Weekend Diversion: Anti-Piracy Entertainment

“You Done Stole My Album! Uh Uh, No You Better Don’t, Hooker!“

[M]y goal is to always come from a place of love… but sometimes you just have to break it down for a motherfucker.” -RuPaul

On the one hand, you’ve got incredibly hard-working individuals producing some of the best music, movies, television and other entertaining content that exists in this world. You want to enjoy it, you want to support and encourage your favorites of the artists and content-creators out there, but on the other hand, you most likely can’t afford all of it. After all, as Donna Summer legendarily sang, She Works Hard For The Money.


When I was a kid, we’d tape movies off the tv, songs off the radio or make copies of our albums and share them around. When I was in college, we’d download bootlegged episodes of South Park and music .mp3 files without a second thought. There’s no moral dilemma when you have pretty much no money at all; you’re going to pirate your day-to-day entertainment.

Image credit: Columbia University’s American Assembly’s “Copy Culture”, by Joe Karaganis and Lennart Renkema, via http://www.dailytech.com/Nearly+Half+of+Americans+Pirate+Casually+But+Pirates+Purchase+More+Legal+Content/article29702.htm.

But just because pirates also purchase more than their non-pirating counterparts doesn’t mean that entertainers shouldn’t try and coax pirates into paying for their content. And it also doesn’t mean that pirates shouldn’t be made feel a little ashamed by the artists themselves. As Louis C.K.’s $5 experiment showed, people are willing to pay for their entertainment, especially if you make it easy for them and if you make it a little more personal.

More recently, Will Ferrell took to YouTube to speak to pirates directly.


But arguably the undisputed Queen of the entertainment world — I’m talking about RuPaul here — has pulled perhaps the greatest artist-against-piracy stunt I’ve ever heard of.

You see, she’s posted an entire decoy album on commonly torrented sites, and the results are the perfect combination of entertaining and shaming. Have a listen for yourself to the decoy track of Freaky Money or Sissy That Walk.

Image credit: taken from http://heavy.com/.

What she’s done it take the first 20-to-30 seconds of each track, and then faded it out, and just recorded herself speaking directly to the fans. What’s her message?

Hey, who hasn’t illegally downloaded an album? But when it’s somebody that you admire or that you want to support, child! How am I gonna keep my lace fronts on point if I can’t make a living doing what I’m doing with that ‘Freaky Money’?

Sometimes chiding them, sometimes goading them, sometimes just letting them have it for piracy, this is pure entertainment gold!

Image credit: via the Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/06/rupaul-fake-album_n_4914095.html.

As she eloquently said in an interview:

“We work so hard on this music. So we thought, why not flood the torrents with a decoy album that educates consumers on why it’s important to buy music?”

And this hasn’t just worked as far as giving fans something to rave about; this is her highest charting album of all time! And many of her fans who would have simply pirated the album have been sufficiently shamed that they quickly changed their tunes.

Image credit: screenshot via http://biteul-biteul.tumblr.com/post/77714949142.

Even some anti-piracy hawkish lawyers are behind this move, and who wouldn’t be? Whether you’re a RuPaul fan or not (and, really, who isn’t?), you’ve got to appreciate the moxie and the creativity of an entire album devoted to this clever banter? To get the real album — as she implores you — head on over to iTunes.

But the irony isn’t lost if you want a copy of the decoy version; as TorrentFreak notes, you’ll have to pirate it!

Image credit: Pirate Bay screenshot, via http://torrentfreak.com/rupaul-trolls-pirates-uploading-fake-album-leak-pirate-bay-140305/.

And that’s the most novel, creative and entertaining thing I’ve come across this week; thanks for sharing it with me!

Enjoyed this? Have a comment? Weigh in at the Starts With A Bang forum on Scienceblogs!

Next Story — How the last great american eclipse almost shocked Einstein
Currently Reading - How the last great american eclipse almost shocked Einstein

Images credit: New York Times, 10 November 1919 (L); Illustrated London News, 22 November 1919 (R). If the cloud situation had played out differently, the United States might have confirmed this a year prior.

How the last great american eclipse almost shocked Einstein

As you prepare for 2017’s spectacular show, remember how the 1918 version almost changed the world.

“Astronomers are greatly disappointed when, having traveled halfway around the world to see an eclipse, clouds prevent a sight of it; and yet a sense of relief accompanies the disappointment.” –Simon Newcomb

A total solar eclipse is one of the most spectacular sights on Earth, and one that’s eluded the continental United States for nearly a century. Due to the elliptical, inclined orbits of the Sun, Moon and Earth, alignments where the Moon’s shadow passes across the Earth’s surface are rare, occurring only approximately once a year. Because of how much larger the Earth is than the Moon and how distant the Moon is, a total solar eclipse only occurs over a narrow range of the Earth at any given time. On August 21, 2017, the Great American Eclipse will occur, with a path of totality cutting from the Oregon coast all the way to the edge of South Carolina. Although similar eclipses repeat in cycles, the lower 48 states haven’t seen a total solar eclipse that’s gone coast-to-coast* since 1918, which almost confirmed Einstein’s greatest theory to the entire world.

Image credit: Mir / RSA, 1999, of the Moon’s shadow falling on Earth, during a total solar eclipse as seen from space.

Back in 1915, Einstein put forth the culmination of a decade’s worth of work: the general theory of relativity. Instead of Newton’s theory of gravity, where massive objects at a distance exerted an invisible, instantaneous force on one another, Einstein instead predicted that the presence of matter and energy would curve the fabric of spacetime itself, and what we perceived as gravity was merely matter and energy following the path of this curved space. This wasn’t simply a different way of looking at the same phenomenon, but a new theory that gave rise to a different set of predictions for Mercury’s orbit, black holes, an expanding Universe and — perhaps most spectacularly — the bending of starlight.

Gravitational lensing in galaxy cluster Abell S1063, showcasing the bending of starlight by the presence of matter and energy. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz (STScI).

While modern technology like the Hubble Space Telescope has revealed hundreds of these gravitational lenses, nothing comparable existed in the early 20th century. Instead, a clever substitute was concocted by astrophysicists of the time: since the positions of stars were very well-known, you could observe stars close to the Sun during the day, where the Sun’s gravity would pull on those light rays. Since Einstein’s theory and Newton’s theory gave differing predictions for how much light would be bent by that extra gravitational force — with Einstein predicting double the Newtonian amount — simply comparing observations during the day with ones taken of those same stars at night would allow you to prove whether Einstein or Newton was right.

Image credit: NASA / Cosmic Times / Goddard Space Flight Center, Jim Lochner and Barbara Mattson, via http://cosmictimes.gsfc.nasa.gov/online_edition/1919Cosmic/theory_pred.html.

Of course, you can’t view stars during the day normally, since the Sun is far too bright. But during a total eclipse of the Sun, the Sun’s light is blocked from Earth, plunging the day into darkness and — for many observers along the path of totality — revealing stars during the day. Einstein put out his theory at the end of 1915, and the next total solar eclipse occurred just months later, on February 3, 1916. There was no time to organize an expedition on such short notice, particularly with World War I in full swing. But the next eclipse was to occur on June 8, 1918, and would be the first chance humanity would have to test Einstein’s theory against Newton’s directly. At a time where Europeans, not Americans, were the world’s leaders in science and technology, this would have been a huge coup for the scientific community.

The path of the total solar eclipse of 1918. Image credit: Eclipse Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA’s GSFC.

The relative orbits of the Sun, Moon and Earth had been known so precisely for so long that the predictions for eclipse times and locations were known to the second and to better than a single kilometer. A team of physicists were sent by the U.S. Naval Observatory to observe the eclipse where its duration would (over land) be the greatest: at Baker City in Oregon. Led by John C. Hammond, the lead physicist was Samuel Alfred Mitchell, an expert on solar eclipses who’d been observing (and photographing!) them under the auspices of the U.S. Naval Observatory since 1900. In fact, photographs of total solar eclipses dating back even that far show stars revealed during the day!

Image credit: Chabot Space & Science Center of the 1900 eclipse, via http://science.kqed.org/quest/2011/10/21/seeing-relativity-no-bungees-attached/.

The team also included physicist and artist Howard Russell Butler, who was charged with painting the solar eclipse. While the Moon slowly moved across the Sun’s disk, a mostly cloudless sky heralded great excitement for the team, as many stars near the Sun would have been visible under those conditions. But totality for the eclipse itself was to last just barely two minutes, and thin clouds covered the Sun during the critical moments where the sky grew dark. Not five minutes after it ended, the Sun was completely clear again. Although Butler created an amazing painting, revealing many features of the Sun’s corona through the clouds, no stars were observed, and Einstein’s theory remained untested.

Print of eclipse painting by Howard Russell Butler, 1918.

The next total solar eclipse, in 1919, was observed by two teams led by Arthur Eddington: one in South America and one in Africa. By combining data from both teams, a number of stars were not only successfully observed, they were observed to be deflected by the Sun’s gravity by an amount in accord with Einstein’s predictions, not Newton’s. Eclipses continued to occur all across the world, revealing many other opportunities to view stars during the day and — if one liked — to confirm Einstein’s relativity all over again.

Actual negative and positive photographic plates from the 1919 Eddington Expedition, via http://www.sciencebuzz.org/buzz-tags/eddington-expedition.

Meanwhile, the continental United States wouldn’t see another eclipse until the present day, a streak that will finally come to an end next year: on August 21, 2017. But if you get clouded out this time, don’t despair. Totality returns to the United States in 2024, and then again in 2045 and 2052. Plan out your location along the path of totality for next year — hotels all across Oregon are already booked solid — and look for the Sun’s corona and stars during the key moments.

And just maybe, when you see the latter, know that you’re seeing a piece of history, and a window into the most brilliant physics theory of all time.

This post first appeared at Forbes, and is brought to you ad-free by our Patreon supporters. Comment on our forum, & buy our first book: Beyond The Galaxy!

Next Story — Viewing the Earth from space celebrates 70 years
Currently Reading - Viewing the Earth from space celebrates 70 years

Viewing the Earth from space celebrates 70 years

In 1946, we made history by photographing the Earth from space for the first time. How far we’ve come!

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’” 
Edgar Mitchell

In 1946, the advent of rocket technology from World War II enabled humanity to surpass balloon-borne heights and cross into space for the first time.

The first photograph of the Earth from space, taken in 1946 from a V2 rocket. Image credit: U.S. Army / White Sands Missile Range / Applied Physics Laboratory.

These images, taken from atop V-2 rockets, revealed the blackness of space, as well as the Earth’s true curvature.

A panorama of many images stitched together from V2 rockets from flights in 1948. Image credit: Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory, U.S. Navy.

By the 1960s, Earth-monitoring satellites were placed to track weather and other transient phenomena.

Hurricane Gladys as imaged by NASA’s Nimbus 1 satellite in 1964. Image credit: NASA / E. Siegel (post-processing).

By traveling to greater distances, an entire hemisphere of Earth could be photographed at once.

The first color image of the Earth from space, thanks to the DODGE Satellite. Image credit: Department of Defense.

Traveling to the Moon enabled the first color photo of Earth seen rising over the limb of our natural satellite…

The famous “Earthrise” photo as taken by the Apollo 8 crew in 1968.

… while departing under just the right lighting conditions enabled the first color photo of the fully illuminated Earth to be taken.

The iconic “blue marble” photo taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972. Image credit: NASA.

Since then, other spacecraft have imaged the Earth and Moon together, such as Voyager 1 in 1977.

This 1977 image is the first photo of the complete Earth and Moon in a single photograph. Image credit: NASA / Voyager 1.

Earth and the Moon have also been seen from Mars, thanks to Mars Global Surveyor in 2003.

The Earth and Moon, together, as captured from Mars in 2003. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Mars Global Surveyor.

And from Mercury, thanks to the Messenger spacecraft in 2010.

The Earth and Moon, as photographed together by Messenger in 2010. Image credit: MESSENGER science team, NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Earth has also been spectacularly viewed from Saturn, thanks to Cassini.

Earth as viewed by NASA’s Cassini mission in 2013. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

Numerous satellites in low-Earth and geosynchronous orbits view Earth continuously today, enabling the creation of the highest-resolution, full-coverage photos ever.

The 2001–2002 composite images of the Blue Marble, constructed with NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data.

Mostly Mute Monday tells the story of a single astronomical phenomenon or object primarily in visuals, with no more than 200 words of text.

This post first appeared at Forbes, and is brought to you ad-free by our Patreon supporters. Comment on our forum, & buy our first book: Beyond The Galaxy!

Next Story — Is The Big Bang The Beginning Of Everything?
Currently Reading - Is The Big Bang The Beginning Of Everything?

Image credit: NASA / GSFC.

Is The Big Bang The Beginning Of Everything?

The latest Starts With A Bang Podcast holds the answers.

Our Universe has been expanding and evolving since the hot, dense, expanding state known as the Big Bang first came to be. But there was a “day without yesterday,” where the Big Bang occurred at a moment in time! Was that the birth of space and time itself? Or was there a pre-existing state that came before and gave rise to the Big Bang? Come find out the evidence that’s led us to our greatest conclusions about the very beginning of where everything came from!

The Big Bang wasn’t the very beginning of the Universe! Come find out how we know on the latest Starts With A Bang podcast.

Next Story — Ask Ethan: How many stars in the night sky still exist?
Currently Reading - Ask Ethan: How many stars in the night sky still exist?

An animation sequence of the 17th century supernova in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration. Acknowledgement: Robert A. Fesen (Dartmouth College, USA) and James Long (ESA/Hubble).

Ask Ethan: How many stars in the night sky still exist?

We’re looking back in time when we look across the light years, so what’s different between what we see and what’s really there?

“I saw a star explode and send out the building blocks of the Universe. Other stars, other planets and eventually other life. A supernova! Creation itself! I was there. I wanted to see it and be part of the moment. And you know how I perceived one of the most glorious events in the universe? With these ridiculous gelatinous orbs in my skull!” -Ronald D. Moore, Battlestar Galactica

When we look out at the Universe, we take for granted that what we see is what’s actually there at that particular moment in time. Yet this isn’t quite the case. There were delays with the Apollo astronauts because light signals took a little over two seconds apiece to make a round trip. The Mars rovers need to robotically pilot themselves, because the multi-minute delays are too great for a human to have to manually change their headings. And if you go beyond the Solar System, the distances to the stars are measured in light years, which means we’re looking back in time whenever we see a distant object. How do we know that what’s there matches what we see? Matt Lanka wants to know:

[H]ow many of the stars observable from Earth still exist? Since the light from many of them has traveled hundreds, thousands, even millions of light years to get here, is it not possible that many of the stars we see in fact burned out or exploded centuries or [millennia] ago and the light (or lack thereof) simply hasn’t reached us yet?

The answer depends very much on how far you’re willing to look.

The night sky as seen from the California Coastal National Monument, similar to what human eyes could ideally see. Image credit: Bureau of Land Management, under a cc-by-2.0 license.

With the naked eye under ideal conditions — complete darkness, no light pollution, no clouds, no Moon, full-sky (both hemispheres) viewing, etc. — there are a total of just over 9,000 stars that the human eye can discern. Every single one of them is contained within our own galaxy, though, so none of these are millions of light years away. There are some that are thousands of light years distant, though. Deneb, one of the sky’s brightest stars (and a vertex of the summer triangle) is approximately 2,600 light years away, while the most distant naked-eye star is V762 Cas at just over 16,000 light years.

The summer triangle, with Deneb visible as the bright star along the left of the image. Image credit: Eric Teske under a cc-by-2.0 license, via http://www.ericteske.com/2012/05/my-first-point-and-shoot-milky-way.html.

But the vast majority of stars we can see are only a few hundred light years distant, or even less. While we think of stellar deaths as an all-of-a-sudden mechanism, in reality the life cycle of stars means that there are a number of important phases a star goes through on its way towards death. In particular, they:

  • need to expand into a red giant and begin burning helium,
  • need to burn through the helium in their core and begin fusing carbon,
  • burn through their core’s carbon and begin fusing oxygen and heavier elements, up until silicon produces iron, nickel and cobalt,
  • and only then, when the core runs out of fusible material altogether, will the core implode, resulting in a supernova explosion.

Only a tiny minority of stars — about one in a few hundred — are massive enough to actually die suddenly; the rest blow off their outer layers and contract down to a white dwarf over a period of tens of thousands of years.

But the massive stars are disproportionately bright, and so are much more likely to be the ones we see! While there may only be around nine thousand stars visible to the naked eye, there are dozens of naked eye candidates for the next supernova within our galaxy. It’s very difficult to tell by looking at a single star what stage of life it’s in, and how close it is to going supernova. A star like Eta Carinae or Betelgeuse, for instance, may have already exploded and ended its life… or it may continue to stick around for hundreds of thousands of years as it continues to burn through its fuel. There’s no cataclysmic “it’s about to blow” signal, and in the case of Eta Carinae, a recent outburst (a huge mass ejection) in the 19th century may have delayed its eventual supernova explosion by a longer timespan than human beings have existed.

The homunculus nebula surrounding the giant star Eta Carinae, some 7,000+ light years away in our Milky Way. Image credit: Nathan Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and NASA.

On average, a star destined for a supernova remains in this indeterminate, giant phase of its life for between one and ten million years, typically. Although there are many theories about what we could look for when a star gets “close” to going supernova, the reality is that the last one we observed in our galaxy occurred over 400 years ago, the most recent remnant discovered is over a century old, and very little is known about the progenitor star that exploded in a satellite galaxy of our own in 1987: the nearest supernova to be seen by humans in action since 1604.

The remnant of supernova 1987a, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud some 165,000 light years away. Image credit: Noel Carboni & the ESA/ESO/NASA Photoshop FITS Liberator.

Given that the typical supernova candidate star, visible to our eyes, is maybe 4,000 light years away on average, and that we have perhaps 25 of them in the entire night sky, there’s only about a 1-to-10% chance that one of the stars we can see isn’t there anymore. That’s not very good odds.

But what about the other way? What about newly forming stars? While we like to think that there’s some sort of magic moment where something simply begins fusing protons in its core and turns “on” to become a star, the truth is that star formation — going from a proto-star to an actual, bona fide main sequence star — takes tens of millions of years to occur.

The time it takes for a protostar — a pre-main sequence star — to become what we recognize as a star, highly dependent on its mass. Image credit: Prof. Dale Gary of the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

With the naked eye, we can’t see any of these proto-stars, because the locations where they form are inside of nebulae: places like the Orion Nebula or the Eagle Nebula. These giant molecular cloud complexes undergo gravitational collapse, giving rise to thousands of new stars that form over the timespan of millions or tens of millions of years. As the gas evaporates, the stars inside are at last revealed, many of which will eventually become discernible to the unaided human eye.

A wide-field view of the Eagle Nebula; the “pillars of creation” can be seen in the center. Image credit: T.A.Rector (NRAO/AUI/NSF and NOAO/AURA/NSF) and B.A.Wolpa (NOAO/AURA/NSF).

But none of these are winking into existence where they’d be seen once star formation was complete. The closest we can hope for is an explosive supernova that will show itself to our naked eyes where no star was visible previously. The best estimate we have for that is… well, is what we’ve seen so far throughout human history, which is an event that occurs approximately once every few centuries.

An illustration of Tycho Brahe pointing out the supernova of 1572. Image credit: Camille Flammarion, Astronomie Populaire (1880).

If we’re willing to use binoculars, we can go up to about 200,000 stars from 9,000. If we go to a small, 3″ telescope, that number rises again to a little over 5 million stars. And if we go to an intense amateur telescope that’s 15″ in diameter, we can view approximately 380 million stars in our own galaxy, upping those odds considerably. But even on average, if we were to consider all 200–400 billion stars in our galaxy, a mean distance of perhaps 40,000 light years away, there are perhaps only a few hundred thousand that are already dead — one in a million — and they’re heavily skewed towards being on the far side of the galaxy from where we are.

As distant as the stars are, our eyes are too weak and light travels too fast for any of them to have already died while their light is in transit. It’s possible, but the odds are strongly against us.

Submit your Ask Ethan questions to startswithabang at gmail dot com!

This post first appeared at Forbes, and is brought to you ad-free by our Patreon supporters. Comment on our forum, & buy our first book: Beyond The Galaxy!

Sign up to continue reading what matters most to you

Great stories deserve a great audience

Continue reading