When Kraftwerk Issued Their Own Pocket Calculator Synthesizer — to Play Their Song “Pocket Calculator” (1981)

Kraftwerk put out their eighth studio album in 1981, and they titled it presciently: Computer World was released into what humanity had only just begun to realize would become a world of computers. But back then, most people either had never used a computer at all, or had used no computer more advanced than a pocket calculator. But the boys from Düsseldorf had a song for them too: the album's first single "Pocket Calculator." And it wasn't just a name: the Casio fx-501P programmable calculator appeared on the list of "instruments" used in its recording.

Kraftwerk had become world-famous by the early 1980s, and on the international music scene they parodied the stiff, precision-obsessed German stereotype to perfection. You'd think that they would thus demonstrate allegiance to the formidable Dieter Rams-designed Braun ET55 calculator, but by the time Computer Love came out, Japanese companies like Casio had come to dominate the personal-electronics market. Kraftwerk even recorded a Japanese version of "Pocket Calulator," "Dentaku," along with ones in German ("Taschenrechner"), French ("Mini Calculateur"), and Italian ("Mini Calcolatore").

"I'm the operator with my pocket calculator," go the song's English lyrics. "I am adding and subtracting. I'm controlling and composing." And whichever language you listen to it in, it has a line equivalent to, "By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody."

Kraftwerk actually commissioned as a promotional item a special calculator from Casio that could do just that, a version of the company's VL-80 model that was also a musical synthesizer. You can see and hear the basic, non-Kraftwerk model demonstrated in the video above. Casio, a name that in the music world would become a byword for simple, inexpensive synthesizers, had already brought to market in 1979 the VL-1, the first commercial digital synthesizer (which itself included a calculator function).

With a Kraftwerk taschenrechner, even those without technical or musical knowledge, let alone a full-fledged synthesizer, could make music. "Kraftwerk was eager for fans to play Kraftwerk hits on their own calculators," writes Dangerous Minds' Martin Schneider, "so they issued these special instructions — OK, let’s call it 'sheet music' — to play not just the new material but also classics like 'Trans Europa Express' and 'Schaufensterpuppen.'" Today, Kraftwerk continues to perform all over the computer world in which we now live. With the 40th anniversary of Computer World approaching, perhaps the time has come to bring the calculators back on stage.

(via Dangerous Minds)

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

MIT Robot Breaks Rubik’s Cube World Record, Solving It in 0.38 Seconds

A robot created by MIT students Ben Katz and Jared Di Carlo managed to solve a Rubik’s Cube in a record-breaking, lightning-fast 0.38 seconds. The video above shows it happening in real time, then in progressively slower times. By comparison, Yusheng Du, a Chinese speedcuber, holds the [human] record for solving a 3x3x3 cube in 3.47 seconds.

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via BoingBoing

Discover Friedrich Nietzsche’s Curious Typewriter, the “Malling-Hansen Writing Ball” (Circa 1881)

During his final decade, Friedrich Nietzsche’s worsening constitution continued to plague the philosopher. In addition to having suffered from incapacitating indigestion, insomnia, and migraines for much of his life, the 1880s brought about a dramatic deterioration in Nietzsche’s eyesight, with a doctor noting that his “right eye could only perceive mistaken and distorted images.”

Nietzsche himself declared that writing and reading for more than twenty minutes had grown excessively painful. With his intellectual output reaching its peak during this period, the philosopher required a device that would let him write while making minimal demands on his vision.

So he sought to buy a typewriter in 1881. Although he was aware of Remington typewriters, the ailing philosopher looked for a model that would be fairly portable, allowing him to travel, when necessary, to more salubrious climates. The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball seemed to fit the bill:

In Dieter Eberwein’s free Nietzches Screibkugel e-book, the vice president of the Malling-Hansen Society explains that the writing ball was the closest thing to a 19th century laptop. The first commercially-produced typewriter, the writing ball was the 1865 creation of Danish inventor Rasmus Malling-Hansen, and was shown at the 1878 Paris Universal Exhibition to journalistic acclaim:

"In the year 1875, a quick writing apparatus, designed by Mr. L. Sholes in America, and manufactured by Mr. Remington, was introduced in London. This machine was superior to the Malling-Hansen writing apparatus; but the writing ball in its present form far excels the Remington machine. It secures greater rapidity, and its writing is clearer and more precise than that of the American instrument. The Danish apparatus has more keys, is much less complicated, built with greater precision, more solid, and much smaller and lighter than the Remington, and moreover, is cheaper."

Despite his initial excitement, Nietzsche quickly grew tired of the intricate contraption. According to Eberwein, the philosopher struggled with the device after it was damaged during a trip to Genoa; an inept mechanic trying to make the necessary repairs may have broken the writing ball even further. Still, Nietzsche typed some 60 manuscripts on his writing ball, including what may be the most poignant poetic treatment of typewriters to date:

“THE WRITING BALL IS A THING LIKE ME:

MADE OF IRON YET EASILY TWISTED ON JOURNEYS.

PATIENCE AND TACT ARE REQUIRED IN ABUNDANCE

AS WELL AS FINE FINGERS TO USE US."

In addition to viewing several of Nietzsche’s original typescripts at the Malling-Hansen Society website, those wanting a closer look at Nietzsche’s model can view it in the video below.

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in December 2013.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

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The Medieval City Plan Generator: A Fun Way to Create Your Own Imaginary Medieval Cities

The Medieval City Plan Generator. It's the free online tool you've always wanted. It doesn't create maps of actual medieval cities--only nice looking maps of imaginary cities, with the ability to add plazas, castles, rivers, city walls, and even shanty towns. Enter the Medieval City Plan Generator here.

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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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.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Enter, Explore, and Learn About Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson with a New Augmented-Reality App

More than 350 years after he painted them, the paintings of Rembrandt van Rijn still look real enough to step right into. Now, thanks to a new augmented reality app from the Mauritshuis museum, you can do just that through the screen of your phone, starting with Rembrandt's famed early canvas The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. "The augmented reality experience, a first for a museum, allows the user to experience the anatomical theatre of 1632 digitally," says the Mauritshuis' press release, "and to observe Dr. Tulp and his fellow physicians, as well as the subject of their examination, the corpse of Aris Kindt."

"I entered it and was surrounded by its enveloping darkness, its piecemeal illuminations," writes Hyperallergic's Seph Rodney on his augmented-reality experience of The Anatomy Lesson. "I walked in front of and sometimes faced each of the characters arrayed around a central figure, a corpse, with its left arm missing its skin below the elbow. One man, rather overdressed in a black doublet with a white shirt collar and white sleeves accenting his head and hands uses a pair of forceps to hold the corpse’s exposed arm muscles and tendons stretched away from the bones beneath."

As Rodney approaches the figure, "a small text box pops out telling me precisely this: that he is gazing at the book to make sense of what the body beneath him is saying in all its vascular and muscular complexity."

Sans text boxes, the scene will sound familiar to Rembrandt enthusiasts, but not even the most enthusiastic of them will have seen it in quite this way before. To build an augmented-reality version of the scene Rembrandt painted 387 years ago, "lookalikes of the main figures in the painting dressed up in seventeenth-century outfits and were then scanned with a 3D scanner made up of 600 reflex cameras. The original theatre in the Waag where Dr. Tulp gave his anatomy lesson in 1632 was then captured with the 3D scanner. These scans were then combined, after which 3D modelers gave the figures and the space the correct colors, textures and light."

You can get a glimpse of the process in the short video at the top of the post, then download the Rembrandt Reality app in either its Google or Apple version and step into The Anatomy Lesson yourself. It may feel somewhat odd at first to simply stroll around the scene of an ongoing dissection of a human body, but in a way, the Mauritshuis' digital opening of this immortal lesson to the world re-emphasizes the true nature of the original scene. When a physician of Tulp's stature dissected a corpse, people from all around — medical professionals and otherwise — would come to watch the spectacle that could last for days. But could even Tulp, then Amsterdam's city anatomist and later the city's mayor, have imagined that this particular spectacle would last 387 years and counting?

via Hyperallergic

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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.

How Digital Scans of Notre Dame Can Help Architects Rebuild the Burned Cathedral

“Everyone helplessly watching something beautiful burn is 2019 in a nutshell,” wrote TV critic Ryan McGee on Twitter the day a significant portion of Notre Dame burned to the ground. He might have included 2018 in his metaphor, when Brazil’s National Museum was totally destroyed by fire. Before the Parisian monument caught flame, people watched helplessly as historic black churches burned in the U.S., and while the museum and cathedral fire were not the direct result of evil intent, in all of these events we witnessed the loss of sanctuaries, a word with both a religious meaning and a secular one, as columnist Jarvis DeBerry points out.

Sanctuaries are places where people, priceless artifacts, and knowledge should be “safe and protected,” supposedly institutional bulwarks against disorder and violence. They are both havens and potent symbols—and they are also physical spaces that can be rebuilt, if not replaced.

And 21st-century technology has made their rebuilding a far more collaborative and more precise affair. The reconstruction of churches in Louisiana can be funded through social media. The contents of the National Museum of Brazil can be recollected, virtually at least, through crowdsourcing and digital archives.

And the ravaged wood frame, roof, and spire of Notre Dame can be rebuilt, though never replaced, not only with millions in funding from Apple and fashion’s biggest houses, but with an exact 3D digital scan of the cathedral made in 2015 by Vassar art historian Andrew Tallon, who passed away last year from brain cancer. In the video at the top, see Tallon, then a professor at Vassar, describe his process, one driven by a lifelong passion for Gothic architecture, and especially for Notre Dame. A “former composer, would-be monk, and self-described gearhead,” wrote National Geographic in a 2015 profile of his work, Tallon brought a unique sensibility to the project.

His fascination with the spaces of Gothic cathedrals began with an investigation into their acoustic properties. He developed the idea of using laser scanners to create a digital replica of Notre Dame after studying at Columbia under art historian Stephen Murray, who tried and failed in 2001 to make a laser scan of a cathedral north of Paris. Fourteen years later, the technology finally caught up with the idea, which Tallon also improved on by attempting to reconstruct not only the structure, but also the methods the builders used to build it yet did not record in writing.

By examining how the cathedral moved when its foundations shifted or how it heated up or cooled down, Tallon could reveal “its original design and the choices that the master builder had to make when construction didn't go as planned.” He took scans from “more than 50 locations around the cathedral—collecting more than one billion points of data.” All of the scans were knit together “to make them manageable and beautiful.” They are accurate to the millimeter, and as Wired reports, “architects now hope that Tallon’s scans may provide a map for keeping on track whatever rebuilding will have to take place.”

To learn even more about Tallon’s meticulous process than he reveals in the National Geographic video at the top, read his paper “Divining Proportions in the Information Age” in the open access journal Architectural Histories. We may not typically think of the digital world as much of a sanctuary, and maybe for good reason, but Tallon’s masterwork poignantly shows the importance of using its tools to record, document, and, if necessary, reconstruct the real-life spaces that meet our definitions of the term.

via the MIT Technology Review

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

New Augmented Reality App Celebrates Stories of Women Typically Omitted from U.S. History Textbooks

How do we know if we’ve lived through a major shift toward greater equality? Maybe it’s when history textbooks start telling different stories than the ones they’ve always told about heroes in knee breeches, waistcoats, epaulets, top hats, and beards. Aside from the occasional historical figure in bonnet or bloomers, most texts really have just told “his story.”

In the U.S., at least, studies show that only 11% of the stories in history textbooks are about women. Is this because 50% of the population only contributed to 11% percent of the country’s events? No, even the kids know—like the kids in the video above from a new app called Lessons in Herstory—history mostly features men because “a lot of it was written by men and was mostly all about men.”

Textbook makers, and the school boards who give them marching orders, may stick to their guns, so to speak, but another major shift could render their dictates irrelevant. Smartphone and tablet technology has become so familiar to today’s kids that instead of turning the pages, they “swipe, like, in the history books,” as one of the youngsters puts it.

Students stuck with the old patriarchal pedagogies can easily supplement, enhance, or substitute their education with new media. While there are some serious downsides to this phenomenon, given a distinct lack of quality control online, the internet has also opened up innumerable opportunities for telling the stories of women in history.

Lessons in Herstory, built by an organization called Daughters of the Evolution, takes a unique approach. Instead of supplanting textbooks, it adds to them in an augmented reality smartphone app (currently designed for ios devices) students can point at pictures of historical dudes to pull up stories about a notable women from the same time.

Granted, some of these women, like Harriet Tubman and Sacagawea, had already been granted access to the limited space allotted female figures in grade school textbooks. But a great many other people in the app have not. Featuring a diverse selection of 75 herstorical women, Lessons in Herstory is the product of ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ chief creative officer Margaret Johnson, who launched it at this year’s SXSW.

The app has pretty limited application at the moment. It works with one textbook, A History of US, Book 5: Liberty for All? 1820-1860, and with a handful of historical photographs on its website. (Many of the women featured made their mark after 1860.) But with plans to expand and with the backing of a large ad agency, who may or may not have their own designs in marketing Lessons in Herstory, it promises to make women’s history more accessible to students who already spend more time staring at screens than pages.

“There’s a saying,” writes Cara Curtis at The Next Web, “’you can’t be what you can’t see.’” Apps like Lessons in Herstory, along with a number of influential books and websites for young people that narrate the past through the lens of women, indigenous people, African-Americans, artists, activists, working people, and so on, show kids that no matter who they are or where they come from, people who looked like them have always made significant contributions to history.

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

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