Category Archives: Documentary

Giants of the Earth: Bethe, Dyson, and Knuth – oh, my!

The Web of Stories project finds legends of many disciplines and lets them speak at length about their lives and careers.   For years, one could only watch these on the project website and embed up to five videos.  This was an unfortunate limitation since these interviews are broken into well over a hundred short segments.  Now, WoS has uploaded a large fraction of its library to its Youtube channel with embeddable playlists.  Here are three leading lights of the past century, two of whom are still vigorous well into this one: Physicist Hans Bethe, polymath Freeman Dyson, and computer scientist Donald Knuth.  The breadth of their accomplishments and their constancy over decades is astonishing, their modesty likewise even though none  have anything to be modest about.

Youtube Channel: Web of Stories

Measure theory. And practice.

No, not mathematics.  Tools.  Tools which I’ve used for years but never thought about.  The vernier scale is incredibly clever.  Courtesy of The Museum of Our Industrial Heritage, Greenfield Massachusetts.

Youtube channel: Chris Clawson

Nonstandard deviations: Donald Bradman’s staggering average

The 1950 British Council love-letter to cricket gave glimpses of the 1948 Ashes matches between Australia and England where Sir Donald Bradman concluded his storied test career.   The crowd at Lords and possibly even the English team wanted to see Bradman leave on a high note but he was dismissed quickly for no runs.   In a sweet coincidence,  Australian science journalist Brady Haran has just released a Numberphile video putting that match in context of Bradman’s body of work.

Youtube Channel: Numberphile

Private Screening: Bell Labs predicts the future

I saw this film in 1992 or 1993 at a screening for employees while finishing my postdoc at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. I spent a little over two years there, living in lovely Chatham Township and spending Saturdays enjoying Manhattan. The lab I sat in held the original carbon dioxide laser, nearly thirty years old at the time, and still working. The transistor was invented a couple of doors away, the people who invented Unix were at the other end of a long corridor, and a few future Nobel laureates had their labs in-between. I am still amazed that I got that position and wistful that I didn’t do more with the opportunity.

There was a Q&A session with the speaker who introduced the film and who was participating in the work that underpinned this eerily accurate vision of an always-on, always-connected world. I asked if there was enough (data) bandwidth to support even a small fraction of this. It was the era of low-speed dialup modems and the Internet was limited to universities and academically-oriented labs. His answer, “I guess there will have to be.” A few forward-thinkers had the smarts to set about building that infrastructure, bit by bit. I lacked the foresight to invest even a small amount in any of them.

And so, everyday, off to work I go.

Via the AT&T Tech Channel

Space Music: Paul Novros accompanies the universe

The documentaries below were made in the 1970s by Lester Novros, then a professor at the USC film school where his students included George Lucas.  The understated elegance of these films is nicely framed by Paul Novros‘s music.  The younger Novros is a professor of jazz at CalArts.  I asked him whether he had any soundtracks available.  He was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of the work but has no separate recordings or scores.

Lester Novros and his Graphic Films studio had a major albeit little-known influence on Stanley Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Special effects legend Douglas Trumbull worked with him in Los Angeles but ultimately moved to work directly with Kubrick in England. Barbara Miller’s article “Graphic Films and the Inception of 2001: A Space Odyssey” is good reading.

via the U.S. National Archives

via Jeff Quitney

Monolith Monograph: The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey

A young filmmaker dives deeply in five parts into the technical and artistic innards of his (and one of my) favorite movies. One wishes that he spoke a little slower and left some breathing room in his edits but it is an earnest, meticulous, and illuminating effort. The engineering alone that went into 2001 is awe-inspiring. Did Kubrick sleep during the two years it took to make?

Via Channel CinemaTyler

Before the inevitable: Henle’s musical engraving

The well-known music publisher held onto manual engraving into the late 1990s when computers finally got good enough. Now the trend is to replace paper altogether with screens. Here are lookbacks to the bygone craft.

Sharp as a Tack – Music Engraving: an Art and a Craft

Watch this video on YouTube.

Music Engraving on Metal Plates (with sound)

Watch this video on YouTube.