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Visitors to Disney World’s new Pandora-World of Avatar land are in for a cinematic experience!

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In this April 29, 2017 photo, Joe Rohde, design and production leader for Pandora-World of Avatar land attraction, explains about the caverns and the meaning of the cave drawings of the Na'vi, the native inhabitants of the planet Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. VOA

It’s not a movie set, but visitors to Disney World’s new Pandora-World of Avatar land are in for a cinematic experience.

The 12-acre land, inspired by the “Avatar” movie, opens in Florida in late May at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. It cost a half-billion dollars to build.

The marquee attraction is Flight of Passage, where a 3-D simulator plunges riders into a cinematic world. You feel like you’re riding on the back of a banshee, a bluish, gigantic, winged predator that resembles something out of the Jurassic era. Wearing 3-D glasses and straddling what resembles a stationary motorcycle, you’re strapped in, then the lights go out, a screen in front lights up and you’re swooped into a world of blue, gigantic aliens called Na’vi, with moon-filled skies, plunging waterfalls, jumping marine animals and towering ocean waves.

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The ride provides an enchanting and intoxicating five minutes that touches all the senses. Blasts of air and spritzes of mist hit your face, and as you fly through a lush forest, a woodsy aroma wafts through your nostrils. A visitor could go on the ride 20 times and not catch half the visual details.

Disney designers are quick to say the new land is the star of the action, not the backdrop. “The character is being portrayed and played by the place itself and that’s different than a set,” said Joe Rohde, the design and production leader of Pandora — World of Avatar.

In this April 29, 2017 photo, park guests see a Na'vi in a science lab while in the queue for the Avatar Flight of Passage ride at Pandora-World of Avatar land attraction in Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
In this April 29, 2017 photo, park guests see a Na’vi in a science lab while in the queue for the Avatar Flight of Passage ride at Pandora-World of Avatar land attraction in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. VOA

Flight of Passage is ride’s highlight

Other aspects of Pandora can’t quite compete with the excitement and immersion of Flight of Passage. Much of Pandora, at least during the daytime, is hard to distinguish from the rest of Animal Kingdom, Disney’s almost 20-year-old zoological-themed park with lush landscaping, an emphasis on conservation and a Noah’s ark range of animals.

At night, though, Pandora transforms into a sea of color with glowing lights on artificial plants and even in the pavement.

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The enormous blue Na’vi aliens from the “Avatar” movie appear sparingly, really just on Flight of Passage and a second attraction called Na’vi River Journey. Before going on Flight of Passage, visitors walk through a tunnel in a faux mountain until they stumble upon a laboratory that includes a Na’vi floating in a tank.

“It’s not as simple as a guy in a costume painted blue walking around out here,” Rohde said of the aliens. “We know they are culturally present around us but we will meet them when we go on an excursion.”

In this Saturday, April 29, 2017 photo, landscaping consisting of real Earth plant species mixed with sculpted Pandora flora surrounds a pond at the Pandora-World of Avatar land attraction in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World. (VOA)

Indoor river ride

The other main attraction, Na’vi River Journey, is an indoor river ride in the dark, lit up by glowing creatures and plants. The ride culminates with a Na’vi animatronic woman beating on drums as a chorus of voices reaches a crescendo. Images of the Na’vi riding horse-like creatures appear behind lush foliage, glimpsed in the distance from the river.

Disney has been building attractions themed on movies since Disneyland opened in 1955 with rides inspired by Snow White, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. Often, as with Pandora, the attractions open years after the movies debut. “Avatar” came out in 2009. Director James Cameron’s sequel isn’t due out until 2020. Lands based on “Star Wars” are scheduled to open in Disney parks in California and Florida in 2019.

Pandora-World of Avatar isn’t tied to a narrative from the film but rather tells a story set in the future, after humans degraded the jungle through industrial folly and a resurgence of nature overtakes the human-built environment. That theme is a recurring architectural motif, for example with a beverage stand and cantina made to look like they were built for industry by humans but then overrun by plant life.

A mix of real and artificial plants

Throughout Pandora, real plants intermingle with artificial plants that resemble alien pods or Dale Chihuly glass sculptures. It’s difficult to distinguish what is real.

“We were trying to get as close as possible to fool the eye,” said Zsolt Hormay, a Disney creative executive.

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At the entrance, visitors hear a cacophony of bird chirps and animal cries. A circle of drums connected to faux tree roots allows visitors to drum and then get a response of drumming or pulsing lights.

The focal points are a 135-foot (41-meter) mountaintop where Flight of Passage is located as well as “floating mountains” that appear to be suspended in air but are actually made of concrete. Engineers use tricks to make the park appear bigger than it is. The artificial foliage gets smaller as it goes higher on the mountain to give it the illusion of distance.

A look at some of the menu items available at the Satu'li Canteen restaurant at Pandora-World of Avatar.
A look at some of the menu items available at the Satu’li Canteen restaurant at Pandora-World of Avatar. VOA

New way to order food

Disney also is testing out a new way to order food at Pandora. Before going to the park, visitors can pull up a menu on the My Disney Experience mobile app, order lunch and go about visiting the park. When it’s time to eat hours later, they can go to the canteen, tap on an app a button that notifies the cooks they are present. Several minutes later their food will be ready in a special line.

Jon Landau, the executive producer of the original movie, says he hopes Pandora does for visitors what the film did for movie-goers.

“I hope when people come to Pandora and their eyes will be open and they will look at the world a little differently when they go back across the bridge,” Landau said.

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Disney unveils First Look of the Star Wars Theme Parks

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Star Wars theme parks first look shared
Walt Disney unveil the first look of Star Wars theme parks. Wikimedia
  • Disney shares the first look of the Star Wars theme parks in physical model
  • Star Wars land (unofficial name) was announced by CEO Bob Iger back in 2015
  • The two parks are set to open in 2019

New Delhi, July 15, 2017: Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has unveiled the first look of the Disney’s Star Wars theme parks, not in the form of a hologram, but in a 50ft physical model, giving a fine idea as to what visitors can expect.

The model of the project was revealed at D23 Expo, the ongoing mega fan event in Anaheim, California. The location is described as a “never-before-seen planet” and a “remote trading port and one of the last stops before Wild Space, where Star Wars characters and their stories come to life.”

CEO Bob Iger, in 2015, announced that the plan for a ‘Star Wars land’ has taken hold and promised “a jaw dropping new world” that would be the biggest single theme park ever created, populated by “humanoids, aliens and droids”.

Disney has revealed that visitors will control the Millennium Falcon on a customized secret mission as part of one signature attraction, while the other main attraction will land visitors “in the middle of a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.”

ALSO READ: Star Wars and Hinduism: 5 Hindu tenets that define Star Wars saga.

“It’s really about living in a story”, said Bob Chapek, the chairman of Disney’s parks and resorts. He added that the hope of the imagineers to create the sense of “total immersion” will involve visitors making choices right from the arrival.

“The model will remain on display at the pavilion throughout the weekend” says the PTI report.

These new lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World will open in 2019 – along with the release of Star Wars: Episode |X, the final installment of the current film trilogy.

 prepared by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter: goel_samiksha

 

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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Satellite sends First Quantum Signal to Earth

This is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them

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Micius
Micius satellite. wikimedia
  • An orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth
  • It is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications
  • They can not be cracked by ever-improving computer algorithms

June 18, 2017: It was reported by scientists today that an orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth. It is a big step towards sending quantum keys from satellites — an approach that has been heralded as a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them.

A laser on China’s Micius satellite, which was launched last year and is dedicated to researches related to quantum satellite communications, spit out pairs of entangled photons from its position, 500 km above Earth. Then two telescopes on Earth – about 1200 km apart — had 5 minutes each day to look for them as the satellite passed over both telescopes. It was found that paired photons survived the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. They detected 1 entangled pair per second out of the 6 million sent in that time.

So how exactly does all this work?

A quantum key needs to be generated first by two people who are looking to communicate. Then, one person receives one of the entangled photons in the pair, the other person receives the other. When the received photons have measured the photons, they obtain bits of information strung together to create a key that they both have. That key can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. The users can also share a portion of the key publicly to check if it has been compromised. In case if someone tries to intercept the communication at any point, they would then notice a difference between their strings.

Also read: NASA’s Curiosity rover finds a Wide Variety of Minerals in Martian Rocks

There is a certain set of problems as well. Caltech’s John Preskill believes even though it is an important proof of concept, the feat doesn’t address one of the biggest problems with quantum communications. Currently, these messages can’t be sent long distances. Photons, using an optical fiber to carry a quantum signal, can only make it about 100 km before the dissipation of the light.

Quantum systems are similar to optical telecommunications here on earth and need repeaters that are able to amplify the message so it can be passed long distances. But amplifying a quantum message in the same way optical ones are done would effectively result in the destruction of the information. That is why satellite-based communication are being eyed by researchers. The reported 500 km from space is an improvement over optical. Quantum signals were measured in another study published today from a satellite 38,000 km away to a single point. But in deploying a global network which would likely be able to combine optical fiber and satellites, the repeater problem still stands.

Preskill has predicted that it is more likely we will first come up with another form of encryption for communication. “There will be other ways of doing classical public key cryptosystems that we won’t know how to break with quantum computers,” he added.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang