NASA’s Glorious Recreation of the “Earthrise” Photograph from December 24, 1968

On the morning of December 24, 1968, the onboard cameras on NASA’s Apollo 8 spacecraft were focused on the lunar surface. However, that morning unfolded with a tiny bit of the unexpected. On board the spacecraft were astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders. They all later recalled that perhaps the most important thing they discovered on their mission was Earth:

The famous image now known simply as Earthrise.

The famous image from Apollo 8 now known simply as Earthrise.

In a newly released video by NASA, seen below, NASA scientists use a number of photo mosaics and elevation data from their Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to reconstruct for the very first time, 45 years later, exactly what these Apollo 8 astronauts saw on that December morning. As you listen to the talk, narrated by Andrew Chaikin (author of A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts), you’ll understand how this famous image (now known simply, elegantly as Earthrise) almost did not come to exist. Earthrise was captured on colour film with a modified Hasselblad 500 EL at 1/250 seconds at f/11, as you’ll hear in the film. The video, which can be viewed in 1080p HD, is well worth the seven minutes of your time:

Per the caption of the video:

The visualization draws on numerous historical sources, including the actual cloud pattern on Earth from the ESSA-7 satellite and dozens of photographs taken by Apollo 8, and it reveals new, historically significant information about the Earthrise photographs. It has not been widely known, for example, that the spacecraft was rolling when the photos were taken, and that it was this roll that brought the Earth into view. The visualization establishes the precise timing of the roll and, for the first time ever, identifies which window each photograph was taken from.

The key to the new work is a set of vertical stereo photographs taken by a camera mounted in the Command Module’s rendezvous window and pointing straight down onto the lunar surface. It automatically photographed the surface every 20 seconds. By registering each photograph to a model of the terrain based on LRO data, the orientation of the spacecraft can be precisely determined.

A still from NASA's new visualization of how Earthrise came to be.

A still from NASA’s new visualization of how Earthrise came to be.

NASA's visualization of Earthrise.

NASA’s visualization of Earthrise.

Errol Morris on the Abraham Lincoln Portraits

I spent the better half of the afternoon reading Errol Morris’s fascinating series “The interminable, Everlasting Lincolns” in The New York Times, in which he sets to establish how the last known photographs (portraits) of Abraham Lincoln came to be. The prologue sets the tone with a vivid dream that Lincoln presumably had a few days before his assassination, but it’s in Part I where Errol Morris comes firing:

The story of the crack, along with the original April 9 date, was printed in The New York Times on Feb. 12, 1922. O-118 was captioned: “The President Sat for This Photograph Just Five Days Before Booth Shot Him. The Cracked Negative Caused it To Be Discarded. It Has Only Once Before Been Published, and Then in a Retouched Form.” The accompanying text by James Young read:

Probably no other photograph of Lincoln conveys more clearly the abiding sadness of the face. The lines of time and care are deeply etched, and he has the look of a man bordering upon old age, though he was only 56. Proof that the camera was but a few feet away may be found by scrutiny of this picture… The print has been untouched, and this picture is an exact likeness of the President as he looked in the week of his death. [10]

——–

This is Errol Morris’s motivation for writing the series:

My fascination with the dating and interpretation of photographs is really a fascination with the push-pull of history. Facts vs. beliefs. Our desire to know the origins of things vs. our desire to rework, to reconfigure the past to suit our own beliefs and predilections. Perhaps nothing better illustrates this than two radically different predispositions to objects — the storyteller vs. the collector.

lincoln-crack

The infamous “crack” photograph of Abraham Lincoln.

For the collector the image with the crack is a damaged piece of goods — the crack potentially undermining the value of the photograph as an artifact, a link to the past. The storyteller doesn’t care about the photograph’s condition, or its provenance, but about its thematic connections with events. To the storyteller, the crack is the beginning of a legend — the legend of a death foretold. The crack seems to anticipate the bullet fired into the back of Lincoln’s head at Ford’s Theater on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.

It should have a name. I call it “the proleptic crack.” 

Errol Morris continues:

Holzer’s enterprise is to weave a context — a story — around photographs and significant events in American history. If Meserve were correct — if Gardner took his photographs of Lincoln on April 10, if the negative cracked just days before Lincoln was shot — it would make for a better story. But that story, like so many “better stories,” isn’t true. 

Part II of the series is here. Parts III and Parts IV will follow soon.

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(hat tip: @kottke)

The Origin of Black Friday

Writing in The New Yorker, Amy Merrick profiles the origin of “Black Friday”:

Beginning in the nineteen-thirties, thousands of fans thronged Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium for the Army-Navy football game. As festive as the mood was inside the stadium, it wasn’t nearly so cheerful for the Philadelphia police officers who had to herd the crowds. The game was frequently held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and just as visiting fans were showing up the day before, holiday shoppers also would descend on downtown. On those Fridays after Thanksgiving, the late Joseph P. Barrett, a longtime reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin, recalled, even members of the police band were called upon to direct traffic. The cops nicknamed the day of gridlock Black Friday, and soon others started to do the same.

Retailers worried the phrase would scare people away. A few weeks after the 1961 game, which President John F. Kennedy had attended, the P.R. pioneer Denny Griswold described in her industry newsletter, Public Relations News, the efforts by Philadelphia merchants and city officials to rebrand the day Big Friday, in reference to the start of the holiday shopping season. (“The media coöperated,” Griswold wrote.) Big Friday didn’t stick, but the idea behind it did, in Philadelphia and, eventually, beyond. A few decades later, when the term came to describe a day when retailers’ ledgers shifted “into the black” for the year—a connotation also pushed by marketers—people assumed that had always been the connotation.

How is your Black Friday shopping going? Or is it?

Vancouver’s Ban on Doorknobs

An interesting report from The Vancouver Sun, noting that the city has passed legislation to do away with the doorknob on all future construction in the city:

Vancouver is the only city in Canada with its own building code, so the changes made here are often chased into the B.C. Building Code and Canada’s National Building Code, and then put into practice in cities and towns across Canada. Vancouver’s influence is wide. And as go the codes, so too goes the construction industry.

Remember the regular toilet? Try to find one. Low-flush is all there is to be had. The incandescent light bulb? Sorry, just energy-saving fluorescent or LED now in most stores.

The change has crept up on us silently and without fanfare. Look at any new condo building. Any new office door. Any door to a public washroom that doesn’t have pneumatic hinges and a push-pad. There they are, these silver, black or brass-coloured levers that can spring a door open with even a forearm when hands are filled.

And, as doorknobs go, so too will go those other ubiquitous knobs, the ones that turn on and off water faucets. For they too are being legislatively upgraded to levers more conducive to the arthritic, gnarled or weakened hands we earn with age.

I actually don’t think that’s a bad idea.

Pennsylvania Newspaper Apologizes 150 Years After Gettysburg Address

In what may be longest-coming newspaper retraction in American history, The Patriot News, based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has apologized for lambasting President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, delivered nearly 150 years ago (as of November 19, 2013):

Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to its audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives.

We write today in reconsideration of “The Gettysburg Address,” delivered by then-President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the greatest conflict seen on American soil. Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time, called President Lincoln’s words “silly remarks,” deserving “a veil of oblivion,” apparently believing it an indifferent and altogether ordinary message, unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity.

In the fullness of time, we have come to a different conclusion. No mere utterance, then or now, could do justice to the soaring heights of language Mr. Lincoln reached that day. By today’s words alone, we cannot exalt, we cannot hallow, we cannot venerate this sacred text, for a grateful nation long ago came to view those words with reverence, without guidance from this chagrined member of the mainstream media.

The world will little note nor long remember our emendation of this institution’s record – but we must do as conscience demands:

In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error. 

That’s awesome.

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(via Time)

A Brief History of “More Cowbell”

How did the cowbell go from a herdsman tool to a cultural icon? Modern Farmer has a brief post highlighting its entry into popular culture:

How did the humble cowbell end up on every drum kit of rock, hair and heavy metal band, its rhythmic beat infusing the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman” or feigning the tick-tock of a clock in the Chamber Brothers’“Time Has Come”?

Its path from serenity to the cult cry “I gotta have more cowbell!” from the famous Saturday Night Live skit in which Will Ferrell clangs along to Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” begins around 1904, according to David Ludwig, a composer and dean of creative programs at the Curtis Institute. That was the year two German composers got cowbell fever. Gustav Mahler used them to create a sense of the country for pastoral movements in his Symphony No. 6 and Richard Strauss used them in Alpine Symphony (see the percussionist jiggle them at 16:13).

Both men had spent time near country pastures in their youth, where locals celebrated the changing seasons with spring and fall cow parades called “Alpabzug” when herdsmen led the flocks through town to and from the mountain fields, their cowbells clanging in unison.

 

Paul Saffo in 1993: The Written Word Remains

In the May/June 1993 issue of Wired, Paul Saffo reflected on digital media and the proliferation of video and virtual reality. But, true today as it was twenty years ago, he explained that our core still remains with text:

In fact, the written word doesn’t just remain; it is flourishing like kudzu vines at the boundaries of the digital revolution. The explosion of e-mail traffic on the Internet represents the largest boom in letter writing since the 18th century. Today’s cutting-edge infonauts are flooding cyberspace with gigabyte upon gigabyte of ASCII musings.

But we hardly notice this textual explosion because, mercifully, it is in large part paperless. Vague clouds of electrons flitting to and fro over the Net have replaced pulverized trees lugged by postal carriers. This has spared our landfills, but it has also obscured a critical media shift. Words have been decoupled from paper. Like the stuff of Horace’s affection, text is still comprised of 26 letters, but freed from the entombing, distancing oppression of paper, it has become as novel as the hottest new media.

In fact, our electronic novelties are transforming the word as profoundly as the printing press did half a millennium ago. For starters, we are smashing arbitrary print-centric boundaries among author, editor, and audience. These categories did not exist before the invention of moveable type, and they will not survive this decade. Just as monk scriveners at once wrote, edited, and read, information surfers browsing online services today routinely play all three roles: selectively scanning, absorbing, editing, and creating on-the-fly in real time. The printing press gave life and reach to the word, but at the terrible cost of making text formal and immutable. Printed words became as immobile as flies in amber, and readers knew that they could look, but not change.

Electronic text has become a new medium that combines print’s fixity with a manuscript-like mutability. Flick a key and volumes of text disappear in virtual smoke; flick another and they are replicated over the Net in a flash. Severed from unreliable paper, text has become all but inextinguishable. E-mail passed between Oliver North and his Iran- Contra conspirators survived numerous attempts at expungement, and now resides in the National Security Archives for all to inspect, even as historians naively lament that the switch to electronic media is depriving them of important research fodder. They needn’t worry; paper may be on the skids, but text is eternal.

Immortality may be the least of the surprises that this new medium of electronic text will deliver. Video enthusiasts are quick to argue that images are intrinsically more compelling than words, but they ignore a quality unique to text. While video is received by the eyes, text resonates in the mind. Text invites our minds to complete the word-based images it serves up, while video excludes such mental extensions. Until physical brain-to-machine links become a reality, text will offer the most direct of paths between the mind and the external world.

Video suffers from a deeper problem, one of ever diminishing reliability in the face of ever more capable morphing technologies. By decade’s end, we will look back at 1992 and wonder how a video of police beating a citizen could move Los Angeles to riot. The age of camcorder innocence will evaporate as teenage morphers routinely manipulate the most prosaic of images into vivid, convincing fictions. We will no longer trust our eyes when observing video-mediated reality. Text will emerge as a primary indicator of trustworthiness, and images will transit the Net as multimedia surrounded by a bodyguard of words, just as medieval scholars routinely added textual glosses in the margins of their tomes.

Of course words can be as false as images, but there is something to text that keeps our credulity at bay. Perhaps the intellectual labor required to decode words keeps us mentally alert, while visual stimuli encourage passivity. Studies conducted during the Gulf War hinted at such a possibility: Researchers found that citizens who read about the war’s events in daily publications had a far better grasp of the issues than avid real-time TV news junkies.

Talk about a way-back time machine… And how prescient, no?