Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #570 on: Aug 10th, 2010, 08:01am »
Fusion research at Iter: unlocking the power of the sun The world’s leading powers have finally agreed to finance a joint nuclear fusion project. Harry de Quetteville reports .
By Harry de Quetteville Published: 10:14AM BST 10 Aug 2010
It is one of mankind’s most daring experiments – a quest to produce virtually limitless clean energy that, if successful, would revolutionise life on Earth by harnessing the explosive power of the sun.
The energy problems that already beset our species, and look certain to dominate the future, would be wiped out at a stroke. The pollution of fossil fuels would be a thing of the past. The oil beneath the Gulf of Mexico could remain, safely unmolested.
Such is the appeal of the idea that the greatest powers of the world, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, America and the nations of the European Union, have united to pursue the same stellar objective. Their aim is commercially viable nuclear fusion – deriving energy from crushing together the nuclei in atoms rather than splitting them, as is done currently in nuclear fission reactors.
The process at the heart of the idea is breathtakingly simple, hinging on Einstein’s most celebrated equation: e = mc2. There is just one hitch. It is not that the realisation of this dream will require an extraordinary and co-ordinated feat of technological innovation and daredevilry. It is that, until now, the world’s largest nuclear fusion project, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter), has been consuming far greater quantities than predicted of its most-needed fuel: cash.
The initial estimates, established in 2006, suggested that Iter would cost about five billion euros to build. Now the guess is that it will cost 15 billion euros. In these austere times, when countries are teetering on the edge of default and government departments are having to make huge budget cuts, it is hardly surprising that Iter has struggled to get funding to cover its dramatically rising costs.
Earlier this year, the whole project appeared to be on the brink: “I think the momentum of the project may be in very deep trouble,” one Iter scientist told Nature. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that, even if it is built, Iter will not start producing energy until the late 2020s. Even then, the electricity will not be used commercially, only to prove that the technology for commercial fusion reactors is viable.
Even the optimists at Iter recognise that the subsequent gap until commercial reactors are ready means that fusion-generated electricity won’t come online before 2040, at best. The more cautious suggest that fusion is only likely to play a role in our energy needs during the second half of this century. For cash-strapped countries, such timescales make Iter not so much a stellar achievement as pie in the sky.
“We are sceptical on fusion,” says Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK. “It is taking money away from renewables like offshore wind, solar and geo-thermal. We are fiscally constrained and there are screaming short-term needs – like decarbonising our electricity production.”
Parr suggests that Iter’s capacity to soak up funds is particularly damaging because there is no guarantee that it will even work.
“The fundamental critique of fusion,” he says, “is that it is 40 years away and always has been. We are continuing to put large quantities of money into something that may not deliver.”
But at Iter, which is due to be built in southern France, scientists insist commercial fusion is possible – and that when it is harnessed, the impact will be as revolutionary as promised.
“The challenges are extraordinary, but we want a pay-off at the end,” says David Campbell, deputy head of Iter’s Fusion, Science and Technology department. “I’m confident that Iter will emerge. From simple fuels like seawater, fusion produces huge amounts of energy with no long-lived radioactive by-products. In the long term, it could take over electricity generation.”
It is this prospect of “something for nothing” that, like the gold-producing alchemy of old, is beguiling. Energy from seawater – who wouldn’t invest?
The difference is that, unlike alchemy, nuclear fusion is a proven scientific fact. It has been happening, on a small scale, at a research centre outside Oxford since 1991.
The science is simple. The fusion process echoes that taking place in the energy-producing core of the sun. Isotopes of hydrogen called deuterium and tritium are heated until their nuclei fuse together, producing helium. As Einstein pointed out: energy = mass x the speed of light squared, or (e = mc2). As the speed of light squared is a vast number, even the minuscule loss of mass during fusion produces a massive amount of energy.
The most exciting part of the process is that only a small amount of fuel is required, and it is readily available. “Deuterium we can get from seawater, tritium is something that will be bred in the reactor itself,” says Iter’s principal deputy director general, the German nuclear physicist Norbert Holtkamp.
There are other advantages, he says: “The process itself cannot go into a chain reaction [and trigger a meltdown]. And while it does produce radioactive waste, this has a half-life of 100 to 200 years, after which the material can be reused.”
It is arguments like these – allied, perhaps, with the inevitable allure for politicians of vast, groundbreaking projects that push the frontiers of science (so much grander than windmills), that have at last secured Iter the money it needed to get built.
On July 28, the seven backers of Iter announced that they had reached a deal to finance to project. In Cadarache, in the hills of Provence, two million cubic metres of rock have been moved to create a level site 1,000m long and 500m wide.
The project’s other figures are considerably more mind-boggling. That’s because, while the science of fusion is well understood, making it happen and sustaining the reaction is vastly complex.
The hydrogen isotopes need to be heated to 150 million degrees centigrade, 10 times as hot as the core of the sun, at which point the atoms begin to disintegrate, creating plasma, an electrically charged gas.
This plasma needs to be contained while fusion occurs, but containment can only be achieved within a vast magnetic field, 50,000 times stronger than that of the Earth, generated by a piece of equipment known as a tokamak. At Iter, the tokamak is due to be built around a doughnut-shaped container containing about 1,000 cubic metres of plasma.
When it is switched on for the first time, it will produce 500 MW of thermal energy, from which it will generate nearly 200 MW of electricity, enough to power a small city. But more importantly, scientists hope that they will have ironed out the problems of fusion on such a scale, allowing for bigger, more powerful reactors that are at least as productive as current fission reactors.
Iter will eventually stand 187ft tall and weigh 23,000 tons, more than three times the Eiffel Tower. Whether it will prove such an enduring landmark of engineering remains to be seen. But one thing at least is sure. As an excited David Campbell says: “By autumn, there will be an awful lot of building work going on.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #571 on: Aug 10th, 2010, 08:04am »
Nasa could land probe on asteroid hurtling towards Earth Nasa is considering plans to land a probe on an asteroid that is on a potential collision course for Earth.
By Heidi Blake Published: 8:47AM BST 10 Aug 2010
Asteroid 1999 RQ36, which has a one-in-1,000 chance of hitting the Earth before the year 2200, would cause an explosion equivalent to hundreds of nuclear bombs detonating at once.
An analysis of its orbit has predicted that it is most likely to hit us on September 24, 2182 but scientists want to collect a sample of the rock to help forecast its trajectory more accurately.
If Nasa gives the plan the green light, the spacecraft would blast off in 2106 to map out and collect rock samples from the asteroid, which is 1,800 feet-wide.
The planned mission, called OSIRIS-Rex, is one of two finalists in competition for funding as part of the cash-strapped US space agency’s New Frontiers program.
The other contender is a mission to land on Venus. The competing plans will come under discussion at a two-day Nasa workshop in Washington DC starting on today. The winner will be announced next year.
Nasa has officially classified RQ36 as a ‘potentially hazardous asteroid’ as it passes within about 280,000 miles of Earth. Its orbit, which brings it closer to Earth, makes it easier to reach than other asteroids.
Michael Drake, who would lead the OSIRIS-Rex team if the project was chosen, said: “Being one of the easiest targets to get to coincidentally means that it also can easily hit us, too.”
Clark Chapman, a planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said an impact from RQ36 would cause a catastrophic explosion.
“It would be an enormous impact, like hundreds of the biggest nuclear bombs ever built exploding at once, creating a crater maybe 10 kilometers across,” he told National Geographic magazine.
An expert panel appointed by Barack Obama, the US president, to assess Nasa’s future space programme last year recommended bypassing the Moon in favour of a mission to land on an unidentified asteroid.
The plan mirrors the plot of the 1998 Hollywood film Deep Impact, in which the White House sends a spaceship to land on an asteroid which is hurtling towards the Earth.
The European Space Agency announced in 2008 that it plans to select a small asteroid, less than 0.6 miles across, near Earth and send a spacecraft to drill for dust and rubble for analysis.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #572 on: Aug 10th, 2010, 08:10am »
"Good morning Crys How magnificent is that!!!! Hey, ok... my imagination is working over time at present..... good thing Einstein said, "Imagination is everything" ..... But can anyone else see the man in white standing in that with his arms outstretched Thanks for those MIB links... really interesting. Luvey"
Good morning/evening Luvey/Pen, I think I see what you are referring to but I'm one of those people that can be looking right at something and come up with "duh!" so I'm not sure. Crystal
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #573 on: Aug 10th, 2010, 11:05am »
Good evening peoples. Sunny over here at the moment... I was always more of a rain-person. I think I see the MIB in the photo too but I usually see things when they aren't there, so I don't trust myself . As for the 4chan post - I love 4chan. It's plain genius. I honestly think that site could start a war. Random-Video-of-the-Day:
"Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist." Epicurus.
Good evening peoples. Sunny over here at the moment... I was always more of a rain-person. I think I see the MIB in the photo too but I usually see things when they aren't there, so I don't trust myself . As for the 4chan post - I love 4chan. It's plain genius. I honestly think that site could start a war.
Hey CA519705950, Good random video. And you aren't alone in seeing things that supposedly aren't there. Crystal
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #577 on: Aug 10th, 2010, 4:12pm »
I just got "UFO's Generals, Pilots, And Government Officials Go On The Record" by Leslie Kean. It looks like it's going to be good. Each person that is a "straight journalist" if you will, that writes a book on UFO's the closer we are to having the subject accepted by scientists and researchers. Here's a thread on the book at ATS:
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #580 on: Aug 11th, 2010, 07:54am »
New York Times
This article is the second in a series chronicling the yearlong deployment of the First Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, based in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan. The series will chronicle the battalion’s part in the surge in northern Afghanistan and the impact of war on individual soldiers and their families back home.
August 11, 2010 In Mission With Afghan Police, Issues of Trust By JAMES DAO
CHAHAR DARREH, Afghanistan — On paper, the plan for the foot patrol looked perfectly safe. A stroll through a couple of villages. Introductions to a few village elders. A two-mile drive back to the guarded walls of the Afghan police headquarters. Easy.
But the first missions of a deployment have a way of going terribly wrong. And so the company commander huddled with his platoon leader in the hours around dawn, checking potential ambush points, charting evacuation routes, worrying about every possible equipment failure.
There was one variable, however, they could do little to control: the trustworthiness of their Afghan police partners.
In small groups and to themselves, soldiers from the First Battalion, 87th Infantry, quietly fretted. Were those villages really friendly, as the Afghan police claimed? Were those roads really free of mines? What would happen if a police officer tipped off insurgent fighters to the platoon’s movements?
Just a week before, a different platoon in the battalion had hit a mine while accompanying the Afghan police along a dirt road. Some soldiers wondered whether the police had led the Americans into a trap. That possibility was quickly ruled out, because the police were in as much danger as the soldiers. But jitters remained.
“Everyone knows there is one way in and one way out,” one squad leader said. “I don’t like it.”
They call it a training mission, but for the soldiers of the 1-87, their work in Kunduz Province in northern Afghanistan is much more than that. Over a yearlong deployment that started in the spring, the battalion, part of the 10th Mountain Division, will not only try to hone the combat skills of the local police — a ragtag group of illiterate young men and aging fighters — but also accompany them into the most contested hamlets in the region.
The goal, a centerpiece of the American strategy to help the Afghan government stand alone, is to show skeptical Afghans that their police can keep them safe. But the unspoken first step in that strategy is getting the American soldiers themselves to trust the police.
In their first weeks in Afghanistan, the soldiers of the 1-87 would have to settle for something approaching faith.
The Afghan National Police have long been considered the weakest rung of the Afghan security forces, often lacking proper training, equipment, commitment and ethics, American commanders say. More important, American commanders worry that some police officers — whether willingly or under duress — conspire with insurgents.
Late last year, an Afghan police officer in Helmand Province killed five British soldiers with whom he had been working.
The Afghan security forces have their own trust issues with troops from NATO. In April, German soldiers fired on a truck carrying Afghan soldiers rushing to the aid of a German unit caught in an ambush in the Chahar Darreh district. Six soldiers died.
“We are not afraid of the enemy; we are afraid of the Germans,” the district police chief, Gulam Maideen, said.
So building mutual trust was crucial, and commanders with the battalion said the best way to do that was to be with the police night and day: “Live, train and operate,” they called it. That is what brought the Second Platoon, Delta Company, to police headquarters in Chahar Darreh on a four-day mission — the first step toward keeping American soldiers in the district full-time.
“Some soldiers worry about the national police doing something subversive to them,” said the platoon leader, Lt. Andrew McCarthy. “I’m convinced that these guys are working off the same page as us, that they want the same things as us.”
Soon enough, his platoon would test that notion.
Haven for Insurgents
The Chahar Darreh district occupies the southwest flank of Kunduz Province, where table-flat farmland fades into dusty plateau and empty desert. It is only six miles from the relatively secure bustle of downtown Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth-largest city. But it is a time zone away in terms of security.
“There is really only one bridge you can get in and out of,” said Capt. David Bell, the Delta Company commander. “So it makes for a really great insurgent safe haven.”
The district is part of northern Afghanistan’s Pashtun belt, and many villages here share the language, tribal sentiments and even Taliban sympathies of their brethren in Kandahar and Helmand.
They are not technically a combat force, but the police are expected to maintain security on a day-to-day basis — and that means fighting insurgents. Yet by all accounts, they are underequipped and understaffed to do that.
In Chahar Darreh, there are only about 50 officers to protect 63,000 people spread across nearly 500 square miles, an area the size of Los Angeles. Chief Maideen said he would need twice as many officers to begin to cover the district effectively.
But for now, the police — riding in unarmored Ford Ranger pickups and armed with little more than Kalashnikov rifles — rarely venture more than two miles from their posts, unless accompanied by German or American troops. As a result, most villages here rarely see a police officer.
After the Americans set up cots in their new barracks at the police headquarters — an unfinished concrete building with no doors, windows or electricity — they moved quickly into their first task: determining the competence of their Afghan partners.
Using packages of Meals Ready to Eat to simulate vehicles, Lieutenant McCarthy gave a lecture on convoy operations in an ambush. And then the Americans and Afghans together acted out maneuvers to counter ambushes.
The Afghans spoke no English, the Americans spoke no Dari or Pashto, and there were only two translators, neither of them fully fluent in English. Hand signals and sound effects would have to suffice. Still, the Americans came away pleasantly surprised. “These guys have definitely done it before,” said Sgt. First Class Craig Pritchard, the platoon sergeant.
Indeed, many were like the police company commander, Nyaiz Muhammad. Short, stocky and bald, with a white beard that made him look older than his 47 years, he took up arms against the Soviets in the 1980s. By contrast, his American counterpart, Lieutenant McCarthy, tall and trim at 24 with a smooth-shaven Burt Lancaster chin, was on his first deployment.
The police chief, Gulam Maideen, said what other Afghan police officers seemed to have on their minds. “I don’t want more training,” he said. “I want the Americans to fight with me.”
He got his wish. In late afternoon on the second day, a German patrol came under fire from insurgents using rocket-propelled grenades near the police headquarters. The shooting stopped and the patrol returned to the base safely. But then the Germans asked the Afghans to help secure the road to allow a second patrol to drive through the ambush point. The Afghans asked the Americans for support, and the Americans eagerly agreed. Four gun trucks rolled out behind a police foot patrol.
Barely 500 yards from the police compound a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into the wheel of one of the trucks. As soldiers jumped from the smoking vehicle, the police began shooting at insurgents across a field.
American trucks maneuvered to open fire with their .50-caliber machine guns. Another team ducked under a stone wall to provide backup fire to Afghan police officers chasing the insurgents.
The firefight, the platoon’s first in Afghanistan, was over in minutes as the insurgents scattered into the woods. But the Americans were pleased that the Afghans had been eager to fight, and the Afghans seemed thrilled that the Americans had come along.
“That’s a V,” Captain Bell told his soldiers back at the headquarters. “The chief was ecstatic. I think he was absolutely shocked, in fact, that we were willing to roll down the street and fight with him when he thought it was important to fight.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #581 on: Aug 11th, 2010, 07:58am »
New York Times
August 10, 2010 Russian Fires Raise Fears of Radioactivity By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
MOSCOW — As if things in Russia were not looking sufficiently apocalyptic already, with 100-degree temperatures and noxious fumes rolling in from burning peat bogs and forests, there is growing alarm here that fires in regions coated with fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 24 years ago could now be emitting plumes of radioactive smoke.
Several fires have been documented in the contaminated areas of western Russia, including three heavily irradiated sites in the Bryansk region, the environmental group Greenpeace Russia said in a statement released Tuesday. Bryansk borders Belarus and Ukraine.
“Fires on these territories will without a doubt lead to an increase in radiation,” said Vladimir Chuprov, head of the energy program at Greenpeace Russia. “The smoke will spread and the radioactive traces will spread. The amount depends upon the force of the wind.”
Officials from Russia’s federal forest protection service confirmed that fires were burning at contaminated sites on Tuesday, and expressed fears that lax oversight as a result of recent changes in the forestry service could increase the chances that radioactive smoke would waft into populated areas.
It is unclear what health risks the radiation could pose, or to what extent radioactive particles have spread in the weeks that wildfires have been raging throughout Russia, consuming villages and blanketing huge tracts with thick smoke.
The danger comes from radioactive residue still coating large areas of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, years after the explosion of Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986, in what was then the Soviet republic of Ukraine.
“The Chernobyl catastrophe occurred and these areas were littered with radioactive fallout,” said Aleksandr Nikitin, director of the St. Petersburg office of Bellona, an international environmental group.
“This contaminated the trees and the grass.” he said.
“Now, when there is a fire and when all of this burns, all of this radioactivity, together with smoke, comes out and spreads to other territories, including populated areas where people breathe it in as smog.”
Russia’s emergency minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, warned last week that the fires could release radioactive particles.
But with the government coming under criticism for its handling of the fires, which have left more than 50 dead and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, little official information has been made available about the radioactive threat.
Responding to the Greenpeace statement on Tuesday, Dr. Gennadi G. Onishchenko, Russia’s chief sanitary doctor, played down the danger.
“There is no need to sow panic,” he told the Interfax news agency. “Everything is fine.”
Dr. Onishchenko and other officials have already come under fire for appearing to cover up information on above-average mortality rates resulting from the high temperatures and heavy smoke. On Monday, Moscow’s chief health official announced that the death rate had doubled in the capital because of the heat.
Russia has a history of whitewashing potentially embarrassing national disasters, a lingering legacy of the Soviet era. It took days for the Soviet government to inform its people of the Chernobyl explosion, leaving thousands unknowingly exposed to deadly radiation.
No one is saying that the radioactive fallout from the fires could reach the magnitude of the Chernobyl disaster. Scientists have known for years that fires in the contaminated zones have the potential to spread radioactive materials in small amounts.
The forest protection service has identified seven regions where dozens of fires have been burning in contaminated zones, with attention focusing on Bryansk, one of the regions most heavily contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #582 on: Aug 11th, 2010, 08:02am »
Town criers at war over territory A town crier has accused a rival of breaching the ancient moral code of his profession by encroaching into his patch.
By Richard Savill Published: 12:56PM BST 11 Aug 2010
Mike Kean-Price, town crier of Tewkesbury, Glos, has complained to the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers about the actions of Peder Nielsen, the town crier of Bromyard, Herefordshire.
Mr Nielsen attended the launch of the Holland & Barrett shop in Tewkesbury in his full town crier regalia to announce in a booming voice that it was open to the public.
He has a contract with the health food chain to attend all shop openings and events.
But Mr Kean-Price, 67, the town crier for Tewkesbury since 1998, said he should not have “invaded” his turf and should have passed the assignment to him.
"It's a moral thing. I've never gone into another town and taken the job of another town crier," he said. "Each town has their own crier and I've always kept to that."
Mr Kean-Price, a retired civil servant, said even though Mr Nielsen rang to tell him about the visit beforehand, he was still “out of order.”
Both men are members of the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers and Mr Kean-Price said he had protested to the organisation that his rival had broken its moral code.
However, Mr Nielsen, 65, said he had been given no indication by Mr Kean-Price before the event that he was not welcome.
"If Mike had raised an objection of any description, I would not have done it," he said.
Mr Kean-Price said he was paid a retaining fee by the town council to make appearances at various public events in Tewkesbury. He did not take on many commercial jobs, other than promoting a butcher's shop in the town.
He said he charged far less for such jobs than other town criers.
"I love the job. It's the best in the world. I want to be Tewkesbury's town crier more than I want to be a rich bloke," he said.
Mr Kean-Price said he had not revealed his true feelings to Mr Nielsen when they spoke ahead of last Friday's shop opening.
"It was too late then," he said. "It was already booked. I wouldn't have complained as it would have been a restriction of trade."
Mr Nielsen said he felt he had done nothing wrong.
He said that as well as speaking to Mr Kean-Price, he left a message for the town clerk Pauline Clarke before visiting Tewkesbury.
He said: "I contacted them and let them know what was happening. I spoke to Mike and we were very affable. He gave no indication to me whatsoever that he was disgruntled at all."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #583 on: Aug 11th, 2010, 08:05am »
Computer scientist Vinay Deolalikar claims to have solved maths riddle of P vs NP A computer scientist claims to have solved one of the world’s most complex and intractable mathematical problems by proving that P≠NP.
By Alastair Jamieson Published: 8:00AM BST 11 Aug 2010
Vinay Deolalikar, who works at the research arm of Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, California, believes he has solved the riddle of P vs NP in a move that could transform mankind’s use of computers as well as earn him a $1m (£650,000) prize.
P vs NP is one of the seven millennium problems set out by the Massachusetts-based Clay Mathematical Institute as being the “most difficult” to solve.
Many mathematical calculations involve checking such a large number of possible solutions that they are beyond the current capability of any computer. However, the answers to some are quick and easy to verify as correct. P vs NP considers if there is a way of arriving at the answers to the calculations more quickly in the first place.
Mr Deolalikar claims to have proven that P, which refers to problems whose solutions are easy to find and verify, is not the same as NP, which refers to problems whose solutions are almost impossible to find but easy to verify.
His paper, posted online on Friday, is now being peer-reviewed by computer scientists.
Scott Aaronson, associate professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is so sceptical that he pledged on his blog to pay Mr Deolalikar an additional $200,000 (£125,000) if the solution is accepted by Clay.
He wrote that he could barely afford the sum, but explained: “If P≠NP has indeed been proved, my life will change so dramatically that having to pay $200,000 will be the least of it.”
The P vs NP problem was formalised in 1971 by mathematicians Stephen Cook and Leonid Levin.
To help understand the issue, the Clay Mathematical Institute gives an example in calculating how to accommodate 400 students in 100 university rooms.
It says: “To complicate matters, the Dean has provided you with a list of pairs of incompatible students, and requested that no pair from this list appear in your final choice.
“This is an example of what computer scientists call an NP-problem, since it is easy to check if a given choice of one hundred students proposed by a co-worker is satisfactory (i.e., no pair taken from your co-worker's list also appears on the list from the Dean's office), however the task of generating such a list from scratch seems to be so hard as to be completely impractical.
“Indeed, the total number of ways of choosing one hundred students from the four hundred applicants is greater than the number of atoms in the known universe.
“Thus no future civilisation could ever hope to build a supercomputer capable of solving the problem by brute force; that is, by checking every possible combination of 100 students.
“However, this apparent difficulty may only reflect the lack of ingenuity of your programmer. In fact, one of the outstanding problems in computer science is determining whether questions exist whose answer can be quickly checked, but which require an impossibly long time to solve by any direct procedure.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #584 on: Aug 11th, 2010, 08:08am »
Here's Johnny, digitized: A searchable database created for Carson's 'Tonight Show' The search tool for existing footage will be available for professional use, but many clips will also be posted for public viewing. By Matea Gold, Los Angeles Times
August 11, 2010
Johnny Carson is getting an upgrade for the YouTube era.
Carson Entertainment Group, which owns the archive of the late-night host's 30 years on "The Tonight Show," is set to announce Wednesday that it has digitized all 3,300 hours of existing footage from the program and created a searchable online database for producers and researchers.
The library will initially be available just for professional clip-licensing purposes, but the company also plans to release 50 full-format shows on DVD and post a rotating series of historic clips for public viewing on http://www.johnnycarson.com.
The project was spurred by Jeff Sotzing, Carson's nephew and president of Carson Entertainment, who said the continuing high demand for "Tonight Show" clips prompted him to seek a way to make the footage more accessible for both historic and commercial purposes.
"It's amazing to me that even being off the air for 18 years, there's still so much interest in this material," he said.
Carson remains a singular figure because he served as a cultural touchstone during his three decades on the air, said Rick Ludwin, NBC's executive vice president in charge of late-night series.
"That desk and that chair and the couch and the monologue and the band became as familiar as furniture in your own living room," he said. "When any motion picture or documentary wants to put something in historical perspective, they often want to have a Johnny Carson joke from that era."
That's in part because Carson's "Tonight Show" logged more than 22,000 guests during his tenure. "Everybody who was involved in public life seems to have appeared on that show," said David Bushman, television curator at the Paley Center for the Media.
And the wry host, who died in 2005 at age 79, was viewed as a bellwether of public opinion: His jokes about Watergate marked a turning point for President Nixon.
Carson did not originally own the rights to his show, but was eventually able to negotiate full ownership in 1980 during a protracted contract dispute with NBC. At the time, "The Tonight Show" generated almost a fifth of the network's profit from advertising revenue.
Before the digitization project, Carson Entertainment already had compiled a database listing the guests on each show and outlines of the topics of Carson's daily monologue. But if producers wanted to find a mention of a subject or a person, they often had to screen hours of footage, hoping to stumble upon the right reference.
Now a searchable transcript of each show will allow researchers to instantly pull up the corresponding clip by typing a name, key word or date.
"I think it's an extraordinary advancement in terms of using digital media in order to facilitate access of all different sorts," said Bushman, who recently searched the museum's Carson archives for a project on the late New York Mayor John Lindsay. "We had to do it the old-fashioned way. If we had had access to this, it would have been spectacular."
Modern-day television shows are routinely converted to digital now and posted online, but the ease of search varies. Most networks keep internal transcripts of interview programs and newscasts, indexed with the corresponding time code of the footage. Some go further: On MSNBC.com, visitors can view searchable transcripts alongside individual clips, synced to the video. But the comprehensiveness of the Carson library exceeds that of most archives, including that of the current "Tonight Show," which keeps transcripts of Jay Leno's monologues, but not guest appearances.
The digitization process took about nine months and was done by Deluxe Archive Solutions, which works with many Hollywood studios to preserve their film and television libraries.
The video footage was trucked securely from where it had been stored in an underground salt mine in Kansas to a facility in Burbank, where a high-speed "tape robot" transferred each tape to a digital format. Then a team of transcribers logged more than 1 million words of dialogue and tagged each show by key word, guest and musical number.
"We feel we're evangelists out there telling people this is what you are going to need to do in this new era of content consumption," said Tyler Leshney, vice president of Deluxe Archive Solutions. "People don't want to sift through two hours to find five minutes they're searching for."
The more searchable content, the more valuable it becomes, Leshney noted. Though researchers will have access to the Carson library for free, Carson Entertainment will charge a licensing fee to use each clip based on the type of project.
Not every moment of Carson's reign on "The Tonight Show" is available. The original videos from 1962 to 1972 were recorded over by NBC at the time, a common practice then because tape was so expensive, Ludwin said. All that is left from that era are some grainy black-and-white kinescope clips, taken by a film camera pointed at a television set.
But the digitization process helped unearth some original footage thought to be lost, including a famous 1973 clip of Carson pretending to eat dog food during a live Alpo commercial after the dog refused the meal, before thought to exist only in grainy kinescope.
Such moments have the makings of instant viral videos, but Deluxe Archive Solutions took several security measures to ensure that the clips can't be disseminated without permission, including embedding each with a large, yellow "Carson" watermark.
Sotzing said that Carson would have found the digitization project fascinating.
"He was a guy who loved technology and was always interested in watching old shows," he said. "And the ability to get this stuff immediately, he'd love that."