Sunday, September 11, 2016

Stark Trek, 50 years

When I was a child, I first learned about Star Trek when I saw the first movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It was on national TV, dubbed into Spanish and with ads all in between. I became a fan immediately. But more than the special effects, the spacecrafts and the aliens, the adventures of humans in space planted in my mind a romantic and powerfully attractive idea, which is best expressed in these words: "to boldly go were no one has gone before". Maybe because of that, in part, I decided to become a scientist.

The classic dichotomy about the stories in space is brought out when people ask: Star Trek or Star Wars? I always go with the first. The second is no more than a TV soap in space. What really makes a difference is that Star Trek is not about of the happenings in a galaxy far, far away; on the contrary, it is about us in the future. Certainly a fictional future, one which serves as a playground to explore the problems of the human nature in a different context.

It is very unlikely that three hundred years from now we have the ability to travel in spaceships faster than the speed of light and that we find humanoid species answering in English to our questions. However, the extrapolation of the present conflicts to metaphorical situations has always been exquisite. For instance: Must a superior civilization interfere with a less advance one? Change civilization by country and we find ourselves talking about actual political conflicts.

Beyond semi-political situations, my favorite episodes were those in which the unknown presented some riddle based on the nature of the universe. How to forget that episode where a propulsion experiment went wrong and starship Enterprise goes all the way to the border of the universe (whatever that means), where thought and reality got intermixed. How was it possible to travel so far in so little time? Was it possible that the structure of space and time had secrets still waiting for us to unravel? In that moment I wanted to be able to absorb everything physics could possibly say about the topic. To that episode belongs one of the most beautiful images that I can remember: the Enterprise in the galaxy M33.

That was one of the first episodes of the "Next Generation" that were broadcasted on national TV in the year 1990. It was exactly the same year in which the Hubble space telescope was launched into space. What that means is that all those wonderful photos of galaxies and nebulae taken by the Hubble and found all over the internet nowadays, still didn't exist. I even remember very well that in an effort to preserve the memory of that image of the Enterprise in M33, I recorded the episode in a VHS cassette and took a photo of the TV screen. It was with a photographic film camera. Digital cameras where still years ahead in the future.

How to forget also that time in which the crew is put to the test by the omnipotent Q, who sees humans as savages. The response of captain Picard was a quote by Shakespeare, exposing the high qualities of mankind against its barbarism:

What a piece of work is man? How noble in reason? How infinite in faculty, in form, in moving, how express and admirable. In action, how like an angel; in apprehension, how like a god...

Years later, that quote was my inspiration to read Hamlet.

I could go further mentioning more episodes that left something in me. At the end of the day, I can summarize it saying that Star Trek is the future dreamed by humanity. A future where there is no hunger, no war and money is no longer a problem, technology is used to solve the problems and to foster exploration of space: the final frontier.

I quote the words of captain Kirk in the sixth of the movies, which was the last one with the original crew. Here we see a depiction of the harsh sentence brought onto mankind by the temporality of life and the certainty that the things we have started will be carried on by the generations to follow:

This is the final cruise of the starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man – where no one – has gone before.

On September 9th, Star Trek turned 50 years. I couldn't miss the opportunity to join the celebration of a TV show and several movies that project the longing of a better future. A future that accentuates the profound curiosity of mankind, a quality that has always given us the best of science and art, in the continuous search for understanding ourselves and the universe in which we live.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On the last day of 2015

Today is the last day of the year. I came here because is like coming to a some sort of home. Then I realize that I posted nothing during this year.

Despite the evolution of the blogs I would like to keep this one going on, even when I don't have much to say. Hopefully next year will be better.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Acatenango, we meet again

It's been almost a year since I wrote the last entry on this blog. Could there be something more shameful than that?

In any case, we started off the 2014 with a nice hike in one of the most beautiful mountains of Guatemala: Acatenango volcano. I've been there several times before, but this was different: we were not going to camp, we were going to come back on the same day. Something that we call "ir de asalto".

I was a little worried. In my mind Acatenango is done in two days, because is very tough and you need one day to climb and another day to get down. I was wrong, we were able to do it in few hours. Yes, few hours! I was very happy. I had something like six months without going out hiking. That makes you lose the little shape and resistance one can attain by going to the volcanoes regularly. However, the timing was great.

We started the hike exactly at 10 AM. Little after the old hollow tree or "árbol hueco" I was very tired. I started to lag behind my fellow hikers. At this point a plan took shape in my mind. I was going to get to the place called "El Conejo" and just rest and sleep there until my friends pass on their way back. We gather to rest a little before that in "El Conejito", a resting area which is bellow "El Conejo". We started to walk again. I was not feeling physically bad nor tired. I was just being lazy. Then it came: there was a new trail. We all followed the path to the right, it looked wider. We kept on going that way until we reached a point where it was obvious that we were not going in the direction leading to El Conejo. I took out my GPS only to assert that that was indeed the case. The trail was going in other direction and El Conejo was six hundred meters away in the opposite direction. So there it was. My plan for being lazy was ruined. So I just kept walking. I was not going fast but didn't stop for more than few seconds at a time to take some air. Eventually I got to the crater. I rested a bit, drank some water and ate some cookies.

The day was fabulous. No strong wind at all, few clouds, a magnificent view of the two summits. With that lovely scene, I started to walk again. I knew it was something like forty more minutes to get to the plateau. Finally I got there. I found the other guys and the very top. It was amazing. I was tired but very happy. It was 3 PM, I did it to the summit in five hours. Not bad for being my first volcano in six months. We took some photos and congratulate each other with the classical salute: "¡feliz cumbre!".

We stayed there about an hour, just admiring that wonderful view, laying on the ground, looking the clouds from above. It is a feeling of beauty, tiredness and accomplishment that I haven't experienced in no place else. Even Fuego volcano gave us a couple of explosions to admire. From the city they are soundless. From the Acatenango plateau, they are like hearing a jet plane at close distance. It's frightening and spectacular to see a huge cloud elevating so fast and coming in your direction.

The way back we did it in half of the time, 2.5 hours. We left the place and had a nice dinner in Antigua Guatemala, finally heading back to the city.

It was a pleasure to share one more hike to Acatenango volcano in the company of Eduardo Rubio, Herberth Arevalo, Rodrigo Llarena y Sundre.

Photo: Rodrigo Llarena

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Professor Einstein and her Majesty the Queen talk about science

I found by chance a little video I made almost three years ago. Xtranormal is a really cool website where you provide the script and the software takes on the task of creating a 3D animated movie with the characters you select.

Here we have Albert Einstein and Queen Elizabeth II (chosen from the historic figures) in a jolly chat about science.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Isaac Newton talking about love (a post of fiction)

I had the idea of using the Isaac Newton character of Xtranormal to give us a lecture about love in a stern and patronizing manner. I wrote up the whole script just to realize that making movies at that website was no longer free. Nevertheless, here's the script. Imagine that Sir Isaac Newton is talking to you when you read it. If you can't, then picture Gandalf a little bit annoyed.


Hello there. I'm Sir Isaac Newton. The guy who discovered the laws of motion, the universal character of gravity, the constitutive colors of white light, calculus and many more things that you wouldn't even attempt on your luckiest day.

But don't worry. I'm not here to lecture you about math or science. I'm here to slap the hell out of you for being an insufferable, gullible, optimistic, romantic-life-lasting love seeker. Yes, a romantic-life-lasting love seeker, I said. The kind of affection that numbs down the reason in favor of one only thing. But before I tell you what is that one thing you inadvertently fall so graciously, willfully yet unknowingly; let me briefly rewind the movie of your innocent behavior.

You see a pretty girl, or guy, whatever suits you. You immediately are infested by a blinding felling that tells you that you must do whatsoever is in your power to be close to that special person. No matter what it takes, you see it as an epic task to make her your girl. You think she's the love of your life. And that is precisely what you get wrong. It is merchandised as love, but not the one you are looking for. This we may call infatuation, and it is one of the greatest swindles of life. In the end it is just the course of Nature fulfilling itself. You are being called to do whatever is necessary to pass on your essence. You are a vessel of genetic code. You are temporal and disposable. You carry information that has been replicating itself for millions of years. That information has coded within it the method of perpetuating itself. It doesn't give a damn what you do with your life. What it manages to do with you, is to react to the physical input of your senses, to cause the urge of sexual desire, to copulate and finally to breed another member of your animal species. A new creature that will outlive you, and that will satisfy the purpose of carrying in her very own flesh and blood, the ancestral information. That infatuation of yours does not last long, it fades and it will activate itself again when the sensory input takes your brain hostage of pure biochemical reactions.

Next time you think you fall in this version of love, think of it as being manipulated by your genes. Your behavior is evidence of what and how you are made of.

Now, it's not all too bad. Had you seriously consider a person as a life companion in a rational manner, you would almost always be discouraged, for you would never find someone that meets all your picky demands. That's the point where infatuated love enters. It blurs your reason. It enhances your hunting instincts. It bypasses all admonitions making you think about one thing only: sex, the beginning of the copying, the replication process.

Think about it. Now you can thank your molecular constitution for the desires of your brain. Or should I say of your heart?

Off you go, mortal creature. Carry on with your business, for you have no tomorrow, enjoy them while you can. That is the signature of your feeble and temporal awakening as a conscious being.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Playlists, the buoys of time past

A playlist. A sequence of songs. Alone each song is like a single atom. As a list, each one is a constitutive piece of a molecular structure. A structure that has a coherence earned by whatsoever circumstance made it be there. Perhaps chronological order in a local manner. A chronology that tells a story of a place and a time with a code to unravel a private hidden meaning. A list of sounds that makes a particular neighbour of an event to be attached to a given portion of experience.

Playlists labelled by time. They remind me of the different lives I have had. They are an anchor to past times, the memories I often disregard unless that sequence revives them in the intertwined circuits of mammal memory.

A travel in the subjective time of the closing eyes, the cold of the night and shining stars. Sitting on my chair changing locations, building the architecture of those places where those sounds where first invoked. Wiring all those remembrances and feelings of a selected year sliced with a sharp blade: when I couldn't go home for Christmas, when I was in a luxury apartment, when I was writing my dissertation, when I was sharing the house, when I was lacking money, when I was in a hotel room, when I was at the airport, when I was alone, when I was longing to go back home, when I was camping on a starry night, when I was drinking beer at a bar in a grandiose city.

Playlists as sentences of information, keeping the causality of events encoded in the succession of sounds. It never ends. Time machines of memory transportation. As long as they exist they will keep being the door to other times, as steps in a ladder that is only traversed in one direction, the direction of the unknown future.

The future, the only territory worth travelling to. Mapped and marked linearly in a smooth composition of random melodies, as a personal clock ticking forward at rates demanded by the mood of emotion. Always going ahead, as it is the only way our perception allows us to experience the progression of our own lives.

Photo: "The persistence of Memory" by Salvador Dalí

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Documental: A Rough History of Disbelief, parte 3

La tercera parte y final de esta serie de documentales. Abajo las citas que aparecen intercaladas en el mismo. Me gustan los comentarios finales de Jonathan Miller:

There is a long list of atrocity committed in the name of religion and an equally long history of a truly heroic opposition. So in essence, this series is a tribute to those who have won for me and many others the right to stand up and to be counted.

"Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst; every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity." -- Thomas Paine

"Religion is excellent stuff for keeping the common people quiet." -- Napoleón Bonaparte

“If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, what doubts should we have concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him?" -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

"All thinking men are atheists." -- Ernest Hemingway

"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars or that a cat should play with mice." -- Charles Darwin

"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one." -- George Bernard Shaw

"The rest of our inquiry is made easy because this God-Creator is openly called Father. Psycho-analysis concludes that he really is the father, clothed in the grandeur in which he once appeared to the small child." -- Sigmund Freud

"Why should I spend half of my Sunday hearing about how I'm going to Hell?" -- Homer Simpson