The Evolution of the Alphabet: A Colorful Flowchart, Covering 3,800 Years, Takes You From Ancient Egypt to Today

No matter our native language, we all have to learn a writing system. And whichever language we learn, its writing system had to come from somewhere. Take English, the language you’re reading right now and one written in Latin script, which it shares with a range of other tongues: the European likes of French, Spanish, and German, of course, but now also Icelandic, Swahili, Tagalog, and a great many more besides. The video above by Matt Baker of UsefulCharts explains just where this increasingly widespread writing system came from, tracing its origins all the way back to the Proto-Sinaitic script of Egypt in 1750 BCE.

As revealed in the video, or by the poster available for purchase from UsefulCharts, the letters used to write English today evolved from there “through Phoenician, early Greek and early Latin, to their present forms. You can see how some letters were dropped and others ended up evolving into more than one letter.”

The color-coding and direction dotted lines help to make clearly legible what was, in reality, an evolution that happened organically over about two millennia. Enough changed over that time, as Jason Kottke writes, that “it’s tough to see how the pictographic forms of the original script evolved into our letters; aside from the T and maybe M & O, there’s little resemblance.”

Baker’s design for this poster, notes Colossal’s Kate Sierzuputowski, “was created in association with his Writing Systems of the World chart which takes a look at 51 different writing systems from around the world.” All of the research for both those posters informs his video on the history of the alphabet, which looks at writing systems as they’ve developed across a variety of civilizations. You’ll notice that all of them respond in different ways to the needs of the times and places in which they arose, and some possess advantages that others don’t. (In Korea, where I live, one often hears the praises sung of the Korean alphabet, “the most scientific writing system in the world.”) But what the strengths of the descendant of modern Latin 2000 years on will be — and whether it will contain anything resembling emoji — not even the most astute linguist knows.

via Colossal/Kottke

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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.

CBGB’s Heyday: Watch The Ramones, The Dead Boys, Bad Brains, Talking Heads & Blondie Perform Live (1974-1982)

There are, I guess, still many things people can do these days to tap into the legacy of CBGB, but I wouldn’t recommend going near most of them. The merchandising empire (do, however, new parents, get your tot a CBGB bib and onesie); the “thuddingly banal” 2013 film version, which… the less said about the better; yes, and CBGB, the restaurant, in the Newark Airport Terminal C—proceed at your own risk.

We must sadly also mention this past summer’s “Potemkin village from hell,” a pop-up “TRGT” shop for the grand opening of the East Village’s new Target at 14th St. and Avenue A. This abomination—which sold CBGB-styled “TRGT” shirts and proffered Target-branded Band-Aids (get it? Bands) sent “Vanishing New York” blogger Jeremiah Moss into “a state of confusion and dysphoria… to see the artifacts of my own life, my cultural and spiritual awakening, my home, displayed above the cash registers in a Target store.”

One cannot get too upset. The venue had been in a decline for a long time. The best of grassroots American culture all ends up in a Target or Starbucks eventually, gets green lit for a biopic and turned into an interactive gallery. At least the CBGB building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Maybe a boost for the sales of John Varvatos who moved a store into the former club in 2007, the very same year CBGB’s founder Hilly Kristal died of lung cancer.

Ever-tasteful New York Post announced the takeover with the headline Hobo Goes Haute. “All of Manhattan has lost its soul to money lords,” said Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome. Twelve years later, the lament seems understated. But time moves on and so should we, the CBGB of the past was a moment in history never to be seen again, as fervid and fertile as late 19th century Symbolism or the Beats—movements that just happened to have very much influenced New York punk.

Like the life and work of Arthur Rimbaud or William S. Burroughs, the only way to commune with the legend of CBGB is through its primary sources. There is no shortage. Recordings, photographs, interviews, and much excellent live footage of the bands that made the T-shirt famous in the years of punk rock’s glory: The Dead Boys and The Ramones in 1977, Bad Brains, inventing hardcore, in 1982, a very awkward Talking Heads and confident Blondie playing the Velvet Underground all the way back in 75….

Turning cultural moments into monuments and merchandise is shallow, of course, but it’s more than that—it’s impoverishing. It makes us think we understand something without ever having seen it. It’s not enough to know that it happened, we should know how it happened. How was the edgy electrified disco stomper “Psycho Killer” once a rickety, “tense and nervous” acoustic strummer? How did The Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators from Cleveland more or less invent the moves front men and women in punk almost universally adopted? How did Washington DC’s Bad Brains break every unspoken rule of punk—with complex breakdowns, tempo shifts, and shredding solos—yet still conquer every punk stage? How did the Ramones play entire live sets shorter than some of the single songs certain other bands played onstage at the time? How was it to witness Blondie as a killer live covers act? How was it to see The Ramones play “Judy is a Punk” in 1974?

Forget the graveyard of CBGB kitsch out there. If you’re interested in punk rock as a cultural phenomenon, you owe it to yourself to see as much of this historic footage as possible, and to listen to as many live recordings of far-too-often unsung CBGB bands like Television. And if you were there, condolences. Maybe you owe it to the rest of us to tell how it really was.

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

The Real Locations of Ukiyo-e, Historic Japanese Woodblock Prints, Plotted on a Google Map

The undisputed last great master of ukiyo-e was Utagawa Hiroshige. He is best known for the many series he created of bucolic landscapes, which offered collectors a chance to see parts of Japan they might never reach. The Japan of his early 19th century work holds a special place in Japanese hearts–a final look at an isolated and beautiful country just before the opening up of the ports to the West and, with it, industrialization.

Apart from Mount Fuji, the locations that Hiroshige drew have long gone, but “Computer science undergrad, martial artist, ukiyo-e lover” and British resident George–he goes by the Twitter handle @Cascadesssss–has plotted the location of Hiroshige’s prints on an interactive Google map that has gone quickly viral.

The red circles represent the series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” the blue circles “The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido” (one of five main routes in Edo Japan), and the green “Famous Views of the Sixty-odd Provinces,” the most expansive series showing scenes all the way from the The Two-sword Rocks of Bo Bay to the north province of Dewa and Mount Gassan. Each location opens to a separate web page with location information, including latitude-longitude numbers. (Pull up a chair map-lovers, you might be here a long time.)

“The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido” was Hiroshige’s most popular series and unlike the other two depicted horizontal landscapes. The artist sketched these in 1832 as he rode in a procession from Edo (now Tokyo) to Kyoto and set to work on the prints once he returned home. The 55 prints (two extra drawings of the starting and ending points of the journey) sold like crazy, as they cost about the same as a bowl of soup for the common person.

“Famous Views of the Sixty-odd Provinces” is different in that Hiroshige did not make trips to see all these beloved locations–instead he put his own spin on existing drawings found in guide books and other sources. The total series of 70 prints took four years to complete, from 1853 to 1856.

By the time the “Provinces” series was winding down, Hiroshige started work on his final series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” which he worked on until his death. Again, though living in Edo, Hiroshige drew from the works of others from decades before. This is also the artist at his most adventurous–some landscapes are obscured by posts and bridge railings or even a carp streamer. One features what is rumored to be Hiroshige’s favorite geisha. These prints would go on to influence Western artists, especially Vincent van Gogh.

Hiroshige produced more series over his life–he died aged 61–and here’s hoping Cascadesssss plots more on his map soon.

via Spoon and Tamago

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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 and/or watch his films here.

Watch The Beatles Perform Their Famous Rooftop Concert: It Happened 50 Years Ago Today (January 30, 1969)

On January 3oth 1969, The Beatles took to the rooftop of the headquarters of Apple Records, located at 3 Savile Row, in central London. And there they played an impromptu last gig (a coda to their final official concert at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966), much to the delight of Londoners on nearby rooftops … and to the chagrin of the police.

At the time, The Beatles were recording their album, Let It Be, and the rooftop show let them run through various tracks from those sessions. Songs played during the set include “Get Back,” where the Beatles were accompanied by Billy Preston on the keyboards, and “Don’t Let Me Down” (above), “I’ve Got A Feeling,” “One After 909,” and “Danny Boy.” And finally “Dig A Pony” and another version of “Get Back.”

Famously, The Beatles’ live legacy ends with the police shutting down the show (it was a noise violation, you know?) and John Lennon uttering the immortal words, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.” That’s going out in style…

Footnote: It’s not clear which band played the first rooftop concert, but one thing is for certain. Jefferson Airplane played their own rooftop gig on December 7, 1968, and Jean-Luc Godard filmed it. Once again, the police pay a friendly visit. Watch it here.

Learn more about the Beatles’ historic performance by picking up a copy of the recently-released book, The Roof: The Beatles’ Final Concert, or download it from Audible through this free trial offer.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

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Artificial Intelligence Brings Salvador Dalí Back to Life: “Greetings, I Am Back”

Whatever Hippocrates meant when he said “art is long, life is short,” we usually take the saying to illustrate one indisputable medical truth and one more philosophical: everyone dies, but art lives for hundreds, thousands, of years—and may in some sense be a kind of immortality for the artist. This was probably what Salvador Dalí meant when he said, “Si muero, no muero por todo”—“If I die, I won’t completely die.” But maybe he knew he’d return one day in another form as well.

What if artists could go on living forever alongside their work? Or be called up any time we want to have a conversation. Long a staple of science fiction, hologram technology can now bring back famous pop stars, to varying degrees of uncanniness. It has not, until now, summoned a deceased famous artist. But as long as there’s an extensive audio-visual record with which to reconstruct the celebrated dead, it can be done, and now it has. You can see the results yourself in the video trailers here.

Among modern artists, only Andy Warhol left a more complete record of his public persona. The hologram Dalí—according to a press release from Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, who will debut him in person, so to speak, this coming April—comes alive through the work of an algorithm that maps information culled from “hundreds of interviews, quotes, and existing archival footage” onto the body of an actor of similar size and build. Dalí’s conversation is not spontaneous but constructed from his own writings and reenacted. It’s not the stuff of Star Trek yet, but maybe a significant step in that direction.

“Greetings,” purrs Dalí in the trailer at the top, from the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. “I am Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech. And I am back.” Visitors to the Dalí Museum will see the ersatz Dalí in “Dalí Lives” and “experience his bigger-than-life personality in an up close and personal way.” Will they truly “get the unique opportunity to learn more about Salvador Dalí’s life and work from the person who knew him best: Dalí himself”? Will they feel like it’s worth the price of the ticket, at least?

It certainly seems convincing. If you had told me these clips came from actual interview footage, I might have believed you. Except for the part about him returning from the dead after 30 years. If, however, it were possible to really bring Dalí’s consciousness back online, I doubt he’d be particularly surprised. Though he confesses his fear of death in the short video above, he also tells us, “I do not believe in my death.” Or as he once said elsewhere, “I believe in general death but not the death of Dalí absolutely not. I believe in my death becoming almost impossible.” Or as he might also have put it, “art is long, and so am I.”

via Boing Boing

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

Watch Black Panther For Free in Theaters, Starting This Friday

FYI. Earlier this week, Disney announced that the Academy Award-nominated film Black Panther “will return to the big screen to celebrate Black History Month for a one-week engagement, February 1–7, at 250 participating AMC Theatres locations. To ensure that the movie is accessible to all, tickets are free for everyone, and there will be two showings per day at each participating theater.” To find a list of participating theaters, just click here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

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Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling in His New Online Course

How has Neil Gaiman, author of fiction in a variety of forms ranging from novels and short stories to comic books, radio plays, and films, managed to win over such a large and devoted fan base? Ask a member of that fan base, and you’ll more than likely hear an explanation along the lines of, “He knows how to tell a story.” That may sound like a simple skill, but telling a story at Gaiman’s level requires a deep-rooted expertise in the essential nature and still-unexplored possibilities of storytelling itself — an expertise that Gaiman himself has lately proven more than willing to share. A few years ago we featured his lecture “How Stories Last” here on Open Culture; now, he’s come out with an online course on the art of storytelling at MasterClass.

“Human beings are storytelling creatures,” Gaiman says in the course’s trailer above. “Stories are vital. We convey truth with stories. That is the magic of fiction.” But even the author of stories like The SandmanNeverwhereStardust, American Gods, Coraline, and much more besides has certain admissions to make about the practice of writing them: “Writing a novel is like driving through the fog with one headlight out,” for example.

“You can’t see very far ahead of yourself. But every now and again, the mists will clear.” And when it comes time to revise, he explains, “the process of doing your second draft is the process of making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.” What do you need most to make it through this harrowing process? The “conviction that you are brilliant.”

Not that you don’t need anything else. The nineteen lessons of Gaiman’s MasterClass cover everything from “using the ‘lie’ of a made-up story to tell a human truth,” to “how to overcome the fear of making mistakes,” to techniques like “cold opens, withholding information, finding emotional weight, and choosing memorable details,” to the art of worldbuilding, which Gaiman describes as “honestly, the joy of getting to play god.” Other lessons provide case studies focusing on his short stories, novels, and comic books, all of which have no doubt inspired many to tell stories themselves. But who, hearing Gaiman talk about storytelling, could possibly resist trying their hand at it?

You can sign up for Gaiman’s course here.

You can take this class by signing up for a MasterClass’ All Access Pass. The All Access Pass will give you instant access to this course and 85 others for a 12-month period.

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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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.

Enter an Online Interactive Documentary on Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Learn About the Painting’s Many Hidden Secrets

What possessed the man who attacked Rembrandt’s The Night Watch with a bread knife in 1975, “jabbing two-foot-long knife marks into the surface,” as Nina Siegal writes at The New York Times, “cutting a seven-foot-wide hole, and ripping off a section of the canvas”? This was not the first time the painting had been mangled. In 1715, just a little over 70 years after the monumental work’s 1642 completion, the Amsterdam city government decided to move it, and removed a significant part to shrink it down for easier transport. The missing top and left portions have never been recovered.

It survived intact for two centuries then faced its first knife attack in 1911. Then it survived two World Wars only to endure the second attack. Then, in 1990, it was set upon by a man armed with sulphuric acid.

Thanks to the quick thinking of a Rijksmuseum guard, only the painting’s varnish sustained injury. These are just some of the facts we learn in the interactive documentary Experience The Night Watch, a joint creation of NTR TV channel and the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum.

You can read or hear the painting’s history in Dutch or English, learn the names of the historical figures depicted in it, learn about Rembrandt’s command of composition and chiaroscuro, and much more. (Enter the interactive documentary here.) The painter’s masterful, dramatic use of light and shadow to create a sense of depth—probably the most famous example of his use of the technique—is responsible for the painting’s usual title, since most of its viewers have assumed that the assembled volunteer militia depicted in it came together in the dead of night. (The shadows had darkened considerably over the years until a thick layer of varnish was removed in the 1940s.)

But Rembrandt’s masterpiece was originally called Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, and it records not a troop of seasoned soldiers but a gentleman’s shooting company, one of the bands of civic guards that had “effectively developed into a social club for well-to-do citizens” who would “turn up mostly as ceremonies or to quell minor riots.” Each of the men memorialized paid to have his likeness included. We may never have known their names except that in 1715 they were added inside a shield painted by an anonymous artist for some reason. The work is full of other such mysteries.

Who is the small girl in white, bathed in angelic light, to whom our eyes are inevitably drawn? “She does not have any traceable identity,” our narrator tells us, “she is Rembrandt’s invention,” a symbol of the company. And yet behind her, almost completely shrouded, is another girl, identity unknown, who most of us would probably never have noticed had she not been pointed out. “In The Night Watch,” we discover, “nothing is what it seems.”

Learn more of the painting’s secrets at the online documentary project here, see similarly interactive art histories from NTR on M.C. Escher and Hieronymus Bosch, and, above, listen to an Artsy podcast featuring Rijksmuseum curator Pieter Roelofs and other Rembrandt experts who explain what makes The Night Watch so wildly famous that more than one person has felt driven to destroy it.

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