Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

09 DECEMBER, 2011

From Beer to Life on Mars: The Seven Wonders of Microbes

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What genetic engineering has to do with the English Reformation, leftovers, and the invention of Penicillin.

Microbes are the oldest form of life on Earth and they outnumber all other species. From the fine folks at Open University — who previously brought us this brilliant series of six famous philosophy thought experiments, animated — comes Seven Wonders of the Microbe World, a fascinating short documentary about what microbes have done for humanity (which, by the way, they still refer to as “mankind” — and we’ve just observed the problem with that). From microbes’ role in producing some of our favorite foods, including bread, cheese, yogurt, and beer, to nitrogen fixation as the cornerstone of modern organic farming to how the Black Death enabled a new class of entrepreneurs, the seven “wonders” covered include the history of beer, The Black Death, food preservation, nitrogen fixation, antibiotics, genetic engineering, and life on Mars.

One of the interesting social implications of The Black Death is that church leaders were not able to provide any explanation of how this disease was caused and, as a result, the authority of church leaders began to be eroded and people began to question whether they should listen to religious leaders at all. Some people have even said that the English Reformation was caused by the Black Death.”

For more on the fascinating world of microbes, you won’t go wrong with March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen. And for something a little fuzzier, there’s always Giant Microbes’ series of stuffed microbes — who can resist a huggable E. coli?

via Open Culture

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07 DECEMBER, 2011

What is Generative Art? A 7-Minute PBS Micro-Documentary

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The rhetoric of data, or how to reconcile human and algorithm in the age of collective intelligence.

After their fantastic 7-minute documentary on typography, the fine folks at PBS Off Book are back with another micro-documentary, this time spotlighting generative art and featuring creators like generative composer Luke Dubois, game designer Will Wright, and software artist Scott Draves, who discuss everything from new narratives in visual storytelling to negotiating the relationship between humans and algorithms to the rhetoric of data.

This century is the century of data, that’s the defining thing. Last century was the century of electricity.” ~ Luke Dubois

For more on this ever-fascinating and increasingly relevant subject, don’t miss this omnibus of 7 essential books on data visualization and generative art.

In 2011, bringing you Brain Pickings took more than 5,000 hours. If you found any joy and stimulation here this year, please consider a modest donation.





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06 DECEMBER, 2011

How Bananas Became a Global Commodity

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What the silent film era has to do with the architecture of atmospheric control.

Over on Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley has a fantastic longform piece tracing the painstaking production that is the life cycle of bananas as they make their way from tropical Ecuador to your fruit bowl. This reminded me of a fascinating vintage documentary from the end of the silent film era I’d come across some time ago. The 11-minute black-and-white film, currently in the public domain courtesy of the Prelinger Archives, was produced in 1935 and zooms in on the banana industry, from virgin jungle being converted into banana plantations to the fifteen-month growth cycle between root planting and banana bunch to the shipment of the fruit into the American markets, and even ends with a stop-motion visual jingle about the health virtues of bananas.

Bananas are more than a delicious fruit — they are one of America’s most important foods…”

Now, contrast that — the manual farming and inspection, the pick-up locomotives, the “specially constructed ships of the Great White Fleet” — with today’s sophisticated banana-ripening facilities and their “evolving architecture of atmospheric control.”.

In other words, in order to be a global commodity rather than a tropical treat, the banana has to be harvested and transported while completely unripe. Bananas are cut while green, hard, and immature, washed in cool water (both to begin removing field heat and to stop them from leaking their natural latex), and then held at 56 degrees — originally in a refrigerated steamship; today, in a refrigerated container — until they reach their country of consumption weeks later.”

And in observing how far we’ve come technologically, it’s bittersweet — like a green banana, perhaps — to observe how much further we’ve gone from the groves.

HT Andrew Sullivan

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