Brain Pickings

An Animated History of Human Communication: 1965 Educational Film about the Telephone

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Barely a decade into the age of the social web, it’s already difficult to remember — or imagine — how the world operated before it. As difficult, perhaps, as it was for kids in the 1960s to imagine a world before the telephone.

We Learn About The Telephone is a 1965 educational film that traces the history of human communication, from the messenger runners of the Ancient world to Native Americans’ smoke signals to the invention of the telegraph and telephone, and explores the science and technology of how the phone actually works, from the anatomy of speech production to the physics of sound waves. Animated by the legendary John Hubley, the film is as much a treat of vintage animation as it is a priceless piece of cultural memorabilia from the golden age of media innovation.

Bonus: At around 10:56, you get a detailed tutorial on how to dial a rotary phone — for your collection of obsolete life skills — followed by some phone etiquette lessons. (“You should let the phone ring 8 to 10 times.”)

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From Mark Twain to Ray Bradbury, Iconic Writers on Truth vs. Fiction

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Why art exists, or what a stage magician can teach us about the fine points of literary make-believe.

Famous writers have previously shared insights on symbolism, reading, and writing itself. Underlying many of these meditations is a broader curiosity about the intricate interplay of fact and fantasy. To untangle that knotty relationship, here are a handful of iconic authors’ thoughts on truth, art, and fiction — culled from their finest nonfiction.

Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King in On Writing

Good fiction is made of what is real, and reality is difficult to come by.” ~ Ralph Ellison in Advice to Writers

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” ~ Mark Twain in Following the Equator

Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way. There are other things of greater value in any novel or story… humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels, etc., etc. Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing… and as unobtrusive.” ~ Ray Bradbury

The problem with fiction, it has to be plausible. That’s not true with non-fiction.” ~ Tom Wolfe in Advice to Writers

Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” ~ Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie

The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt in The Autobiography Of Eleanor Roosevelt

You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.” ~ John Waters in Role Models

Fiction that adds up, that suggests a ‘logical consistency,’ or an explanation of some kind, is surely second-rate fiction; for the truth of life is its mystery.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates in The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982

The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly.” ~ Wallace Stevens in Opus Posthumous: Poems, Plays, Prose

Art, though, is never the voice of a country; it is an even more precious thing, the voice of the individual, doing its best to speak, not comfort of any sort, but truth. And the art that speaks it most unmistakably, most directly, most variously, most fully, is fiction; in particular, the novel.” ~ Eudora Welty in On Writing

We have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth.” ~ Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You

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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: A Story of Passion and Possibility

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What bamboo poles and bicycle chains have to do with sparking the spirit of entrepreneurship.

When he was only 14 years old, William Kamkwamba dreamt up a windmill that would produce electricity for his village in Malawi. The trouble? As Malawi was experiencing the worst famine in 50 years, William had to drop out of school because his family could no longer afford the $80 annual tuition. This meant he not only had no money to purchase the parts, but also no formal education to teach him how to put them together. Determined, he headed to the local library and voraciously devoured its limited selection of textbooks, then gathered some scrap parts — a bicycle dynamo, bamboo poles, a tractor fan, rubber belts, a bike chain ring — and brought his vision to life, building a functioning windmill. He spent the next five years perfecting the design and went on to found the Moving Windmills Project in 2008 to foster rural economic development and education projects in Malawi.

In 2009, Kamkwamba shared his moving story of perseverance, curiosity, and ingenuity in the memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. Now, this modern-day entrepreneurial fairy tale is being adapted for young hearts and minds in the beautifully illustrated children’s book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition. Kamkwamba’s story shines with all the more optimism and tenacity in the hands of 27-year-old artist Elizabeth Zunon, whose rich, lyrical, almost three-dimensional oil-and-cut-paper illustrations, reminiscent of Sophie Blackall’s, vibrate with exceptional whimsy and buoyancy.

Coupled with the launch is a wonderful literacy effort — for every book parents, teacher, and children read online on We Give Books, the Wimbe community lending library, where Kamkwamba’s journey began, gets a new book, up to 10,000. Despite serving some 1,500 pupils, the library currently has no picture books.

Beautiful, moving, and immensely inspirational, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition tells the kind of story that helps budding entrepreneurs relate to the world through a lens of infinite possibility — the kind of message that might, just might, empower them to harness if not the wind the future itself.

Thanks, Tom

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