Author Archives: Mark Leombruni

Werner Herzog On Science, Language, Mars, and His Volcano Fever Dreams

Werner Herzog doesn’t care what you think about him, about his mythos. He does care about myth, the stories people tell and why. His newest movie, “Into The Inferno,” in which he tours six active volcanoes around the world, is as much about the culture and beliefs that surround volcanoes as it is about the science. Editor Alex Pasternack speaks with Herzog about his filmmaking, science and scientists, distributing his film through Netflix, and police body cameras. Read more at Motherboard (

Reflecting on ‘Independence Day,’ the Greatest Hacking Movie Ever

This podcast contains spoilers for Independence Day and Independence Day 2: Resurgence.

We had 20 years to prepare.

That’s the tagline for Independence Day 2. It refers to Earth, and how long we had to get ready for a second alien invasion. But it also applies to Roland Emmerich and the team behind the sequel.

In this podcast, Radio Motherboard interviews Emmerich, goes to see ID4-2, and talks about what made the first film such a hit and the second one, not so much.

The Moon Walking, Alien-Hunting, Psychic Astronaut Who Got Sued By NASA

Edgar Mitchell, who passed away in February at the age of 85, was exceptional, even among astronauts. Like an archetypal moon man, he was a Boy Scout and a military test pilot with a protestant upbringing and an impressive command of engineering and aeronautics. In February 1971, on Apollo 14, he became the sixth man on the moon. But more so than other astronauts, Mitchell’s brief exploration of outer space led to a deep exploration of inner space and the entire universe of phenomena explained and not. After conducting an ESP experiment in space, he became a connoisseur of parapsychology; later, he sought to show that aliens had visited Earth and that governments around the world had tried to cover up the truth. But he remained grounded on Earth too, and worried that civilization’s narrow perspectives were exceedingly dangerous for the future of the planet and humanity.

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The DeLonge Con

Former Blink 182 guitarist Tom DeLonge has a new project: telling the world the truth about UFOs. DeLonge has always been interested in the supernatural, and he’s been researching and reporting the topic as part of a multimedia project called Sekret Machines that involves books, movies, music, and other moving parts. His first book, co-written by bestselling author AJ Hartley, is a pageturner novel called Chasing Shadows about a skeptical journalist who runs a UFO debunking website, a Holocaust survivor, an heiress whose father mysteriously dies, and a Marine pilot who gets recruited into a secret government technology project at Area 51. Somehow, their stories all intersect.

Motherboard talked to DeLonge about this project and whether he really believes all this stuff about aliens. We also dive into the weird and wonderful world of conspiracy theorists in the longest Radio Motherboard episode to date.

To Block or Not to Block, Featuring Talib Kweli

Twitter is a place where anyone can say anything, to anyone, at any time. But what happens when you don’t want to hear what someone else has to say? What if someone is attacking you personally, or getting all their friends to attack you? On this week’s Radio Motherboard, we talk about when to block, when to mute, and we consult with the master of the Twitter debate, rapper Talib Kweli.

How ‘The X Files’ Composer Made TV’s Creepiest Theme Song

Hollywood, 1992. Mark Snow was already a pro at TV scores—dramas, procedurals, comedies—when a producer recommended him to Chris Carter, a veteran of Disney TV movies who needed music for a new TV pilot, The X Files, an unlikely supernatural procedural inspired partly by Kolchak, The Twilight Zone, and Twin Peaks. As he sat in his garage home studio one day, stumped in his search for the right sound for the show’s theme music, Mark accidentally put his elbow on the keyboard. A delay echo blurted out of the monitors. “That’s kinda cool,” he thought.

Neither he nor Carter could imagine that that creepy, repeating sound would form the basis for one of TV’s most unforgettable bits of music, one that would eventually implant itself like an alien virus across the culture and in the brains of a generation of viewers. (I offer no apologies for my first web page, in 1997, an X Files tribute that auto-played a MIDI version of the theme song, on repeat.) A few minutes after 10pm every Friday, those creepy synths and that whistle—a mix of computer and human sound—beckoned us into the shadows of the neon-bright ’90s.

To get there, Snow tells me in a new episode of Radio Motherboard, he started by heeding Carter’s advice: keep it simple. “Just make it that cool little thing that the boy scouts in the middle of the night on a camping trip whistle to each other… and then a monster comes and gobbles them up.”

Double Episode! Cortana Abuse/Why Humans Should Be More Like AI

Sometimes, it can be hard to know how to act around artificial intelligence.

In the first half of Radio Motherboard this week, staff writer Jason Koebler explores how people treat Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana when no one’s listening. (A small spoiler: Apparently, people like to harass it. One new challenge in AI programming is learning how to gently smack down haters.)

In the second half, editorial fellow Louise Matsakis looks at a group that runs a “rationality” workshop that teaches humans that in some cases, it makes more sense to think more like computers.

How to Think About the Biggest Earthquake Ever

How to Think About the Biggest Earthquake Ever


So scientists are saying an earthquake—a quake that is so big and so powerful you probably can’t even properly comprehend it—is probably going to hit your city, hard. It could be five years out, ten years, fifty years, or it could be tomorrow. But it’s going to come. How do we go about organizing that kind of information in we brains? How do we understand it on a rational, sensible level? Then, what do we do about it?


We can write science fiction stories about it, for one thing. That’s what the archivist, researcher, and writer Adam Rothstein has done. Rothstein spent many months poring over every available emergency document, seismic evaluation, and scientific study carried out on the Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake that he could get his hands on. That quake, scientists say, will be of a magnitude up to 9.3 Mw—perhaps the biggest to hit the continental US in our nation’s history.


Last year, Kathryn Shulz published “The Really Big One” in the New Yorker. The story introduced, for many audiences, the prospect of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, which many geologists say is actually overdue. The article went viral, and left just about everyone in the Pacific Northwest terrified. But the fact that the quake is coming is only a small sliver of the story—what happens when it does is, arguably, the most important, at least from a humanistic point of view.


So this week, Terraform, our future fiction outfit, published Rothstein’s intensely reported 5-part story about what, precisely, may happen after the Big One. When we chatted for the podcast, Rothstein told me that one of his chief aims was to get people thinking about the next steps, after awareness-raising.


“Lots of people I know just figure they’ll be dead,” he told me, despite the fact that your chances of surviving the initial quake in an inland metropolis like Portland are very high. So the point of the story, then, is to render the future less apocalyptic and more productive. Imagining the nitty gritty details of the calamities—not always outright tragedies—that will befall us, will help us prepare to assist our neighbors, and compel us to arrange and maintain earthquake kits.


So far, his story seems to be working.


At least, according to the urbanist and writer Alissa Walker, who writes of the piece, “All I will say is that it worked. Let’s also hope all major cities in seismic areas will undertake a similar scenario-writing exercise and perhaps even work with local sci-fi writers. This series certainly got me far more motivated to get prepared than any other piece about earthquakes that I’ve researched or read myself.”

Clearly, not everyone will have such a positive reaction; but that is, for Rothstein, the desired effect: comprehension of a potentially far-off and difficult future, and preparation for its coming. Listen in for more for our discussion of the story’s genesis, what will happen to Portland in the wake of the quake, and science fiction’s role in charting out our plausible futures.

Why You Should Own Your Cable Box

The tyranny of the set-top box may soon be over.
The way it works now, you’re forced to rent a cable box from the likes of Time Warner Cable and Comcast to the tune of about $230 per year. The very idea that in 2016 you need a dedicated piece of hardware, whether it’s Comcast’s X1 or Time Warner Cable’s latest “whole home” DVR, just to tune into Guy’s Grocery Games on Food Network is crazy on its own, but the fact that you have to rent these boxes in perpetuity is even worse.
The Federal Communications Commission on February 18 issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would make it so that consumers wouldn’t have to rent a set-top box from their cable company.
Although this is just the first step in a lengthy process, the prospect of being able to own your own cable box, just as you’re able to own your own cable modem or smartphone, already has supporters of the measure giddy with excitement.
And that’s great, of course, but I wanted to lean more about the possible implications of being able to own my own set-top box. (I’d have to get cable first, but that’s another matter.) I’d expect to see lower prices as a result of competition among hardware makers, but is that all? What happens when more and more people, from different communities, can afford cable? Might networks be encouraged to create more diverse programming? Heck, what are the odds that the cable companies will fight this tooth and nail (spoiler: it’s a lock), and why?
To find some answers to questions like these I reached out to some folks to get a better understanding of the big picture here.
To discuss these issues I’m joined In this edition of Radio Motherboard by John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney at the Public Knowledge advocacy group; FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn; and Michael Scurato, Vice President of Policy at the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
Radio Motherboard is available on iTunes, SoundCloud, and can also be played using your favorite podcasting app. As always, thank you for listening.

Video Games Are Missing Black Voices (Literally)

There aren’t many black characters in video games with speaking roles, which is why it’s controversial when some of them are voiced by white actors. The most recent example is Nadine Ross, the strong, black, female antagonist in the upcoming Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, who is played by a white voice actress.
To some black players, the fact that major black characters—few and far between as they are—are often voiced by white actors is a reflection of a systemic problem. It’s not the same as a black actor playing a white character, they say, because white actors and white players don’t have a problem with discrimination and exclusion—white people are well represented, if not overrepresented, throughout the industry.
This week’s Radio Motherboard features freelance journalist Shonte Daniels, who wrote the original piece for Motherboard; Kotaku writer Evan Narcisse; and voice actor Dave Fennoy, talking about the practice of casting white actors as black characters and the way black people are portrayed in games in general.