science, video

Time Dilation with Carl Sagan

Google street-view mock-up of final scene of The Planet of the Apes.

Image created by Brook Boley

Remember the scene where Charlton Heston finds the remains of the Statue of the Liberty? In The Planet of the Apes, I mean. Sorry, I just gave the ending away. It’s a classic trope (the “Earth all along“). And it’s a classic pop culture reference to time dilation.


I recently ran across Carl Sagan’s explanation of time dilation, the phenomenon in which perspectives of time can vary–the concept of relativity that Einstein laid out. The most famous example being the relative slowing of time as you move faster—basically, the reason why Charlton Heston’s mission aboard the Icarus was 18 months for him but more than 2000 years back on Earth, during which time apes evolved, learned English, and took over.

Relative velocity isn’t the only cause of time dilation, but it’s the one Carl Sagan discusses here. The other big factor is gravity—the closer you are to a major source of gravity, like a planet, the slower time passes for you relative to objects farther from the planet.

This is from episode 8 of Sagan’s famous Cosmos series (which I’ve never actually seen). I like the pastoral Italian setting, and especially the opening scene in which Sagan uses a near-collision to illustrate his first point about the speed of light. And while the time dilation thought experiment has a certain poignance, I love the way Sagan supercharges his pronunciation of the Italian names Paolo and Vincenzo. He sounds more Italian than the Italian kids.


[Photo illustration by Brook Boley from Gizmodo’s “50 of the Most Insane Things Never Seen on Google Street View“]

China, cool, video


I haven’t been watching the Olympics, mainly because the rabbit-ears on our television don’t pick up NBC. But if I were, I’m sure I’d be just as disappointed with NBC as everyone else seems to be–the tape delays, the incessant commentary. Since NBC is blocking international video feeds online, I can’t see any that way, either (the software NBC streams is created by Microsoft and requires a PC or an Intel Mac). So I’ve missed out on the counterfeit fireworks, the counterfeit singer, the allegedly counterfeit 16-year-old gymnasts, [update 8/15: counterfeit ethnic children, too!] and all the other hijinks.

One thing I don’t regret missing, though, is the promotional marketing that NBC must be constantly playing. Boring, I’d guess, but designed to appeal to everybody. Boring. So points to BBC SPORT for choosing something inventive, and specific. That’s Monkey. Fans of Damon Albarn and the Gorillaz will be pleased.

A high-res version with more info is available at the BBC.

While we’re at it, here’s an old favorite:

Asia, history, journalism, lost, video

Panic in Da Nang, 1975.

Before the fall of Saigon, there was the loss of Da Nang, a major port city and host to American military forces during the Vietnam War. As North Vietnamese forces approached the city, residents tried to evacuate.

For a little more information that covers some of the technical details–fuel loss, passenger load, etc.–click on the video (or here) to read the summing up that accompanies the piece on YouTube. Have been thinking about the Vietnam War lately–less because of Iraq than because John Peabody is working on a story about the Hmong community in California. 

P.S.: Sometimes journalists, these days, wonder what the best medium is to tell a story. An event like this can, and probably should, be told many ways. But it’s clear that to get it fast and make it pack a punch, video (or probably film, in those days) is the way to go.

Via Kottke.
China, consumption, environment, international, journalism, video

Get To Know Your Electronic Waste

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but friend and colleague Michael Zhao has posted his multimedia project on electronic waste in China online in documentary form. He starts in California, where trashed computers are dismantled and, occasionally, recycled. More often they’re sent over to China, where men, women, and children pick them apart for materials that might be of value. My first glimpse of all this was when Michael was putting the piece together and he showed me footage of toxic-looking orange-colored smoke rising from tubs of chemicals as workers extracted gold from circuit boards. Here’s a three-and-a-half minute preview:

Josh Chin gives more of the back story here.

Andrew Leonard at Salon sang its praises here.

Michael talks about the project for the Asia Society, where he now works, here.

And you can view the whole thing here.

China, corruption, development, energy, international, journalism, video

China: Undermined

Check out Duane Moles’s video report “China: Undermined,” part of FRONTLINE/World’s online “Rough Cuts” series. I reported the story with him and Wu Nan last March in southern Shanxi Province.

Below, a photo I took of damage from underground coal mining in the home of a villager.

Damage from Coal Mines

A few more pictures here. More available soon, I hope.

cool, money, movies, music, race, video

It’s a Mad World

As is customary when wasting any significant amount of time on YouTube, I stumbled across a cute enough little animation about an ambitious, yearning kiwi. And then another version of the same cartoon, this time with the Gary Jules/Michael Andrew song “Mad World” dubbed on top. It all seemed suitably angst-ridden. Kiwi and other videos, plus attempted exegesis, after the jump. Continue reading

international, politics, unfortunate, video

Saint Petersburg Players

Bringing together some of the most powerful people on the planet sounds like the makings of something great. Doing that in the summertime light of St. Petersburg, Russia, where the sun sets at 11 p.m., must be ideal: the heads of state at the G-8 can stay up late playing cards, hashing out the world’s problems, talking philosophy. They might make strides on trade and energy, as everyone hoped. The possibilities: amazing. Today, the New York Times‘s editorial board put it all in perspective: “There could hardly have been a better moment for the annual meeting of the Group of 8 to prove its worth. Instead, it showed how pointless and embarrassing these gatherings have become.”

In the last few years, it seems, big things tend to happen when the G-8 Summit is taking place. The thing is, they aren’t usually happening where the G-8 Summit is taking place. Granted, one of the things that occurs, with varying degrees of success, is a protest. Organizers have pretty much neutralized that by keeping demonstrators far away from the meeting and the media, with the exception of the summer of 2001, in Genoa, Italy, when the Italian police responded forcefully to people protesting corporate globalization, resulting in riots, damage, and the death of one protester. But consider last year, when Britain hosted the summit at Gleneagles, Scotland. Blair had hoped to get a unified statement on the need to combat global warming, among other issues, and Londoners were celebrating their designation as host of the 2012 Olympics, announced on July 6. But then, on July 7, during the summit, 52 people were killed on London’s subway and train system by coordinated attacks by suicide bombers.

This year, G-8 season is dominated by the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah (based in Lebanon–the distinction made here about who is fighting whom is a careful one). Somehow, the conflict remained on simmer for much of the World Cup, when the world wouldn’t have been watching, and then exploded about a week ago, when the world would. And to hear most commentators describe the international response, one gathers that the G-8 fiddled while Beirut burned.

The question of how quickly to respond to a given situation is one that has dogged the Bush administration since September 11, 2001. Critics have been vocal about how the White House is slow to take action or make public statements in disasters or conflicts not of its own making: September 11th, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina. While some point out that first responders are trained to walk rather than run to an emergency so as to better assess the situation, those seven minutes Bush spent in kindergarten are painful to behold. (And in addition to criticisms of Bush’s slow diplomacy, some are criticizing how slowly Americans are being evacuated out of Lebanon. Those evacuees had also been asked to reimburse the government up to $200 for their passage to Cyprus, a fee the State Department eventually reversed course on.)

“So why the wait?” asks Fred Kaplan, who writes the War Stories column at Slate, about Bush’s slow Middle Eastern diplomacy. The potential for escalation is great, and anticipated: the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force noted that if Hezbollah did not return the two soldiers it abducted, “we will turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years.” Kaplan posits some answers to his own question:

There are two possible reasons, neither mutually exclusive. First, Bush may not yet have decided what to do, and there’s no point sending Rice—who would clearly be speaking with the president’s authority—if she has no position to offer. Second, Bush may be in no hurry to put this fire out; he may want the Israeli government to gain more leverage, to twist Hezbollah’s arm tighter, before pressuring them both to the negotiating table.

Kaplan, like other observers, points out that Bush’s options are limited because he has cut off diplomatic ties with Syria and Iran, who might be able to tell Hezbollah to stop what it’s doing. That’s why he needs Kofi Annan and the U.N. to step in, part of what Bush’s lunchtime chat with Tony Blair was about, when Bush famously used the word “shit” to describe Hezbollah’s actions. (This came after the Bush’s decision on making closing remarks: “Just gonna make it up. I’m not going to talk too damn long like the rest of them. Some of these guys talk too long.” After asking Chinese president Hu how long his flight home would be: “Eight hours? Me too. Russia’s a big country and you’re a big country.” And after thanking Prime Minister Blair for his birthday present: “Thanks for the sweater. Awfully thoughtful of you. I know you picked it out yourself.” Blair’s response: “Oh, absolutely.”)

And that may be how we remember St. Petersburg 2006: as a blooper reel of diplomatic outtakes and hijinks, if we remember it at all. The BBC transcript of their conversation, for example, begins with Bush greeting Blair: “Yo, Blair.” The transcript also drily notes Bush’s table manners:

Blair: Because I think this is all part of the same thing…

Bush: (with mouth full of bread) Yeah

Here’s some video (note at the end, Blair looks at the microphone while Bush is talking and says, “Is this…?” and then cuts the sound.)

The Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci spotlights the Bild-Zeitung’s headline “Bush: Love Attack on Merkel!” (Bush: Liebes-Attacke auf Merkel!)

And, in a favorite exchange, Putin has a witty retort to Bush’s Russia criticism. The crowd eats it up.