The Internet Archive is Saving Classic Flash Animations & Games from Extinction: Explore Them Online

Flash is finally dead, and the world… does not mourn. Because the announcement of its end actually came three years ago, “like a guillotine in a crowded town square,” writes Rhett Jones at Gizmodo. It was a slow execution, but it was just. So useful in Web 1.0 days for making animations, games, and serious presentations, Flash had become a vulnerability, a viral carrier that couldn’t be patched fast enough to keep the hackers out. “Adobe’s Flash died many deaths, but we can truly throw some dirt on its grave and say our final goodbyes because it’s getting the preservation treatment.” Like the animated GIF, Flash animations have their own online library.

All those lovely Flash memes—the dancing badgers and the snake, peanut butter and jelly time—will be saved for perplexed future generations, who will use them to decipher the runes of early 2000’s internet-speak. However silly they may seem now, there’s no denying that these artifacts were once central constituents of pop culture.

Flash was much more than a distraction or frustrating browser crasher. It provided a “gateway,” Jason Scott writes at the Internet Archive blog, “for many young creators to fashion near-professional-level games and animation, giving them the first steps to a later career.” (Even if it was a career making “advergames.”)

A single person working in their home could hack together a convincing program, upload it to a huge clearinghouse like Newgrounds, and get feedback on their work. Some creators even made entire series of games, each improving on the last, until they became full professional releases on consoles and PCs.

Always true to its purpose, the Internet Archive has devised a way to store and play Flash animations using emulators created by Ruffle and the BlueMaxima Flashpoint Project, who have already archived tens of thousands of Flash games. All those adorable Homestar Runner cartoons? Saved from extinction, which would have been their fate, since “without a Flash player, flash animations don’t work.” This may seem obvious, but it bears some explanation. Where image, sound, and video files can be converted to other formats to make them accessible to modern players, Flash animations can only exist in a world with Flash. They are like Edison’s wax cylinders, without the charming three-dimensions.

Scott goes into more depth on the rise and fall of Flash, a history that begins in 1993 with Flash’s predecessor, SmartSketch, which became FutureWave, which became Flash when it was purchased by Macromedia, then by Adobe. By 2005, it started to become unstable, and couldn’t evolve along with new protocols. HTML5 arrived in 2014 to issue the “final death-blow,” kind of…. Will Flash be missed? It’s doubtful. But “like any container, Flash itself is not as much of a loss as all the art and creativity it held.” The Archive currently hosts over 1,500 Flash animations from those turn-of-the-millennium internet days, and there are many more to come. Enter the Archive’s Flash collection here.

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The U.S. National Archives Launches an Animated GIF Archive: See Whitman, Twain, Hemingway & Others in Motion

36,000 Flash Games Have Been Archived and Saved Before Flash Goes Extinct: Play Them Offline

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

What Ancient Egyptian Sounded Like & How We Know It

If you’ve seen any Hollywood movie set in ancient Egypt, you already know how its language sounded: just like English, but spoken with a more formal diction and a range of broadly Middle-Eastern accents. But then there are many competing theories about life that long ago, and perhaps you’d prefer to believe the linguistic-historical take provided in the video above. A production of Joshua Rudder’s NativLang, a Youtube channel previously featured here on Open Culture for its videos on ancient Latin and Chinese, it tells the story of “the many forms of the long-lived Egyptian languages,” as well as its “ancestors and relatives,” and how they’ve helped linguists determine just how the ancient Egyptians really spoke.

Rudder begins with a certain artifact called — perhaps you’ve heard of it — the Rosetta Stone. Discovered in 1799 during Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, it “bore two Egyptian scripts and, auspiciously, a rough translation in perfectly readable Greek.” Using this information, the scholar Jean-François Champollion became the first to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. But as to the question of what they sounded like when pronounced, the stone had no answers. Champollion eventually became convinced that the still-living Coptic language was “the Egyptian language, the very same one that stretches back continuously for thousands of years.”

Though Coptic sounds and grammar could provide clues about spoken ancient Egyptian, it couldn’t get Champollion all the way to accurate pronunciation. One pressing goal was to fill in the language’s missing vowels, an essential type of sound that nevertheless went unrecorded by hieroglyphs. To the archives, then, which in Egypt were especially vast and contained documents dating far back into history. These enabled a process of “internal reconstruction,” which involved comparing different versions of the Egyptian language to each other, and which ultimately “resulted in an explosion of hieroglyphic knowledge.”

But the journey to reconstruct the speaking of this “longest written language on Earth” doesn’t stop there: it thereafter makes such side quests as one to a “pocket of Ethiopia” where people speak “a cluster of languages grouped together under the label Omotic.” Along with the Semitic, the Amazigh, the Chadic, and others, traceable with Egyptian to a common ancestor, these languages provided information essential to the state of ancient Egyptian linguistic knowledge today. Given the enormous amount of scholarship required to let us know what to call them, it’s enough to make you want ankhs to come back into fashion.

Related Content:

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What Did Old English Sound Like? Hear Reconstructions of Beowulf, The Bible, and Casual Conversations

Hear The Epic of Gilgamesh Read in the Original Akkadian and Enjoy the Sounds of Mesopotamia

Hear What the Language Spoken by Our Ancestors 6,000 Years Ago Might Have Sounded Like: A Reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European Language

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Japanese Art Installation Lets People Play Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1” As They Walk on Socially-Distanced Notes on the Floor

The global pandemic has revealed the depths of systematic cruelty in certain places in the world that have refused to commit resources to protecting people from the virus or refused to even acknowledge its existence. Other responses show a different way forward, one in which everyone contributes meaningfully through the principled actions of wearing masks and social distancing or the principled non-action of staying home to slow the spread.

Then there’s the critical role of art, design, and music in our survival. As we have seen—from spontaneous balcony serenades in Italy to poignant animated video poetry—the arts are no less crucial to our survival than public health. Human beings need delight, wonder, humor, mourning, and celebration, and we need to come together to experience these things, whether online or in real, if distant, life. Ideally, public health and art can work together.

Japanese designer Eisuke Tachikawa has put his skills to work doing exactly that. When cases began spiking in his country in April, Tachikawa and his design firm Nosigner made some beautifully designed, and very funny, posters to encourage social distancing as part of an initiative called Pandaid. Then they created Super Mario Brothers coin stickers to place six feet (or two meters, or one tuna) apart. In its English translation, at least, the text on Nosigner’s site is direct about their intentions: “As this continues we wanted to value-translate the social constraints of social distancing into something positive and enjoyable.”

Tachikawa and Nosigner have “developed a brand,” they announced recently, called SOCIAL HARMONY “in order to spread the culture of social distancing in a humorous way.” Their latest installation, however, does not incorporate jokes or Nintendo references. Rather it draws on one of the most popular and beloved pieces of minimalist classical music, Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1” (proclaimed by Classic FM as “the most flat-out relaxing piece of piano music ever written”). “People stand on a large music sheet on the floor and notes are played the moment you step on them. By respecting social distances and going one note at a time, the public is able to play” Satie’s piece.

Even for such a succinct composition, this must require a rigorous amount of coordination. But it is necessary to play the notes in order: “Since the melody changes with every stop, one can create one’s own Gymnopédie No. 1, since the played melody changes with every step.” The piece was installed at the entrance hall to the Yokohama Minatomirai Hall for DESIGNART TOKYO 2020, where it will remain until the end of the year. Surely there will be other forms of “social harmony” to come from the Japanese designers. Like the practice of social distancing itself, we can only hope such projects catch on and go global, until the widespread vaccination and an end to the pandemic can bring us closer again.

via Spoon & Tamago 

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

Quentin Tarantino’s Copycat Cinema: How the Postmodern Filmmaker Perfected the Art of the Steal

You can call Quentin Tarantino a thief. Call him unoriginal, a copycat, whatever, he doesn’t care. But if you really want to get him going, call him a tribute artist. This, he insists, is the last thing he has ever been: great directors, Tarantino declares, “don’t do homages.” They outright steal, from anyone, anywhere, without regard to intellectual property or hurt feelings.

But great directors don’t plagiarize in the Tarantino school of filmmaking. (Pay attention students, this is important.) They don’t take verbatim from a single source, or even two or three. They steal everything. “I steal from every single movie ever made,” says Tarantino, and if you don’t believe him, you’ll probably have to spend a few years watching his films shot by shot to prove him wrong, if that’s possible.

But, of course, he’s overstating things. He’s never gone the way of blockbuster CGI epics. On the contrary, Tarantino’s last film was an homage (sorry) to an older Hollywood, one on the cusp of great change but still beholden to things like actors, costumes, and sets. Maybe a paraphrase of his claim might read: he steals from every movie ever made worth stealing from, and if you’re Quentin Tarantino, there are a lot of those most people haven’t even heard of.

The Cinema Cartography video essay above, “The Copycat Cinema of Quentin Tarantino,” begins with a reference not to a classic work of cinema, but to a classic album made two years before the time of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is “a signifier of the artist’s status as an icon within a social milieu… this image more than anything explores the social ambiance in which someone lives in pop culture before becoming pop culture themselves.”

To suggest that the Beatles weren’t already pop culture icons in 1967 seems silly, but the visual point stands. On the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s they eclipse even their earlier boy band image and freshly insert themselves into the center of 20th century cultural history up to their present. “Understanding this idea,” says narrator Lewis Michael Bond, “is fundamental to understanding the cinema of Quentin Tarantino.” How so?

“All artists, consciously or unconsciously, take from their influences, “but it’s the degree of self-awareness and internal referencing that would inevitably bring us to the concept of postmodernism.” Tarantino is nothing if not a postmodern artist—rejecting ideas about truth, capital T, authenticity, and the uniqueness of the individual artist. All art is made from other art. There is no original and no originality, only more or less clever and skillful remixes and restatements of what has come before.

Tarantino, of course, knows that even his postmodern approach to cinema isn’t original. He stole it from Godard, and named his first production company A Band Apart, after Godard’s 1964 New Wave film Band of Outsiders, which is, Pauline Kael wrote, “like a reverie of a gangster movie as students in an espresso bar might remember it or plan it.” Tarantino’s films, especially his early films, are genre exercises made the way an adrenaline-fueled video store clerk would make them—stuffing in everything on the shelves in artful pastiches that revel in their dense allusions and in-jokes.

In this school of filmmaking, the question of whether or not a filmmaker is “original” has little meaning. Are they good at ripping off the past or not? When it comes to exquisite, bloody mash ups of exploitation flicks and the revered high classics of cinema, no one is better than Tarantino.

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Quentin Tarantino Picks the 12 Best Films of All Time; Watch Two of His Favorites Free Online

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

Salvador Dalí Gets Surreal with 1950s America: Watch His Appearances on What’s My Line? (1952) and The Mike Wallace Interview (1958)

When was the last time you saw a Surrealist (or even just a surrealist) painter appear on national television? If such a figure did appear on national television today, for that matter, who would know? Perhaps surrealist painting does not, in our time, make the impact it once did, but nor does national television. So imagine what a spectacle it must have been in 1950s America, cradle of the “mass media” as we once knew them, when Salvador Dalí turned up on a major U.S. television network. Such a fabulously incongruous broadcasting event happened more than once, and in these clips we see that, among the “big three,” CBS was especially receptive to his impulsive, otherworldly artistic presence.

On the quiz show What’s My Line?, one of CBS’ most popular offerings throughout the 50s, contestants aimed to guess the occupation of a guest. They did so wearing blindfolds, without which they’d have no trouble pinning down the job of an instantaneously recognizable celebrity like Dalí — or would they? To the panel’s yes-or-no questions, the only kind permitted by the rules, Dalí nearly always responds flatly in the affirmative.

Is he associated with the arts? “Yes.” Would he ever have been seen on television? “Yes.” Would he be considered a leading man? “Yes.” At this host John Charles Daly steps in to clarify that, in the context of the question, Dalí would not, in fact, be considered a leading man. One contestant offers an alternative: “He’s a misleading man!” Few titles have captured the essence of Dalí so neatly.

The artist, showman, and human conscious-altering substance later appeared on The Mike Wallace Interview. Hosted by the formidable CBS newsman well before he became one of the faces of 60 Minutes, the show featured a range of guests from Aldous Huxley and Frank Lloyd Wright to Eleanor Roosevelt and Ayn Rand. In this broadcast, Wallace and Dalí discuss “everything from surrealism to nuclear physics to chastity to what artists in general contribute to the world,” as Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova describes it. A curious if occasionally bemused Wallace, writes The Wallbreakers’ Matt Weckel, “asks Dalí such gems as ‘What is philosophical about driving a car full of cauliflowers?’ and ‘Why did you lecture with your head enclosed in a diving helmet?'” But they also seriously discuss “the fear of death, and their own mortality,” topics to which American airwaves have hardly grown more accommodating over the past sixty years.

Related Content:

Salvador Dalí Gets Surreal with Mike Wallace (1958)

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Q: Salvador Dalí, Are You a Crackpot? A: No, I’m Just Almost Crazy (1969)

Salvador Dalí Explains Why He Was a “Bad Painter” and Contributed “Nothing” to Art (1986)

Salvador Dalí Goes Commercial: Three Strange Television Ads

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

88 Philosophy Podcasts to Help You Answer the Big Questions in Life

The big questions of philosophy, simmering since antiquity, still press upon us as they did the Athenians of old (and all ancient people who have philosophized): what obligations do we really owe to family, friends, or strangers? Do we live as free agents or beings controlled by fate or the gods (or genes or a computer simulation)? What is a good life? How do we create societies that maximize freedom and happiness (or whatever ultimate values we hold dear)? What is language, what is art, and where did they come from?

These questions may not be answered with a brute appeal to facts, though without science we are groping in the dark. Religion takes big questions seriously but tells converts to take its supernatural answers on faith. “Between theology and science there is a No Man’s Land,” writes Bertrand Russell, “exposed to attack from both sides; this No Man’s Land is philosophy.” Philosophy reaches beyond certainty, to “speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable.” And yet, like science, “it appeals to human reason rather than authority.”

The concerns of philosophy have narrowed since Russell’s time, not to mention the time of Socrates, put to death for leading the youth astray. But professors of philosophy still raise the ire of the public, accused of seducing students from the safe spaces of sacred dogma and secular utility. “To study philosophy,” wrote Cicero, “is nothing but to prepare oneself to die.” It is a poetic turn of phrase, and yes, we must confront mortality, but philosophy also asks us to confront the limits of human knowledge and power in the face of the unknown. Dangerous indeed.

Should you decide to embark on this journey yourself, you will meet with no small number of fellow travelers along the way. Bring some earphones, you can hear them in the trove of 88 philosophy podcasts compiled on the philosophy website Daily Nous. “How many philosophy podcasts are there?” asks Daily Nous, who brings us this list. “Over 80, and they take a variety of forms.” See 15 below, with descriptions, see the rest at Daily Nous, and enjoy your sojourn into “no man’s land.”

See the full list here. And explore our collection of 200 Free Online Philosophy Courses here.

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

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