Watch Stephen Hawking’s Interview with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Recorded 10 Days Before His Death: A Last Conversation about Black Holes, Time Travel & More

Ten days before Stephen Hawking’s death, Neil DeGrasse Tyson sat down with the world-famous physicist for an interview on Tyson’s StarTalk podcast. “I picked his legendary brain,” says Tyson in his introduction, “on everything, from the big bang to the origins of the universe.” He starts off, however, with some softballs. Hawking’s favorite food? He likes oysters. Favorite drink? Pimms.

Your appreciation for Tyson’s earnestly awkward small talk may vary. He’s prone to making himself laugh, which doesn’t elicit laughs from Hawking, whose communication was, of course, extraordinarily constrained. And yet, when it came to matters most of consequence to him, he was eloquent, witty, profound into his final days.

Though we cannot detect any tonal inflection in Hawking’s computer voice, we know him as a sensitive, compassionate person as well as a brilliant mind. It doesn’t sound like he’s bragging when—in answer to Tyson’s question about his favorite equation (at 4:10)—he replies, “the equation I discovered relating the entropy of black hole to the area of its horizon.” "How many people," Tyson replies, chuckling, "get to say that their favorite equation is one they came up with? That’s badass.”

Cutaway segments with Tyson, theoretical physicist Janna Levin, and comedian Matt Kirshen surround the short interview, with Levin offering her professional expertise as a cosmologist to explain Hawking’s ideas in lay terms. His favorite equation, she says, demonstrates that black holes actually radiate energy, returning information, though in a highly disordered form, that was previously thought lost forever.

At 8:05, hear Hawking’s answer to the question of what he would ask Isaac Newton if he could go back in time. Whether we understand his reply or not, we learn how “badass” it is in the cutaway commentary (which begins to seem a little ESPN-like, with Levin as the seasoned player on the panel). Rather than asking Newton a question Hawking himself didn’t know the answer to, which Newton likely couldn’t answer either, Hawking would ask him to solve a problem at the limit of Newton’s own studies, thereby testing the Enlightenment giant’s abilities.

Offered ad-free in Hawking’s memory, the podcast interview also tackles the question of whether it might ever be possible to actually travel back in time, at 24:00 (the answer may disappoint you). Michio Kaku joins the panel in the studio to clarify and sticks around for the remainder of the discussion. The panel also answers fan-submitted questions, and Bill Nye makes an appearance at 42:16. Hawking’s interview makes up a comparatively small portion of the show.

His answers, by necessity, were very brief and to the point. His final theories, by contrast, are mind-expandingly vast, opening us up to the secrets of black holes and the existence of the multiverse. While Hawking's theoretical work may have been too speculative for the Nobel committee, who need hard evidence to make a call, his legacy as “one of our greatest minds, of our generation, of the century, or maybe, ever,” as Tyson says, seems secure.

via Laughing Squid

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Huge Scale Model of Ancient Rome at Its Architectural Peak, Originally Commissioned by Mussolini

The narrator of Teju Cole's Open City, one of the better novels of memory and urban space to come along in recent years, at one point flies into New York City and remembers going to see a "sprawling scale model" of the metropolis at the Queens Museum of Art. "The model had been built for the World’s Fair in 1964, at great cost, and afterward had been periodically updated to keep up with the changing topography and built environment of the city. It showed, in impressive detail, with almost a million tiny buildings, and with bridges, parks, rivers, and architectural landmarks, the true form of the city." The model really exists; you can go see it yourself.

But if you get to Rome before you next get to New York, you can see another city model of equally impressive, almost implausible accomplishment there. At the Museum of Roman Culture resides a 1:250 recreation of imperial Rome, known as the Plastico di Roma Imperiale, which transports viewers not just through space but time as well. "To commemorate the birth of Augustus (63 BC) two thousand years earlier, Mussolini commissioned a model of Rome as it appeared at the time of Constantine (AD 306-337), when the city had reached its greatest size," says Encyclopedia RomanaConstructed by Italo Gismondi between 1933 and 1937, then extended and restored in the 1990s, it takes as its basis Rodolfo Lanciani's 1901 atlas the Forma Urbis Romae.

You can see more detailed pictures of the Plastico di Roma Imperiale at the Museum of Roman Culture's site as well as at Viral Spell, zooming in on such Roman landmarks as the Campus Martius, the Circus Maximus, the Tiber Island, and the Flavian Amphitheatre, better know as the Colosseum. "The attention to detail was so meticulous that one could not help but think of Borges’s cartographers," says Open City's narrator, "who, obsessed with accuracy, had made a map so large and so finely detailed that it matched the empire’s scale on a ratio of one to one, a map in which each thing coincided with its spot on the map." This memory comes prompted by the sight of the Big Apple, of course, but it somehow sounds even more fitting for the Eternal City at the height of its ambition.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Jane Goodall Now Teaching a Free Online Course on Developing Compassionate Leaders: Enroll and Start Today

FYI: Starting today, you can enroll in Jane Goodall's course on cultivating compassionate leaders. Offered through the University of Colorado-Boulder, the free MOOC will help participants "mentor young people to lead change in their communities using community mapping, collaborating with stakeholders, and designing practical solutions in the form of campaigns." Although mainly designed for "K-12 formal and informal educators in the United States," the course nonetheless welcomes anyone interested in compassion and leadership. Find more information about the class at this UC-Boulder page.

Separately, Goodall has also recently developed a course on conserving the environment. It's available through Masterclass. We have a few more details here.

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Feel Strangely Nostalgic as You Hear Classic Songs Reworked to Sound as If They’re Playing in an Empty Shopping Mall: David Bowie, Toto, Ah-ha & More

"…if he went away, as he had once upon a time, other voices, other rooms, voices lost and clouded, strummed his dreams." - Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms

Is there a word for the emotional floodtide that wells up when a song from the past catches us alone and unawares?

The sensation is too private to be written off as mere nostalgia.

Whatever chemical phenomenon explains it, “Cecil Robert,” a 20-year-old from Kaukauna, Wisconsin, has tapped into it in a big way, by messing with the frequencies of pop songs from the 70s, 80s and 90s, until they sound like something playing on the neighbor’s side of the wall, or the echo chamber of an empty shopping mall.

The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino wrote that his faraway remix of Toto’s early 80s soft rock hit, "Africa," above, sounded like “longing and consolation together, extended into emptiness, a shot of warmth coming out of a void.”

Funny. That pretty much sums up how I feel listening to Cecil Robert’s take on Nena's "99 Luftballons"

It was released in 1983, the year that I graduated high school and in which "Africa"—which I confess leaves me cold—hit Number One on Billboard’s Hot 100 list.

Were it a matter of sheer generational nostalgia, Tolentino (one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for 2017) should be laid flat by Mac DeMarco’s "My Kind of Woman" “playing slowly from another room.”

And I’d be getting all gooey over "Africa."

It doesn’t work that way.

But it definitely works, as evidenced by the plethora of comments that greet every new Cecil Robert upload:

This is what plays when I’m crying in a bathroom of a party and my crush comes in and comforts me…

This is the song you listen to during the aftermath of a party while everyone is passed out and someone left the music playing...

This really evokes the feeling of slowly bleeding out alone on the kitchen floor & all your senses slowly blurring together under the glare of the fluorescent light overhead set to the tune of the muffled music coming from the record player in the next room…

Such a deep connection begs that requests be taken, and Cecil Roberts does his best to oblige, prioritizing those who make a modest donation on his Patreon page:

I need "Hotel California" playing at an airport restaurant bar late at night…

I need U2—"Beautiful Day"  playing in a diner while it’s raining in the afternoon…

I need "Coming of Age" by Foster the People being played in a diner while I eat a hotdog and wait for my car to get out of the shop across the street...

(For the record, Tolentino asked for an another-room edit of Jai Paul’s dreamy 2011 electro-soul hit "BTSTU.")

Some of Cecil Robert's source material—Julee Cruise’s Twin Peaks theme, "Falling," for instance—is so ethereal that placing it at the other end of the sonic telescope almost feels like overkill.

On the other hand, it could add a welcome layer for fans subconsciously pining for that lost sense of anticipation—for early 90s girls in 50s saddle shoes and pencil skirts, for episodes doled out one week at a time…

Get in a weird mood on Cecil Robert’s YouTube channel.

Fast track a request for $2 on his Patreon page.

Listen to his original ambient compositions on Soundcloud.

via The New Yorker

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this Tuesday, March 20 for the second installment of Necromancers of the Public Domain at The Tank. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How the Ornate Tapestries from the Age of Louis XIV Were Made (and Are Still Made Today)

“Time is the warp and matter the weft of the woven texture of beauty in space, and death is the hurling shuttle.”

— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

For the uninitiated, the warp are the plain vertical threads of a weaving or tapestry, through which the colorful, horizontal weft threads are passed, over and under, on wooden needle-shaped bobbins (or shuttles).

As Beatrice Grisol, Head Weaver at Paris’ venerable Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins remarks, in The Art of Making a Tapestry, above, weavers must possess a love of drawing and an abundance of imagination in order to translate an artist’s vision using silken or woolen threads.

21st century designs are more contemporary, and dying equipment more precise, but Les Gobelins’s weavers’ process remains remarkably unchanged since the days of the Sun King, Louis XIV.

As in the 17th-century, giant looms are strung with white warp threads, in readiness for the threads expert dyers have colored according to the artist’s palette.

The colored weft threads are stored on spools, and eventually portioned out onto the bobbins, which dangle from the backside of the tapestry, as the weaver works her magic, constantly checking her progress in a mirror reflecting both the project's front side and a print of the original design.

It’s worth noting that the pronouns here are exclusively feminine. The lavish tapestries decorating Louis XIV’s court hinted at years of unsung labor by highly skilled craftswomen. Tapestries were the ne plus ultra of princely status, a testament to their owner’s erudition and taste. Louis XIV amassed some 2,650 pieces.

That’s a lot of bobbins, and a lot of hard-working female weavers.

Witness the transformation from artist Charles Le Brun’s 1664 study for the figure who would become the seated youth in The Entry of Alexander into Babylon

…to the fully realized oil on canvas rendering from 1690…

…to its incarnation as a tapestry in the Sun King’s court:

Speeding ahead to the 21st-century, Les Gobelins appears to rival Brooklyn’s Etsy flagship as a pleasantly appointed, well lit, and highly respected Temple of Craft.

View some of the highlights of the Getty Museum’s 2016 exhibition Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV here.

Or grab your heddles and plan an in-person visit to La Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on March 20 for the second installment of Necromancers of the Public Domain at The Tank. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Beautifully Designed Map Shows the Literal Translations of Country Names: “Place of Abundant Fish” (Panama), “Land of Many Rabbits” (Spain), and More

Recently we featured a world map that labels each country not with its name in English, but its name in its own language. That surely proved not just a fascinating linguistic-geographical lesson but, for many, a helpful guide to referring to other lands in a much more sophisticated manner at cocktail parties. But whatever one's motives, one ultimately has to wonder: what do all those country names actually mean? Few to none would have emerged as random assemblies of syllables; nearly all must have started as descriptions, to varying degrees of literalness, of the places they name.

Take, for instance, "Place of Abundant Fish," better known to its people as Panamá and to English-speakers as Panama. Or "Land of Burnt Faces," which many of us whose faces really would get burned if we took a trip there without sunscreen call Ethiopia. Or "Temple of the Soul of Ptah," "He that Striveth with God," and "In the Navel of the Moon," also known as Egypt, Israel, and Mexico.

These names and many others appear on this world map with country names translated literally into English. "I was disappointed by Spain," added German geographer Simon Kustenmacher when he tweeted out the map. "'Land of Many Rabbits'? I expected something related to military..."

Naturally, all manner of arguments immediately erupted beneath Kustenmacher's tweet: arguments over the source languages used, arguments over etymology, arguments over translation, arguments over interpretation. One commenter suggests that the United States of America, on the map simply labeled "The United States of America," actually be called "The United States of the Land of Amerigo Vespucci," the Italian cartographer who inspired the name "America." But then, some Americans might feel a very different variety of disappointment not only that their country's name doesn't mean "The Land of the Free," but that the meaning has already been claimed by Thailand. In creative cartography, as in every other pursuit, you can't please everybody.

You can view the map showing the "Literal Translation of Country Names" in a large zoomable fashion here.

via Kottke

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

David Byrne Creates a Playlist of Creative Music From Africa & the Caribbean—or What One Nameless President Has Called “Shithole Countries”

Image by LivePict, via Wikimedia Commons

However many shades of disgust that may have run through me when a certain world leader referred to Haiti and countries in Africa as “shitholes,” within hours, my head was turned in every direction by defiant, creative responses to the morally bankrupt comment that exposed the thinking behind it as completely void of knowledge and respect for the vibrancy of the countries in question. However wearying this display of ignorance, it only threw into higher relief the vitality and resiliency of African and Caribbean countries.

Few American artists have been as tuned into, and influenced by, that vitality as deeply and for as long as David Byrne. His decades-spanning engagement with African, Caribbean, and Latin American music and his founding of world music label Luaka Bop give him as much credibility on the subject as any “colonizer” (as a certain Black Panther character might teasingly say). Byrne wrote on his website in sadness and anger in response to the infamous comment. In an attempt to co-opt the word, he shared a playlist of African and Caribbean music that he called “The Beautiful Shitholes.” The reference may seem trivializing, but his purpose was serious, as he outlined in his full comments.

The question Byrne asks is whether music can “help us empathize with its makers?” Many cultural critics might look around and shake their heads. Byrne leaves the question open. His angry note is direct and directive, but even he admits that it’s a moment to vent, not to resolve a moral crisis. “Got that off my chest,” he concludes, “now maybe I can listen to some music.” Whatever degree of power we may or may not have to change cruel, bigoted policies, we always have the choice to turn our backs to xenophobes and racists and our faces to the rest of the world. Byrne invites us to do just that.

The playlist starts with four tracks from Luaka Bop compilation albums of Cuban music, whose “Afro-Cuban musical identity remained recognizable,” the label’s description notes, for "almost 500 years." Then we’re off into 32 tracks of classic and contemporary African and Caribbean music from well-known legends like Fela Kuti and Amadou & Miriam, young upstarts like Nigerian Afrobeat prodigy WizKid, and the relentlessly funky Tuareg rock stars Tinariwen. Byrne has always seemed to believe in music as a site of universal cultural exchange. His curated playlist and its unsparing title remind us that, while outrage, and action, over injustice is warranted, we can also find solutions in celebration.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Stephen Hawking Picks the Music (and One Novel) He’d Spend Eternity With: Stream the Playlist Online

Image by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

In Aspen, Colorado they hold a music festival every year and, in 1995, Stephen Hawking—who joined the cosmos this week—was there. This is where he first heard Francis Poulenc’s Gloria, considered by many the composer’s masterpiece.

“You can sit in your office in the physics centre there and hear the music without ever buying a ticket,” he said. “But on this occasion I was actually in the tent to hear the Gloria. It is one of a small number of works I consider great music.”

In 1992, the physicist was a guest on BBC Radio4’s long-running “Desert Island Discs” program to narrow down a list of music he’d take to the mythical island. Except for two pop songs, he chose classical works. You can listen to a Spotify playlist we’ve made containing the works below, or listen to the full interview with excerpts of the music here.

“I first became aware of classical music when I was 15,” he said in a Cambridge University interview. “LPs had recently appeared in Britain. I ripped out the mechanism of our old wind-up gramophone and put in a turntable and a three-valve amplifier. I made a speaker cabinet from an old book case, with a sheet of chip-board on the front. The whole system looked pretty crude, but it didn’t sound too bad."

“At the time LPs were very expensive so I couldn’t afford any of them on a schoolboy budget. But I bought Stravinsky’s Symphony Of Psalms because it was on sale as a 10” LP, which were being phased out. The record was rather scratched, but I fell in love with the third movement, which makes up more than half the symphony.” However, on the BBC broadcast, he says the first record he bought was Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major, and he made that one of his Island selections.

The whole broadcast is worth listening to for Hawking’s very personal connections to all his choices, from Wagner to the Beatles to his all-time favorite, Mozart’s Requiem. Finally the show also asks for Hawking’s favorite book—George Eliot’s Middlemarch—and a Luxury Choice, for which he chooses creme brulee.

His two main pleasures in life, he said, are physics and music.

But his final choice is the most poignant and sums up a life well lived, especially since doctors told him he had two years left…in 1963. He proved them wrong, and then some. As Edith Piaf sings, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.”

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Watch “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on The 405,” the New Oscar-Winning Portrait of an Artist

A quick fyi: IndieWire has made available on its YouTube channel "Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on The 405," a 40-minute documentary directed by Frank Stiefel. A portrait of a brilliant 56 year old artist, the film won the Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the recent Academy Awards. Here's the gist of what it's about:

Mindy Alper is a tortured and brilliant 56 year old artist who is represented by one of Los Angeles' top galleries. Acute anxiety, mental disorder and devastating depression have caused her to be committed to mental institutions undergo electro shock therapy and survive a 10 year period without the ability to speak. Her hyper self awareness has allowed her to produce a lifelong body of work that expresses her emotional state with powerful psychological precision. Through interviews, reenactments, the building of an eight and a half foot papier-mache' bust of her beloved psychiatrist, and examining drawings made from the time she was a child, we learn how she has emerged from darkness and isolation to a life that includes love, trust and support.

You can watch the complete film online. It will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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H.P. Lovecraft Writes “Waste Paper: A Poem of Profound Insignificance,” a Devastating Parody of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (1923)

Image by Lucius B. Truesdell and Lady Morrell, via Wikimedia Commons

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, as his ever-growing fan base knows, seldom spared his characters — or at least their sanity — from the vast, unspeakable horrors lurking beneath his imagined reality. Not that he showed much more mercy as a critic either, as his assessment of "The Waste Land" (1922) reveals. Though now near-universally respected, T.S. Eliot's best-known poem failed to impress Lovecraft, who, in his journal The Conservative, wrote in 1923 that

We here behold a practically meaningless collection of phrases, learned allusions, quotations, slang, and scraps in general; offered to the public (whether or not as a hoax) as something justified by our modern mind with its recent comprehension of its own chaotic triviality and disorganisation. And we behold that public, or a considerable part of it, receiving this hilarious melange as something vital and typical; as “a poem of profound significance”, to quote its sponsors.

Eliot's work, Lovecraft argued, simply couldn't hold up in the modern world, where "man has suddenly discovered that all his high sentiments, values, and aspirations are mere illusions caused by physiological processes within himself, and of no significance whatsoever in an infinite and purposeless cosmos." Science, in his view, has made nonsense of tradition and "a rag-bag of unrelated odds and ends" of the soul. A poet like Eliot, it seems, "does not know what to do about it; but compromises on a literature of analysis, chaos, and ironic contrast."

Looking on even this hatchet job, Lovecraft must have felt he'd failed to slay the beast, and so he composed a parody of "The Waste Land" entitled "Waste Paper" in late 1922 or early 1923. This "Poem of Profound Insignificance," which Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi calls the writer's "best satirical poem," begins thus:

Out of the reaches of illimitable light
The blazing planet grew, and forc’d to life
Unending cycles of progressive strife
And strange mutations of undying light
And boresome books, than hell’s own self more trite
And thoughts repeated and become a blight,
And cheap rum-hounds with moonshine hootch made tight,
And quite contrite to see the flight of fright so bright

You can read the whole thing, including its probably apocryphal half-epigraph from the Greek poet Glycon, at the H.P. Lovecraft Archive. "In many parts of this quite lengthy poem," Joshi writes, "he has quite faithfully parodied the insularity of modern poetry — its ability to be understood only by a small coterie of readers who are aware of intimate facts about the poet."

Lovecraft also tried his hand at non-parodic poetry, though history remembers him much less for that than for striking a more primal chord with his sui generis "weird fiction," whose parameters he was determining at the same time he was savaging his contemporary Eliot. And though scientific progress has marched much farther on since the 1920s, especially as regards the understanding of the human mind and whatever now passes for a soul, both men's bodies of work have only gained in resonance.

via Dangerous Minds

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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