kottke.org posts about time
Phil Edwards talks to James Gleick about his new book, Time Travel: A History, and of course the subject of killing Baby Hitler comes up. Turns out, the idea of using time travel to kill Adolf Hitler was first used by writer Ralph Milne Farley in 1941, before the US ever entered World War II or before the world learned the horrifying scope of the Holocaust.
I’m currently reading Gleick’s book and the most surprising thing so far is how recently time travel was invented…it’s only about 120 years old. The idea of progress was not really evident to people before the pace of technology and the importance of history became apparent in the 19th century. Progress made time travel relevant…without it, people couldn’t imagine going back in time to see how far they’d come or forward in time to see how much they’d progress.
[Spoilers!] This season, Game of Thrones is experimenting with time travel. A few years ago, Harrison Densmore created a chart showing the three kinds of time travel that happens in movies: fixed timeline (as in 12 Monkeys), dynamic timeline (as in Back to the Future), and multiverse (as in Terminator 2). So which kind of time travel is happening in Game of Thrones?
P.S. In addition to the extensive spoilers about what’s already happened on the show, the latter moments of the video also offers some fan theories about what might happen on the show in the future. If that sort of thing bothers you, maybe stop watching around the 4:05 mark.
Camilo Jose Vergara’s Tracking Time project is a collection of photos of locations around the US (LA, Harlem, Detroit, South Bronx) photographed repeatedly over the years, from the 70s to the present day. For instance, here’s how 65 East 125th St in Harlem looked in 1978:
And in 2015:
As Stewart Brand noted, Vergara’s project is a perfect illustration of How Buildings Learn.
Update: I can’t stop looking at these. Check out Fern St. in Camden, New at Newark Sts. in Newark, Paired Houses in Camden, and 6003 Compton Ave. in LA.
James Gleick, author of The Information, Chaos, and Genius, is coming out with a new book this fall called Time Travel. William Gibson has given it his thumbs up. Really excited for this one (it comes out on my birthday!) and curious to see how liberally he treats his subject…for instance, cameras are time machines.
In 1982, photographer Barbara Davatz took photographs of 12 pairs of people. In 1988, she photographed them again. Same thing in 1997. And in 2014. A new book, As Time Goes By, collects all those photos in one place.
Their ranks have swelled over the years, with the addition of 14 children and even some grandchildren in the meantime, so the project now covers three generations. Other themes have long since been added to the original one of self-presentation. Without revealing any specific personal information, the series narrate a wide array of changes — physical, biographical and sartorial — over time. They tell of separations, of aging and loss, of the growth of families and the inheritance of family traits. But also of current urban society in each period.
See also many other “Passage of Time” photo projects and the Up Series. (via swiss miss)
This short student film follows a stone through many millions of years, from a large mountain to a grindstone to a cannonball and beyond. See also Al Jarnow’s Cosmic Clock. (via @mikesheffernj)
In 1995, Danny Hillis came up with the idea of building a clock that would last 10,000 years.
I cannot imagine the future, but I care about it. I know I am a part of a story that starts long before I can remember and continues long beyond when anyone will remember me. I sense that I am alive at a time of important change, and I feel a responsibility to make sure that the change comes out well. I plant my acorns knowing that I will never live to harvest the oaks.
I want to build a clock that ticks once a year. The century hand advances once every 100 years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium. I want the cuckoo to come out every millennium for the next 10,000 years.
The Clock of the Long Now is a short video portrait of Hillis and his collaborators as they build this clock in a mountain in western Texas. I like what Hillis had to say about our future:
I’m very optimistic about the future. I’m not optimistic because I think our problems are small. I’m optimistic because I think our capacity to deal with problems is great.
I am not a watch person. Haven’t worn one since high school, no interest in getting an Apple Watch, etc. But this post on We Made This about watches that appeal to graphic designers lists a few watches I would consider wearing. The Braun is a classic, of course:
But this one from Instrmnt is also quite nice, although I would prefer slightly larger numbers:
And for kottke.org superfans only, I would recommend the Timex Weekender.
PS to the superfans: if you don’t like watches, may I interest you in a Vancouver bridge?
Tyler Cowen was recently asked how he’d best use a time machine for financial gain. Here was the specific query:
Suppose you had a time machine you that you solely wanted to use for financial gain. You can bring one item from the present back to any point in the past to exchange for another item that people of that time would consider of equal value, then bring that new item back to the present. To what time period would you go, and what items would you choose to maximize your time-travel arbitrage?
Cowen notes some difficulty with an obvious approach:
The obvious answer encounters some difficulties upon reflection. Let’s say I brought gold back in time and walked into the studio of Velazquez, or some other famous painter, and tried to buy a picture for later resale in the present. At least some painters would recognize and accept the gold, and gold is highly valuable and easy enough to carry around. Some painters might want the gold weighed and assayed, but even there the deal would go fine.
The problem is establishing clear title to the painting, once you got back home. It wouldn’t turn up on any register as stolen, but still you would spend a lot of time talking to the FBI and Interpol. The IRS would want to know whether this was a long-term or short-term capital gain, and you couldn’t just cite Einstein back to them. They also would think you must have had a lot of unreported back income.
So establishing present ownership of a past item is an issue…as is authentication via carbon dating. I don’t have a specific scheme in mind, but I would think any general approach would also need to minimize the butterfly effect of your trade so that, for example, your existence in the present is not disrupted. So you can’t trade Leonardo an iPhone 6 for the Mona Lisa. But maybe you could trade $1 for a winning ticket for last week’s $300 million lottery jackpot…or would the numbers change somehow because of your visit? What if you bought 100,000 shares of Apple stock in 2003? How would that action effect the present? What is a large enough action to make you rich but with a small enough effect to keep the present otherwise unchanged? Since I didn’t see any super-compelling solutions in the comments at MR, I’m gonna open the comments here…I know someone has been thinking about this extensively or has a link to a good discussion elsewhere. Please stay on topic, mmm’kay?
It’s 2015. Stuff that happened in the 80s and 90s is getting to be positively ancient. Allow Tim Urban to make you feel old. I want to quote the whole thing, but I’ll make do with just a few snippets:
These movies came out closer to World War II than to today: The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Airplane, Caddyshack.
There are millions of people alive today who will live well into the 22nd century.
How about 1980? It’s closer to FDR, Churchill and Hitler fighting each other than it is to 2015.
As you know, I love this sort of thing. Part of it is nostalgia and the whole “fuck I’m old” lament. I like it for the shift in perspective; it’s cheap time travel.
Update: And whoa, somehow I missed Urban’s post on Putting Time in Perspective. Wow.
Beginning in 1991, Zed Nelson took a photo of the same family (father, mother, and son) in front of the same backdrop every year for 21 years. Here’s the first photo:
And the most recent one:
There are many more such projects, including the Goldberg family’s annual portraits, Nicholas Nixon’s annual portraits of The Brown Sisters, and Noah Kalina’s Everyday.
Ran across one of my favorite little pieces of writing the other day: Sixty Men from Ur by Mark Sumner. It’s about how short recorded human history really is. The piece starts out by asking you to imagine if you view the history of life as the Empire State Building, all of human history is a dime on top.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., one the United States’ great historians, is less than two lifetimes removed from a world where the United States did not exist. Through Mr. Schlesinger, you’re no more than three away yourself. That’s how short the history of our nation really is.
Not impressed? It’s only two more life spans to William Shakespeare. Two more beyond that, and the only Europeans to see America are those who sailed from Greenland. You’re ten lifetimes from the occupation of Damietta during the fifth crusade. Twenty from the founding of Great Zimbabwe and the Visigoth sack of Rome. Make it forty, and Theseus, king of Athens, is held captive on Crete by King Minos, the Olmecs are building the first cities in Mexico, and the New Kingdom collapses in Egypt.
Sixty life times ago, a man named Abram left Ur of the Chaldees and took his family into Canaan. Abram is claimed as the founder of three great religions. A few lifetimes before that, and you’ve come out the bottom of that dime. You’re that close to it.
See also human wormholes and the Great Span, unlikely simultaneous historical events, and timeline twins.
Update: From Wired last year, Sam Arbesman writes about Kevin Kelly’s concept of touch generations.
I was recently listening to a lecture by Kevin Kelly where he introduces the concept of touch generations, the idea of a list of people based on when one person died and when the next was born: one person is in the next touch generation of someone else if they were born when the other person died. So Galileo and Newton, while unrelated, are in successive touch generations because Newton was born the year that Galileo died. Essentially, it’s a way of connecting lifetimes across the years.
Stefano Maggiolo made a map of how much the time zones of the world vary from solar time. The darker the color, the more the deviation.
Looking for other regions of the world having the same peculiarity of Spain, I edited a world map from Wikipedia to show the difference between solar and standard time. It turns out, there are many places where the sun rises and sets late in the day, like in Spain, but not a lot where it is very early (highlighted in red and green in the map, respectively). Most of Russia is heavily red, but mostly in zones with very scarce population; the exception is St. Petersburg, with a discrepancy of two hours, but the effect on time is mitigated by the high latitude. The most extreme example of Spain-like time is western China: the difference reaches three hours against solar time. For example, today the sun rises there at 10:15 and sets at 19:45, and solar noon is at 15:01.
Something to note: China is about as big across as the continental United States and has only one huge time zone. (via slate)
Nice short video tour of the U.S. Naval Observatory with Dr. Demetrios Matsakis, Chief Scientist for USNO’s Time Services.
I refer to my clocks as my babies…and that I must take care of them.
A poster on Reddit asks: What are two events that took place in the same time in history but don’t seem like they would have? A few of my favorite answers (from this thread and a previous one):
When pilgrims were landing on Plymouth Rock, you could already visit what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico to stay at a hotel, eat at a restaurant and buy Native American silver.
Prisoners began to arrive to Auschwitz a few days after McDonald’s was founded.
The first wagon train of the Oregon Trail heads out the same year the fax machine is invented.
Nintendo was founded in 1888. Jack the Ripper was on the loose in 1888.
1912 saw the maiden voyage of the Titanic as well as the birth of vitamins, x-ray crystallography, and MDMA.
1971: The year in which America drove a lunar buggy on the moon and Switzerland gave women the vote.
NASA’s Gemini program was winding down at the same time as plate tectonics, as we know it today, was becoming refined and accepted by the scientific community.
Spain was still a fascist dictatorship when Microsoft was founded.
There were no classes in calculus in Harvard’s curriculum for the first few years because calculus hadn’t been discovered yet.
Two empires [Roman & Ottoman] spanned the entire gap from Jesus to Babe Ruth.
When the pyramids were being built, there were still woolly mammoths.
The last use of the guillotine was in France the same year Star Wars came out.
Oxford University was over 300 years old when the Aztec Empire was founded.
Related: true facts that sound made up, timeline twins, and the Great Span.
A pair of scientists recently searched the internet for evidence of time travel.
Here, three implementations of Internet searches for time travelers are described, all seeking a prescient mention of information not previously available. The first search covered prescient content placed on the Internet, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific terms in tweets on Twitter. The second search examined prescient inquiries submitted to a search engine, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific search terms submitted to a popular astronomy web site. The third search involved a request for a direct Internet communication, either by email or tweet, pre-dating to the time of the inquiry. Given practical verifiability concerns, only time travelers from the future were investigated.
Spoiler: they didn’t find any. (via @CharlesCMann)
Your body clock alarm is just as accurate as the one on your phone: your body naturally takes note of what time you want to wake up and wakes you up.
There’s evidence you can will yourself to wake on time, too. Sleep scientists at Germany’s University of Lubeck asked 15 volunteers to sleep in their lab for three nights. One night, the group was told they’d be woken at 6 a.m., while on other nights the group was told they’d be woken at 9 a.m..
But the researchers lied-they woke the volunteers at 6 a.m anyway. And the results were startling. The days when sleepers were told they’d wake up early, their stress hormones increased at 4:30 a.m., as if they were anticipating an early morning. When the sleepers were told they’d wake up at 9 a.m., their stress hormones didn’t increase — and they woke up groggier. “Our bodies, in other words, note the time we hope to begin our day and gradually prepare us for consciousness,” writes Jeff Howe at Psychology Today.
For the New Yorker, B.J. Novak writes about the guy who invented the calendar.
February 1st-Another small fuckup: I put an extra “r” in all the copies of the calendar I handed out, even though I already told everyone the next month coming was called Febuary. But Alice came up with the best solution! She said, “Just tell everyone it’s spelled ‘February’ but pronounced ‘Feb-u-ary.’ That way, they’ll feel stupid!” Alice is the best.
February 14th-Alice stuff weird. Tonight we were having a nice dinner at the same place we always go, but she was unusually quiet. Finally, I asked if anything was wrong, and she said, “Do you know what day it is today?” I said, “Yes, of course I do, I invented the calendar. It’s February 14th. Why?” She smiled a really tight smile, said, “Yes. Yes, it is,” and then walked out. What’s that about?
February 15th-So cold.
February 28th-I hate this month. I can’t take one more day of it. This month will just have to be shorter than the rest, and if people don’t like it they can go fuck themselves.
This video dicusses three simple ways to travel through time (all of which you can do right now at home) and three not-so-simple time travel methods.
For more on time-travel, here are some works by physicist and time-lord Sean Carroll:
Rules for time-travellers - http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cos…
Learn more about time and time-machines in his book From Eternity to Here - http://preposterousuniverse.com/etern…
Visualizations of the spinning universe - http://iopscience.iop.org/1367-2630/1…
An engaging talk on the Paradoxes of Time Travel - https://vimeo.com/11917849
Steven Hawking came up with a simple and clever way of seeing if time travel is possible. On June 28, 2009, he threw a party for time travellers from the future…but didn’t advertise it until after the party was already over.
In an effort to improve the chances of the party invite being noticed by future generations, Peter Dean, working with approval from Hawking, has made this gorgeous hand-printed poster of the party invitation:
There’s also a smaller less-expensive version of the poster in grey and a fetching yellow/orange.
The universal availability of accurate synchronized time is taken for granted in most areas of the world today, but ‘twas not always so. When Big Ben was built in 1859, charts were issued to show the allowance that had to be made for the sound of the bell, traveling at ~768 mph, to reach different parts of London. This one is from 1875:
Bigger version here. The correction at Paddington Station was 6 seconds, 8 seconds in Notting Hill, and 13 seconds at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, itself the seat of a fledgling universal time standard. (via @michalmigurski)
Irish poet Seamus Heaney has died at 74. The Guardian has a brief account of his life; The Telegraph grapples more directly with the work There’s also his long, insightful interview with The Paris Review, from 1997.
“Heaney’s volumes make up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in Britain,” the BBC wrote in 2007, calling him “arguably, the English language’s greatest living bard.”
One of his best-known poems, “Digging,” compares his trade to that of his father and grandfather, who were farmers and cattle-raisers. These are its last two stanzas:
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
One of Heaney’s great later achievements was his translation of Beowulf, which I bought and read along with his Selected Poems when I was in college.
Heaney’s take on the Anglo-Saxon most reminds me of the first of Ezra Pound’s Cantos, a weird mix of old epic and contemporary free-verse imagery and meters, a translation of a translation of Homer that begins “And then” and ends “So that:”
When Swinburne died, W.B. Yeats is said to have told his sister, “Now I am King of the Cats.” When Robert Frost died, John Berryman asked, “who’s number one?”
I note this not to pose the question “who’s number one?” now that Heaney has died, but to observe that just as champion boxers and sprinters often have outsized competitive personalities that seem like caricatures compared to other athletes, even among writers, and even when they resist, as Heaney did, being drawn into literary feuds or political debate, great poets are often magnificent and terrible and troubling and glorious and weird.
Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The full title is important because the right words are important.
It’s important because the Great March itself was a compromise, an evolution of the movement A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had forged decades before. During the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, Randolph and other civil rights leaders worked to force the government to desegregate the army and provide more economic opportunities to black Americans. The March was a dream, but it was also a threat. Before 1963, each time the March was about to happen, the government made concessions and it would be called off.
Randolph was 74 when the March finally materialized, with him as its titular head. He was the only figure with the credibility to unify northern labor leaders and southern pastors: radical enough for the relative radicals — the radical radicals saw the March as a distracting sideshow or were directly asked not to participate — and institutional enough for the wary moderates.
Bayard Rustin was Randolph’s lieutenant and did the bulk of the work organizing the March. Rustin was gay, and had been a Communist. He couldn’t be the event’s public face.
Everything that happened at the March, from the arrival of more than 100,000 people straight through all the speeches, all the songs, all the signs painted, all of the 80,000 cheese sandwiches made, distributed, and eaten — each and every one of those moments — happened in one day. Television stations were able to carry the event live. It was a tremendous feat of planning and organization. No one but Bayard Rustin and his dedicated staff could have pulled it off.
John Lewis was 23 years old and the March’s youngest speaker. He is the only one of that day’s speakers who is still alive. Lewis had recently been made head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC (pronounced “snick”). SNCC was a relatively new, independent civil rights organization that had proven itself integrating lunch counters in Nashville, then on the Freedom Rides with CORE protesting segregated busing and bus stations throughout the south, and working with the NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Albany, Georgia.
If you’re serious about the civil rights movement, you have to learn a lot of organizations’ names and abbreviated titles. You have to learn that the leaders of these organizations rarely agreed with each other about goals, methods, or priorities. You have to know that even within each organization there were equal amounts of discipline and dissent.
They were organized not because they agreed, but because they had to be. They were disciplined because they had to be. They were allied because they had to be. It was all fragile. At any moment, it could all fall apart.
John Lewis had been part of both series of Freedom Rides and was badly beaten during the second, in Montgomery. The state highway patrol that had promised the riders protection — at the insistence of the Kennedy administration and with the reluctant assurance of Alabama’s governor, George Wallace — abandoned them to a white mob waiting at the city’s station house.
Lewis was 21 years old. His friend Jim Zwerg was also 21. Zwerg bravely walked out the door of the bus first to meet the waiting mob, where he was nearly beaten to death. He received a particularly savage beating partly because he was first and partly because he was white.
While being beaten, Zwerg recalls seeing a black man in coveralls, probably just off of work, who happened to be walking by. “‘Stop beating that kid,” the man said. “If you want to beat someone, beat me.”
“And they did,” Zwerg remembered. “He was still unconscious when I left the hospital. I don’t know if he lived or died.”
Jim Zwerg is still alive. It’s amazing any of these people are still alive.
Lewis was originally going to give a much more provocative speech at the March. The plan was to call out the supposedly liberal Kennedy administration for its lukewarm support of civil rights. (A less polite word than “lukewarm” would be “half-assed.”) On behalf of SNCC, Lewis would argue that the civil rights legislation proposed by the Kennedy administration was (in Lewis’s words) “too little and too late.”
But each of the March’s major figures, including Rustin and Dr. King, urged Lewis to moderate his speech. They had a testy but evolving relationship with the Kennedys that they didn’t want to jeopardize or aggravate. It was only A. Philip Randolph who finally swayed Lewis. Rustin went into the crowd to find Randolph, then brought the two men together.
Lewis was 51 years younger than Randolph. Lewis later said of Randolph that “if he had been born in another period, maybe of another color, he probably would have been President.” Randolph had been an actor as a young man, and his voice has that deep, archaic, clear-toned, echoing-from-infinity quality that you imagine is the voice of history itself; the voice you imagine reading the Gettysburg Address and Declaration of Independence.
Lewis and the other young leaders of SNCC were quite rightly in awe of him.
He was 75, and here we were, you know, one-third his age and, you know, he was asking us to do this for him. He said, “I waited all my life for this opportunity, please don’t ruin it.” And we felt that for him, we had to make some concession. [Courtland Cox]
The day’s speeches were already underway. This all happened in one day. Lewis was sixth on the program. So Cox and Lewis and James Forman went to the Lincoln Memorial — no bullshit, they went and sat together at the foot of the Lincoln fucking Memorial — and rewrote Lewis’s speech. It’s still pretty fierce.
To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we must say that “patience” is a dirty and nasty word. We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually. We want our freedom, and we want it now. We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence…
The revolution is a serious one. Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the streets and put it into the courts. Listen, Mr. Kennedy. Listen, Mr. Congressman. Listen, fellow citizens. The black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won’t be a “cooling-off” period…
We must say, “Wake up, America. Wake up! For we cannot stop, and we will not be patient.”
I was amazed recently to discover that Reverend Doctor Joseph E. Lowery, one of the co-founders of SCLC, is still alive at 91. He has three videos of interviews up at “His Dream, Our Stories,” a site devoted to the March. Lowery was a pastor in Mobile and helped lead the bus boycott in Montgomery — which, people forget, went on for over a year after Rosa Parks’ arrest. Later, Lowery, along with John Lewis, Hosea Williams, Martin Luther King Jr., and others, led the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. Ten years after Emmett Till’s murder and the Montgomery bus boycott, two years after the March on Washington, and a year after the Civil Rights Act, the Selma marchers were attacked by Alabama state and local police for asserting their right to vote.
In 2008, Lowery gave the benediction for Barack Obama’s first Inauguration. He is still alive. He is 91 years old.
The March all happened in one day; the Movement happened over years and years and years.
Rosa Parks was 42 when the Montgomery bus boycott began. She was 50 at the time of the March, where she was honored along with other important women of the Civil Rights Movement — Little Rock’s Daisy Bates, SNCC’s Diane Nash Bevel, Gloria Richardson of Cambridge, Maryland, and Mrs. Herbert Lee. The women’s many accomplishments and contributions were noted in a speech by Myrlie Evers-Williams, then listed as Mrs. Medgar Evers.
Parks was older than Lowery, who was 34 when the boycott began. Martin Luther King Jr. was 26, not much older than Lewis was when he was called to lead SNCC and speak in Washington. At the March, King was 34. Within five years, he would be dead. A. Philip Randolph would live to be 90 years old, just a little younger than Lowery is now. He outlived King by more than ten years.
We’ve lost so much. We’ve forgotten so much. We’ve asked so few to stand in for so many. We’re doing it still.
Copyright lawyer Josh Schiller recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, “Why you won’t see or hear the ‘I have a dream’ speech,” examining how the King estate’s vigorous defense of his speech’s copyright has prevented its popular reproduction.
One place you can both see and hear King’s speech is on PBS’s Eyes on the Prize website. Eyes on the Prize is a landmark documentary on the entire modern civil rights movement, from Emmett Till’s murder through the 1980s, when it first appeared. Its producers know more than a thing or two about the thorniest issues of copyright: the documentary’s rebroadcast and distribution were held up for years while rights were cleared for its music, photographs, and videos. (Eventually, some of the original media was replaced.) I’m pretty sure they’ve done their work and paid the right licensing fees to get King’s speech on the website.
Watch Dr King’s speech. It’s not the entire thing, and it’s a crummy little QuickTime video. But it includes footage of the marchers arriving, A. Philip Randolph’s introduction, and footage of President Kennedy meeting with the March’s leaders, plus Walter Cronkite’s contemporary commentary.
Remember this is history, which means we are still within it, even when those for whom it has been living memory leave us. Remember that it is the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Remember how fragile it all was. Remember A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, Joseph E. Lowery and Jim Zwerg. Remember the man in coveralls, remembered by no one but the stranger whose life he saved.
Remember Martin Luther King, Jr., that thickly-built, still-young man, rooting his feet in our history and turning himself into a column of pure energy, like a beacon through time and space, a light so bright we can’t look at him directly, but have to turn away and look only at his half-remembered shape, still impressed on us when we close our eyes. Remember that day, when he all-too-briefly became a single still point with the granted power to bend straight the crooked lines of history.
Remember that fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, A. Philip Randolph was organizing the Shakespearean Society in Harlem. Fifty years after that, he was meeting a President who now owed him more than he probably ever knew. Fifty years is a long time and yet not so very long. If so much can be done in just one day, how much more could we do, now that we know we have another fifty years?
Image colorized by Mads Madsen for NPR.
There’s a history here.
It’s not only uncanny when performers we first knew as girls age into women; it’s awkward when boys become men, too. Molly Shannon used to have the same agent as Gary Coleman (story starts around 2:40).
(Shannon tells a longer/uncensored version of this story on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.)
Clearly, not everyone gets to have Ron Howard’s or Judy Garland’s career. (And even Judy Garland’s life was the opposite of a success story.)
But what about the alternative? What if child stars never changed their acts, and just aged in place? Wouldn’t that be equally unsettling? On Comedy Bang Bang, Scott Aukerman, Reggie Watts, Seth Rogen, and the great Bob Odenkirk try to answer that question through the life of champion birdcaller Tommy Chalders.
Actually, maybe that would be beautiful. I wish Judy Garland had lived to sing “Over the Rainbow” at an auto show.
But time never stands still for us to paint its portrait. As Marshall McLuhan would, and, what the hell, very well might have said: “we look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We twerk backwards into the future.”
Looks like Syfy has ordered a “cast-contingent” hour-long pilot for an adaptation of Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, with an eye to make it into a proper TV series. One of the producers of Gilliam’s 1995 film is on board, and Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett, who both worked on Terra Nova and Nikita, wrote it. The model here is Battlestar Galactica: a movie reboot that could be a mini-series that could be multiple seasons.
Syfy’s Mark Stern talked about it with The Hollywood Reporter, back when the pilot was 90 minutes long and still waiting to be approved for production while the network and producers figured out what the whole series would be about:
It’s a return to our roots in terms of science fiction: cool, interesting push-the-genre science fiction. Some we’re looking at doing straight to series, because you really want to give them the flexibility and do a closed-ended, arced run. Some of them are going to be traditional pilots, and then we’ll decide and they may be a bit more episodic.
Given the time-travel theme, the fact that the source material (both Twelve Monkeys and La Jetée) are well-known, and the way TV’s changed over the last ten years with jigsaw-puzzle series like LOST and the revived Arrested Development, I’m curious to see if the showrunners might mess around with the timelines a bit, jumping around, giving the audience previews of things the story doesn’t explain right away, and generally making Doctor Who look like it’s for precocious kids (which, really, it kinda is).
Via Adi Robertson at The Verge.
A couple of weeks ago, a slowed-down version of Dolly Parton’s classic ballad “Jolene” went viral. A lot of people who heard it loved it, a few people didn’t, but everyone seemed to agree that it was like listening to either an entirely new song or the same song again for the first time.
One of the things that’s eerie about this is that if you listen closely, everything is just a little bit out of tune. There’s conflicting information about exactly how much the track has been slowed. Some people have said that it’s simulating a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/3, which is certainly the most common way people who lived with record players heard popular songs at slower speeds. But that would actually be quite a bit slower and lower than this.
The other figure I’ve seen (forgive me for not citing everything, I’m typing as fast as I can) is “Jolene” has been slowed by 17 percent, which sounds about right and would explain why all the notes seem just a little bit sharp. Here’s the formula for slowing or speeding up a recording to shift the pitch but generally stay in tune:
(2 ^ (semitones change/12) - 1) *100 = Percent Change
So — as one does when procrastinating from remunerative work — I made an Excel spreadsheet.
If you want to drop two semitones, you shift the speed down by 12.2462 percent; drop three, you shift by 18.9207 percent, which significantly changes the track. To imitate a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/3, that’s about 25.926, but very few records still sound like something a person actually made at this speed. All of these slowdowns are interesting, even the ones that don’t work.
You can do all of them in the free/open-source audio processing app Audacity; it’s very fast and very easy. (If you want to get freaky, you can also use Audacity to change pitch without changing tempo, or vice versa, or to start out slow and go fast, and all manner of lesser and greater perversity.)
But after messing with Audacity for longer than was strictly necessary, I can tell you that some songs and transformations work out better than others, and they tend to be those that share a lot of the same characteristics as Jolene:
- A mix of quick and slow instrumentation, so there’s a lot of information density. It almost has to be fractal; the more you slow it down, the more minute structures you find. The original song itself can actually be slow or fast; many fast songs really don’t work, and quite a few slow ones do.
- High-pitched, typically (but not always) female vocals, so the song sounds like a person singing and not a voice-distorted growling dude from To Catch A Predator.
- The song needs to be fairly popular, so you can listen to the slow version and keep the regular-speed version in mind. This kind of continual allusion just makes it a richer experience.
And so, here are some of the results:
I described this Prince track as sounding like the slowest, sultriest, funkiest Sylvester song you’ve ever heard.
Mazzy Star surprised me. I always thought Hope Sandoval’s vocals were gorgeous but a little warbly, which gave them character, but that’s almost entirely a production effect. When you slow it down, you can really hear how clean and sustained her notes are.
My Bloody Valentine is the best example of that fractal quality. You can slow it down almost indefinitely and it still sounds like My Bloody Valentine. At this rate, though, it really just turns Bilinda Butcher’s vocals into Kevin Shields’.
There’s more at my Soundcloud page, including The Breeders’ “Cannonball,” “House of Jealous Lovers,” Hot Chip’s “Over and Over,” Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” (which I actually sped up), and more. (Finally, if slowing a track down and posting it online somehow breaks copyright, let me know and I’ll take them down.)
Update: Andy Baio tips me to a second remix of “Jolene” that slows down the track, but corrects the pitch. Sounds great.
Update 2: Here’s Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” slowed from 127 BPM to 110 BPM, leaving the pitch as-is.
Here are a few clips from Christian Marclay’s The Clock that have been surreptitiously filmed and uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo.
The clips are crappy bootlegs that cut off part of the screen, but I still totally get sucked in after 30 seconds of each clip.
Of course the watches worn by the characters in Fantastic Mr. Fox are going to be classic 70s and 80s timepieces.
Normally when someone says they’ve thought up a theoretically possible perpetual motion scheme, you roll your eyes and pass the dutchie to the left hand side. But when that someone is a Nobel laureate in physics, is not generally off his rocker, and has published his idea in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal, people pay attention. Frank Wilczek believes he’s invented something called time crystals.
In February 2012, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek decided to go public with a strange and, he worried, somewhat embarrassing idea. Impossible as it seemed, Wilczek had developed an apparent proof of “time crystals” — physical structures that move in a repeating pattern, like minute hands rounding clocks, without expending energy or ever winding down. Unlike clocks or any other known objects, time crystals derive their movement not from stored energy but from a break in the symmetry of time, enabling a special form of perpetual motion.
“Most research in physics is continuations of things that have gone before,” said Wilczek, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This, he said, was “kind of outside the box.”
An effort to prove or disprove Wilczek’s theory is underway…let’s hope it holds up to scientific scrutiny better than Time Cube. (via digg)
In an interview last month with Esquire’s Eric Spitznagel, Michel Gondry talked about his newest movie, The We and the I, and about how time travel is depressing.
ES: In your real life. If you, Michel Gondry, found a time machine and could go anywhere, to any period in history, where would you take it?
MG: I would travel back a few years ago and fix some screw-up I did.
ES: A personal or professional screw-up?
MG: In my personal life.
ES: Can you be more specific?
MG: I would come back and say yes to a girl. That’s all. Actually, I find the whole idea of traveling back in time to be profoundly depressing.
ES: Really? Why so?
MG: Because I know the future. Living in the past, it would feel weird to know what’s going to happen next. You couldn’t escape it. That future’s already in your head. You know it doesn’t get better.
ES: You’d rather not know about the future?
MG: The future is about hope. If you travel from the present to the past, you don’t have that hope anymore. You know how everything turns out.
ES: There are no surprises.
MG: No surprises, exactly! To me, that just sounds so… depressing.