Tag Archives: documentary

Nick on ‘brick: Another look at 2001

/tap /tap

Is this thing still on?


I’ve posted previously of CinemaTyler’s excellent but breathless exploration of 2001: A Space OdysseyParallaxNick takes a more leisurely and historical look at the same film. It is less about the filmmaking process and more on its origins, development, context, and implications.  Nick’s videos about astronomy are well worth the watch.

Youtube Channel: ParallaxNick

Spectral response: The science and emotion of color

The web’s archive of older industrial films is a recurring delight.  Jam Handy, Coronet, and other firms crafted these with an attention to detail, calm explanation, and rigorous science that is harder(*) to find today when most equivalents are about sales rather than fundamentals.  Jeff Quitney has uploaded a wonderful 1954 cleaned-up film to his Vimeo page on color theory and practice by the Interchemical Corporation.  It begins with the importance of color to society – especially in packaging goods and people – and then gives a marvelous account of the optics involved.   I’ve worked in the field for years but I learned to see things (pun intended) differently thanks to it.

The second film from 2016 looks at color in packaging through its emotional impact and its influence on design and designers.  ‘Color In Sight’  resembles like Hustwit’s ‘Helvetica.’  A number of prominent designers talk about how they use and think about color in order to evoke a response, surface a memory, or reveal a part of the spectrum to the color-blind.   I have no idea what I’d say to a nail-polish maker but Suzi Weiss-Fischmann (8m18s in) comes off  as a fun seatmate on a long plane trip.  I had a similar feeling about  Helvetica’s Paula Scher.   Interestingly, it is produced by TeaLeaves, a Canadian company specializing in very high-end teas for hotels.  Judging by their Youtube page, they must spend a fortune on short films – many of which have little outward bearing on their products.  I’ve never understood the appeal of tea but the videos are well worth a look.

(*) But not impossible by any means.

Vimeo Channel: Jeff Quitney


Youtube Channel: TeaLeaves


No good deed: Youtube deletes Jeff Quitney’s channel

At one time there were several Youtube channels that found, cleaned-up, and uploaded public domain training films and other documentary-style educational videos for a grateful audience.  wdtvlive42 and Historia-Bel99TV were summarily deleted a couple of years ago.  This week the hammer fell on Jeff Quitney who had presented over five thousand films that he had spruced up.  Youtube does not seem to have an appeals process.  They first demonetized him based on (most likely spurious) copyright claims against music that was part of a few of the soundtracks.  Now, his channel has just disappeared.  Fortunately he has at least partial backups at Bit.Tube and Vimeo.  His goal is to ultimately have everything restored but that will take considerable time.  I’ve linked to him many times and have found at least temporary replacements from the Internet Archive as well as from other Youtubers.  Still, it is a shame what happened to him.

Periscope Film of Los Angeles still exists, providing watermarked films from their commercial library.  Let’s hope they remain and grow.

Addendum 7 April 2019: Looks like he’s making Vimeo his go-to site for old and new videos.  Click the image to go to his Vimeo page.

Click the image to go to Jeff Quitney’s Vimeo Channel

Guiding Waves to Guiding Light: The vacuum tubes among us

Before the laser came the maser and before that the radar that let civilization live long enough to create the other two.  We think that vacuum tubes have been completely overcome by their solid-state, fully integrated and integratable semiconductor rivals but they soldier on in niches where very high powers have to be sent out of antennas either to other antennas or to scatter back from targets.  Here’s a superb old video explaining the ‘klystron‘, a name fragrant with the aroma of old school pulp science fiction.   They’re still in use as are Traveling Wave Tube Amplifiers (TWTAs, pronounced ‘tweetas’) along with a few other devices that are coming up on nearly ninety years of life.

The Bell System is long gone but its manufacturing arm, the Western Electric Corporation, still has a website and offers products under its old banner.  Its ‘Historic Technical Library’ section is a goldmine of references.  Under ‘Western Electric Technology’ we can learn how to use our Picturephones and read the classic 1965 monograph, Principles of Electron Tubes.  The latter delves rigorously into the business of taking small radio signals and amplifying them to for communications, science, or surveillance.   Both klystrons and TWTAs get detailed treatment.  Fittingly, the final chapter is on gas lasers featuring the ever popular helium-neon variety  with only a brief mention of the carbon dioxide laser invented about the time the book would have gone to press.

It is easy to forget how the development of lasers and nonlinear optical devices came as logical outgrowths of the earlier work at much longer wavelengths – storing power in one medium and exchanging it to another all by playing games with resonances and the speed of light.   The Handbook allows the reader to rediscover these links, often for the first time.  It is not also surprising that places strong in the one such as Stanford; home of the brothers Varian, Edward Ginzton, and William Hansen of klystron fame, became so strong in the other with Schawlow, Hänsch, Siegman, Byer, and Harris. Of course, Bell Labs also falls into that category but it hardly bears repeating since it was so strong in so many areas.

Youtube Channel: 2020tesla


What’s up quark?: Eugene Khutoryansky’s physics videos

As time marches relentlessly on, it slowly erodes what you think you know – especially those things you never knew in the first place.  Despite all of its cruft, marketeering, and self-promotion there’s still a small corner of the internet that hews to its educational roots.  The structure of subatomic particles like protons and neutrons is not conceptually easy, the mathematics reserved for a few.  Eugene Khutoryansky’s colorful and surreal videos do a great service in making abstract concepts concrete.  The underlying classical music soundtrack is in subtle contrast to the extremely non-classical  physics.

Youtube Channel: Physics Videos by Eugene Khutoryansky

Whiffleball: Bill Hammack on the IBM Selectric

Integrated electronics make us forget about them.  Tiny packages with millions of transistors encapsulate so many functions so effectively that we don’t or can’t know what all they do.  This is a boon to manufacturers since repairing anything is all but impossible.  In the not-too-distant past, these functions or a small subset of them, had to be implemented in metal.  Techmoan does a stellar job of rediscovering old technology.  Prof. Bill Hammack of UIUC is also a master of this.  Here he explains how the whiffletree mechanism enabled the IBM Selectric typewriter to work its magic.  Beware – it is easy to lose a day watching his other videos and searching on the nuggets he finds.

Youtube Channel: Engineerguy


Where are they now?: Carol Meier on Voyagers 1 and 2

Narrator Carol Meier has a meticulously researched, splendidly detailed, and wonderfully delivered update on the twin Voyager spacecraft and their epic journey of discovery from Pasadena to the outskirts of the solar system.  It isn’t clear if this is a commissioned piece or one she did on spec.  It is engrossing either way.

Youtube Channel: Carol Meier

Fun damentals: RCSB’s Protein 101

These videos provide excellent overviews of proteins and enzymes – what they are and why they are important.  They are produced by the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics (RCSB), a part of the worldwide Protein Data Bank Archive.  The RCSB site has additional educational information for non-specialists through its PDB-101 subdomain including curricula for teachers, video challenges for high school students, and a “molecule of the month” providing interactive views into complex protein structures.

Youtube Channel: RCSBProteinDataBank

Not just hot air: The GE MS9001E gas turbine

Without much further comment, here’s a very deep look into an industrial gas turbine engine. The CAD/CAM work is terrific and one wonders at the design and manufacturing effort put into just this one product.

[Edited 3 September 2018: Original video was taken down by the Youtube poster. Replaced with another link]
[Edited 6 January 2019: No longer available on the backup site, either.  Takedowns suspected]
[Edited 13 March 2019: Aaand it is back.  For now]

Youtube Channel: Ahmed Gaber