The Venice Time Machine: 1,000 Years of Venice’s History Gets Digitally Preserved with Artificial Intelligence and Big Data

Along with hun­dreds of oth­er sea­side cities, island towns, and entire islands, his­toric Venice, the float­ing city, may soon sink beneath the waves if sea lev­els con­tin­ue their rapid rise. The city is slow­ly tilt­ing to the East and has seen his­toric floods inun­date over 70 per­cent of its palaz­zo- and basil­i­ca-lined streets. But should such trag­ic loss­es come to pass, we’ll still have Venice, or a dig­i­tal ver­sion of it, at least—one that aggre­gates 1,000 years of art, archi­tec­ture, and “mun­dane paper­work about shops and busi­ness­es” to cre­ate a vir­tu­al time machine. An “ambi­tious project to dig­i­tize 10 cen­turies of the Venet­ian state’s archives,” the Venice Time Machine uses the lat­est in “deep learn­ing” tech­nol­o­gy for his­tor­i­cal recon­struc­tions that won’t get washed away.

The Venice Time Machine doesn’t only proof against future calami­ty. It also sets machines to a task no liv­ing human has yet to under­take. Most of the huge col­lec­tion at the State Archives “has nev­er been read by mod­ern his­to­ri­ans,” points out the nar­ra­tor of the Nature video at the top.

This endeav­or stands apart from oth­er dig­i­tal human­i­ties projects, Ali­son Abbott writes at Nature, “because of its ambi­tious scale and the new tech­nolo­gies it hopes to use: from state-of-the-art scan­ners that could even read unopened books, to adapt­able algo­rithms that will turn hand­writ­ten doc­u­ments into dig­i­tal, search­able text.”

In addi­tion to pos­ter­i­ty, the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this effort include his­to­ri­ans, econ­o­mists, and epi­demi­ol­o­gists, “eager to access the writ­ten records left by tens of thou­sands of ordi­nary cit­i­zens.” Lor­raine Das­ton, direc­tor of the Max Planck Insti­tute for the His­to­ry of Sci­ence in Berlin describes the antic­i­pa­tion schol­ars feel in par­tic­u­lar­ly vivid terms: “We are in a state of elec­tri­fied excite­ment about the pos­si­bil­i­ties,” she says, “I am prac­ti­cal­ly sali­vat­ing.” Project head Frédéric Kaplan, a Pro­fes­sor of Dig­i­tal Human­i­ties at the École poly­tech­nique fédérale de Lau­sanne (EPFL), com­pares the archival col­lec­tion to “’dark mat­ter’—doc­u­ments that hard­ly any­one has stud­ied before.”

Using big data and AI to recon­struct the his­to­ry of Venice in vir­tu­al form will not only make the study of that his­to­ry a far less her­met­ic affair; it might also “reshape schol­ars’ under­stand­ing of the past,” Abbott points out, by democ­ra­tiz­ing nar­ra­tives and enabling “his­to­ri­ans to recon­struct the lives of hun­dreds of thou­sands of ordi­nary people—artisans and shop­keep­ers, envoys and traders.” The Time Machine’s site touts this devel­op­ment as a “social net­work of the mid­dle ages,” able to “bring back the past as a com­mon resource for the future.” The com­par­i­son might be unfor­tu­nate in some respects. Social net­works, like cable net­works, and like most his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tives, have become dom­i­nat­ed by famous names.

By con­trast, the Time Machine model—which could soon lead to AI-cre­at­ed vir­tu­al Ams­ter­dam and Paris time machines—promises a more street-lev­el view, and one, more­over, that can engage the pub­lic in ways sealed and clois­tered arti­facts can­not. “We his­to­ri­ans were bap­tized with the dust of archives,” says Das­ton. “The future may be dif­fer­ent.” The future of Venice, in real life, might be uncer­tain. But thanks to the Venice Time Machine, its past is poised take on thriv­ing new life. See pre­views of the Time Machine in the videos fur­ther up, learn more about the project here, and see Kaplan explain the “infor­ma­tion time machine” in his TED talk above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Venice Works: 124 Islands, 183 Canals & 438 Bridges

Venice in Beau­ti­ful Col­or Images 125 Years Ago: The Rial­to Bridge, St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca, Doge’s Palace & More

New Dig­i­tal Archive Puts Online 4,000 His­toric Images of Rome: The Eter­nal City from the 16th to 20th Cen­turies

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

Steven Pinker’s 13 Rules for Good Writing

Pho­to by Rose Lin­coln, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

What is good writ­ing? The ques­tion requires con­text. Each type of writ­ing has its norms. Some guide­lines apply across disciplines—consult your Strunk and White or any of the hun­dreds of hand­books rec­om­mend­ing strong verbs and min­i­mal use of pas­sive voice. Still, you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly put the ques­tion to an exper­i­men­tal poet if your con­cern is infor­ma­tive writ­ing (though maybe you should). Maybe bet­ter to ask a schol­ar who writes clear prose.

Har­vard Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­o­gy Steven Pinker could serve as such a guide, giv­en the pop­u­lar­i­ty of his books with the read­ing pub­lic (their debat­able mer­its for cer­tain crit­ics aside). Luck­i­ly for his readers—and those gen­er­al­ly seek­ing to bet­ter their writing—Pinker has offered his ser­vices free on Twit­ter with a 13-point list of rules. Unlike­ly to cause con­tro­ver­sy among Eng­lish teach­ers, Pinker’s guide­lines enact the suc­cinct­ness they rec­om­mend.

Rants about the unin­tel­li­gi­bil­i­ty of aca­d­e­m­ic writ­ing have become genre all their own, but jar­gon and spe­cial­ized ter­mi­nol­o­gy have their place in cer­tain nich­es, and there’s noth­ing inher­ent­ly wrong with dif­fi­cul­ty. Read­ers can argue amongst them­selves about whether some kinds of writ­ing are need­less­ly over­com­pli­cat­ed. (Fair­ly or not, post­struc­tural­ist French philoso­phers take a beat­ing on this score, but spend some time with Kant or Hegel and see how eas­i­ly you breeze through.)

Yet most of us are not pro­fes­sion­al philoso­phers, sci­en­tists, or the­o­rists writ­ing only for col­leagues or coter­ies. When we write, we want to com­mu­ni­cate clear­ly: to inform, per­suade, and even enter­tain a gen­er­al read­er­ship. In order to do that, we need to min­i­mize abstrac­tions, appeal to the sens­es, clear away clut­ter and make con­nec­tions for our read­ers. Revi­sion is key. Read­ing aloud gives the ear a chance to weed out clum­si­ness the eye can miss. All of these trust­ed strate­gies appear in Pinker’s list.

One point Pinker adds to the usu­al pre­scrip­tions has a suit­ably psy­cho­log­i­cal bent, and an odd­ly Bib­li­cal-sound­ing name: the “Curse of Knowl­edge.” Know­ing too much about a sub­ject can make it “hard to imag­ine what it’s like not to know it.” For those who want to know more about clear, con­cise writ­ing, or who need the inevitable refresh­er from which even the knowl­edge­able ben­e­fit, see Pinker’s 13 rules below or on Twit­ter.

  1. Reverse-engi­neer what you read. If it feels like good writ­ing, what makes it good? If it’s awful, why? 
  2. Prose is a win­dow onto the world. Let your read­ers see what you are see­ing by using visu­al, con­crete lan­guage.
  3. Don’t go meta. Min­i­mize con­cepts about con­cepts, like “approach, assump­tion, con­cept, con­di­tion, con­text, frame­work, issue, lev­el, mod­el, per­spec­tive, process, range, role, strat­e­gy, ten­den­cy,” and “vari­able.”
  4. Let verbs be verbs. “Appear,” not “make an appear­ance.”
  5. Beware of the Curse of Knowl­edge: when you know some­thing, it’s hard to imag­ine what it’s like not to know it. Min­i­mize acronyms & tech­ni­cal terms. Use “for exam­ple” lib­er­al­ly. Show a draft around, & pre­pare to learn that what’s obvi­ous to you may not be obvi­ous to any­one else.
  6. Omit need­less words (Will Strunk was right about this).
  7. Avoid clichés like the plague (thanks, William Safire).
  8. Old infor­ma­tion at the begin­ning of the sen­tence, new infor­ma­tion at the end.
  9. Save the heav­i­est for last: a com­plex phrase should go at the end of the sen­tence.
  10. Prose must cohere: read­ers must know how each sen­tence is relat­ed to the pre­ced­ing one. If it’s not obvi­ous, use “that is, for exam­ple, in gen­er­al, on the oth­er hand, nev­er­the­less, as a result, because, nonethe­less,” or “despite.”
  11. Revise sev­er­al times with the sin­gle goal of improv­ing the prose.
  12. Read it aloud.
  13. Find the best word, which is not always the fan­ci­est word. Con­sult a dic­tio­nary with usage notes, and a the­saurus.

via Big Think

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Steven Pinker: “Dear Human­ists, Sci­ence is Not Your Ene­my”

7 Tips From Ernest Hem­ing­way on How to Write Fic­tion

Kurt Von­negut Explains “How to Write With Style”

Stephen King’s 20 Rules for Writ­ers

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

Salvador Dalí & the Marx Brothers’ 1930s Film Script Gets Released as a Graphic Novel

His­to­ry remem­bers Sal­vador Dalí as one of the most indi­vid­u­al­is­tic artists ever to live, but he also had a knack for col­lab­o­ra­tion: with Luis BuñuelAlfred Hitch­cock, Walt Dis­ney, even, in a sense, with Lewis Car­roll and William Shake­speare. But would you believe the list also includes one of the Marx Broth­ers? Though the film on which they col­lab­o­rat­ed in the 1930s nev­er entered pro­duc­tion, its sto­ry has been told by Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad, a hybrid of illus­trat­ed text and graph­ic nov­el pub­lished just this month, itself a col­lab­o­ra­tion between pop-cul­ture schol­ar Josh Frank, artist Manuela Perte­ga, and come­di­an Tim Hei­deck­er.

When Dalí went to Hol­ly­wood, he wrote the fol­low­ing to fel­low Sur­re­al­ist André Bre­ton: “I’ve made con­tact with the three Amer­i­can sur­re­al­ists: Har­po Marx, Dis­ney and Cecil B. DeMille.” He seems to have been espe­cial­ly tak­en with Marx.

“They paint­ed each oth­er, and Dalí sent his new friend a full-size harp strung with barbed wire,” writes NPR’s Etel­ka Lehoczky. “So over­come was Dalí with Har­po’s genius that he wrote a treat­ment, and lat­er an abbre­vi­at­ed screen­play, for a Marx Broth­ers movie to be called Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad.” (It also had at least one alter­nate title, The Sur­re­al­ist Woman.)

The project made it as far as a meet­ing with MGM head Louis B. May­er, to whom Frank describes Dalí and Marx as pitch­ing such scenes as “Har­po opens an umbrel­la and a chick­en explodes on all the onlook­ers. He … puts each piece [of chick­en] care­ful­ly on a sad­dle that he uses as a plate, a sad­dle not for a horse, but for a giraffe!” Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the busi­ness-mind­ed May­er did­n’t go for it, but Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad has had a long after­life as one of the most intrigu­ing films nev­er made. In the ear­ly 1990s, the New York the­ater col­lec­tive Ele­va­tor Repair Ser­vice put on a pro­duc­tion based on the sparse mate­ri­als then known, just a few years before the entire screen­play turned up among Dalí’s per­son­al papers.

“Har­po will be Jim­my, a young Span­ish aris­to­crat who lives in the U.S. as a con­se­quence of polit­i­cal cir­cum­stances in his coun­try,” Dalí wrote. Jim­my was to encounter a “beau­ti­ful sur­re­al­ist woman, whose face is nev­er seen by the audi­ence” in a sto­ry dra­ma­tiz­ing “the con­tin­u­ous strug­gle between the imag­i­na­tive life as depict­ed in the old myths and the prac­ti­cal and ratio­nal life of con­tem­po­rary soci­ety.” Dalí prob­a­bly used the term “sto­ry” loose­ly: “Even jazzed up with jokes by Tim Hei­deck­er (a mod­ern Marx Broth­er if there ever was one), Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad — the movie, not the book — is a baf­fling mess,” writes Lehoczky. “Nei­ther Dalí nor Har­po seems to have real­ized that their approach­es to humor were vast­ly dif­fer­ent.”

The Marx Broth­ers, as every one of their fans knows, were “acute­ly con­scious of, and respon­sive to, estab­lished struc­tures: They sub­vert­ed the social order using its own rules.” Dalí, in film and every oth­er medi­um in which he tried his hand (and mus­tache) besides, usu­al­ly head­ed off “in a direc­tion orthog­o­nal to accept­ed real­i­ty.” To what extent Dalí and Marx were aware of that clash — and to what extent they delib­er­ate­ly empha­sized it — dur­ing their work on Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad remains a mys­tery, but you can read more about that work, and the work Frank, Perte­ga, and Hei­deck­er put in to bring it to graph­ic fruition more than eighty years lat­er, at NPR, Indiewire, and Hyper­al­ler­gic. The more you learn, the more you’ll won­der how even Dalí and Marx could real­ly imag­ine their project pro­duced by a stu­dio in the Gold­en Age of Hol­ly­wood. But as Tate Mod­ern cura­tor Matthew Gale plau­si­bly the­o­rizes, actu­al­ly mak­ing the film may have been beside the point.

Pick up a copy of Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad here.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Two Vin­tage Films by Sal­vador Dalí and Luis Buñuel: Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or

Alfred Hitch­cock Recalls Work­ing with Sal­vador Dali on Spell­bound

Sal­vador Dalí & Walt Disney’s Short Ani­mat­ed Film, Des­ti­no, Set to the Music of Pink Floyd

The 14-Hour Epic Film, Dune, That Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky, Pink Floyd, Sal­vador Dalí, Moe­bius, Orson Welles & Mick Jag­ger Nev­er Made

The 55 Strangest, Great­est Films Nev­er Made (Cho­sen by John Green)

Grou­cho Marx and T.S. Eliot Become Unex­pect­ed Pen Pals, Exchang­ing Por­traits & Com­pli­ments (1961)

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.

New Archive Digitizes 80,000 Historic Watercolor Paintings, the Medium Through Which We Documented the World Before Photography

The water­col­or paint­ing has a rep­u­ta­tion for light­ness. It’s a casu­al endeav­or, done in scenic out­door sur­round­ings on sun­lit days. Water­col­ors are the choice of week­end hob­by­ists or chil­dren unready for messier mate­ri­als. Water­col­ors, in oth­er words, are often treat­ed as unse­ri­ous. But for a cou­ple hun­dred years, they served a very seri­ous pur­pose. In addi­tion to being a portable medi­um with an expan­sive range, water­col­ors’ ease made them the pri­ma­ry means of mak­ing doc­u­men­tary images before pho­tog­ra­phy com­plete­ly took over this func­tion by the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry when portable con­sumer cam­eras became a real­i­ty.

“Before the inven­tion of the cam­era,” explains the Water­colour World, “peo­ple used water­col­ors to doc­u­ment the world. Over the cen­turies, painters—both pro­fes­sion­al and amateur—created hun­dreds of thou­sands of images record­ing life as they wit­nessed it. Every one of these paint­ings has a sto­ry to tell.”

The Water­colour World is a large-scale dig­i­ti­za­tion of thou­sands of water­col­ors found hid­den away in draw­ers all over the UK by for­mer diplo­mat Fred Hohler, who came up with the idea for the project while on a tour of Britain’s pub­lic col­lec­tions.

“The value—and excitement—of the Water­colour World project,” writes Dale Bern­ing Sawa at The Guardian, “is that it views these his­toric paint­ings as doc­u­ments, not aes­thet­ic objects.” That’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly how their cre­ators’ saw them. “A lot of the val­ue in these images is… acci­den­tal. Often it’s the context—replete with tree­lines, snow­lines or waterlines—the artist paint­ed around, for exam­ple, the flower they’d set out to record.” Such acci­den­tal doc­u­men­ta­tion cap­tured one of the first known images of Mount Ever­est, sit­u­at­ed in the back­ground, in a paint­ing from the 1840s. Of course much of the doc­u­men­tary pur­pose was intentional—in land sur­veys and sci­en­tif­ic illus­tra­tions, and in the many paint­ings, like that above from 1833, of Mount Vesu­vius erupt­ing.

These images are becom­ing increas­ing­ly impor­tant to sci­en­tists and his­to­ri­ans as ice-caps melt, his­tor­i­cal sites are bombed or van­dal­ized, and flo­ra and fau­na dis­ap­pear. With a focus on pre-1900 images, the site launched with around 80,000 dig­i­tized water­col­ors, a num­ber that could expand into over a mil­lion, Hohler esti­mates, at which point, it will become an “absolute­ly indis­pens­able tool to help us under­stand today.” As for under­stand­ing the con­text in which these works were created—it’s com­pli­cat­ed. Many of the paint­ings come with a wealth of iden­ti­fy­ing infor­ma­tion. Some of the artists were pro­fes­sion­als, some mil­i­tary drafts­men, botanists, expe­di­tion water­col­orists, and sur­vey­ors.

Some had long, dis­tin­guished careers tak­ing over oth­er coun­tries, like colo­nial British Gen­er­al James Mau­rice Prim­rose, who paint­ed sev­er­al very impres­sive land­scapes in India like 1860’s “In the Neil­gher­ries,” above. And there are also “untold num­bers of ama­teurs,” Sawa writes, “which Hohler sus­pects will turn out to have been most­ly women, unpaid for their time and skill—who picked up a paint­brush to record the world around them.” Who­ev­er these painters were, and what­ev­er moti­vat­ed them to make these works of art, we can be grate­ful that they did, and that these thou­sands of paint­ings, many of which are quite frag­ile, sur­vived long enough for dig­i­ti­za­tion in this impres­sive pub­lic project.

“By mak­ing his­to­ry more vis­i­ble to more peo­ple,” the Water­colour World puts it, “we can deep­en our under­stand­ing of the world.” The UK-based orga­ni­za­tion seeks paint­ings from around the globe; “there are thou­sands of water­colours still to add.” If you have some pre-1900 works to con­tribute, you are encour­aged to get in touch and find out if they’re suit­able for inclu­sion. Enter the Water­colour World here.

via The Guardian

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Vis­it a New Dig­i­tal Archive of 2.2 Mil­lion Images from the First Hun­dred Years of Pho­tog­ra­phy

The Get­ty Dig­i­tal Archive Expands to 135,000 Free Images: Down­load High Res­o­lu­tion Scans of Paint­ings, Sculp­tures, Pho­tographs & Much Much More

Down­load for Free 2.6 Mil­lion Images from Books Pub­lished Over Last 500 Years on Flickr

25 Mil­lion Images From 14 Art Insti­tu­tions to Be Dig­i­tized & Put Online In One Huge Schol­ar­ly Archive

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

A Visual Map of the World’s Major Religions (and Non-Religions)

Images by Car­rie Osgood

“The nones are grow­ing,” we hear all the time, a ref­er­ence to the huge increase in peo­ple who check the “none” box in doc­u­ments that ask about reli­gious beliefs. In the U.S., at least, the response to this news seems to be five­fold: fear, denial, anger, cel­e­bra­tion, and spec­u­la­tion that can seem to go beyond what the data war­rants. Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, for exam­ple, trum­pets “The World’s Newest Major Reli­gion: No Reli­gion,” though it’s not exact­ly clear what no reli­gion means.

Check­ing “none” does not sig­ni­fy hold­ing spe­cif­ic con­vic­tions or affil­i­a­tions. It can be an irri­tat­ed reac­tion from those who find the ques­tion intru­sive, an eva­sion from those who refuse to think about the issue, a response from those whose beliefs are not reflect­ed in any of the choic­es offered, a con­fi­dent state­ment of thor­ough­go­ing philo­soph­i­cal nat­u­ral­ism…. One way to look at the data is that it’s incon­clu­sive.

But it could tell some big sto­ries as well, such as “the sec­u­lar­iz­ing West and the rapid­ly grow­ing rest” (a sto­ry com­pli­cat­ed by Chi­na, the coun­try with the largest “atheist/agnostic” pop­u­la­tion). While the inter­net has made it eas­i­er for athe­ists and agnos­tics to con­nect and orga­nize, these labels do not name any con­sis­tent set of beliefs or non-beliefs, and they can apply to sec­u­lar human­ists as well as to cer­tain adher­ents of forms of Bud­dhism, Tao­ism, pagan­ism, etc., who may not explic­it­ly iden­ti­fy as reli­gious but who have some spir­i­tu­al prac­tices…

But who­ev­er they are, the “nones” do appear to be grow­ing, account­ing for around a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion in the U.S. and Europe—where in some coun­tries, such as the Czech Repub­lic, clos­er to half the pop­u­la­tion iden­ti­fies as non­re­li­gious. The sto­ry of the nones is coun­ter­bal­anced by the mas­sive spread of reli­gion, most­ly Chris­tian­i­ty but also Islam, among the “rest” of the world. Design­er Car­rie Osgood of the world trav­el site Car­rie On Adven­tures has giv­en us a handy visu­al ref­er­ence (view in a large for­mat here) for the glob­al sit­u­a­tion in the info­graph­ic above.

Draw­ing on data from the Unit­ed Nations Pop­u­la­tion Fund—which she pre­vi­ous­ly used to cre­ate a series of pop­u­la­tion and urban­iza­tion maps—and from the World Reli­gion Data­base, Osgood visu­al­izes the rel­a­tive pop­u­la­tions of each coun­try by siz­ing them as pro­por­tion­al pie charts, with their major reli­gions rep­re­sent­ed by dif­fer­ent col­ors. (These num­bers are based on 2010 fig­ures and may have changed con­sid­er­ably in the past decade.) Chris­tian­i­ty is still the world’s largest reli­gion, at 32.8%, with Islam close behind at 22.5%.

Yet as Frank Jacobs points out at Big Think, such sweep­ing generalizations—like those about the “nones”—miss crit­i­cal details need­ed in any dis­cus­sion about world reli­gions. “The map bands togeth­er var­i­ous Chris­t­ian and Islam­ic schools of thought,” writes Jacobs, “that don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly accept each oth­er as ‘true believ­ers,’” and may even view each oth­er as ene­mies and heretics. Large, thriv­ing reli­gious groups like Sikhs are lumped in with “oth­ers,” a cat­e­go­ry that can include numer­i­cal­ly mar­gin­al or dis­ap­pear­ing belief sys­tems.

Like­wise, “there’s that whole mine­field of nuance between those who prac­tice a reli­gion (but may do so out of social coer­cion rather than per­son­al­ly held belief), and those who believe in some­thing (but don’t par­tic­i­pate in the rit­u­als of any par­tic­u­lar faith).” Espe­cial­ly in coun­tries with a major­i­ty faith—and with painful social or legal penal­ties for those who don’t subscribe—the ques­tion of how many peo­ple real­ly iden­ti­fy out of true con­vic­tion can­not be ignored.

Which brings us back to the “nones,” a cat­e­go­ry, how­ev­er fuzzy, that may be far larg­er than the num­bers show, and could include mil­lions more in major­i­ty-faith coun­tries, if those peo­ple lived under a sec­u­lar gov­ern­ment, in a plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety, and felt free to speak their minds. The “nones” have maybe always been around. Only now, in much of the world at least, they’re far more vis­i­ble. But that’s just one pos­si­ble sto­ry among the many we can tell about this data.

View and down­load a larg­er ver­sion of the info­graph­ic map at Osgood’s site and see a detailed break­down of the data at Big Think.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ani­mat­ed Map Shows How the Five Major Reli­gions Spread Across the World (3000 BC – 2000 AD)

Take Harvard’s Intro­duc­to­ry Course on Bud­dhism, One of Five World Reli­gions Class­es Offered Free Online

Chris­tian­i­ty Through Its Scrip­tures: A Free Course from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty 

Intro­duc­tion to the Old Tes­ta­ment: A Free Yale Course 

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

Why Nobody Smiles in Old Photos: The Technological & Cultural Reasons Behind All those Black-and-White Frowns

We’ve all heard sto­ries of kids who ask their par­ents if the world was real­ly black-and-white in the 1950s, or maybe even been those kids our­selves. With that mat­ter cleared up, chil­dren who’ve seen even old­er col­or­less pho­tographs — say, from around the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry — may fol­low up with anoth­er ques­tion: had­n’t they invent­ed smil­ing back then? If they ask you (or if you’ve won­dered about it your­self), you can take care of it in just three min­utes by pulling up this Vox explain­er on why peo­ple nev­er smiled in old pho­tos. Why, in the words of Phil Edwards writ­ing on the video’s accom­pa­ny­ing page, “did peo­ple in old pho­tos look like they’d just heard the worst news of their life?”

“We can’t know for sure, but a few the­o­ries help us guess what was behind all that black-and-white frown­ing.” The first, and the one you may already know, has to do with the cam­era tech­nol­o­gy of the day, whose “long expo­sure times — the time a cam­era needs to take a pic­ture — made it impor­tant for the sub­ject of a pic­ture to stay as still as pos­si­ble. That way, the pic­ture would­n’t look blur­ry.” But by the year 1900 that prob­lem was more or less solved “with the intro­duc­tion of the Brown­ie and oth­er cam­eras,” which were “still slow by today’s stan­dards, but not so slow that it was impos­si­ble to smile.”

Oth­er the­o­ries explain­ing the smile-free pho­tographs of old include the lin­ger­ing influ­ence of the paint­ed por­trait on the pho­to­graph­ic por­trait; the dom­i­nant idea of pho­tog­ra­phy as a “pas­sage to immor­tal­i­ty” that “meant the medi­um was pre­dis­posed to seri­ous­ness over the ephemer­al”; and that Vic­to­ri­an and Edwar­dian cul­ture itself took a dim view of smil­ing, sup­port­ed by a sur­vey of smil­ing in por­traits con­duct­ed by Nicholas Jeeves at the Pub­lic Domain Review that “came to the con­clu­sion that there was a cen­turies-long his­to­ry of view­ing smil­ing as some­thing only buf­foons did.” Yet late 19th-cen­tu­ry and ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry pho­tog­ra­phy isn’t a com­plete­ly smile-free zone, as the Flickr group The Smil­ing Vic­to­ri­an proves.

Edwards includes a pic­ture, tak­en cir­ca 1904, of a man smil­ing not just unmis­tak­ably but huge­ly. He does so as he pre­pares to dig into a bowl of rice, that being an impor­tant part of the cui­sine of Chi­na, where Asian-lan­guage schol­ar Berthold Laufer took an expe­di­tion to cap­ture the every­day life of the Chi­nese peo­ple on film. “His rice-lov­ing sub­ject may have been will­ing to grin because he was from a dif­fer­ent cul­ture with its own sen­si­bil­i­ty con­cern­ing pho­tog­ra­phy and pub­lic behav­ior,” Edwards writes. What­ev­er the rea­sons for the smile on that Chi­nese face or the lack of one on all those Vic­to­ri­ans and Edwar­dians, we must pre­pare our­selves to answer an even more dif­fi­cult ques­tion from pos­ter­i­ty: one about why, exact­ly, we’re doing what we’re doing in the bil­lions of pho­tos we now take of our­selves every day.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The First Pho­to­graph Ever Tak­en (1826)

See the First Pho­to­graph of a Human Being: A Pho­to Tak­en by Louis Daguerre (1838)

See The First “Self­ie” In His­to­ry Tak­en by Robert Cor­nelius, a Philadel­phia Chemist, in 1839

The First Known Pho­to­graph of Peo­ple Shar­ing a Beer (1843)

The His­to­ry of Pho­tog­ra­phy in Five Ani­mat­ed Min­utes: From Cam­era Obscu­ra to Cam­era Phone

Vis­it a New Dig­i­tal Archive of 2.2 Mil­lion Images from the First Hun­dred Years of Pho­tog­ra­phy

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.

William S. Burroughs’ Manifesto for Overthrowing a Corrupt Government with Fake News and Other Prophetic Methods: It’s Now Published for the First Time

The Boy Scouts of Amer­i­ca have faced some deserved crit­i­cism, unde­served ridicule, and have been cru­el­ly used as props, but I think it’s safe to say that they still bear a pret­ty whole­some image for a major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans. That was prob­a­bly no less the case and per­haps a good deal more so in 1969, but the end of the six­ties was not by any stretch a sim­pler time. It was a peri­od, writes Scott McLemee, “when the My Lai Mas­sacre, the Man­son Fam­i­ly and the Weath­er Under­ground were all in the news.” The Zodi­ac Killer was on the loose, a gen­er­al air of bleak­ness pre­vailed.

William S. Bur­roughs respond­ed to this mad­ness with a counter-mad­ness of his own in “The Revised Boy Scout Man­u­al,” “an impas­sioned yet some­times inco­her­ent rebuke to ossi­fied polit­i­cal ide­olo­gies,” writes Kirkus. We can pre­sume Bur­roughs meant his instruc­tions for over­throw­ing cor­rupt gov­ern­ments to satir­i­cal­ly com­ment on the out­doorsy sta­tus quo youth cult. But we can also see the man­u­al tak­ing as its start­ing point cer­tain val­ues the Scouts cham­pi­on, at their best: obses­sive atten­tion to detail, Mac­Gyver-like inge­nu­ity, and good old Amer­i­can self-reliance.

Want to bring down the gov­ern­ment? You can do it your­self… with fake news.

Boing Boing quotes a long pas­sage from the book that shows Bur­roughs as a com­pre­hen­sive, if not quite whole­some, Scout advi­sor, describ­ing how one might use mass media’s meth­ods to dis­rupt its mes­sage, and to trans­mit mes­sages of your own. We might think he is fore­see­ing, even rec­om­mend­ing, tech­niques we now see used to a no-longer-shock­ing degree.

You have an advan­tage which your oppos­ing play­er does not have. He must con­ceal his manip­u­la­tions. You are under no such neces­si­ty. In fact you can adver­tise the fact that you are writ­ing news in advance and try­ing to make it hap­pen by tech­niques which any­body can use.

And that makes you NEWS. And a TV per­son­al­i­ty as well, if you play it right. 

You con­struct fake news broad­casts on video cam­era… And you scram­ble your fab­ri­cat­ed news in with actu­al news broad­casts.

We might read in Bur­roughs’ instruc­tions the meth­ods of YouTube pro­pa­gan­dists, social media manip­u­la­tors, and some of the most pow­er­ful peo­ple in the world. Bur­roughs does not rec­om­mend tak­ing over the media appa­ra­tus by seiz­ing its pow­er, but rather using tech­nol­o­gy to make “cut­up video tapes” and ham radio broad­casts fea­tur­ing doc­u­men­tary media spliced togeth­er with fab­ri­ca­tions. These “tech­niques could swamp the mass media with total illu­sion,” he writes. “It will be seen that the fal­si­fi­ca­tions in syl­lab­ic West­ern lan­guages are in point of fact actu­al virus mech­a­nisms.”

Bur­roughs is not sim­ply writ­ing a ref­er­ence for mak­ing fear­mon­ger­ing pro­pa­gan­da. Even when it comes to the sub­ject of fear, he some­times sounds as if he is revis­ing Sergei Eisenstein’s mon­tage the­o­ry for his own sim­i­lar­ly vio­lent times. “Let us say the mes­sage is fear. For this we take all the past fear shots of the sub­ject we can col­lect or evoke. We cut these in with fear words and pic­tures, with threats, etc. This is all act­ed out and would be upset­ting enough in any case. Now let’s try it scram­bled and see if we get an even stronger effect.”

What would this effect be? One “com­pa­ra­ble to post-hyp­not­ic sug­ges­tion”? Who is the audi­ence, and would they be, a la Clock­work Orange, a cap­tive one? Did Bur­roughs see peo­ple on street cor­ners screen­ing their cut-up videos, despite the fact that con­sumer-lev­el video tech­nol­o­gy did not yet exist? Is this a cin­e­mat­ic exper­i­ment, mass media-age occult rit­u­al, com­pendi­um of prac­ti­cal mag­ic for insid­er media adepts?

See what you can make of Bur­roughs’ “The Revised Boy Scout Man­u­al” (sub­ti­tled “an elec­tron­ic rev­o­lu­tion”). The book has been reis­sued by the Ohio State Press, with an after­word (read it here) by V. Vale, pub­lish­er of the leg­endary, rad­i­cal mag­a­zine RE/Search, who excerpt­ed a part of the “Revised Man­u­al” in the ear­ly 1980s and planned to pub­lish it in full before “a per­son­al rela­tion­ship blowup” put an end to the project.

McLemee titles his review of Burrough’s redis­cov­ered man­i­festo “Dis­tant Ear­ly Warn­ing,” and much of it does indeed sound eeri­ly prophet­ic. But we should also bear in mind the book is itself a coun­ter­cul­tur­al pas­tiche, designed to scram­ble minds for rea­sons only Bur­roughs tru­ly knew. He was a “prac­tic­ing Sci­en­tol­o­gist at the time” of the book’s com­po­si­tion, “albeit not for much longer,” and he does pre­scribe use of the e‑meter and makes scat­tered ref­er­ences to L. Ron Hub­bard. But as a prac­ti­tion­er of his own pre­cepts, Bur­roughs would not have writ­ten a mono­graph uncrit­i­cal­ly pro­mot­ing one belief sys­tem or anoth­er. (Well, maybe just the once.) He also quotes Hassan‑I Sab­bah, dis­cuss­es Mayan hiero­glyph­ics, and talks Gen­er­al Seman­tics.

“The Revised Boy Scout Man­u­al” “has ele­ments of lib­er­tar­i­an man­i­festo, para­mil­i­tary hand­book, revenge fan­ta­sy and dark satire,” McLemee writes, “and wher­ev­er the line between fic­tion and non­fic­tion may be, it’s nev­er clear for long.” In this, Bur­roughs only scram­bles ele­ments already in abun­dance at the end of the six­ties and in the ear­ly sev­en­ties, dur­ing which he revised and record­ed the work sev­er­al times as he tran­si­tioned him­self out of an orga­ni­za­tion that main­tained total con­trol through mass media. Like Mar­shall McLuhan, Noam Chom­sky and oth­ers, he was begin­ning to see this phe­nom­e­non every­where he looked. Bur­roughs’ most last­ing influ­ence may be that, like the late-60s Sit­u­a­tion­ists, he devised a cun­ning and effec­tive way to turn mass media in on itself, one with per­haps more sin­is­ter impli­ca­tions.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How William S. Bur­roughs Embraced, Then Reject­ed Sci­en­tol­ogy, Forc­ing L. Ron Hub­bard to Come to Its Defense (1959–1970)

How William S. Bur­roughs Used the Cut-Up Tech­nique to Shut Down London’s First Espres­so Bar (1972)

When William S. Bur­roughs Appeared on Sat­ur­day Night Live: His First TV Appear­ance (1981)

5 Ani­ma­tions Intro­duce the Media The­o­ry of Noam Chom­sky, Roland Barthes, Mar­shall McLuhan, Edward Said & Stu­art Hall

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

Does Playing Music for Cheese During the Aging Process Change Its Flavor? Researchers Find That Hip Hop Makes It Smellier, and Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” Makes It Milder

Humans began mak­ing cheese sev­en mil­len­nia ago: plen­ty of time to devel­op an enor­mous vari­ety of tex­tures, fla­vors, and smells, and cer­tain­ly more than enough to get cre­ative about the meth­ods of gen­er­at­ing even greater vari­ety. But it seems to have tak­en all that time for us to come around to the poten­tial of music as a fla­vor­ing agent. “Expos­ing cheese to round-the-clock music could give it more fla­vor and hip hop might be bet­ter than Mozart,” report Reuters’ Denis Bal­i­bouse and Cecile Man­to­vani, cit­ing the find­ings of Cheese in Sound, a recent study by Swiss cheese­mak­er Bert Wampfler and researchers at Bern Uni­ver­si­ty of the Arts.

“Nine wheels of Emmen­tal cheese weigh­ing 10 kilos (22 pounds) each were placed in wood­en crates last Sep­tem­ber to test the impact of music on fla­vor and aro­ma,” write Bal­i­bouse and Man­to­vani. The hip hop cheese heard A Tribe Called Quest’s “Jazz (We’ve Got),” the clas­si­cal cheese Mozart’s “Mag­ic Flute,” the rock cheese Led Zep­pelin’s “Stair­way to Heav­en,” and so on.

Three oth­er wheels heard sim­ple low, medi­um, and high son­ic fre­quen­cies, and one con­trol cheese heard noth­ing at all. But per­haps “heard” is the wrong word: each matur­ing cheese received its music not through speak­ers but “mini trans­mit­ters to con­duct the ener­gy of the music into the cheese.”

That may make more plau­si­ble the results that came out when a culi­nary jury per­formed a blind taste test of all the cheeses and found that they real­ly did come out with dif­fer­ent fla­vors. Accord­ing to the pro­jec­t’s press release, a “sen­so­ry con­sen­sus analy­sis car­ried out by food tech­nol­o­gists from the ZHAW Zurich Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sci­ences” con­clud­ed that “the cheeses exposed to music had a gen­er­al­ly mild fla­vor com­pared to the con­trol test sam­ple” and that “the cheese exposed to hip hop music dis­played a dis­cernibly stronger smell and stronger, fruiti­er taste than the oth­er sam­ples.”

Or, as’s Jason Daley sum­ma­rizes the find­ings, A Tribe Called Quest “gave the cheese an espe­cial­ly funky fla­vor, while cheese that rocked out to Led Zep­pelin or relaxed with Mozart had milder tests.” Cheese-lovers intrigued by the pos­si­bil­i­ties implied here would be for­giv­en for think­ing it all still sounds a bit too much like those CD sets that claimed a baby’s intel­li­gence could be increased by play­ing them Mozart in the womb. But if Cheese in Sound’s results hold up to fur­ther scruti­ny, maybe those par­ents — at least those par­ents hop­ing for a funki­er child — should have been play­ing them hip hop all along.

via Smith­son­ian Mag

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry of Cheese: 10,000 Years in Under Six Min­utes

How to Break Open a Big Wheel of Parme­san Cheese: A Delight­ful, 15-Minute Primer

Music in the Brain: Sci­en­tists Final­ly Reveal the Parts of Our Brain That Are Ded­i­cat­ed to Music

Stephen Fry Hosts “The Sci­ence of Opera,” a Dis­cus­sion of How Music Moves Us Phys­i­cal­ly to Tears

Leo Tolstoy’s Fam­i­ly Recipe for Mac ‘N’ Cheese

Enter the The Cor­nell Hip Hop Archive: A Vast Dig­i­tal Col­lec­tion of Hip Hop Pho­tos, Posters & More

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.

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