As the World Burns

NASA has released a series of new satel­lite data visu­al­iza­tions that “show tens of mil­lions of fires detect­ed world­wide from space” between July 2002 and July 2011. The visu­al­iza­tions were pro­duced by the MOD­er­ate Res­o­lu­tion Imag­ing Spec­tro­ra­diome­ter, or MODIS, instru­ments onboard NASA’s Ter­ra and Aqua satel­lites. And they help sci­en­tists under­stand how fires affect our envi­ron­ment on local, region­al and glob­al scales — one of the many unex­pect­ed things that come out of NASA space mis­sions. h/t holykaw

Fol­low us on Face­book and Twit­ter and we’ll keep point­ing you to free cul­tur­al good­ies dai­ly…

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What It Feels Like to Fly Over Plan­et Earth

Earth­rise in HD

Tour­ing the Earth from Space (in HD)

125 Great Sci­ence Videos: From Astron­o­my to Physics & Psy­chol­o­gy


Legendary Folklorist Alan Lomax: ‘The Land Where the Blues Began’

In 1933, 18-year-old Alan Lomax took a break from col­lege to trav­el into the Amer­i­can South with his father, John Avery Lomax, on a quest to dis­cov­er and record tra­di­tion­al folk songs for the Library of Con­gress. It was the begin­ning of a jour­ney that would last the rest of his life.

With his father, and lat­er on his own, Lomax trav­eled the back roads of Appalachia and the Mis­sis­sip­pi Delta, from reli­gious revival meet­ings to prison chain gangs, in pur­suit of South­ern folk music in all its forms. Along the way he dis­cov­ered and record­ed such sin­gu­lar artists as Mis­sis­sip­pi Fred McDow­ell, Vera Hall and Lead Belly. Lat­er, Lomax would widen his field of research to focus on Euro­pean folk music, but in 1978 he went back to the Mis­sis­sip­pi Delta with a cam­era crew to doc­u­ment a cul­ture that was rapid­ly dis­ap­pear­ing.

The result, The Land Where the Blues Began (watch it online here), is a fas­ci­nat­ing look at tra­di­tion­al coun­try blues in its native envi­ron­ment. Filmed in lev­ee camps, church­es, juke joints and on front porch­es across Mis­sis­sip­pi, the doc­u­men­tary draws atten­tion to musi­cians unknown out­side the Delta. The Land Where the Blues Began is a must-see for blues fans, and is now part of our col­lec­tion of Free Movies.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Leg­end of Blues­man Robert John­son Ani­mat­ed

The Rolling Stones Jam With Their Idol, Mud­dy Waters

Mud­dy Waters on the Blues and Gospel Train

Orson Welles Narrates Animated Version of Kafka’s Parable, “Before the Law”

In 1962, Orson Welles direct­ed The Tri­al, a film based on Franz Kafka’s last and per­haps best-known nov­el. (Read it online here, or find it in our col­lec­tion of Free eBooks.) Shot in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Rome, Milan and Paris, the film starred Antho­ny Perkins, Jeanne More­au, Romy Schnei­der and Welles him­self. And while crit­ics had mixed feel­ings about the film (some loved it, some did­n’t), Welles’ feel­ings were unam­biva­lent. A few years lat­er, Welles told the BBC, “Say what you will, but The Tri­al is the best film I have ever made. One repeats one­self only when one is fatigued. Well, I was­n’t fatigued. I have nev­er been so hap­py as when I made that film.”

The Tri­al starts with Welles nar­rat­ing an ani­mat­ed ver­sion of “Before the Law,” a para­ble from The Tri­al. And then the action begins. Find the para­ble above, and the film right here. And many more great Free Movies in our col­lec­tion.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Franz Kaf­ka: The Short Ani­mat­ed Film

Orson Welles Vin­tage Radio

Orson Welles’ The Stranger: The Full Movie

Free­dom Riv­er: A Para­ble Told by Orson Welles

Orson Welles Nar­rates Ani­ma­tion of Plato’s Cave Alle­go­ry

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Robot Sets Rubik’s Cube World Record: 5.35 Seconds

Cob­bling togeth­er some LEGOs and a smart­phone run­ning a cus­tom Android app, Mike Dob­son and David Gil­day built CubeStormer II, a lean, mean Rubik’s Cube-solv­ing machine. Crack­ing a Rubik’s Cube in 5.35 sec­onds, Cubestormer II made mince­meat out of Ruby, the pre­vi­ous robot record hold­er — 10.18 sec­onds. And it even edged out the exist­ing world record, 5.66 sec­onds, set by Feliks Zemdegs ear­li­er this year. Watch him go below.

To see Cubestormer II in action, you can vis­it ARM Tech­Con 2011, to be held in San­ta Clara, Cal­i­for­nia on Octo­ber 26 and 27. H/T Sci­ence Dump.

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Spike Jonze Presents a Stop Motion Film for Book Lovers

It all start­ed when film­mak­er Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are) met hand­bag design­er Olympia Le-Tan and asked her to cre­ate a Catch­er in the Rye embroi­dery for his wall. She asked him to col­lab­o­rate on a film in return. And so Jonze and Le-Tan, togeth­er with French direc­tor Simon Cahn, spent six months writ­ing a script, then ani­mat­ing 3,000 pieces of felt cut by Le-Tan her­self. The result is Mourir Auprès de Toi (To Die By Your Side), a short stop motion film set inside the famous Parisian book­store, Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny, and it fea­tures a skele­ton, his lover, and some famous book cov­ers that spring to life.

For more back­sto­ry, don’t miss this short “Mak­ing of” film, a short inter­view with Olivia Le-Tan, and an inter­view with Spike Jonze. Here, you can also watch Mourir Auprès de Toi (now added to our Free Movie col­lec­tion) in a larg­er for­mat.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Very Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

Books Savored in Stop Motion Film

Going West: A Stop Motion Nov­el

800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kin­dle & Oth­er Devices

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Iceland in the Midnight Sun

For 17 days this past June, time­lapse cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Joe Capra trav­eled across Ice­land, cap­tur­ing its nat­ur­al beau­ty dur­ing the months when the sun nev­er sets and nev­er ris­es. Mak­ing Mid­night Sun was no easy feat. Capra worked at it around the clock, tak­ing 38,000 images and trav­el­ing 2900 miles. Our rec­om­men­da­tion? Watch the film on Vimeo, in HD and with a full screen.

Bonus: Don’t miss this new Cam­bridge Ideas film, Mem­o­ries of Old Awake, that looks at how Ice­land’s cen­turies old sagas are deeply inter­twined with the every­day lives of peo­ple who live there.


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Under a Brooding Sky: The Photography of Don McCullin

As a chron­i­cler of war, Don McCullin is a leg­end. Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son once com­pared him to Goya, and John Le Car­ré wrote, “He was a com­mu­ni­ca­tor of the world’s worst ago­nies, a pil­grim to the front line of human suf­fer­ing, return­ing with his kit-bag of hor­rors to appal the com­fort­able, the wil­ful­ly blind and the unknow­ing.” As a pho­to­jour­nal­ist for The Observ­er and the Sun­day Times Mag­a­zine, McCullin cov­ered all the major con­flicts of the 1960s and 1970s, and many of the minor ones: Viet­nam, Cam­bo­dia, North­ern Ire­land, Lebanon, Cyprus, Biafra, the Six-Day War, the Yom Kip­pur War. But McCullin has always hat­ed the term “war pho­tog­ra­ph­er” for what he calls its mer­ce­nary ring. In recent years the pho­tog­ra­ph­er has turned his lens on more peace­ful sub­jects, like the Eng­lish land­scape. Yet even in pas­toral set­tings, McCullin’s work retains a sense of men­ace. The very light seems to brood, as one col­league put it. “My favorite time to pho­to­graph land­scape is evening,” McCullin said in a 1987 inter­view. “I can’t avoid want­i­ng every­thing to go dark, dark, dark.”

A major exhib­it of McCullin’s work is on dis­play at the Impe­r­i­al War Muse­um in Lon­don through April 15, while a small­er exhib­it of his non-war pho­tographs (see above) is on dis­play at the Tate Britain through March 4.


Fun with Quantum Levitation

Pre­pare to have your mind blown.

You may have seen lev­i­ta­tion tricks per­formed by magi­cians, but rest assured that they can’t beat this: quan­tum lev­i­ta­tion. The video above was cap­tured at the 2011 ASTC con­fer­ence, a gath­er­ing of sci­en­tists in Bal­ti­more, Mary­land, with the pur­pose of demon­strat­ing “how sci­ence cen­ters and muse­ums are putting new ideas to prac­ti­cal use to serve their com­mu­ni­ties.” The School of Physics and Astron­o­my at Tel-Aviv Uni­ver­si­ty has put togeth­er this physics exper­i­ment show­cas­ing quan­tum super­con­duc­tors locked in a mag­net­ic field.

While the video fails to explain the sci­ence of what is hap­pen­ing here, the com­ple­men­tary web­site is help­ful. The white round disk (essen­tial­ly a sap­phire wafer coat­ed with a thin lay­er of yttri­um bar­i­um cop­per oxide) is cooled to below neg­a­tive 185 degrees C. At that tem­per­a­ture (dubbed the crit­i­cal tem­per­a­ture), the mate­r­i­al becomes super­con­duc­tive, mean­ing that it has zero elec­tri­cal resis­tance. From the web­site:

Super­con­duc­tiv­i­ty and mag­net­ic field do not like each oth­er. When pos­si­ble, the super­con­duc­tor will expel all the mag­net­ic field from inside. This is the Meiss­ner effect. In our case, since the super­con­duc­tor is extreme­ly thin, the mag­net­ic field DOES pen­e­trate. How­ev­er, it does that in dis­crete quan­ti­ties (this is quan­tum physics after all! ) called flux tubes.

Inside each mag­net­ic flux tube super­con­duc­tiv­i­ty is local­ly destroyed. The super­con­duc­tor will try to keep the mag­net­ic tubes pinned in weak areas (e.g. grain bound­aries). Any spa­tial move­ment of the super­con­duc­tor will cause the flux tubes to move. In order to pre­vent that, the super­con­duc­tor remains “trapped” in midair.

And in case you’re won­der­ing: are there prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tions for quan­tum lev­i­ta­tion? The answer, of course, is yes!

Find free physics cours­es in our big col­lec­tion of Free Cours­es from top uni­ver­si­ties — 400 great cours­es and grow­ing.

Eugene Buchko is a blog­ger and pho­tog­ra­ph­er liv­ing in Atlanta, GA. He main­tains a pho­to­blog, Eru­dite Expres­sions, and writes about what he reads on his read­ing blog.

H/T Engad­get

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