Take a 3D Tour Through Ancient Giza, Including the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx & More

Imagine the pyramids of ancient Egypt, and a vivid image comes right to mind. But unless you happen to be an Egyptologist, that image may possess a great deal more vividness than it does detail. We all have a rough sense of the pyramids' size (impressively large), shape (pyramidical), texture (crumbly), and setting (sand), almost wholly derived from images captured over the past century. But what about the pyramids in their heyday, more than 4,500 years ago? Do we know enough even to begin imagining how they looked, let alone how people made use of them? Harvard Egyptologist Peter Der Manuelian does, and in the video above he gives us a tour through 3D models that reconstruct the Giza pyramid complex (also known as the Giza necropolis) using both the best technology and the fullest knowledge available today.

"You'll see we've had to remove modern structures and excavators, debris dumps," says Der Manuelian as the camera flies, dronelike, in the direction of the Great Sphinx. "We studied the Nile, and we had to move it much closer to the Giza pyramids, because in antiquity, the Nile did flow closer. And we've tried to rebuild each and every structure."

Of the Sphinx, this model boasts "the most accurate reconstruction that has ever been attempted so far," and Der Manuelian shows it in two possible colors schemes, one with only the head painted, one with the entire body painted in "the reddish brown reserved for male figures." He also shows the pyramid temple of Khafre, both in the near-completely ruined state in which it exists today, and in full digital reconstruction, complete with seated statues the Fourth-Dynasty pharaoh Khafre himself.

The model accommodates more than just the built environment. Der Manuelian shows a model bark with another statue being carried into one of the chambers, explaining that it allows researchers to determine "whether or not it's big enough or small enough to actually fit between the doors of the temple." Elsewhere in the model we see a re-enactment of the "Opening of the Mouth ceremony," the "reanimation ceremony for the deceased king, meant to magically and ritually bring him back to life for the netherworld." The rendering takes place inside the temple of the Pyramid of Khufu, peopled with human characters. But "how many should there be? What should they be wearing? Where are the regular Egyptians? Are they allowed anywhere near this ceremony, or indeed are they allowed anywhere near Giza at all?" The greater the detail in which researchers reconstruct the ancient world, the more such questions come to the surface.

In the video just above, Der Manuelian explains more about the importance of 3D modeling to Egyptology: how it uses the existing research, what it has helped modern researchers understand, and the promise it holds for the future. The latter includes much of interest even to non-Egyptologists, such as tourists who might like to familiarize themselves with Giza necropolis in the days when the Opening of the Mouth ceremonies still took place — or any era of their choice — before setting foot there themselves. These videos come from "Pyramids of Giza: Ancient Egyptian Art and Archaeology," Der Manuelian's online course at edX, a worthwhile learning experience if you've got your own such trip planned — or just the kind of fascination that has gripped people around the world since the Egyptomania of the nineteenth century. The technology with which we study Egypt has advanced greatly since then, but for many, the mysteries of ancient Egypt itself have only become more compelling.

via The Kid Should See This

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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.

A 5-Hour, One-Take Cinematic Tour of Russia’s Hermitage Museum, Shot Entirely on an iPhone

In 2002, Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov made cinema history with Russian Ark, which dramatizes a wide swath of his homeland's history in a single, unbroken 96-minute shot. What's more, he and his collaborators shot it all in a single location, one both rich with historical resonance and not exactly wide-open to movie shoots: St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum, whose complex includes the former Winter Palace, official residence of Russia's emperors from 1732 to until the 1917 revolution. What viewer could forget Russian Ark's breathtaking final scene, which opens as the camera floats into the midst of a grand ball set in 1913 — taking place in the very hall it would have in 1913?

Now, at least in terms of duration, Apple has gone to the Hermitage and done Sokurov one better: its new advertisement for the iPhone 11 Pro is a five-hour journey through the entire museum, shot by filmmaker Axinya Gog in one continuous take — all, of course, on the phone itself. Like Russian Ark, it constitutes a cinematic achievement not possible before recent technological advances. Sokurov demonstrated the new possibilities of digital video camera that could capture film-like images; Gog demonstrates the new possibilities of a camera-phone with not only the battery life to shoot five straight hours of video, but at a resolution that looks at least as good as the cutting-edge digital video of 2002.

Just above appears the trailer for the ad, which hints that what the full production might lack in storytelling ambitions compared to a film like Russian Ark, it makes up for in not just duration but other human elements. Gog's camera — or rather, iPhone — captures a Hermitage Museum without the usual crowds, striking enough in itself, but also with the addition of skilled dancers and musicians (even beyond those who recorded the video's score). This in addition to no fewer than 588 works of art spread across 43 galleries, including paintings by Rembrandt, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Rubens. The deeper you go, the more you'll realize that, even if you've spent serious time in the Hermitage yourself, you've never had this kind of aesthetic experience there before. It may sound excessive to say "watch to the end," but if any five-hour video has ever merited that insistence, here it is.

via Colossal

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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.

Paris Had a Moving Sidewalk in 1900, and a Thomas Edison Film Captured It in Action

It's fair to say that few of us now marvel at moving walkways, those standard infrastructural elements of such utilitarian spaces as airport terminals, subway stations, and big-box stores. But there was a time when they astounded even residents of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. The innovation of the moving sidewalk demonstrated at the Paris Exposition of 1900 (previously seen here on Open Culture when we featured Lumière Brothers footage of that period) commanded even Thomas Edison's attention. As Paleofuture's Matt Novak tells it at Smithsonian magazine, "Thomas Edison sent one of his producers, James Henry White, to the Exposition and Mr. White shot at least 16 movies," a clip of which footage you can see above.

White "had brought along a new panning-head tripod that gave his films a newfound sense of freedom and flow. Watching the film, you can see children jumping into frame and even a man doffing his cap to the camera, possibly aware that he was being captured by an exciting new technology while a fun novelty of the future chugs along under his feet."

Novak also includes hand-colored photographs from the Paris Exhibition and quotes a New York Observer correspondent describing the moving sidewalk as a "novelty" consisting of "three elevated platforms, the first being stationary, the second moving at a moderate rate of speed, and the third at the rate of about six miles an hour." Thus "the circuit of the Exposition can be made with rapidity and ease by this contrivance. It also affords a good deal of fun, for most of the visitors are unfamiliar with this mode of transit, and are awkward in its use."

Novak features contemporary images of the Paris Exhibition's moving sidewalk at Paleofuture, found in the book Paris Exposition Reproduced From the Official Photographs. Its authors describe the trottoir roulant as "a detached structure like a railway train, arriving at and passing certain points at stated times" without a break. "In engineers' language, it is an 'endless floor' raised thirty feet above the level of the ground, ever and ever gliding along the four sides of the square — a wooden serpent with its tail in its mouth." But the history of the moving walkway didn't start in Paris: "In 1871 inventor Alfred Speer patented a system of moving sidewalks that he thought would revolutionize pedestrian travel in New York City," as Novak notes, and the first one actually built was built for Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition — but it cost a nickel to ride and "was undependable and prone to breaking down," making Paris' version the more impressive spectacle.

Still, the Columbian Exposition's visitors must have got a kick out of gliding down the pier without having to do the walking themselves. You can learn more about this first moving walkway and its successors, the one at the Paris Exhibition included, from the Little Car video above. However much these early models may look like quaint turn-of-the century novelties, some still see in the technology genuine promise for the future of public transit. Moving walkways work well, writes Treehugger's Lloyd Alter, "when the walking distance and time is just a bit too long." And they remind us that "transportation should be about more than just getting from A to B; it should be a pleasure as well." Parisians "kept the Eiffel Tower from the exhibition" — it had been built for the 1889 World's Fair — but "it is too bad they didn't keep this, a sort of moving High Line that is both transportation and entertainment."

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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.

Every Possible Melody Has Been Copyrighted, and They’re Now Released into the Public Domain

When Helen Keller was only twelve years old, she stood accused of plagiarizing a short story. A tribunal acquitted her of the charges, but when her dear friend Mark Twain read about the incident years later, he strenuously protested, exclaiming in a 1903 letter, “the kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterance—is plagiarism.”

Given the finite number of possible narratives, and combinations of phrases, words, and syllables, he’s got a point, though it wouldn’t hold up in court where the question of intent comes into play.

Litigious artists and their estates frequently sue other artists whose work is too close to what they claim as their own invention. Twain might say (his own copyrights aside) that the idea of inventing art from scratch is an “owlishly idiotic and grotesque” fantasy. He might say so, for example, of the recent legal decision that keeps Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” a form of private property, despite its author’s desire for anyone and everyone to sing and record the song. (Guthrie’s daughter Nora claims she is protecting it from “evil forces” who would misuse it.)

If literature is mostly plagiarism, what about music? How is it possible to copyright melodies when they float through the cultural ether, appearing in similar forms in song after song around the world? What would have become of the blues, bluegrass, and nearly every form of traditional folk music from time immemorial had copyright law prevented unauthorized borrowings? These are questions judges and juries often ponder when faced with two similar sounding pieces of music.

In one recent case, for example, a jury found that pop star Katy Perry had “infringed upon the copyright of Flame, a Christian rapper who’d posted a song” with the same melody as her song “Dark Horse,” even though Perry “insisted that she’d never heard of the song or the rapper” as Alexis Madrigal writes at The Atlantic. “For some musiciansmusicologists, and lawyers, the verdict felt scary; after all, large numbers of songs now live on SoundCloud and YouTube. It became thinkable to ask: Could the world run out of original melodies?”

This seems unlikely given the “functionally infinite possibilities” for melodies resulting from “all the notes and all the traditions of music around the world.” However, when it comes to Western pop music and the more limited parameters that govern its composition, the number reaches a more “comprehensible part of finitude." Programmer, lawyer, and musician Damien Riehl and his fellow programmer and musician Noah Rubin decided to “brute force” their way out of the problem entirely, as Riehl tells Adam Neely above, using an algorithm that generated all of the melodies in the range they’d seen in copyright lawsuits.

By generating all possible melodies above the middle-C octave as MIDI files, the two artists hope to head off costly infringement litigation that can hobble creative freedom. Riehl explains the ingenious concept in the TEDx Minneapolis talk at the top of the post, beginning with the issue of “subconscious” copyright infringement that sometimes forces artists to pay out millions in damages, as happened to George Harrison when he was sued for plagiarizing “My Sweet Lord” from the Chiffons' "He's So Fine."

Maybe what the law has not considered, says Riehl, is that “since the beginning of time, the number of melodies is remarkably finite.” Rather than inventing out of whole cloth, artists choose melodies from an already extant “melodic dataset” to which everyone potentially has mental access. Now, everyone could potentially have legal access. By committing melodic data to a “tangible format,” Samantha Cole reports at Vice, “it’s considered copyrighted.” Or as Riehl explains:

Under copyright law, numbers are facts, and under copyright law, facts either have thin copyright, almost no copyright, or no copyright at all. So maybe if these numbers have existed since the beginning of time and we're just plucking them out, maybe melodies are just math, which is just facts, which is not copyrightable.

Riehl and Rubin have released their billions of melodies under a Creative Commons Zero license, meaning they have “no rights reserved” and are similar to public domain. Available as open-source downloads on Github and the Internet Archive, along with the code for the algorithm the artists used to make them, the dataset might actually have sidestepped the problem of musical copyright infringement with technology, though whether the law, writes Cole, with its “complicated and often nonsensical” application, will agree is another issue entirely.

via Vice

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

How France Invented a Popular, Profitable Internet of Its Own in the 80s: The Rise and Fall of Minitel

"When I get back from school I basically barricade myself in the apartment and never go out at night," says the narrator of Michel Houellebecq's Les Particules élémentaires. "Sometimes I go on the Minitel and check out the sex sites, that's about it." Here those reading the English translation of the novel (in this case Frank Wynne's, called Atomised) will tilt their heads: the "Minitel"? Though he writes more or less realistic novels, Houellebecq does come out with the occasional science-fictional flourish. But in France, the Minitel was a very real technological and cultural phenomenon. "What the TGV was to train travel, the Pompidou Centre to art, and the Ariane project to rocketry," writes BBC News' Hugh Schofield, "in the early 1980s the Minitel was to the world of telecommunications."

Combining a monitor, keyboard, and modem all in one beige plastic package, the Minitel terminal — known as the "Little French Box" — was once a common sight in French households. With it, writes Julien Mailland in the Atlantic, "one could read the news, engage in multi-player interactive gaming, grocery shop for same-day delivery, submit natural language requests like 'reserve theater tickets in Paris,' purchase said tickets using a credit card, remotely control thermostats and other home appliances, manage a bank account, chat, and date." All this at a time when, as Schofield puts it, "the rest of us were being put on hold by the bank manager or queueing for tickets at the station." And what's more, the French got their Minitel terminals for free.

Conceived in the "white heat of President Valery Giscard d'Estaing's technological great leap forward of the late 1970s," Minitel appeared as one of the signal efforts of a nationwide developmental project. "France was lagging behind on telecommunications," writes the Guardian's Angelique Chrisafis, "with the nation's homes underserved by telephones – particularly in rural areas." But soon after the rollout of the Minitel, usage exploded such that, "at the height of its glory in the mid-1990s, the French owned about 9m Minitel devices, with 25m users connecting to more than 23,000 services." Initially pitched to the public as a replacement for the paper telephone directory, the Minitel evolved to provide many of the services for which most of the world now relies on the modern internet.

Though developed and implemented by the French government, Minitel incorporated services by independent providers. "The most lucrative service turned out to be something no-one had envisaged — the so-called Minitel Rose," writes Schofield. "With names like 3615-Cum (actually it's from the Latin for 'with'), these were sexy chat-lines in which men" — Houellebecq-protagonist types and other — "paid to type out their fantasies to anonymous 'dates.'" Not long before Minitel's discontinuation in 2012, when more than 800,000 terminals were still active, "billboards featuring lip-pouting lovelies advertising the delights of 3615-something were ubiquitous across the country." 3615, as every onetime Minitel user knows, were the most common initial digits for Minitel services, each of which had to be hand-dialed on a telephone before the terminal could connect to it.

You can see this process in the Retro Man Cave video at the top of the post, which tells the story of the Minitel and shows how its terminals actually worked. (Retro-minded Francophones may also enjoy the 1985 TV documentary just above.) The host draws a comparison between Minitel and the much less successful Prestel, a similar service launched in the United Kingdom in 1979. It might also remind Canadians of a certain age of Telidon, which we've previously featured here on Open Culture. But no other other pre-internet videotex system made anywhere the impact of Minitel, which lives on in France as a cultural touchstone, if no longer as a fixture of everyday life. As Valérie Schafer, co-author of the book Minitel: France's Digital Childhood puts it to Chriasafis, "There's a nostalgia for an era when the French developed new ideas, took risks on ideas that didn't just look to the US or outside models; a time when we wanted to invent our own voice."

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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.

Electronic Musician Shows How He Uses His Prosthetic Arm to Control a Music Synthesizer with His Thoughts

The techno-futurist prophets of the late 20th century, from J.G. Ballard to William Gibson to Donna Haraway, were right, it turns out, about the intimate physical unions we would form with our machines. Haraway, professor emeritus of the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, proclaimed herself a cyborg back in 1985. Whether readers took her ideas as metaphor or proleptic social and scientific fact hardly matters in hindsight. Her voice was predictive of the everyday biometrics and mechanics that lay just around the bend.

It can seem we are a long way, culturally, from the decade when Haraway’s work became required reading in “undergraduate curriculum at countless universities." But as Hari Kunzru wrote in 1997, “in terms of the general shift from thinking of individuals as isolated from the ‘world’ to thinking of them as nodes on networks, the 1990s may well be remembered as the beginning of the cyborg era.” Three decades later, networked implants that automate medical data tracking and analysis and regulate dosages have become big business, and millions feed their vitals daily into fitness trackers and mobile devices and upload them to servers worldwide.

So, fine, we are all cyborgs now, but the usual use of that word tends to put us in mind of a more dramatic melding of human and machine. Here too, we find the cyborg has arrived, in the form of prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by the brain. Psychologist, DJ, and electronic musician Bertolt Meyer has such a prosthesis, as he demonstrates in the video above. Born without a lower left arm, he received a robotic replacement that he can move by sending signals to the muscles that would control a natural limb. He can rotate his hand 360 degrees and use it for all sorts of tasks.

Problem is, the technology has not quite caught up with Meyer’s need for speed and precision in manipulating the tiny controls of his modular synthesizers. So Meyer, his artist husband Daniel, and synth builder Chrisi of KOMA Elektronik set to work on bypassing manual control altogether, with a prosthetic device that attaches to Meyer’s arm where the hand would be, and works as a controller for his synthesizer. He can change parameters using “the signals from my body that normally control the hand,” he writes on his YouTube page. “For me, this feels like controlling the synth with my thoughts.”

Meyer walks us through the process of building his first prototypes in an Inspector Gadget-meets-Kraftwerk display of analogue ingenuity. We might find ourselves wondering: if a handful of musicians, artists, and audio engineers can turn a prosthetic robotic arm into a modular synth controller that transmits brainwaves, what kind of cybernetic enhancements—musical and otherwise—might be coming soon from major research laboratories?

Whatever the state of cyborg technology outside Meyer’s garage, his brilliant invention shows us one thing: the human organism can adapt to being plugged into the unlikeliest of machines. Showing us how he uses the SynLimb to control a filter in one of his synthesizer banks, Meyer says, “I don’t even have to think about it. I just do it. It’s zero effort because I’m so used to producing this muscle signal.”

Advancements in biomechanical technology have given disabled individuals a significant amount of restored function. And as generally happens with major upgrades to accessibility devices, they also show us how we might all become even more closely integrated with machines in the near future.

via Boing Boing

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

Scientist Creates a Working Rotary Cellphone

In popular histories of the mobile phone, and of the smartphone in particular, you will rarely see mention of IBM’s 1992 Simon, a smartphone invented before the word “smartphone.” “You could… use the Simon to send and receive emails, faxes, and pages,” writes Business Insider. “There were also a suite of built-in features including a notes collection you could write in [with a stylus], an address book that looked like a file folder, calendar, world clock, and a way to schedule appointments.”

Nifty, eh? But the Simon was born too soon, it seems, and its unsexy design—like a cordless handset with a long, rectangular screen where the number pad would be—proved less than enticing. “IBM did manage to sell approximately 50,000 units,” a pitiful number next to the iPhone’s first year sales of 6.1 million. The Simon was an evolutionary dead end, while the iPhone and its imitators changed the definition of the word “phone.”

No longer is it necessary even to specify that one’s telephone is of the “smart” variety. We can spend all day on our devices without ever making or answering a call. Is this development a good thing? No matter how we ask or answer the question, it may do little to change the course of technological development or our dependence on the touchscreen computers in our pockets.

That is, unless we have the ability to redesign our mobile phone ourselves, as Justine Haupt—a scientist in the Instrumentation Division at the Brookhaven National Laboratory—has done. You'll find no mention of anything like her rotary cellphone in any history of mobile telecommunications. No one would have seriously considered building such a thing, except as an anachronistic novelty.

But Haupt’s rotary cellphone is not a visual gag or piece of conceptual art. It’s a working device she built, ostensibly, for serious reasons. “In a finicky, annoying, touchscreen world of hyperconnected people using phones they have no control over or understanding of," she writes, "I wanted something that would be entirely mine, personal, and absolutely tactile, while also giving me an excuse for not texting.”

Haupt's reasoning calls to mind J.G. Ballard's comments on the car as "the last machine whose basic technology and function we can all understand." She lays out the rotary cellphone’s impressive features in the bulleted list below:

  • Real, removable antenna with an SMA connector. Receptions is excellent, and if I really want to I could always attach a directional antenna.
  • When I want a phone I don't have to navigate through menus to get to the phone "application." That's bullshit.
  • If I want to call my husband, I can do so by pressing a single dedicated physical key which is dedicated to him. No menus. The point isn't to use the rotary dial every single time I want to make a call, which would get tiresome for daily use. The people I call most often are stored, and if I have to dial a new number or do something like set the volume, then I can use the fun and satisfying-to-use rotary dial.
  • Nearly instantaneous, high resolution display of signal strength and battery level. No signal metering lag, and my LED bargraph gives 10 increments of resolution instead of just 4.
  • The ePaper display is bistatic, meaning it doesn't take any energy to display a fixed message.
  • When I want to change something about the phone's behavior, I just do it.
  • The power switch is an actual slide switch. No holding down a stupid button to make it turn off and not being sure it really is turning off or what.

I wouldn’t hold my breath for a production run, but “it’s not just a show-and-tell piece,” Haupt insists. “It fits in a pocket; it’s reasonably compact; calling the people I most often call if faster than with my old phone, and the battery lasts almost 24 hours.” For the rest of us, it’s a conversation starter: in less obviously quirky, retro ways, how could we reimagine mobile phones to make them less “smart” (i.e. less distracting and invasive) and more personal and customizable, while also enhancing their core functionality as devices that keep us connected to important people in our lives?

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

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