How a Virtual Reality Model of Auschwitz Helped Convict an SS Concentration Camp Guard: A Short Documentary on a High Tech Prosecution

In 2016, Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp, was tried and convicted for being an accessory to at least 170,000 deaths. In making their case, prosecutors did something novel--they relied on a virtual reality version of the Auschwitz concentration camp, which helped undermine Hanning's claim that he wasn't aware of what happened inside the camp. The virtual reality headset let viewers see the camp from almost any angle, and established that "Hanning would have seen the atrocities taking place all around him."

The high-tech prosecution of Hanning gets well documented in "Nazi VR," the short documentary above. It comes from MEL Films, and will be added to our collection of online documentaries.

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Coursera and Google Launch an Online Certificate Program to Help Students Become IT Professionals & Get Attractive Jobs

If you've so much as set foot in the realm of massive online open courses (MOOCs) — a list of which we offer right here on Open Culture — you've no doubt heard of Coursera, which, since it started up in 2012, has become one of the biggest MOOC providers around. Like most growing Silicon Valley companies, Coursera has branched out in several different directions, bringing in courses from universities from all over the world as well as offering certificate and Master's programs. Now, in partnership with Google, it has launched a program to train information-technology professionals for jobs in the industry.

Techcrunch's Ingrid Lunden describes Coursera's Google IT Support Professional Certificate program as "a course written by Googlers for the Coursera platform to teach and then test across six fundamental areas of customer support: troubleshooting and customer service, networking, operating systems, system administration, automation, and security. No prior IT experience is necessary." The global, English-language program "has 64 hours of coursework in all, and students are expected to complete it in eight to 12 months, at a cost of $49/month." This means "the typical cost of the course for full-paying students will be between $392 and $588 depending on how long it takes," which Lunden calls "a pretty good deal" compared to other IT training programs.

Amid talk of vanishing jobs across so many sectors of the economy, Coursera and Google are marketing the IT Support Professional Certificate as a promising path to gainful employment: "There’s no better example of a dynamic, fast-growing field than IT support," writes Google Product Lead Natalie Van Kleef Conley, citing statistics showing 150,000 IT support jobs currently open in the United states and an average starting salary of $52,000. Coursera notes that "upon completion of the certificate, you can share your information with top employers, like Bank of America, Walmart, Sprint, GE Digital, PNC Bank, Infosys, TEKSystems, UPMC, and, of course, Google."

If you suspect that you might share professional aspirations with young Edgar Barragan of Queens, whose testimonial video shows how he became a Google IT support specialist after participating in the program that evolved into the IT Support Professional Certificate, visit the official page on Coursera. There you can read up on the details of the six courses that make up the program and read answers to the questions frequently asked about it. Do you think you'd excel in a career amid the nuts and bolts of computers? With Google and Coursera's program officially opening next Wednesday, January 24th, now's a good time indeed to figure out whether it could get you where you want to be. Get more information and/or enroll here.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Cousera courses, it helps support Open Culture.

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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.

Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies: A Free Course from Princeton

Quick fyi: Earlier this month, we tried to make sense of the Bitcoin frenzy in the only we know how--by pointing you toward a free course. Specifically, we highlighted a Princeton course called Bitcoin and Currency Technologies that's being offered on the online platform Coursera. The course is based on a successful course taught on Princeton's campus. And it's worth mentioning that you can find the actual video lectures from that original campus course on Youtube. (See them embedded above, or access them directly here.) Pair the 12 lectures with the free Princeton Bitcoin textbook and you should be ready to make sense of Bitcoin ... and maybe even some of the Bitcoin hype.

For more free courses visit our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Omoshiroi Blocks: Japanese Memo Pads Reveal Intricate Buildings As The Pages Get Used

We've all had the experience, growing up, of using notepads for something other than their intended purpose: running our thumbs down their stacked-up pages and savoring the buzzing sound, turning them into flipbooks by painstakingly drawing a frame on each page, and even — in times of truly dire boredom — cutting them down into unusual sizes and shapes. Now, Japanese architectural model maker Triad has elevated that youthful impulse to great heights of aesthetic refinement with their lineup of Omoshiroi Blocks.

The Japanese word omoshiroi (面白い) can translate to "interesting," "fun," "amusing," or a whole host of other such descriptors that might come to the mind of someone who runs across an Omoshiroi Block in person, or even on the internet.

According to Spoon & Tamago, Triad uses "laser-cutting technology to create what is, at first, just a seemingly normal square cube of paper note cards. But as the note cards get used, an object begins to appear. And you’ll have to exhaust the entire deck of cards to fully excavate the hidden object.

These objects include "various notable architectural sites in Japan like Kyoto’s Kiyomizudera Temple, Tokyo’s Asakusa Temple and Tokyo Tower. The blocks are composed of over 100 sheets of paper and each sheet is different from the next in the same way that individual moments stack up together to form a memory." Other three-dimensional entities excavatable from Omoshiroi Blocks include trains, cameras, and even the streetscape of Detroit, which includes the late John C. Portman Jr.'s Renaissance Center — the Tokyo Tower, you might say, of the Motor City.

You can see most of these Omoshiroi Blocks, and others, on Triad's Instagram account. You may have no other option at the moment, since Triad's official site has recently been overwhelmed by visitors, presumably seeking a few of these recently-gone-viral blocks for themselves. Besides, notes their most recent Instagram post, "all items are out of stock. So, overseas shipping is not possible at this moment. Please wait for our online shop announcements to be updated."

Until then, according to Spoon & Tamago, you might try your luck finding one at the Osaka branch of Tokyu Hands, Japan's most creative department store.

If you can't make it out there, rest assured that Triad will probably have their online shop up and running before this year's holiday season, thus providing you with an impressive gift option for the enthusiasts in your life of architecture, stationery, unconventional uses of technology, small-scale intricate craftsmanship, and the artifacts of Japanese culture — all fields in which Japan has spent hundreds, if not thousands of years excelling.

via Spoon and Tamago/ h/t @herhandsmyhands

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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.

Google’s Free App Analyzes Your Selfie and Then Finds Your Doppelganger in Museum Portraits

Having the ability to virtually explore the history, back stories, and cultural significance of artworks from over a thousand museums generates nowhere near the excitement as a feature allowing users to upload selfies in hopes of locating an Instagram-worthy doppelgänger somewhere in this vast digital collection.

On the other hand, if this low-brow innovation leads great hordes of millennials and iGen-ers to cross the thresholds of museums in over 70 countries, who are we to criticize?




So what if their primary motivation is snapping another selfie with their Flemish Renaissance twin? As long as one or two develop a passion for art, or a particular museum, artist, or period, we’re good.

Alas, some disgruntled users (probably Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers) are giving the Google Arts & Culture app (iPhone-Android) one-star reviews, based on their inability to find the only feature for which they downloaded it.

Allow us to walk you through.

After installing the app (iPhone-Android) on your phone or tablet, scroll down the homepage to the question “Is your portrait in a museum?”

The sampling of artworks framing this question suggest that the answer may be yes, regardless of your race, though one need not be a Guerilla Girl to wonder if Caucasian users are drawing their matches from a far larger pool than users of color…

Click “get started.” (You’ll have to allow the app to access your device’s camera.)

Take a selfie. (I suppose you could hedge your bets by switching the camera to front-facing orientation and aiming it at a pleasing pre-existing headshot.)

The app will immediately analyze the selfie, and within seconds, boom! Say hello to your five closest matches.

In the name of science, I subjected myself to this process, grinning as if I was sitting for my fourth grade school picture. I and received the following results, none of them higher than 47%:

Victorio C. Edades’ Mother and Daughter (flatteringly, I was pegged as the daughter, though at 52, the resemblance to the mother is a far truer match.)

Gustave Courbet’s Jo, la Belle Irlandaise (Say what? She’s got long red hair and skin like Snow White!)

Henry Inman’s portrait of President Martin Van Buren’s daughter-in-law and defacto White House hostess, Angelica Singleton Van Buren (Well, she looks ….congenial. I do enjoy parties…)

 and Sir Anthony van Dyck’s post-mortem painting of Venetia, Lady Digby, on her Deathbed (Um…)

Hoping that a different pose might yield a higher match I channeled artist Nina Katchadourian, and adopted a more painterly pose, unsmiling, head cocked, one hand lyrically resting on my breastbone… for good measure, I moved away from the window. This time I got:

Joseph Stella’s Boy with a Bagpipe (Maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea with regard to my self-image?)

Cipriano Efsio Oppo Portrait of Isabella (See above.)

Adolph Tidemand’s Portrait of Guro Silversdatter Travendal (Is this universe telling me it’s Babushka Time?)

Johannes Christiann Janson’s A Woman Cutting Bread (aka Renounce All Vanity Time?)

and Anders Zorn’s Madonna (This is where the mean cheerleader leaps out of the bathroom stall and calls me the horse from Guernica, right?)

Mercifully, none of these results topped the 50% mark, nor did any of the experiments I conducted using selfies of my teenage son (whose 4th closest match had a long white beard).

Perhaps there are still a few bugs to work out?

If you’re tempted to give Google Arts and Culture’s experimental portrait feature a go, please let us know how it worked out by posting a comment below. Maybe we're twins, I mean, triplets!

If such folderol is beneath you, please avail yourself of the app’s original features:

  • Zoom Views - Experience every detail of the world’s greatest treasures
  • Virtual Reality - Grab your Google Cardboard viewer and immerse yourself in arts and culture
  • Browse by time and color - Explore artworks by filtering them by color or time period
  • Virtual tours - Step inside the most famous museums in the world and visit iconic landmarks
  • Personal collection - Save your favorite artworks and share your collections with friends
  • Nearby - Find museums and cultural events around you
  • Exhibits - Take guided tours curated by experts
  • Daily digest - Learn something new every time you open the app
  • Art Recognizer - Learn more about artworks at select museums by pointing your device camera at them, even when offline
  • Notifications - subscribe to receive updates on the top arts & culture stories

Download Google Arts and Culture or update to Version 6.0.17 here (for Mac) or here (for Android).

Note: We're getting reports that the app doesn't seem to be available in every geographical location. If it's not available where you live, we apologize in advance.

via Good Housekeeping

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Movements of a Symphony Conductor Get Artistically Visualized in an Avant-Garde Motion Capture Animation

Some classical music enthusiasts are purists with regard to visual effects, listening with eyes firmly fixed on liner notes or the ceilings of grand concert halls.

Those open to a more avant-garde ocular experience may enjoy the short motion capture animation above.

Motivated by the London Symphony Orchestra’s desire for a hipper identity, the project hinged on recently appointed Musical Director Sir Simon Rattle’s willingness to conduct Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations with a specially modified baton, while 12 top-of-the-range Vicon Vantage cameras noted his every move at 120 frames per second.




Digital designer Tobias Gremmler, who’s previously used motion-capture animation as a lens through which to consider kung fu and Chinese Opera, stuck with musical metaphors in animating Sir Simon’s data with Cinema 4D software. The movements of conductor and baton morph into a “vortex of wood, brass, smoke and strings” and “wires reminiscent of the strings of the instruments themselves.” Elsewhere, he draws on the atmosphere and architecture of classic concert halls.

(The uninitiated may find themselves flashing on less rarified sources of inspiration, from lava lamps and fire dancing to the 80’s-era digital universe of Tron.)

via Atlas Obscura

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Story of How Beethoven Helped Make It So That CDs Could Play 74 Minutes of Music

We music fans of the increasingly all-digital 2010s take compact discs for granted, so much so that many of us haven't slid one into a player in years. But if we cast our minds back, and not even all that far, we can remember a time when CDs were precious, and the medium itself both impressive and controversial. Back when it first came on the market in 1982 (packaged in longboxes, you'll recall) it seemed impossibly high-tech, inspiring dreamily futuristic promotional videos like the one below and emerging from a process of development that required the combined R&D and industrial might of both Japan and Europe's biggest consumer-electronics giants, Sony and Philips.

That years-long coordinated effort, as Greg Milner writes in Perfecting Sound Forever, saw a team of engineers from both companies "shuttling between Eindhoven and Tokyo," the prototype CD player "given its own first-class seat on KLM."




Milner also mentions that "Philips wanted a 14-bit system and a disc that could hold an hour of music, while Sony argued for 16 bits and 74 minutes, supposedly because that was the length of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony," though he calls the Beethoven bit "likely a digital audio urban legend." But, like any urban legend, it contains grains of truth, though how many grains nobody quite knows for sure.

Philips' preferred system would play 115-millimeter discs, while Sony's would play 120-millimeter discs. As Wired's Randy Alfred tells it:

When Sony and Philips were negotiating a single industry standard for the audio compact disc in 1979 and 1980, the story is that one of four people (or some combination of them) insisted that a single CD be able to hold all of the Ninth Symphony. The four were the wife of Sony chairman Akio Morita, speaking up for her favorite piece of music; Sony VP Norio Ohga (the company’s point man on the CD), recalling his studies at the Berlin Conservatory; Mrs. Ohga (her favorite piece, too); and conductor Herbert von Karajan, who recorded for Philips subsidiary Polygram and whose Berlin Philharmonic recording of the Ninth clocked in at 66 minutes.

Further research to find the longest recorded performance came up with a mono recording conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler at the Bayreuth Festival in 1951. That playing went a languorous 74 minutes.

A good story, sure, but as Philips Engineer Kees A. Schouhamer Immink writes in a technical article marking the CD's 25th anniversary, "everyday practice is less romantic than the pen of a public relations guru." Whatever the influence of Beethoven, in 1979 "Philips’ subsidiary Polygram — one of the world's largest distributors of music — had set up a CD disc plant in Hanover, Germany that could produce large quantities of CDs with, of course, a diameter of 115mm. Sony did not have such a facility yet. So if Sony had agreed on the 115mm disc, Philips would have had a significant competitive edge in the music market. Ohga was aware of that, did not like it, and something had to be done."

How much does the running time of a CD, which would enjoy a long reign as the dominant media for recorded music, owe to what Immink calls "Mrs. Ohga’s great passion for [Beethoven]," and how much to "the money and competition in the market of the two partners"? Not even Snopes, which rules the claim of a connection between Beethoven's Ninth and the development of the CD as "undetermined," can settle the matter. But whatever determined the length of the albums in the CD era, that 74-minute runtime remains a strong influence on our expectations of album length even now that musicians can record and sell them at any length they like — and now that we the consumers can listen any way we like, fragmenting, re-arranging, and customizing all of our music experiences, even Beethoven's Ninth.

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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.

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