The Nano Guitar: Discover the World’s Smallest, Playable Microscopic Guitar

In 1997, the Cornell Chronicle announced: "The world's smallest guitar -- carved out of crystalline silicon and no larger than a single cell -- has been made at Cornell University to demonstrate a new technology that could have a variety of uses in fiber optics, displays, sensors and electronics."

Invented by Dustin W. Carr, the so-called "nanoguitar" measured 10 micrometers long--roughly the size of your average red blood cell. And it had six strings, each "about 50 nanometers wide, the width of about 100 atoms."

According to The Guardian, the vintage 1997 nanoguitar was actually never played. That honor went to a 2003 edition of the nanoguitar, whose strings were plucked by miniature lasers operated with an atomic force microscope, creating "a 40 megahertz signal that is 130,000 times higher than the sound of a full-scale guitar." The human ear couldn't hear something at that frequency, and that's a problem not even a good amp--a Vox AC30, Fender Deluxe Reverb, etc.--could fix.

Thus concludes today's adventure in nanotechnology.

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Marshall McLuhan Explains Why We’re Blind to How Technology Changes Us, Raising the Question: What Have the Internet & Social Media Done to Us?

Image of Marshall McLuhan at Canada, by Wikimedia Commons

So many of us use Facebook every day, but how many of us know that its enormous presence in our lives owes, in part, to modern philosophy? "In the course of his studies at Stanford," writes John Lanchester in a recent London Review of Books piece of Facebook, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, an early investor in the company, "became interested in the ideas of the US-based French philosopher René Girard, as advocated in his most influential book, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World," especially a concept he called "mimetic desire."

"Human beings are born with a need for food and shelter," writes Lanchester. "Once these fundamental necessities of life have been acquired, we look around us at what other people are doing, and wanting, and we copy them." Or as Thiel explained it, "Imitation is at the root of all behavior." Lanchester reports that "the reason Thiel latched onto Facebook with such alacrity was that he saw in it for the first time a business that was Girardian to its core: built on people’s deep need to copy," yet few of us, its users, have clearly perceived that essential aspect of Facebook and other social media platforms.




Marshall McLuhan, despite having died decades before their development, would have caught on right away — and he understood why even we savvy denizens of the 21st century haven't. "For the past 3500 years of the Western world, the effects of media — whether it’s speech, writing, printing, photography, radio or television — have been systematically overlooked by social observers," said the author of Understanding Media and The Medium is the Message. "Even in today’s revolutionary electronic age, scholars evidence few signs of modifying this traditional stance of ostrichlike disregard."

Those words come from an in-depth 1969 interview with Playboy magazine that broke the celebrity literature professor McLuhan's ideas to an even wider audience than they'd had before. In it he diagnosed a "peculiar form of self-hypnosis" he called "Narcissus narcosis, a syndrome whereby man remains as unaware of the psychic and social effects of his new technology as a fish of the water it swims in. As a result, precisely at the point where a new media-induced environment becomes all pervasive and transmogrifies our sensory balance, it also becomes invisible."

As McLuhan saw it, "most people, from truck drivers to the literary Brahmins, are still blissfully ignorant of what the media do to them; unaware that because of their pervasive effects on man, it is the medium itself that is the message, not the content, and unaware that the medium is also the massage — that, all puns aside, it literally works over and saturates and molds and transforms every sense ratio. The content or message of any particular medium has about as much importance as the stenciling on the casing of an atomic bomb."

Just last month, no less omnipresent an internet titan than Google celebrated McLuhan's 106th birthday, and a social observer called PR Professor saw in it a certain irony: though "it seems like technology that extends man’s ability to experience and interpret the world is positive and desirable," McLuhan pointed out "that the inherent tendency to focus on the messages within the media make us blind to the limits and structures imposed by the mediums themselves." This blindness has consequences indeed, since, according to McLuhan, each time a society develops a new media technology, "all other functions of that society tend to be transmuted to accommodate that new form" as that technology "saturates every institution of that society."

This went for speech, writing, print, and the telegraph as well as it goes for "social media platforms like Twitter, which reduce expressive possibilities to 140 characters of text or expressing one’s self through the ‘re-tweeting’ of posts by others." McLuhan believed that at one time only the interpretive work of the artist, "who has had the power — and courage — of the seer to read the language of the outer world and relate it to the inner world," could allow the rest of us to recognize the thoroughgoing effects of technology on society, but that "the new environment of electric information" had made possible "a new degree of perception and critical awareness by nonartists." At least more of us, if we step back, can now understand our affliction by mimetic desire, Narcissus narcosis, or any number of other troubling conditions. What to do about them remains an open question.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

3D Scans of 7,500 Famous Sculptures, Statues & Artworks: Download & 3D Print Rodin’s Thinker, Michelangelo’s David & More

Last week we featured the British Museum's archive of downloadable 3D models of over 200 richly historical objects in their collection, perhaps most notably the Rosetta Stone. But back in 2015, before that mighty cultural institution put online in 3D the most important linguistic artifact of them all, a project called Scan the World created a model of it during an unofficial community "scanathon," and it remains freely available to all who would, for example, like to 3D print a Rosetta Stone of their very own.

Or perhaps you'd prefer to run off your own copy of a world-famous sculpture like ancient Egyptian court sculptor Thutmose's bust of Nefertiti or Auguste Rodin's The Thinker, both of whose 3D models you can find on Scan the World's archive at My Mini Factory.




There the organization, "comprised of a vast community of 3D scanning and 3D printing enthusiasts," has amassed a collection of 7,834 3D models and counting, all toward their mission " to archive the world’s sculptures, statues, artworks and any other objects of cultural significance using 3D scanning technologies to produce content suitable for 3D printing."

Scan the World hasn't limited its mandate to just artifacts and artworks kept in museums: among its models you'll also find large scale pieces of public sculpture like the Statue of Liberty and even beloved buildings like Big Ben. This conjures up the tantalizing vision of each of us one day becoming empowered to 3D-print our very own London, complete with not just a British Museum but all the objects, each of which tells part of humanity's story, inside it.

As much of a technological marvel as it may represent, printing out a Venus de Milo or a David or a Leaning Tower of Pisa or a Moai head at home can't, of course, compare to making the trip to see the genuine article, especially with the kind of 3D printers now available to consumers. But as recent technological history has shown us, the most amazing developments tend to come out of the decentralized efforts of countless enthusiasts — just the kind of community powering Scan the World. The great achievements of the future have to start somewhere, and they might as well start by paying tribute to the greatest achievements of the past.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

When J.M. Coetzee Secretly Programmed Computers to Write Poetry in the 1960s

Before J.M. Coetzee became perhaps the most acclaimed novelist alive, he worked as a programer. That may not sound particularly notable these days, but bear in mind that the Nobel laureate and two-time Booker-winning author of Waiting for the Barbarians, Disgrace, and Elizabeth Costello held that day job first at IBM in the early 1960s — back, in other words, when nobody had a computer on their desk. And back when IBM was IBM: that mighty American corporation had brought the kind of computing power it alone could command to branch offices in cities around the world, including London, where Coetzee landed after leaving his native South Africa after graduating from the University of Cape Town.

The years Coetzee spent "writing machine code for computers," he once wrote in a letter to Paul Auster, saw him "getting so deeply sucked into the process that I sometimes felt I was descending into a madness in which the brain is taken over by mechanical logic." This must have caused some distress to a literarily minded young man who heard his true calling only from poetry.




"I was very heavily under the influence, in my teens and early twenties, of, first, T.S. Eliot, but then, more substantially, Ezra Pound, and later of German poetry, of Rilke in particular," he says to Peter Sacks in the interview above, remembering the years before he put poetry aside as a craft in favor of the novel.

"Under the shadowless glare of the neon lighting, he feels his very soul to be under attack,"Coetzee writes, in the autobiographical novel Youth, of the protagonist's time as a programmer. "The building, a featureless block of concrete and glass, seems to give off a gas, odourless, colourless, that finds its way into his blood and numbs him. IBM, he can swear, is killing him, turning him into a zombie." Only in the evening can he "leave his desk, wander around, relax. The machine room downstairs, dominated by the huge memory cabinets of the 7090, is more often than not empty; he can run programs on the little 1401 computer, even, surreptitiously, play games on it."

He could also use these clunky, punchcard-operated computers to write poetry. "In the mid 1960s Coetzee was working on one of the most advanced programming projects in Britain," writes King’s College London researcher Rebecca Roach. "During the day he helped to design the Atlas 2 supercomputer destined for the United Kingdom’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Aldermaston. At night he used this hugely powerful machine of the Cold War to write simple 'computer poetry,' that is, he wrote programs for a computer that used an algorithm to select words from a set vocabulary and create repetitive lines."

These lines, as seen here in one page of the print-outs held at the Coetzee archive at the University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center, include "INCHOATE SHARD IMAGINE THE OUBLIETTE," "FRENETIC AMBIENCE DISHEARTEN THE ROSE," "PASSIONATE PABULUM CARPET THE MIRROR," and "FRENETIC TETANUS DEADEN THE DOCUMENT." Though he never published these results, writes Roach, he "edited and included phrases from them in poetry that he did publish." Is this a curious chapter in the early life of a prominent man of letters, or was this realm of "flat metallic surfaces" an ideal forge for the sensibilities of a writer now known, as John Lanchester so aptly put it, for his "unusual quality of passionate coldness" — a kind of brilliant austerity that hardly deadens any of his documents.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The British Museum Creates 3D Models of the Rosetta Stone & 200+ Other Historic Artifacts: Download or View in Virtual Reality

A quick fyi: Back in 2015, The British Museum gave the world online access to the Rosetta Stone, along with 4,700 other artifacts in the great London museum. But that access was only in 2D.

Now they've upped the ante and published a 3D model of the Rosetta Stone and 200+ other essential items in the museum's collections. "This scan was part of our larger attempt to capture as many of our iconic pieces from the collection — and indeed the unseen in store objects — and make them available for people to view in 3D or in more tactile forms,” Daniel Pett, a British Museum adviser told Digital Trends.

Other 3D models you might want to check out include the granite head of Amenemhat III, a portrait bust of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, and a statue of Roy, High Priest of Amun.

Note: If you put your mouse on the objects and swivel on your trackpad, you can see different sides of the artifacts. Created with a company called Sketchfab, the 3D models are all available to download. You can also see them in virtual reality. (Look for the little "View in VR" icon at the bottom of each image.)

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Hyperallergic

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Google’s DeepMind AI Teaches Itself to Walk, and the Results Are Kooky, No Wait, Chilling

In 2014, Google acquired DeepMind, a company which soon made news when its artificial intelligence software defeated the world's best player of the Chinese strategy game, Go. What's DeepMind up to these days? More elemental things--like teaching itself to walk. Above, watch what happens when, on the fly, DeepMind's AI learns to walk, run, jump, and climb. Sure, it all seems a little kooky--until you realize that if DeepMind's AI can learn to walk in hours, it can take your job in a matter of years.

Watch a primer explaining how DeepMind works here. And find more AI resources in the Relateds below.

via Twisted Sifter

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Director Michel Gondry Makes a Charming Film on His iPhone, Proving That We Could Be Making Movies, Not Taking Selfies

What's director Michel Gondry up to these days? Apparently, trying to show that you can do smart things--like make serious movies--with that smartphone in your pocket. The director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the Noam Chomsky animated documentary Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? has just released "Détour," a short film shot purely on his iPhone 7 Plus. Subtitled in English, "Détour" runs about 12 minutes and follows "the adventures of a small tricycle as it sets off along French roads in search of its young owner." Watch it, then ask yourself, was this really not made with a traditional camera? And then ask yourself, what's my excuse for not getting out there and making movies?

According to Europe 1, the film took about two weeks to make, during which Gondry used the video software Filmic Pro, which costs $14.99 in Apple's app store.

"Détour" will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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