Friday, December 26, 2008

The day before Christmas I finished Sun in a Bottle by Charles Seife, a fascinating popular science book about the history of fusion research.

It starts with the quest for the "Super", a fusion based, rather than fission, based, nuclear bomb, and proceeds through the quest for peaceful use of fusion, both in the form of using thermonuclear devices as landscaping tools and in fusion power, including discussions of the cold fusion and bubble fusion debacles.

Seife does a good job of explaining why fusion has always been more difficult to harness than scientists initially predicted, including the best version of all the sides in the cold fusion debate over the years. From his point of view, it is clear that the current mainstream approaches to fusion power, tokomak's like the ITER develolment and laser-driven intertial confinement systems, may never reach even a basic breakeven point where they generate more power than is consumed. And he doesn't see any viable new approaches on the horizon. He doesn't directly address Bussard's polywell fusion approach, but seems to dismiss all fusor like devices which seems to indicate he doesn't think it will be viable but I think the jury is still out on that.

Very nicely written treatment of the subject, even if the conclusions are depressing since viable fusion power would be a huge boon to the world.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We saw the new version of The Day the Earth Stood Still today.

It's a decent film, if you don't think about it very much. The special effects are all pretty and Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly and Kathy Bates are all effective in their roles. But Reeve's last minute change of heart and the pathos of Jennifer Connelly and her step-son bonding over a dead father we never met and who is a distant sub-plot aren't convincing.

Stick with the original in all it's 1950's cold war glory.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Yesterday I finished Stone of Tears by Terry Goodkind, the second book in his huge Sword of Truth series.

I had read the first book in the series years ago based on a friend's recommendation but didn't like it very much. I decided to pick up this one after reading more about Goodkind and seeing the TV series Legend of the Seeker, based on the books. Sadly, this book only impressed me slightly more than the first one. The plot and characters are OK, if a little derivative. In particular, comparisons between this series and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series seem obvious. The main problem I have with this book is it's length. It feels extremely bloated and long-winded. Particularly in the beginning of the book, chapters go on and on while seeming to advance neither the plot nor the character development, re-hashing the same discussions and material over and over.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yesterday we went to see the latest Danny Boyle movie, Slumdog Millionaire, and really enjoyed it.

The story is very standard - two children grow up in poverty; One is more violent than the other and both protective and abusive; Along the way, they meet a girl that they fight over; They get involved in the criminal underworld with serious consequences. The most similar modern example is City of God, set in Brazil's slums, but there are many more that come to mind.

But the setting, Mumbai's slums, is vibrantly presented, the images are marvelous and the performances are all good.

There is one new twist - the framing story of how the lead characters gets on India's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", does better than expected and suspected of cheating, adds some dramatic and comedic elements to the story.

Overall, very nicely done and worth seeing.