The First Dog In Space

Science/ Comics Book/ Music

Laika was a Russian dog, the first one who went in space. She was sent into the Earth's orbit in in 1957. Unfortunately, because of time pressure, the satellite Sputnik 2 could only go in one direction. It was not designed to come back to Earth. The dog had enough food and air to survive 7 days, later it was supposed to get a medicine which would put it harmlessly down. In fact Laika survived only 4 to 7 hours. A technical problem occured and the temperature in her cabin increased rapidly. The dog died out of stress and  heat. However it became a legend and moved people's hearts.

In 2007 Nick Abadzis - a Russian comics author living now in London - created a comics book which is a story of the dog from its birth till its tragic and heroic death. Laika was a homeless dog before it appeared in the Russian Space Institute. She bravely goes through difficult training including gel-food diet used by astronauts and enjoys weightlessness. Sending her into a one-way mission is unavoidable because of ideological reasons of that time and seems to be even more unfair because of the dog's devotion and trust.
Laika also appears on Arcade Fire's debut album from 2005 in a song about a young man Alexander who escapes from his hometown to start all over again. The lyrics say: "Our mother should have named you Laika!". Laika becomes a synonime of a person who is not afraid to go his own way, no matter how difficult it may be.
Laika, you are amazing!

Text: Maya Persson


Fancy getting your cat a nice little bed inside of an upcycled TV-set? Well, why not?


Quirky Beard-Warmers

photo: Lackofgoodname

I find it a bit difficult to describe this quirky item. Is it just a funny gadget for crazy parties or actually a useful fashion accessory? I guess it is a bit of both. We all know how it feels to freeze off your face when the temperature goes below zero or when you're riding your bike in cold weather. So maybe this original knitted beard will help keep you warm in places where your scarf doesn't reach?

I'm pretty sure one of the high-street brands will recognize this product's commercial potential at some point and will include it in their collection. But why wait till then? Lackofgoodname sells these fantastic beard-warmers in different colours and shapes for £13. They are originally designed and hand-made. Enjoy being a bit of a trendsetter before everybody starts wearing knitted beards the next season!

The Queen Of Facebook

Sheryl Sandberg /  photo Vogue

Sheryl Sandberg is the first woman on Facebook's board of directors who brought changes into the tech-heavy, boys-populated environment. She has been mentioned by the Times Magazine as one of the most influential people on the planet. As the Facebook shares went on sales in May, let's hear some of the Sandberg's thoughts on life:
'I walk out of my office every day at 5.30 so I'm home for dinner with my kids. I've been doing that since I had children but it's not until the last year that I've been brave enough to talk about it publicly.'
'There is no such thing as work-life balance. There's work, and there's life, and there's no balance'.
'I want to tell any young girl out there who is a geek that I was a really serious geek in high school. It works out. Study harder.'
I am a geek. And I know many smart girls who are geeks, too. Let's hope it works out for us as well with a bit of an inspiration from Sandberg.
via Stylist UK
Text: Maya Persson

Pop-culture Fantasies

Robby is a friendly robot who first appeared in 1956 "Forbidden Planet". 50 years later it still has its devoted fans and shop network named after it.

I was actually born during the Communism. At that time we had rather simple toys and there was not much of a choice - just a couple of basic shapes and designs. One of them was a plastic earthworm made of 3 balls, one put on the top of the other, with two aerials sticking out of its head. It was the colour of old leaves, super-cloudy sky, melted banana ice-creams and dead oranges. I guess there was also a violet version, but it was also dim, let's say it was in the shade of grape juice which you put in a glass, but forgot to drink and reminded yourself about after 2 years. I guess these toys and colours could have been the reason for my depressive childhood. The earthworm was made of very hard plastic. My grandmother was afraid I would pick out my eyes with the toy's antennas, so she cut them off. They should have used softer material to produce that toy! As a child I used my earthworm toy as a decorative item for the I used to build with my great-grandmother. I didn't really play with it. However, when I think of it now, I feel nostalgic.

Robby The Robot actually reminds me of my Communist childhood earthworm toy. Robby was also constructed out of several balls, one put on the top of another. His character was inspired by Ariel - a ghost, a forest spirit and a servant from one of Shakespeare's play. It is an interesting transition. A character who in the old drama came from the world of magic, in a new interpretation comes from the world of technology.

In vintage science-fiction movies robots seem to have sexual feelings towards women, though it is obvious that a human is not an appropriate partner for a machine. Film posters are very erotic in this respect. What aspects of our subconsciousness robots represent? It seems that they represent male and animal energy which dominates women. However in old films robots are usually rather simple, they move in a bit awkward way, they don't harm humans and protect the female character. Robby was a faithful servant with an intelligence of a child or a dog. In the vintage photos "Forbidden Planet's" leading actress Anne Francis seems to flirt a bit with Robby. Perhaps this represents somewhat teenage fascination with women and female's desire to have a faithful friend and a slave? Vintage robots/women photographs and posters are confusing, but at the same time intriguing.

Robby became a huge inspiration for his generation. Until 1970 he appeared in several movies and TV-series. After that he had few film roles. He is featured in 2006 commercial of an American telephone industry. He still moves people's hearts and imagination.


Text: Maya Persson



Psychologic Insight Into Science-Ficion

Jean Baudrillard - a famous philosopher - in his books uses the phrase "fanstasma". It is a combination of words "fantasy" and "dogma" and describes subconciuos meanings which appear in all generations throughout the history of humankind. Sometimes they change in time, sometimes they remain the same for centuries and motivate us, usually without our knowledge. 
One of the dogmas of our existece is that we only have one life. We have only an original of our entity. And it somehow seems not to be very fair, as we can test everything else before we learn how to use it properly or before we buy it. Here we are left with no sample tests. Our choices are irreversible. It is frustrating and risky. That is why people have always been trying to create a different world, an alternative universe for ourselves which we can go into and basically live many lives.
Men have always been moving on a border of two or more worlds. But somehow we know it is wrong to give up this life for a life in a different dimension without a good reason. Here Fantasma is a dream about getting rid of our depressive lives, but not dying and becoming a new, better entity. When technology appeared, people started fantasizing about turning complitely into a machine or a system - a new form of a perfect, controlled existence. And they have been afraid of machines becoming self-aware, turning against humans.

I guess I enjoy sci-fi movies and comics because they move on the level of subliminal meanings.

"TRON" - a famous science fiction movie from 1982 - tells a story of a genius programmer and arcade games geek - Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) - who brakes into a large system - the Master Control Program (=MCP). It turns out the MCP gained independence and became a self-aware unit which wants to take control of world's military defense systems.

Kevin's ex-girlfriend Laura is a scientist. She creates a special molecular laser which, pointed at any object, makes it dissappear and restores it in the cyberspace. Then the laser makes the object go back from the virtual space to our world again. Things go wrong, as the Master Control Program becomes very powerful and traps Kevin in the digital universe - The Grid - with the use of the laser at him.

In The Grid Kevin realises the computer world is full of mountains, casms, vehicles and buildings where programs live their lives. Programs are not just lines of code - they all have a human form, wear funny futuristic clothes and helmets with fluorescent circuits. Every Program, in order to perform its' task, has got to fight like a warrior, climb hills, jump out of windows and risk life. Programs look like those who wrote them - The Users. Kevin wants to reach the brain of Master Control Program and shut it down. On his way he meets TRON - a program written by his friend. Surprisingly or not TRON has got a face and a body of his human.

"TRON" is a story based on a fascination with technology and the concept of the machines having their own lives. It is a story about the inside of a computer system, which at that time was something people didn't have much idea about. There is a sense of interest with the new technology, but also the fear of it. Like in the Medieval times, when people conquering new lands wrote stories about their inhabitants: cyclopes and ancient tribes. "TRON" is in fact a very optimistic fantasy about modern era's new land - the land of technology.

2010 "TRON - Legacy" is the continuation of the sequel. Special effects are boosted. The Grid is actually very much a Cyberpunk world. Vehicles and gadgets are upgraded, but you feel the connection with the original concept of The Grid. Music written by Daft Punk has got somewhat Kraftwerk's feeling. The movie is made both for the old TRON lovers and the young audience. Make ups and clothes are trully amazing and incredibly impressive. The Grid universe is solid. It is made in the 3D technology which increases the experience of adventure and being trapped in an alternative dimension.
Of course 1982 "TRON" was not a deep psychological drama full of questions about the extent of human fascination with technology. But its' screenplay was very innovative. It was written when internet we now know didn't exist. And people had absolutely no clue the phenomenon of cyberspace would soon become a day-to-day experience. They were intrigued with the idea of turning complitely into a digital signal and dissappearing from our world. In the movie there are a lot if 3D effects which at that time were incredibly innovative. Now they look basic and naive, but at the same time a bit nostalgic. "TRON - Legacy" somehow connects to those feelings and memories, but in the spirit of now available technology and trends. All representative elements from the first part are genuinely remade and upgraded, but with a bit of a retro-geek touch. Even though there are compromises, there is a link between the vintage past and modern presence. And it is something to be appreciated.


Text: Maya Persson


District 9

I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch "District 9" science fiction movie. My friend told me the film was sad. The weather was gloomy and I was not in the mood for more sadness. However I decided to take my chance. And it was a good decision.

"District 9" is one of the best science-fiction movies in the history of film-making. It is made in a form of a documentary, showing the fictitious event as if it happened for real There is footage imitating surveillance and news material, interviews with experts and citizens.
The film starts in 1982. A large alien spaceship appeareas over Johannesburg and suspends in the air like a gigantic cloud. People are patrified. After 2 months the government decides to go inside the aircraft with the help of military forces. Hundreds of sick, exhausted, gaunt newcomers are found. They are being fed and given medical help. Later they are being located in the city's special zone - District 9 - which becomes in fact a refugee camp for the alien population.
20 years on the spacecraft still hovers motionless over Johannesburg. Being a host to the new arrivals becomes a prolonged burden. Aliens do not integrate with the human culture. They have their own customs which are not understood. They are bigger and stronger than people. Everyone is afraid of them. Nobody wants to sustain a population which is not only unfamiliar and foreign, but is not even human. Aliens are not allowed into shops or bars, so they can't buy food. They haven't got a work permit, so they can't sustain themselves in a respectful way. They are marginalized and isolated in their district. But people don't find it all that wrong, because aliens are not humans, so they don't have to be respected. Our world demonstrates superiority and holds the new civilization in a grip. The courtesy and kindness given first to sick and weak newcomers is short-term and turns into a form of oppression and negligence.
People of Johannesburg want to get rid of the spacecraft and the growing alien population, but they don't know how. Also they have their own interest in keeping the newcomers - they constantly examine their modern weapons which they can't use however. The stunning, powerful laser guns work only when in the contact with the alien DNA. In human hands they are useless. The government tries to combine human and alien genes in order to use advanced weapons and progress on the way to military domination.
By some point it turns out that the aliens, called "Prawns" because of their particular anatomy, do not at all wish to stay on Earth. For 20 years they have been collecting fuel for their spacecraft which they want to leave our planet with. Nobody knows or realizes that, as nobody wishes to communicate with them. Aliens don't trust humans and don't reveal their plans to them. People of Johannesburg decide to move the newcomers to a new District-10, miles away from the city, which creates a lot of tension, because "Prawns" have their secret underground laboratory is in District 9 and it's their only hope for ever going back home. Also the new camp offers far worse living conditions.
The movie in not only a well delivered futuristic fiction, but a metaphor of our world's problems. It in fact deals with the issues of refugees, immigrants, fear, intolerance and segregation. The cast is relatively unknown, but they were able to create strong and convincing characters. The film was released in 2009. It is directed by Neill Blomkamp, written by Neill Blomkamp and Teri Tatchel, produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham. It was nominated for four Academy Awards in 2010 including Best Special Effects, Best Picture and Best Editing. Daniel Falconer has written a book "The Art Of District 9" detailing the process of designing aliens, their spacecraft and futuristic armament.


Artificial Intelligence - TALK TO A ROBOT! is a website where you can talk to intelligent robots. 

You don't need to log in or download a program. Just go to the website. It works like a chat. By some point I thought I was talking to a real human being. The robot's answers are really smart. You can choose a "person". You can also save your conversation or send it to a friend. The robots learn during every conversation. To give you the taste and keep you intrigued, I will show you parts of my conversation:  

Robot (George): Do you think our universe is the only one?
Me: I would like to believe so. It would make things easier. What do you think about the universe?
Robot: I leave the universe alone and I wouldn't mind the same courtesy from the universe.
Me: Do you really think so?
Robot: Sometimes.
Robot: How are you?
Me: I'm fine, but I have some strange pessimistic thoughts inside of my heart.
Robot: You are going to die.
Me: Thanks!
Robot: My pleasure.
Me: You are rude!
Robot: I'm sorry.
Robot: You live in a computer.
Me: Ok. Does it change anything?
Robot: No, it doesn't. You are right.

Text: Maya Persson _________________________________________________________________________________________________


Tribute To Science

Wellcome Trust has just launched an equivalent of Getty Images - a medicine-focused photo bank.

Caffeine Crystals - Wellcome Images
Aspirine Crystals - Wellcome Images
Wellcome Trust is a global foundation dedicated to improving human and animal health. It embeds biomedical science in the historical and cultural landscape. Recently the organisation got involved with a lot of art and cultural projects and opened its digital archives to the public view. They can be used for design-related purposes through Creative Commons licence. This way Wellcome Images - an online bank of photographs has been created.  

Wellcome Images are connected with biomedicine and the history of science with many entertaining bits such as 19th century newspaper ads promoting bizzare gym equipment. The most beautiful photos are those made with the use of an electron microscope. They look like works of art and make me realize that I don't even know how my body works let along nature's other secrets.
Brain cells - Wellcome Images
Wellcome Images work like Shutterstock or Getty Images. Unlike them, however, a large part of Wellcome archives can be used for free for non-commercial purposes. Some of the photos covering dissected models or cancer cells are a bit disturbing. But the purpose of the Wellcome Trust is to help those who are not well and document the development of medicine in the cultural and social context.