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The Physics of the Star Wars BB-8 Droid: How Does It Work?

Introducing the BB-8!

Fans of Star Wars are rejoicing with the release of the seventh episode in the series, The Force Awakens.  With it comes a new robot, the BB-8, that has immediately captivated viewers at first sight.  It is an astromech droid in the Star Wars Universe. An awesome new toy version is available, made by Sphero. It’s a remote controlled robot that rolls without the use of external wheels.  Regardless of how the robot functions in the Star Wars universe, it’s probably not too different from the way the toy version works. Rumors from production claim Sphero’s technology helped with the development of the actual BB-8 and there was also some puppetry involved in the film version of the droid.

How do you make a sphere roll without pushing it?

An article in Wired recently explained that you need a moveable mass inside the sphere. The mass could be any number of things, like a tiny car with wheels, or a hamster.  We’ve probably all seen how a hamster rolls one of those plastic see-through spheres from running on the inside of it.  Whatever the mass is, when it moves up the wall of the sphere a little bit, the center of mass for the whole sphere shifts.

bb8 without cgi

And now for some science stuff:

When the center of mass shifts away from being vertically over the contact point, there is an external torque on the sphere.  The contact point is where the movable mass lies within the sphere. Torque is the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis. This torque then increases the angular momentum of the sphere and causes it to roll.  In physics, angular momentum is the rotational analog of linear momentum, meaning the momentum of the spinning sphere will keep spinning until a force acts upon it.  This is similar to an object moving in a linear line – it will keep moving in a straight line until a force acts upon it. The angular momentum of a system remains constant unless acted on by an external torque.

Once the sphere starts rolling, the inside mass could just stay at the lowest point—except there is some external friction which will require the inside mass to continue to ride up the side and provide some torque.  The external friction is the floor surface on which the sphere is rolling on.  When the inside mass moves up the wall, there is an external force to accelerate the sphere horizontally—friction. Here is a more detailed image showing all the forces on the sphere when the mass moves up the wall.

Magnets keep it together:

As far as the head of the robot goes, it uses a magnet to stay on. There is probably some type of magnet inside the sphere to attract a magnet inside of the head. The head then has rollers so that it can roll along the top of the sphere. The inside magnet would have to be movable so that you could make BB-8 do fun head moves.

This is truly an adorable, awesome addition to the Star Wars Universe. I for one would love to see a buddy movie spin off featuring BB-8 and R2-D2.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-04

Adding It Up: How To Budget A Hollywood Film To Make A Profit

empire-cover-jennifer-lawrence-katniss-everdeen-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-one
Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part One was one of the highest grossing films of 2014, earning $713 million worldwide with a production budget of approx. $125 million.

You need to make a lot of money in comparison to your total budget, and that’s where things get tricky.

We know that big blockbuster films can make millions — sometimes billions — of dollars at the box office. But what you might not know is how much they cost to make, and how much they depend on huge global sales to make back all of the money they require not only to make the films (the actors, the creative professionals and crew behind-the-scenes, and the special effects, to name only a few) but to market them as well. In fact, just the marketing campaigns for major blockbusters can add tens of millions of dollars to the total budget to get the films talked-about and, hopefully, seen.

That means that you need to make careful calculations about how to spend money, even though at hundreds of millions of dollars, budgets can seem just about endless for major blockbusters. “A-list” acting and creative teams responsible for the production and post-production (including things like special effects and editing) are expensive, and after budgets and marketing costs are added up, even hundreds of millions in box office revenue may not be considered a true “hit.”

To be really successful, you need to have a high margin of profit — that means that just making a lot of money isn’t enough. You need to make a lot of money in comparison to your total budget, and that’s where things get tricky. The more big name actors, heart-pounding action, special effects, and other explosive, eye-catching aspects you have, the higher the budget, and the more you’ll need to make back later.

 

paranormal-activity-movie-nuskool-lesson-plan
Paranormal Activity (2007), the most profitable movie of all time grossed nearly $200 million with from a shoestring budget of just $15,000. What percentage did they return on their investment?

 

That’s one reason why big-budget blockbusters tend to revolve around globally famous characters (like superheroes), big action sequences, and animation. All of these techniques are easy to alter and export from one country to the next by changing the language or inserting country-specific scenes (like these different references used in Captain America 2: Winter Soldier that appeal to different countries’ cultural events).

Do you have what it takes to plan a blockbuster that won’t make you go bust?

future

The Theories Behind Time Travel

Great Scott! How many gigawatts does it take to write a story with time travel and parallel universes? It doesn’t take that much electricity, but it does take a lot of planning, researching and creativity.

H.G. Wells, Isaac Asminov, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Kurt Vonnegut — they’ve all written famous science fiction books that focus on time travel. Wells’ Time Machine dates back to 1895, before Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and before the ideas behind black holes and wormholes existed.

Traveling in time to alter our destinies has been a pop culture fascination for a long time. Many superheroes have experienced time travel in different ways. Superman could go back in time by flying around the world quickly enough to reverse Earth’s rotation. Similarly, The Flash could travel fast enough to go back in time. Even the mutant, Wolverine, traveled back in time in X-Men: Days of Future Past to change the fate the world.

The plot lines involved in time travel and jumping through alternate realities are not easy to follow and are even more difficult to write. This lesson takes a look back in time at how some science-fiction stories have rules and a structure to the way time and alternate universes function within their fictional world and how you can create your own narrative structure to write your own tight story involving parallel universes and time travel.

The_Force tn

The Science of The Force

The Force
What is The Force in the Star Wars universe? Could we as humans, here on planet earth, ever dream of having such power at our fingertips? To answer that we need to look at what The Force is, and how the rules that define it compare to what is known about the world we live in.

“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

In Star Wars, The Force is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy. The power of The Force can be used by individuals who are sensitive to it, a power that is tapped through the midi-chlorians.

Midi-chlorians are microscopic, intelligent lifeforms that live within the cells of all living beings in the Star Wars Universe. The Force spoke through the midi-chlorians, allowing certain beings to use the Force if they were sensitive enough to its powers.

The two main practitioners of The Force are the Jedi and the Sith. Usage of the Force grants a number of useful powers, such as the ability to sense impending attacks; to push and lift physical objects; influence the thoughts of others, known as the “Jedi mind trick”; and even see the future or maintain one’s consciousness after death. Dark side users strong with the Force could summon lightning from their fingertips. Jedi taught younglings that the Force could be used for many purposes, including protection, persuasion, wisdom, the manipulation of matter and the performance of great physical feats.
Earth Forces
So, that being said, how does this compare with the laws of physics in our world? The closest thing we have to an energy field that is all around us, is the electromagnetic force.  It is one of the four known fundamental forces and is a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles.

The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life above the nuclear scale, with the exception of gravity. Roughly speaking, all the forces involved in interactions between atoms can be explained by the electromagnetic force acting on the electrically charged atomic nuclei and electrons inside and around the atoms, together with how these particles carry momentum by their movement.

If elevated levels of electromagnetism were directed at certain areas of the brain, this can affect people mentally.  If you direct magnetic fields at different parts of the brain you get all sorts of responses.  They can be used to pacify a subject, make someone hallucinate, can even be used to alter someone’s sense of morality.

Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream…it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

Science Fiction? Or just Science?
According to physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, aspects of the force are being developed today.  We can now begin to decipher the outlines of thinking via the electroencephalogram (EEG) and the MRI, which gives us living pictures of thoughts ricocheting like a ping pong ball inside the brain.  We now have computers that can read these thoughts.  In Japan, we even have a device that allows you to see what you are seeing on a small scale – like seeing a memory on a computer screen.  Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream, for example.  According to Dr Kaku, it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

We can’t exactly use electromagnetism to move people’s bodies at our will, but we know certain parts of the brain are connected to certain parts of the body, and we’ll be able to energize them, perhaps, with electromagnetic radiation.  So we’ll be able to actually manipulate arms and legs of a person, simply by using electromagnetic radiation beamed into the brain.  This technology is very primitive at the present time, but we’re getting there very fast.

If electromagnetic forces are the key to unlocking our own Force like abilities within the rules of physics on earth, then we need something to be able to direct or utilize that force whenever we desire.  There is already an example in nature of a creature that is able to process or read electromagnetism all around it – sharks and other cartilaginous fish.

Sharks have the Ampullae of Lorenzini, electroreceptors that form a network of jelly-filled pores in their nose. This organ allows them to detect the electromagnetic fields of the objects around them.  They can sense great disturbances, like a ship with a large magnetic field, or small ones like a fish they’d like to eat that’s nearby.  Perhaps if we had some biological enhancement, like the Ampullae of Lorenizini, or if midi-chlorians somehow became a real thing, we’d be able to read and understand, maybe even use the electromagnetic forces around us.

What is known about our physical world is fascinating, and the forces that are all around are fantastical in their own right. With understanding, and when taken to the next level through technology and research, our world could be closer to the science fictional world of Star Wars.

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Instant Learning: The Science of Matrix-like Brain Stimulation

 

What if you could plug into your brain, and upload a program to learn Kung Fu? Sound familiar? This happened in The Matrix (1999) to Neo – his brain was accessed via a plug like device, and a computer fed him a program.  Within minutes, he woke up and announced “I know Kung Fu.” He then practiced his skills before mastering the art, but he did indeed know how to fight. 

In reality, scientists are capable of “talking to” or stimulating the brain in such a way as to teach it something specific that it did not know before. This technology is in infancy, but the fictional world portrayed in The Matrix has now officially become a little closer to our reality.  There are so many meta statements in that statement, my head hurts.

Scientists at HRL Laboratories have released a video about their achievements in Enhanced Training Through Neurostimulation.   This is a stimulation system with the goal of manipulating the brain in order to make it capable of performing a skill it was not capable of before.  In their recent tests, the specific task they were looking at is piloting an airplane. This skill requires a synergy of both cognitive and motor performance.

When you learn something, your brain physically changes. Connections are made and strengthened in a process called neuroplasticity.  It turns out, specific functions of the brain like speech and memory are located in very specific parts of the brain.  This specificity means that scientists are able to target the necessary area to make a lasting impact.  The technology utilized (electrical impulses directed at specific places on someone’s head), is not a new concept. Ancient Egyptians, 4000 years ago, would use electric fish to stimulate and reduce pain in certain areas of their head. Even Ben Franklin applied electric stimulation to his head. Rigorous research didn’t really begin until the early 2000s, regarding a specific application like teaching the brain something new through electrical stimulation.

The experiment takes novice pilots (people who have had a brief experience with flying) and tries to bring their brain state up to an expert level.  This requires physical contact with the scalp using a head cap with lots of sensors attached to it, and conductive gel.  It combines three modes of stimulation. One is called functional neuro infrared spectroscopy – this measures the blood flow changes in the brain. Electroencephalogram – EEG – measures electrical activity of the scalp, indicative of brain activity.  And the third modality is the actual stimulation paradigm.  A paradigm is a typical example or pattern of something, or a model.  So, you could think of the instructions or patterns of brain activity required to be an expert pilot as the paradigm that the test subject is exposed to.

The effects of this stimulation take days or weeks of practice to consolidate.  So, it’s not an instant change, it’s the same learning mechanism as normal learning – as far as changes to the brain – they’re just amplifying the process.  The study showed that novice pilots showed a 33% increase in skill consistency, compared to those who did not receive the stimulation in a placebo group.

This technology is still in its infancy.  It can be utilized not only for skill acquisition, but for helping those with traumatic brain injuries.  So, don’t get the idea that this is literally like software that immediately changes your brain in order to become an expert at a new skill you’ve never encountered before, with no practice necessary afterwards.  It’s not magic, it’s amplifying the process of learning.  It could revolutionary for the future of learning, but practice still make perfect.

One of my questions about this process is; how does the difference in long term memory – declarative vs procedural, impact a new skill like this?  Declarative and Procedural Memory are the two types of long-term human memories. With a skill requiring motor functioning, e.g. flying a plane, an expert would likely say that flying their plane is like second nature. The motor skills involved are not consciously accessed before the pilot is just pushing the right buttons, using the gears the right way and adjusting different features. These skills would become second nature to an expert – and thus become what’s called procedural memory.  

The more abstract details about flying, like information about where they are going that day, what the weather conditions are, new information, or details about, perhaps features of an airport they remember, would be recalled using declarative memory.  Your brain actively has to recall declarative memories.  I’m curious how new skills become procedural – in that they become second nature skills that you don’t think about before being able to perform.  Since the scientists say that these “training” experiences require practice to consolidate, perhaps that’s when new knowledge can possibly become second nature.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-04

Adding It Up: How To Budget A Hollywood Film To Make A Profit

Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part One was one of the highest grossing films of 2014, earning $713 million worldwide with a production budget of approx. $125 million.
You need to make a lot of money in comparison to your total budget, and that’s where things get tricky.
We know that big blockbuster films can make millions — sometimes billions — of dollars at the box office. But what you might not know is how much they cost to make, and how much they depend on huge global sales to make back all of the money they require not only to make the films (the actors, the creative professionals and crew behind-the-scenes, and the special effects, to name only a few) but to market them as well. In fact, just the marketing campaigns for major blockbusters can add tens of millions of dollars to the total budget to get the films talked-about and, hopefully, seen.

That means that you need to make careful calculations about how to spend money, even though at hundreds of millions of dollars, budgets can seem just about endless for major blockbusters. “A-list” acting and creative teams responsible for the production and post-production (including things like special effects and editing) are expensive, and after budgets and marketing costs are added up, even hundreds of millions in box office revenue may not be considered a true “hit.”

To be really successful, you need to have a high margin of profit — that means that just making a lot of money isn’t enough. You need to make a lot of money in comparison to your total budget, and that’s where things get tricky. The more big name actors, heart-pounding action, special effects, and other explosive, eye-catching aspects you have, the higher the budget, and the more you’ll need to make back later.

Paranormal Activity (2007), the most profitable movie of all time grossed nearly $200 million with from a shoestring budget of just $15,000. What percentage did they return on their investment?

That’s one reason why big-budget blockbusters tend to revolve around globally famous characters (like superheroes), big action sequences, and animation. All of these techniques are easy to alter and export from one country to the next by changing the language or inserting country-specific scenes (like these different references used in Captain America 2: Winter Soldier that appeal to different countries’ cultural events).

Do you have what it takes to plan a blockbuster that won’t make you go bust?

future

The Theories Behind Time Travel

Great Scott! How many gigawatts does it take to write a story with time travel and parallel universes? It doesn’t take that much electricity, but it does take a lot of planning, researching and creativity.

H.G. Wells, Isaac Asminov, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Kurt Vonnegut — they’ve all written famous science fiction books that focus on time travel. Wells’ Time Machine dates back to 1895, before Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and before the ideas behind black holes and wormholes existed.

Traveling in time to alter our destinies has been a pop culture fascination for a long time. Many superheroes have experienced time travel in different ways. Superman could go back in time by flying around the world quickly enough to reverse Earth’s rotation. Similarly, The Flash could travel fast enough to go back in time. Even the mutant, Wolverine, traveled back in time in X-Men: Days of Future Past to change the fate the world.

The plot lines involved in time travel and jumping through alternate realities are not easy to follow and are even more difficult to write. This lesson takes a look back in time at how some science-fiction stories have rules and a structure to the way time and alternate universes function within their fictional world and how you can create your own narrative structure to write your own tight story involving parallel universes and time travel.

The_Force tn

The Science of The Force

The Force
What is The Force in the Star Wars universe? Could we as humans, here on planet earth, ever dream of having such power at our fingertips? To answer that we need to look at what The Force is, and how the rules that define it compare to what is known about the world we live in.

“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

In Star Wars, The Force is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy. The power of The Force can be used by individuals who are sensitive to it, a power that is tapped through the midi-chlorians.

Midi-chlorians are microscopic, intelligent lifeforms that live within the cells of all living beings in the Star Wars Universe. The Force spoke through the midi-chlorians, allowing certain beings to use the Force if they were sensitive enough to its powers.

The two main practitioners of The Force are the Jedi and the Sith. Usage of the Force grants a number of useful powers, such as the ability to sense impending attacks; to push and lift physical objects; influence the thoughts of others, known as the “Jedi mind trick”; and even see the future or maintain one’s consciousness after death. Dark side users strong with the Force could summon lightning from their fingertips. Jedi taught younglings that the Force could be used for many purposes, including protection, persuasion, wisdom, the manipulation of matter and the performance of great physical feats.
Earth Forces
So, that being said, how does this compare with the laws of physics in our world? The closest thing we have to an energy field that is all around us, is the electromagnetic force.  It is one of the four known fundamental forces and is a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles.

The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life above the nuclear scale, with the exception of gravity. Roughly speaking, all the forces involved in interactions between atoms can be explained by the electromagnetic force acting on the electrically charged atomic nuclei and electrons inside and around the atoms, together with how these particles carry momentum by their movement.

If elevated levels of electromagnetism were directed at certain areas of the brain, this can affect people mentally.  If you direct magnetic fields at different parts of the brain you get all sorts of responses.  They can be used to pacify a subject, make someone hallucinate, can even be used to alter someone’s sense of morality.

Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream…it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

Science Fiction? Or just Science?
According to physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, aspects of the force are being developed today.  We can now begin to decipher the outlines of thinking via the electroencephalogram (EEG) and the MRI, which gives us living pictures of thoughts ricocheting like a ping pong ball inside the brain.  We now have computers that can read these thoughts.  In Japan, we even have a device that allows you to see what you are seeing on a small scale – like seeing a memory on a computer screen.  Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream, for example.  According to Dr Kaku, it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

We can’t exactly use electromagnetism to move people’s bodies at our will, but we know certain parts of the brain are connected to certain parts of the body, and we’ll be able to energize them, perhaps, with electromagnetic radiation.  So we’ll be able to actually manipulate arms and legs of a person, simply by using electromagnetic radiation beamed into the brain.  This technology is very primitive at the present time, but we’re getting there very fast.

If electromagnetic forces are the key to unlocking our own Force like abilities within the rules of physics on earth, then we need something to be able to direct or utilize that force whenever we desire.  There is already an example in nature of a creature that is able to process or read electromagnetism all around it – sharks and other cartilaginous fish.

Sharks have the Ampullae of Lorenzini, electroreceptors that form a network of jelly-filled pores in their nose. This organ allows them to detect the electromagnetic fields of the objects around them.  They can sense great disturbances, like a ship with a large magnetic field, or small ones like a fish they’d like to eat that’s nearby.  Perhaps if we had some biological enhancement, like the Ampullae of Lorenizini, or if midi-chlorians somehow became a real thing, we’d be able to read and understand, maybe even use the electromagnetic forces around us.

What is known about our physical world is fascinating, and the forces that are all around are fantastical in their own right. With understanding, and when taken to the next level through technology and research, our world could be closer to the science fictional world of Star Wars.

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The Ethics and Moral Dilemma of Superheroes

Essentially, the question for every superhero is whether the ends justify the means.

 

Both Batman and Superman refuse to kill their enemies, thus allowing them to cause even more havoc in the future. Batman pushes away those who care about him the most, Superman hides his true identity by lying to his friends and loved ones. Superheroes face a slew of ethical dilemmas, not the least of which is the fact that most of them are vigilantes—breaking the law even while saving the day.

batman killer06

We often view comic book stories as simple cases of hero vs. villain, but such a perspective takes for granted the idea that superheroes are the good guys. In fact, moral virtue is a complicated concept, and what doing the right thing means depends on your perspective. There are nonetheless two main schools of thought on what makes an action right or wrong:  deontology, which categorizes actions as good or bad in themselves, and consequentialism, which classifies each action based on its results. Essentially, the question for every superhero is whether the ends justify the means.

There was quite a bit of controversy around the amount of destruction caused by Superman in the film Man of Steel. Many felt such destruction could have been avoided, and it was also left unclear how many people perished as a result of his battle with Zodd, whose death also left people questioning Superman’s moral foundation. This issue will probably inform the plot of the upcoming film Batman v Superman where Batman will question Superman’s regard for human life.

Superman destruction

 

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Take Oliver Queen on Arrow, for example. He starts out as brutal vigilante who kills his enemies without hesitation. His mission is to avenge his father by taking out the criminals who had plunged Starling City into lawlessness. After the death of his best friend, Oliver decides to rededicate himself to saving the city, but he believes that in order to do so, he must become a hero called the Arrow and give up killing.

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On the show, this shift is presented as a positive decision, but is it really? He no longer murders people, but many of the criminals he puts away end up escaping and hurting more people. Is it more important for the Arrow to provide a positive example or for the villains to be stopped permanently?

Oliver himself realizes the shortcomings of his no-kill rule: when faced with a choice between allowing a villain to harm one of his loved ones and killing the culprit, Oliver invariably chooses to compromise his principles in the name of protecting his family and friends. This inconsistency reflects the tricky questions superheroes face as well was the difficulty of putting ethical principles into practice.

What do you think? Should superheroes strive to do the right thing or focus on protecting innocents no matter the cost? Or should they try to find a balance between the two?

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Star Wars: Should Fan Fiction be Added to the Star Wars Canon?

Canon is the material of a story that is accepted as official and is decided upon by the creator of the story or the person or business that owns the story.

star wars 2016_Celebration_KEY_ART

What’s Wrong With The Star Wars Prequels?

Before Star Wars exploded into the franchise it is today, it started with three movies: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. A whole universe of stories written by a whole slew of authors branched out from these movies. Then the official prequels were made. There are many diehard fans who hated the Star Wars Prequels; the boring plotlines, the demystification of the world, and the overuse of green screen and CGI. Above all, the poorly developed characters are widely considered to be George Lucas’ worst offense. Since the celebrated release of The Force Awakens and the upcoming release of Rogue One, there has been a rise of positivity around the prequels. This may be because fans want to protect the Star Wars franchise.

 

Can’t Keep The Stories Straight? You Need A Canon!

Star Wars is just one of the many epic franchises out there. Star Wars, like a myriad of other celebrated stories such as the Avengers, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have inspired numerous official and unofficial prequels, sequels, and spin-offs. These narrative creations have taken a variety of forms; from fan-fiction and fan YouTube videos to television series, video games, and books. With so many elements and sub stories, it can be difficult to keep up with the real storyline and know what the creators, owners, and fans actually consider the true plot and subplots for the franchise. This confusion is why canon is needed! Canon is the material of a story that is accepted as official and is decided upon by the creator of the story or the person or business that owns the story.

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We Think You Can Do Better

A lot of fans think that the Star Wars prequels spoiled the rest of the series by demystifying the working and fleshing out characters with dull uninteresting stories, character motivations and morals. Many people have postulated ways in which the prequels could have handled the characters and their storylines better, which has created whole new set of sub-stories and subplots.

Characters in any story must be, above all else, believable and consistent. And as a story grows and evolves the characters must do the same whilst retaining those qualities. In Star Wars Episode VII, The Force Awakens, we see the return of old characters and, though they have changed in many ways, we can understand how they got to that place and why their past decisions led them there. When writing about characters, respecting their consistency is integral to broadening their stories. In this lesson we will look at the Star Wars franchise in more detail and go beyond to create our own franchises with their own ever evolving cast of characters.

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