Archive of Handwritten Recipes (1600 – 1960) Will Teach You How to Stew a Calf’s Head and More

If you’ve ever tried to follow a recipe from your grandmother’s collection, squinting at her spidery writing on a stained 3×5 card, you might be a candidate for the University of Iowa Libraries’ latest DIY History project.

The University’s special collections manages the Szathmary Culinary Manuscipts and Cookbooks, a handwritten collection of American and European recipes from the 1600s to the 1960s.

Helpful foodies, history buffs and handwriting sleuths are invited to participate in UI’s crowdsourcing history project by transcribing digitized images of recipes.

It’s not the first time the university has outsourced a portion of its archival handwork. Last year the Civil War Diaries and Letters Transcription Project was powered by volunteers, who transcribed more than 15,000 pages of material. All you need to do is select a page from within the collection and get started. So far more than 17,000 pages have been transcribed and volunteers chat and post questions on a discussion forum.

An example of the historical nuggets uncovered while transcribing: a posnet is an 18th century term for a small metal pot, a spider is a skillet, and to scearce is to sift. Of course no cookbook historian has completed their task until they have actually tried the recipes themselves. This could be interesting for the lucky transcriber of a recipe from Abigail Wellington Townsend’s cookbook, circa 1840:

To stew a calfshead, let the calfshead be split and open and cleaned put it in the stew pan with water to cover it stew it quite tender take it and cut it to pieces put them on again in the stew pan with the water it was first boiled in  put with it six large onions half a pint of claret a little catch up a little mace & pepper & salt to your taste when it is stewed tender thicken the gravy with yolks of six eggs boiled hard & braid in a little of the gravy put in six yolks of eggs boiled hard & fry’d forced meat.

Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Find more of her work at  and

Mountain Biker Joy Rides on a $13,000 Carbon Road Bike

Professional cycling has certainly seen better days. Last week, the International Cycling Union formally stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. This came after Armstrong refused to contest an evidence-filled case prepared by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and after Armstrong’s former teammates started confessing to doping one by one. (On that note, Tyler Hamilton, once a domestique for Lance, gave a rather revealing radio interview this week, along with Daniel Coyle. Together they co-wrote a new book, The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs.) Anyway, this is all a long way of saying that cycling fans could use something to smile about. And maybe this fits the bill: Above, we have Martyn Ashton, a well-known mountain biker, taking a $13,000 Pinarello Dogma 2 out for a very casual radical spin. Enjoy.

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi Square Off in a Monstrous Game of Chess (1934)

Long before the release of the cult film Dracula vs. Frankenstein (Rotten Tomatoes calls the 1971 movie “a slapdash epic of bad filmmaking”), the original stars of Dracula and Frankenstein met face to face–for a game of chess.

The scene is from an early 1934 episode of Columbia Pictures’ Screen Snapshots, a series of short films featuring the off-screen lives of Hollywood stars. Carl Laemmle at Universal Pictures had recently come up with the idea of casting Boris Karloff, who played the monster in the 1931 film Frankenstein, and Bela Lugosi, star of the same year’s Dracula, together in one movie. The Black Cat, based very loosely on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe, premiered in May of 1934 with Karloff and Lugosi at the top of the bill.

The appearance by Karloff and Lugosi on Screen Snapshots #11 was essentially a covert promotion for The Black Cat, but because Columbia and Universal were rivals the film isn’t mentioned. Instead, the two horror stars talk about the “Film Stars Frolic,” a fundraising event for the Screen Actors Guild that coincided with the opening of Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles–and, as it happened, with the premiere of The Black Cat. The Screen Snapshots vignette begins with an atmosphere of menace as the two men frown at one another.

“Are you ready for the test, Dracula?” says Karloff.

“I’m ready, Frankenstein,” says Lugosi.

“Then–let us begin.”

At which point the two men break out laughing as the camera pulls back to reveal a chess board. For some reason Dracula has the white pieces.

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Isaac Asimov Explains His Three Laws of Robots

A handful of futurists, philosophers, and technophiles believe we are approaching what they call the “singularity”: a point in time when smart machines became much smarter, stronger, and faster than their creators, and then become self-conscious. If there’s any chance of this occurring, it’s worthwhile to ponder the consequences. But we do already, all the time—in existentially bleak scenarios like Blade Runner, the Terminator series, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica (and its failed prequel Caprica).

The prospects are never pleasant. Robotic engineers in these worlds hardly seem to bother teaching their machines the kind of moral code that would keep them from turning and destroying us (that is, when they aren’t explicitly designed to do so).

I wonder about this conceptual gap—convenient as it may be in narrative terms—given that Isaac Asimov, one of the forefathers of robot fiction invented just such a moral code. In the video above, he outlines it (with his odd pronunciation of “robot”). The code consists of three laws; in his fiction these are hardwired into each robot’s “positronic brain,” a fictional computer that gives robots something of a human-like consciousness.

First Law: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Isaac Asimov devoted a good deal of his writing career to the subject of robots, so it’s safe to say, he’d done quite bit of thinking about how they would fit into the worlds he invented. In doing so, Asimov had to solve the problem of how robots would interact with humans once they had some degree of free will. But are his three laws sufficient? Many of Asimov’s stories–I, Robot, for example–turn on some failure or confusion between them. And even for their chase scenes, explosions, and melodrama, the three screen explorations of artificial life mentioned above thoughtfully exploit philosophical ambiguities and insufficiencies in Asimov’s simple system.

For one thing, while Asimov’s robots were hunks of metal, taking only vaguely humanoid form, the robots of our current imaginings emerge from an uncanny valley with realistic skin and hair or even a genetic code and circulatory system. They are possible sexual partners, friends and lovers, co-workers and superiors. They can deceive us as to their nature (a fourth law by Bulgarian novelist Lyuben Dilov states that a robot “must establish its identity as a robot in all cases”); they can conceive children or desires their creators never intended. These differences beg important questions: how ethical are these laws? How feasible? When the singularity occurs, will Skynet become aware of itself and destroy us?

Unlike Asimov, we now live in a time where the questions have direct applicability to robots living among us, outside the pages of sci-fi. As Japanese and South Korean roboticists have found, the three laws cannot address what they call “open texture risk”— unpredictable interactions in unstructured environments. Humans rely on nuanced and often preconscious readings of complex social codes and the fine shades of meaning embedded in natural language; machines have no such subtlety… yet. Whether or not they can develop it is an open question, making humanoid robots with artificial intelligence an “open texture risk.” But as you can see from the video below, we’re perhaps much closer to Blade Runner or AI than to the clunky, interstellar mining machines in Asimov’s fiction.

Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

The Known Universe: The Hayden Planetarium’s Tour of the Cosmos Gets a Hans Zimmer Soundtrack

The German composer Hans Zimmer has made a name for himself (and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) by creating original scores for films. You’ve heard his music, even if you haven’t heard of him. The Lion King, The Dark Knight and Inception are a few of the films he scored.

If you’ve seen Inception then the music behind this video will sound familiar. Zimmer’s music plays behind a small video with vast subject matter: The Known Universe, a six minute tour of, that’s right, the entire known universe. Put together in 2009 by the Hayden Planetarium in NYC, the video originally had a more New Agey, orchestral score. Zimmer’s track is beautiful and thankfully somebody decided to lay it down behind the Planetarium’s video. The results are amazing, a slicker version of Charles and Ray Eames’ famous film Powers of Ten, but with a more distant starting and ending point.

Where Powers of Ten started its tour out at a bird’s eye level above Earth, The Known Universe begins above the planet’s highest point, above the Himalayan Mountains, and quickly pans out to show the Moon’s orbit, the orbits of the other planets in our solar system, and beyond.

Really beyond—all the way into the afterglow of the Big Bang. And even though it’s a simulation, it’s an accurate one.

The Known Universe was made using the Digital Universe Atlas, a four-dimensional map of the universe maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History. (You can download your own copy here.)

Slip into your headphones and enjoy Zimmer’s music. The piece is called “Time (We Plants are Happy Plants Remix)” and it’s a tuneful, upbeat soundtrack that’s out of our galaxy.

Are you watching, Carl Sagan?

Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Find more of her work at .

Watch James Burke’s TV Series Connections, and Discover the Unexpected History of Innovation

Even if we didn’t grow up as science fans, all of us caught at least the occasional television show on science history. Some came expertly produced. Others packed the information to a very high density (by TV’s standards, at least). Others cracked jokes to keep our wits engaged. Others got us intrigued enough about a particular discovery to perform our own further research at the library or on the internet. But those of us who came of age during a run of one of James Burke‘s Connectionsseries got all of that at once, executed on a higher plane, and with quite different philosophical premises. Designing each of his programs to examine a different nexus between several elements of science, nature, and  engineering, Burke premises these narratives on the inseparability of human ingenuity, historical coincidence, and sheer accident. How, for instance, did we end up in a world of film projectors (currently being displaced by digital projectors though they may be)? For the answer, Burke argues, you’ve got to start with medieval castle fortifications. Then you work your way through cannons, mapping, limelight, billiard-ball ivory, guncotton, the zoopraxiscope, Morse code, and the phonograph. These technological threads all converge to give us the cinematic experience we enjoy today — or enjoyed in 1978, anyway.

If you enjoyed that episode of Connections back then, know that you can now relive it on a Youtube channel dedicated to Burke and his shows. If you never watched any in the first place, you can now catch up on not just the ten episodes of the original Connections, but 1994’s twice-as-long Connections2, and the final series, 1997’s Connections3I recommend beginning at the beginning, with Connections‘ first episode, “The Trigger Effect,” embedded above. It gets you into the mindset of Burke’s “alternative view of change” by breaking down and illustrating the very concept of human reliance on complexly connected networks. The program’s clear and fast-moving but no-stone-unturned methodology of explanation takes you through the New York Blackout of 1965, ancient Egyptian agriculture, and the oil fields of Kuwait. Reach the end of the third series, and you wind up learning just how much the Eiffel Tower has to do with the Elgin Marbles, Benjamin Franklin, London Bridge, and the ZIP code. Burke emphasizes that none of the historical agents involved in all these scattered small innovations that enabled the big ones — the ones with such effects on our modern lives — could have planned for things to go the way they did. His stories thus grant us more than a bit of humility about predicting the innovations of the future, built as they will be atop the kind of complexity that not even Connections ever described.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

50 Free Online Certificate Courses Starting Soon (Including Intro to Philosophy)

A quick heads up: Several weeks back, we rolled out a handy list of Free Courses Granting Certificates from Great Universities. We started with 60 courses, and we’ve now added another 50. They all start in the near future (between November and January), and they mostly come from the two biggest providers of Massive Open Online Courses — Coursera and Udacity (which just landed $15 million in funding last week).

Above we’re featuring a clip promoting a course called Introduction to Philosophy. It comes courtesy of the University of Edinburgh, an institution first founded in 1583, that hopes to teach a timeless discipline in a new way. So far, Coursera and Udacity have only offered courses in science and technology  — in disciplines that yield rather quantifiable answers. Now it’s time to see how they can handle subjects where the questions and answers are more subtle. The free course begins on January 28, and any student who successfully completes the interactive course will receive “a certificate signed by the instructors.” Sign up here, and find a complete list of online certificate courses here.

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Kermit the Frog Learns to Love Jazz Through “Visual Thinking” (1959)

Jim Henson launched his first televised puppet program, Sam and Friends, when he was a freshman at the University of Maryland. The show ran for six years on NBC affiliate WRC-TV in Washington, DC. During the production of Sam and Friends, Henson developed the design of his flexible, foam-rubber puppets, which moved much more naturally than wooden marionettes. And they became the prototypes of the beloved Muppets that would make him famous. In the short film above from Sam and Friends, “Visual Thinking,” an early version of Kermit the Frog has an exchange with a stoner character called Harry the Hipster, who introduces him to an advanced form of visual thinking that moves from single notes, to chords, to classical passages to jazz.

The sketch represents a unique combination of puppetry and animation that would come to characterize some of Henson’s most recognizable work, such as Sesame Street. Although it’s in black and white and obviously not produced for children, it’s very much in the style of the later Henson, who maintained a kind of beat sensibility throughout his career, whether working in fantasy with The Dark Crystal or madcap puppet ensembles like The Muppet Movie. In the above sketch, Kermit and Harry work out the intricacies of jazz phrasing by visualizing the notes in white squiggles on the screen, which Harry erases by scatting them backwards. Eventually, they’re overwhelmed and erased by jazz, in a kind of tribute to the form’s complex indeterminacy. The sketch is one of the few early films to feature Kermit, since the character’s rights are owned by Disney. Produced in 1959, the sketch was remade for The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 and again for The Dick Cavett Show in 1971.

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Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

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