Free NASA eBook Theorizes How We Will Communicate with Aliens

Douglas A. Vakoch

During the past few years, NASA has released a series of free ebooks, including NASA Earth As Art and various interactive texts focusing on the Webb and Hubble space telescopes. Last week, they added a new, curious book to the collection, Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication. Edited by Douglas A. Vakoch (the Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute), the text contemplates how we’ll go about “establishing meaningful communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence.” The scholars contributing to the volume “grappl[e] with some of the enormous challenges that will face humanity if an information-rich signal emanating from another world is detected.” And to make sure that we’re “prepared for contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, should that day ever come,” they draw on “issues at the core of contemporary archaeology and anthropology.” Why archaeology and anthropology? Because, says Vackoch, communication with intelligent life probably won’t be through sound, but through images. We will need to read/understand the civilization we encounter based on what we observe. Vakoch says:

[D]on’t think of “sound worlds” or music or speech as the domains, vehicles, or contents of ETI [extra terrestrial intelligence] messages. Regardless of semiotic concerns, the accessibility of acoustic messaging must remain doubtful. Furthermore, there will be intended and unintended aspects of performance, which elaborate the difficulties of using sound. In my view avoidance of the sound world need not be controversial.

On the other hand, vision and the use of images would appear to be at least plausible. Although spectral details cannot be considered universal, the physical arrangement of objects on a habitable planet’s surface will be shaped in part by gravity (the notion of a horizon might well be universal) and thus multispectral images might plausibly be considered worthwhile for messages. More generally, the implications for considering SETI/CETI as some sort of anthropological challenge need teasing out.

The 300-page book, Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication, has been made available in three formats, and added to our own collection, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices:

› Kindle readers: MOBI [2.8 MB]

› All other eBook readers: EPUB [3.8 MB]

› Fixed layout: PDF [1.7 MB]

Below you can watch Vakoch give a TEDX talk called,”What Would You Say to an Extraterrestrial?”

via Gizmodo/Kim Komand0

Patti Smith Presents Top Webby Award to Banksy; He Accepts with Self-Mocking Video

Presenting at the 18th annual Webby Awards last week, Godmother of Punk Patti Smith managed to Adele Dazeem street art provocateur Banksy not once, but twice. Banksky? Ban-ski? It’s a measure of the lady’s august standing that emcee Patton Oswalt passed on the comic opportunities of this giant blunder. He did call her “fucking adorable,” but I like to think he did so with the kindest of intentions.

As to why an artist famous for using the real world as his canvas should be dubbed “Person of the Year” by an outfit that recognizes excellence on the Internet, Smith was nothing short of eloquent. The impermanence of his oft-illegally installed creations make them the perfect candidate “to be archived, shared and stored … through the World Wide Web.” (Apparently, she only just realized this is a synonym for the Internet, but no matter. I’m with Oswalt! It would be a cringeworthy admission in just about anybody else, but from her, it’s pretty dang cute.)

The necessarily low-profile honoree surprised no one by failing to accept his award in person. Rather than sending Sacheen Littlefeather as his proxy, he proffered a delightful, self-mocking short film, which you can see above.

The short revisits some of the high points of Better In Than Out, last fall’s month-long, piece-a-day takeover of New York City. Keep your eyes peeled for Sirens of the Lambs, a truck hauling a load of squeaking, ostensibly doomed plush farm animal toys and Queens, an inflatable tag thrown up on his final day as “Artist in Residence for the City of New York.”

My favorite work from his autumnal siege of my city was Art Sale, in which he stocked a Central Park vendor table with half a million dollars’ worth of uncredited stencil art, then installed a decidedly unhip-looking senior citizen to man it. The day’s receipts totaled $420 from a handful of tourists, one of whom successfully bargained her way into a 2-for-1 deal.

I want to know more about these people who unwittingly lucked into such a lucrative role in 21st-century art history, but to my consternation, they seem to be flying incognito, just like the artist who so increased their value. You know, the guy who’s all over the internet, without revealing his identity? The Webby Awards’ Person of the Year!?

Maybe if I spend another hour poking around online… (A bad use of time, for all but Patti Smith, who claimed it took her 48 minutes to unsuccessfully download the video we can click with such ease, above.)

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Ayun Halliday occasionally tears herself  free of the Internet to labor over The East Village Inky, an entirely handwritten, illustrated zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Thank You, Mask Man: Lenny Bruce’s Lone Ranger Comedy Routine Becomes a NSFW Animated Film (1968)

If you ever really wanted to know what was the deal between The Lone Ranger and Tonto, the above video of Thank You, Mask Man might answer a few questions. Warning: it’s seriously NSFW.

The audio for Thank You, Mask Man is taken from a stand up routine from Lenny Bruce, who ruthlessly, hilariously takes apart the legendary crime fighter. After years of getting saved by a masked hero on a white steed, the denizens of a small Western town corner him into accepting something, anything as a token of their gratitude. The hero points to a nearby Native American and says that he wants him. He proclaims that he wants “to perform an unnatural act.” The townspeople are horrified. “I’ve read a lot of exposes on how bad it is,” the Masked Man explains, “and I want to try it, just once.”

Jeff Hale, who later went on to animate that groovy Pinball Number Countdown bit on Sesame Street, made the short in 1968, two years after Bruce’s death. The movie had a hard time getting booked into theaters reportedly, in part, because Bruce ruffled more than a few feathers in the film industry. Ultimately though Thank You, Mask Man became a staple at gay and cult film festivals.

Bruce was, of course, the original bad boy comic. He laced his free form, lightning quick performances with frank discussions of sex, social issues and lots of swearing. Nowadays, F-bombs are par for the course in a comedian club but, back during the Kennedy administration, they were shocking. And they got him thrown in jail on several occasions. You can listen to another (unanimated) Bruce routine below. It’s completely NSFW.

You can find Thank You, Mask Man in the Animation section of our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

19th Century Caricatures of Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, H.M. Stanley & Other Famous Victorians (1873)

Students and lovers of Victoriana, we have a treat for you. The 1873 book above, Cartoon Portraits and Biographical Sketches of Men of the Day, offers caricatures of forty-nine prominent men, and one woman, of the 19th century, some of them less-than-famous now and some still veritable giants of their respective fields.


Accompanied by lively biographies, the portraits were all drawn by illustrator Frederick Waddy, who is perhaps best known for the drawing on page six of a white-bearded Charles Darwin (above) entitled “Natural Selection”—often reproduced in color and found hanging on the office walls of biology teachers. Darwin appears second in Cartoon Portraits, preceded only by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton of “It was a dark and stormy night” fame.


In addition to professor’s offices, you may also encounter some of Waddy’s work at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In his time, Waddy was one of the foremost caricaturists of the day—an important position in periodical publishing before the advent of cheaply mass-reproducible photography. All of the portraits originally appeared in a magazine called Once a Week, founded in a split between Charles Dickens and his publisher Bradbury and Evans, who started the journal with editor Samuel Lucas in 1859 to compete with Dickens’ All the Year Round. Once a Week ran until 1880, publishing pieces on history and current affairs and occasional poems by Tennyson, Swinburne, Dante Rossetti and others. Its popularity was buoyed by Waddy’s drawings and the detailed illustrations of several other graphic artists. Above, see Mark Twain riding his celebrated jumping frog, and just below, poet and critic Matthew Arnold does a high-wire act between two trapezes labelled “Poetry” and “Philosophy.” Twain’s portrait is titled “American Humour”— and he is the only American in the series—and Arnold’s is called “Sweetness and Light.”


Though the book’s title promises only “Men of the Day,” it does include one woman, Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (below, simply titled “M.D.”), the first Englishwoman to officially work as a physician. Her biographical sketch begins with a long and somewhat tortuous historical defense for female doctors, stating that “social prejudices are almost as hard to eradicate as those of religion. It was not till quite lately that the feeling against woman’s rights as regard education was successfully combated.” Once a Week was a progressive-leaning magazine, its editor a noted abolitionist, and it regularly published the work of women writers like Harriet Martineau, Isabella Blagden, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, though one wonders why they didn’t warrant caricatures as well.


Below, see Waddy’s portrait of central African explorer Henry Morton Stanley, standing twice the height of the native African next to him. It’s a fitting image of colonial ego, though the scene may be drawn after a photo of Stanley with his adopted son Kalulu. The title refers to his search for—and famous exclamation upon discovering—Scottish missionary David Livingstone. All in all, Cartoon Portraits gives us a fascinating look at Victorian visual media and a representative sample of the most popular literary, scientific, and political figures in England during the middle of the century. While the names of Waddy and his fellow comic artists are hardly remembered now, the authors of The Smiling Muse: Victoriana in the Comic Press assert that in their day, “they were the ones who had their fingers on the pulse of what we now call the ‘popular culture’ of the time.” See The Public Domain Review for more highlights from the book.


via The Public Domain Review

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

Protect and Survive: 1970s British Instructional Films on How to Live Through a Nuclear Attack

In Walking in Ruins, novelist and adventurous pedestrian Geoff Nicholson’s book about the on-foot exploration of England and America’s disused places, the author devotes a fascinating section to an Essex “secret nuclear bunker.” Rendered un-secret, and indeed unnecessary, by the end of the Cold War, the whole underground complex underwent conversion into a forlorn tourist attraction. “In some of the bunker’s smaller, emptier rooms, videos were being shown on chunky old TV sets, documentaries related to nuclear war and its survival,” Nicholson writes. “They included the notorious public information series Protect and Survive, twenty short episodes, basic animation, strangely ahead-of-its-time electronic music, and a voice-over by Patrick Allen, deeply unsympathetic and unreassuring, though you imagine he was supposed to be both. The titles in the series included ‘What to Put in Your Fallout Room’ and ‘Sanitation Care and Casualties.'”

“‘Stay at Home,'” Nicholson tells us, “reminded us that fallout ‘can settle anywhere, so no place in the United Kingdom is safer than any other,’ and my favorite single sentence comes from the episode ‘Refuges’: ‘If you live in a caravan or other building of lightweight construction with very little protection against fallout, your local authority will be able to advise you on what to do’ — and there was a cartoon image of a tiny caravan that looked like it might be blown away by a good sneeze, never mind a nuclear explosion.” The compilation above collects 51 minutes of these and other episodes of Protect and Survive, originally commissioned by the British government in the 1970s and meant for transmission only in the case of an imminent nuclear attack on the country. But episodes leaked, and the BBC proceeded to broadcast them absent that immediate threat, thereby ensuring the legacy of this Cold War media artifact beloved of irony-loving Britons — that is to say, Britons — across the country.

These vintage films will be added to our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

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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.

Fear and Desire: Stanley Kubrick’s First and Least-Seen Feature Film (1953)

Ask filmgoers to name their favorite Stanley Kubrick pictures, and you’ll hear many of the same titles over and over again: SpartacusDr. Strangelove2001: A Space OdysseyA Clockwork Orange. These and the five other feature films Kubrick directed between 1960 and his death in 1999 hold permanent pride of place as some of the most enduring and influential works in the history of the form. His fourth picture, 1957’s Kirk Douglas-starring, World War I-set Paths of Glory, has drawn a good share of critical acclaim, but nothing before it in his body of work has yet commanded the level of respect associated with Kubrick and his cinematic legacy.

In 1956, he’d made the noir The Killing on the cheap; the previous year, he’d made the noir Killer’s Kiss on the cheaper. But before even those came Fear and Desire, Kubrick’s very first feature, an existential war movie produced in 1953 with money raised from his wealthy drugstore-owning uncle and proceeds from a job shooting second-unit on a documentary about the life of Abraham Lincoln. You can watch the whole film, which has fallen into the public domain, at the top of the post, or in a restored version, preceded by a brief 1966 interview with Kubrick, right here.

By the time of Fear and Desire, Kubrick had already logged a certain amount of filmmaking practice directing shorts. Still, he could never quite get over his own perception of the movie, which he made at age 24 fresh from his job as a photographer at Look magazine. He considered the film “a bumbling amateur film exercise” and “completely inept oddity.” He later, having burned the negative, sought to prevent its screening and distribution whenever possible. Yet it had its high-profile appreciators even at the time of release: “Its overall effect is entirely worthy of the sincere effort put into it,” said the New York Times; “Worth watching for those who want to discover high talent at the moment it appears,” said critic-scholar Mark Van Doren. Though far rougher than every film Kubrick would go on to make, Fear and Desire offers several moments that reveal him as the director we now know he would go on to become. Grantland’s Steven Hyden, in an article on the movie, quotes an attendee at one of its particularly disastrous preview screenings who remembers that “there were giggles in the wrong places, and it all seemed overdone and overwrought.” He also quotes Kubrick’s full reflection on the experience in a New York Times Magazine profile: “Pain is a good teacher.”

Find Fear and Desire listed in our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

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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.

Designer Massimo Vignelli Revisits and Defends His Iconic 1972 New York City Subway Map

Most every dweller of a city with a robust public transit system comes to identify their boundaries with the lines, angles, and colors of its subway map. This is true of my hometown, Washington, DC, at least since the popular adoption of its Metro system in the 80s. It’s many times truer of my adopted city for ten years, New York, whose more than 100-year-old subway system has given urban historians enough material for lifelong study. The history of the NYC subway maps offers a specialized area for students of design, who must surely know the name Massimo Vignelli, the modernist designer who named the DC Metro and created the notorious 1972 NYC Transit map that, writes the MTA (Metro Transit Authority), “reimagined the MTA New York City Transit subway system as a neat grid of colored lines surrounded by a beige ocean.” The map will be familiar, and perhaps even a token of nostalgia, to New Yorkers from the era, who may also recall the complaints the MTA received for the map’s “geographic inaccuracies” and “aesthetic confusion.” Nonetheless, “design fans […] celebrated the map and made it a coveted souvenir of trips to New York. It later became part of the postwar design collection at the Museum of Modern Art.” In the video above, excerpted from the 2007 design documentary Helvetica, Vignelli revisits his transit map design (below), which he adopted from the London Underground map.


Click here to view in a larger format.

Vignelli, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 83, worked closely with his wife Leila on a wide range of design projects—his motto, “if you can design one thing, you can design everything.” A great many of those subway riders in 1972 may have disagreed. While previous and subsequent maps, including the current design, provide a geographically precise rendering of the five boroughs, with details of major avenues and parks and waterways in simple greens and blues, Vignelli’s map is formal and abstract, more art object than guidepost. As a newcomer to the city, I used my pocket-sized MTA map to guide me around on foot as well as by train (this was before smartphones, mind you), but this would be quite difficult if not impossible with the ’72 version. Yet in his reassessment of the design, Vignelli says that he should have stripped away even the few geographical references he did include because “the people couldn’t relate the geography with the stations.” For Vignelli, “there is no reason why this geography has to be literal, it could be completely abstract.” How this would better help riders navigate the hugely extensive system isn’t at all clear, but what is apparent is Vignelli’s commitment to form over utilitarian function. It’s a commitment that served him very well as a designer, though not, it seems, as a cartographer. For more on Vignelli’s design philosophy, see his 2012 interview with Big Think.

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

Watch William S. Burroughs’ Ah Pook is Here as an Animated Film, with Music By John Cale

The work of William S. Burroughs can be by turns hilarious, opaque and profane – filled with images of drugs, insects and other oddities. Though it might be fascinating, if difficult, on the page, his work really comes alive when read aloud, preferably in Burroughs’s signature deadpan drawl. And if it’s accompanied by some trippy visuals, then, all the better.

The above video is exactly that. In 1994, animator Peter Hunt made this appropriately grotesque stop motion animated film, Ah Pook is Here, with audio taken from Burroughs’s 1990 album Dead City Radio. (You can read along to the video below.) John Cale provides the music. The winner of 10 international film awards, the short film has been archived in the Goethe Institut.

Ah Pook is Here started in 1970 as a collaboration with artist Malcolm McNeil. Originally it was slated to be a magazine comic strip but when the publication folded, Burroughs and McNeil decided to turn it into a book. Ah Pook is Here and Other Texts was finally published in 1979, though without McNeil’s illustrations. You can see them here.

When I become Death, Death is the seed from which I grow…

Itzama, spirit of early mist and showers.
Ixtaub, goddess of ropes and snares.
Ixchel, the spider web, catcher of morning dew.
Zooheekock, virgin fire patroness of infants.
Adziz, the master of cold.
Kockupocket, who works in fire.
Ixtahdoom, she who spits out precious stones.
Ixchunchan, the dangerous one.
Ah Pook, the destroyer.

Hiroshima, 1945, August 6, sixteen minutes past 8 AM.

Who really gave that order?

Answer: Control.

Answer: The Ugly American.

Answer: The instrument of Control.

Question: If Control’s control is absolute, why does Control need to control?

Answer: Control… needs time.

Question: Is Control controlled by its need to control?

Answer: Yes.

Why does Control need humans, as you call them?

Answer: Wait… wait! Time, a landing field. Death needs time like a junkie needs junk.

And what does Death need time for?

Answer: The answer is sooo simple. Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sake.

Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sweet sake, you stupid vulgar greedy ugly American death-sucker.

Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sweet sake, you stupid vulgar greedy ugly American death-sucker… Like this.

We have a new type of rule now. Not one man rule, or rule of aristocracy, or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision. They are representatives of abstract forces who’ve reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of the past. There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.

You can find Ah Pook is Here in the Animation section of our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.


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