Experience the Majesty of Notre Dame by Getting a Free Download of the Video Game Assassin’s Creed Unity (Free for a Limited Time)

FYI: In the wake of the great Notre Dame fire, the French video game company Ubisoft has decided to make its popular video game Assassin's Creed Unity free through April 25th, allowing gamers to "experience the majesty and beauty of the cathedral." The gothic cathedral figures centrally in the game. Start your download (available only for PC users) here. Once you download the game, you’ll own it forever in your Uplay games library.

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via Laughing Squid

9 Science-Fiction Authors Predict the Future: How Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, Philip K. Dick & More Imagined the World Ahead

Pressed to give a four-word definition of science fiction, one could do worse than "stories about the future." That stark simplification does the complex and varied genre a disservice, as the defenders of science fiction against its critics won't hesitate to claim. And those critics are many, including most recently the writer Ian McEwan, despite the fact that his new novel Machines Like Me is about the introduction of intelligent androids into human society. Sci-fi fans have taken him to task for distancing his latest book from a genre he sees as insufficiently concerned with the "human dilemmas" imagined technologies might cause, but he has a point: set in an alternate 1982, Machines Like Me isn't about the future but the past.

Then again, perhaps McEwan's novel is about the future, and the androids simply haven't yet arrived on our own timeline — or perhaps, like most enduring works of science fiction, it's ultimately about the present moment. The writers in the sci-fi pantheon all combine a heightened awareness of the concerns of their own eras with a certain genuine prescience about things to come.

Writing in the early 1860s, Jules Verne imagined a suburbanized 20th century with gas-powered cars, electronic surveillance, fax machines and a population at once both highly educated and crudely entertained. Verne also included a simple communication system that can't help but remind us of the internet we use today — a system whose promise and peril Neuromancer author William Gibson described on television more than 130 years later.

In the list below we've rounded up Verne and Gibson's predictions about the future of technology and humanity along with those of seven other science-fiction luminaries. Despite coming from different generations and possessing different sensibilities, these writers share not just a concern with the future but the ability to express that concern in a way that still interests us, the denizens of that future. Or rather, something like that future: when we hear Aldous Huxley predict in 1950 that "during the next fifty years mankind will face three great problems: the problem of avoiding war; the problem of feeding and clothing a population of two and a quarter billions which, by 2000 A.D., will have grown to upward of three billions, and the problem of supplying these billions without ruining the planet’s irreplaceable resources," we can agree with the general picture even if he lowballed global population growth by half.

In 1964, Arthur C. Clarke predicted not just the internet but 3D printers and trained monkey servants. In 1977, the more dystopian-minded J.G. Ballard came up with something that sounds an awful lot like modern social media. Philip K. Dick's timeline of the years 1983 through 2012 includes Soviet satellite weapons, the displacement of oil as an energy source by hydrogen, and colonies both lunar and Martian. Envisioning the world of 2063, Robert Heinlein included interplanetary travel, the complete curing of cancer, tooth decay, and the common cold, and a permanent end to housing shortages. Even Mark Twain, despite not normally being regarded as a sci-fi writer, imagined a "'limitless-distance' telephone" system introduced and "the daily doings of the globe made visible to everybody, and audibly discussable too, by witnesses separated by any number of leagues."

As much as the hits impress, they tend to be outnumbered in even science fiction's greatest minds by the misses. But as you'll find while reading through the predictions of these nine writers, what separates science fiction's greatest minds from the rest is the ability to come up with not just interesting hits but interesting misses as well. Considering why they got right what they got right and why they got wrong what they got wrong tells us something about the workings of their imaginations, but also about the eras they did their imagining in — and how their times led to our own, the future to which so many of them dedicated so much thought.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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.

A 16th Century “Database” of Every Book in the World Gets Unearthed: Discover the Libro de los Epítomes Assembled by Christopher Columbus’ Son

The 16th century was a thrilling time for books, at least for those who could afford them: building a respectable personal library (even if it didn't include novelties like the books that open six different ways and the wheels that made it possible to rotate through many open books at once) took serious resources. Hernando Colón, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, seems to have commanded such resources: as The Guardian's Alison Flood writes, he "made it his life’s work to create the biggest library the world had ever known in the early part of the 16th century. Running to around 15,000 volumes, the library was put together during Colón’s extensive travels" and ultimately contained everything from the works of Plato to posters pulled from tavern walls.

Alas, this ambitious library, meant to encompass all languages, cultures, and forms of writing, is now mostly lost. "After Colón’s death in 1539, his massive collection ultimately ended up in the Seville Cathedral, where neglect, sticky-fingered bibliophiles, and the occasional flood reduced the library to just 4,000 volumes over the centuries," writes Smithsonian.com's Jason Daley. But we now know what it contained, thanks to the discovery just this year of the Libro de los Epítomes, or "Book of Epitomes," the library's foot-thick catalog that not only lists the volumes it contained but describes them as well. "Colón employed a team of writers to read every book in the library and distill each into a little summary in Libro de los Epítomes," Flood writes, "ranging from a couple of lines long for very short texts to about 30 pages for the complete works of Plato."

The Libro de los Epítomes turned up earlier this year in another collection, that of an Icelandic scholar by the name of Árni Magnússon who left his books to the University of Copenhagen when he died in 1730. Fewer than 30 of the 3,000 texts in Magnússon's mostly Icelandic and other Scandinavian-language collection (detailed images of which you can see at Typeroom) are written in Spanish, which perhaps explains why the Libro de los Epítomes went overlooked for more than 350 years. Rediscovered, it now offers a wealth of information on thousands and thousands of books from five-centuries ago, many of which have long since passed out of existence.

Colón’s uniquely exhaustive library catalog opens a window onto not just what 16th-century Europeans were reading, but how they were reading — and how the very nature of reading was evolving. "This was someone who was, in a way, changing the model of what knowledge is," Daley quotes Colón’s biographer Edward Wilson-Lee as observing. "Instead of saying ‘knowledge is august, authoritative things by some venerable old Roman and Greek people,’ he’s doing it inductively: taking everything that everyone knows and distilling it upwards from there." The comparisons to "big data and Wikipedia and crowdsourced information" almost make themselves, as do the references to a certain 20th-century Spanish-language writer with an interest in history, language, and knowledge as represented in books extant and otherwise. If the Libro de los Epítomes didn't exist, Jorge Luis Borges would have had to invent it.

via the Guardian

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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.

Animations Visualize the Evolution of London and New York: From Their Creation to the Present Day

If you’ve ever lived in a metropolis like London or New York, you know the sometimes-disorienting feeling of experiencing several decades—or centuries—at once in the dizzying accretions of architecture, street, and park designs. Or, at least, if you’ve toured one of those cities with a longtime resident, you’ve heard them loudly complain about how everything has changed. Whether you study urban life as a historian or a city dweller, you know well that change is constant in the story of big cities.

The animations here illustrate the point on a grand scale, with a satellite’s-eye view of New York, above, from 1609 when the city was first built on Lenape land to its current configuration of five boroughs, dense thickets of high-rises, a massive, complex transportation system, and 8,600,000 residents. It ends with a quote from E.B. White that sums up the geography and vibrancy of Manhattan: “The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races, and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.”

The New York video “animates the development of this city’s street grid and infrastructure systems,” writes its creator Myles Zhang at Here Grows New York City, “using geo-referenced road network data, historic maps, and geological surveys” to give us “cartographic snapshots” of every 20-30 years. Another project, the London Evolution Animation, uses similar techniques. But, of course, it reaches much further back in time, to over 2000 years ago when the Romans built the first road system across England and the port of Londinium.

Created in 2014, the visualization shows how the city evolved, “from its creation as a Roman city in 43AD to the crowded, chaotic megacity we see today.” As designers Flora Roumpani and Polly Hudson describe at The Guardian, the project drew from several sources, including the Museum of London Archaeology and the University of Cambridge’s engineering department. From these two institutions came “datasets from the Roman and Medieval periods as well as the 17th and early 18th centuries,” and “road network datasets from the late 18th century to today.”

Other archives offered information on the city’s historical buildings and monuments. Captions and a timeline provide a handy guide through its long history, as we watch more and more roads and buildings appear (and disappear after the Great Fire). These videos are useful references for students of urbanism, and they might give some perspective to the New Yorker or Londoner in your life who can’t stop talking about how much the city’s changed. Just imagine what these megacities could look like in another few hundred years.

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

How Leonardo da Vinci Drew an Accurate Satellite Map of an Italian City (1502)

When I look at maps from centuries ago, I wonder how they could have been of any use. Not only were they filled with mythological monsters and mythological places, but the perspectives mostly served an aesthetic design rather than a practical one. Of course, accuracy was hard to come by without the many mapping tools we take for granted—some of them just in their infancy during the Renaissance, and many more that would have seemed like outlandish magic to nearly everyone in 15th century Europe.

Everyone, it sometimes seems, but Leonardo da Vinci, who anticipated and sometimes steered the direction of futuristic public works technology. None of his flying machines worked, and he could hardly have seen images taken from outer space. But he clearly saw the problem with contemporary maps. The necessity of fixing them led to a 1502 aerial image of Imola, Italy, drawn almost as accurately as if he had been peering at the city through a Google satellite camera.

“Leonardo,” says the narrator of the Vox video above, “needed to show Imola as an ichnographic map,” a term coined by ancient Roman engineer Vitruvius to describe ground plan-style cartography. No streets or buildings are obscured, as they are in the maps drawn from the oblique perspective of a hilltop or mountain. Leonardo undertook the project while employed as Cesare Borgia’s military engineer. “He was charged with helping Borgia become more aware of the town’s layout.” For this visual aid turned cartographic marvel, he drew from the same source that inspired the elegant Vitruvian Man.

While the visionary Roman builder could imagine a god's eye view, it took someone with Leonardo’s extraordinary perspicacity and skill to actually draw one, in a startlingly accurate way. Did he do it with grit and moxie? Did he astral project thousands of miles above the city? Was he in contact with ancient aliens? No, he used geometry, and a compass, the same means and instruments that allowed ancient scientists like Eratosthenes to calculate the circumference of the earth, to within 200 miles, over 2000 years ago.

Leonardo probably also used an instrument called a bussola, a device that measures degrees inside a circle—like the one that surrounds his city map. Painstakingly recording the angles of each turn and intersection in the town and measuring their distance from each other would have given him the data he needed to recreate the city as seen from above, using the bussola to maintain proper scale. Other methods would have been involved, all of them commonly available to surveyors, builders, city planners, and cartographers at the time. Leonardo trusted the math, even though he could never verify it, but like the best mapmakers, he also wanted to make something beautiful.

It may be difficult for historians to determine which inaccuracies are due to miscalculation and which to deliberate distortion for some artistic purpose. But license or mistakes aside, Leonardo’s map remains an astonishing feat, marking a seismic shift from the geography of “myth and perception” to one of “information, drawn plainly.” There’s no telling if the archetypal Renaissance man would have liked where this path led, but if he lived in the 21st century, he'd already have his mind trained on ideas that anticipate technology hundreds of years in our future.

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

Notre Dame Captured in an Early Photograph, 1838

According to Le Monde, the fire that ravaged Notre Dame is now mercifully under control. Two thirds of the roof--and that beautiful spire--have been badly damaged. The same likely goes for some precious stained glass. But the two towers still stand tall. And the structure of the cathedral has been "saved and preserved overall," reports the commander of Paris' firefighting brigade.

The photo above, taken by Louis Daguerre in 1838, helps pay visual tribute to Emmanuel Macron's words tonight, “This history is ours... I say to you very solemnly, this cathedral, we will rebuild it.” Godspeed.

The Charlie Chaplin Archive Opens, Putting Online 30,000 Photos & Documents from the Life of the Iconic Film Star

Charlie Chaplin knew his movies were popular, but could he have imagined that we'd still be watching them now, as the 130th anniversary of his birth approaches? And even if he could, he surely wouldn't have guessed that even the materials of his long working life would draw great fascination in the 21st century — much less that they would be made instantaneously available to the entire world on a site like the Charlie Chaplin Archive. A project of the Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna, which has previously worked to restore and preserve Chaplin's filmography itself, it constitutes the digitization of Chaplin's "very own and painstakingly preserved professional and personal archives, from his early career on the English stage to his final days in Switzerland."

This online archive includes everything from "the first handwritten notes of a story line to the shooting of the film itself, stage by stage documentary evidence of the development of a film, or a project that never even became a film," as well as materials not directly related to the movies: "poems, lyrics, drawings, programmes, contracts, letters, magazines, travel souvenirs, comic books, cartoon strips, praise and criticism."

The vast majority of these items have never before been made publicly available, and all of them enrich our picture of the maker of classic comedies like Modern TimesCity Lights, and The Great Dictator as well as the highly eventful periods of history through which he lived.`

You can explore the Charlie Chaplin Archive by plunging straight into its collection of more than 4,000 images and nearly 25,000 documents, or you can enter through its curated topic sections: one on Chaplin's early career offers a glimpse into the humble launch of a cultural phenomenon that would go on to transcend cultures and eras; another on music shows Chaplin, who grew up in a musical family with musical ambitions of his own, conducting orchestras; and a section on travel presents clippings and photos related to his journeys to places like Bali and Japan, from which he returned on the same boat as Jean Cocteau. "Cocteau could not speak a word of English," Chaplin wrote in his autobiography of the voyage home. "Neither could I speak French, but his secretary spoke a little English, though not too well, and he acted as interpreter for us."

"That night we sat up into the small hours, discussing our theories of life and art," Chaplin continues, quoting Cocteau's secretary thus: "Mr Cocteau... he say... you are a poet... of zer sunshine... and he is a poet of zer night." These words, in turn, appear quoted (alongside the sketch of Chaplin by Cocteau above) on the Charlie Chaplin Archive's "Chaplin and Jean Cocteau" page, one of its continuously updated stories. Others collect material related to Chaplin's luxury-item purchases, Chaplin as director, and Chaplin's final speech delivered as the title character of The Great Dictator, which a recent announcement about the archive calls "one of the most licensed elements of Chaplin’s work in the 21st century" — a time whose surreality Cocteau might well recognize, and whose absurdity Chaplin certainly would.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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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