The future is fast approaching

Caught up in an information culture.


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Alice Guy-Blaché, the forgotten first female filmmaker

Alice Guy-Blaché, the first female filmmaker.

Alice Guy-Blaché, the first female filmmaker.

I think I’m on a film history kick here.  Filmmaker Magazine writes today about a Kickstarter-funded documentary on early filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché:

Alice Guy-Blaché wrote, produced or directed nearly 1,000 films over her 20-year career. She directed one of the first films to have an all-Black cast of actors. She was also a savvy businesswoman, opening her own film studio, Solax Films in the U.S., becoming the most financially and technologically successful film studio at the time on the East Coast. Alice also pioneered the first uses of synchronized sound and image manipulation/superimposition, among other things.

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Night Lights: The Black Marble (NASA, 2012)

Still from NASA's Black Marble animation.

Still from NASA’s Black Marble animation.

From the NASA Earth Observatory comes this animation of city lights at night, composited from 2.5 terrabytes of images taken by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite during 312 orbits of the Earth during April and October of 2012.  “Nothing tells us more about the spread of humans across the Earth than city lights,” says NOAA scientist Chris Elvidge.

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Around Saturn (2013)

NASA footage of Saturn's rings, used in Fabio di Donato's "Around Saturn" (2013).

NASA footage of Saturn’s rings, used in Fabio di Donato’s “Around Saturn” (2013).

Méliès-esque is precisely the word.  Fabio di Donato edited together thousands of photographs takenof Saturn by the Cassini probe, and turned them into a beautiful flickering silent movie of space, an early experimental documentary of light and pattern, a waltz between planet and spacecraft where the viewer races around the rings of Saturn and falls into the dark of space.  It’s a wonderfully compelling way to present NASA’s scientific images.

Warning: video may not be suitable for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Continue reading


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The days of moving pictures flying on radio waves

Television pioneer C. Francis Jenkins with a motion picture prototype in 1925.

Television pioneer C. Francis Jenkins with a motion picture prototype in 1925.

This interesting historical sidenote comes via Shorpy.  This is inventor Charles Francis Jenkins, who later became an early pioneer of television and founder of SMPTE, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, who, though they may not be a household name, created color bars for calibrating screen color that everyone will recognize. He’s demonstrating a 1925 prototype of motion picture broadcasting that creates moving pictures when hooked up to the radio, which he first described it in 1913, but didn’t build and demonstrate till the early 1920s.

From the description, I believe that the box on the right is projecting onto the white space inside the frame on the wall, with a reflector in the raised portion of the box redirecting light from a bulb beneath it.  There’s most likely a spinning disk in the semi-circle, driven by a motor that takes up the rest of the box.  My initial thought was that the disk contained the frames of the animation of the girl, but after reading more, I don’t believe that’s the case – the image is actually being transmitted and created on the fly.  This is mechanical television, which is a different beast from the television technology that soon dominated, Farnsworth’s electronic television, and I’m not certain how the images are being created from the transmitted signal.

Jenkins’ history with motion pictures stretches back to 1894, when he started work on a project that would later be acquired by Edison, and hundreds of patents later, turned towards military and commercial modifications for aircraft and ships.  But he’s also responsible for that spiral-formed cardboard box your Quaker Oats come in.


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So you’re making your weekend plans in New York, and you can’t decide between taking in some art or going to an open-source hackathon.  Dear reader, I sympathize; we all have these dilemmas.  Art and technology center Eyebeam have teamed up with internet technology giant Mozilla, and they have you covered.  From Eyebeam: “Open(Art) is a joint initiative launched by Eyebeam and Mozilla to support creativity at the intersection of art and the open web.”  Their exhibit runs from July 12 – August 10, 2013, with an opening reception on Friday, July 12 from 6-8pm and workshops on Saturday, July 13 from 12-3pm.  The workshops are free, but registration is required.  (Want more?  There’s a Mozilla Maker Party for teens on July 15th from 10am-3pm.  The Moving <img> Storytelling workshop  will cover stop-motion animation, rotoscoping, pixilation, and several types of animated GIF.)


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Intellectual property and physical objects

Johanna Blakely giving her TED talk on intellectual property in the fashion industry.

Johanna Blakely giving her TED talk on intellectual property in the fashion industry.

Johanna Blakely’s TED talk on the lack of intellectual property protections in the fashion industry, and why it thrives regardless, is an interesting watch for those interested in industries where copyright seems less enforceable than in pre-digital days.

The key quote, to my mind: “We don’t really recognize a book as something that sits on our shelf, or music as a physical object we can hold. It’s a digital file, it’s barely tethered to any sort of physical reality in our minds, and these things, because we can copy and transmit them so easily, actually circulate in our culture a lot more like ideas than like physically instantiated objects.”  Which is tricky; that’s a little unlike most of the industries she discusses like fashion, cars, and furniture, where the copying of objects isn’t done at the consumer level.  She’s discussing, in almost every case, industries that don’t protect creators from copying by other creators – designer versus designer, comedian versus comedian, musician versus musician – and how that spurs innovation, rather than industries that don’t protect creators from copying by consumers.  While her points are good ones – I certainly support them, as a supporter of open source, of remixing, and of the artistic and scientific leaps that happen in open environments – very few of her examples are discussing a creator-consumer relationship.  The bar to entry is different, for one thing.  Downloading a movie is very different than making a knockoff jacket.

Open source was a good call, though, because that is a case of consumers freely copying something provided by the creator.  Panera’s “pay what you want” restaurant experiment is another interesting data point, of a creator making their product freely available to the consumer.  I think there are very good reasons to rethink the role of intellectual property control in the creator-audience relationship, but I don’t view it as the same issue as protecting your creative work from copying by other creators. Continue reading


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Why Zoraida Roselló is a filmmaker

Still from Zoraida Rosello's short on why she makes films.

Still from Zoraida Roselló’s short on why she makes films.

Spanish filmmaker Zoraida Roselló on why she’s a filmmaker, for the European Women’s Audiovisual Network.  Beautifully done, 90 seconds that encompasses Zoraida’s artistic eye, personality, and a lifetime of loving film.  (Also, a geologist turned filmmaker?  Lady scientists represent!  She has an wonderful eye not just for human subjects, but also for the natural world.)


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Mystery solved: chemists identifies old-book-smell as vanilla with hints of grass.  E-reader manufacturers, take note.  E-ink displays are fab on the eyes, and there’s nothing like having a library of ten thousand volumes in your pocket, but selling case decals impregnated with that smell could well be the final step in universal adoption.


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A Brief History of Color Photography

Photo by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration (1942).  Early Kodachrome.

Photo by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration (1942).

Over at Luminous Lint, Alan Griffiths and Robert Hirsch are collaborating to enhance Hirsch’s textbooks on the history of photography with the sort of rich extra content that wouldn’t fit into the printed form.  Currently available are A Concise History of Color Photography, the second chapter of Hirsch’s book Exploring Color Photography (5th edition, Focal Press, 2010), and Pictures on Glass: The Wet-Plate Process, the fourth chapter of Hirsch’s Seizing the Light: A Social History of Photography (2nd edition, McGraw-Hill, 2009).

The former moves quickly through a lot of fascinating territory in photographic history and science, and includes a section on Autochrome, the contribution of the Lumière brothers, “the inventors of the first practical motion picture projector, [who] patented a major breakthrough in the making of color photographs in 1904… the first commercially viable and extensively used color photographic process”.
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Pre-flight footage of Valentina Tereshkova – June 16th, 1963

Valentina Tereshkova, suited up for spaceflight.

Valentina Tereshkova, suited up for spaceflight.

Here’s a little Tereshkova love to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her spaceflight on  June 16th, 1963.  I didn’t realize this footage existed, but it’s great stuff.  It always surprises me to realize how actually literal it is when Bowie says, “Here am I sitting in my tin can“, and how much space-age technology really… isn’t.  We basically sent people up into total vacuum with snorkels and aluminum foil.  What wonderful insanity. Continue reading