The Wisdom of Carl Sagan Animated

Back in 1990, Voyager 1 snapped a photo of planet Earth from a record distance – 3.7 billion miles away. And there we saw it, our home, Planet Earth, a small blue dot almost swallowed by the vastness of space. This image inspired the title of Carl Sagan's 1994 book, The Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, which captivated millions of readers then, and still many more now.

Almost 17 years later, The Pale Blue Dot continues to give creative inspiration to many, including filmmakers who have created beautifully wrought films synced with narrations of Sagan's book. (See here and here.) Then we have this new addition: The Pale Blue Dot put into animation by Adam Winnik, an animation student who took Sagan's "scientific poetry" and turned into his visual thesis project at Sheridan College in Wyoming. Enjoy...

Ray Kurzweil, Futurist: 10 Questions About What’s Coming Next

The 2009 documentary Transcendent Man: The Life and Ideas of Ray Kurzweil is currently screening both online and in select venues, and provoking exactly the wide range of responses one would expect from a film about a futurist who has claimed, among other things, that man would soon learn how to extend his life "indefinitely." The New York Times recently compared his theories with 2nd and 3rd century gnosticism, and since this film was made by an avowed believer in Kurzweil's philosophy and theories, it's no surprise that Scientific American faults the movie for its reverence, and Variety wishes "It were not so transparently on [Kurzweil's side]."

Meanwhile, the "highly sophisticated crackpot," as you see him described in the movie's trailer, has been proven right more often than wrong. His fans are legion, and often wealthy. Larry Page, the founder and CEO of Google, helped establish Singularity University with Kurzweil in 2008, and there many entrepreneurs and investors take 10 week courses to the tune of $25,000.

If you're not interested in shelling out $5 to rent the movie online (scroll down to the bottom of the page), then Kurzweil's 10 answers to Time Magazine's 10 questions will give you a taste of what the fuss has been all about.

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly

Sartre, Heidegger, Nietzsche: Documentary Presents Three Philosophers in Three Hours

"Human, All Too Human" is a three-hour BBC series from 1999, about the lives and work of Friedrich NietzscheMartin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The filmmakers focus heavily on politics and historical context -- the Heidegger hour, for example, focuses almost exclusively on his troubling relationship with Nazism.

The most engaging chapter is "Jean-Paul Sartre: The Road to Freedom," in part because the filmmakers had so much archival footage and interview material (Check out a still lovely Simone de Bouvoir at minute 9:00, giggling that Sartre was the ugliest, dirtiest, most unshaven student at the Sorbonne).

Related Content:

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Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly

Tina Fey Brings Bossypants Tour to Google

A day after President Obama conducted his much publicized town hall meeting at Facebook, Tina Fey, the star of 30 Rock and the author of the new book Bossypants, headed to Google, just a few miles down the road.

Last May, Googlers had their riotous romp with Conan O'Brien. Now they get their 60 minutes with another comedian who came of age on NBC. The conversation led by Eric Schmidt teaches you the secrets of improv, how to take pictures like a model, the pros & cons of goofing on Sarah Palin, and why male and female comedy writers differ in fundamentally odd ways. Tina Fey is funny. But sometimes funnier is watching Schmidt trying to keep the conversation from going off the rails. Scroll to the 8:20 mark, and you'll see what I mean.

Just an fyi: Tina Fey actually narrates the audiobook version of Bossypants, and you can snag it for free through this deal. Details here.

The Kitty Genovese Myth and the Popular Imagination

On Monday, April 18th a 22-year old woman named Chrissy Lee Polis was severely beaten by two teenagers at a McDonald's in Baltimore, while several bystanders watched and a McDonald's employee videotaped the whole incident. Late last week, the video went viral, and now the employee has been fired, the two girls (one of whom is only 14) are in custody, and Polis is considering a civil suit. The victim, who is transgendered, told the Baltimore Sun this weekend that she considers the beating a hate crime.

Meanwhile, the incident has elicited several comparisons to the famous 1964 case of Kitty Genovese, a young woman who was stabbed to death in the courtyard of her New York City apartment building while 38 neighbors watched and did nothing to help her. The widespread coverage of her case had a huge impact on both policy and the field of psychology: The NYPD reformed its telephone reporting system; researchers began studying the bystander effect and diffusion of responsibility; and the dead woman became a symbol of the dire consequences of inaction.

One of the most elegant uses of that symbolism is the chapter (above) from the online motion comic based on the graphic novel Watchmen. Genovese figures prominently in the origin story of the superhero/antihero Walter Joseph Kovacs, aka "Rorschach." Rorschach constructs both his identity and his costume as a direct response to the passivity and even cynical voyeurism embodied by the neighbors who heard and watched her die.

But the actual reactions of the witnesses to Kitty Genovese's murder were more complicated than originally reported. It's unlikely, for example, that any of the infamous 38 bystanders heard the entire crime, or realized its severity in the moment. For a fascinating account of the discrepancies between the facts and myths of the case, you can listen to this 2009 story on NPR, or read this 2007 article from American Psychologist (the link is to a PDF from the author's website).

The Kitty Genovese parable is no less morally instructive for being not quite accurate. The bystander effect is still real, the McDonald's worker's decision to tape the beating last week rather than stop it is still reprehensible. And of course, Rorschach is still one of the most righteous dark avengers in popular culture. But it's worth remembering that we're more likely to learn from our mistakes when we dig for the truth, even -- and perhaps especially -- when the truth isn't so simple.

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly

The Hourglass: A Short Film that Celebrates Time, Slowly

Marc Newson is one of the world's most respected, exhibited and award-winning designers. According to his website, he's also the most highly-valued. Newson's pieces have set so many records at auction that his work now accounts for almost 25% of the total contemporary design market. It therefore comes as no surprise that the hourglasses he has designed for Ikepod's reboot cost anywhere from 9,000 to 13,000 Euros.

It's tempting to dismiss Ikepod's new Hourglass video as a sleek ad for an overpriced product, especially since that's exactly what it is. But the video is also an elegant, visually striking tribute to a vanishing world, in which time (and timepieces) seemed to move more slowly.

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly

The Soundtrack of the Universe

We think of space as a silent movie, something we see but never hear. Yet space creates a soundtrack of sorts (even if sound waves can't really travel through the cosmos), and now scientists and musicians want to play that soundtrack for you.

Earlier this year, Janna Levin, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College/Columbia University, described how we can mathematically model the sounds made by black holes. Fast forward to the 10:27 mark of her TED Talk above, and you will hear what it sounds like when a lighter black hole falls into a heavier black hole. The little guy bangs against space, kind of like a drumb playing faster and faster ... which brings us to Mickey Hart, a former drummer for The Grateful Dead.

In 2010, Hart teamed up with George Smoot, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to reproduce the sound of The Big Bang and supernovas. (Berkeley Labs posted this supernova clip above.) You can read more about the unlikely pairing and the "Rhythms of the Universe" project here, then experience more celestial sounds recreated by Hart here.

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