Watch Episode #4 of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: The Big Bang, Black Holes & More (US Viewers)

On Sunday evening, Fox aired the latest episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series. This episode, called “A Sky Full of Ghosts,” explored some more out-of-this-world subjects — the speed of light and how it helps us undertand the Big Bang; the scientific work of Isaac Newton, William Herschel, James Clerk Maxwell; Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity; dark stars; black holes; and more. US viewers can watch the entirety of Episode 4 online (above), along with previous episodes in the series below (or on Hulu). For viewers outside the US, we have something perhaps better for you: Carl Sagan’s Original Cosmos Series on YouTube. Plus, we have a bunch of Free Online Astronomy Courses in our collection of 875 Free Online Courses. Enjoy.

Previous Episodes:

Episode #1: “Standing Up in the Milky Way”

Episode #2: “Some of the Things That Molecules Do”

Episode #3: “When Knowledge Conquered Fear

New York Public Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Download and Use


When I was a kid, my father brought home from I know not where an enormous collection of National Geographic magazines spanning the years 1917 to 1985. I found, tucked in almost every issue, one of the magazine’s gorgeous maps—of the Moon, St. Petersburg, the Himalayas, Eastern Europe’s ever-shifting boundaries. I became a cartography enthusiast and geographical sponge, poring over them for years just for the sheer enjoyment of it, a pleasure that remains with me today. Whether you’re like me and simply love the imaginative exercise of tracing a map’s lines and contours and absorbing information, or you love to do that and you get paid for it, you’ll find innumerable ways to spend your time on the new Open Access Maps project at the New York Public Library. The NYPL announces the release with the explanation below:

The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division is very proud to announce the release of more than 20,000 cartographic works as high resolution downloads. We believe these maps have no known US copyright restrictions.* To the extent that some jurisdictions grant NYPL an additional copyright in the digital reproductions of these maps, NYPL is distributing these images under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. The maps can be viewed through the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections page, and downloaded (!), through the Map Warper.

What does this mean? Simply put, “it means you can have the maps, all of them if you want, for free, in high resolution.” Maps like that above, of New York’s Central Park, issued in 1863, ten years before Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux completed their historic re-design.

Can you—as I did with my neatly folded, yellowing archive—have all the maps in full-color print? Well, no, unless you’re prepared to bear the cost in ink and paper and have some specialized printing equipment that can render each map in its original dimensions. But you can access something worlds away from what I could have imagined—a digital enhancement technology called “warping,” also known as “georectification.”

nypl map

This, explains the NYPL, “is the process where digital images of maps are stretched, placing the maps themselves into their geographic context, rendered either on the website or with tools such as Google Earth.” For example, below see a “warping” of the 1916 Redraft of the 1660 “Castello Plan” for then-New Amsterdam over a current-day Google Earth image of lower Manhattan (and note how much the island has been expanded past its 17th century shores). The “warping” technology is open access, meaning that “anybody with a computer can create an account, log in, and begin warping and tracing maps.” User contributions remain, “a la Wikipedia,” and add “one more piece to this new historical geographic data model.”


The “warper” is a special feature that helps place historical maps in a modern visual field, but it in no way ruins the enjoyment of those maps as archival pieces or art objects. You can see cartographer John Wolcott Adams original 1916 Castello Plan redraft below, and visit NYPL’s Digital Collections for a high resolution image, fully zoomable and, yes, printable. For more on the incredible warping technology NYPL makes available to us, see this extended blog post, “Unbinding the Atlas: Working with Digital Maps.” Over ten thousand of the collection’s maps are of New York and New Jersey, dating from 1852 to 1922, including property, zoning, and topographic maps. In addition, over one thousand of the maps depict Mid-Atlantic cities from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and over 700 are topographic maps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1877 and 1914. That should be enough to keep any amateur or professional map-lover busy for a good long while. Start digging into the maps here.


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

Download De La Soul’s New Mixtape “Smell the Da.I.S.Y.” for Free

free delasoul download

Last month, De La Soul celebrated the 25th anniversary of their debut album 3 Feet High and Rising by letting fans download nearly their entire back catalog of albums for free.

This month, the hip hop trio is giving away new music — their mixtape “Smell the Da.I.S.Y.,” which features their collaborations with the late-great hip hop artist,  J Dilla.

Happy downloading….

An Introduction to Dylanology, or How to Understand Bob Dylan by Digging Through His Garbage

You may never have heard of “Dylanology” before, but rest assured that the field covers the intellectual territory you suspect it does. Even if you have heard of Dylanology, you may never have heard of A.J. Weberman, the man who holds reasonable claim to having fathered the discipline. In John Reilly’s musically biographical 1969 short film above, The Ballad of A.J. Weberman, we witness the titular Bob Dylan obsessive engaging in one of his many research methods: in this case, the also neologism-anointed pursuit of garbology. This “science” has Weberman go through Dylan’s trash “in order to gather scraps of evidence to support his theories,” says the diligent fan’s entry in the web’s Bob Dylan Who’s Who. These theories include, according to Rolling Stone‘s Marc Jacobson, the notion that “Dylan, the most angel-headed head of the generation, had fallen prey to a Manchurian Candidate-style government plot to hook him up to sensibility-deadening hard dope.”

The page also mentions that “after three years of self-publicity” as the “world’s leading Dylanologist,” Weberman “finally met Dylan in 1971.” But much of his notoriety comes not just from having met Dylan in the flesh, not just from habitually digging through Dylan’s garbage, and not just (or so he claims) having taken a rightful beating at the hands of Dylan, but from having conversed with Dylan, candidly and at length, over the telephone. These chats eventually emerged on vinyl as the album Robert Zimmerman vs. A.J. Weberman, and you can hear the whole thing at Ubuweb, or below:


January 6, 1971

January 9, 1971

“The conversations were recorded in January, 1971, in the weeks following a demonstration outside Bob’s NYC apartment organized by Weberman [ … ] a misguided 60’s radical who felt (correctly enough) that by the early 70’s, rock music had ceased to be a force for radical political upheaval in the U.S. and had been co-opted by the establishment,” writes one contributor to the Dylan Who’s Who. “Like any of Bob’s songs, they must be heard to be truly understood.”

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The 1969 Bob Dylan-Johnny Cash Sessions: Twelve Rare Recordings

Bob Dylan and George Harrison Play Tennis, 1969

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Jorge Luis Borges, After Going Blind, Draws a Self-Portrait

borges self portrait blind

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), one of the great writers to come out of Argentina, went blind when he was  only 55 years old. As unsettling as it must have been, it wasn’t particularly a surprise. He once told The New York Times, “I knew I would go blind, because my father, my paternal grandmother, my great-grandfather, they had all gone blind.”

In the years following that life-changing moment, Borges never learned braille and could no longer read. But he did continue to write; he served as the director of Argentina’s National Library; he traveled and delivered an important series of lectures at Harvard on poetry (click to listen); and he even took a stab at drawing — something he did fairly well earlier in life. (See our previous post: Two Drawings by Jorge Luis Borges Illustrate the Author’s Obsessions.)

Above, you can see a self portrait that Borges drew in the basement of the famous Strand Bookstore in New York City. According to the Times, he did this “using one finger to guide the pen he was holding with his other hand.” After making the sketch, Borges entered the main part of the bookstore and started “listening to the room, the stacks, the books,” and made the remarkable observation “You have as many books as we have in our national library.”

If you’ve ever been to The Strand, you know how many books it holds. Indeed, the store boasts of being “New York City’s legendary home of 18 Miles of new, used and rare books.” My guess is that Argentina’s national library might have a few more volumes than that. But who is really counting?

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Related Content:

Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967-8 Norton Lectures On Poetry (And Everything Else Literary)

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Bill Murray Croons a Soulful Cover of “The House of the Rising Sun”

Bill Murray began his singing shtick on Saturday Night Live back in the 70s. Anyone who watched the show during its heyday will surely remember his “Nick Winter” lounge singer character belting out the tune of the Star Wars theme song. Years later, Mr. Murray tickled us with a karaoke scene in Lost in Translation. And yet another decade later we find him singing “The House of the Rising Sun,” the American folk song recorded numerous times since 1934, but perhaps most famously by The Animals in 1964. Bill’s version took place last night at the annual Caddyshack Celebrity Golf Charity Event. If you enjoy hearing Bill sing, you should really listen to him read poetry. We’ve got the below.

via Rolling Stone

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George R.R. Martin Releases a Free Chapter From The Winds of Winter: Read It Online


In recent days, George R.R. Martin published a blog post that begins, “Hiya kids, hiya hiya hiya. With season 4 of HBO’s GAME OF THRONES almost upon us, I thought the time was ripe for me to give my readers another taste of WINDS OF WINTER.” The new chapter, he tells us, “is actually an old chapter.  But no, it’s not one I’ve published or posted before.” The chapter, called “Mercy,” opens with these words:

She woke with a gasp, not knowing who she was, or where.

The smell of blood was heavy in her nostrils… or was that her nightmare, lingering? She had dreamed of wolves again, of running through some dark pine forest with a great pack at her hells, hard on the scent of prey.

Half-light filled the room, grey and gloomy. Shivering, she sat up in bed and ran a hand across her scalp. Stubble bristled against her palm. I need to shave before Izembaro sees. Mercy, I’m Mercy, and tonight I’ll be raped and murdered. Her true name was Mercedene, but Mercy was all anyone ever called her…

Except in dreams. She took a breath to quiet the howling in her heart, trying to remember more of what she’d dreamt, but most of it had gone already. There had been blood in it, though, and a full moon overhead, and a tree that watched her as she ran.

You can read the chapter in full here. Martin notes that you can also enjoy a new Tyrion chapter, “that is live and available with the ICE & FIRE app.” It’s free on iTunes.

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Great Shakespeare Plays Retold with Stick Figures in Three Simple Drawings


Other than Romeo and Juliet and possibly Hamlet,  Shakespeare doesn’t exactly lend himself to the elevator pitch. The same creaky plot devices and unfathomable jokes that confound modern audiences make for long winded summaries.

Not to say it can’t be done. Mya Gosling, a Southeast Asia Copy Cataloger at the University of Michigan, has been amusing herself, and more recently others, with “Good Tickle Brain,” a web comic that reduces each of the complete works to a mere three panels. (Titus Andronicus‘ bloodbath required but one.)

Those of us who are semi-versed in the Bard should delight in the way major characters and complex side plots are glibly stricken from the record.

(Methinks Lady MacBeth would not be pleased…)

And what high schooler won’t experience a perverse thrill, when the obscure and boring text his class has been parsing for weeks is dispatched with the swiftness of your average Garfield? (The wise teacher will be in no rush to share these revelations…)


Gosling, whose dad introduced her to Shakespeare at an early age, knows the material well enough to subvert it. Who cares if her artistic talent maxes out with stick figures? Familiarity allows her to nail the ending of Troilus and Cressida (“Homer’s Iliad happens”). The middle panel of Winter’s Tale is devoted to “some poor guy” getting eaten by a bear, and why shouldn’t it be, when the author’s famous stage direction is the only thing most people can dredge up with regard to that particular play?

As for the title of her web comic, it’s an insult from one of her faves, Henry IV, part 1. My kind of geekery, forsooth.

H/T Michael Goodwin, the author of Economix, a book that explains The History of Economics & Economic Theory with Comics. See a sample by clicking here.

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Ayun Halliday‘s 16-year-old daughter plays a small part in Michael Almereyda’s Cymbeline. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.