SciTechBlog
April 16, 2010

Geek Out!: The New Doctor Who

Posted: 02:14 PM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

This Saturday, BBC America will air the season (or "series," in British terminology) premier of Doctor Who.

The new season is either the Doctor's fifth or 31st, depending on who you ask because of a decade-and-a-half hiatus. And it's a good time to jump in and start watching if you're unfamiliar with the venerable British sci-fi franchise.

Here's a basic rundown on the BBC series:

To date, there have been 11 different actors to play the title character of
the show.

When it started in 1963, the first actor to play the Doctor became too
sick to continue, so the writers created an interesting twist in which he died and regenerated into a completely different person.

The concept was a hit with fans and because of that angle, Doctor Who has become the longest running science fiction show in history, according to Guiness Book of World Records.

For most fans, their first Doctor is the one that remains their favorite Doctor for life. (Tom Baker fans, unite! OK ... David Tennant fans, too.)

Doctor Who follows the adventures of an alien known as a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.

Known only as "the Doctor," he travels through time and space in a ship called the TARDIS (an acronym for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). Probably the most recognizable image from the series, the TARDIS looks like a blue British police box from the 1960s.

The Doctor typically travels with a human companion, usually a woman who at some point falls in love with him during their time together. It's a pretty good gig.

This season, we not only get a new Doctor - Matt Smith, who, at 27, is the
youngest actor to ever be cast in this role - but also a new companion named Amy Pond (played by Karen Gillan).

From the clips we’ve seen, the chemistry between the pair is promising. It's a glimmer of hope for fans who have been skeptical about such a young Doctor replacing David Tennant, whose Doctor made such an indelible mark on the franchise.

As longtime fans, we think that the direction of the new season is really exciting and hope it will make us miss the 10th Doctor a little less and start to think of Matt Smith as THE Doctor.

This season, the time travelers will battle villains both classic (the Daleks) and new (vampires?!).

We're especially excited because the entire season will be authored by Steven Moffat.

Moffat is the creator of some our favorite episodes including "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead" and "Blink," which featured the Weeping Angels that many agree are some of the scariest opponents ever. And, guess what? The angels will make a repeat appearance this season.

With a following that spans all ages and groups, this is the perfect time to
join on the bandwagon and become a fan of the Doctor.

Are you considering giving the Doctor a shot? And, longtime fans - any thoughts to share with potential newcomers? Let us know in the comments.

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Geek Out!: 'Kick-Ass' cast plays 'Kiss, marry, kill'

Posted: 11:51 AM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Whenever iReporters ask questions of celebrities, expect the unexpected.

So, when the opportunity came to share a video question for the cast of the long-awaited (by fanboys and girls, anyway) "Kick-Ass," out in theatres today, based on the graphic novel of the same name, iReporters Eric Jarrard, Heather Moose and Stefanie Fontanez laid down a challenge: "Kiss, marry or kill."

Stars Aaron Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse accepted the challenge before them. See their answers, plus their career advice for other actors, on the video above. (Also, check out what iReporters had to say about the movie here and here.

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April 15, 2010

Geek Out!: Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

Posted: 01:06 PM ET
ROBOTS!!!
ROBOTS!!!

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Every year at about this time, downtown Atlanta, Georgia, is filled to the brim with young, colorfully costumed robot enthusiasts in town for the FIRST competition. These kids are on the cusp of a robotics revolution, because the machines are truly hip right now; they can be found adorning store shelves, song lyrics and snarky T-shirts.

As long as humans have walked the earth, it seems they have dreamed of creating automated machines that can get work done - often, work they hate doing or find repetitive or dangerous - while silently hoping that the 'bots won't get all passive-agressive about it and start starting something. And what if they take over? We're in the midst of National Robotics Week, so let's delve into popular culture and take a look at this fear and fascination with simmering robot passions.

The desire to make automated machines goes back as far as human history itself. Historians and mythologists will point to symbolic robots like Talos, a bronze man incorporated into Greek mythology who was built to protect Zeus' love Europa in Crete. He was both stronger than a man and also able to take torture that people would find intolerable.

Much later on, Leonardo da Vinci was experimenting with an automated humanoid robot that looked like it was a knight's armor. There's a long history of robotic aspirations throughout the years, but the point is, humans want to make machines that kind of look like them and can do things. And when these robots dip into the uncanny valley, where they sort of look human and sort of not, that's when they get a little creepy. It was roboticist Masahiro Mori, in fact, who coined the term in a 1970 writing. And thus, humans grapple with the idea of a robot that is almost human in contrast to a robot that is cute and charming (a la R2-D2 from Star Wars, Johnny 5 from Short Circuit and Wall-E).

Many robots nowadays are designed to be cute for this very reason. CNN iReporter Fatina Chau sent us a photo of an adorable and hardworking robot being tested in Shanghai, China, while another iReporter, Veera K., showed us a robot that dances to cute music while serving food in a restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand. Visitors order their food on a computer panel. These robots aren't threatening, and yet the latter robot could threaten to replace waiters. It's no wonder humanoids are ambivalent about their creations.

Popular culture portrays robots as scary when needed. On TV, Craig Ferguson (or Craigy Ferg, as he's known on the Twitters) lampooned his show's budgetary constraints by creating an ongoing comedy segment featuring a robot skeleton sidekick. This robot is a bit scary-looking, but it's learning. This of course puts the contrast with a human sidekick in stark relief.

We love and hate our robots, and that's why we're always doing the robot dance and singing along to that song "Mr. Roboto" from Styx's 1983 album "Kilroy was here." The song prominently features robots, including the oft-repeated phrase "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto." If you're following the plot, Kilroy escapes from prison by pretending to be a robot prison guard. Also, one of the albums on frequent rotation in my playlist is 2002's "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" by The Flaming Lips, which very specifically delineates a fight against pink robots. Although the songs themselves aren't necessarily following the same kind of "Kilroy" story, the robot-esque battle depicted on the cover is attention-getting.

We love our robots but secretly fear and loathe them. So, take a moment right now - yes, right now - to stop everything and do a little robot dance, and then tell us: What do you think?

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April 14, 2010

Geek Out!: Joss Whedon to direct 'Avengers'

Posted: 08:36 AM ET
Writer/director Joss Whedon
Writer/director Joss Whedon

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Firefly" and "Dollhouse," not to mention one of the biggest geek icons in Hollywood, has been tapped to direct the "Avengers" movie, Variety reports. Commence dance of joy in 5, 4, 3...

But seriously, this is probably one of the smartest moves Marvel Studios has made in its short history - yes, even smarter than hiring Jon Favreau to direct "Iron Man."

"The Avengers," for the uninitiated, is Marvel Comics' supergroup of heroes, in this case consisting of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk. In short, it is potentially the Marvel Comics superhero movie to end all Marvel Comics superhero movies.

Robert Downey, Jr. will, of course, play Iron Man, along with Chris Evans, recently signed to play Captain America in the movie of the same name. Chris Hemsworth will take on the role of Thor, after his own movie in 2011. (One big question mark is whether Ed Norton, who reportedly refused to promote 2008's "The Incredible Hulk" due to a dispute with producers, will return as the Hulk.)

One need look no further than the t-shirts that say "Joss Whedon is My Master Now" to see why this is a genius move by Marvel. The core fanbase will now be itching to see what Whedon does with "Avengers," especially after his well-received feature directorial debut for "Serenity" (box office receipts notwithstanding).

He can more or less do no wrong among his fanbase (myself included, though the early episodes of "Dollhouse," and a couple of seasons of "Buffy" and "Angel" left much to be desired).

What's left to determine? How closely will this movie adhere to some of Whedon's signatures: Will the Mighty Thor burst into song, a la "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog?" Will one or more major characters get killed out of nowhere in the last third of the movie?

Exactly how much of Amy Acker or Alan Tudyk will be in it (the correct answer is "as much as possible")?

Alright, Whedonites (and Whedon detractors): What do you think of this announcement? Are you as psyched as I am... and a little worried, since Whedon was supposed to direct "Wonder Woman" once upon a time? Sound off in the comments below!

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April 13, 2010

Geek Out!: 'Lost's' Hurley – An appreciation

Posted: 12:22 PM ET
Lost's Jorge Garcia
Lost's Jorge Garcia

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Dude. For a character who just appeared to be comic relief early on, Hugo "Hurley" Reyes (Jorge Garcia) has been a crucial part of "Lost" throughout its six-season run, as the "voice of the fans," and particularly in this season, taking on something of a leadership role. When you think about it, Hurley has really been the linchpin that has held the show together.

The guy who considered himself cursed after winning the lottery (thanks to those ever-present "numbers" - more on that in a moment) considers himself the luckiest man alive, in the "flash-sideways" timeline. It looks like we'll find out more about that in tonight's new episode.

Last week, we caught up with Desmond, who has been a key character to "Lost's" mysteries since the second season, but in his own way, Hurley has been connected to many of the major plot points of the show. There are the aforementioned numbers, which we now know correspond to "candidates" to replace Jacob, one of which is Hurley himself. Whether or not we'll learn any more about whether those numbers are indeed "cursed" remains to be seen.

In both realities, Hugo owned a box company with his lottery winnings, a company which employed John Locke, one of the most important characters on the show. On the island, he met Ethan, and his decision to conduct a census led to the castaways' first discovery of the Others. He also fell in love with Libby, who helped Desmond get to the island, and whose death (along with Ana Lucia) at the hands of Michael was a turning point in the series.

Hurley's ability to see the dead (not related, it appears to be "Smokey's" ability to take on their form – or is it?) came into focus last season, as various dead castaways visited him off the island. Hurley's importance really came into focus as he was visited by the still-living Jacob and specifically told to go back to the island with his scroll (in the most needlessly-elaborate possible way, but that's a discussion for another day).

Then after Jacob died, Hurley became his messenger and took charge for a time while Jack, Sawyer and others seemed more confused than anything else by the events following "the incident."

The best part of Hurley's personality has been his willingness to ask the obvious questions most fans would ask. The most memorable example of this would be in the second season, when he started to become convinced that the island was just his dream, in a tour de force episode which explained why that once-popular theory was not the case.

More recently, I was overjoyed to see that Hurley voiced the well-known fan theory that the skeletons in the cave are two of the castaways. And I was even more pleased to see him finally be the one to ask Richard why he never ages (at long last)!

Whether building a golf course, driving around in an old Volkswagen van, or jumping into the ocean, Hurley knows how to find the fun. And he did what any geek fan would do when time traveling to the 1970s: write "The Empire Strikes Back" script from memory. (That's certainly what I would do.)

Finally, if there's one big "Lost" mystery which I hope will be explained, it's this one: what was the deal with that bird that said Hurley's name at the end of season two? Seriously, I gotta know.

It's clear that Hurley is important, and this week's episode should give us a better idea as to what his role will be in the big series finale. Meanwhile, Geek Out! and CNN iReport want your ideas for how "Lost" should end. Share your video telling us what should happen on the series finale (but keep it short, 30 seconds or less)! In the meantime, Do you share my appreciation for Hurley? If so, share your favorite Hurley moment in the comments below (and if not, who is your favorite “Lost” character and why)?

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April 12, 2010

Geek Out!: Big Bang Theory actor is ‘beast’ inside Raj

Posted: 01:31 PM ET
Kunal Nayyar
Kunal Nayyar

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Kunal Nayyar plays a shy astrophysicist from India named Raj Koothrappali on the CBS hit sitcom "The Big Bang Theory," which airs Monday nights. In real life, he is also Indian and a geek, but not so timid. CNN's Geek Out! caught up with him a few days after he wrapped up shooting the show's season finale.

Q: How did you get into acting?
A: I had done some stuff when I was in Delhi in high school, but nothing major. When I moved to America, I was studying in a small school in Portland, Oregon, called the University of Portland, and I didn’t really have any friends. So I thought I should audition for a play so I could meet girls. And I auditioned for this play and I got in and I was terrible…

I realized very quickly that I’m just really bad at this, but I want to get better. I started taking all the acting classes – I still ended up getting my degree in business - but I took all of the acting classes and hung out with all of the theater kids, and I was like the theater geek by the end of my undergrad.

Then I went and got my master’s in acting at Temple University in Philly, and then I bounced all over the place and I ended up on the Big Bang Theory.

Q: What about that show appealed to you?
A: It was a Chuck Lorre pilot, and it was a multi-camera show, which is very close to theater - the world that I knew - and it was really funny. I didn’t look at it and say, oh this is a perfect geek comedy, I just read it and said, Oh my God, this is brilliant writing, this is so funny.

Q: How would you describe your character, Raj?
A: Not only does he have trouble mingling with the outside world, he also has trouble mingling because he’s a foreigner… it’s a double-edged sword he’s fighting. He feels very comfortable with these guys because they’re everything to him, you know what I mean? He’s so dependent, especially on Howard, but these guys are his family and his life, because he feels completely at ease with them.

And of course, you know, he suffers from selective mutism, which comes from his pathological shyness, and he can only talk to women when he drinks.

Inside Raj lives a beast, like a rapper or like a player or like a mogul, because every time he drinks he becomes this smooth, suave, picking-up-girls kind of guy. So I think there’s a beast that lives inside him.

Q: To what extent do you think you’re like Raj?

A: I think if Raj could let the beast out, that would be Kunal. I think Kunal is the beast that’s living inside Raj. Not that I am a mogul or a player or anything, but in essence I have the freedoms that he doesn’t.

Kunal is very much like Raj because I also sometimes I have to fight that double-edged sword, fitting in socially as well as internationally. And I think Raj is kind of mischievous and I’m pretty mischievous. Things excite Raj very easily, he gets excited very easily when it comes to video games or women or anything, and I’m sort of like that too.

Q: Do you relate to the geek culture of the show?
A: Yes. 100 percent. I know what it feels like to be passionate about something, and I think what makes these characters so lovable and kind of sexy to people now is that people really respond to people who are passionate about something. And these guys are very passionate about their lifestyle. They’re very passionate about comic books, they’re very passionate about what they wear, they’re very passionate about their work.

So the term ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ it really just transcends to someone who’s very passionate about a certain lifestyle. You see a lot of people living their lives in the middle. These guys don’t. They don’t live their life in the middle, they go for whatever they want. And of course, according to the regular society it’s really not the norm, but I think I guess we share that similarity: I’m very passionate about my craft and my acting, and these guys are very passionate about astrophysics.

Q: Do you consider yourself a geek in real life?
A: In many ways. You know, like I said, I love video games – I’m in the middle of God of War III and I can’t wait to finish it – and I love video games, but at the same time I love sports. I love playing ping pong – ping pong is my sport, badminton is my sport, which is really geeky in essence. But at the same time I love watching football.

I love Archie and Jughead comics. There’s a board game called Star Wars Epic Duals that’s out of print now, Hasbro used to make it, and I spent one day 36 hours with my friends playing that game. I went to theater school – I’m pretty geeky in certain ways. But not as extreme as the guys in the show.

Q: Did you have to learn any science for the show?
A: I didn’t have to learn it beforehand, but I do keep learning as we go along. We have a real-life scientist who’s a consultant on the show… he’s on set a lot and we have a lot of questions for him, and all the science is real.

Q: What’s an example?
A: If you mix cornstarch and water and you put on top of a bass speaker with cellophane, it like bounces up and down and creates these crazy ghost-like figures. Try it: cornstarch and water. It’ll blow your mind.

Q: Are you planning any other projects?
A: Right now I’m just in the process of sleeping, and when the time is right I will be diving into some stuff. But nothing is solid yet, so I’m not allowed to really say.

Q: Did you wrap up the show?
A: We just wrapped on Tuesday [April 6]. It’s great. It’s nice to have a little break. We’ll be back in August, and we’re going to rock it one more season, and hopefully many seasons beyond.

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April 8, 2010

Geek Out!: M.C. Frontalot talks nerdcore hip-hop, geekery

Posted: 02:33 PM ET

M.C. Frontalot, the founder of “nerdcore” hip-hop, has gathered a respectable online following injecting video games, Internet culture and all things geeky into a genre too often reserved for chest-thumping swagger.

On his new album, “Zero Day,” released this week, Frontalot – nee Damian Hess – name-drops Dungeons & Dragons, humor-laced multi-user game Kingdom of Loathing and friend/geek icon Wil Wheaton – with guest appearances from “I’m a PC” guy John Hodgman and former Soul Coughing front man Mike Doughty.

Geek Out! caught up with him during his current tour supporting the album.

Q: On “Zero Day,” it seems like as you go through, almost every song celebrates something genre-specific – whether it’s the Kingdom of Loathing song or the Dungeons & Dragons song or the memes like “First World Problem.” Did you set out to do that intentionally?

A: These things just all kind of shake out the way that they’re going to. I wish that I had the time and the control at my disposal to sit down and make an album that winds the themes together in a purposeful way. When I’m writing, it’s really just everything that’s on my mind or pulling at me. That’s the shape the album takes; it ends up being pretty organic.

Q: So, there’s probably no concept album or rock opera coming in the near future?

A: Well, two things I do want to do are a concept album and a children’s album. Maybe I’ll combine the two of those and do ‘The Epic Tale of Mr. Wiggly Piggly’ or something. But, one of these days I will get it together to approach writing a batch of songs as one album’s worth of material instead of a ton of 3 to 5-minutes of moments in musical time.

Q: Is there anything in particular you’re geeking out over right now – a game or book or music or anything along those lines?

A: I haven’t had a lot of time to read or absorb media lately because we’ve been working so hard on the record and we’ve been running all over and doing shows from the minute I got it in the can. Now, we’re launching this tour for a couple of months … . I’ve been geeking out over ideas of what nerd superstars I could more involve and collaborate with instead of just asking them to show up for a couple of seconds on my album … something we could really flesh out together and have both of us equally involved.

That led me to think the other night while I was at Jonathan Coulton’s concert at PAX that maybe I would hit him up to do a split EP with me where we would do some kind of a project … like I would come up with all the ideas for the songs he would write and he would come up with all the ideas for the songs I would write for it. Give each other homework – call it “The Homework EP” or something like that.

Q: You’re just off of [gaming convention] PAX and right before that was South by Southwest. What were those experiences like? Certainly you would think those are crowds that would lean toward nerdcore.

A: Both of them were great … . There are two parts of South-By – there’s interactive week and music week. It’s a massive shift that happens where you see all the nerds walking around with their faces in their iPhones or whatever give way to all these sauntering hipsters who wear sunglasses inside. It’s my people during Interactive and that’s when we did most of my music. Music week, I’m just running around anonymously, trying to absorb some bands.

Then I go to PAX [Penny Arcade Expo, a gaming convention], which is the extreme version of what interactive week would be like. It’s an absolute fantasy zone for me where fans know who I am and I can’t even walk around the convention center without having to stop and take pictures with people every couple of seconds. It’s as if I was in a much more famous band.

I would get recognized on the street … which is just not something that happens to me in day-to-day life very often. These kinds of environments where that happens … I don’t know whether they’re salve for the soul or just inflation for my head. Maybe a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

Q: Do you think that nerdcore says something about the universal appeal of hip-hop – that you have people rapping for whom it would be ridiculous to try to pretend to be a bad-ass from the streets?

A: There is that attitude that seems to have become eventually mandatory in hip-hop that you have to insist and stake everything on your claim that you are the valid representation of what hip-hop is supposed to be like. But a lot of my favorite rappers have found a way to abandon that notion without having to call themselves a geek or without having to be uncool.

Mos Def doesn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to convince people that he’s not fronting. MF Doom, Busdriver, Kool Keith – there are lots of folks I love who aren’t like that. And there’s always been a side of hip-hop that isn’t like that.

I don’t want to position myself like I’ve found this flaw in hip-hop and I’ve satirized it. That’s definitely not my angle. But I was trying to invert something – like, “Here’s this M.C. who fronts a lot. He has to kind of trick you into thinking that you’re looking at a rapper.”

Q: “Nerd” and “geek” – for you, what’s the difference between those two terms?

A: My idea of it is that “nerd” is more broadly anyone who’s natural abilities to fit in socially are very much compromised and, thus, any nerd is pretty easy to identify when you interact with him or her … .

A geek, on the other hand, is someone who has a lot of specific knowledge on any topic … I think you can have a geek who’s not really a nerd in any way. Even people like greasers who work in garages and know everything there is to know about the internal combustion engine – that’s a form of geekery.

There are a lot of ways to geek out over almost any topic without really engaging in what I think of as nerdery. They might think they’re even cooler because they’re [for example] a music geek, but when they start talking about their topic of geekish interest, the regular folks’ eyes glaze over. That’s how you can tell.

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Geek Out!: In search of a better comic book app

Posted: 12:03 PM ET
Comic book apps
Comic book apps

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

One of the more anticipated uses for the iPad was as an eBook reader for books, magazines, and newspapers. But comic books are one of the most popular print-format periodicals - and there has been little mention of the iPad as a comic reader.

Luckily for those of us wanting to use it as such, Marvel Comics put out the Marvel app in time for last week's release.

I’ve had my iPad for just over four days now. One of the first things I did was download the Marvel app and take it for a test drive.

The convenience of downloading your comics while sitting in a coffee shop, or anywhere else, is great. And the panel-by-panel flow lives up to the hype, although it doesn't really make reading comics on the iPad a new experience. Honestly, I could live without it.

So far, my personal favorite app for comics on the iPad is ComicBook. They have a pretty good desktop app for the Mac (ComicBookLover), which is very similar to iTunes (imitation... flattery... etc.).

Their iPhone app is in early alpha (0.3) but it is more than usable and available for free on the iTunes app store. You upload your files to your iPad over WiFi using either a second app on the Mac (ComicBookLover Sync) or by FTP (file transfer protocol). This will probably change since the iPad offers better file syncing through iTunes.

ComicBook hasn’t been updated for the iPad yet, so the user interface is built for the iPhone’s screen (you have to pixel-double to fill the screen). But once you open a comic, you forget about the zoomed look.

Comics look great. They don’t have the automatic panel-to-panel feature of the Marvel app, but you can easily double-tap to zoom, and swipe to move around and change pages. I’m happy enough to just read them full screen though.

The apps, both made by Comixology, are indeed amazing - as long as you only want to read back issues (the Marvel app, obviously, only offers their own titles).

There are several other publisher-backed apps, but they don’t come close to the quality of the Marvel and Comics apps. The list of available publishers, titles, and issues is small. For example I have yet to see any DC [a Time-Warner Company] titles, and I really need my Batman!

That’s where independent apps come in. While they don’t have deals with publishers, they do let you read CBR and CBZ (comic book RAR and comic book ZIP) files, and in some cases even PDF files. CBR and CBZ files are ZIP or RAR compressed files that contain JPEG images of each page of a comic. So an entire issue is packaged in one file.

But how and where you get these files is the real moral dilemma. You can’t buy them online. So you either have to scan your own comics or find them in shady Internet back alleys and download them with programs like BitTorrent.

The music industry already had this battle with downloaded music files. Once they figured out they could sell music and make money, they backed the music downloads. The movie industry is just getting up-to-speed on downloadable and streaming video (Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, etc). So how about the comic book industry? It seems the publishers are ignoring history.

I’d be more than happy to pay cover price (maybe a bit less) for current titles. I’d even pay a bit over cover price to get my comics early. Maybe a monthly fee for all-you-can-eat (like Rhapsody and Zune do with music)?

And they can feel free to put as much DRM on the files as they want (although iTunes has removed DRM and the world hasn’t ended just yet). Just let me back up the files if I’ve bought individual issues - don’t make them expire in three years - and let me read them on my computer and my mobile device. My bag, board, and long box collector days are way behind me, but I still like the stories.

What's your favorite comic book app? Anything you're looking for that the current apps don't provide?

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April 6, 2010

Geek Out!: 'Lost,' time and quantum mechanics

Posted: 02:43 PM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

If you're watching "Lost," you're probably wondering how the writers are going to resolve all of the questions about time and parallel existences. Sean Carroll, physicist at California Institute of Technology and "Lost" fan, is wondering the same thing.

But as far-fetched as the show may seem, there are ways in which concepts from modern physics could explain what's happening in terms of time, says Carroll, author of "From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time."

To recap: In the last two seasons of "Lost," characters on the island found themselves jutting through time. Season 5 found the characters transported to different eras on the island again and again thanks to some uncomfortable - even deadly! - white flashes.

At the beginning of Season 6, after Juliet activated the hydrogen bomb at the Dharma Swan site, the characters appeared in a new timeline.

This timeline portrays what happens to the characters on Oceanic Flight 815 had the plane not crashed. But many aspects of their lives are different, suggesting that the detonation of the bomb in the 1970s (after some of them had gone back in time) changed their lives in 2004 in significant ways - Sun and Jin are not married, Benjamin Linus is a schoolteacher, etc. etc.

But we don't know if the bomb actually created this timeline, or if it had always been there.

In real life, physicists think about multiple worlds all the time when it comes to quantum mechanics - the study of matter on atomic and subatomic scales. That's because nature gets freaky when you try to describe the behavior of particles smaller than the eye can see.

In quantum mechanics there is a concept called the the "many-worlds interpretation," Carroll says. The theory goes that the universe splits into multiple "worlds" when we observe a quantum system in which the particles are in multiple places at once.

Let's say we observe a single particle at positions A and B simultaneously. Each place that the particle is in corresponds to a different world - so, there's a world with our particle at A, and a separate world with our particle at B.

"We might imagine that detonating the bomb acted as an especially dramatic quantum event, splitting the universe into two timelines. The show has hinted that there is some sort of connection between the two timelines, so we'll have to see how that plays out," Carroll says.

Also, if time travel were possible, it would have to operate according to a principle that "Lost" characters kept repeating in Season 5: "Whatever happened, happened." That means that if you could go back in time, you wouldn't be able to change anything.

So let's say you go back to 1990 and encounter yourself, saying "Hey, you - I mean, me." That would have always happened, and you would remember now having met yourself then (so it hasn't happened!).

Recall, for instance, that in "Lost," Eloise in present-day Los Angeles clearly remembered that she had met her own time-traveling son Daniel many years earlier, but Eloise on the island in the 1970s did not, because from her perspective it hadn't happened yet.

All this goes to say that the "Lost" creators do have some basis for the sometimes outrageous time travel elements in the show. Still, a lot of underlying ideas haven't been resolved yet. Tune in on Tuesday nights to see if we learn more!

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Physics


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Geek Out!: Fulfilling a geek dream - there for space shuttle launch

Posted: 11:45 AM ET
Space Shuttle Discovery
Space Shuttle Discovery

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

We were awake for more than twenty-four hours in the singular pursuit of one goal: We had a shuttle to catch.

The Space Shuttle Discovery. One of NASA's final shuttle missions blasted off from Kennedy Space Center yesterday morning at 6:21:25 EDT, just as the sun was edging towards daybreak - the last shuttle mission scheduled to blast off into night skies.

This mission and crew are special for a few reasons: it will mark the first time that four women are in orbit simultaneously. It will mark the first time that two Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronauts are in orbit at the same time. This is Discovery's second-to-last scheduled trip to space, and the last time that a Shuttle crew will comprise seven people. It is also the last time that a rookie will fly aboard the Shuttle.

The milestones are plentiful - like most Shuttle missions, NASA and its partners have made sure the 13-day flight will be nonstop activity.

But for our little crew of three, this launch was unique because it represented a geek dream realized: The three of us have been space enthusiasts, NASA supporters and star gazers for most of our lives. With only four (now three) scheduled launches remaining in NASA's Shuttle program, we were running out of chances to witness a launch in person.

And witness one we did. After weeks of delays due to cold weather and leaky-valve technical issues, Discovery was finally on the launch pad and ready to go. The countdown proceeded smoothly through the course of the night, sliding in and out of planned wait periods with nary a hint of a problem.

We watched the clock tick down, standing a few feet from those iconic yellow numbers. All told, we spent roughly seven hours at Kennedy Space Center, photographing the stars, the moon, the xenon-lit Shuttle and the people who had come to quite literally feel the earth move.

At T-3 seconds, we saw more than felt the three main engines light.

At T-0 we could see enormous clouds of vapor and smoke billowing beneath the Shuttle as Discovery lifted off the pad.

The sky brightened faster than any sunrise. And then, the roar: the ground-shaking, chest-thrumming bass announcement of several million pounds of thrust pushing seven people into orbit.

Accompanying it, the hundreds of shutter clicks as hundreds of photographers scrambled to get the perfect shot.

Then, just as swiftly as it began, it was over. In what felt like a split second, Discovery was out of sight, its thunderous roar fading quickly back to a quiet coastal dawn, leaving only a contrail that marked the sky.

The three of us kept moving, kept shooting, kept talking, completely astounded at the sheer force - physical and mental - that this agglomeration of engineering and ingenuity produced on this early Monday morning.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • NASA • Space


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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