A Data Visualization of Modern Philosophy, 1950-2018

Those of us who think of ourselves as philosophy enthusiasts remain free to read and think about whatever we like, no matter how obscure, marginal, or out-of-fashion the ideas. But the academy presents a different picture, one fraught with political maneuvering, funding issues, and fretting about tenure. Does professionalization do philosophy a disservice by codifying the kinds of problems we should be thinking and writing about? Or do we need professional philosophy for exactly this reason? It depends on who you ask.

One argument against the academy consists in pointing out that many, if not most, of history’s influential philosophers have been amateurs in one sense or another: grinding away at day jobs, for example, like Baruch Spinoza, or living on family money, like Ludwig Wittgenstein, two radical philosophical outsiders whose Ethics and Tractatus, respectively, have been turned into data visualizations by Maximilian Noichl. It’s interesting to speculate about how these thinkers, both so visually-inclined, would respond to the treatment.

Noichl’s latest project, now in its third and, so far, final iteration, involves tracing “The Structure of Recent Philosophy from the 1950s to this day.” Clearly implied, but unstated in his description is that these maps chart only the specialized interests of academic philosophy, but the omission highlights the fact that contemporary philosophical work outside the academy receives no recognition in the literature and, therefore, hardly qualifies as philosophy at all under current strictures.

To construct the map at the top (click here to see the full infographic, then click it again for a high resolution version), Noichl aggregated over 50,000 articles “from various philosophy journals.” The journals all come from Clarivate Analytics Web of Science collection, which skews the selection. Noichl began with a “snow-ball-sampling (a few thousand papers),” then extended his sample by “repeatedly looking at the most cited publications.” The resulting papers were then “spatially distributed according to their citation-patterns.”

Every point on the graphic represents one article. Noichl used two different algorithms to sort and group the data, and his explanatory text on the original graphic at his site explains the technical details. The clusters are “a bit heterogenic in their nature,” he writes.

While some are thematic, others are determined strongly by specific persons or eras, which seems in itself to be an interesting observation about the structure of the literature….. [T]here is… a remarkable cleft between theory of science and epistemology. And the ways various historical clusters group themselves around moral philosophy suggests an internal relation. We can also observe that continental philosophy seems to split into two halves…

The exercise presents us with a summary image of some of the field’s most persistent concerns for the past 60 years or so. I can imagine historians of philosophy—and maybe critics of academic philosophy—making excellent use of this colorfully organized data. Noichl vaguely mentions a possible use of the map as a “reality check for some debates.” The question of what it contributes to philosophical thinking remains open. And we might ask whether big data does philosophy a disservice by algorithmically reproducing certain existing conditions, rather than critically interrogating them as philosophers have always done.

Yet it’s clear that data visualizations are now standard tools for teaching and learning any number of subjects, and in many cases, they offer helpful shorthand, as does another of Noichl’s interactive graphics, “Relationships Between Philosophers, 600 B.C.-160 B.C.,” a “delightful depiction,” writes Justin Weinberg at Daily Nous, “of the interrelation of the ideas of ancient philosophers over time.” See Noichl’s site for the three versions of “The Structure of Recent Philosophy” and other philosophy data visualizations.

And at the links below, see how others have used data visualization tools to organize the history of philosophy in different ways.

via Daily Nous

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

How to Practice Effectively: Lessons from Neuroscience Can Help Us Master Skills in Music, Sports & Beyond

Practice makes perfect, so the cliché says, although like many clichés, it has also spawned corrective variants. “Practice makes permanent,” a common one of them goes, and what it lacks in catchiness it may well make up for in neuroscientific truth. We’ve all recognized that, when we do things a certain way, we tend to keep doing them in that certain way; in fact, the more we’ve done them that way before, the more likely we’ll do them that way next time. What holds true for simple habits, formed over long periods of time and often inadvertently, also holds true for deliberately perfected — or anyway, permanent-ified — tasks. But what happens in our brains to cause it?

“Practice is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement, and it helps us perform with more ease, speed, and confidence,” says the narrator of “How to Practice Effectively… for Just About Anything,” educators Annie Bosler and Don Greene’s TED Ed video above. It then goes on to explain our two kinds of neural tissue, grey matter and white matter. The former “processes information in the brain, directing signals and sensory stimuli to nerve cells,” and the latter “is mostly made up of fatty tissue and nerve fibers.” When we move, “information needs to travel from the brain’s grey matter, down the spinal cord, through a chain of nerve fibers called axons to our muscles,” and those axons in the white matter “are wrapped with a fatty substance called myelin.”

Myelin, and the sheath it forms, is key: “similar to insulation on electrical cables,” it “prevents energy loss from electrical signals that the brain uses, moving them more efficiently along neural pathways.” (You’ve probably read about the weakening of myelin sheaths as a factor in ALS and other movement-related neurological disorders.) Recent studies performed on mice suggest that repeating a motion builds up the layers of those axon-insulating myelin sheaths, “and the more layers, the greater the insulation around the axon chains; forming a sort of superhighway for information connecting your brain to your muscles.” This, though it has no direct effect on our muscles, may be what we’re building when we say we’re building “muscle memory.”

All interesting facts, to be sure, but how can they help us in or own practice sessions, whatever those sessions may find us practicing? Bosler and Greene provide a series of tips, each quite simple but all in alignment with current neuroscientific knowledge. They include:

  • Focus on the task at hand. “Minimize potential distractions by turning off the computer or TV and putting your cell phone on airplane mode.”
  • Go slow. “Coordination is built with repetitions, whether correct or incorrect. If you gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitions, you have a better chance of doing them correctly.”
  • Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks. “Studies have shown that many top athletes, musicians, and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft. Many divide their time used for effective practice into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration.”
  • Practice in your imagination. “In one study, 144 basketball players were divided into two groups. Group A physically practiced one-handed free throws while Group B only mentally practiced them. When they were tested at the end of the two week experiment, the intermediate and experienced players in both groups had improved by nearly the same amount.”

If you’d like more suggestions on how to practice effectively, have a look at the list of twelve tips from Wynton Marsalis we featured here on Open Culture last year. He takes a more expansive approach, encouraging those who practice — not just music but sports, art, or anything else besides — to adopt strategies like writing out a schedule, avoiding showing off, and staying optimistic. We must also stay realistic: optimism, even optimism backed by science, can’t make our skills perfect. None of our skills are perfect — not even Wynton Marsalis’ — but with the right techniques, we can at least give them some degree of permanence.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

RIP Todd Bol, Founder of the Little Free Library Movement: He Leaves Behind 75,000 Small Libraries That Promote Reading Worldwide

“The Little Free Library: Billions and billions read.”

In the 2013 Ted-X talk above, Todd Bol, founder of the Little Free Library movement, expressed the desire that one day, he might be able to boast that his labor of love had surpassed McDonalds with regard to the number of customers’ served.

It’s closing in…

Bol, who passed away earlier this month, was inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s mission of repaying his own good fortune by establishing 2,509 free public libraries.

The Little Free Libraries are vastly more numerous if less imposing than Carnegie’s stately edifices.

Some, like the prototype Bol crafted with lumber salvaged from a garage door in his late mother’s honor, resemble doll houses.

One in Detroit is a dead ringer for Doctor Who’s TARDIS.

There’s a bright yellow one emblazoned with characters from The Simpsons, autographed by series creator Matt Groening.

Others are housed in repurposed suitcases, storage cabinets, or newspaper honor boxes.

While the non-profit Little Free Library store sells several sturdy, weatherproof models and its website hosts a healthy collection of blueprints and tips for DIYers, Bol was never doctrinaire about the aesthetics, preferring to leave that up to each volunteer steward.

He seemed proudest of the libraries’ community building effect (though he was also pretty chuffed when Reader’s Digest ranked the project above Bruce Springsteen in its 2013 feature ”50 Surprising Reasons We Love America.” )

While not entirely devoid of naysayers, the goodwill surrounding the Little Free Library movement cannot be underestimated.

A steward who posted news of his dog’s death on the side of his library received sympathy cards from neighbors both known and unknown to him.

A steward who specializes in giving away cookbooks, and invites patrons to snip herbs from an adjacent garden, frequently wakes to find homemade quiche and other goodies on the doorstep.

And when an arsonist torched a Little Free Library in Indianapolis, the community rallied, vowing to get enough donations to replace it with 100 more.

To date, stewards have registered over 75,000, in 85 countries, in service of Bol’s “Take a book, Leave a book” philosophy.

Find a Little Free Library near you, learn how to become a steward, or make a donation on the project’s website.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 12 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Sears Sold 75,000 DIY Mail Order Homes Between 1908 and 1939, and Transformed American Life

Two of the books that most shaped American culture both happened to bear the nickname “The Big Book.” While the second of these, the A.A. Manual, published in 1939, changed the country with 12-Step recovery groups, the first of these, the Sears Catalog, transformed America with mass consumption, offering customers in every part of the country access to modern conveniences and retail goods of all kinds at unheard of prices. Beginning in 1908, Sears started selling entire houses, in approximately 25-ton kits transported by railroad, consisting of 30,000 pre-cut parts, plumbing and electrical fixtures, and up to 750 pounds of nails.

“In an era before commercial aviation and long-haul trucking,” Curbed marvels, “Sears, Roebuck & Co. set up an operation that would package and ship more than 400 different types of homes and buildings to anybody who had the cash and access to a catalog.”

They started small, and just as they didn’t come up with the concept of the mail order catalog, Sears didn’t invent the kit house, though they suggest as much in their telling of the story. Instead they may have taken the idea from another company called Aladdin. Aladdin houses have been forgotten, however, and even Sears’ main competitor, Montgomery Ward, didn’t catch up until 1921 and only lasted ten years in the kit house business.

Sears houses, on the other hand, are celebrated and sought out as models of the early 20th century American home, and for good reason. Between 1908 and 1939, Sears sold 70-75,000 houses in 447 different styles all over the country. “From Craftsman to Cape Cods, they offered a custom home at budgets and sizes that could accommodate any size family,” writes Popular Mechanics.

These Sears homes weren’t cheap low-end houses. Many of them were built using the finest quality building materials available during that time. It’s not uncommon to find Sears homes today with oak floors, cypress siding, and cedar shingles.

What’s even more extraordinary is that 50% of these were built by the homeowners themselves, usually, as in a barn-raising, with the generous help of family, friends, and neighbors. The other half sold were built professionally. “Often,” writes Messy Nessy, “local builders and carpentry companies purchased homes from Sears to build as model homes and market their services to potential customers.”

These houses could have a significant effect on the character of a neighborhood. Not only could potential buyers see firsthand, and participate in, the construction. They could order the same or a similar model, customize it, and even—as the company tells us in its own short history of the “Sears Modern Home”—design their own homes and “submit the blueprints to Sears, which would then ship off the appropriate precut and fitted materials.”

Sears sounds modest about its impact. The company writes it was not “an innovative home designer” but instead “a very able follower of popular home designs but with the added advantage of modifying houses and hardware according to buyer tastes.” But Sears houses aren’t beloved for their architectural sexiness, but for their sturdiness and variety, as well as their impact on “the emotional lives of rural folk,” as Messy Nessy puts it.

“The Sears mail-order catalogues were sitting on kitchen countertops inside millions of American homes, allowing potential homeowners to both visualize their new home and purchase it as easily as they might have bought a new toaster.” Building a house required a little more investment than plugging in a toaster, and required a 75-page instruction book, but that’s another part of why Sears house hunters are such a dedicated bunch, awestruck at each still-standing model they’re able to photograph and match up with its catalog illustrations and floor plans.

In its first year of production, 1908, Sears sold only one model, number 125, an Eight-Room Bungalow Style House for $945, advertised as “the finest cottage ever constructed at a price less than $1500.” In 1918, the company moved from a numbering system to named models, most of which sound like the names of cozy small towns and bedroom communities: Adeline, Belmont, Maplewood, Avalon, Kilbourne, Del Ray, Stone Ridge…. (See a full list of these models at The Arts & Crafts Society website.)

In the years Sears sold houses, between 54 and 44 percent of Americans lived in rural areas, and these constituted Sears’ most loyal customers, given that the catalog allowed them to purchase things they could buy nowhere else, including ten room colonial mansions like The Magnolia, available from 1913 to 1922 for $6,488, or roughly $88,000—a steal if you can put in the work. This was the largest and most expensive model the company offered, “a three-story, eight room neo-Georgian with a two-story columned portico, porte-cochere, and sleeping porches.” (Mint juleps and servants’ quarters not included.)

Sears eventually offered three build qualities, Honor Bilt, Standard Built, and Simplex Sectional. At the lowest end of the price and build spectrum, the company notes, “Simplex houses were frequently only a couple of rooms and were ideal for summer cottages.” Many of its low-end and early models did not include bathrooms, and the company sold outhouses separately. But due to innovative construction methods, even the least expensive houses held up well.

Because the company lost most of the records after its kit house business folded, it can be difficult to identify a Sears house. And because even the “youngest of Sears homes,” Popular Mechanics points out, is now going on eight decades old, they all require a significant amount of care.” The blog Kit House Hunters has found over 10,000 Sears Houses still standing across the country, most of them in the Northeast and Midwest, where they sold best. (One community in Elgin, IL has over 200 verified Sears homes.)

In the video at the top, you can see a few of those well-built Sears houses still lived in today. The brief How to Architect short video just above notes, “Sears had a massive impact on the business of home-building, and… the business of pre-fabrication, is alive and well today.” For a look at the variety and intricacy of the Sears Modern Home designs, see this Flickr gallery with over 80 images of catalog pages, illustrated homes, and floor plans. And if you think you might be living in one of these houses, many of which have been granted historic status, find out with this handy 9-step guide for identifying a Sears Kit Home.

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Akira Kurosawa’s 100 Favorite Movies

In movies like Seven Samurai and High and Low, director Akira Kurosawa took the cinematic language of Hollywood and improved on it, creating a vigorous, muscular method of visual storytelling that became a stylistic playbook for the likes of Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. In movies like Ikiru, The Bad Sleep Well and The Lower Depths, Kurosawa relentlessly struggled to find the rays of light among the shadows of the human soul. This philosophical urgency combined with his visual brilliance is what gives his work, especially his early films, such vitality.

“One thing that distinguishes Akira Kurosawa is that he didn’t just make a masterpiece or two masterpieces,” Coppola said during an interview. “He made eight masterpieces.”

So when Kurosawa comes out with a recommended viewing list, movie mavens everywhere should take note. Such a list was published in his posthumously published book Yume wa tensai de aru (A Dream is a Genius). His daughter Kazuko Kurosawa described the list’s selection process:

My father always said that the films he loved were too many to count, and to make a top ten rank. That explains why you cannot find in this list many of the titles of the films he regarded as wonderful. The principle of the choice is: one film for one director, entry of the unforgettable films about which I and my father had a lovely talk, and of some ideas on cinema that he had cherished but did not express in public. This is the way I made a list of 100 films of Kurosawa’s choice.

Organized chronologically, the list starts with D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms and ends with Takeshi Kitano’s Hana-Bi. In between is a remarkably thorough and diverse collection of films, mixing in equal parts Hollywood, art house and Japanese classics. Many of the movies are exactly the ones you would see on any Film Studies 101 syllabus — Truffaut’s 400 Blows, Carol Reed’s The Third Man and DeSica’s Bicycle Thieves. Other films are less expected. Hayao Miyazaki’s utterly wonderful My Neighbor Totoro makes the cut, as does Ishiro Honda’s Gojira and Peter Weir’s Witness. His policy of one film per director yields some surprising, almost willfully perverse results. The Godfather, Part 2 over The Godfather? The King of Comedy over Goodfellas? Ivan the Terrible over Battleship Potemkin? The Birds over Vertigo? Barry Lyndon over pretty much anything else that Stanley Kubrick did? And while I am pleased that Mikio Naruse gets a nod for Ukigumo – in a just world, Naruse would be as readily praised and celebrated as his contemporaries Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi – I am also struck by the list’s most glaring, and curious, omission. There’s no Orson Welles.

You can see his 100 essential movies below. Above we have the second film on the list, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which you can otherwise find in our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

1. Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (Griffith, 1919) USA
2. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari [The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari] (Wiene, 1920) Germany
3. Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler – Ein Bild der Zeit (Part 1Part 2) [Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler] (Lang, 1922) Germany
4. The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925) USA
5. La Chute de la Maison Usher [The Fall of the House of Usher] (Jean Epstein, 1928) France
6. Un Chien Andalou [An Andalusian Dog] (Bunuel, 1928) France
7. Morocco (von Sternberg, 1930) USA
8. Der Kongress Tanzt (Charell, 1931) Germany
9. Die 3groschenoper [The Threepenny Opera] (Pabst, 1931) Germany
10. Leise Flehen Meine Lieder [Lover Divine] (Forst, 1933) Austria/Germany
11. The Thin Man (Dyke, 1934) USA
12. Tonari no Yae-chan [My Little Neighbour, Yae] (Shimazu, 1934) Japan
13. Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo [Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo] (Yamanaka, 1935) Japan
14. Akanishi Kakita [Capricious Young Men] (Itami, 1936) Japan
15. La Grande Illusion [The Grand Illusion] (Renoir, 1937) France
16. Stella Dallas (Vidor, 1937) USA
17. Tsuzurikata Kyoshitsu [Lessons in Essay] (Yamamoto, 1938) Japan
18. Tsuchi [Earth] (Uchida, 1939) Japan
19. Ninotchka (Lubitsch, 1939) USA
20. Ivan Groznyy I, Ivan Groznyy II: Boyarsky Zagovor [Ivan the Terrible Parts I and II] (Eisenstein, 1944-46) Soviet Union
21. My Darling Clementine (Ford, 1946) USA
22. It’s a Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946) USA
23. The Big Sleep (Hawks, 1946) USA
24. Ladri di Biciclette [The Bicycle Thief] [Bicycle Thieves] (De Sica, 1948) Italy
25. Aoi sanmyaku [The Green Mountains] (Imai, 1949) Japan
26. The Third Man (Reed, 1949) UK
27. Banshun [Late Spring] (Ozu, 1949) Japan
28. Orpheus (Cocteau, 1949) France
29. Karumen kokyo ni kaeru [Carmen Comes Home] (Kinoshita, 1951) Japan
30. A Streetcar Named Desire (Kazan, 1951) USA
31. Thérèse Raquin [The Adultress] (Carne 1953) France
32. Saikaku ichidai onna [The Life of Oharu] (Mizoguchi, 1952) Japan
33. Viaggio in Italia [Journey to Italy] (Rossellini, 1953) Italy
34. Gojira [Godzilla] (Honda, 1954) Japan
35. La Strada (Fellini, 1954) Italy
36. Ukigumo [Floating Clouds] (Naruse, 1955) Japan
37. Pather Panchali [Song of the Road] (Ray, 1955) India
38. Daddy Long Legs (Negulesco, 1955) USA
39. The Proud Ones (Webb, 1956) USA
40. Bakumatsu taiyoden [Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate] (Kawashima, 1957) Japan
41. The Young Lions (Dmytryk, 1957) USA
42. Les Cousins [The Cousins] (Chabrol, 1959) France
43. Les Quarte Cents Coups [The 400 Blows] (Truffaut, 1959) France
44. A bout de Souffle [Breathless] (Godard, 1959) France
45. Ben-Hur (Wyler, 1959) USA
46. Ototo [Her Brother] (Ichikawa, 1960) Japan
47. Une aussi longue absence [The Long Absence] (Colpi, 1960) France/Italy
48. Le Voyage en Ballon [Stowaway in the Sky] (Lamorisse, 1960) France
49. Plein Soleil [Purple Noon] (Clement, 1960) France/Italy
50. Zazie dans le métro [Zazie on the Subway](Malle, 1960) France/Italy
51. L’Annee derniere a Marienbad [Last Year in Marienbad] (Resnais, 1960) France/Italy
52. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Aldrich, 1962) USA
53. Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962) UK
54. Melodie en sous-sol [Any Number Can Win] (Verneuil, 1963) France/Italy
55. The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963) USA
56. Il Deserto Rosso [The Red Desert](Antonioni, 1964) Italy/France
57. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Nichols, 1966) USA
58. Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, 1967) USA
59. In the Heat of the Night (Jewison, 1967) USA
60. The Charge of the Light Brigade (Richardson, 1968) UK
61. Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger, 1969) USA
62. MASH (Altman, 1970) USA
63. Johnny Got His Gun (Trumbo, 1971) USA
64. The French Connection (Friedkin, 1971) USA
65. El espíritu de la colmena [Spirit of the Beehive] (Erice, 1973) Spain
66. Solyaris [Solaris] (Tarkovsky, 1972) Soviet Union
67. The Day of the Jackal (Zinneman, 1973) UK/France
68. Gruppo di famiglia in un interno [Conversation Piece] (Visconti, 1974) Italy/France
69. The Godfather Part II (Coppola, 1974) USA
70. Sandakan hachibanshokan bohkyo [Sandakan 8] (Kumai, 1974) Japan
71. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, 1975) USA
72. O, Thiassos [The Travelling Players] (Angelopoulos, 1975) Greece
73. Barry Lyndon (Kubrick, 1975) UK
74. Daichi no komoriuta [Lullaby of the Earth] (Masumura, 1976) Japan
75. Annie Hall (Allen, 1977) USA
76. Neokonchennaya pyesa dlya mekhanicheskogo pianino [Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano] (Mikhalkov, 1977) Soviet Union
77. Padre Padrone [My Father My Master] (P. & V. Taviani, 1977) Italy
78. Gloria (Cassavetes, 1980) USA
79. Harukanaru yama no yobigoe [A Distant Cry From Spring] (Yamada, 1980) Japan
80. La Traviata (Zeffirelli, 1982) Italy
81. Fanny och Alexander [Fanny and Alexander] (Bergman, 1982) Sweden/France/West Germany
82. Fitzcarraldo (Herzog, 1982) Peru/West Germany
83. The King of Comedy (Scorsese, 1983) USA
84. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Oshima, 1983) UK/Japan/New Zealand
85. The Killing Fields (Joffe 1984) UK
86. Stranger Than Paradise (Jarmusch, 1984) USA/ West Germany
87. Dongdong de Jiaqi [A Summer at Grandpa’s] (Hou, 1984) Taiwan
88. Paris, Texas (Wenders, 1984) France/ West Germany
89. Witness (Weir, 1985) USA
90. The Trip to Bountiful (Masterson, 1985) USA
91. Otac na sluzbenom putu [When Father was Away on Business] (Kusturica, 1985) Yugoslavia
92. The Dead (Huston, 1987) UK/Ireland/USA
93. Khane-ye doust kodjast? [Where is the Friend’s Home] (Kiarostami, 1987) Iran
94. Baghdad Cafe [Out of Rosenheim] (Adlon, 1987) West Germany/USA
95. The Whales of August (Anderson, 1987) USA
96. Running on Empty (Lumet, 1988) USA
97. Tonari no totoro [My Neighbour Totoro] (Miyazaki, 1988) Japan
98. A un [Buddies] (Furuhata, 1989) Japan
99. La Belle Noiseuse [The Beautiful Troublemaker] (Rivette, 1991) France/Switzerland
100. Hana-bi [Fireworks] (Kitano, 1997) Japan

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in January, 2015.

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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. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

The Ancient Egyptians Wore Fashionable Striped Socks, New Pioneering Imaging Technology Imaging Reveals

If you grew up in certain decades of the 20th century, you almost certainly spent your childhood wearing striped socks, and you may even have returned to the practice in recent years as they’ve regained their sartorial respectability. But new research has revealed that this sort of multicolored hosiery has a more distant historical precedent than we may imagine, one going all the way back to ancient Egypt. The subject of that research, the small sock pictured above, evidences the fashionability of striped socks among the Egyptian youth of more than 1700 years ago, though its own stripes have only recently been revealed by the most modern imaging technology.

“Scientists at the British Museum have developed pioneering imaging to discover how enterprising Egyptians used dyes on a child’s sock, recovered from a rubbish dump in ancient Antinoupolis in Roman Egypt, and dating from 300AD,” writes The Guardian‘s Caroline Davies. “New multispectral imaging can establish which dyes were used – madder (red), woad (blue) and weld (yellow) – but also how people of the late antiquity period used double and sequential dying and weaving, and twisting fibers to create myriad colors from their scarce resources.”

This and other similarly advanced research, such as the use of ultraviolet light and infrared and x-ray spectroscopy that found the bright colors of ancient Greek sculpture, no doubt has us all rethinking the broadly monochromatic fashion in which we’ve long envisioned the ancient world.

We may also have to start imagining it a little less elegantly than we have been. “The ancient Egyptians employed a single-needle looping technique, often referred to as nålbindning, to create their socks,” writes Smithsonian‘s Katherine J. Wu. “Notably, the approach could be used to separate the big toe and four other toes in the sock — which just may have given life to the ever-controversial socks-and-sandals trend.” It brings to mind the archaeological research that came out a few years ago suggesting that the Romans in Britain two millennia ago may have worn socks with their sandals as well. That information has made it to the Wikipedia page specifically dedicated to socks and sandals; an enterprising reader might have a look at the British Museum scientists’ paper, “A multispectral imaging approach integrated into the study of Late Antique textiles from Egypt,” and add in a bit about the ancient wearing of striped socks with sandals as well.

via Smithsonian

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The CIA’s Former Chief of Disguise Show How Spies Use Costumes in Undercover Operations

Think on this as you ready your Halloween finery. Sometimes it’s not a case of winning a costume contest, or impressing your friends with your witty take on current events or pop culture.

Sometimes, masquerade is a thin line between life and death.

The CIA’s former Chief of Disguise, Jonna Mendez, rose up through the ranks, having signed on as receptionist shortly after her fiancé revealed—three days before the wedding—that he was actually an undercover agent.

As Chief of Disguise, her mission was to protect case officers in dangerous situations, as well as foreign sources who routinely put their lives at risk by meeting with American operatives.

Transforming their appearance was an additive proposition—while it’s difficult to make someone shorter, slimmer, or younger, it’s not difficult to render them taller, heavier, older…

In her experience, women are easily disguised as men. (She shared with The New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg how she herself passed undetected in male mufti, thanks primarily to a lit cigar.)

Men have a tougher time passing as women. Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race might take exception to this position, were it not for the assertion that blending in is key.

The goal is to be forgettable, not fabulous.

For Americans abroad, this poses certain cultural challenges.

Mendez stresses that disguise is much more than a simple facial transformation, involving makeup, false hair, and prosthetics.

It’s dress, carriage, gait, jewelry, scent…

The biggest American giveaway is our shoes. An Italian civilian can peg ‘em with one swift glance.

Passing requires further behavioral modifications in the realms of table manners, gait, and even hanging out. (Europeans distribute their weight evenly, whereas Americans lean.)

To fly beneath the radar, the disguised operative must shoot to transform every aspect of their appearance. Imagine a survey wherein the participant recalls every physical aspect of someone they’ve just encountered. The goal is to nudge that participant into answering every question incorrectly.

What color are your eyes? Your hair? How much do you weigh? How tall are you? How old?  How would you describe your nose? Your voice? Your clothing?

Change it.

Change it all.

You can do so by low tech methods, using whatever is on hand. Mendez once maneuvered an agent out of a tight spot on the Sub-Continent, by improvising a quick change with Dr. Scholl’s powder and cosmetics collected from local CIA wives.

She credits her own second husband, CIA “master of disguise” Tony Mendez (the inspiration for Ben Affleck’s character in Argo) with many trade secrets she put into regular practice: dental facades, speech-altering artificial palettes, prosthetics…

At the high end is the mask she wore to brief former CIA Chief, President George HW Bush, on developments within the disguise program. The President was none the wiser.

Meanwhile, a masked American agent chucked his mask under a Moscow rock when danger compelled him to scupper his mission midway through. That mask now resides in the KGB museum where Mendez cannot visit it.

Check out the Mendezes’ book Spydust for more information on their adventures in the field.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 12 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

David Lynch Is Creating a Virtual Reality Experience for Twin Peaks

David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Black Lodge/Red Room, the extra-dimensional space that is both an integral part of Twin Peaks and iconic in its set design, is a place most of us would not want to visit. Detective Dale Cooper got trapped there for 25 years and it was not pleasant. But that hasn’t stopped fans from wanting to create that space any chance they get, whether as a bar or place to sing karaoke. And when the final episode of the second season showed the lodge was an endless series of rooms connected by hallways, it wasn’t long until the video game versions started appearing.

Well, now you can really get lost in the Black Lodge with the slow unveiling of Twin Peaks VR, which AdWeek says will be available “sometime in 2019” on Steam for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

Fans who follow the Welcome to Twin Peaks blog have been hearing about this game/not game since the beginning of the year, but it seems that the footage out there was only proof of concept graphics or some such attempt.

The first video dropped in January of 2018, and it’s er, something:

No doubt made by fans, this gives us a brief visit to the Red Room; a very strange and not particularly flattering portrayal of the Man from Another Place; a trip to the RR Diner featuring what I assume is Major Briggs; and a return to the frightening glass box somewhere in New York City first seen in The Return. The man playing the VR seems appropriately confused. “Is it future or past?” It’s your living room, man!

This second clip gives us a bit more of the Red Room and a dubious looking Audrey Horne. The Convenience Store, however, is well done.

But this is, we stress, nowhere near a finished version. It’s not even clear if any of this will make it into the final version.

A beta version premiered two weeks ago at Lynch’s Festival of Disruption in Los Angeles. AdWeek had the only real description of the five minute demo, which starts near the ring of saplings in Glastonbury Grove:

Immediately after the pool turns to blood, viewers are transported to the Red Room, an extra-dimensional space that’s been a key feature of Twin Peaks in both the original series from the 1990s and the modern revival that aired last year. (It’s also a location frequently visited by the show’s main character, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper.) Inside the room, viewers aren’t able to walk like they can in some VR experiences, but they’re able to teleport within the room as it rapidly changes in ways similar to what happens in the show itself. (One moment, a statue falls over before running around as a shadow on the other side of a curtain. In another, users can pick up a coffee mug that won’t empty until the second time it’s picked up.) The demo ends as a white horse appears in the room in the distance, surrounded in darkness but unreachable.

The best news is that the company developing the game, Collider Games, is giving creative control to Lynch, so hopefully the game won’t be like those terrible non-Lynch episodes in Season Two. Says AdWeek:

“[T]he more we show, and the more we progress with this development, hopefully the more [Lynch] will want to be involved,” Rassool said. “And the more we can do with maybe even some new narrative—because I’m not going to write new narrative for this. I’m only ever going to let David Lynch [write].”

Here’s to hoping Lynch doesn’t just give us a cheap VR version of what we’ve already seen. Instead, let’s hope he gives us something that blows our minds (and a reason to finally buy a VR headset).

via Welcome to Twin Peaks

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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