The Atlas of True Names Restores Modern Cities to Their Middle Earth-ish Roots

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I was born in the City of the Flowland People, made my way to Stink Onion upon reaching maturity, then onward to New Yew Tree Village where I have lived for the last 217 moons.

Look up some of your key co-ordinates in The Atlas of True Names and you too can have a personal history as mythic-sounding as mine. The maps---for the UK, USA, Canada, and World---replace modern geographical names with the original etymological roots of cities, countries, and bodies of water, translated into English. Their website picks the "Sahara desert" to illustrate the true name selection process. Their chosen label “The Tawny One" has its basis in es-sahra, translated from the Arabic as “the fawn colored desert”. It would be interesting to learn how many professional translators lent a hand with the etymological parsing. There are a lot of languages in this world and we all know the havoc Google Translate can wreak.

Married cartographers (and Lord of the Rings fans) Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust acknowledge that there could be alternates to their translations. This should come as a relief to the civic boosters of Philadelphia. Quibblers will no doubt enjoy taking issue with Hormes and Peust's choices. Hopefully, any resulting internet brawls will take place on a higher---and dustier---plateau than those where vultures pick hapless celebrities to shreds.

Order one of these maps and pack it along on your summer road trip. Even if younger family members can't be bothered to learn how to navigate without a phone, the narratively rich names are sure to leaven those long hours in the car. (How badly do you have to go, Jason? Can you hold out until Table or should Daddy pull over in the Valley of the Darkland Dweller?) 

It's living history in travel version.

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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books including the increasingly obsolete Zinester's Guide to NYC and No Touch Monkey! and Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late. Follow her @AyunHallliday

Louis Armstrong’s 1964 Interview with a Pair of Intrepid Kid Reporters

In the summer of 1964, two young boys from the North Shore suburbs of Chicago took a tape recorder and set out to interview jazz legend Louis Armstrong for their high school radio station. Armstrong was playing a concert at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, not far from the boys' school in Winnetka. He agreed to an interview, and as a group of professional reporters from the city's major news outlets waited impatiently outside his dressing room door, Armstrong spent 20 minutes answering questions for a little 10-watt FM radio station.

The story is told above, in the latest installment of PBS's ongoing animation project with Blank on Blank, a group that brings unheard interviews back to life. Michael Aisner, who was 15 when he met Armstrong, and his friend James R. Stein, who was 14, recount their adventure and play a few highlights from the interview. Armstrong explains how he got the nickname "Satchmo" and talks a little about his Dickensian childhood and how he learned to play the coronet in the Home for Colored Waifs in New Orleans. He talks about the need for practicing hard every day, and about the talent that was his ticket out of the slums. "You've got to be good," Armstrong says, "or bad as the devil."

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The World’s Best Commercials from 2012-2013 Named at Cannes

Growing up, I used to watch those compilations of commercials television networks would throw together to cheaply fill airtime: America's Funniest Commercials, Coolest Commercials of the Year, The Most Inexplicable Foreign Commercials You've Ever Seen. This speaks not only to how boring a childhood I must otherwise have had, but to how many advertisements really do, if looked at from the right angle, contain a kernel of creative value. The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the world advertising industry's biggest gathering, recently anointed a few of 2012-13's commercials as worth watching on purpose. You can watch 21 of them on Adweek's website (though be warned that they unforgivably put each video on a separate page). At the top you'll find the first, Melbourne Metro's train-safety spot "Dumb Ways to Die."

You may have encountered it before, when it went mildly viral due to not only its sheer macabre cuteness, but presumably public shock at seeing a transit agency commission something entertaining. I've certainly seen many a tin-eared pitch by the Metro in my own city, Los Angeles. I've also seen stubby Smart Fortwos sprout up like mobile mushrooms here, and the ad just above by Bigfish Filmproduction tells me why by labeling it "the ultimate city car" — and underscoring the point by showing just how poorly it fares out in the wilderness. Below, you'll find a commercial for a brand that hardly needs advertisement: Leica. It trades on the rich history of the Leica camera, but tells it from the point of view of the camera itself, shooting in the style of a classic World War II film. (If it stirs you to learn more, consider reading "Candid Camera," Anthony Lane's meditation on the Leica for the New Yorker.)

H/T Kim L.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

What Do Most Philosophers Believe? A Wide-Ranging Survey Project Gives Us Some Idea

What do most philosophers believe? The question may only interest other philosophers—and when it comes to such esoteric concerns as the “analytic synthetic distinction,” this is probably true. But when it comes to the big issues that have given every thoughtful person at least one sleepless night, or the questions regularly explored by speculative fictions like Star Trek or zombie movies, the rest of us might sit up and take notice.

Two contemporary philosophers, David Chalmers and David Bourget, decided to find out where their colleagues stood on 30 different philosophical issues by constructing a rigorous survey that ended up accounting for the views of over 3,000 professors, graduate students, and independent thinkers. Most of the respondents were affiliated with prestigious philosophy departments in the English-speaking world, though several continental European departments are also represented.

Some semi-famous names come up in a perusal of the list of public respondents, like A.C. Grayling and Massimo Pigliucci. For the most part, however, the survey group represents the rank-and-file, toiling away as teachers, thinkers, writers, and researchers at colleges across the Western world. You survey geeks out there can dig deeply into Chalmers and Bourget’s detailed accounting of their methodology here. But for a quick and dirty summary, let’s take a couple of general categories and look at the results.


The issues that fall under this heading broadly involve questions about what exists, and why and how it does. Here’s a breakdown of some of the biggies:

  • God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%

Granted, this is an oversimplification. Popular notions of these categories don’t necessarily correspond to more subtle distinctions among philosophers, who may be strong or weak atheists (or theists), or hold some version of deism, agnosticism, or none of the above.

  •  Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%

Compatibilism, the majority view here, is the theory that we can choose our actions to some degree, and to some degree they are determined by prior events. Libertarianism (related to, but not synonymous with, the political philosophy) claims that all of our actions are freely chosen.

  • Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%

Naturalism, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “the idea or belief that only natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world,” or “the belief that nothing exists beyond the natural world.” Note that metaphysical naturalism needs to be distinguished from methodological naturalism, which nearly all scholars and scientists embrace.

  • Abstract objects: Platonism 39.3%; nominalism 37.7%; other 23.0%

This distinction gets at whether abstractions like geometry or the laws of logic exist in some immutable form “out there” in the universe (as Platonic ideas) or whether they are “nominal,” no more than convenient formulas we create and apply to our observations. It’s a debate at least as old as the ancient Greeks.

Personal Identity:

In this general category, we deal with questions about what it means to be a person and how we can exist as seemingly coherent individuals over time in a world in constant flux. Let’s take two fun examples that deal with these quandaries, shall we?

  • Teletransporter: survival 36.2%; death 31.1%; other 32.7%

Here, we’re dealing with a thought experiment proposed by Derek Parfit (one of the participants in the survey) that pretty much takes the Star Trek transporter technology (or the horror version in The Fly) and asks whether the transported individual—completely disintegrated and reconstituted somewhere else---is the same person as the original. In other words, can a “person” survive this process or does the individual die and a new one take its place? The question hinges on ideas about a “soul” or “spirit” that exists apart from the material body and asks whether or not we are nothing more than very specific arrangements of matter and energy.

  • Zombies: conceivable but not metaphysically possible 35.6%; metaphysically possible 23.3%; inconceivable 16.0%; other 25.1%

Zombies are everywhere. Try to escape them! You can’t. Their prevalence in popular culture is mirrored in the philosophy world, where zombies have long served as metaphors for the possibility of a pure (and ravenous) bodily existence, devoid of conscious self-awareness. The prospect may be as frightening as the zombies of the Walking Dead, but is it a real possibility? A significant number of philosophers seem to think so.

As I said, these are just a few of the issues Chalmers and Bourget’s survey queries. Physicist Sean Carroll has a quick summary of all of the results on his blog, and Chalmers and Bourget have made all of their data and analysis very transparent and freely available at their Philpapers site. David Chalmers, who specializes in philosophy of mind and looks like one of Spinal Tap's doomed drummers, spills the beans on his ideas of consciousness in the video at the top.

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

Explore the Massive Stanley Kubrick Exhibit, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Until June 30

No American filmmaker commands such overwhelming critical respect and popular acclaim as Stanley Kubrick. A hero to art house film students and everyday lovers of sci-fi, horror, and war movies, Kubrick’s meticulous craftsmanship and visionary reimagining of genre films are legendary, and his genius is currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Or at least it is until the end of the month.

The traveling Kubrick exhibit, housed at LACMA since November, will move on June 30, so if you’re in the area, don’t delay. The Kubrick exhibit covers his work as a photographer for Look magazine in the 1940s through his filmmaking achievements from the 50s to the 90s. LACMA further describes the collection on its site:

His films are represented through a selection of annotated scripts, production photography, lenses and cameras, set models, costumes, and props. In addition, the exhibition explores Napoleon and The Aryan Papers, two projects that Kubrick never completed, as well as the technological advances developed and utilized by Kubrick and his team.

If you can’t make it to L.A., a YouTube user has created the wonderful three-part video tour of the exhibit above, set to classic Kubrick-ian film scores. Also, be sure to flip through the 100 photos of the exhibit—including shots of famous props, Kubrick’s cameras, lenses, and scripts, and his director’s chair—at Jamie & Adam Tested.

Note: In conjunction with the exhibition, LACMA has created a free app for iPhone, iPad and Android. It "features photographs, script notes, an interactive timeline of Kubrick's career, and original interviews with Stan Douglas, Elvis Mitchell, Chris Nolan, Terry Semel, David Slade and Douglas Trumbull about the director's life and legacy. Excerpts from a rare 1965 interview with Kubrick, courtesy of Jeremy Bernstein, are also included."

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

Free Interactive e-Books from NASA Reveal History, Discoveries of the Hubble & Webb Telescopes


Earlier this month NASA announced that the Hubble Space Telescope found evidence of a planet forming 7.5 billion miles from its star. This astonishing discovery challenges all of our current theories about how planets develop.

A few days later, Hubble captured images of two galaxies merging.

Hubble has been in orbit since 1990, collecting images with one of the largest and most versatile telescopes designed for deep space. No single tool has done as much to advance astronomical public relations in recent years.

Hubble’s development, launch and discoveries are the subject of a new, free interactive e-book (best viewed on the iPad) that brings to life Hubble’s distinguished service as our eye on the universe.


For almost as long as Hubble has been in space, NASA has been working on the next generation space telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope will feature a mirror three times the size of Hubble’s. Once launched, the telescope will travel far beyond our Moon. NASA’s free e-book about the Webb Telescope reveals the preparation going on to get the new tool ready for take-off.


Its large mirror and distant viewing position are expected to give Webb’s images higher resolution and sensitivity, allowing scientists to study the birth and evolution of galaxies as well as the formation of stars and planets.

The e-books are written at a high school level and can be viewed on an iPad using a free iBooks app. If you don’t have an iPad, no need to worry. A non-interactive version of the Hubble eBooks is also available, as is one about the Webb Telescope.

You will find these books in our collections, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices and 200 Free Kids Educational Resources: Video Lessons, Apps, Books, Websites & More

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Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @mskaterix.

Amazing Aerial Photographs of Great American Cities Circa 1906

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Click images to enlarge

In the late 19th century, an enterprising photographer named George R. Lawrence developed a keen interest in aerial photography. He first began taking pictures with the help of high ladders, towers, and airborne balloons. Later he switched to using unmanned kites, which did the trick. Deploying 17 Conyne kites strung together by piano wire, Lawrence hoisted a hulking, 50 pound camera some 400 to 2,000 feet above the ground and then began capturing views of American cities. Most of these urban centers were growing at a steady clip. But, in his most famous photograph, Lawrence captured San Francisco reeling after the devastation of the 1906 earthquake. (Click the image above to see the leveled city in a larger format.)

New York Lawrence

A collection of Lawrence's panoramic photographs can be viewed over at the Library of Congress web site. The collection includes bird's-eye views of Manhattan (above) and a more sleepy Brooklyn, not to mention some great Midwestern cities and towns. Below you can see a vintage shot of The University of Chicago campus circa 1904. Or here Evanston's Northwestern campus in 1907. And let's not forget this 1908 photo of Madison, WI, where I spent my most formative years some eight decades later....

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via @MatthiasRascher and Daily Mail

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