Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘video’

03 OCTOBER, 2011

People Who Became Nouns: The Music Video

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Boycott, Maverick, Guillotine, Shrapnel, Cardigan, Sandwich, Silhouette, Zeppelin, Leotard, Lamborghini.

Finding your name in the dictionary as a noun is a sure-fire litmus test for having made a impact on culture and history. Just look at OED-approved fine folks like Charles Boycott, Samuel Maverick, Joseph-Ignace Guillotine, Henry Shrapnel, and Lord Cardigan. But there are unsuspected downsides to being reduced to a noun — just ask suffragette and women’s rights pioneer Amelia Bloomer, now equated with a baggy pair of women’s underpants.

Now, thanks to NPR‘s Robert Krulwich and Adam Cole, there’s a delightful music video about them.

Semi-relatedly, this reminded me of a lovely illustrated children’s book called If You Were a Noun.

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30 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the Future in 1964, Gets It Oddly Right

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How to walk the line between futurism and absurdity, or why the satellite is more important than the A-bomb.

Earlier this week, we explored 5 vintage visions for the future of technology. In this fantastic clip from a 1964 BBC Horizon program — the same series that to this day explores such illuminating topics as the nature of reality, the age-old tension between science and religion, how music works, and what time really is — legendary science fiction writer, inventor, and futurist Arthur C. Clarke predicts the future.

A half-century before most of today’s technologies, he presages the digital convergence with uncanny accuracy and reminds us, with eloquence and lucidity foreign to most of today’s quasi-futurists, of the very essence and purpose of predicting the future in the first place.

The only thing that we can be sure of the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic.

One day, we may have brain surgeons in Edinburgh operating on patients in New Zealand. When that time comes, the whole world would’ve shrunk to a point and the traditional role of the city as a meeting place for men would’ve ceased to make any sense. In fact, men will no longer commute — they will communicate. They won’t have to travel for business anymore, they’ll only travel for pleasure.

For more of Clarke’s striking futurism, treat yourself to Profiles of the Future — his fantastic anthology of essays written between 1959 and 1961, exploring the ultimate possibilities of the future with equal parts visionary imagination and astonishing accuracy.

via Open Culture

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28 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Lessons for the Living from the Brink of Death

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How to take life one ephemeral dinner party at a time, or why hope is a gift of the hopeless.

Lessons for the Living is a poignant documentary by Lily Henderson exploring the unique subculture of hospice volunteers as they contemplate their own philosophies of life and death. This grounding excerpt from the film follows Kathleen, who is both a hospice volunteer and a hospice patient. She has been preparing for her own death for over a decade, but has managed to master that art of living from sheer presence — a powerful lesson, indeed, for the rest of us.

I’ve talked to people who say they feel sorry for me for not having any hope. I say, hope is a thief. I am living today as fully as I am able.”

Kathleen has since passed away.

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28 SEPTEMBER, 2011

The Toaster Project: A DIY Quest for the Origins of Stuff

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A nine-month journey to find what we lost between fifteenth-century smelting and China’s factories.

Futurist and Wired founder Kevin Kelly has famously observed that with the current structure of humanity’s practical knowledge, there isn’t a single person on Earth who can make, say, a computer truly from scratch — from the mining of the metals for its motherboard to printing its circuit boards to designing its interface to programming the complex software that runs on it. But RCA design graduate Thomas Thwaites has orchestrated a commanding counterexample, while at the same time illustrating Kelly’s point in a visceral way.

The Toaster Project chronicles his nine-month mission to build an electric toaster from scratch — no small feat, given the £3.94 toaster Thwaites dismantled was made of 404 separate parts and given also that plastic is almost impossible to make from scratch. But Thwaites persevered, from mining the iron, copper, mica, nickel and crude oil to learning how to smelt metal in a fifteenth-century treatise to creating a crude foundry in his mother’s backyard.

The quixotic quest and its end result — an oddly beautiful and artful object, with a net cost 250 times that of a store-bought toaster — offer poignant commentary on commodification and the disposability of consumer culture. Thwaites’ charismatic tone and self-deprecating wit pull off another near-impossible feat — that of making the same obnoxiously preachy message we’ve heard a thousand times elsewhere for once completely devoid of moralizing self-righteousness and instead full of the kind of honest spark that might actually make us take heed.

I poked through the furnace with a stick and pulled out a blobby black mass of something heavy […] Using a blowtorch, I heated it up until it turned bright red and hit it gently with a hammer. My iron shattered on impact along with my dream of making a toaster.”

Sample the project’s genius with Thwaites’ excellent talk from London’s 2010 TED Salon:

At once a charming manifesto for the maker movement and a poetic reflection on consumerism’s downfall, The Toaster Project is a story of reaquainting ourselves with the origins of our stuff, part Moby-Duck, part The Story of Stuff, part something else made entirely from sratch.

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