What An Anti-Climax

It was the centre of attention for the entire world, until that is, it started with barely a whimper. And then it broke down.

On Friday, September 19, 2008, a malfunction in the Large Hadron Collider forced repairs to the giant machine, and it seems, a very large setback. The particle accelerator, the largest of its kind, had to be shut down for repairs.

An electrical link failure between the two 30-tonne superconducting magnets failed, causing a magnet quench. The failure raised the temperature from its operating temperature of -271°C up to 100 °C. Because of the sheer dimensions of the LHC, and the size of the superconducting magnets, the re-cooling and repairs are expected to take another two months.

The temperatures are colder than outer space, and take at least two months to be reached. Whereas, the repairs will only take a few days, and are necessary to steer particles along the speeds of light.

But time is not exactly what scientists have in great amounts. If the repairs and re-cooling is completed before winter, the first of the collisions can take place this year. During the winters, however, the LHC is shut down to save on energy costs and this would mean there will not be any collisions or experiments until 2009.

Scientists at CERN are not worried about this at all. Getting to this point in time, after more than 20 years and costing that reaches up to 8 billion dollars, this seems like an acceptable and expectable setback.

James Gillies, director of communications at CERN, spoke about the incident. “If you keep an eye on the big picture, we've been building the machine for 20 years. The switch-on was always going to be a long process,” said Gillies. “A year or two down the line, this moment will be a distant memory, and we'll be running smoothly.”
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles Season One

Sarah Connor Chronicles 04Image by Nick Slide via FlickrAn often overlooked aspect of the Terminator franchise is the fact that the story is about a mother and her son. It deals with the mother's determination, against all odds, to save her son's life.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles tells the story of Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) as she desperately tries to save the life of her son and the savior of humanity's future, John Connor (Thomas Dekker). Series creator Josh Friedman saw over 300 actresses for the role. He described character was someone "who embodied that spirit and who was believable in that role and not just some dolled up, Hollywood, actressy thing." Headey, an English actress, was known for her tough roles (she also starred in the film 300) and was excited about the part. What Terminator series would be complete without a terminator cyborg not on the side of the humans? Summer Glau portrays a terminator model sent back in time by Conner himself to protect him and his mother. Glau is no stranger to action or science fiction, having previously starred in the TV show Firefly and its movie, Serenity.

The first season opens shortly after the events of the second movie, Sarah and her son John are now living a relatively peaceful life with new identities. But all that peace is shattered as they are discovered by yet another Terminator from the future. Here's when Cameron (Summer Glau) steps in to save the day. Most of season one deals with Sarah, John and Cameron trying to find and destroy the computer which will eventually become Skynet. And it all ends in a season cliffhanger, when it seems that the computer is lost and Cameron apparently destroyed.

Season one, comprised of nine episodes (cut short by the writer's strike), is now out to buy.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Unfinished Business: Development Hell for Movies!

“Abandon all hope, all ye who enter.” One can only imagine what was going through Dante’s mind when he entered the door with these words etched over it. Of course, he was a character in a book (the author himself) taking the reader on a journey into the abyss and ultimately, paradise. Dante Alighieri’s fictional account looked at what life would be like in the depths of hell for us humans, but there exists another hell…one that’s especially for films.

Plagued by issues of money, creative differences, copyright issues, power-hungry stars/producers, numerous script rewrites, casting issues — agony and torture await any motion picture that should find its way here. The damned here is primarily made up of adaptations of novels, comic books, videogames, plays and musicals.

It’s an interesting lot and some have been here for quite a while whereas others not so much. Some are sequels in the making, others big budget blockbusters…you name it and it’s here. So let’s see what lies in the depths of this pit and what has braved this damnation to finally find release in the paradise of box office success.

At the top and on its way out is Tintin. The rights to this Belgian comic were bought by Steven Spielberg in the 1980s and together with Roman Polanski, they planned to make a trilogy. That plan, however, completely fell apart when Polanski and Spielberg could not agree over creative visions, and Spielberg himself not being satisfied with the scripts. But now, after almost 20 years in limbo, Tintin is about to see the light of day. In May of 2007, Spielberg announced that he will team up with director Peter Jackson (both Lord of the Rings and King Kong served their time here) and release the trilogy back-to-back by using motion capture technology and computer animation. There’s no release date yet, but it seems that this project just might find its way out yet.

Next up is a sequel-in-waiting to two action-comedy-horror blockbusters which probably will never see the light of day because of creative procrastination. Ghostbusters 3 was announced sometime in the 1990s, and though initially dismissed as a rumour, writer/acter Dan Aykroyd has been acknowledging its release. Two scripts had been drafted but eventually the project fell through because Bill Murray simply did not want to bust ghosts anymore. There are plans, however, for a videogame to be made on the scripts for the potential film.

Rendezvous with Rama, a science fiction book by Arthur C. Clarke, spiraled into film purgatory after constant production delays. Morgan Freeman originally wanted to star and produce the film through his studio, Revelation Studios, sometime in the late ’90s. Though still in pre-production status and David Fincher’s name attached, the film only continues to spiral its way down deeper into the abyssal pit.

Recent years have seen the revival of many franchises from the 1980s, Starsky & Hutch, Swat, Dukes of Hazzard, to name a few. Producer and creator Paul Maslansky announced that he was interested in reviving his franchise of the Police Academy for an eighth outing. “I felt it was time to start again. I saw that Starsky & Hutch and a number of other revivals were doing really well. Police Academy has such a great history, so I thought ‘why not’?” he told news website, UGO.com. But that was over four years ago, and there hasn’t been a mention of Police Academy 8 since.

Another TV franchise unable to escape from the pit is the Six Million Dollar Man. Optioned in the 1990s, Kevin Smith provided several treatments for the script. Then, Jim Carrey was attached to the project and by that time the film had been reduced to something completely different from the original concept into a comedic and ironic adaptation.

The space at the bottom is reserved for one of its worst sufferers. Though by no means is any one film bad than the other, since it’s all about damnation here, this film has gained a sort of notoriety because of its subject matter and those who have seen it know that this is a disaster just waiting to happen. The Day the Clown Cried is an unfinished, unreleased, motion picture originally filmed in 1972, co-written and directed by Jerry Lewis. The story tells of a former circus clown in Germany during the Holocaust who makes a deal with the Nazis after finding himself in a concentration camp. Helmut Doork (Lewis) will lure children into the gas chamber for as long as he is in the concentration camp, and Nazis will spare his life. But Doork suffers a crisis of conscience and takes matters into his own hands by walking into a gas chamber himself with the children. This sort of stuff would make the Pied Piper give up his day job.

Harry Shearer (Simpsons) spoke to Spy Magazine in 1992, about the time he got to see a rough draft of The Day the Clown Cried in 1979. “With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This film is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. ‘Oh, my God!’ is all you can say.” Shearer went on to say that he told Lewis the film was, “terrible” which of course made Lewis furious.

Joan O’Brien and Charles Denton were the original writers of the script based on O’Brien’s novel of the same name. They unanimously agreed that they would never allow this film to be released simply because of the “ridiculous” changes made to the script by Lewis. The master comedian, on the other hand, has other ideas. He has told close friends that this film “will see the light of day” and that all he needs to do is to “get some establishing shots and make the title and end credits.”

Rumour has it that the only existing copy of this film is in Lewis’ office, where he keeps it in a vault and occasionally shows it to journalists and friends. To this day no one knows where the original negatives of the film are being kept.

What if the leading punk band of its time decided to follow in the steps of the Beatles and make a film about a day in their lives? Then you’d have punk rock legends Sex Pistols, screenwriter and critic Roger Ebert, and tawdry film-maker Russ Myer making Who Killed Bambi? Only a day-and-a-half worth of footage was shot before the film’s studio saw the footage of the dailies and pulled all financing from the film and ordered all sets built to be destroyed.

Though these are just some of the damned, there are many, many more. A recent new entry Spinning into Butter, which stars Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex in the City though, a TV series, found itself in development hell due to the unwillingness of Kim Cattrall but was the biggest chick flick of 2008), has found its way into film puragtory after no studio sanctioned it for release.

There are newcomers and films that may have stayed here for forever, but there are some films that manage to escape and live an almost dream-like success life at the box office. There is a picture that found so much success after it escaped film hell that it spawned two sequels (and a fourth one in the making), a gigantic entertainment franchise, transformed its founding company from a comic book company to an entertainment company, launched the careers of its actors as blockbuster stars and established its director/producer as a Hollywood bigshot. The film is Spider-Man.

Originally a dream project for James Cameron, the film changed numerous studios, from Cannon films, to Carolco, to 20th Century Fox until finally to MGM/UA where it found itself stuck in a tangled web of litigation and legalities. It wasn’t until 1999 when there was a trade-off between MGM/UA and Sony Pictures: Sony won’t make its version of James Bond and MGM/UA will relinquish all rights of the Spider-Man franchise to Sony. Free at last, Spider-Man swung its way into box office glory after years of being entangled in a web of red tape.There you have it. Just some of the denizens of film purgatory waiting to see the light of day. There are, however, many more. All it will take for them to see salvation is time, a whole lot of money and even more determination, for the path to box office paradise is a long and tedious one.

Pakistan Studies -- The Oral History Project of Pakistan

The creation of Pakistan is considered to be an awe-inspiring yet shocking moment in time, kick-starting the somewhat tumultuous history of this nation. The generation that succeeded Partition cherished this land, born out of the sacrifice and struggle of countless lives. And although it has been like this for many generations, never has an attempt been made to archive this event...until now.

The Oral History Project (OHP) aims to archive the events leading up to, during and after Partition — and the resulting birth of Pakistan. By conducting interviews and collecting old photographs, the OHP will eventually be a kaleidoscope of information. It will be the proverbial beacon for those who wish to know more about Pakistan, its creation, the people behind it and the immense sacrifices made.

Award-winning documentary film-maker and journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is known for her documentaries and her writing. Based in Karachi as well as many cities across the globe, she has won accolades from all over the world — the most notable being the Livingston Award for journalism and being the only non-American so far to have received it.

We sit in the office of the Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP), the umbrella to the OHP and other projects, such as last year’s Shanaakht festival. Instead of some quiet neighbourhood, the office is in the heart of Karachis suburbs. Around us, a score of volunteers go about their work, tabulating and archiving eyewitness accounts, arranging interviews and gathering data. Telephones are ringing and phone calls are being made. The walls are plastered with either charts, maps or black and white photographs. On closer inspection they seem familiar

— names of places, familiar buildings and pictures of people from all walks of life at a crucial moment in our history.

It is clear that Sharmeen is perfectly at ease here and I ask her how the OHP began. “It began last year when I got a group of friends together and we realised that we have no identity as Pakistanis, and the only way we can get it is by exploring our history.” And so the nonprofit CAP was formed. “Our main objective is to preserve and archive our country’s history, and to make sure people from all walks of life have access to it.”

What was the inspiration behind this auspicious, elaborate and tedious project? Sharmeen adds, “The generation responsible for creating our country is either very old or about to pass on. If we do not start preserving their stories — the events they actually saw unfolding before their very eyes in 1947 and the ideology behind the creation of Pakistan — we’ll never be able to progress. Otherwise there will always be this question of our identity: Who we are and why was this country formed? We’re aiming to create a history database, primarily interactive, but one that will also give the seeker an academic overlook into the events.”

So far the project has had its fair share of troubles and Sharmeen is quite forthright about them, “Major funding issues…. When you think of nonprofit in Pakistan, how do you manage to come up with the money if you’re not running a hospital or a school? Most of our work is based on digital equipment. We train people to go out and conduct interview, take pictures and collect data. It is quite difficult to arrange funding.”

Funding, of course, is an important aspect of the OHP, and even though it aims to do something of national interest, there has been little to no interest from the government in CAP and its projects. “There hasn’t been a single cent that has come in from the Government of Pakistan, which is why we’re seeking out corporations, MNCs, wealthy families and asking them to donate to us because we want to be independent from the government in all aspects, including the views on Partition.” But shouldn’t the government be worried about that? “The government should be thankful to us; we’re doing something that has never been done before, not even by it,” Sharmeen says.

Even though this is probably like archaeology — carefully brushing the dust away from a prized find — Sharmeen and her team has uncovered a plethora of unheard stories. “The response we’ve been getting is fantastic. Some of the stories that have emerged have been absolutely amazing. For example, we interviewed someone who was working at a refugee camp on the border when cholera broke out and many people who had made it through the transit died in that camp, at the doorstep of freedom. We’ve also heard from people involved in mob violence, people who’ve admitted to taking part in the killings.” She goes on to tell about how this project isn’t just about politics, but also about the way of life, the physical struggles and quite literally the catharsis of Pakistan’s creation and afterwards.

“Our line of questioning right now is targeted towards the 80 something year olds, people who have been through Partition. But we’re moving beyond that,” she says. One of the things they’re trying to find out is what everyday life was like after Partition, how was life like in Karachi, Lahore? What changed? When they came over what happened? And for this they’re talking to indigenous people in their language, for example to Sindhis in Sindhi and so on and so forth. “We’re aiming for diversity, in terms of language and in terms of people.”

Is the OHP a one-sided story or are there people contacted from the other side of the border who would want to share their points of view? “We’ve been working closely with someone based in Delhi at the moment conducting interviews from the Indian side, but this is going to be a lifelong project which will continue to grow.” Although they do have connections, it is clear that Sharmeen wants CAP’s very own people to be involved no matter where the stories come from. “Once we have enough funding, we aim to send more and more volunteers across cities and villages to collect stories. We’ve just sent two people to Lahore to conduct interviews there and the idea is to send people across Pakistan eventually.”

What about the volunteers. Who are they? “Most of them are students who either have just finished their secondary education or are awaiting their results, or those who have done their Bachelors and have some time on their hands.”

Plans are already underway to build a museum that would hold all of the OHP’s collection along with storage of all the information in multimedia formats for people from all walks of life. All of this will be carried out under the watchful eye of CAP that has carefully planned out its growth; so far as to even select the location for the museum somewhere in the heart of Saddar primarily because they want everyone to have easy access to it.

After having undergone Hollywood’s spin saga treatment, tragedies involving a very large ship striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic or perhaps what happened in some concentration camp in Poland is what comes immediately to the minds of the present generation of Pakistanis when one talks of the horrors of the past. While the loss of human life in such events is immeasurable, the sacrifices of humanity’s determination should also not be forgotten. Right now, people are either saying that these are the darkest times in Pakistan’s history or the beginning of a new age.

Whichever way you choose to look at it, only the past can act like a beacon and guide us towards the future. And with people like Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and projects such as the Oral History of Pakistan, the beacon will continue to burn bright.



There was a time when it was thought that the smallest particle of matter was an atom. Uncuttable, as named by the Greeks, this particle was the basic building block of all matter. Everything is made up of atoms, the air we breathe, the water we drink, our very own bodies are made up of it. Fast forward to 1897 and physicist J. J. Thomson made a startling discovery through his work on cathode rays: he discovers subatomic particles. This effectively destroys the concept of atoms as being indivisible units and being the fundamental particles.

Everything changed from that moment. From that instance of peering into the depths of microcosm, we saw a whole new world – a universe, if you will – come to light. We saw that atoms are made of particles called protons, neutrons, and electrons; protons and neutrons are made of weird particles called quarks and gluons. Further particles were also discovered, thus the Standard Model was made and hence, Particle Physics was born.

This peeling away of the layers of the smallest particles known to man has given insight into far greater things: like the creation of the universe. How can something so small and tiny give us insight about something as massive and colossal as the very creation of the universe, that is, The Big Bang?

That is where the hunt for the most elusive particle comes into play. Scientists across the world have been hunting the particle which is theoretically responsible for the creation of the universe. It existed for the briefest of seconds when there wasn't even a concept of seconds just moments after the Big Bang (approximately one billionth of a second). It is the only particle in the Standard Model to still be theoretical and hidden from the prying eyes of humanity. Its scientific name is the Higgs boson, named so after Peter Higgs who has theorized its existence. But physicist Leon Lederman gave it another name, he called it: The God Particle.

The funny thing is, Lederman originally wanted to call it the Goddamn Particle (his publisher censored the term and renamed it) and Higgs was against the idea of attaching religion to his theory. But what is this God Particle exactly? Let's start first with the complicated definition and work our way towards the simpler one.

The Higgs boson is a particle, much like protons, neutrons, electrons, quarks and gluons and so on and so forth, but it is a highly unstable particle. It is part of a field, also theorized by Peter Higgs, called the Higgs field. This field pervades all space and the Higgs boson the carrier of it, interacting with other particles (just like the fictitious Jedi Knights from Star Wars interact with the Force). The Higgs boson is an important aspect of the Standard Model of Particle Physics—but no one's ever found it.

Theoretical physicist John Ellis is one of the scientists searching for the Higgs. Ellis explains that the Higgs field, in theory, is what gives fundamental particles mass. He offers an analogy: Different fundamental particles, he says, are like a crowd of people running through mud. Some particles, like quarks, have big boots that get covered with lots of mud; others, like electrons, have little shoes that barely gather any mud at all. Photons don't wear shoes—they just glide over the top of the mud without picking any up. And the Higgs field is the mud.

Ellis isn't the only one looking for the particle. Over 8,000 "detective" scientists from over 85 countries are polishing their magnifying glasses. On September 10th of this year, the proverbial magnifying glass of the detective scientists (nearly 27 miles long and located on the French-Swiss border) was switched on. Housed in CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator. It pushes particles, like protons, up to speeds of light and creates collisions between them.

The resulting debris from these collisions will confirm whether the Higgs boson exists or not. The particle itself is impossible to see, as it exists for the briefest of moments, but the decay rate and the remnants of the particle can be detected. This detection could confirm the predictions and missing links in the Standard Model, and could explain how particles (atoms, electrons, et al) acquire mass.

The LHC has six massive detectors all lined up across the giant ring and each detector has been given a specific task. The main tasks of the four are as follows:

ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) – The first of two general purpose detectors, its job is to look for clues of extra dimensions, the origins of mass, and signs of new physics. It will also hunt for the Higgs boson.

CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) – The second general purpose detector will, like ATLAS, will be after the Higgs boson and look for clues into the nature of dark matter.

ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) – This detector look for clues of quark-gluon plasma, a liquid form of matter that existed shortly after the Big Bang.

LHCb – Shortly after the Big Bang, it is theorized that equal amounts of matter and anti-matter were created in the Big Bang. This detector will look for clues and investigate what happened to the missing anti-matter.

The final two detectors, TOTEM and LHCf are smaller in scale and deal with specialized research.

So these are the 'unusual' suspects and the detectives, and now their games of hide and seek begins. And some say that this is quite the dangerous game. Already people have been theorizing that the LHC will create havoc and put the existence of the world in jeopardy. To put the fears of the world aside, the LHC has formed a group called the LSAG (LHC Safety Assessment Group) to address the safety issues of the upcoming experiments.

Regarding the accidental discover or making of black holes, the LSAG website states, "Speculations about microscopic black holes at the LHC refer to particles produced in the collisions of pairs of protons, each of which has an energy comparable to that of a mosquito in flight. Astronomical black holes are much heavier than anything that could be produced at the LHC. According to the well-established properties of gravity, described by Einstein’s relativity, it is impossible for microscopic black holes to be produced at the LHC."

And with regards to cosmic rays, "over the past billions of years, Nature has already generated on Earth as many collisions as about a million LHC experiments – and the planet still exists."

There is also no need to catch your breath. Although the LHC has come online, it will take about two months for it to get ready for the first proper experiment. And there are many questions that it can answer.

But some continue to speculate that we will learn absolutely nothing at all, and even that could be a good thing. In fact, Stephen Hawking, the world renowned mathematician and theoretical physicist, in a BBC interview said "I think it will be much more exciting if we don't find the Higgs. That will show something is wrong, and we need to think again. I have a bet of one hundred dollars that we won't find the Higgs." In the same interview Hawking mentions the possibility of finding super partners and adds that "whatever the LHC finds, or fails to find, the results will tell us a lot about the structure of the universe."

His statement permeates the entire scientific community which awaits any kind of results: Good or bad, find or no find. If the Higgs is found, it will prove a 40-year-old theory correct and the world will peer into the depths of its own creation. If there is no Higgs particle, it will prove that we have much to learn about the universe and that there is something even more fascinating than the God Particle that we do not know about.


The Unit

Developed by writers/producers David Mamet (Wag The Dog) and Shaun Ryan (The Shield) based upon Eric Haney's book about the Delta Force, The Unit is an action adventure TV series, charged with explosions, terrorists plots and even a sprinkle of family drama and crises.

Heavily inspired by and based around the growing supposed war against terrorism, The Unit juxtaposes the lives of the team members of the Special Forces on their dangerous missions against the lives of their loved ones back home. The format of the show isn’t driven just by stunts, explosions and terror plots, but also by real human drama and everyday life. This show is as much about family as it is about camaraderie.

At times though, certain storylines fall into the stereotype category, something seen more of in the earlier seasons than the later ones. For example, there were more Arabic speaking terrorists than any other in the first two seasons.

Dennis Haysbert (24, Major League movie series) plays the commanding officer of the Unit’s Alpha team, and his role on the show commands every scene. Haysbert is undeniably the Hannibal Smith (of the A-Team fame) of the team; charming yet determined, his character, Sergeant Major Jonas Blane thrusts a newcomer to the team into the fray of a terrorist hijacking without blinking an eye.

Scott Foley plays newcomer Sergeant First Class, Bob Brown, whose lifelong ambition has finally brought him to the infamous Unit. His first day on the job is not only a total hands-on experience but a matter of life and death. While he adjusts to the bullets that are being shot at him, his wife Kim (Audrey Marie Anderson) adjusts to being a wife of a member of the Unit. And that’s where the real drama of the series kicks in. Granted it’s not as audacious as Desperate Housewives but this is about real people in real situations.

The Unit is an action adventure drama now available on DVD.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]