Sphere

I read Michael Crichton’s Sphere. The story is about a mysterious spacecraft found at the bottom of the Pacific. The Navy flies in a psychologist (Norman) and a team he has recommended (which includes a biologist, a physicist and a brilliant mathematician) to investigate it. They go down to the depths to live in a specially pressurized habitat. The spacecraft is indeed fabulous once they discover that is was built for space-time travel. Inside this craft they find a large sphere. They can’t figure out what this sphere is meant for or its contents. They can’t return to the surface too since a Pacific storm has now left them stranded with no surface support. As they race to find out the secret of the sphere, strange things start happening in the deep ocean around their habitat.

The Sphere is not a sci-fi novel, it is a psychological thriller. The mind games are real neat. There is lot of trivia bits about science which are interesting. The best is Ted’s explanation of how gravity connects space and time together. He does it using a bowl of fruit! Sphere is a good read.

Metropolis

I saw Metropolis yesterday. I’d heard a lot about this 1927 silent movie from Germany with regards to it’s futuristic depictions of science. The movie is centred on a city in the future named Metropolis. This city has two levels — the one above has skyscrapers, trains and roads built in the air between them and flying aircraft while the level below holds the machinery that powers the city and the workers who man the machines. The people above live in luxury where as the people in the depths live in squalor. There is an undercurrent of dissent among the workers and is waiting for the right spark. Their inspiration comes from a woman named Maria. In the world above, Freder (the son of Joh Frederson, the ruler of Metropolis) discovers that his life of luxury is built on the sweat of poor workers and decides to free them. And this is where the story goes all awry. Joh requests his chief scientist Rotwang to send his robot in the likeness of Maria and break the dissent of the workers. Rotwang has been waiting for a chance to take revenge on Joh and so he screws up the plans and makes the robot Maria to inspire the workers to rebel. They wreck the machinery that runs the city. This also causes their underground city to get flooded. And it is the real Maria and Freder who rescue their children from the rising waters. All ends well when Joh acknowledges that this disparity between the thinkers above and the workers below has to end.

The scope of this movie’s story is huge. Themed on an industrial society, it covers everything from machine, technology, dull life of the future, robots and societal problems. I guess its influence will be there in all sci-fi movies made even now. The story in the second half isn’t great and I began wondering what was the point of all this. The effects and vision of the futuristic depictions are simply stunning. Remember that this was a movie made even before the clunky King Kong movie. There is a continuous symphonic background music which I felt was really good in the first half, but grew dull in the second. The music that leads up to the blast in the Heart Machine is neat. The movie is a bit slow (like most old movies) and the second half is especially so. I couldn’t watch this movie again.

Pirates Of Silicon Valley

Oh yeah, I finally caught up with Pirates Of Silicon Valley. The movie captures the stories of Apple (Steve Jobs / Steve Wozniak) and MicroSoft (Bill Gates / Paul Allen / Steve Ballmer) from their start upto 1997. We get to see how Jobs and Woz run their company in their garage until venture capital shows up. On the other side of the coin, there is Gates and Allen fooling IBM into thinking that they have written a DOS. Jobs has severe problems with his wife Arlene and with accepting her daughter Lisa as his own. Apple after a visit to Xerox then incorporates those ideas in their OS and computers. Later, Gates does the same to Apple when he steals their ideas into Windows. Jobs tears apart Apple by overworking the employees and by breaking them into Mac and Lisa camps and pitting each against the other. The movie ends with Gates becoming the richest man on the planet, Jobs being fired and accepting his children and Woz leaving the whole circus to go teach computers to children.

This movie is riveting! It concentrates more on the personal lives of the people involved than on the technical issues. I liked that. The acting by these unheard actors Noah Wyle (Steve Jobs) and Anthony Michael Hall (Bill Gates) is top-notch. They look and talk exactly like you’d expect their characters to. The movie is also interesting cause of how MicroSoft and Apple are pitted against each other today just like before. Must watch!

Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, And Life's Greatest Lesson

What lessons on life can a teacher facing death share with his student? Today, I spent a quiet noon in the lab reading Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, And Life’s Greatest Lesson. This is a real life account of the Tuesday noons Mitch Albom spent with his old professor who was on his deathbed. Mitch had been a favorite student of his sociology professor Morrie Schwartz. After university, Mitch finds it tough to make a career out of his passion for music. After his favorite uncle’s death, Mitch goes back to learn journalism and becomes a famous sport journalist. His life becomes the epitome of capitalism. One day while channel flipping on late night TV, he sees his former professor on a show. He flies over to meet him. Morrie is dying a slow death due to ALS. Yet he remains peppy and active mentally and starts to talk to his former pupil about life and the need to look at it from fresh perspectives. With a journalist strike going on at his newspaper, Mitch starts to fly over every Tuesday to meet Morrie and spend time with him talking about life. The book ends with Morrie’s death.

Tuesdays With Morrie will invariably make you recollect and feel the memories of joy, sadness, family and friends from your past. As Mitch starts to discuss aspects of life with Morrie, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to my life. Do not be surprised if it changes the way you look at your life. The book is a short easy read and can be finished in a few hours. I finished it today noon at the lab. The book has also been made into a TV movie of the same name.

“When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” — Morrie Schwartz