May the Fourth be with you!

The story goes that in 2005, when Star Wars creator George Lucas appeared in a German news interview, he was asked to recite the famous line from the movie, “May the Force be with you.” The German interpreter, however, misinterpreted the line as “We shall be with you on May 4th”.

The above has given further prominence to the already popular pun “May the Fourth be with you”, and as a result May 4th has come to be celebrated as Star Wars Day.

It is well known that fans of the Star Wars movies are some of the most dedicated and committed among movie fans (as parodied regularly in the popular TV series Big Bang Theory, for example), so it doesn’t take much to convince them to dedicate a day to celebrating and honouring the films. Around the world, fans get together for special screenings, or simply to enjoy an opportunity to dress in their favourite Star Wars outfits and spend some time with fellow devotees. You can even get recipes for themed party snacks (Death Star popcorn balls or Wookie Cookies, anyone?) on StarWars.com, and don’t forget the blue milk!

It doesn't take a lot of convincing to get Star Wars fans dressed up in their favourite outfits from the movies. Some are, however, a touch more committed than others - not content to wear his Star Trooper outfit to Star Wars parties only, this fan opted to run 42km on a warm, sunny day in the Auckland Marathon in New Zealand.  (© All Rights Reserved)
It doesn’t take a lot of convincing to get Star Wars fans dressed up in their favourite outfits from the movies. Some are, however, a touch more committed than others – not content to wear his Star Trooper outfit to Star Wars parties only, this fan opted to run 42km on a warm, sunny day in the Auckland Marathon in New Zealand.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Besides the May 4th pun, May is a special month for Star Wars fans. The 6 movies of the series debuted in May, starting with the original Star Wars being released on 25 May 1977. ‘Return of the Jedi’ was released on 25 May 1983, making this year the 30th anniversary of its release. May is also the birthday month for George Lucas (born 14 May 1944), and it’s the traditional starting month for the Star Wars Weekends at the Walt Disney World Resort.

And of course 2013 is an exciting year for all die-hard Star Wars fans, as there is a new trilogy of movies due for release, starting with ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’, coming soon to a theatre near you.

If you want to join in on the action in cyberspace, your key is the hashtag #MayThe4thBeWithYou. Or you can get connected with events, blogs, fan groups and more on StarWars.com Connect.

Check it out – there may just be an intergalactic bash happening near you!

Ray Dolby, shaping sound as we know it

Today we celebrate the birthday of Ray Dolby (18 Jan 1933), the American engineer and physicist who invented the Dolby Noise Reduction System.

Dolby Digital - keeping the Dolby name relevant in the digital era.(© All Rights Reserved)
Dolby Digital – keeping the Dolby name relevant in the digital era.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Dolby started his career in sound engineering while still at school, when he worked part-time at the Ampex Corporation. During his college years he became part of a team of engineers who invented the first practical video tape recorder in 1956. He subsequently started his own company, Dolby Laboratories, where he developed his noise reduction technologies, starting with Dolby A (1966), a broadband audio compression and expansion technique aimed at recording studios, with which audible tape hiss in professional tape recording can be significantly reduced without any discernible side-effects.

While Dolby A had real impact in the recording industry, perhaps the better known technology is Dolby B (1968), a sliding band noise reduction system aimed at the consumer market, which helped achieve high fidelity on cassette tapes.

All the Dolby variants work through a technique dubbed ‘companding’, which involves compressing the dynamic range of the sound during recording (‘dynamic pre-emphasis’), and expanding it during playback (‘dynamic de-emphasis’). This basically comes down to increasing the volume of low-level high-frequency sounds during recording and correspondingly reducing them during playback, thus reducing audible levels of tape hiss.

Various further iterations of Dolby’s audio noise reduction have subsequently been introduced, including Dolby C (1980), Dolby SR (1986) and Dolby S (1989).

Beyond noise reduction, Dolby Laboratories have also done ground-breaking work in the field of digital audio encoding and compression. Dolby Digital – first developed for movie theatres and later implemented in DVDs – is a digital audio compression format that was instrumental in the popularisation of surround sound. It has also been adopted as output format in most video game consoles, and several personal computers. Subsequent iterations of this technology include Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby Digital Live.

To say that Ray Dolby and his noise reduction and audio compression technologies have influenced the way we experience recorded sound, is an understatement. He has fundamentally shaped the way sound is recorded and reproduced, and his technologies have become so pervasive in sound reproduction that it is almost impossible to quantify its impact.