New York is Empty: Art Imitates Life

Talk about strange timing. On Tuesday, director Ross Ching released the third video in his “Empty America” series, and it shows New York City wiped clean of tourists and traffic. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the video simply captured the city as it prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. (See images of deserted NYC here, here and here.) But, this video is all artifice, not reality, and it comes on the heels of two sister videos showing San Francisco and Seattle as barren as can be.

San Francisco


via Devour and Kottke

Lawrence Krauss Presents “Secular Sermon” on Theoretical Physics and the Meaning of Life

Alain de Botton, the writer who “has always tried to get ideas to impact on the way we actually live,” started The School of Life in order to offer an education crafted “according to things we all tend to care about: careers, relationships, politics, travels, families.” At its central London location, you can enroll in courses like “How to Have Better Conversations,” “How to Balance Work with Life,” and, perhaps most critically important of all,  “How to Be Cool.” This seems like just the sort of institution which won’t confront you with the sort of numerically rigorous, seemingly abstract math and science classes that gave us grief in our regular educations. Yet de Botton and his School of Life co-founders understand that just because a subject assigns aggravating homework doesn’t mark it out as irrelevant. According to Lawrence Krauss, Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Departments at Arizona State University and director of the Origins Initiative, physics could hardly have more to do with your daily experiences.

The School of Life brought Krauss to London’s Conway Hall to deliver one of their signature “Secular Sermons.” (De Botton, you may know, recently published a manifesto calling for a religion for atheists.) You can watch his 45-minute presentation free online and learn how science, as he tells it, both describes and offers an escape from reality. Using examples from his field of physics, Krauss demonstrates how science, by zooming in as close as possible or zooming out as far as possible, puts our everyday concerns and quibbles in proper context. What’s more, he notes,physics has it that we’re all made up of the same bits and pieces as everything, and thus everyone, else. Have you ever heard a more elegant argument for the notion of universal connectedness? But this isn’t to say that Krauss marshals the fruits of such rigorous study in the name of warm-and-fuzzy pronouncements. When you hear him declare how physics will make you understand that “you’re even more insignificant than you thought,” you’ll know just how far his sensibility lays from either warmth or fuzziness. The life of a physicist, so I’ve heard, benefits from a little gallows humor.

Related content:

Lawrence Krauss: Every Atom in Your Body Comes From a Star

Lawrence Krauss Explains How You Get ‘A Universe From Nothing’

Lawrence Krauss on the Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions

Life-Affirming Talks by Cultural Mavericks Presented at The School of Life

Alain de Botton Wants a Religion for Atheists: Introducing Atheism 2.0

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

Hurricane Sandy Seen from Outer Space, in Timelapse Motion

Hovering some 22,300 miles above Earth, the GOES-14 satellite, operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, captured images of Hurricane Sandy barreling its way across the Atlantic yesterday. The video above puts into animation a series of images taken over an 11 hour period. Off to the left, you see the state of North Carolina, which looks sadly small compared to the 900-mile-wide storm. For anyone living on the east coast, you might want to check out this resource that offers advice on what to do before, during, and after a hurricane. Stay safe, and we’ll see you on the other side of the storm.

Note: Below you will find an alternate view provided by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. This animation brings together satellite observations from October 26 through October 29 2012.

Bela Lugosi Discusses His Drug Habit as He Leaves the Hospital in 1955

In 1955 Bela Lugosi was in a sad state. The once-handsome, Hungarian-born star of Dracula had seen his career degenerate over the previous two decades until at last he was reduced to playing a cruel parody of himself in some of the tackiest B horror films ever made. Along the way he picked up a drug habit. In late April of 1955 the 72-year-old actor, destitute and recently divorced from his fourth wife, checked himself into the psychopathic ward at Los Angeles General Hospital. A few days later, in a hearing held at the ward, Lugosi pleaded with a judge to commit him to a state hospital. A United Press article from April 23, 1955 describes the scene:

Although weighing only 125 pounds and only a shadow of his former self, Lugosi’s voice was clear and resonant as he told the court how shooting pains in his legs led him to start taking morphine injections in 1935. Without morphine, he couldn’t work, Lugosi said.

“I started using it under a doctor’s care,” he said. “I knew after a time it was getting out of control.”

“Seventeen years ago, on a trip to England, I heard of Methodone, a new drug. I brought a big box of it back home. I guess I brought a pound,” Lugosi said.

“Ever since I’ve used that, or demerol. I just took the drugs. I didn’t eat. I got sicker and sicker.”

The judge commended Lugosi for taking action to fight his addiction, and committed him to the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, a suburb of Los Angeles, for a minimum of three months and a maximum of two years. During his time in the hospital, the old man plotted his comeback. In The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi, Arthur Lennig writes:

While at the hospital, Lugosi had been given the script of his next Ed Wood picture, The Ghoul Goes West, a strange concoction in which a mad doctor goes out west to carry out his scheme to make super-creatures out of cowboys and rule the world. The actor looked forward to this forthcoming production, which he believed would begin about ten days after leaving the hospital, and brandished the script as proof that he would start work. “It’s very cute,” he said to the reporters. It probably wasn’t, but Lugosi no doubt believed that all the front page publicity, however notorious, would aid in his comeback, a comeback that would eventually raise him above the lowly ranks of Ed Wood’s shoestring productions. Bela posed for a photograph with the script in one hand while his other hand was dramatically raised in an assertive fist.

The interview above was filmed on August 4, 1955, one day before the actor’s release from the hospital. In the clip, Lugosi smiles and declares himself “a new man.” Less than three weeks later he married his fifth wife, an obsessed fan who reportedly sent him a letter every day he was in the hospital. The Ghoul Goes West never materialized, but Lugosi collaborated with Ed Wood on a couple of other projects, including a movie that some critics would eventually call “the worst film ever made,” Plan 9 From Outer Space. As his hope of a genuine comeback crumbled, Lugosi drank heavily. On August 16, 1956–barely over a year after his release from Metropolitan State Hospital–Lugosi died of a heart attack. He was buried in his Dracula costume.

Several Lugosi films appear on our big list of Free Movies Online.

The Rolling Stones Sing the Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week” in a Hotel Room (1965)

Today we set the Wayback Machine to Ireland, 1965, where we find a young Mick Jagger and a shockingly restored Keith Richards staving off the downtime boredom of a two-day tour with a not-entirely-reverential Beatles singalong. Despite the drabness of the room in which documentarian Peter Whitehead caught the lads clowning, it’s clear that Jagger was feeling his oats. Go ahead and read those famous lips when he wraps them around the chorus of Eight Days a Week.

This priceless private moment is culled from the just released, not-entirely-finished documentary, The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling — Ireland 1965. Former Stones’ producer Andrew Loog Oldham recently chalked the near-50-year delay to the massive explosion of the band’s popularity. Padding things out to a proper feature length would have required additional filming. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction had shot to the top of the American charts just two months earlier,  from which point on, the lads’ dance card was filled.

Lucky thing, that. What might in its day have amounted to a fun peek behind the scenes feels far more compelling as a just-cracked time capsule. The sad spectacle of Brian Jones musing about his future options is offset by the youthful larking about of rock’s most celebrated senior citizens.

See the trailer for The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling — Ireland 1965 right below.

– Ayun Halliday briefly mentioned Mick Jagger’s lips vis-à-vis Lauren Bacall in her memoir, Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste.

Download a Free, New Halloween Story by Neil Gaiman (and Help Charities Along the Way)

We’ve previously featured the free, downloadable stories and novels by author Neil Gaiman available online in video, audio, and text format. This is a wonderful thing, to be sure; Gaiman’s a fantastic writer of dark fantasy for children and adults alike, so who better to inaugurate this year’s Halloween celebrations with a new free story, available for download through and read by Neil himself?

Gaiman’s new story, entitled “Click-Clack the Rattlebag,” is creepy, for sure, but that’s all I’m going say about it. You’ll need to download it yourself to find out more, and you really should because for every download of the story, Audible has agreed to donate a dollar to one of two charities that Neil has chosen—one for the U.S. and one for the U.K.. Gaiman has more information on his personal website, where he describes his negotiations with Audible in setting up the donations and the process of recording the story. He writes:

The story is unpublished (it will be published in a forthcoming anthology called Impossible Monsters, edited by Kasey Lansdale and coming out from Subterranean Press). It’s funny, a little bit, and it’s scary, just enough for Hallowe’en, I hope.

Gaiman also has a few requests: first, you need to download the story by Halloween in order to make the donation; second, please don’t give the story away—encourage people to go download it for themselves; and lastly, “wait to listen to it until after dark.” Atmosphere matters.

You do not need an Audible account to download the story, but you do need to give them your email address to prove you’re a human. U.S. readers should go to and U.K. readers to (Gaiman provides no instructions for readers in other countries; I suppose they could go to either site). So don’t wait—help Audible raise money for some worthy educational charities and get in the spirit with some great new fiction from one of the most imaginative writers working today. Finally, if you’re looking for more scary reads this Halloween, download Gaiman’s “All Hallow’s Read” book recommendations in a .pdf.

Note: Do you want to listen to other free audio books by Neil Gaiman? Just head over to and register for a 30-day free trial. You can download any audiobook for free. Then, when the trial is over, you can continue your Audible subscription, or cancel it, and still keep the audio book. The choice is entirely yours. And, in full disclosure, let me tell you that we have a nice arrangement with Audible. Whenever someone signs up for a free trial, it helps support Open Culture.

Finally, we also suggest that you explore our collection of 450 Free Audio Books. It’s loaded with great classics.

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 Physics of Coffee Rings Finally Explained

It’s Monday morning. Another work week begins; another cup of coffee to the rescue. If you’re not careful, you might spill a bit of that precious coffee and then later wonder (à la Jerry Seinfeld) — What is the deal with that coffee ring on the table? Why does it form a ring with dark, outer edges? You can imagine Seinfeld asking this, right?

Well, it turns out there’s an answer for this. And it comes straight from a laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. Yes, my friends, it all comes down to the shape of the particles in the liquid. Coffee is made up of spherical particles, and they get distributed unevenly, with some pushing outward towards an edge and forming dark rings. Meanwhile, other liquids are made up of oblong particles that get distributed evenly, hence no rings. The UPenn video above breaks it all down for you.

Amazingly, this isn’t our first post on Physics and Coffee. Here’s a quick look at how they drink coffee at zero gravity in the International Space Station. Enjoy!

via Radio Lab

Related Content:

Everything You Wanted to Know About Coffee in Three Minutes

Free Online Courses Online about Physics from Great Universities

Physics from Hell: How Dante’s Inferno Inspired Galileo’s Physics

The Moth Now Streams its Brilliant & Quietly Addictive Stories on the Web

The Moth, a New York City-based storytelling organization, is a rare creature indeed. Founded in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green, The Moth was originally Green’s attempt to re-create summer nights in his native Georgia, when friends would gather on the porch and tell each other stories—a southern tradition Green missed in the north, symbolized by the moths he remembered as part of the scene. From its beginnings in Green’s New York living room, the organization has grown into a multi-media phenomenon, with live storytellers on stage in New York and Los Angeles, and on tour around the world, a podcast, and The Moth Radio Hour, airing on over 200 stations nationwide.

So who tells stories at The Moth? An amazing range of people, from actors, authors, and musicians, to everyday people with something to say and the courage to say it in front of a crowd. In fact, if you feel like you belong in that last category, The Moth invites you to pitch them two minutes of your story and submit it for a chance to tell it live. Oh, one other thing: The Moth stipulates that all stories must be true stories and must be your stories, not someone else’s. How do they know? I suppose they’ve just got finely-tuned BS detectors after 15 years in the storytelling business.

To give you an idea of what a Moth story is like (I almost wrote “a typical Moth story,” but there is no such thing) have a look at the video above, with Neil Gaiman telling a drily humorous story from his teenage years. Gaiman’s presentation is subdued, in his understated English way, and replete with delightful digressions and asides. An example of a more impassioned, urgent Moth tale comes from comedian Anthony Griffith, who tells the story of his rise to comic fame with his Tonight Show appearances while he was also nursing his young daughter who had cancer.

As I said, there is no “typical Moth story,” and that’s the appeal. Everyone who takes the stage has something to say that no one else could, because it’s theirs alone. Both of the videos above are available on The Moth’s Youtube channel, which features dozens more live storytellers (I’d recommend Dan Savage’s story among so many others).

Oh, but wait, there’s more! (Can you tell I’m excited about this?). The Moth is now streaming audio of recent storytelling events on its website, with some available for free download. Some here are not-to-be-missed. For instance, you should drop whatever you’re doing (reading this sentence, I assume) and listen to Damien Echols’ harrowing story of his 18 years on death row as one of the wrongly-convicted, and recently freed, “West Memphis Three.” Still here? Fine. Then you must immediately go away and listen to playwright A.E. Hotchner tell his story about watching a bullfight with his friend Ernest Hemingway. If neither of these appeals, you’re probably hopeless, but hey, what can it hurt to scroll through the extensive list of stories streaming on The Moth website and find a few that speak to you? Invariably, this will happen: when you start listening to Moth storytellers, you’ll find it very hard to stop. It’s a pretty great non-profit racket they’ve got going: banking on the oldest and most durable form of entertainment and human connection.

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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