South African–Canadian film director Neill Blomkamp recently launched Oats Studios, a new film project devoted to creating experimental short films. And now comes their very first production, a short film called "Rakka." Starring Sigourney Weaver, "Rakka" takes us inside the aftermath of an alien invasion sometime in the year 2020. The Verge rightly notes that "Rakka" isn’t "a conventional short film. Instead, it’s a series of scenes depicting various points of view. Some scenes show what the aliens are doing to humanity; others track a resistance movement led by Weaver, and an escaped prisoner named Amir." The new short runs 21 minutes and is streaming free on YouTube. " Watch it above, and to learn about the making of "Rakka" and Oats Studios, read this interview over at Cartoon Brew.
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Historically speaking, what we call cartoons began as artifacts of print culture, and as such, of modernity. Before the widespread availability of printed texts, the word “cartoon” referred to a sketch, an artist’s mock-up of a greater work. The word literally meant “a very large sheet of paper,” since Renaissance cartones “were the same size as the intended painting and were created to transfer the image,” as one art historian notes (with some very elegant examples). So when and how did the cartoon become shorthand for illustrated comic editorials?
Not until the late 18th century, though the origins of the form are often traced to another Italian art, the caricatura, satirical doodles favored by such masters as Leonardo da Vinci and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. These, writes the Cartoon Museum, “were technical exercises in virtuosity with the daring aim of defining the essence of a person in a few deft strokes of the pen.” Like the work of boardwalk caricaturists, we associate the contemporary cartoon with deft essentializing, but rarely with high art.
Yet when cartoons as we know them began proliferating, illustrators produced very high-quality work. Many, like English engraver William Hogarth—“regarded as the father of British caricature… and of the comic strip”—are well-known as fine artists. Others, like James Gillray, the most influential cartoonist of the period next to Hogarth, combined fine draughtsmanship with the Italian love of exaggeration and the use of word bubbles. Gillray, who freely satirized figures like George III and Napoleon (above)—is one of many prominent cartoonists represented in the Library of Congress’s digital collections of vintage cartoons, which, taken together, comprise about 24,000 images.
The work of Gillray, George Cruikshank, and other famous cartoon artists of the “golden Georgian age” (1770-1820) appear in a British Collection that showcases “approximately 9,000 prints” highlighting “British political life, society, fashion, manners, and theater.” Most of the Library’s American Collection begins when the Georgian period ends, around 1830, when U.S. illustrators participated in furious debates over slavery, the expanding nation’s colonial wars and, of course, the Civil War. In the 1864 cartoon above, “Columbia, wearing a liberty cap and a skirt made of an American flag, demands, ‘Mr. Lincoln, give me back my 500,000 sons,'” to which the caricature of Lincoln responds with a visual and rhetorical shrug.
The Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon takes us well into the 20th century with 2,085 “drawings, prints, and paintings related to the art of caricature, cartoon, and illustration, spanning the years 1780 to 1977” and encompassing magazine illustrations like Russell Patterson’s “Where there’s smoke there’s fire” at the top, and political cartoons, comic book art, and comic strips like the four-frame Batman comic above from 1966. A larger collection of Cartoon Drawings collects “9,000 original drawings for editorial cartoons, caricatures, and comic strips spanning the late 1700s to the present.”
Finally, the Herblock Collection contains “the bulk of the 14,000 original ink and graphite drawings… from 1946 through 2001, when Herblock [Herbert L. Block] worked for the Washington Post,” as well as 1,300 images from his days at the Chicago Daily News. (See a slideshow here of selected cartoons throughout the artist’s career.) Many of the issues in these drawings now seem forgotten or obscure. Some, like his Nixon cartoons, are newly relevant to our times. As we look through these archives, that phenomenon repeats itself over the course of two-hundred years of cartooning. Fashions and tastes may change, but some of the tangled circumstances of British and American politics have remained remarkably consistent.
Summer just officially got underway. So that means it's time for Bill Gates, once again, to serve up a new Summer Reading List. This list will help you "think deeper about what it means to truly connect with other people and to have purpose in your life." Or "what it’s like to grow up outside the mainstream: as a child of mixed race in apartheid South Africa, as a young man trying to escape his impoverished life in rural Appalachia, or as the son of a peanut farmer in Plains, Georgia."
So, with no further ado, here's Bill Gates' five recommended reads for the summer. In what follows, this is all Bill speaking:
Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah. As a longtime fan of The Daily Show, I loved reading this memoir about how its host honed his outsider approach to comedy over a lifetime of never quite fitting in. Born to a black South African mother and a white Swiss father in apartheid South Africa, he entered the world as a biracial child in a country where mixed race relationships were forbidden. Much of Noah’s story of growing up in South Africa is tragic. Yet, as anyone who watches his nightly monologues knows, his moving stories will often leave you laughing.
The Heart, by Maylis de Kerangal. While you’ll find this book in the fiction section at your local bookstore, what de Kerangal has done here in this exploration of grief is closer to poetry than anything else. At its most basic level, she tells the story of a heart transplant: a young man is killed in an accident, and his parents decide to donate his heart. But the plot is secondary to the strength of its words and characters. The book uses beautiful language to connect you deeply with people who may be in the story for only a few minutes....
Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. The disadvantaged world of poor white Appalachia described in this terrific, heartbreaking book is one that I know only vicariously. Vance was raised largely by his loving but volatile grandparents, who stepped in after his father abandoned him and his mother showed little interest in parenting her son. Against all odds, he survived his chaotic, impoverished childhood only to land at Yale Law School. While the book offers insights into some of the complex cultural and family issues behind poverty, the real magic lies in the story itself and Vance’s bravery in telling it.
Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari. I recommended Harari’s previous book Sapiens in last summer’s reading list, and this provocative follow-up is just as challenging, readable, and thought-provoking. Homo Deus argues that the principles that have organized society will undergo a huge shift in the 21st century, with major consequences for life as we know it. So far, the things that have shaped society—what we measure ourselves by—have been either religious rules about how to live a good life, or more earthly goals like getting rid of sickness, hunger, and war. What would the world be like if we actually achieved those things? I don’t agree with everything Harari has to say, but he has written a smart look at what may be ahead for humanity.
A Full Life, by Jimmy Carter. Even though the former President has already written more than two dozen books, he somehow managed to save some great anecdotes for this quick, condensed tour of his fascinating life. I loved reading about Carter’s improbable rise to the world’s highest office. The book will help you understand how growing up in rural Georgia in a house without running water, electricity, or insulation shaped—for better and for worse—his time in the White House. Although most of the stories come from previous decades, A Full Life feels timely in an era when the public’s confidence in national political figures and institutions is low.
All of us who excitedly write about Blade Runner 2049, the upcoming sequel to Blade Runner, have at some point described the film as "long-awaited." Since the original came out in 1982, that makes a certain literal sense, but the wait hasn't stretched to 35 years without cause. As Blade Runner rose higher and higher in stature, following it up properly grew into a more and more daunting challenge. But now, as Blade Runner 2049 approaches its October release, the prospect that this most respected of all science-fiction movies will have its continuation feels more real than ever — and it will feel even more real than that after you watch the short making-of featurette above.
Though he didn't return to direct Blade Runner 2049, ceding the chair to Sicario and Arrival director Denis Villeneuve and taking on the role of producer instead, he does make quite a few appearances in this featurette as a kind of presiding spirit. "Blade Runner revolutionized the way we view science fiction," says Villeneuve. "I've never felt that much pressure on my shoulders — thinking that Ridley Scott will see this movie."
But more than anything the cast and filmmakers have to say, Blade Runner fans will savor the video's glimpses of the new picture's aesthetic, clearly both modeled after and deliberately made different from that of the original. As the title makes obvious, the story takes place thirty years after Blade Runner's 2019, and just as things have changed in our world, so they've changed in its world — not least in the form of a Korean influence that has its found its way in with the Japanese and Chinese ones that so characterized Blade Runner's future Los Angeles. "Defining this was like walking on a knife's edge," says production designer Dennis Gassner, "riding the line between the original film and what we're doing now."
If you'd like to compare the build-up to Blade Runner 2049 with the build-up to Blade Runner, have a look at its own thirteen-minute promotional featurette above. Made well before the time of the modern internet, let alone modern internet videos, this 16-millimeter film production, which featured Scott, "visual futurist" Syd Mead, and special effects artist Douglas Trumbull, circulated by making the screening rounds sci-fi, fantasy, and even horror conventions all across America. Few movies, let alone sequels, have built up as much anticipation as Blade Runner 2049 has, and even fewer have such a legacy to live up to. At least the filmmakers can rest assured that, if the critics don't happen to like it, well, they didn't like the first one either.
If you look through our collection of 800+ Free eBooks, you will find many public domain texts presented by providers like Project Gutenberg and Archive.org. Pretty soon, we'll have to add texts from Standard eBooks, a volunteer-driven project that digitizes books while placing an emphasis on design and typography. Here's how they describe their mission:
While there are plenty of places where you can download free and accurately-transcribed public domain ebooks, we feel the quality of those ebooks can often be greatly improved.
For example, Project Gutenberg, a major producer of public-domain ebooks, hosts epub and Kindle files that sometimes lack basic typographic necessities like curly quotes; some of those ebooks are automatically generated and can't take full advantage of modern ereader technology like popup footnotes or popup tables of contents; they sometimes lack niceties like cover images and title pages; and the quality of individual ebook productions varies greatly.
Archival sites like the Internet Archive (and even Project Gutenberg, to some extent) painstakingly preserve entire texts word-for-word, including original typos and ephemera that are of limited interest to modern readers: everything including centuries-old publishing marks, advertisements for long-vanished publishers, author bios, deeply archaic spellings, and so on. Sometimes all you get is a scan of the actual book pages. That’s great for researchers, archivists, and special-interest readers, but not that great for casual, modern readers.
The Standard Ebooks project differs from those etext projects in that we aim to make free public domain ebooks that are carefully typeset, cleaned of ancient and irrelevant ephemera, take full advantage of modern ereading technology, are formatted according to a detailed style guide, and that are each held to a standard of quality and internal consistency. Standard Ebooks include carefully chosen cover art based on public domain artwork, and are presented in an attractive way on your ebookshelf. For technically-inclined readers, Standard Ebooks conform to a rigorous coding style, are completely open source, and are hosted on Github, so anyone can contribute corrections or improvements easily and directly without having to deal with baroque forums or opaque processes.
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How old is the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible? As with most such questions about disputed religious texts, it depends on whom you ask. Many conservative Jewish and Christian scholars—or “maximalists”—have long accepted the text as containing genuine historical records, and dated them as early as possible. Modern critical scholars, the “minimalists,” informed by archeology, have made strong empirical cases against historicity, and date the texts much later.
These debates can become highly speculative the further back scholars attempt to push the Biblical origins. One has to take certain claims on faith. As far as the textual evidence goes, the earliest complete manuscripts we have are the so-called “Masoretic Text,” copied, edited, and disseminated between the 7th and 10th centuries CE. But we have fragments that date back over two thousand years, discovered in the Qumran Caves among the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-twentieth century. Prior to their discovery, the oldest known fragment was known as the “Nash Papyrus,” which dates from the second century, BCE.
Purchased from an Egyptian antiquities dealer in 1902 by Egyptologist Dr. Walter Llewllyn Nash and donated to the Cambridge University Library the following year, the papyrus contains a composite of the two different versions of the Ten Commandments, from Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, and the Shema, a prayer from Deuteronomy 6. In 2012, the Nash Papyrus was digitized, “one of the latest treasures of humanity,” reported Reuters, “to join Isaac Newton’s notebooks, the Nuremberg Chronicle and other rare texts as part of the Cambridge Digital Library.”
“It has been suggested,” notes the Cambridge description of the ancient manuscript, “that it is, in fact, from a phylactery (tefillin, used in daily prayer).” But the papyrus’ actual origins are uncertain, though it “was said to have come from the Fayyum,” a city near Cairo. And while the Nash Papyrus may not resolve any debates about the Torah’s origins, its open accessibility is a boon for scholars grappling with the questions. As university librarian Anne Jarvis said upon its digital release, the “age and delicacy” of the manuscript make it “seldom able to be viewed” in person. The leaf papyrus is, as the Cambridge Digital Library notes, full of holes, “barely legible” and composed of “four separate pieces fixed together.”
At the library site, users can see it in high resolution, zooming in very closely to any area they choose. You can also download the image, embed it, or share it on social media. And if that gets your ancient Biblical engines running, you can then see digital Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts of the Ten Commandmentshere and get an up close look at many other texts from that ancient treasure trove—as well as learn about them in a free online Rutgers course—here.
A popular thought experiment asks us to imagine an advanced alien species arriving on Earth, not in an H.G. Wells-style invasion, but as advanced, bemused, and benevolent observers. “Wouldn’t they be appalled,” we wonder, “shocked, confused at how backward we are?” It’s a purely rhetorical device—the secular equivalent of taking a “god’s eye view” of human folly. Few people seriously entertain the possibility in polite company. Unless they work at NASA or the SETI program.
In 1977, upon the launching of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, a committee working under Carl Sagan produced the so-called “Golden Records,” actual phonographic LPs made of copper containing “a collection of sounds and images,” writes Joss Fong at Vox, “that will probably outlast all human artifacts on Earth.” While they weren’t preparing for a visitation on Earth, they did—relying not on wishful thinking but on the controversial Drake Equation—fully expect that other technological civilizations might well exist in the cosmos, and assumed a likelihood we might encounter one, at least via remote.
Sagan tasked himself with compiling what he called a “bottle” in “the cosmic ocean,” and something of a time capsule of humanity. Over a year’s time, Sagan and his team collected 116 images and diagrams, natural sounds, spoken greetings in 55 languages, printed messages, and musical selections from around the world--things that would communicate to aliens what our human civilization is essentially all about. The images were encoded onto the records in black and white (you can see them all in the Vox video above in color). The audio, which you can play in its entirety below, was etched into the surface of the record. On the cover were etched a series of pictographic instructions for how to play and decode its contents. (Scroll over the interactive image at the top to see each symbol explained.)
Fong outlines those contents, writing, “any aliens who come across the Golden Record are in for a treat.” That is, if they are able to make sense of it and don’t find us horribly backward. Among the audio selections are greetings from then-UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, whale songs, Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No. 2 in F, Senegalese percussion, Aborigine songs, Peruvian panpipes and drums, Navajo chant, Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night” (playing in the Vox video), more Bach, Beethoven, and “Johnny B. Goode.” Challenged over including “adolescent” rock and roll, Sagan replied, “there are a lot of adolescents on the planet.” The Beatles reportedly wanted to contribute “Here Comes the Sun,” but their record company wouldn’t allow it, presumably fearing copyright infringement from aliens.
Also contained in the spacefaring archive is a message from then-president Jimmy Carter, who writes optimistically, “We are a community of 240 million human beings among the more than 4 billion who inhabit planet Earth. We human beings are still divided into nation states, but these states are rapidly becoming a single global civilization.” The messages on Voyagers 1 and 2, Carter forecasts, are “likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed.” The team chose not to include images of war and human cruelty.
We only have a few years left to find out whether either Voyager will encounter other beings. “Incredibly,” writes Fong, the probes “are still communicating with Earth—they aren’t expected to lose power until the 2020s.” It seems even more incredible, forty years later, when we consider their primitive technology: “an 8-track memory system and onboard computers that are thousands of times weaker than the phone in your pocket.”
The Voyagers were not the first probes sent to interstellar space. Pioneer 10 and 11 were launched in 1972 and 1973, each containing a Sagan-designed aluminum plaque with a few simple messages and depictions of a nude man and woman, an addition that scandalized some puritanical critics. NASA has since lost touch with both Pioneers, but you may recall that in 2006, the agency launched the New Horizons probe, which passed by Pluto in 2015 and should reach interstellar space in another thirty years.
Perhaps due to the lack of the departed Sagan’s involvement, the latest “bottle” contains no introductions. But there is time to upload some, and one of the Golden Record team members, Jon Lomberg, wants to do just that, sending a crowdsourced “message to the stars.” Lomberg’s New Horizon’s Message Initiative is a “global project that brings the people of the world together to speak as one.” The limitations of analog technology have made the Golden Record selections seem quite narrow from our data-saturated point of view. The new message might contain almost anything we can imagine. Visit the project's site to sign the petition, donate, and consider, just what would you want an alien civilization to hear, see, and understand about the best of humanity circa 2017?
"When a man is tired of London," Samuel Johnson so famously said, "he is tired of life." Of course, P.J. O'Rourke later added that "he might just be tired of shabby, sad crowds, low-income housing that looks worse than the weather, and tattoo-faced, spike-haired pea brains on the dole," but then, everyone experiences the English capital a bit differently. Johnson's London, the London of the eighteenth century, looks to some like a city at its zenith; others might even think the same about the London O'Rourke made fun of in the 1980s. Every era in London is a golden age to someone.
They may "look deceptively like color photographs," but "when viewed with a magnifying glass the small dots that comprise the ink-based photomechanical image are visible. The photomechanical process permitted mass production of the vivid color prints."
The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw the emergence of a robust market for photocrom prints, "sold at tourist sites and through mail order catalogs to globe trotters, armchair travelers, educators, and others to preserve in albums or put on display." Hence, perhaps, the focus on London sites of touristic appeal: Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, the British Museum, and even the fully outfitted "Yeoman of the Guard" you see just above. But print also (and by appearances more correctly) describes him as a "Beefeater," the popular name for the different body of ceremonial tower guardians the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary. (Got that?)
You can browse, and in various formats download, the 33 images in the Library of Congress' London photocrom print collection here. They all date from between 1890 and 1900, as do the nearly 1000 images in their England photocrom print collection, whose locations extend far beyond London. Go to England today and you'll notice how much has changed in the past 125 or so years, of course, but how much hasn't. Grumbling being something of a national sport over there, especially in London, the traveler hears no end of complaints about how the city and country have gone to the dogs, but can also take some comfort in the fact that, even back in the picturesque photocrom era, people were airing all the same gripes.
Matthew Might, a computer science professor at the University of Utah, writes: "Every fall, I explain to a fresh batch of Ph.D. students what a Ph.D. is. It's hard to describe it in words. So, I use pictures." In his Illustrated Guide to the PhD, Professor Might creates a visual narrative that puts the daunting degree into perspective. Anyone who has already pursued a Ph.D. will see the wisdom in it. (Or at least I did.) And young, aspiring academics would be wise to pay it heed.
You can see a condensed version of the the illustrated guide above. Or follow it in a larger format below.
Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge:
By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:
By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:
With a bachelor's degree, you gain a specialty:
A master's degree deepens that specialty:
Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:
It would have scandalized many an American filmgoer of the mid-twentieth century to learn that the movies they watched — even the most wholesome Hollywood fare of the era — made extensive use of a Soviet invention. What's more, that invention came out of the very revolution that put the Communists in power, after which the Soviet government "took a strong interest in film, because it recognized cinema for what it was — a powerful tool for social and political influence." So says Craig Benzine, host of Crash Course Film History, in the series' eighth self-contained episode, "Soviet Montage," which tells the story of that cinema-changing editing technique.
The government understood, in other words, the power of cinema as propaganda, and swiftly centralized the film industry. But after the Russian Revolution, which put an end to the importation of film stock, Russian filmmakers couldn't shoot a frame. So while the nation built up the industrial capacity to produce film stock domestically, these filmmakers — much like the video essayists on the internet today — studied existing films, breaking them down, reassembling them, and figuring out how they worked.
In this way, filmmaker Lev Kuleshov defined the "Kuleshov effect," explained by Benzine as the phenomenon whereby "viewers draw more meaning from two shots cut together than either shot on its own," and different combinations of shots produce vastly different intellectual and emotional effects in those viewers.
When they finally got some film stock, Soviet montage filmmakers, who had come to believe that "for film to reach its true potential, the cuts themselves should be visible, the audience should be aware of them, the illusion should be obviously constructed and not hidden," got to work making movies that demonstrated their ideas. They saw themselves as engineers, "joining shots the way a bricklayer builds a wall or a factory worker assembles a vehicle,"and Benzine examines sequences from two of the best-known fruits of these labors, Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin and Dziga Vertov's A Man with a Movie Camera (both of which you can watch free online by following those links).
Benzine also looks to more recent examples of Soviet montage theory in practice in everything from Dumbledore's death in the Harry Potter movies to the shower scene in Psycho (a film by an avowed fan of the Kuleshov effect) to the final standoff in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. For more on the mechanics of Soviet montage, have a look at the fifteen-minute explainer from Filmmaker IQ above — or pay close attention to most any movie or television show or music video made over the past eighty years. The ideological climate that gave rise to Soviet montage theory may have changed, but the artistic principles its filmmakers discovered will, for the foreseeable future, hold true, underscoring the reliable effectiveness and surprising power of the simple cut.
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Open Culture editor Dan Colman scours the web for the best educational media. He finds the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons & movies you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.