Tuesday, February 12, 2008

There and Back Again...or Not

The AP announced today that the Tolkien Trust and HarperCollins are suing New Line over the Lord of the Rings trilogy movies that were released in 2001, 2002, 2003. The Tolkien Trust was only paid $62,500 instead of the contracted 7.5% of gross revenue. If my trusty calculator works properly, 7.5% of $6 billion (worldwide gross revenue) is roughly $450 million. The Tolkein Trust's suit is for $150 million, an unlisted amount in punitive damages and the termination of any rights that New Line may have over Tolkien works.

The Tolkien Trust is a registered charity organization in the United Kingdom established by the Tolkien estate. They have given nearly $8 million to charitable causes in the past five years. Up to this point they have tried to settle the conflict out of court to no avail. A successful court battle will certainly put a lot of food on hobbitses' plates around the UK.

A side effect of the lawsuit is that it might put an end to the production of The Hobbit, which was slated to be filmed in 2010. It's a pity that fans of the book and Peter Jackson's silver screen adaptations will lose out as well. I wonder if New Line will be pulling the Hobbit announcement off their home page?

Read the AP article >

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

American Gods

Neil Gaiman's American Gods is a unique fantasy presented in modern times. The concept is that all of the gods that throughout history people have brought brought to America exist physically as well as metaphysically. These old gods have slowly been displaced by people worshiping the modern gods of TV, Internet, et al. Things are coming to a head and the unlikely ex-convict character Shadow takes the readers along for the ride.

I was very much looking forward to American Gods after reading all of the hype on it but felt let down. It's not an issue with the writing, which I enjoyed, but the plot and characters. Gaiman certainly shows diversity and creativity, but to what point?

I have put thought into Shadow as a character and come to believe that he was written flatly in order to believably accept all of the hurdles that were thrown at him. But, in the end this left me not very invested in the main character of the story, and feeling like he was a gimmick. All the the supporting characters seemed to share personalities as well: Mr. World/Town/Stone/Wood/etc. were but many instances of one character; the modern gods seemed to have the same haughty and vehement attitude; the old gods the same resistive, ostrich-head-in-the-sand mentality. With the differences in the origination of each god, I expected more diversity in their character as well.

The plot was all over the place which made me feel overwhelmed and wondering what the point was. Every conflict seemed to, ironically, be resolved with a deus ex machina. I guess one could accept this since most of the characters were gods, but I prescribe to the idea that if a gun is fired in act three, it should be on the mantle-piece in act one.

I have yet to complete the book, so my impressions may change (not likely considering how others came away from the book), but I currently feel like I do upon finishing a half-hour sitcom: mildly entertained and regretting the time I wasted. For those who enjoy Gaiman's writing, I would suggest Christopher Moore. I had the same impression from his writing: entertaining, witty and very unique in plot.

Adapted from one of my posts on The Sword and Laser.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Next Generation of Solar Cell

Conventional solar cells are expensive to produce and inefficient. They are produced with silicon and exotic materials which attempt to boost their effectiveness. In truth, the typical solar cell captures only about 20% of the potential solar energy and, obviously, are completely ineffective after the sun has set.

A group from the National Idaho Laboratory is attempting to change that. Their new solar cell design is made up of tiny spiraling antennas printed on a thin film. Each "nanoantenna" is about 1/25 the thickness of a human hair, and made up of common materials. The result is a thin, flexible and cheap solar cell that is 80% effective and can collect energy for hours after sunset.

The solar cells collect energy through resonance, the same way a television antenna picks up a signal. The difference is that the nanoantennae is designed on a scale to capture infrared waves. The key is that as the Earth heats up, it gives off infrared waves which can be collected by the antennae for several hours after sundown. Collecting energy from both the sun and the Earth is the key to its effectiveness.

The only hurdles that the group has left is perfecting the design of the cells and developing a way to convert the energy into a form that is usable. The energy produced by the solar cells is AC and fluctuates 10,000 billion times a second. This is much too often for typical appliances which run off of AC that fluctuates 60 times per second. The only perceivable way of collecting the energy is to develop a rectifier that can handle the fluctuations and turn it into DC which could be used to charge batteries.

Read more on the Idaho National Laboratory Web site.