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When my correspondents reproach me for tardiness, I can only say that I give as much attention to a letter as I do to anything I write, and I work at least six and sometimes sixteen hours a day.” ~ William S. Burroughs

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Hezârfen: The Story of the First Human Flight, Animated

What kvetching chickens have to do with the history of aviation and Turkish folk heroes.

One fine day in 1632, legendary Ottoman inventor Ahmed Çelebi took the first sustained unpowered human flight, which earned him the name Hezârfen, meaning “thousand sciences” — an ancient term for “polymath.” His flight was brief, but epic:

The veracity of the incident has been disputed for centuries, but the writing of 17th century Turkish traveler and historian Evliyâ Çelebi describes it as follows:

First he practiced by flying over the pulpit of Okmeydani eight or nine times with eagle wings, using the force of the wind. Then, as Sultan Murad Khan (Murad IV) was watching from the Sinan Pasha mansion at Sarayburnu, he flew from the very top of the Galata Tower and landed in the Do?anc?lar square in Üsküdar, with the help of the south-west wind. Then Murad Khan granted him a sack of golden coins, and said: ‘This is a scary man. He is capable of doing anything he wishes. It is not right to keep such people,’ and thus sent him to Algeria on exile. He died there.

This lovely 3D animated short film, the collaborative effort of a team of animators, artists and sound designers, captures the story of Hezârfen with wonderful, poetic romanticism — the kind of rewriting of history we often see in folk hero tales which, inaccurate as it may be, is the fundamental storytelling fabric of human civilizations.

For more on Hezârfen’s story and the human hunger for the azure, Mastering the Sky: A History of Aviation from Ancient Times to the Present is worth a look.


Retrofuturism Revisited: The Past Imagines the Future

Flying cars! Spinning buildings! Voice AND color! …or what Disney has to do with Eve.

Last year, we looked at the 2020 Project, which invited some of today’s sharpest thinkers to imagine tomorrow. But how will their visions look to future generations? To get a taste for it, we looked to the past: Here are 6 charming visions for the future, from the past — a delightful exercise in retrofuturism that embodies humanity’s chronic blend of boundless imagination, solipsistic foolishness and hopeless optimism.


In 1936, Japanese magazine Shonen Club published World Transportation Invention Competition — an illustrated series envisioning the future of transportation, based on concepts by inventors from around the world. From high-speed monorail to tank-like battle boats to a car with spherical wheels, the images embody a fascinating blend of technological urgency and artistic imagination.

Mountain monorail — Kikuzo Ito, 1936
A powerful airplane propeller balances a precarious-looking two-wheel bodice, while a tail fin keeps the train upright and stable.
sphere-wheeled car — Reiji Iizuka, 1936
Based on a concept by a German inventor, the vehicle’s oversized rubbery tires promise a smoother ride than the conventional tires and act as a cushion in the event of an accident.

Last month, we featured Walt Disney’s Man In Space — an entire series of retrofuturist visions for space exploration, part of his Tomorrowland program. In the following mashup, digital artist David Phillips remixes footage from the program to capture Disney’s legendary optimism about the future.


In the 1930s, Pathetone Weekly asked leading fashion designers to imagine women’s clothing in the year 2000. From an electric belt that adapts the body to climatic changes to a wedding dress made of glass to an electric headlight “to help her find an honest man,” the Eve of tomorrow is as delightfully retrofuturistic as they come.

As for [the man], if he matters at all, there won’t be any shaving, colors, ties or pockets. He’ll be fitted with a telephone, a radio, and containers for coins, keys and candy for cuties.”

Just about describes your average Brooklyn hipster.

Thanks, Meredith


Dark Roasted Blend, one of our favorite portals for eclectic interestingness, has a wonderful roundup of “hallucinatory architecture of the future” — architectural retrofuturist urbanism that leans on the side of the far-fetched.

More here and here.


Vision as well as sound, oh my! When British telecommunication giant BT imagined the future of communication technology — from videoconferencing to high-definition document transmission — they made their most conceptually innovative proposition, the notion of telecommuting, with a kind of facetiousness most ironic in the context of today’s remote-everything workplace.

Given all these facilities, the businessman will scarcely need to go to his office at all. He can do all his work in the comfort of his own home.”


In 1980, a TV segment entitled Telefuture envisions a world of television-based information services. While at its core lies a fascinating and, in retrospect, remarkably accurate exploration of the exponential progression of technology — including transmedia experiences that even modernity can’t get quite right, like Internet TV — the excitement and language used to describe technologies we now find primitive is a disarming source of amusement. We held it together quite admirably, until the vintage-voiced man described basic 8-bit diversions as “incredibly complex games” — at that point, through tears of laughter, we wonder how his vocabulary of superlatives would hold up against the latest Halo 3 or Guitar Hero.

But don’t think of it just as a receiver of programs from networks or local stations — it’s becoming a central display terminal, able to show pictures from a growing number of electronic sources, including traditional broadcast stations, 40 or more channels of cable television, video cassette recorders with timers to record programs to watch at your convenience, video disc machines that don’t record but play back records of films, specials and so on, and games people play, incredibly complex games now programmed into your sets by small cassettes or cards or memory discs.”

For some quality present-day retrofuturism, we highly recommend What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science — a fantastic, and not necessarily fantastical, anthology of 18 essays by leading scientists across evolutionary biology, anthropology, neuroscience and psychology exploring the future of ethics and the human mind.


NatGeo’s Great Migrations: Nature’s Most Epic Journeys

For over three years, a tireless team of filmmakers, photographers and explorers traveled more than 420,000 miles in what became the most ambitious endeavor in National Geographic‘s 122-year history. Great Migrations is an epic, in the literal sense of the word, documentary miniseries that captures the remarkable journeys of animals as they travel unthinkable distances in great numbers but pursue their survival as a singular brain. Filmed by some of the world’s most acclaimed wildlife cinematographers, the series not only reveals the incredible synchronicity of nature but also bespeaks the tender fragility of a planet that hangs in precarious balance.

A magnificent companion book follows the sequence of the film in vivid color. The narrative is divided into three sections: “The Need for Speed” portrays migrations as a survival race against time; “The Need to Feed” unearths the ruthless cross-species confrontations that lurk beneath our idylic perception of peaceful green pastures; “Need to Lead” illuminates the fascinating hierarchical, military-like division of roles and resonsibilities in migrations; “The Need to Breed” explores the deadly risks animals face as they fight to ensure the propagation of the species’ genes.


The 7-hour HD epic is now out on DVD and Blu-Ray and is narrated by none other than Alec Baldwin.


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