Thursday, March 17, 2016

Monolith Metrics - Component Two

Whether it was Arthur C. Clarke or Stanley Kubrick who came up with the shape of the Cosmic Swiss Knife (hint: it was Kubrick), it was Clarke who posited the most important question about the slab: why should we assume the monolith is a three-dimensional object?

After Clarke finished his Odyssey Sequence tetralogy, it had become clear the monolith was more than a a mere black block.

During the production of 2010, author Clarke disclosed to director Peter Hyams what he thought the monolith was: nothing less than "the Cosmic equivalent of a Swiss army knife." Thusly the monolith can be best described as a meta-machine; the ultimate gadget that will tailor itself according to whatever task it must bring about.

The slab performs many ostensibly unthinkable feats: it self-replicates ceaselessly upon demand (in 2010), it blots out the sun when necessity dictates (in 2061), it annihilates life at its discretion (in 3001), it bends space-time when needed (anytime, anywhere), and perhaps most conspicuously acts as a travelling agent to the stars.

Porta Exotica

The monolith is explicitly mentioned in 2001: A Space Odyssey as a "Star Gate". In physicist parlance the monolith would be called a wormhole.

A wormhole allows a
photon to take a shortcut.
The first such were the so called Einstein-Rosen bridges, based on a 1935 paper by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen. They noticed general relativity allows for what they dubbed 'bridges', linking distant locations of space-time; these bridges are nowadays referred to as wormholes.

Previously scientists were convinced that bridges - if they are spontaneously formed - will only exist for extremely short moments before collapsing upon themselves. As a matter of fact, Einstein's theory of relativity predicts such bridges must exist every/somewhere in the Universe, spontaneously popping in and out of existence. However, with the introduction of so called 'exotic matter' - theoretical matter with negative energy - it could excathedra be possible to maintain such a bridge indefinitely. If the exotic matter could be controlled as normal matter with positive energy, an Einstein-Rosen bridge could be maintained by "holding it open," effectively creating a portal allowing for seemingly faster-than-light (FTL) travel. The traveling would actually not be faster than light, but would only seem so due to the shortcut properties of the bridge.

Exotic matter is perhaps not as exotic as we assume. Negative energy can be produced in laboratory conditions by the Casimir Effect, where two plates are placed next to each other, nanometers apart. Vacuum is not "empty" (in the vernacular nomenclature), but full of quantum fluctuations, an immense amount of untappable energy. (The energy amount is truly enormous, conservative evaluations estimate the amount to be 1x10^42 Joules per cubic meter, which translates to one million trillion trillion trillion Joules, or the energy needed to reduce roughly 10 billion Earths to clouds of dust orbiting the Sun.) The electromagnetic waves caused by these fluctuations will not "fit" between the plates - their wavelength is "longer" than the distance between the plates - and thus the 'artificial vacuum' between the plates will contain less total energy than 'normal vacuum', in other words negative energy.

Thus the monolith might be constructed by exotic matter, explaining why it is "impenetrable" to all human attempts at cracking it. There exists one crux, however.

Linked black holes.
Both ends - or 'mouths' - of the bridge must, according to the Einstein-Rosen theory, be black holes. And very specific black holes at that. In the same 1935 paper, the venerable scientists postulated the black holes might be aspects of "black hole solutions with no matter." The 'matter' needed is either a past or future singularity, no present singularity is needed for the mathematic model to work.

There is one problem with the Einstein-Rosen bridges, however. While Dave Bowman might enter the wormhole from a place located in, say, another galaxy, and Frank Poole would enter the wormhole at the monolith orbiting Jupiter, they would both meet in the middle, but they would both be annihilated at a then-present singularity. In fact, any matter traversing the so called ultrastatic wormhole always results in a black hole.

What's even worse, the singularity - which is "shared" between the two black holes - will almost invariably spontaneously split into the two separate black holes at the point of the gravity wells in the space-time fabric. And yes, the split happens at a speed faster than light. It's better if you don't think about it too much. Any any case, not a pleasant option for intergalactic travel.

I don't think any insurance would cover it, either.

Sailing with Scharnhorst

A further anomality that can allow faster than light travel is a peculiar effect predicted by Klaus Scharnhorst; a photon can - in a very special set of circumstances - travel faster than light. It is not much faster, in fact it is 1 part in 10^36, but it is there.

Bending of space-time, courtesy of Douglas Trumbull.

Regardless of how much faster the photon might travel, any such effect can be multiplied indefinitely, setting no theoretical upper speed limit on relocation.

The effect is in fact poorly understood, but one of the possible explanations is that the photons really never travel faster than C, the speed of light - exactly as expected, and in no violation of causality - but the space "around" them is undefined, or rather defined as "moving". The reference system in which the photon is travelling is thus moving, or more precisely bent. In such a case, any and all movement within the system will still clearly be within the confines of the Cosmic speed limit of C, but that it is the fracturing of space-time itself within the system that allows for the seemingly impossible to occur.

The effect has been further examined by Miguel Alcubierre, and his Alcubierre metric relies on the creation of negative mass "bending" the space fabric in front of the point being moved. This allows the moving point to travel at the speed of C within a set of space with is itself "moving" while being bent by negative mass.

So, what does superluminal (faster than light, or FTL) speeds have to do with wormholes?

It's Full of Tachyons

Well, in 1967 Gerald Feinberg presented a 'tachyon hypothesis' in The Physical Review, essentially stating that superluminal speeds are not just possible, but probable, and most probably (bad pun intended) essential. Feinberg did concede that to bring any particle to the speed of light would give that very particle infinite kinetic energy, i.e. more energy than the combined energy of the Universe, but he proceeded to calmly offer undeniable evidence that the speed of light is in fact the only impossible speed. Superluminal speeds, i.e. faster than light are prefectly acceptable. The proposed superluminal tachyon particles are forever divorced from the subluminal Universe by the unbreakable "wall of light."

A block of negative matter, no less.

Now, going further down the rabbit produces some rather peculiar effects. Regardless of this permanent divorce, the nature of said tachyons put great strain on causality: a tachyon ray would hit it's target before it has even been fired, triggered tachyon relays send signals to their own past only if they will not have received a signal from their own future self, and so on. This means superluminal tachyon scalar fields can never relay subluminal signals. However, tachyon condensate - the spontaneous shedding of particles in order to lower energy - could be controlled by the already mentioned exotic matter, which as you recall is matter with negative energy. Hereby the shedded particles, the quanta of the scalar field - free bosons - seemingly remain fixed in a non-movable time frame, producing the perhaps somewhat surprising effect known as instantaneous signal transfer to any point in the Universe. Signal transfer is, of course, just a fancy word we feel compelled to use when we really mean 'traveling'. In science fiction this is also known as teleportation.

The monolith is many things. Some are complex. Some even more so. Out of all things it seems to be, perhaps being a star gate is the simplest.

The other things not so much.

Images copyright ©1968 MGM, ©2011 PBS, ©2013 ShutterStock.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

2001 versus 2010

The two Odysseys are either 9 years apart or 16 years apart, depending on your chosen Universe. What happened in the gap then again relies on which reality you are thinking of.

When Peter Hyams set out to produce and direct 2010: The Year We Make Contact, he found out Kubrick (or someone else) had everything from the previous movie - the sets, the miniatures, the props - destroyed.

Speculations about why exactly Kubrick (or someone else) did so have made appearances ever since the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey wrapped up. What is seldom mentioned is that it is standard procedure to wreck movie sets after principal photography is concluded. If the shooting sets were kept indefinitely sound stages across the planet would be crammed to the rafters with set after set, continuously adding one more for every movie ever made. There seems to exist a tendency to ascribe sinister reasons for many behaviors. In this case, however, it seems it is not warranted. In fact Stanley Kubrick told 2010 special effects supervisor Richard Edlund before the recreation of the Discovery began that "the [Discovery] models were left in England in storage [and that] finally M-G-M didn't want to absorb the storage charges for them anymore and decided to destroy them." So it was 'someone else' that had them destroyed, after all. And that 'someone else' was none other than the production company.

Kubrick was not entirely unimpeachable regarding wanton destruction, though. When Hyams' crew began planning and building the sets they were told Kubrick had incinerated the plans for the sets as well. The obvious solution was then to create entirely new floor and building plans for a re-created Discovery. The only reference the crew could use was the film itself. Production designer Albert Brenner and his team used 70 mm blow-ups from the original movie as reference pictures for their recreations. Here we will take a look at just how well they managed to copy the designs of 2001.

While there are some anecdotes floating around on the web about re-creating the 2001 centrifuge, I have it on rather good authority (production designer Albert Brenner himself) that recreating the centrifuge was never even considered. When producer and director Hyams wrote the script he realized the centrifuge would have eaten such a huge chunk - a projected $10 million - of the $28 million budget, and for very little screen time, he rather quickly decided the team would not rebuild it. Cost-per-frame would simply have been too massive. (The same reasoning gave the Leonov its spinning middle section: filming actors in constant zero-G would have cost too much.) The pod bay, the command bridge, the 'brain room' of HAL, and the access corridors were the set pieces the production team rebuilt, four reconstructions in all.

The monitors

The 2001 bridge above, the 2010 bridge below.

The first thing viewers often notice is the change in Discovery's monitors. These are visible in a couple of places: the command bridge, the pod bay, and there is even one in the 'brain room'. The monitors in the previous movie were rear projected animations, which made the monitors appear as flat screens. However the monitors in 2010 are ordinary Sony CRT monitors. There are anecdotes about Kubrick pondering whether or not to use actual CRT monitors in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the way they appeared in 1964 to 1966, but ultimately deciding to use rear projection and Douglas Trumbull's hand made animations. [There exists one (1) computer animation in 2001: A Space Odyssey. See if you can spot it.] There are also anecdotes about Hyams doing the exact opposite, pondering whether on not to use rear projection as in the previous movie, or whether to go with CRT monitors. As we know he decided on the latter - ultimately the decision was made in cooperation with the effects crew - giving 2010 the look it has today. Hyams wanted a specific look for the Leonov, and hired the Los Angeles based company Video Image to create the computer monitor animations. The same monitor setup was then also used on the Discovery. The decision was very logical given the year the movie was made - 1984 - but it mercilessly dates the movie, making it a child of it's time, in contrast to the more timeless epic that 2001: A Space Odyssey is. We cannot really blame Hyams for this, there was no way of predicting in 1984 the flat screens of 2010, and the fact is Kubrick simply made a lucky guess.

Another small change that can be noticed is the HAL panel: the panel is slightly differently colored, and the trim surrounding the screens has changed from black to white in 2010.

The CRT monitors are of course not restricted to the Discovery alone. The Leonov set is littered with them, too, but the Russian ship is exclusive to 2010. The Leonov is a case of sui generis and thus will not be examined here.

The bridge

Aftward view of the bridges.

The aft part of the bridge has also had some major reconstruction. The side walls filled with gauges, buttons and meters are all gone, and the door towards the centrifuge access does not seem to have any function, nor does it even look the same. In 2001: A Space Odyssey the door had horizontal ridges from side to side, in 2010 the access door is plain white flatness.

The button panels on the outer sides of the seats are also gone, and interestingly seat belts have been added.

Another major difference is the topography differences of the two different Discovery ships. This is apparent in the scene where Heywood Floyd confronts Dave Bowman as the ethereal Starbeing. Bowman exits the bridge toward the left of the screen - looking backwards this is the starboard side of the Discovery vessel - via an opening. In the original there existed no such opening and even if one were there, such an exit would lead straight into the 'brain room' of HAL.

The Pod Bay

The 2001 and 2010 pod bays.

The pod bay is the other big set piece reconstructed from 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are numerous differences between the sets, and a select few will be presented here.

The velcro mats on the floor - which both Frank Poole and Dave Bowman never step outside of in the 1968 movie - are now replaced by a black, glossy paint. Also, white squares and round shapes have appeared on the raised parts of the floor. In contrast the round fuel dispensers for the pods have disappeared from the ceiling. The outer doors are no longer beveled in 2010, as they were in 2001: A Space Odyssey.


HAL as he appears 9 or 16 years apart, depending on your chosen reality.

The HAL console in the pod bay of 2010 is quite different from the 2001 version; the dimensions of the computer desks are quite unsimilar. The 2010 console is much deeper than the earlier 1968 version, mostly to be able to hold the CRT monitor. In 1968 the monitor ratio was exactly 1:1, in 1984 it had become the standard 3:4 ratio. Compared to the younger HAL, the older console seems much more elegant. Again, the HAL panel is differently colored, and has slightly wider dimensions.

The later variant also adds a grey keyboard, something that was not present on the original Discovery spaceship in any form (in fact, the only extant keyboard in 2001 is an organ keyboard in the centrifuge shown only in passing); in the earlier rendition the HAL console hosted a flat screen in the same position. Naturally there are other, rather irrelevant divergences, such as the types of lights and switches used, but those are insignificant.


Accessways in 2001 and 2010.

One thing 2010 adds to the topology of the Discovery is another accessway. When Heywood Floyd is following the ethereal Starbeing that was Dave Bowman down into the pod bay, he is walking towards a big, red '1' at the end of an accessway, clearly marking this as 'Accessway One'. Later in the movie HAL informs Heywood Floyd that engineer Walter Curnow is in 'Accessway Two', this is also shown with a big, blue '2' at the end of the corridor where Curnow is sitting holding Maxim's hat. The velcro strips are gone, too.

The storage lockers, clearly visible on the walls of the accessway, are gone in the later variation.

The way the Discovery is configured, these two scenes present some problems. Accessway One would be, according to 2001 topology, a cul-de-sac. There would be no way for Heywood Floyd to enter it, except through the door shown, there simply are no other exits. The other problem is that there simply is not enough space inside the hull of the Discovery to host an additional structure as large as Accessway Two. It is never made explicit where this mysterious Accessway Two resides, and it was in fact introduced solely for purposes of script writing. In fact there was a complete scene with dialogue between Heywood Floyd and Walter Curnow shot in Accessway Two that never made it to the final cut. Model supervisor Mark Stetson said "there were other parts of the ship that you never saw in the first film, so we had to assume a symmetry or do whatever we wanted, depending on the physical requirements of the model."

HAL's Brain Room

Dave Bowman and Dr. Chandra visiting the 'brain room'.

The 'brain room' of HAL has some minor differences, too. During Dr. Chandra's revival efforts he interacts with HAL via a keyboard. This is yet another of the many keyboards that are introduced on board the Discovery in 2010. In 1968 HAL had no keyboard interfaces anywhere. In fact, in 1968 there were no keyboards on board the American spaceship at all. None that we know of, at least.

The 'brain room' of 1968 also housed six flat screen monitors, it is via one of these Dave Bowman finally learns the details of the Jupiter mission when HAL starts playing the pre-recorded video in its death throes. The six flat screens are nowhere to be seen in 2010, but a CRT monitor has been added.

There are naturally other differences, too. They range from the negligible to the minuscule to the outright ridiculous. However, the point of the reconstructed Discovery sets is to create the illusion of continuity. The sets succeed extremely well in doing so, and even when the most obvious differences are pointed out, the viewer cannot help but to be immersed into the space vehicle once again.

Production designer Albert Brenner and his team - especially designer Leslie Ekker - really did do a spectacular job. After all, Brenner and his team received an Academy Award nomination for his work.

It's hard to beat such a level of recognition.