How the World’s Oldest Computer Worked: Reconstructing the 2,200-Year-Old Antikythera Mechanism

In 1900, Greek sponge divers discovered a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. The artifacts they came back up with included money, statues, pottery, and various other works of art and craft, as well as a curious lump of bronze and wood that turned out to be by far the most important item onboard. When an archaeologist named Valerios Stais took a look at it two years later, he noticed that the lump had a gear in it. Almost a half-century later, the science historian Derek J. de Solla Price thought this apparently mechanical object might merit further examination, and almost a quarter-century after that, he and the nuclear physicist Charalambos Karakalos published their discovery–made by using X-ray and gamma-ray images of the interior–that those divers had found a kind of ancient computer.

“Understanding how the pieces fit together confirmed that the Antikythera mechanism was capable of predicting the positions of the planets with which the Greeks were familiar — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — as well as the sun and moon, and eclipses,” writes Big Think’s Robby Berman. “It even has a black and white stone that turns to show the phases of the moon.”



Determining how it really worked has required the building of various different models of various different kinds, one of which you can see assembled, operated, and disassembled before your very eyes in the CGI rendering at the top of the post. Its design comes from the work of historian of mechanism Michael T. Wright, who also put together the physical recreation of the Antikythera mechanism you can see him explain just above.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

By its very nature, an artifact as fascinating and as incomplete as this draws all sorts of theories about the specifics of its design, purpose, and even its age. (It dates back to somewhere between 205 and 100 BC.) In 2012, Tony Freeth and Alexander Jones published their own model, different from Wright’s, of this “machine designed to predict celestial phenomena according to the sophisticated astronomical theories current in its day, the sole witness to a lost history of brilliant engineering, a conception of pure genius, one of the great wonders of the ancient world,” — but one which “didn’t really work very well.” Some of the problems has to do with the limitations of ancient Greek astronomical theory, and some with the unreliability of its layers of handmade gears.

More recent research, adds Berman, has discovered that “the device was built by more than one person on the island of Rhodes, and that it probably wasn’t the only one of its kind,” indicating that the ancient Greeks, despite the apparent deficiencies of the Antikythera mechanism itself, “were apparently even further ahead in their astronomical understanding and mechanical know-how than we’d imagined.” Now watch the video just above, in which the Apple engineer makes his own Antikythera mechanism with an entirely more modern set of components, and just imagine what the ancient Greeks could have accomplished had they developed Lego.

via Big Think

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, 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.

Watch 100 Randomly Ticking Metronomes Achieve Synchronicity

It’s always satisfying to impose order on chaos, especially if it doesn’t involve bellowing at a roomful of jacked up teenagers.

Witness the experiment above.

Members of Ikeguchi Laboratory, a Japanese organization dedicated to the analysis and prediction of nonlinear phenomena, placed 100 randomly ticking metronomes on a hanging platform, curious as to how long it would take them to synchronize.



(SPOILER ALERT! They start synching up around the 1 minute, 20 second mark.)

How? Why? Is this some mystical, musical variant of menstrual synchrony?

Nope. Physics is doing the heavy lifting here.

The key is that the platform holding the metronomes is not fixed. It affects their movement by moving in response to theirs.

To put it another way, KE = 0.5 • m • v2. Which is to say Kinetic Energy = 0.5 • mass of object • (speed of object)2.

If you’re looking for another scientific explanation, here’s how Gizmodo puts it: “the metronomes are transferring energy to the platform they’re on, which then transfers that energy back to the metronomes—until they all sync up and start hitting the beat in one glorious wavelength.”

By the two and a half minute mark, some viewers will be raring to delve into further study of energy transference.

Others, their brains imploding, may elect to downshift into a purely auditory experience.

Close your eyes and listen as the last hold outs fall into rhythmic step with the rest of the herd. A pleasantly harmonious sound, not unlike that moment when a roomful of jacked up teens simmers down, achieving the sort of blissful hive mind that’s a balm to teacher’s frazzled soul.

Craving more?  Ikeguchi Laboratory also filmed their metronomes in triangular, circular and X-shaped formations, available for your viewing pleasure on the lab’s YouTube channel.

via The Kid Should See This

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Hip 1960s Latin Teacher Translated Beatles Songs into Latin for His Students: Read Lyrics for “O Teneum Manum,” “Diei Duri Nox” & More

Click here (and then click the image) to view in a larger format.

I’ve interacted with many entertaining language-learning resources in various classes—from miniseries in Spanish to comic books in French—all geared toward making the unfamiliar language relevant to daily life. Learning counterintuitive pronunciations, parsing a new system of grammar, or memorizing the genders of word after word can be laborious and intimidating in the classroom. Doing so in everyday pop cultural settings, not as much.

When it comes to the teaching of dead languages, the resources can seem less approachable. I certainly appreciate the literary and rhetorical genius of Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Cicero, and Julius Caesar. But during my high school years, I did not always find their work easy to read in English, much less in formal classical Latin. The elation I felt after successfully translating a passage was sometimes dampened as I puzzled over historical notes and glosses that often left me with more questions than answers.

Click here (and then click the image) to view in a larger format.

That’s not at all to say that students of Latin shouldn’t be exposed to cultural and historical context or read the finest exemplars of the written language. Only that a break from the heavy stuff now and then goes a long way. Might I submit to Latin instructors one ingenious tool from Eddie O’Hara, former British Labour Party MP and classics teacher? O’Hara passed away in May of last year, and just this past week, his son Terry O’Hara tweeted these translations of Beatles songs (including two Christmas tunes) his father made in the 60s for his students. At the time, these were the height of pop culture relevance, and, while a far cry from the complexities of the Aeneid, a fun way for Latin learners to relate to a language that can seem cold and imposing.

I will admit, my Latin has fallen into such a state that I can’t immediately vouch for the accuracy or elegance of these translations (“cue fierce arguments among Latin grammarians,” replies one Twitter user), but there’s no reason to doubt Mr. O’Hara knew his stuff. ““He was a born educator,” his son remembers, “He was a teacher and classicist by background and he had a strong interest in educational matters and Greek cultural heritage.” Educated himself at Magdalen College, Oxford, O’Hara taught at Perse School, Cambridge, Birkenhead School, and in the early 70s, C.F. Mott College in the Beatles’ own Liverpool.

Click here (and then click the image) to view in a larger format.

In addition to his role as a statesman, the Liverpool Echo remembers O’Hara‘s many decades as “a popular teacher who brought classes to life translating Beatles lyrics into Latin.” We do not have any indication of whether he actually tried to sing the lyrics, though his students surely must have attempted it. What must the chorus of “All My Loving” sound like as “Ita totum amorem dabo, Tibi totum, numquam cessaba”? Or “She Loves You” as “Amat te, mehercle”? Singing them to myself, I can see that O’Hara was sensitive to the meter of the original English in his Latin renderings. But I’d really love to see someone set these to music and make a video. Any of our readers up to the challenge?

Finally, since early sixties Beatles lyrics aren’t as likely to engage students in 2017, what pop cultural material would you translate today—classics teachers out there—to reach the bemused, bewildered, and the bored? If you’re already hard at work using hip resources in the classroom, please do share them with us in the comments!

Note: To view the images in a larger format, please click on the links to these individuals images: Image 1 Image 2Image 3. When the image opens, click on it again to zoom in.

via Ted Gioia

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

Mesmerizing GIFs Illustrate the Art of Traditional Japanese Wood Joinery — All Done Without Screws, Nails, or Glue

Traditional Japanese carpentry, whether used to build a dinner table or the entire house containing it, doesn’t use screws, nails, adhesives, or any other kind of non-wooden fastener. So how do its constructions hold together? How have all those thousands of wooden houses, tables, and countless other objects and structures stood up for dozens and even hundreds of years, and so solidly at that? The secret lies in the art of joinery and its elaborate cutting techniques refined, since its origin in the seventh century, through generations and generations of steadily increasing mastery — albeit by a steadily dwindling number of masters.

“Even until recent times when carpentry books began to be published, mastery of these woodworking techniques remained the fiercely guarded secret of family carpentry guilds,” writes Spoon & Tamago’s Johnny Strategy. If you find it difficult to grasp how simply cutting two pieces of wood in a certain way could unite them as if they’d grown together in the first place, have a look at a Twitter feed called The Joinery, run by a young enthusiast who has collected a great many of these carpentry books. He’s used them, in combination with mechanical design software skills presumably honed in his career in the auto industry, to create elegantly animated visual explanations of Japanese carpentry’s tried-and-true joinery methods.

Archdaily points to the work of architect Shigeru Ban as one example of how this “uniquely Japanese wood aesthetic” has survived into the modern day, but the man behind The Joinery imagines even more ambitious possibilities: “3D printing and woodworking machinery has enabled us to create complicated forms fairly easily,” he tells Spoon & Tamago. “I want to organize all the joinery techniques and create a catalog of them all,” so that anyone with the tools might potentially make use of their beauty and sturdiness in hitherto unimagined new contexts. And so another traditional Japanese craft that has looked doomed to outmoded oblivion, what with all the more advanced and efficient fabrication and construction techniques developed over the past 1400 years, may well thrive in the future. To learn more about the art of joinery, you’ll want to explore this 1995 book, The Complete Japanese Joinery.

via ArchDaily

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, 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.

An Introduction to Confucius’ Life & Thought Through Two Animated Videos

Though it isn’t widely acknowledged, there’s been a longstanding and robust debate at least since the nineteenth century over whether or not a historical Jesus existed. The majority of Christians dismiss the evidence, or lack thereof, for reasons of belief, but on a wider view it’s not at all unique that the historical founder of a religion or school might be an invention, or might have been nothing at all like the tradition suggests. Such questions have arisen about the reality of the Buddha, for example, or the authorship of Lao Tzu, writer of the Tao Te Ching, or the historical existence of his supposed contemporary Confucius, founder of the system of philosophy and ethics simply known as Confucianism.

What do we know about Confucius? “Very little for certain,” says Alain de Botton in his School of Life introductory video above. “He’s said to have been born in 551 BC in China,” and he may have been a student of Lao Tzu. Confucius supposedly served as minister of crime under the ruler of the state of Lu. Many mundane stories about the Chinese thinker make his existence seem quite plausible, though his legend picked up miraculous features over time. But the sayings supposedly by and about Confucius, historical or otherwise—like those of Jesus and the Buddha—were only written down many years after his death, collected in the famous Analects (Lunyu, or “edited conversations”).



These sayings became enormously popular during the European Enlightenment and the 20th century, writes Charlotte Allen at The Atlantic, in part because Confucius remained “agnostic on whether a supernatural world actually exists.” Though he encouraged participation in religious rituals, “The Master,” one of the analects remarks, “never talked of: miracles; violence; disorders; spirits.” What he did talk about what was “the Golden Mean: all things in moderation, even moderation itself.” Confucius was a conservative thinker—in the sense that word once had of holding fast to tradition, encouraging adherence to “ritual propriety” and family observances, and respecting the rule of law.

His sayings include a version of the Golden Rule, and he “is said to have taught his disciples the cultivation of personal virtue…. veneration of one’s parents, love of learning, loyalty to one’s superiors, kindness to one’s subordinates, and a high regard for all of the customs, institutions, and rituals that make for civility.” One can see his appeal to many liberal Western philosophers, who have often advanced radical theses alongside the conservative values Max Weber characterized as the Protestant ethic. Thomas Paine, writes Allen, “listed Confucius with Jesus and the Greek philosophers as the world’s great moral teachers” in the Age of Reason, and Ezra Pound had a particularly high regard for the Chinese thinker.

This kind of veneration has meant that “to many educated Westerners, Confucius is the very emblem of Chinese civilization and religious belief.” Or as the TED-Ed video above puts it, “most people recognize his name and know that he is famous for having said… something.” In this video introduction to Confucius, the philosopher’s biography plays a very prominent role, and it does make for an engaging story. But we should be aware that the details of his life are highly contested by scholars in the East and West. The only sources date from “well after his death,” notes the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and “taken together paint contradictory pictures of his personality and the events in his life.” Some scholars even claim he was an invention of the Jesuits, who may have created the Confucius character to accord with their Western desire for a personal founder.

But we need not believe biographical details or decide between scholarly controversies to appreciate Confucian thought. As de Botton makes clear, Confucius’ respect for tradition—though certainly patriarchal and hierarchical—also gives us a lot of insight into how and why we should heed people with expertise and superior knowledge, why we should value education and difficult study, and why personal integrity matters in civic life. Though we cannot verify his life story, we can see it as a popular narrative allegory for his ideas. Confucius exhorted his disciples to obey their leaders, yet he also insisted that those leaders be benevolent and honorable.

It is said that Confucius left Lu, where he had served faithfully as a minister, when the Duke received a gift of courtesans and horses from a neighboring ruler, and began to spend all his time cavorting, and misusing the state’s resources. Thus, according to the tradition, began a period of wandering as the philosopher pondered the cultivation of character. You can read the Analects for yourself in a number of translations—including this free online version from Robert Eno. And if you wish to immerse yourself more fully in the study of Confucianism and Chinese philosophy and culture more generally, you can do so for free through Harvard’s edX course on China or, through Coursera’s “Classics of Chinese Humanities: Guided Readings,” taught by Ou Fan Leo Lee, Professor of Chinese Culture at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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

The Triumphant Night When a Teacher Saved His Students from a Motorcycle Gang: A True, Hand-Animated Story

“Survival of the fittest, this still exists even today. If you’re weak, people pick on you, they take advantage. And if you don’t respond to what they do, they will continually pick on you. You have to frighten them and attack first.”

Those strong words come from Ralph Whims, a teacher who, one night back in 1973, agreed to chaperone a school dance in a church basement. It was a pretty ordinary affair, until a 20-member biker gang barged in, uninvited, and started harassing the kids. What to do? Retreat? Or step forward and restore order? That’s the story, apparently all true, told by the short animation, The Chaperone, created by Fraser Munden. (His own father once had Ralph Whims as an elementary school teacher in Montreal.) This empowering short film has been screened at 70 film festivals and won 25 awards. You can get more backstory on the film by reading an interview with the director here.

The Chaperone will be added to the Animation section of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Follow Open Culture on Facebook, Twitter and Flipboard 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. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

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Captivating GIFs Reveal the Magical Special Effects in Classic Silent Films

The early silent comedians were daredevils and masters of physical comedy, but they weren’t *that* crazy. In a series of gifs that show the secrets of silent filmmaking, the trickery behind some of silent cinema’s most impressive shots are revealed. The person behind these brief animations is a poster from Reddit called Auir2blaze.

Harold Lloyd did indeed hang from a clock face on the side of a building in his classic Safety Last! (watch the scene up top), but as the gif shows, a mattress was only a few feet below, safely out of shot. The angle of the camera, the editing that had gone before, and the actual city scene unfolding in the background all created the illusion that Lloyd was dangling many stories above Los Angeles.

Similarly, Charlie Chaplin rolling backwards on skates to the edge of a dangerous drop is magical…in that the magic lies in the excellent realistic matte painting work that replaced a floor with vertiginous open air.

As Auir2blaze explains, “The craziest thing about silent movie effects is that everything basically had to be done in camera. If you were filming multiple elements to create a complex shot that contained multiple elements and you messed up one part, the whole piece of film would be ruined.”



Which in turn makes these effects even more impressive. Not every special effect shot was a stunt. In another example, Auir2blaze shows how Mary Pickford (view on this page) was able to kiss her double on the cheek: They shot the actress sitting still, and projected the footage onto a screen cut out in the shape of the actress, which Pickford then kissed. One might say, “crude but effective” until you think about the delicacy needed to make the screen, and the brains behind these effects.

Many of these effects relied on large depth of field, which meant that sets and actors would have to be lit very brightly. In the world of film, camera lights can get very hot, and old movie sets must have been like ovens. (For more discussion and film tech geekery, the original Reddit page has many good threads.)

It shows that filmmaking has always been a magician’s art form, and that sometimes a practical effect can be worth 100 times a computer’s output.

via TwistedSifter

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

A 1958 TV Show Had an Unsavory Character Named “Trump” Who Promised to Build a Wall & Save the World

You’re not watching an episode from the The Twilight Zone. No, this clip is from the 1950s western TV series TrackdownOr, to be more precise, it comes from a 1958 episode called “The End of the World.” The clips features Lawrence Dobkin playing the role of “Walter Trump,” a fraud who rides into town claiming, writes Snopes, “that only he could prevent the end of the world by building a wall.” The episode ends, in case you’re wondering, with the fear-mongering Trump getting placed under arrest. Freedom and sanity are restored. Hurray.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook, Twitter and Flipboard 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. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

via AV Club

Albert Einstein Explains How Slavery Has Crippled Everyone’s Ability (Even Aristotle’s) to Think Clearly About Racism

Image by Ferdinand Schmutzer, via Wikimedia Commons

“Should we allow celebrities to discuss politics?” goes one variation on an evergreen headline and supposedly legitimate public debate. No amount of public disapproval could have stopped some of the most outspoken public figures, and we’d be the worse off for it in many cases. Muhammad Ali, John Lennon, Nina Simone, George Carlin, Roger Waters, Margaret Cho, and, yes, Meryl Streep—millions of people have been very grateful (and many not) for these artists’ political commentary. When it comes to scientists, however, we tend to see more baseless accusations of political speech than overwhelming evidence of it.

But there have been those few scientists and philosophers who were also celebrities, and who made their political views well-known without reservation. Bertrand Russell was such a person, as was Albert Einstein, who took up the causes of world peace and of racial justice in the post-war years. As we’ve previously noted, Einstein’s commitments were both philanthropic and activist, and he formed close friendships with Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marian Anderson, and other prominent black leaders.



Einstein also co-chaired an anti-lynching campaign and issued a scathing condemnation of racism during a speech he gave in 1946 at the alma mater of Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall in which he called racism “a disease of white people.” That same year, notes On Being’s executive editor Trent Gilliss, Einstein “penned one of his most articulate and eloquent essays advocating for the civil rights of black people in America.” Titled “The Negro Question” and published in the January 1946 edition of Pageant magazine, the essay, writes Gilliss, “was intended to address a primarily white readership.”

Einstein begins by answering the inevitable objection, “What right has he to speak about things which concern us alone, and which no newcomer should touch?” To this, the famed physicist answers, “I do not think such a standpoint is justified.” Einstein believed he had a unique perspective: “One who has grown up in an environment takes much for granted. On the other hand, one who has come to this country as a mature person may have a keen eye for everything peculiar and characteristic.” Speaking freely about his observations, Einstein felt “he may perhaps prove himself useful.”

Then, after praising the country’s “democratic trait” and its citizens’ “healthy self-confidence and natural respect for the dignity of one’s fellow-man,” he plainly observes that this “sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins.” Anticipating a casually racist defense of “natural” differences, Einstein replies:

I am firmly convinced that whoever believes this suffers from a fatal misconception. Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force; and in the white man’s quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

The ancient Greeks also had slaves. They were not Negroes but white men who had been taken captive in war. There could be no talk of racial differences. And yet Aristotle, one of the great Greek philosophers, declared slaves inferior beings who were justly subdued and deprived of their liberty. It is clear that he was enmeshed in a traditional prejudice from which, despite his extraordinary intellect, he could not free himself.

Like the ancient Greeks, Americans’ prejudices are “conditioned by opinions and emotions which we unconsciously absorb as children from our environment.” And racist attitudes are both causes and effects of economic exploitation, learned behaviors that emerge from historical circumstances, yet we “rarely reflect” how powerful the influence of tradition is “upon our conduct and convictions.” The situation can be remedied, Einstein believed, though not “quickly healed.” The “man of good will,” he wrote, “must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.”

Read the full essay at On Being, and learn more about Einstein’s committed anti-racist activism from Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor’s 2006 book Einstein on Race and Racism.

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

How the French New Wave Changed Cinema: A Video Introduction to the Films of Godard, Truffaut & Their Fellow Rule-Breakers

You could describe every act of filmmaking as an act of film criticism, and for no group of directors has that held truer than those of the French New Wave. In one of the most exciting chapters of cinema history thus far, the late 1950s and 1960s saw such newly emergent auteurs as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Agnès Varda, Jacques Demy, Claude Chabrol, Éric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, and André Bazin turn away from the established practices of filmmaking and, by a mixture of inclination and necessity, start a few of their own.

They followed these new rules to come up with pictures like Le Beau Serge, BreathlessThe 400 Blows, Last Year at MarienbadCléo from 5 to 7, and La Jetée. Those and the other movies of the Nouvelle Vague startled viewers with their boldness of form and content, but what of importance do they have to say in film culture today? Lewis Bond of Channel Criswell, source of video essays previously featured here about filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky and Akira Kurosawa, looks at the lasting achievements of the movement in “Breaking the Rules.”



The members of the French New Wave told personal stories that reflected personal philosophies, shooting documentary-style with handheld cameras, cutting those shots together with previously unheard of conspicuousness, and using a variety of other visual and narrative techniques to establish a new relationship between films and their viewers. “If you’re still skeptical as to whether the nouvelle vague intentionally toyed with the audience’s expectations,” says Bond over a selection of fourth-wall-breaking shots, “just look at how many times their movies directly acknowledge them. The nouvelle vague wanted to have the audience tested as to what could be a movie and how they could push the boundaries of storytelling, not just with their techniques but with their content too.”

And what do we jaded 21st-century viewers and filmmakers still have to learn from all this? “Just watch the films. They’re so ahead of their time, it’s not difficult to see” the influence of their editing on the Scorseses of the world, their concept of the auteur on the Tarantinos, and their camera movement on the Luzbekis of today. “The thing that the filmmakers of la nouvelle vague did was utilize one of the most important processes I think there is for an artist: look at what works in your medium and think, ‘How can it be done differently?’ Because if you don’t have anything new to say, what’s the point of saying anything?” And, now as in the mid-2oth-century as in the centuries before cinema itself, if you do have something new to say, you can’t say it by following the old rules.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, 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.


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