5 Cool Things: November 2015 (Mars Edition)

Every month we bring you five things that we think are cool. Because that’s how we roll. 

This month, to celebrate the release of The Martian, the discovery of flowing water on the red planet, and because it’s all-round pretty cool, we bring you 5 Cool Things, the Mars edition.

Red Mars Cover1. Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Mark: For me Red Mars is one of those absolute kind of books: when I got to the end I felt I could comfortably never read another book about the exploration and colonisation of Mars. Plot, characters and themes are all perfectly interwoven. The science is amazing. The sociopolitica and psychological elements equally so. I liked it so much I haven’t read the sequels yet because I don’t want to be disappointed. That’s probably a bit dumb, but, you know, Game of Thrones, The Matrix, The Phantom Menace… In January 2015 Spike TV (who make Lip Sync Battle and, well, not a lot) were in pre-production of a television series based on the books. J Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Sense8, etc.) is on board as a writer and Robinson is a series consultant, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

2. There’s Already Life on Mars – and it’s Ours

Tom: With every shuttle, probe and astronaut we send into space, we also send untold millions of microbes. That is to say, there is life on Mars, it’s just most likely dormant and very, very small. The cool thing is that this attention to detail is given the proper focus, and that there is hope that we will not blindly trudge through distant environments. And just as we can disturb alien worlds with our life, alien life, no matter how minuscule, could disturb Earth. Just think of the poor bacteria strapped to Voyager as we speak!

3. If Only We Had Taller Been

Chris: Almost exactly 44 years ago, in 1971, the Mariner 9 space probe reached Mars. It was the first human-made spacecraft to orbit another planet.

The day before its arrival, on the 12th November, a professor at Caltech University gathered some esteemed minds, namely Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury, to discuss this historic moment and what it might mean for humanity. The result, released in full in Mars and the Mind of Man, was a conversation ranging from not just the Mariner missions, or Mars, but about humanity’s urge to extend beyond itself.

A video of Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles, captures the spirit of the conversation as he reads one of his poems, If Only We Had Taller Been.

4. Girl From Mars (Ash)

Mark: Peaking in the late 90s to early 00s, these Northern Irish alt-rockers had a knack of writing infectious and up-tempo pop songs. Check them out:

5. Martian Real Estate

Chris: Property prices got you down? Sick of life in the hustle and bustle of the city? Well inter-planetary escape is now yours with Martian property selling fast for the low, low price of $19.99* per acre!

At the Lunar Embassy you can buy plots of land on Mars, the Moon, and even Mercury. With a surface temperature of over 400°C, it’s sure to scorch away those winter blues. Need some real peace and quiet? Buy all of Pluto for just $250,000. It’s a steal!

Don’t be fooled by other charlatans, the Lunar Embassy advertises itself as the ONLY estate agent of inter-planetary property that has a legal basis. So you can rest assured your money is not being spent frivolously.

*Plus $2.50 if you want your name on the deed.

5 Cool Things – October 2015

Every month we bring you five things that we think are cool. Because that’s how we roll. You may also have this opinion once you check them out. Are you aware of cool things yourself? Let us know below!

 1. Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune) By Georges Méliès

Chris: The Netflix recommendation algorithm offered up an interesting suggestion to me a few nights ago. In 1902, quirky film maker Georges Méliès created what is often touted as the first sci-fi film ever made. Its colour version – hand painted, frame by frame – was thought lost until the mid-nineties when it was found, revived, and put to a contemporary soundtrack.

The result: the kind of thing that would make an acid trip turn bad. Well-heeled geriatric explorers are shot in a bullet directly into the eye of the moon (it seems to bleed tomato sauce). Umbrellas turn into mushrooms and kill aliens in a plume of smoke. The entire experience feels like being inside Terry Gilliam’s head.

At all of fifteen minutes long, it’s worth seeing this piece of cinematic history.

And if you want to see Thomas Edison steal the idea eight years later, you can also watch A Trip to Mars.

2. Encryption

Tom: I’m really digging the new takes on alien contact that go beyond the well-trodden Fermi paradox. This includes the notion found in The Three Body Problem of whether we would to contact aliens, or that organisms would be deadly to us, like those found in Aurora. Here’s Edward Snowden talking about what he knows best: encryption and secrets. Basically, there’s a good chance that even if we were receiving communications, there’s a possibility that an advanced civilization would simply have encoded them. How frustrating!

3. EarthTV

David: My cool thing is EarthTV. This is a hub for well placed web cameras where you can watch footage from all around the world live. It also has nice time lapses. Why do I think it’s cool? Web cams have been around for ages but having a one stop hub like this means if the apocalypse comes I can watch it from the comfort of my own home.

4. The Knights of Sidonia

Mark: It’s been a few years since I delved into Japanese mech manga and anime – humans piloting giant robots to fight giant space monsters. As a kid I watched Robotech, as a uni student I devoured Neon Genesis Evangelion, now, approaching being middle aged, I’ve found the Knights of Sidonia. This is hard-sci fi meets space-adventure – cloning, genetic mutation, first contact, human photosynthesis, gravity bending, gender swapping, immortality chasing – centred around a young male fighter pilot hero (of course) and the usual struggles of making friends, keeping them alive and saving humanity from extinction. You can check it out either as the 13 volume manga or the Netflix-produced two-season anime.

5. Limetown and the The Black Tapes

Lucy: We all like Serial. Now we will collectively decide to like Limetown and The Black Tapes, both of which are essentially The War of the Worlds radio broadcast for the current age, taking style influence from creative non-fiction storytelling techniques and adapting them to the horror and science fiction genre. Not as abstract as Welcome to Night Vale and much better than Bizarre States (which still can’t seem to get its act together), The Black Tapes follows a journalist into the world of paranormal investigation, while Limetown reports on the mysterious disappearance of 300 people from the small town of Limetown, Tennessee, hinting at government conspiracy and corruption. Both are well made and include fantastic voice actors and sound production able to trick the mind into thinking it is listening to regular innocent public radio. Both are worth a listen, and don’t worry, Serial will be back soon.


That’s all for October, meet us back here in November for more of the links you need!

5 Cool Things – September 2015

Every month we bring you five things that we think are cool. Because that’s how we roll. You may also have this opinion once you check them out. Are you aware of cool things yourself? Let us know below!

1. Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix

Mark: A few months ago I was all super-heroed out. Marvel and DC racing to clog up cinema screens for the next ten years, a bland and formulaic Season 2 of Arrow, the disappointment that was Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was starting to think that superhero films and TV had jumped the shark. They may very well have, but the first season of Daredevil is well worth a look. It’s dark, gritty and tortured – everything that Daredevil should be – with excellent performances and electric action. Daredevil is long-form storytelling that is more in the vein of True Detective than Arrow. I suspect the show will lose its edge once now the ‘origin story’ has been told and the spandex sets it, hinted at in the season finale which introduced both the trademark costume and plot holes big enough to drive a Kingpin through.

2. Smart contracts. 

David: Smart contracts are the idea of using micro programs instead of paper and people to facilitate the notorizing of payment transfers, property exchanges – basically anything you’d need a low level lawyer or surveyor for could be replaced by software. I don’t think this is cool in the sense that I endorse the possibility that another industry could be disinter-mediated (this is the bread and butter of law firms we are talking about here), and hundreds of thousands of people could lose their place in the economic ecosystem of our capitalist structure – though once we are all disinter-mediated, then we can all retire and live lives of peace and learning – but it is cool in the sense that a little thing like this has amazing potential to transform how we live our daily lives.

And here is an article on how it could be used for crime.

3. Mutually assured destruction

Chris: A lot of classic science fiction comes from the age of nuclear proliferation and all the dangers that come along with it. In that spirit, my cool thing this month is this haunting video representation of that era. It’s quite beautiful in its simplicity, announcing every nuclear detonation in human history with a tonal beep. It begins at first with just a few brief moments – though perhaps the most famous detonations in history. After a pause these beeps continue, and build into a horrible frenzy. And if you think that the dangers of that era are a thing of the past then think again. In his book Command and Control, a list of many accidental nuclear near-misses, Eric Schlosser reminds us that ‘thousands of missiles are hidden away, literally out of sight, topped with warheads and ready to go… They are out there, waiting, soulless and mechanical, sustained by our denial – and they work.’ Creepy stuff.

4. Wait But Why

Tom: A three-part series centred on Elon Musk. It covers everything from consciousness, SpaceX, the Fermi paradox and more. It really is great to have such ready access to one of the more brilliant (or at least innovative) minds of our lifetime. Also, the stick figure drawings provide some lulz.

Lunch 5


5. Mysterious conspiracy tunnels

Lucy: In 2001, a series of  tunnels were discovered beneath the city of Liverpool, England, which are still being excavated by volunteers. The entrance to the cavernous structures originate beneath a wealthy tobacco merchant’s home, and theories behind their existence include a doomsday cult, smuggling, and a pointless endeavor to keep men employed following the Napoleonic wars. There are no records for their creation. When news of the tunnels popped into my news feed recently, I remembered an old episode of the Nerdist Podcast featuring Neil Degrasse Tyson, followed by a ghost story from Liam Lynch (sock puppeteer and composer of the classic ‘My United States of Whatever’). While living in a ridiculously haunted building in Liverpool as a student, Lynch noticed women at the local café staying in very late after hours reading by candlelight, later explaining that they waiting up to make tea for the local chapter of the Masons, who went down in the tunnels for their meetings. I tried to listen to it again to be more specific but I’m home alone so it’s not happening. Masons and Neil Degrasse Tyson aside, it’s nearly Halloween so skip forward about 55 minutes in to hear some terrifying ‘true’ ghost stories.


That’s all for September, meet us back here in October for the most important links of the month!


5 Cool Things – August 2015

Every month we bring you five things that we think are cool. Because that’s how we roll/ You may also have this opinion once you check them out. Are you aware of cool things yourself? Let us know below! Read more

5 Cool Things – July 2015

Every month we bring you five things that we think are cool. Because that’s how we roll/ You may also have this opinion once you check them out. Are you aware of cool things yourself? Let us know below!

Read more

5 Cool Things – June 2015

Every month we bring you five things that we think are cool. Because that’s how we roll/ You may also have this opinion once you check them out. Are you aware of cool things yourself? Let us know below! Read more

5 Cool Things – May 2015

The beginning of May brings the promise of 5 things you didn’t know you didn’t know.

Thomas – Space Elevator

Ever since that scene in Red Mars I’ve been enthralled by the idea of a space elevator. Of course the idea is still a good while off, but it will be that pivotal moment in our future that (possibly literally) catapults us to the stars. The new science behind the general plan presented here at least shows that it’s on the mind of our greatest thinkers.

Chris – Journey of a Roach

After a nuclear holocaust, nothing will survive. Except the roaches. Journey of a Roach is the tale of Jim and Bud, two cute mutated cockroaches – a phrase you’re not likely to hear often in life. Though they’ve made their home in a bomb shelter long after the pass of nuclear winter, they set off to explore their world together. This grim and darkly amusing game is published by Germany-based Daedalic Entertainment and proves you can have fun with what they call ‘serious games – computer games with an agenda.’

Mark – Real Humans

A couple of weeks ago I got into a conversation with my osteopath about science fiction (as you do). After we both expressed our love for the Spike Jonze film Her, she asked me if I’d seen the Swedish show Real Humans, about androids and artificial intelligence. I hadn’t. My osteo was very excited to be able to introduce the show to me, and if you haven’t seen it, I’m excited to recommend it to you. Just watch it. If you need more convincing than me and my osteopath, check out the Season 1 trailer.

Lucy – Daredevil

Naysayers beware! A new video from Because Science with Kyle Hill explains how humans all possess the ability to ‘see’ using echolocation. Also visited in an excellent episode of NPR podcast Invisibilia back in January, listen to the astonishing story of a blind man who taught himself to ride a bicycle and climb trees using a similar method. The jury is still out on whether or not the new Netflix Daredevil is worth watching, especially after this masterpiece.

David – Soundtrack

I’m a devotee of the Ghost in the Shell animated TV series, so I thought it was pretty cool that some prequels were becoming available in English. Now, I really enjoyed the first episodes as one would expect, but what stood out was the soundtrack. Not since the Akira soundtrack have I been so fascinated by the tempo, discordance and arrhythmia used to communicate that future world of extreme complexity and mishap. The soundtrack for Ghost in the Shell: Arise is by the artist Cornelius, here’s his site, and he’s done a different backing track for each episode. You can’t get it in Australia and will have to buy through CDJapan.

Hope you all cleaned up on Free Comic Book Day! See you next month.

Four Cool Things

Welcome to your newest guide to the coolest things from the coolest people we know.  Watch this space on the last friday of each month for a concise list of interesting and inspiring ‘things’ from our current universe.

Thomas – Watch me write this article

A lot of creation comes down to learning the mechanics. Not so much writing, where the act is invisible. But here is a tool that allows a writer to watch their own process, or the process of a master. It allows for an intriguing insight into how a singular piece of work can come into existence – that is, through the repeated destruction and mutation of its multiple selves. I just love the connection of writing and technology and what it could do for learning.

Chris – If I die on Mars
The Mars One program is intended to be the first manned mission to the red planet. If it succeeds, it’ll be a one-way ticket on a ride to set up an off-world colony. It sounds like science fiction, and it sounds pretty cool. But this short documentary, ‘If I Die on Mars’ really makes the situation more human and much more real. Worth a watch.
Mark – Scripnotes
Hosted by screenwriters John August (Go, Big Fish, Titan A.E.) and Craig Mazin (Identity Thief, Hangover II & III), this podcast is a fast-paced insight into the film and television industry from a writer’s point of view. It’s all entertaining, but it’s their insights into many of the mechanics of storytelling – structure, plot, character, dialogue, conflict, etc – that make Scriptnotes the one podcast I must listen to every single week.
Lucy – Sleepy Hollow

For lovers of modern recycling of fairy tales, a story out of Kazakhstan may be the point of inspiration for a gritty soviet-era retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Briar Roza spends her days in the forest with her three mysterious aunts, and by chance meets a party leader in the forest, on his way from closing the local uranium mine. As radon leaks through the soil, the entire village falls into a deep sleep, whereupon the princess can only be woken…days later with slight memory loss and a migraine. 152 people, a quarter of the town of Kalachi, have all fallen ill to a mysterious sleeping sickness since 2013.  Read more at the Smithsonian or The Guardian.

See you in April for more updates from other worlds!