and using a lens and microscope one can observe its apparent random motion. Einstein formulated this physical principle and reasoned that the smoke particle is being bombarded by air molecules that are in motion.
The photoelectric effect (might as well explain the other two) is where a photon (a quantum of light or em radiation) collides with and electron and the electron escapes the surface. This can only occur if the energy of the photon is at or above a minimum value. E (energy of photon) = h (planks constant) times by (f the frequency of the photon). This energy must equal the work function of the surface.
Special relativity is the daddy of all daddies. It states that the measured motion, length and time of other objects is ultimately relative to your own state of motion. If I was on a bike and you were standing still eating an ice cream than you will be moving relative to me as I perceive you moving towards me. This sounds absurd but it is physically true. The theory of relativity also states that in any inertial reference frame (state of motion) the speed of light is constant and that all particles cannot accelerate to this speed. Though modern quantum research shows that particles such as tachyons can travel at the speed of light at all times assuming that it has never been at rest.
Phew… a lot to take in. These papers were outstandingly important in physics, maths and chemistry. It paved the way for a new cosmology where space and time become one… a fabric which mass curves at its will.

Einstein contributed massively to other areas of physics. One small one was the Einstein-Szilard refrigerator which uses thermodynamics to cool the refrigerator with no moving parts only with heat coming in (with other gases).
For his paper on the photoelectric effect he earned the Nobel prize in physics in 1921.
This effect paved the way towards quantum physics which is an area of physics which uses statistical mechanics to explain the subatomic world. Einstein later became a hater of this scary un-deterministic physics:
“God does not play dice with the universe” says Einstein.  Bohr swiftly replies; “Stop telling God what to do”

Einstein carried on with his physics trying to unify electromagnetism and relativity… with no success. He died trying.
Bohr and other physicists carried on with the successful quantum mechanics.

Despite this Einstein is still seen as one of the greatest brains in history. To me, his ways of thinking and of living are inspirational and rational, it is also a playful and fun way to observe the universe.
If Einstein wanted you to learn one thing, it wouldn’t be his theories which might become false someday… but this:
“If A is success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play;
and z is keeping your mouth shut.”

Is the Higgs boson a door to a final theory?

By Luke Kristopher Davis

If there was such a thing as the physicists secret service then topping their most wanted list would be the  Higgs boson. This small particle is responsible for giving the W+- and Z bosons mass, which is due to the breaking of electroweak symmetry known as the Higgs mechanism. This mechanism, in theory, requires the higgs boson.

The standard model, which is a theoretical infrastructure of the fundamental particles, has been tested ferociously and has survived these experiments. The Higgs boson seems to be the last missing piece of the model. However recent news from the ATLAS and LHC accelerators shows that the boson could be slightly lighter than predicted, i.e. it should be around 130 Gev but the data is showing the value to be approximately equal to 125 Gev (Boson has not been directly observed yet). This has implications...   in order for the universe to be in its present existence there must be a slightly heavier particle associated with it, this is to ensure that the quantum vacuum from where particles appear is stable. Otherwise the universe would have fizzled out long ago. Scientifically this sheds light on the theoretical standard model, if the model does not adequately explain what is really going on then it is time to tweak the model or completely change it. So we may see the inclusion of more elementary particles or even a new group of particles in order to keep the standard model experimentally in check.

What about the other fundamental theories of nature which probe the fundamental laws in a slightly new light? Brane theory (string theory) and it's variations are still contenders for correct theories, however it is extremely difficult to verify as the theory has not yet predicted a phenomenon which can be observed to a good experimental degree of certainty.

Steven Weinberg (from an insert in the new scientist) says; "I think there are alternatives to the Higgs",  such as the technicolor force which strongly binds quarks together in the nuclei of atoms, they would fill space and give other particles mass as the particles traveled through the quarks. All in all we can say we are expecting some new and exciting physics.

There is an interesting question we can ask, which through its contemplation will challenge our deepest assumptions and ideas of the universe and of nature. This new physics (which will most probably come in the next 2 years) will it be the final physics? The don of all theories... the ultimate model of nature? The answer is we do not know.

There is research being undertaken by some of the greatest brains in physics in Canada, which they are trying to answer what there was before the big bang... or whether there was a big bang in the traditional sense. Some of this research implies that our universe was a product of another universes collapse, being surrounded by other universes. How do we know that the other universes obey the same equations and the same physical law. They may differ slightly in their initial conditions and over time (a looooong time and assuming fractal/chaotic behaviour) they may behave in a different way to ours.

We may even find deviations of physical constants in our own universe. It seems then, improbable that a final theory may arise, yet I could offer arguments contrary and we may still not know if it is probable.
To a mathematical mind a final theory of nature is very appealing, the symmetries in particle physics are all pointing towards it. Symmetry itself is very appealing. However, even the field of mathematics isn't fully complete in the sense that there are mathematical fields to be strung together, more conjectures to solve.

It is distasteful and slightly giving up if one is to think there is an infinite amount of layers of reality to explain, infinity is never a good sign in the real world. I think that as scientists and curious people, we should be looking to explain the new phenomena we encounter from our current experiments and keep explaining! There may always be something to improve on, but we keep going! If there is a final theory it will definitely surprise us.