NASA Puts 400+ Historic Experimental Flight Videos on YouTube

"Video," as we now say on the internet, "or it didn't happen," articulating a principle to which the ever-forward-thinking National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has adhered for about 70 years now, starting with film in the time before the invention of video itself. Even setting aside the wonders of voyaging into outer space, NASA has done a few things right here on Earth that you wouldn't believe unless you saw them with your own eyes. And now you easily can, thanks to the agency's commitment to making the fruits of its research available to all on its YouTube Channel. Take for example this recently-uploaded collection of 400 historic flight videos.

Here we have just a sampling of the hundreds of videos available to all: the M2-F1, a prototype wingless aircraft, towed across a lakebed by a modified 1963 Pontiac Catalina convertible; a mid-1960s test of the Lunar Lander Research Vehicle, also known as the "flying bedstead," that will surely remind long-memoried gamers of their many quarters lost to Atari's Lunar Lander; a spin taken in the Mojave Desert, forty years later, by the Mars Exploration Rover; and, most explosively of all, a "controlled impact demonstration" of a Boeing 720 airliner full of crash-test dummies meant to test out a new type of "anti-misting kerosene" as well as a variety of other innovations designed to increase crash survivability.

These historic test videos were all shot back when the Armstrong Flight Research Center (re-named in 2014 for Neil Armstrong, whose legacy stands as a testament to the cumulative effectiveness of all these NASA tests) was known as the Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Center: you can watch the 418 clips just from that era on this playlist.

Rest assured that the experimentation continues and that NASA still pushes the boundaries of aviation right here on Earth, a project continuously documented in the channel's newest videos. As astonishing as we may find mankind's forays up into the sky and beyond so far, the aviation engineer's imagination, it seems, has only just gotten started.

via PaleoFuture

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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.

A Map Shows What Happens When Our World Gets Four Degrees Warmer: The Colorado River Dries Up, Antarctica Urbanizes, Polynesia Vanishes

Humanity faces few larger questions than what, exactly, to do about climate change — and, in a sense larger still, what climate change even means. We've all heard a variety of different future scenarios laid out, each of them based on different data. But data can only make so much of an impact unless translated into a form with which the imagination can readily engage: a visual form, for instance, and few visual forms come more tried and true than the map.

And so "leading global strategist, world traveler, and best-selling author" Parag Khanna has created the map you see above (view in a larger format here), which shows us the state of our world when it gets just four degrees celsius warmer. "Micronesia is gone – sunk beneath the waves," writes Big Think's Frank Jacobs in an examination of Khanna's map. "Pakistan and South India have been abandoned. And Europe is slowly turning into a desert."

But "there is also good news: Western Antarctica is no longer icy and uninhabitable. Smart cities thrive in newly green and pleasant lands. And Northern Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia produce bountiful harvests to feed the hundreds of millions of climate refugees who now call those regions home."

Not quite as apocalyptic a climate-change vision as some, to be sure, but it still offers plenty of considerations to trouble us. Lands in light green, according to the map's color scheme, will remain or turn into "food-growing zones" and "compact high-rise cities." Yellow indicates "uninhabitable desert," brown areas "uninhabitable due to floods, drought, or extreme weather." In dark green appear lands with "potential for reforestation," and in red those places that rising sea levels have rendered utterly lost.

Those last include the edges of many countries in Asia (and all of Polynesia), as well as the area where the southeast of the United States meets the northeast of Mexico and the north and south coasts of South America. But if you've ever wanted to live in Antarctica, you won't have to move into a research base: within a couple of decades, according to Khanna's data, that most mysterious continent could become unrecognizable and "densely populated with high-rise cities," presumably with their own hipster quarters. But where best to grow the ingredients for its avocado toast?

Anyone interested in Parag Khanna's map will want to check out his book, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization.

via Big Think

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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.

Werner’s Nomenclature of Colour, the 19th-Century “Color Dictionary” Used by Charles Darwin (1814)

Before Pantone invented “a universal color language” or big box hardware stores arose with proprietary displays of colorfully-named paints—over a century before, in fact—a German mineralogist named Abraham Gottlob Werner invented a color system, as detailed and thorough a guide as an artist might need. But rather than only cater to the needs of painters, designers, and manufacturers, Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours also served the needs of scientists. “Charles Darwin even used the guide,” writes This is Colossal, “during his voyage to the Madeira, Canary, and Cape Verde islands on the H.M.S. Beagle.”

Werner’s is one of many such “color dictionaries” from the 19th century, “designed to give people around the world a common vocabulary,” writes Daniel Lewis at Smithsonian, “to describe the colors of everything from rocks and flowers to stars, birds, and postage stamps.” These guides appealed especially to naturalists.

Indeed, the book began—before Scottish painter Patrick Syme updated the system in English, with swatches of example colors—as a naturalist’s guide to the colors of the world, naming them according to Werner’s poetic fancy. “Without an image for reference,” the original text “provided immense handwritten detail describing where each specific shade could be found on an animal, plant, or mineral. Many of Werner's unique color names still exist in common usage, though they've detached from his scheme ages ago.

Prussian Blue, for instance, which can be located "in the beauty spot of a mallard’s wing, on the stamina of a bluish-purple anemone, or in a piece of blue copper ore.” Other examples, notes Fast Company’s Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, include “’Skimmed Milk White,’” or no. 7… found in ‘the white of the human eye’ or in opals,” and no. 67, or “’Wax Yellow’… found in the larvae of large Water Beetles or the greenish parts of a Nonpareil Apple.” It would have been Syme’s 1814 guide that Darwin consulted, as did scientists, naturalists, and artists for two centuries afterward, either as a taxonomic color reference or as an admirable historic artifact—a painstaking description of the colors of the world, or those encountered by two 18th and 19th century European observers, in an era before photographic reproduction created its own set of standards.

The book is now being republished in an affordable pocket-size edition by Smithsonian Books, who note that the Edinburgh flower painter Syme, in his illustrations of Werner’s nomenclature, “used the actual minerals described by Werner to create the color charts.” This degree of fidelity to the source extends to Syme’s use of tables to neatly organize Werner’s precise descriptions. Next to each color’s number, name, and swatch, are columns with its location on various animals, vegetables and minerals. “Orpiment Orange,” named after a mineral, though none is listed in its column, will be found, Werner tells us, on the “neck ruff of the golden pheasant” or “belly of the warty newt.” Should you have trouble tracking these down, surely you’ve got some “Indian cress” around?

While its references may not be those your typical industrial designer or graphic artist is likely to find helpful, Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours will still find a treasured place in the collections of designers and visual artists of all kinds, as well as historians, writers, poets, and the scientific inheritors of 19th century naturalism, as a “charming artifact from the golden age of natural history and global exploration.” Flip through a scanned version of the 1821 second edition just above, including Werner's introduction and careful lists of color properties, or read it in a larger format at the Internet Archive. The new edition is now available for purchase here.

via This Is Colossal/Fast Co

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

Artificial Intelligence May Have Cracked the Code of the Voynich Manuscript: Has Modern Technology Finally Solved a Medieval Mystery?

What is it about the Voynich Manuscript—that cryptic, illustrated 15th century text of unknown origin and meaning—that has so fascinated and obsessed scholars for centuries? Written in what appears to be an invented language, with bizarre illustrations of otherworldly botany, mysterious cosmology, and strange anatomy, the book resembles other proto-scientific texts of the time, except for the fact that it is totally indecipherable, “a certain riddle of the Sphinx,” as one alchemist described it. The 240-page enigma inspires attempt after attempt by cryptologists, linguists, and historians eager to understand its secrets—that is if it doesn’t turn out to be a too-clever Medieval joke.

One recent try, by Nicholas Gibbs, has perhaps not lived up to the hype. Another recent attempt by Stephen Bax, who wrote the short TED Ed lesson above, has also come in for its share of criticism. Given the investment of scholars since the 17th century in cracking the Voynich code, both of these efforts might justifiably be called quite optimistic. The Voynich may forever elude human understanding, though it was, presumably, created by human hands. Perhaps it will take a machine to finally solve the puzzle, an artificial brain that can process more data than the combined efforts of every scholar who has ever applied their talents to the text. Computer scientists at the University of Alberta think so and claim to have cracked the Voynich code with artificial intelligence (AI).

Computer science professor Greg Kondrak and graduate student Bradley Hauer began their project by feeding a computer program 400 different languages, taken from the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” While “they initially hypothesized that the Voynich manuscript was written in [ancient] Arabic,” reports Jennifer Pascoe, “it turned out that the most likely language was [ancient] Hebrew.” (Previous guesses, the CBC notes, “have ranged from a type of Latin to a derivation of Sino-Tibetan.”) The next step involved deciphering the manuscript’s code. Kondrak and Hauer discovered that “the letters in each word… had been reordered. Vowels had been dropped.” The theory seemed promising, but the pair were unable to find any Hebrew scholars who would look at their findings.

Without human expertise to guide them, they turned to another AI, whose results, we know, can be notoriously unreliable. Nonetheless, feeding the first sentence into Google translate yielded the following: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.” It’s at least grammatical, though Kondrak admits “it’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript.” Other analyses of the first section have turned up several other words, such as “farmer,” “light,” “air,” and “fire”—indeed the scientists have found 80 percent of the manuscript's words in ancient Hebrew dictionaries. Figuring out how they fit together in a comprehensible syntax has proven much more difficult. Kondrak and Hauer admit these results are tentative, and may be wrong. Without corroboration from Hebrew experts, they are also unlikely to be taken very seriously by the scholarly community.

But the primary goal was not to translate the Voynich but to use it as a means of creating algorithms that could decipher ancient languages. “Importantly,” notes Gizmodo, “the researchers aren’t saying they’ve deciphered the entire Voynich manuscript,” far from it. But they might have discovered the keys that others may use to do so. Or they may—as have so many others—have been led down another blind alley, as one commenter at IFL Science suggests, sarcastically quoting the wise Bullwinkle Moose: “This time for sure!”

You can find the Voynich Manuscript scanned at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Copies can be purchased in book format as well.

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

Carl Sagan’s Syllabus & Final Exam for His Course on Critical Thinking (Cornell, 1986)

Though now more than twenty years gone, Carl Sagan, through his many books and his classic television series Cosmoscontinues to teach us all he knew about life, the universe, and everything. Three decades' worth of students will also remember learning from him in person, in the lecture halls of Harvard and Cornell where he kept up his professorial duties alongside the considerable demands of his career as a public intellectual. If you've ever learned anything from Sagan, whether from the man himself or from his work, you know he didn't just want to teach humanity about outer space: he wanted to teach humanity how to think.

That goal became explicit in Astronomy 490, also known as "Critical Thinking in Science and Non-Science Context," which Sagan taught at Cornell in 1986. You can read its course materials at the Library of Congress, whose Jennifer Harbster writes that they "include mention of the important balance between openness to new ideas and skeptical engagement with those ideas in science," a point that "animates much of Carl Sagan’s work as an educator and science communicator."

The LoC offers the course's introduction and syllabus, its final exam, and Sagan's lecture notes, as well as the information he assembled to design the course in the first place, which show just how wide a range of contexts for critical thinking he had in mind.

Sagan collected examples of reporting on and public perception of phenomena related to sports playoff seriescar-loan interest rates, tobacco industry-sponsored tobacco health-risk research, and the number of helicopters that crash in Los Angeles. Harbster explains that "these notes illustrate how he wanted to use students' every day experience with things like television to prompt them to think more skeptically about how claims are made and warranted in everyday life." Though some of his examples  (the language of cigarette advertisements, for instance) may look dated now, the course's core principles have only grown more useful, and indeed necessary, with time — as Sagan, who wrote darkly of "the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media," surely knew they would.

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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.

Western Music Moves in Three and Even Four (!) Dimensional Spaces: How the Pioneering Research of Princeton Theorist Dmitri Tymoczko Helps Us Visualize Music in Radical, New Ways

Every musician has some basic sense of how math and music relate conceptually through geometry, in the circular and triadic shapes formed by clusters of notes when grouped together in chords and scales. The connections date back to the work of Pythagoras, and composers who explore and exploit those connections happen upon profound, sometimes mystical, insights. For example, the two-dimensional geometry of music finds near-religious expression in the compositional strategies of John Coltrane, who left behind diagrams of his chromatic modulation that theorists still puzzle over and find inspiring. It will be interesting to see what imaginative composers do with a theory that extends the geometry of music into three—and even four (!)—dimensions.

Pioneering Princeton University music theorist and composer Dmitri Tymoczko has made discoveries that allow us to visualize music in entirely new ways. He began with the insight that two-note chords on the piano could form a Möbius strip, as Princeton Alumni Weekly reported in 2011, a two-dimensional surface extended into three-dimensional space. (See one such Möbius strip diagram above.) “Music is not just something that can be heard, he realized. It has a shape.”

He soon saw that he could transform more complex chords the same way. Three-note chords occupy a twisted three-dimensional space, and four-note chords live in a corresponding but impossible-to-visualize four-dimensional space. In fact, it worked for any number of notes — each chord inhabited a multidimensional space that twisted back on itself in unusual ways — a non-Euclidean space that does not adhere to the classical rules of geometry. 

Tymoczko discovered that musical geometry (as Coltrane—and Einstein—had earlier intuited) has a close relationship to physics, when a physicist friend told him the multidimensional spaces he was exploring were called “orbifolds,” which had found some application “in arcane areas of string theory.” These discoveries have “physicalized” music, providing a way to “convert melodies and harmonies into movements in higher dimensional spaces.”

This work has caused “quite a buzz in Anglo-American music-theory circles,” says Princeton music historian Scott Burnham. As Tymoczko puts it in his short report "The Geometry of Musical Chords," the “orbifold” theory seems to answer a question that occupied music theorists for centuries: “how is it that Western music can satisfy harmonic and contrapuntal constraints at once?” On his website, he outlines his theory of “macroharmonic consistency,” the compositional constraints that make music sound “good.” He also introduces a software application, ChordGeometries 1.1, that creates complex visualizations of musical “orbifolds” like that you see above of Chopin supposedly moving through four-dimensions.

The theorist first published his work in a 2006 issue of Science, then followed up two years later with a paper co-written with Clifton Callendar and Ian Quinn called “Generalized Voice-Leading Spaces” (read a three-page summary here). Finally, he turned his work into a book, A Geometry of Music: Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice, which explores the geometric connections between classical and modernist composition, jazz, and rock. Those connections have never been solely conceptual for Tymoczko. A longtime fan of Coltrane, as well as Talking Heads, Brian Eno, and Stravinsky, he has put his theory into practice in a number of strangely moving compositions of his own, such as The Agony of Modern Music (hear movement one above) and Strawberry Field Theory (movement one below). His compositional work is as novel-sounding as his theoretical work is brilliant: his two Science publications were the first on music theory in the magazine’s 129-year history. It’s well worth paying close attention to where his work, and that of those inspired by it, goes next.

via Princeton Alumni Weekly/@dark_shark

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

Binge-Watch Carl Sagan’s Original Cosmos Series Free Online (Available for a Limited Time)

FYI. Carl Sagan's 13-episode series Cosmos originally aired in 1980 and became one of the most widely watched series in the history of American public TV. The show also won two Emmys and a Peabody Award.

Right now, you can watch the original Cosmos episodes over on Twitch.TV. From time to time, Twitch airs marathon sessions of old programs. They did Julia Child's "The French Chef" back in 2016. Now it's Sagan's turn.

Usually the videos are only available for a few days. So you might want to start your binge-watching session now. If you miss the boat, you could always pick up a copy of the show on Blu-Ray.

Twitch.TV originally aired the Cosmos series last spring as part of a Science Week celebration. Read their press release for more information.

Update: Neil deGrasse Tyson just coincidentally announced this on Twitter: "Yup. We got the band back together. Another season of Cosmos is officially real. COSMOS: Possible Worlds To air on & in a year — Spring 2019. Be there."

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via BigThink

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