Sunday, June 19, 2005


This weekend I got to see Revenge of the Sith in a theater. There were two scenes that struck me as particularly anachronistic -- the two that involved glass.

In one scene, a group of Jedi knights come to the chancellor's office to arrest him. In the office there is a huge floor-to-ceiling panoramic window. It is made of glass. One touch with a light saber and the entire thing completely shatters.

In another scene, on the glass bridge of General Grevious' ship, the General decides to break a window and escape. Apparently this is quite simple, and the window shatters just like normal glass does today.

We have glass all around us. Its advantage is transparency. But think about these important disadvantages:
  • It is incredibly heavy
  • It is fragile and easily breaks
  • When it breaks, it leaves either millions of small bits (in the case of tempered glass) or it leaves lethal shards.
The classic beer bottle knife shows just how sad glass is. You take a beer bottle, hold it by the neck, slam the bottom of the bottle on the table to shatter it, and what you are left with are several lethal shards attached to the neck that make a very effective weapon.

What we need is a transparent material that is lightweight, does not scratch easily and does not shatter. There are certain plastics that have some of these characteristics, but current plastics are not perfect. It seems likely that glass (especially in windows) will be replaced by some new material (in one of the Star Trek movies they talk about transparent aluminum), or it will be replaced in some other way. For example, high-resolution screens will simulate windows, or artificial windows will be implemented virtually through Vertebrane. People in 2050 will look back at glass in the same quaint way we look back at butter churns or wooden barrels.

[There is another thing in this movie that seemed to be particularly anachronistic -- the bed. Padme and Anakin are asleep and Anakin has a bad dream. When he wakes up we can see that they are lying in a traditional bed, complete with a headboard and sheets/blankets.

It feels like we will replace beds with something, because beds are pretty nutty. Anytime you help a friend move, you realize how nutty they are. Just try getting a king size mattress up or down a set of stairs sometime...

In all likelihood, we take up the body-free lifestyle that vite racks allow and we have no need for beds.]



At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Marshall:

>What we need is a transparent
>material that is lightweight, does
>not scratch easily and does not
>shatter. There are certain plastics
>that have some of these
>characteristics, but current
>plastics are not perfect.

Yes. Polycarbonate comes to mind. Eyeglasses (SadTech IMHO) lenses that are made with this material are very strong (they can withstand a direct impact by a BB without shattering), but crack when exposed to ammonia-based products (i.e. Windex). Go figure.

At 1:32 AM, Anonymous Jeff Korpa said...

Hello Marshall:

>What we need is a transparent
>material that is lightweight, does
>not scratch easily and does not
>shatter...(in one of the Star Trek
>movies they talk about transparent

Forget transparent aluminum -- a superior transparent material such as you describe is already available. It is caled transparent carbon. You might know this material by its more common name: diamond.

Of course this material has its own set of issues, but at least you can't fault the material itself.


At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, there are real transparent forms of aluminum, and they are almost as hard as diamond and much more easily manufactured. We call them corundum. When they have the right impurities we call them saphire.

At 4:03 PM, Blogger Rob said...

I forgive anachronisms in Star Wars because the word is a fantasy world, it's not pure Sci-Fi. The technology is the setting, it's not what we are watching it for primarily. In Star Trek - the technology is tied more to the people because it's US it's predicting.

If you think about it, Star Wars' story could be set in a medieval fantasy world - with the characters flying on dragons, or Unicorns and shooting arrows and wielding swords. It would be the same.

Star Trek on the other hand - would not be the same - because it's about our future.

So do I really care about anachronisms in Star Wars? Nope. It's set "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away...."


At 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Diamond burns.

In the show Stargate SG-1, the characters are on a spaceship for the first time. One of them comments that the mainview port is protected by a forcefield. One of the aliens comments that there is no transparent material that could withstand the solar dust at the velocity they are travelling.

At 9:11 AM, Anonymous Luke said...

I saw this the other day, and let me just say that when we have intergalactic travel, women sure aint going to be having natural births, much less dying from them!

At 3:19 PM, Anonymous Tim said...

Hi Marshall,

Regarding your review of Star Wars 28 years on, you complained about one droid conversing in English and another in beeps and whistles. The humans of the Star Wars galaxy don't speak English, they speak Basic, but it wouldn't be very good storytelling to subtitle an entire film as well as the scriptwriting challenge of creating a new language!
You also complained about hypodermic needles(and rightly so), but have you considered the syringe on the interrogation droid was useful as a psychological weapon?

You seem to be sold on the idea that humanity's next big step is leaving our physical bodies behind, but shouldn't we attempt to sort out psychological issues with humanity before becoming nothing more than an organic computer contained in a hatbox full of fluid? I find the notion of a bodyless existance offensive; I'd rather be able to run, play a guitar, hand-write a letter, or pick up my daughter and give her a hug, and know that I actually did all those things for myself; they weren't just a simulation.

At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

"It is fragile and easily breaks"

That's a myth. Glass is actually remarkably strong and resilient which is why it has been used for windows and containers for such a long time - approximately 2000 years (at least). As an example of how strong it is consider the following:

Last year I locked myself out of my house. There weren't any windows open so I couldn't use a ladder to climb in. I decided to break a pane of glass and borrowed a hammer from my neighbor for this purpose. I would probably have done better to go and buy myself a glass cutter from the local hardware store. I started by tapping the glass repeatedly with the hammer - no joy - the hammer just bounced of the glass. I tried using a little more force - still no joy. I started hitting the glass with a great deal of force indeed - this made a great deal of noise (it was pretty deafening) but the glass remained intact. I had to go back to my neighbor and borrow a very much larger hammer and then give it a considerable swing, much as one might swing a sledge hammer) before the glass broke and even then it took a couple of blows. My ears were singing with the sound of the unsuccessful blows for some hours after. So don't believe the myth that glass is "fragile and easily breaks". If it is well made, it is incredibly strong!

At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

Corundum and saphire are not a form of transparent aluminium. They are a form of aluminium oxide, a substance with very different physical properties to aluminium.

At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Marshall! Nice blog. Came here because of a certain UK "IT" website!!!

"It is incredibly heavy
It is fragile and easily breaks
When it breaks, it leaves either millions of small bits (in the case of tempered glass) or it leaves lethal shards."

None of which charateristics necessarily have to apply, except, in part, the weight. As always it's a trade and an important one that is being heavily researched. In fact i would think of all the architectural materials, other than construction steel, the most work has gone into glass in the past 20 years.

I don't speak with authority, but just as an amateur reader of architectural journals, and from a little experience with glass safety in the building where i live (a legal - regulatory & technical revelation, as it happens)

How else would we accept glass in skyscrapers, if it were not strong? Laminated glass is - as mentioned above - incredibly strong, and is often factored as a load bearing component in new buildings. That wasn't true when i grew up, nor i guess when you did.

Isn't this the sort of thing we live for? To be amazed what can be redesigned and not be "sad" anymore?

But traditional laminar glass is very heavy, and very expensive, because as the name implies it has to be a sandwich of multiple (and carefully tested) layers.

I live 7 floors up over a main street. The windows are not laminar glass, plain old "float" glass, which is brittle. Dangerously so in my opinion. But installing laminar glass has a new set of safety requirements because of the extra load requiring appropriately designed fittings.

If glass is fragile and heavy, it is very old, or very sad, as you'd put it. I've got that kind!

The solution to the weight is polymer or even metallic (i think vapor deposited) lattice lamination.

There's a company called Armorcoat i investigated that retails such a thing, and their big sales (of late) have been Govt. buildings. Maybe there are others, i just don't know, time of writing.

Adding a properly installed extra layer of their product appears (i've no direct evidence for this, and speak only as an interested potential customer) to make even quite fragile installed glass blast resistant (and hence burglar - with - hammer resistant!) to a sufficiently convincing degree they seem to be mopping up contracts in the City of London, where i work.

I've begun to recognise the particular reflectance character of the film they apply, and i can tell you, nearly every sensitive building in London UK has had it installed.

The product i believe uses a metallic lattice, effectively transparent, in a polymer layer, which is fitted inside the wondow frame. It's about 3mm thick. That's actually quite thick, compared with laminar bondings in-pane.

In theory, adding even second - fix layers like this solves all of the problems you associate with glass. The film is light. The glass can be "sad" or just plain light float glass. The effect is to contain any shattering in a neat sandwich.

It also (this product example i am using) offers the benefit of being conductive, so if you're a paranoid type, you can close the loop on your very own Faraday Cage!

Just some idle thoughts, to the effect that heavy laminar glass 1) isn't brittle anyway 2) you can add a lamination later without the sandwich mass of fabricated laminar.

Hope that's of some interest.

As i said, nice blog!

- jk

At 6:02 AM, Blogger Roland said...

I forgive anachronisms in Star Wars because the word is a fantasy world, it's not pure Sci-Fi. The technology is the setting, it's not what we are watching it for primarily.

Yep, it's all about the look. And a movie about a bunch of brains floating in jars would be really boring!

But seriously, anachronisms in Star Trek are heaps funnier. :-)

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