Saturday, May 31, 2008
By Michio Kaku
Something very strange is going down on the island. People suddenly appear out of nowhere, then vanish. A doctor is found dead, a day before he is actually killed. And finally, the entire island itself suddenly vanishes into thin air.
With space and time turned into a pretzel every week, you know that this is not your ordinary Robinson Crusoe adventure. That's one reason why Lost has made addicts out of millions of loyal viewers—and why I've advised the Popular Mechanics team for their "Lost Watch" on more than one occasion.
In last night's season finale, a video tape finally reveals the most scientific secret behind the series. There is a top secret laboratory on the island, the Orchid Station, in which a "pocket of exotic matter" was discovered that has created a kind of "Casimir effect" that has warped "four dimensional space-time." But is this all Hollywood mumbo-jumbo? Actually, there's a kernel of truth to all this techno-babble.
A pocket of "exotic matter," if it exists, would have truly remarkable properties. First of all, it would fall up rather than down. It would have anti-gravitational properties, so that, if you held it in your hand, it would rise and float into outer space.
But remarkably, it might also rip the fabric of space and time. For example, both Shakespeare and Isaac Newton adopted the picture that all the world is a stage, and we are actors making our entrances and exits. But then Einstein showed that the stage of space and time is not empty and flat, but actually curved, so that any actor walking across the warped stage would feel a "force" (i.e. gravity) tugging it to the left and right, like a drunken sailor.
The new wrinkle on all of this is that exotic matter, if it exists, could allow for trap doors in the stage of space-time. People can suddenly fall through these trap doors and re-appear in a different space and time, like the characters on Lost (particularly Ben). These are "wormholes," or shortcuts through space-time. The simplest example of a wormhole would be Alice's "Looking Glass." Another example would be a folded sheet of paper: By punching a hole in the folded paper, you can show that a wormhole is the shortest distance between two points. (So the Orchid Station was probably built around a meteorite made of exotic matter that hit the island.)
But unlike exotic matter, negative energy has actually been created in the laboratory. It was first predicted to exist by Dutch physicist Hendrik Casimir in 1948, and actually measured in 1958. For example, two uncharged parallel metal plates would normally be stationary. This is a state of zero energy. But Casimir showed that quantum effects within the vacuum push the two plates together. Since you have extracted energy from a system with zero energy, you have created negative energy. However, the Casimir effect is very tiny; in the experiment, the force was only 1/30,000 the weight of an ant. So all the bizarre electromagnetic disturbances in Lost are due to somehow creating a large Casimir effect with electric plates.
But what would a wormhole machine that can bend space and time into a pretzel look like? It would be truly gigantic. First, you would need the equivalent of a black hole to create a hole in space, and then negative energy or exotic matter to stabilize the hole so it didn't collapse on itself. The amount of exotic matter necessary to build a time machine would be about the mass of Jupiter. So the machine, instead of moving just the island, might have unintended consequences, such as actually eating up the entire earth!
“The Daily Show” is a bellwether for the evolution of Internet video. It is also one of those programs that signify for people why they pay so much money for cable.
Until recently, few of the main made-for-cable programs have been available to watch in full over the Internet, even as broadcast networks have started streaming full episodes of most of their shows. The reason is that cable and satellite systems pay large fees to networks for what they have seen as exclusive rights to their content. (Their deals with broadcast networks are less restrictive.)
In recent months, that has started to change as programs such as USA’s “Monk” and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” on TBS become available on the Internet. But many other signature cable programs, like ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and CNN’s “Larry King Live” are not regularly Webcast in their entirety.
That’s why my eyebrows jumped when I saw the announcement last week that full episodes of three Comedy Central shows — “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” and “South Park” — will start being Webcast, both on MTV-owned sites and on the Fancast site from Comcast. (Comedy Central, which is owned by Viacom’s MTV Networks unit, has been Webcasting “South Park” episodes for a few months.)
Just last November, Comedy Central told me that it was not putting full episodes on the redesigned site for “The Daily Show” because of its deal with the cable operators. Instead, it created an awkward compromise in which a series of “clips” from the show would play one after another so users could see all the content from the show. But these clips couldn’t be expanded to the full computer screen, and they didn’t include the opening titles that help create the feeling of a television show.
It’s taken me several days of going back and forth with representatives of both MTV Networks and Comcast to figure out what has changed. I can’t say that I’ve entirely succeeded. The deals between cable companies and networks are dark and nuanced documents with many overlapping quid pro quos.
It turns out MTV’s main deals with cable operators these days do give it the right to distribute all of its content online, said Mark Jafar, an MTV spokesman. And indeed it has started Webcasting some of its signature programs like “The Hills” and “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Comedy Central, however, was under a different set of contracts until early this year because Viacom only bought the network in 2003.
The Webcasting trend is not pleasing the large cable operators. Indeed, when Glenn Britt, the chief executive of Time Warner Cable, was asked recently how he feels about the cable networks putting more content online, he said “Guess what? We do mind.”
Webcasting a program the same day it is broadcast, “will erode your other business model,” Mr. Britt said at the Cable Show in New Orleans earlier this month. If this happens, he said, “we have to intervene at some point.”
Alexander Dudley, a Time Warner Cable spokesman, elaborated when I asked him about Viacom’s move to Webcast full episodes of “The Daily Show.”
“They can’t have it both ways,” he said. “If they put content they ask cable companies to pay for online for free, they are making it less valuable and we should be expected to pay less for it.”
When I asked Comcast the same question, a spokeswoman also expressed some concern about making sure that some of the programming it pays for remains exclusive. But Comcast is not as outraged as Time Warner. One reason is that the company’s experience with offering video-on-demand versions of cable programs appears to have increased viewership of its traditional channels. As a result, it is less worried that online streaming might divert paying customers.
Comcast, unlike Time Warner, also has its own Internet streaming service, Fancast, that can profit from the move to Internet viewing. And it is using its relationships with cable networks to get programming for it. MTV said it is looking to syndicate Comedy Central programs to other online sites as well.
MTV, of course, is very much trying to have it both ways. Its core audience is increasingly moving from watching clips on YouTube to watching full episodes on Hulu and the broadcast network Web sites. Yet, as Mr. Jafir made clear in an e-mail to me, the company also needs to defer to the cable companies, known sometimes as MSOs, that provide so much of its revenue today:
We’ve always worked hard, and we continue to work hard, to strike the right balance between protecting and growing the businesses of our MSO partners and being wherever our audiences are consuming entertainment….We’re definitely not in the business of making all our content available for “free” anywhere — monetization and preservation of the value of our content is a strategic priority for all our distribution across platforms.
Can you see Jon Stewart’s eyebrows flying up at that?
By Richard Muller
Last night on Lost, Ben moved the island—presumably thousands of miles. Could he actually do that, without huge accelerations that would obliterate all structures and kill all the people on the island? The surprising answer, in physics, is yes ... sort of. The trick is that you don't really move the island. Rather, you change its space-time connection to the rest of the Earth.
Space and time in relativity theory are quite flexible. Gravity is one manifestation of that. According to Einstein's discovery, the presence of mass-energy warps space-time; what we perceive as gravity is just the curvature of space-time. That's the Theory of General Relativity, now firmly established by experimental tests. The strange behavior of time and space (the fact that two twins traveling apart can experience different amounts of time, for example) are verified daily in our physics labs, using radioactive particles rather than twins. I've verified this myself.
Here's a simple example of how you can change distances without moving. The distance between the Sun and Alpha-Centauri is about 4.3 light years. If a small black hole passed in between, the gravitational effects on the two stars would be negligible—yet the direct line distance between the two would become infinite. The two stars haven't moved; rather, you have changed the nature of space in the in-between region. The black hole has an infinitely deep space warp surrounding it. Of course, if you want to travel between the two stars, just go around—avoid the black hole.
Perhaps you've read about wormholes, those theoretical objects in current relativity theory. We don't know of any that exist, but they do appear to be possible. Physicists love to play with the concept. They can connect two parallel universes, or two parts of a folded universe. (A folded universe has three special dimensions that are curved in a fourth special dimension.)
To make physics sense of the movement of the island in Lost, I assume that the island is actually connected to the South Pacific by a wormhole-like warp in space-time. (It doesn't have to be a simple worm hole; it could be a warren of parallel and intersecting tubes.) Then, to move the island, all you have to do is move the wormhole connection, not the island itself. That's what I think Ben did. He changed the nature of the space-time connection between the island and the rest of the world.
So the island didn't disappear. It didn't even move. Imagine that you are visiting a small town that you used to visit when you were young. You drive for miles, and never come to it. But it turns out the town has not moved. Rather, the highway now goes around it. That's what Ben did—he changed the highway.
If this is right, it explains the role of Daniel Faraday, the physicist. From the references on his blackboard, and his experiments with space-time, it's clear he understands advanced relativity and quantum mechanics. He insists on traveling to and from the island on a precise trajectory of 305 degrees—perhaps to stay in the center of the wormhole, which is sort of like the eye of the needle. Stay within the eye, and you're okay—but any deviation wreaks havoc on your space-time (especially for a complex wormhole), thus accounting for Desmond's strange excursions in space and time.
I'm guessing if you have a real wormhole, it would have a structure like a sponge, and if you wander off and get stuck in that space-time continuum, then all sorts of strange things would happen. What would happen would be unpredictable, just like scientists have a hard time predicting waves in the ocean or a candle flame in the breeze. Those things are just complicated.
The Season Four finale also makes reference to the Casimir Effect. This is a well known phenomenon in quantum mechanics, and has been measured experimentally. The Casimir effect is a consequence of the fact that the vacuum contains energy. Some people speculate that one could draw on this vacuum energy for an unlimited supply. I don't think so, but maybe I am wrong, and Ben has figured out a way to do that. I suspect that Ben, too, is a physicist—the one person who has figured out how to understand the connection between quantum theory and relativity, and to manipulate them—at least to some degree, just as he manipulates people. That's why Charles Widmore is so anxious to capture Ben alive. Only Ben really understands the physics.
By Adam Savage
I'm a huge fan of Lost, but sometimes my schedule keeps me from being able to watch all the episodes on time. Yesterday, after a 6-hour Lost marathon (I had no idea how far behind I'd gotten!), I was finally ready to take in last night's season finale. And after watching it, all I can say is: Holy crap.
First things first: the explosives. We blow a lot of things up on MythBusters, so I know from experience that last night Lost missed the mark. The 500 pounds of C4, that whole movie thing about "dummy triggers" and fake tripwires—it's all a load of crap. Nobody does that. At least that's what my friends at the FBI tell me. Would you want to set up explosives so that pretty much anything you did would make them go off? It's just like guessing and cutting one of the wires in the movies: Nobody would survive using that technique for very long, including Keamy and his crew. The whole training of a bomb tech is to work safely with explosives, not dangerously. There are too many ways to mess it up. Also, I'm pretty sure that C4 isn't conductive, which it would need to be to set up its wiring as a resistance feedback loop that could tell if you started to pull out the detonators. And if freezing the battery works, why not just disconnect it? Oh, right, the monitored feedback loop. But wait, C4 isn't conductive ... never mind.
Though the explosion looked about right in terms of size, it was a bit slow—high explosives happen at over 20,000 ft. per second. Plus, any explosion that you would survive happens silently—you see it before you hear it. But movies and TV never do that. Plus, C4 lets off with a much more concussive ka-whump than they ever are able to show in the movies.
As to what the heck is going on: I used to think that the survivors were in purgatory, mostly because of "The Man in Tallahassee"—the idea of Locke's father showing up on the island was too bizarre. But after last night's space-time-travel extravaganza, I've given up on the purgatory idea, 'cause you can't get a compass heading out of purgatory—or else the Vatican would have had a cruise line running it eons ago.
We know that the island has some "interesting" properties regarding time and space. We know that dead people—hello, Christian Shepherd!—can appear for real there. So how about the soul? It's kind of like trying to look for the physics of being in love. (Speaking of which, I loved that Desmond and Penny finally found each other!) Perhaps the writers posit that the island exists on a plane between both space and time, and that this plane, this rift (that causes the weird temporal anomalies, and the polar bears, etc.), also taps into certain sensitive peoples' psyches?
Then I think about the numbers, and the black smoke, and Eko's brother's plane and I think, "I hope these guys know what they're doing ..." The writers, I mean. Because if this show ends its run with just more questions, I'm going to be pissed.
We also finally got to see who was in the coffin that had Jack so torn up in last season's flash-forward finale. It was Jeremy Bentham—named for an 18th century philosopher who managed to preserve his head after he died (he did, I swear—just Google his name!). This mystery man had visited Walt, Jack and Kate before he ended up in that funeral home and was actually John Locke, who was of course named after another famous philosopher. My wife—we're both crazy fans—thinks that there might be something clued into the shift from Locke to Bentham ...
My guess is that the island "move" put Locke and Co. into the proximity of—or at least the neighborhood of—some hostile folk, and that Locke had to leave the island to urge the others to come back to set things right. Also, even though you had a few old unfamiliars on the island, there still could be factional violence between the now Locke-led others (who are really "Others" now, right? They don't age? Why do they need a leader?) and the three new castaways, plus Juliet and Sawyer (he really does get all the good women, doesn't he, Jack?).
So, yeah, I love this show.
WASHINGTON - After word spread that Prince covered 's "Creep" at Coachella, the tens of thousands who couldn't be there ran to YouTube for a peek. Everyone was quickly denied — even Radiohead.
All videos of Prince's unique rendition of Radiohead's early hit were quickly taken down, leaving only a message that his label, NPG Records, had removed the clips, claiming a copyright violation. But the posted videos were shot by fans and, obviously, the song isn't Prince's.
In a recent interview,said he heard about Prince's performance from a text message and thought it was "hilarious." Yorke laughed when his bandmate, guitarist Ed O'Brien, said the blocking had prevented him from seeing Prince's version of their song.
"Really? He's blocked it?" asked Yorke, who figured it was their song to block or not. "Surely we should block it. Hang on a moment."
Yorke added: "Well, tell him to unblock it. It's our ... song."
YouTube prohibits the posting of copyrighted material. If the site receives a complaint from a copyright owner, it will in most cases remove the video(s). Whether the same could be done for a company not holding a copyright is less clear, but Yorke's argument would seem to bear some credence according to YouTube's policies. YouTube, which is owned by Google, declined to comment.
Prince also did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The dispute was an interesting twist in debates over digital ownership, held between two major acts with differing views on music and the Internet. Radiohead famously released their most recent album, "In," as a digital download with optional pricing. They also have a channel on YouTube.
When Prince performed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., on April 26, he prohibited the standard arrangement of allowing photographers to shoot near the stage during the first three songs of his set. Instead, he had a camera crew filming his performance.
Prince, who founded NPG Records in 1993, has been innovative when it comes to music distribution, too. He released his 1997 album, "Crystal Ball," on the Internet and in 2006 was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Webbys. In 2007, he gave away copies of his disc "Planet Earth" in a British Sunday newspaper.
But the Purple One has also shut down his official Web site and in September of last year said he would sue YouTube and eBay for not filtering unauthorized content.
Prince fans have organized to urge him to relent in his legal fights to control images and photographs of himself. As of Thursday, the most popular YouTube clip about Prince playing "Creep" is an expletive-laden rant from Sam Conti Jr., who describes himself as a "former Prince fan."
Every song you played at Led Zeppelin's reunion show in London last year started with or was based on a killer riff. What makes a great Zeppelin riff?
It is something you know instinctively. It has energy and attitude. There's sex in it as well. It was definitely my concept to have a riff-based band. My influences were the riff-based blues coming from Chicago in the Fifties — Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Billy Boy Arnold records. "Boogie Chillen'," by John Lee Hooker — that is a riff. But you take it, absorb it and apply your own character, so it comes out another way.
Which happened that night. Your guitar-vocal interplay with Robert Plant, especially in "In My Time of Dying" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine," sounded brand-new, born on the spot.
In the Led Zeppelin shows of the Sixties and Seventies, it was the same numbers every night, but they were constantly in a state of flux. If I played something good, really substantial, I'd stick it in again. But Led Zeppelin were a working band in the truest sense. Even the rehearsals, in the run-up to that night in London, were dramatically different, in content and drama, from the show, which had its own character.
How hard was it to hear American blues and rock & roll records in Britain when you were growing up in the Fifties?
To hear current releases, you tuned in to AFN, the Armed Forces Network in Europe, and hoped that you could catch the title of something after they played it. We never got to see Elvis Presley until we saw his films. But the people who got sucked into rock & roll were collecting records, studying what was coming out of America. I had a friend who was not interested in a record unless it was by a black artist.
There was some blues in skiffle music. You got the songs, but the attitude and playing were not there yet. It was a learning experience, tracking these records down and finding the original sources — the Sleepy John Estes version of "Milk Cow Blues," Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup doing "That's All Right."
You just played along to the records?
That's what most of the British guitarists from that period did. You listened to the solo, lifted the tone arm and put it back down to hear it again. Once I was able to get a good guitar, my ability to work out what was being played on those records came in leaps and bounds.
How did your experiences as a studio guitarist in the Sixties — playing behind so many different singers — influence your writing and playing for Zeppelin?
I was very inspired by the [vocal] groups of the Fifties. I loved the way they worked, the perspective of the guitar within that sound. Blues was a pivotal thing on the first Zeppelin album. But I was playing acoustic guitar as well as electric in sessions, and I was into people like [American studio guitarist] James Burton. I wasn't into jazz so much — I preferred things raw.
For a short time, you and Jeff Beck both played lead guitar in the Yardbirds. Did you ever consider having a second guitarist in Led Zeppelin?
In the Yardbirds, when Jeff was there, we played the riffs in harmony. The approach was almost like a big band with brass — the power of that applied to guitars. In Led Zeppelin, I never considered having anything duplicated, because we were such a complete unit. We felt we could do anything in-house, certainly on the records. Once a song got on the road, those parts would change, especially where there were numerous guitar parts on the record. We used to do "Ten Years Gone" [on Physical Graffiti], and that's got lots of guitars. We did a pretty good version. It wasn't until I played it with the Black Crowes [in 1999] that I heard all of those parts live. That was a thrill.
How would you describe your tone — or the one you like most of all?
It varies. I've used pedals going all the way back, pre-Yardbirds. I was using a fuzzbox in sessions. But the engineers couldn't understand it. Anything radical, they couldn't deal with it. In the Yardbirds, I was trying the violin bow and the wah-wah, using distortion and echo. I had phase pedals and chorus pedals as time went on.
What attracted you to the bow? It is the signature sound in "Dazed and Confused."
It was proposed to me when I was doing studio work. One of the session violinists was the father of David McCallum, the actor in the TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. String players would keep to themselves, but this guy was quite friendly. He said to me one day — we'd just finished a session — "Have you ever tried bowing the guitar?" I said it wouldn't work. The strings aren't arched over the guitar, the way they are on a violin. He said, "Have a go." He gave me a bow. I tried it and realized there was something in it. I don't remember if I used it on any sessions, but I certainly used it the minute I was in the Yardbirds [notably on the 1967 single "Little Games"].
Your most famous solo is arguably the one at the end of "Stairway to Heaven." How much of it did you compose before you recorded it?
It wasn't structured at all [laughs]. I had a start. I knew where and how I was going to begin. And I just did it. There was an amplifier [in the studio] that I was trying out. It sounded good, so I thought, "OK, take a deep breath, and play." I did three takes and chose one of them. They were all different. The solo sounds constructed — and it is, sort of, but purely of the moment. For me, a solo is something where you just fly, but within the context of the song.
Young guitarists learn to play now by studying your riffs and solos. What is left for you to discover on the guitar?
There is a lot I can and should be doing. The main thing is quality. I've always had a high bench mark in everything I play. That won't change. The important thing is to commit to playing. You have to put a lot in to get a lot out.
The great thing about the guitar, when I was 12 years old, was that it was portable. It made the music accessible to me all the time. I could get together with my mates, and before you knew it you had the serious spirit of music there — even kids just playing a few chords. You can do it with computers and keypads now. But I'm interested in how you get that spirit on the guitar. Because that's my instrument of choice.
So, I'm looking at this Minutemen photograph, just now released to the public to promote Zack Snyder's Watchmen. It looks pretty much like it should: a bunch of dopey guys in costumes trying to save the world, completely oblivious to the horrors that await them. It looks great.
And yet, I don't really care. I'm still pissed that Watchmen is being made at all. But why? Why will I gleefully jump to my feet everytime I hear anything about Power Max or the next Batman or even the Incredible Hulk, yet I freak out with fury when I hear that Alan Moore's best work is being adapted to the big screen? Lord knows that every other comic book movie has not even been remotely close to its source material (even The Incredible Hulk will evidently have more in common with the TV show than the comic), yet I've enjoyed them without the slightest smidgen of guilt. Yet, Watchmen gets made, and I get filled with an incredible fury.
Yet, it's not okay when any changes are made to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It's not okay when the title character in V for Vendetta falls in love with Evie Hammond. It's not okay that Zack Snyder would say he "respects" Alan Moore's decision to have his name removed from the film, but then would go ahead and make it anyway. I'm not being sarcastic here, and blaming the public or the comic fans for finding it unacceptable. I'm saying I find it personally unacceptable.
Are Moore's stories so good that any change to them whatsoever, no matter how small, can be construed as disgusting? If that's the case, then we're admitting that the comics Iron Man, Batman, and Spider-Man came from evidently weren't good enough to need their integrity preserved. We're perfectly cool to just take the heroes from other comics, but when it comes to anything Alan Moore does, it's evidently gotta be everything or nothing.
I find this irritating, if only because it means that I will never be able to enjoy Snyder's Watchmen, no matter how good it is. Like everyone else, I scoffed at the idea of the action-minded director taking on what basically amounts to a subtle superhero soap opera (and though I'm evidently alone in this, I still can't forget how bad 300 was). I was pissed they're not using David Hayter's entire script, although he is evidently getting co-writer credit. And yet, are those the only reasons? Am I pissed because they're making a Watchmen movie in the first place? If so, and if I'm not alone, then that's a hell of an unpleasant way to react to hearing anything about an adaptation.
The key, it would seem, to really enjoying oneself at comic book movies is to take the mindset we reserve for a Hulk or an Iron Man – namely, that this movie is about a hero but doesn't necessarily have to be 100% faithful to its source material – even for those films that are directly based off much-respected graphic novels.
But wait, to hell with that! A graphic novel is not some excuse for a reasonably interesting character to fight people. At least, not if it's a graphic novel written by Alan Moore. A graphic novel is a cohesive, self-contained story in the same way that you'd treat a regular novel, or even a movie. If I'm supposed to just forgive weird little changes to the story because of the way Batman Begins deals with its source, does that mean I should be okay with a Jane Eyre movie adaptation that finds the protagonist fighting alien dinosaurs in a robotic suit? Probably not.
All I know is that I will be disappointed when Watchmen comes out. Even if they stick reeeeally close to Hayter's script, which they probably won't, Zack "I can shoot action scenes really well and not much else" Snyder will probably kill it somehow. Then I'll be bitter for a few months, then I'll write another feature on BK whining about how I was right.
It's difficult, being a comic book nerd.