Movie pirates break records

Hollywood has broken two very different records this holiday season. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has become the first movie to reach US $1 billion in gross sales in just 12 days. This beats the previous record of the movie “Jurassic World” which had the additional benefit of sales from the world’s second biggest market, China. Star Wars opens in China in January and so it will likely push its sales to even more astronomical levels. By David Glance, University of Western Australia


The other record however is one that the movie industry will not be so proud of. According to TorrentFreak, movie pirates have released 12 DVD quality movie previews, called screeners for download on the Internet. These screeners feature movies like the latest James Bond Spectre, the new Tarantino movie “The Hateful Eight” and a list of others that include: Suffragette, Legend, In The Heart of The Sea, Joy, Steve Jobs, Spotlight, Creed, Concussion, The Danish Girl and Bridge of Spies.

What is even more worrying for the movie industry however is that the group of individuals behind the releases, who go by the name of Hive-CM8, claim that they have 40 screeners in total to release.

Screener DVDs are typically sent to a range of movie producers, critics and movie awards voters under strict conditions to avoid the films being leaked. Security mechanisms are built in to the films that can theoretically tie a particular movie back to a specific person sent the screener.

The FBI are already investigating how a copy of The Hateful Eight, linked to Andrew Kosove, the co-CEO of film production-finance company Alcon Entertainment, wound up in the hands of the movie pirates.

Hive-CM8 are thought to be a loose collective of individual movie piraters associated with the
website crikeym8.com which makes money from early releases of the movies to subscribers of the site. The site appears to be run by an Australian(s) given the name, the Australian cultural references and the location of the Twitter account in Melbourne, Victoria. The site is allegedly not responsible for the process of producing the pirated movies, nor does it host the content.

For the movie industry, the problem of sending screeners out to reviewers and potential awards voters is a challenge that doesn’t seem to have any simple solutions. Previous attempts to stop sending preview DVDs was met with fierce opposition from many, especially the smaller independent film makers, who saw their chances of being noticed by reviewers being significantly affected by not being able to market their films in this way.

Technically, the pirates are able to remove security measures added to the films like digital watermarks that link the movie to a specific individual. There is little the movie industry can do to prevent this as all measures they could take come with the disadvantage of complexity and cost when the purpose of the exercise is to get as many key people to see the movie and promote it. As soon as a movie has leaked, the companies involved can issue “takedown notices” to Google and even to the “torrent” sites that link to the copies available for download. Thousands of links have been taken down since the latest batch of screeners hit the Internet over the last week. Despite the attempts to take down links, the movies are still readily available and Spectre is expected to see at least a million downloads over the few days since its release on the Internet.

Legal measures may have more effect. Last week, five of the UK’s most active movie pirates were sentenced to a total of 17 years in prison for their releasing over 2,500 films. Investigators from the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), tracked the downloaders through slip-ups they had made with leaving traces of their identities on forums and posts. This is one of the weaknesses of people who engage in movie piracy that they often seek praise and thanks for their efforts and this requires the establishment of identities that are not always as anonymous as they think.

Other legal avenues have been far less successful. Attempts to go after the public who download movies and threaten them with huge fines has recently met with failure, at least in Australia. Other attempts to use new legislation to force ISPs to block sites associated with piracy of copyrighted content are also likely to have a very limited effect.

In all likelihood, movie piracy is going to be something that the industry will just have to live with as long as the incentives to use high quality previews still exist. It is no coincidence that Disney has chosen not to send preview copies of Star Wars to anyone. Disney also employed a range of special anti-piracy measures by issuing encrypted versions of the film to exhibitors with the keys to decrypt them being sent separately. Despite this, people have been able to record versions of the film using video cameras and there are copies already in circulation. It is unlikely that given the success of the film so far, that Disney will be too worried. There is also the fact that Star Wars is definitely a movie that should be experienced on a big screen.

The ConversationDavid Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Most pirated TV shows of 2015

The fantasy drama Game of Thrones once again topped the list of the most pirated and illegally downloaded TV show of the year for the 4th year in a row. By Thinus Ferreira, NewsAgency

Interestingly, 8 out of the top 10 list of most pirated TV shows are shown in South Africa by M-Net across its range of channels on DStv.

TorrentFreak has released its annual list of most pirated TV shows and Game of Thrones(DStv 102) by far tops the list with 14,4 million illegal downloads in 2015 so far.

Second is the zombie drama The Walking Dead (DStv 125 / StarSat 131) with 6.9 million downloads.

It’s followed by nerd comedy The Big Bang Theory (DStv 101) with 4.4 million, Arrow (DStv 101) with 3.9 million, The Flash (DStv 114) with 3.6 million, Mr. Robot (DStv 101) with 3.5 million and then Vikings (DStv 186) in 7th place with 3.3 million.

The new Supergirl (DStv 114) with 3 million, The Blacklist (DStv 101) with 2.9 million and Suits(DStv 101) with 2.6 million round out the top 10 list’s 8th, 9th and 10th places.

The astounding numbers are only for the most downloaded single episode of a series, with a series that can only be listed once for the purposes of compiling the list.

In reality, multiple individual episodes of a single series on TorrentFreak’s top 10 list for 2015 will have millions of downloads of its own.

TorrentFreak also says the illegal downloads for each of the shows will actually be “significantly higher” as online streaming and downloads for file-hosting services are not included since there are no public sources to draw data from. – Channel24

SA must hold nuclear referendum

The Catholic Church in South Africa called on government on Tuesday to suspend its nuclear procurement plans and hold a referendum on the issue as a matter of urgency. By Matthew le Cordeur

The Justice and Peace Commission for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said in a statement that the economic and safety risks of the nuclear option outweigh its economic benefits.

The Department of Energy (DoE) on Saturday formally announced cabinet’s decision to go ahead with the procurement of nuclear energy. A government gazette released on December 21 also approved the next step, which will allow the department to call for quotes for the 9 600 MW new build project.

Government should concentrate its efforts and fiscal resources on renewable energy, according to the SACBC.

The commission said the DoE and Treasury have yet to produce evidence to show that nuclear procurement is affordable to the country and its consumers.

The commission also pointed to the safety risks and the threat to human life.

“Although the probability of a nuclear accident is relatively low, the consequences of such an accident cause health hazards for thousands of people and render hundreds of kilometres of land uninhabitable and unsuitable for any use for decades,” said Bishop Abel Gabuza, chairperson of Justice and Peace Commission.

“Considering the enormity of the damage when an accident occurs, the dangers of nuclear energy to human life will always remain very high,” he said.

“The commission has therefore appealed to the government to urgently call for a nuclear referendum.”

“Given the enormity of the risks that the South African government is asking its citizens to bear through the nuclear option, including the enormous safety risks and economic risks, it is only fair that the government directly consults its people on the matter,” said Gabuza. “A referendum is the best instrument for realising the common good on this important matter.”

The commission explained that in June 2011, the Italian government conducted a similar referendum to poll its citizens on its plans to generate 25% of the country’s electricity from nuclear power by 2030. The referendum rejected government plans for nuclear procurement.

“If our government truly believes that its nuclear decision is serving the best interests of the majority of South Africans, it should not be afraid to emulate the Italian example and open up the matter to a national referendum before the formal bidding process commences,” said Gabuza. – Fin24

Online dating has become a hobby

The scene described in Nancy Jo Sales’s huge Tinder report published in Vanity Fair magazine featured groups of twenty-something friends and colleagues in a Manhattan bar relaxing after work. But rather than socialising with each other they were engrossed in the more private world of their mobile phones, seeking something completely personal: a sexual partner (albeit not necessarily just for sex). By Zoe Strimpel, University of Sussex


The group of friends were, in Sherry Turkle’s words “alone together” – with moments of togetherness erupting when a particularly ridiculous response or attractive photo just had to be shared among the group.

A much commented-upon new development sees people going out in groups yet – once they’ve got their Mojitos – retreating into the private, disembodied social worlds of their phones. More striking still than this curious spectacle of millennials passing time on dating apps is the new emotional climate that they’ve created. It is one of boredom and amusement-seeking, and a lifestyle in which date-seeking, but not necessarily dating itself, serves as a casual hobby rather than an awkward, laborious, money- and time-intensive effort it might take to meet a soulmate when serendipity has failed.

The social hobbification of online dating has certainly arisen in contrast to its origins. Mediated dating, particularly by computer technology, used to be an embarrassing and profoundly lonely pursuit. Rendered secretive and personal, it seemed to invite addictive or compulsive behaviour – something to brush even further under the carpet than the new that you were using it at all.

Kate Bush captured both the allure and the sorrow of the emotional surrogacy of computers in her song Deeper Understanding (1989):

As the people here grow colder

I turn to my computer

And spend my evenings with it

Like a friend … well I’ve never felt such pleasure

I was lonely, I was lost without my little black box.

Whether people took out small ads, used professional matchmakers, employed computer dating company Dateline, or tried television or phone dating, most people kept their technology-mediated dating to themselves. I’ve found that this reticence and embarrassment is something that surrounds pre-internet dating. Millions of people used such services, but it’s hard to find them, and when you do most say it never occurred to them to share their experiences.

Kate Bush’s powerful image of the lonely heart drinking in the computer’s artificial intimacy conjures up these feelings of shame – a feeling perhaps compounded by the idea that using technology to help meet people ironically deepened your social alienation. The perception was that you must be lacking in some way to require it; the “natural” system of mutual chemistry couldn’t work because something was wrong with you.

But then social media came along and blurred the lines between the personal and the social, the celebratory and the embarrassing. The assumption (though hardly rock-solid) that mediated dating signified failure was reversed. This unconsciously built upon 1980s matchmakers’ marketing spiel that desirable people were single not because of a lack of appeal, but because of a lack of time. Tinder has taken this a step further by making casual dating a perfectly acceptable thing to do whether you’re short of time or not – dating to kill time.

‘I’m sure you said you were 5ft 10ins – and the same species.’
myfwcmedia, CC BY-ND‘I’m sure you said you were 5ft 10ins – and the same species.’
myfwcmedia, CC BY-ND

Internet-based dating has also got a lot better. So where former customers hankered for, but lacked control and convenience, today’s finely-tuned geographic (Happn, for example) and social sensors make tech-dating more instantaneously gratifying. Some sites like eHarmony, claim to be exploring the use of DNA, virtual reality and the latest behavioural psychology, excitedly predicting “full-sensory virtual dating” by 2040.

In other words the online dating industry is keenly interested in using the latest technology to, or at least appear to, solve the quandary of chemistry. And they’re not keeping quiet about it: if advertisers and editors continue to lap up such claims then would-be daters are less likely to consider it embarrassing. Online dating is just too useful to be ashamed of these days.

Finally, the rise of the dating app – which depends largely for its initial success on your digital social network, not your sexual power – has shifted feelings about mediated dating. Those twenty-somethings in the bar became habituated to online dating apps on their phones in part because they just couldn’t be bothered to answer all those questionnaires, nor care enough to pay for a fully-fledged dating website. Tinder culture is cool and casual, where paid-for online dating and its predecessors were or at least could easily be perceived to be a bit intense and heavy-breathing, and rank with the odour of sadness and failure.

In other words, a realm of private pursuit threatened by social and personal humiliation and disappointment:

Mr Peter Simper, a 34-year-old salesman from London, paid £125 for his life membership last July. He received no dates.

—The Guardian, May 23, 1982

Without making assumptions about the very real emotional experiences that can follow the use of Tinder and others like it, using mediated dating has moved beyond the odd and into the everyday and the insouciant. As such it has become a bit like smoking weed – good if you like smoking weed, but not so much if you hate the red eyes, fatigue, apathy and blurred vision that goes with it.

The Conversation

Zoe Strimpel, Doctoral researcher, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Reselling is the new re-gifting 

Over 70% of South Africans may be selling their unwanted Christmas gifts for a quick buck in January, according to a poll by Gumtree South Africa. By Staff Writer


“It would appear that most South Africans feel that it’s best to let an item go rather than gathering dust,” says Claire Cobbledick, head of Gumtree Marketing.

But Cobbledick confirms that an unwanted gift is not necessarily an undesirable item. A quick search on Gumtree reveals more than 900 items listed as unwanted gifts which includes, an unopened bottle of Dior perfume, a brand new 50” plasma TV still in its box, a XBOX and a mountain bike.

ClaireCobbledick400x700
Claire Cobbledick, head of Gumtree South Africa Marketing

“We have tons of these items for sale that are going brand new off the retail shelves and onto the site at a significantly reduced price. Mostly because the receiver does not want to ask the giver for the receipt and return details!” she states. “It’s a great way to find items without paying retail prices.”

Cobbledick says the most common unwanted gifts are electronics and personal items, such as clothing, watches and perfume.

“In a sense electronics have also become as personal as perfume, and not everyone’s tastes match, which is why a lot of these items make their way onto Gumtree without ever being opened.”

Pristine household appliances and baby goods also often end up on Gumtree.

“A lot of newly weds and new parents receive more than one of a certain item, and there is no point in hanging on to both.”

As to whether or not it’s impolite to sell a gift received, depends your personal view, says Cobbledick.

“A gift gathering dust in a cupboard or garage can’t be used or enjoyed and will probably be thrown away eventually,” she says. “Appreciate the gift in all sincerity, thank the giver and quietly list it online to recoup some cash that you can put towards something you can use. It’s a much better alternative!”

If you aren’t sure what your unwanted cell phone, surfboard or laptop should be sold for, it’s worth using an online price checker. “This calculates the value of a secondhand item on the average asking price and how quickly it sells for at the set price and is very useful when you are trying to reach a quick sale.”

But there is good news for cash-strapped shoppers – most of the participants surveyed (51%) said they didn’t mind receiving an item purchased second hand under their Christmas tree, while 32% said it “depended” on what the gift was – with cell phones and laptops being highly desirable items, even if not brand new.

 

 

Post-Christmas online selling boom begins

South African online classified websites were this week overflowing with post-Christmas offers to sell various goods. It was however unclear if they were unwanted gifts or attempts to make up for festive season overspending. NewsAgency


A white lion skin, 18-year-old Oude Meester Souverein brandy in a gift set box, a trained Yorkie dog, a “healthy” African Grey parrot, Ballito New Year’s Eve party tickets, a Bruce Lee DVD collection, A Guinness World Records book for 2010, and still in-the-box smartphones – were among some of the most recent posts on the OLX website.

The “unwanted gifts” on the Bid or Buy classified auctions site included a Fitbit – a wristband that monitors exercise – a Crazy Christmas Joke Book, a cervical massage shawl, and a Bounty Hunter Junior Metal detector.

On Gumtree’s South African page, unwanted gifts included a ladies golf club set, a drill kit and chainsaw, video games and cameras, a 9 carat gold tiger’s claw pendant, and a Medela free-style double breast pump.

The number of fitness watches for sale on various sites was perhaps an indication that many South Africans were not quite ready to get off the couch.

For those hoping to return the items to stores – familiarity with retailers’ return policies is a must.

Game stores declares on its website: “If we stock it, we’ll swop it”. No proof of purchase was needed. The item however had to be unused and in its original packaging.

Makro allowed customers to return most goods within 14 days of purchase – unless there were hygienic issues, applicable laws, or issues with “cost efficiency”.

Toys R Us was open to returns – with conditions. “Sale of reading material in whatever form” cannot be returned, it states on its website.

Incredible Connection offered a “change of mind/ peace of mind” return policy. According to its website, the public had 14 days to return goods, as long as they were in original condition. Due to copyright laws, licensed software and games could not be returned, unless defective.

If all else failed there were still two options: remember that it’s the thought that counts, or regift it, in line with the adage that one’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure. – News24

 

Scientists favourite science fiction

Michael J. I. Brown, Monash University; Alice Gorman, Flinders University; Bryan Gaensler, University of Toronto; Duncan Galloway, Monash University; Geraint Lewis, University of Sydney; Helen Maynard-Casely, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation; Matthew Browne, CQUniversity Australia, and Rob Brooks, UNSW Australia
Tales of strange alien worlds, fantastic future technologies and bowls of sentient petunias have long captivated audiences worldwide. But science fiction is more than just fantasy in space; it can educate, inspire and expand our imaginations to conceive of the universe as it might be.

We invited scientists to highlight their favourite science fiction novel or film and tell us what it was that captivated their imagination – and, for some, how it started their career.


Bryan Gaensler, astronomer, University of Toronto

Time for the Stars
– Robert A. Heinlein

Bringing relativity to life.

 

Long before the era of hard science fiction, Robert Heinlein took Einstein’s special theory of relativity and turned it into a masterpiece of young adult fiction.

In Time for the Stars, Earth explores the Galaxy via a fleet of “torch ships”, spacecraft that travel at a significant fraction of the speed of light. Communication with the fleet is handled by pairs of telepathic twins, one of whom stays on Earth while the other journeys forth. The supposed simultaneity of telepathy overcomes the massive time delays that would otherwise occur over the immense distances of space.

The catch is that at the tremendous speeds of these torch ships, time travels much slower than back on Earth. The story focuses on Tom, the space traveller, and his twin brother Pat, who remains behind. The years and decades sweep by for Pat, in a journey that takes mere months for Tom. Pat’s telepathic voice accelerates to a shrill accelerated squeal for Tom, as Einstein’s time dilation drives them apart, both metaphorically and physically.

This is ultimately a breezy kids’ adventure novel, but it had a massive influence on me. Modern physics wasn’t abstruse. It was measurable, and it had consequences. I was hooked. And I’ve never let go.


Michael Brown, astronomer, Monash University

2001: A Space Odyssey
– Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey encompasses human evolution, space, alien life and artificial intelligence. Despite being released the year before Apollo 11, the Academy Award winning special effects still make its vision of space inspiring. It can be spine tingling when seen at an old fashioned cinema with a wide screen and a 70mm print (such as Melbourne’s Astor).

2001 is also a product of its time. During the 1960s NASA consumed roughly 4% of the US federal budget, and if that had continued, then perhaps the International Space Station would be a giant rotating behemoth seen in 2001. Indeed 2001’s Pan Am spaceplane seems like a natural progression from early (ambitious) proposals for the Space Shuttle.

Technologies in the film are ahead and behind what we have today.
The most memorable (and arguably emotional) character of 2001 is HAL, an eerily intelligent computer that is far in advance of any computer in existence. And yet astronauts on the moon are using photographic film, rather than digital cameras.

Kubrick deliberately made some space travel seem routine, so his space travellers are frozen in 1960s norms. The astronauts are mostly white men, with women mostly relegated to roles such as flight attendants (an exception is a Soviet scientist). Fortunately, in this regard, the 21st century is more advanced than 2001’s imagined future.

2001: A Space Odyssey


Alice Gorman, space archaeologist, Flinders University

Out of the Silent Planet
– C. S. Lewis

The first book of the classic “Space Trilogy” was written 20 years before the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, the first “world-circling spaceship”. C. S. Lewis was no scientist – he was a professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature – but his deep knowledge of pre-modern cosmology gives his take on space travel a unique flavour. I find myself returning to Out of the Silent Planet and its sequel, Voyage to Venus, over and over again.

Voyaging through space powered by imagination.

 

In the story, Lewis’ hero, Ransom, becomes a reluctant astronaut when kidnapped by the uber-colonial “hard” scientist Weston for a journey to Mars. Confined in the spherical spaceship, he becomes aware of a constant faint tinkling noise. In the world before space junk, it is a fine rain of micrometeoroids striking the aluminium shell.

Ransom’s “dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds” fostered by modern science, is transformed by the experience of actually being in space.

His revelation is an intimately joyous recognition that space, far from being dead, is an “empyrean ocean of radiance”, whose “blazing and innumerable offspring” look down upon the Earth. He feels “life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean all the worlds and all their life had come?”

How, indeed, could we not long for space after such a vision as this?


Duncan Galloway, astrophysicist, Monash University

Ringworld
– Larry Niven

Not just life on another planet…

 

It was Larry Niven’s Ringworld that led, in part, to my career in astrophysics.

Ringworld describes the exploration of an alien megastructure of unknown origin, discovered around a distant star. The artificial world is literally in the shape of a ring, with a radius corresponding to the distance of the Earth to the sun; mountainous walls on each side hold in the atmosphere, and the surface is decorated with a wide variety of alien plants and animals.

The hero gets to the Ringworld via a mildly faster-than-light drive purchased at astronomical cost from an alien trading species, and makes use of teleportation disks and automated medical equipment.

The appeal of high-technology stories like this are obvious: many contemporary problems, like personal transportation, overpopulation, disease, and death have all been solved by advanced technology; while of course, new and interesting problems have arisen.

Grand in scope, and featuring some truly bold ideas, Ringworld (and Niven’s other books set in “Known Space”) are as keen now as when they were written, 40 years ago.


Helen Maynard-Casely, planetary scientist, ANSTO

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
– Douglas Adams

Whether you have heard the radio play, read the book or seen the film, this story of a hapless Englishman negotiating his way through the galaxy is an essential piece of nerd culture. I first heard the play as a teenager, and even now not many weeks go by without me delving into sections of this trilogy of five-parts.

As a scientist, my life can seem a little zany to an outsider. When your job does sometimes actually entail reversing the polarity of a neutron flow, you need to look to an even crazier fiction world for your escapism. And for me this book is it. A world where sperm whales and bowls of petunias can appear in space for no reason at all and staggering co-incidences happen every time you power up your spaceship.

Life among the stars is rather more ordinary than it might seem. BBC

The genius (and I do not use that word lightly) of Douglas Adams’ writing is that the loopy concepts of the book are presented with a thin veneer of “scienceness”, enough to make the fantastical concepts that little more believable. Then he “normalises” it all. A packet of peanuts will help you survive a matter transference beam, for instance.

The heart of this book is its characters, a suite of people/aliens that are echoed in every workplace (certainly every laboratory) across the world. Walk into any science institute and there will be a two-headed power-hungry presidential leader railing upon post-docs, with brains the size of planets, who really wish you hadn’t talked to them about life.

I get the impression that Douglas Adams would not have wanted you to take anything away from this book. But, for me it gives continued inspiration that there is always another way to sidle up to a problem. Most of all though: don’t panic.


Matthew Browne, social scientist, CQUniversity

Consider Phlebas
– Iain M. Banks

What might a post-scarcity society look like?

 

I love a lot of science fiction, but Iain M. Banks’ classic space-opera Consider Phlebas is a special favourite.

Banks describes the “Culture”, a diverse, anarchic, utopian and galaxy-spanning post-scarcity society. The Culture is a hybrid of enhanced and altered humanoids and artificial intelligences, which range from rather dull to almost godlike in their capabilities.

Most people in the Culture lead a relaxed, hedonistic lifestyle, going to parties, doing art, taking drugs (which they can synthesise from bio-engineered glands) and generally having fun. The tedious business of actually running the whole show is mostly left up to the most powerful AIs, called Minds, who manifest themselves in the great star-ships and orbitals in which most citizens live.

Of course, it’s a big galaxy, and not everyone shares the Culture’s easy-going approach to galactic citizenship. Consider Phlebas is set against the backdrop of a growing conflict between the Culture and the Indirans, a speciesist, religious and hierarchical empire with expansion on its mind.

Perhaps the best thing about Consider Phlebas (apart from the wonderfully irreverent ship names the Minds give themselves) is the fact that a story from this conflict is told from the perspective of an Indiran agent, who despises the Culture and everything it stands for.

My own take on the book is as an ode to progressive technological humanism, and the astute reader will find many parallels to contemporary political and cultural issues.


Rob Brooks, evolutionary biologist, UNSW Australia

The Truman Show
– Peter Weir

Truman Burbank, played with a delectable balance of animation and pathos by Jim Carrey, lives a confected life as unwitting protagonist in a reality television show. Conceived on camera, adopted by a corporation and manipulated at every stage by the show’s sinister creative genius, Christof (Ed Harris), Truman nonetheless comes to realise that his world is a sham and that almost every interaction he ever had was a lie.

Against the backdrop of Seahaven’s dystopic perfection, Weir exposes prescient glimpses of reality television, surveillance culture and the stalkerish targeted advertising we now find in our social media streams.

It’s like a peppy 1984 but with corporate hegemony replacing the totalitarian state. But I was most gripped by the fresh take on ancient debates about rationalist nature and empiricist nurture.

As a student of behaviour, I’ve always rued the amputation of biology from the social sciences, particularly the wasted opportunity that saw sociobiology turned into a perjorative in the late 1970s, at least outside the study of insect sociality. The rejection of evolutionary thinking as “biological determinism”, and its positioning as opposite to progress and liberation, has always rankled me.

I recall watching the film alone, between conferences, at an ancient cinema in Santa Cruz. What excited me most, and kept me up much of the night scribbling notes that would eventually shape my research direction and lead me to popular writing, was Weir’s clever inversion of the relationships between nature/nurture and determinism/free will.

While Cristof’s nurture tramples Truman’s nature throughout the film, in the end something inherent to Truman sets him free, as he whispers: “You never had a camera in my head!”.

The climax of The Truman Show. “Good afternoon, good evening and goodnight!”


Geraint Lewis, astrophysicist, University of Sydney

The Time Machine
– H. G. Wells

In the decade before Albert Einstein told us that time and space were malleable, H. G. Wells gave us the adventures of the Time Traveller.

We never learn the name of this Victorian scientist, a man who explains “there is no difference between time and any of the three dimensions of space” and builds a machine to explore this new world. It was not from Einstein that I discovered the non-absolute nature of space and time, but from the Time Traveller, and his present-day incarnation, Doctor Who.

A view of the distant future from the recent past.

 

The Traveller doesn’t head to past, to be a voyeur at historical events, but into the unknown future. And the future of Wells is not glorious! The Traveller finds evolution has split humans in two, with delicate Eloi being little more than food for the subterranean Morlocks.

Escaping mayhem and heading even further into the future, the Traveller finds the life’s last gasp under a swollen, red sun, eventually seeing the Earth succumbs to final freezing, before he returns to the relative safety of Victorian London.

This scientific vision of the future struck me, and the nature of time has remained in my mind. At the end of the story the Traveller heads back to continue his exploration of the future; playing with the equations of relativity is likely to be the closest I will ever come to realising this dream.

The Conversation

Michael J. I. Brown, Associate professor, Monash University; Alice Gorman, Senior Lecturer in archaeology and space studies, Flinders University; Bryan Gaensler, Director, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto; Duncan Galloway, PhD; Senior Lecturer in Astrophysics, Monash University; Geraint Lewis, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Sydney; Helen Maynard-Casely, Instrument Scientist, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation; Matthew Browne, Lecturer in Psychology, CQUniversity Australia, and Rob Brooks, Scientia Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Energy ministry confirms next step in nuclear plan

 The Department of Energy (DoE) officially confirmed on Saturday that Cabinet has authorised the department to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for South Africa’s nuclear procurement programme. By Matthew le Cordeur, NewsAgency

This is the first official government statement regarding the decision that was made during the infamous Cabinet meeting on December 9, which occurred just before Nhlanhla Nene was fired as Finance minister.

The closest media got to a confirmation was during a question and answer session with Nene’s successor (and predecessor) Pravin Gordhan, who said government would proceed with a formal procurement process only if it was affordable.

A major query regarding this development was how government would pay for the construction of the 9 600 MW nuclear power stations. The DoE said that Cabinet approved a process during this meeting where the business proposals submitted through the RFP process will determine the final funding model.

Fin24 broke a story on Thursday that revealed a Gazette that paved the way for the department to issue RFPs. Up until that point no official press statement had confirmed reports that Cabinet had taken the next step in procuring nuclear energy.

DoE director general Thabane Zulu confirmed in an exclusive statement on Saturday that these next steps were approved at a Cabinet meeting on 9 December.

He said the funding model will be “submitted to Cabinet thereafter for final approval and implementation”.

Zulu said these decision were made after Cabinet received a report back from the Energy Security Cabinet Sub-Committee, which had considered the work being done by both the DoE and Treasury in respect of the funding and financing of the programme.

“The decision to proceed with issuing the request for proposal will further assist in developing a funding model,” he said.

“Proposals in this regard will first be submitted to Energy Security Cabinet Sub-Committee for recommendation before being considered by Cabinet.

“Any decision to proceed further with a Nuclear New Build Programme will therefore only take place after the RFP process has been completed and a final funding model has been developed, and then referred back to Cabinet for consideration and approval.

“The Department of Energy is committed to cost effectiveness and full transparency,” he said. “We will ensure that the integrity of the process is safeguarded at all times and is done within the existing fiscal policy framework of our government.”

Zulu said the decision to proceed with developing the Nuclear New Build Programme was taken in principle by Cabinet in June 2015.

“However he said this was subject to more work being done on the proposed funding model; the risks and mitigation strategies; and the contributions by countries as contained in the inter-governmental agreements.” – Fin24

Puzzling nuclear stamp mystery solved

The mystery surrounding the recently published government Gazette on nuclear energy, which contains a 2013 stamp signed by former Energy minister Ben Martins, has been solved. By Matthew le Cordeur, NewsAgency


Thabane Zulu, director general of the Department of Energy (DoE), said in an exclusive statement on Saturday that Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Petterson had decided to release the old Gazette because the determination on nuclear energy signed in 2013 had remained unchanged.

He apologised on behalf of the department for not making it clear when the Gazette was published on 21 December 2015.

“The department accepts that this should have been made clear when the determination was gazetted on 21 December 2015,” he said.

This comes after Fin24 broke the story this week that the gazette had been published, while no official statement or comment by cabinet or the DoE had been released regarding its publication – until now.

Explaining the reasoning behind this, Zulu said the current nuclear energy procurement process is guided by the Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity 2010-2030, which was first gazetted in May 2011.

“This plan included proposals around the appropriate mix for electricity generation including, primarily, coal, nuclear and renewable sources of energy,” he said.

“In order to proceed with the request for proposals as agreed by Cabinet on 9 December 2015 it was necessary to ensure that the National Electricity Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) has been consulted on the appropriate energy mix and particularly the intention to procure additional nuclear capacity.

“This was done in 2013 and agreed by Nersa and the minister at the time, minister Ben Martins, MP, and a determination to this effect in terms of the Electricity Regulation Act of 2006 was signed.

“However, the actual gazetting of this determination was withheld until such stage that government had agreed to proceed with the request for proposals.

“Once this agreement was reached on 9 December 2015, I consented that the determination signed in 2013 could be released, particularly as nothing had changed in the Integrated Resource Plan for Energy in the intervening period,” said Zulu. The Democratic Alliance on Thursday questioned why Martins signed off the gazetted decision and why the Cabinet decision was dated 11 November 2013.

“For two years government and subsequent Energy Minister Joemat-Pettersson have consistently peddled the line that Cabinet had not approved the nuclear procurement process which will cost South Africa unaffordable billions of rands,” DA MP Gordon Mackay said in a statement.

“It is clear that the decision to spend up to R1trn on nuclear builds was taken in 2013, and therefore engagements with foreign nuclear suppliers have been more serious than Tina Joemat-Pettersson would disclose.”

A Twitter account apparently belonging to Martins posted a series of eight tweets on the notice.

One said: “My term of duty as the minister of energy was from 10th July 2013 – 25th May 2014,” while another said: “I note government gazette, no. 39541 of 21 December 2015, it was not discussed with me.”

– Fin24

Wearables, smartphones to ‘dominate’ Christmas

Despite fears that the smartphone market is tanking, a research firm believes that the consumer market will show healthy growth as shoppers spend cash on tech during the holiday season. By Duncan Alfreds, NewsAgency

According to Gartner, the smartphones will be a hot Christmas purchase.

“Smartphones and wearables will be on top of the shopping list this season. We expect to end 2015 with 14.5% year-on-year smartphone growth, with 1.4 billion units shipped globally,” said Annette Zimmermann, research director at Gartner.

That bullish view differs from the International Data Corporation, which suggests that the slowing Chinese economy will reduce the smartphone market to just 9.8% growth in 2015.

Zimmerman acknowledged the Chinese economic slowdown, but argued that consumers would increasingly shift to smart wearable devices.

“While tablets have been popular gifts the past couple years, some of the excitement and spending will shift to wearables this season. Our user survey revealed that adoption of fitness trackers in the US nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015.”

Apple hinted at the success of its wearable soon after its launch.

“We had an amazing quarter, with iPhone revenue up 59% over last year, strong sales of Mac, all-time record revenue from services, driven by the App Store, and a great start for Apple Watch,” said CEO Tim Cook at the time.

Zimmerman said that fitness focused wearables would make a strong impact this year.
“Fitness trackers will still outsell smart watches, partly because of their lower price tags, but also because the use case for those devices is clearer for most consumers than a smart watch.“
Among the popular gifts this season will be various Fitbit models, The Apple Watch Sport, Jawbone Up, Moto 360 and Pebble.
Both Samsung and Lenovo had special Black Friday offers for their smartwatch products, so that could help sales as well,” she added.At the recent IFA in Berlin, Garmin revealed that their Vivoactive device was dedicated to athletes.
“This watch is aimed at tri-athletes, runners and sports people,” a spokesperson told Fin24. – Fin24
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