Samuel Zygmuntowicz: The Violin Maker

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/37749081 w=600 h=400]

“The Violin Maker” by Dustin Cohen is an excellent short documentary profiling Samuel Zygmuntowicz, a violin maker based in Brooklyn. Samuel has been working with violin since he was 13 years old. He explains that his clients are very demanding, but ultimately, his job is highly, highly rewarding.

Also, make sure not to miss the excellent photo essay accompanying the film:

 

The Violin Maker

Montblanc Film Contest: The Beauty of a Second

Almost two hundred years ago, Nicolas Rieussec recorded time to an accuracy of a fifth second for the first time, and the chronograph was born. To celebrate this unique invention, Montblanc announced a one-of-a-kind “The Beauty of a Second” short-film contest presented by the famous film director Wim Wenders:

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/31604545 h=400 w=600]

Since then, there have been three iterations of the contest, with the winning entries shown below. All of them are beautiful and inspiring. How much can you tell in one second? A lot.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/32071937 h=400 w=600]

 

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/33978304 h=400 w=600]

 

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/36897783 h=400 w=600]

 

What would your one second story be?

Inspirations: a Short Film Celebrating M.C. Escher

This is a beautiful short film celebrating M.C. Escher (1898-1972), the Dutch artist who explored a wide range of mathematical ideas with his woodcuts and lithographs. The filmmaker behind the film is Cristóbal Vila, who invites you to visit etereaestudios.com for more information about the film.

The film starts out with a view of a chessboard and what appear to be beans arranged on eleven of the board’s squares. This is a reference to the famous “Wheat and Chessboard Problem.” When the creator of the game of chess showed his invention to the ruler of the country, the ruler was so pleased that he gave the inventor the right to name his prize for the invention. The wise man asked the king: for the first square of the chess board, he would receive one grain of wheat (in some tellings, rice), two for the second one, four on the third one, and so forth, doubling the amount each time. The ruler, arithmetically unaware, quickly accepted the inventor’s offer, even getting offended by his perceived notion that the inventor was asking for such a low price. But when the treasurer started doing the calculations, it quickly surfaced that this was an impossible offer to fulfill. Given the request, the final tally would have been 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 2^64 – 1 = 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains!

Continuing along, we also see homages to such things as Fermat’s Last Theorem, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Vitruvian Man (Leonardo may have had some help in its creation), Hokusai’s The Great Wave, Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Wedding, Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss (which I saw in person at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, Austria), and much, much more. In essence, the short film contains a treasure-trove important cultural references. All of the artworks featured in the film may be seen here. All of the math references may be seen here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the creation of the film, take a look at the wireframes below:

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(hat tip: Open Culture)

(Update 3/10/2012: Corrected the count of total grains from 2^64 to 2^64 – 1.)

Gorgeous Timelapse of Saint Petersburg, Russia

This is a gorgeous timelapse video of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Saint Petersburg, Russia. Watch as we get numerous overhead views of the city, including a stunning fireworks display over the Neva River. For the stunning closing, we see the opening and closing of the Palace Bridge over the Neva River.

The video was shot by Andrew Efimov using Canon 7D and 5D Mark II cameras. The cut scenes are of a violin duet by Igot Zalivalov and Sofia Bridge. What a beautiful composition as a whole. Highly recommended seeing this one large.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/36397732 w=650&h=400]

Richard Feynman on Why Questions

I’ve previously written that Richard Feynman is my favorite scientist. In the video below, an interviewer asks Richard Feynman why magnets behave as they do. Feynman, initially perplexed, then goes on to explain what the interviewer observes. But more importantly, with magnificent brilliance, Feynman muses on the dangers and difficulty (not to mention, the inherent assumptions) of so-called “Why Questions”:

Transcript follows:

Interviewer: If you get hold of two magnets, and you push them, you can feel this pushing between them. Turn them around the other way, and they slam together. Now, what is it, the feeling between those two magnets?

Feynman: What do you mean, “What’s the feeling between the two magnets?”

Interviewer: There’s something there, isn’t there? The sensation is that there’s something there when you push these two magnets together.

Feynman: Listen to my question. What is the meaning when you say that there’s a feeling? Of course you feel it. Now what do you want to know?

Interviewer: What I want to know is what’s going on between these two bits of metal?

Feynman: They repel each other.

Interviewer: What does that mean, or why are they doing that, or how are they doing that? I think that’s a perfectly reasonable question.

Feynman: Of course, it’s an excellent question. But the problem, you see, when you ask why something happens, how does a person answer why something happens? For example, Aunt Minnie is in the hospital. Why? Because she went out, slipped on the ice, and broke her hip. That satisfies people. It satisfies, but it wouldn’t satisfy someone who came from another planet and who knew nothing about why when you break your hip do you go to the hospital. How do you get to the hospital when the hip is broken? Well, because her husband, seeing that her hip was broken, called the hospital up and sent somebody to get her. All that is understood by people. And when you explain a why, you have to be in some framework that you allow something to be true. Otherwise, you’re perpetually asking why. Why did the husband call up the hospital? Because the husband is interested in his wife’s welfare. Not always, some husbands aren’t interested in their wives’ welfare when they’re drunk, and they’re angry.

And you begin to get a very interesting understanding of the world and all its complications. If you try to follow anything up, you go deeper and deeper in various directions. For example, if you go, “Why did she slip on the ice?” Well, ice is slippery. Everybody knows that, no problem. But you ask why is ice slippery? That’s kinda curious. Ice is extremely slippery. It’s very interesting. You say, how does it work? You could either say, “I’m satisfied that you’ve answered me. Ice is slippery; that explains it,” or you could go on and say, “Why is ice slippery?” and then you’re involved with something, because there aren’t many things as slippery as ice. It’s very hard to get greasy stuff, but that’s sort of wet and slimy. But a solid that’s so slippery? Because it is, in the case of ice, when you stand on it (they say) momentarily the pressure melts the ice a little bit so you get a sort of instantaneous water surface on which you’re slipping. Why on ice and not on other things? Because water expands when it freezes, so the pressure tries to undo the expansion and melts it. It’s capable of melting, but other substances get cracked when they’re freezing, and when you push them they’re satisfied to be solid.

Why does water expand when it freezes and other substances don’t? I’m not answering your question, but I’m telling you how difficult the why question is. You have to know what it is that you’re permitted to understand and allow to be understood and known, and what it is you’re not. You’ll notice, in this example, that the more I ask why, the deeper a thing is, the more interesting it gets. We could even go further and say, “Why did she fall down when she slipped?” It has to do with gravity, involves all the planets and everything else. Never mind! It goes on and on. And when you’re asked, for example, why two magnets repel, there are many different levels. It depends on whether you’re a student of physics, or an ordinary person who doesn’t know anything. If you’re somebody who doesn’t know anything at all about it, all I can say is the magnetic force makes them repel, and that you’re feeling that force.

You say, “That’s very strange, because I don’t feel kind of force like that in other circumstances.” When you turn them the other way, they attract. There’s a very analogous force, electrical force, which is the same kind of a question, that’s also very weird. But you’re not at all disturbed by the fact that when you put your hand on a chair, it pushes you back. But we found out by looking at it that that’s the same force, as a matter of fact (an electrical force, not magnetic exactly, in that case). But it’s the same electric repulsions that are involved in keeping your finger away from the chair because it’s electrical forces in minor and microscopic details. There’s other forces involved, connected to electrical forces. It turns out that the magnetic and electrical force with which I wish to explain this repulsion in the first place is what ultimately is the deeper thing that we have to start with to explain many other things that everybody would just accept. You know you can’t put your hand through the chair; that’s taken for granted. But that you can’t put your hand through the chair, when looked at more closely, why, involves the same repulsive forces that appear in magnets. The situation you then have to explain is why, in magnets, it goes over a bigger distance than ordinarily. There it has to do with the fact that in iron all the electrons are spinning in the same direction, they all get lined up, and they magnify the effect of the force ’til it’s large enough, at a distance, that you can feel it. But it’s a force which is present all the time and very common and is a basic force of almost – I mean, I could go a little further back if I went more technical – but on an early level I’ve just got to tell you that’s going to be one of the things you’ll just have to take as an element of the world: the existence of magnetic repulsion, or electrical attraction, magnetic attraction.

I can’t explain that attraction in terms of anything else that’s familiar to you. For example, if we said the magnets attract like if rubber bands, I would be cheating you. Because they’re not connected by rubber bands. I’d soon be in trouble. And secondly, if you were curious enough, you’d ask me why rubber bands tend to pull back together again, and I would end up explaining that in terms of electrical forces, which are the very things that I’m trying to use the rubber bands to explain. So I have cheated very badly, you see. So I am not going to be able to give you an answer to why magnets attract each other except to tell you that they do. And to tell you that that’s one of the elements in the world – there are electrical forces, magnetic forces, gravitational forces, and others, and those are some of the parts. If you were a student, I could go further. I could tell you that the magnetic forces are related to the electrical forces very intimately, that the relationship between the gravity forces and electrical forces remains unknown, and so on. But I really can’t do a good job, any job, of explaining magnetic force in terms of something else you’re more familiar with, because I don’t understand it in terms of anything else that you’re more familiar with.

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(Hat tip to Less Wrong for the transcript)

The Most Important Idea in Advertising

What is the most important idea in advertising? As I’ve been reading about all the latest products being unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I was reminded of my all-time favorite scene from the TV Show Mad Men. In the episode titled “The Wheel,” Don Draper and his company is tasked with presenting a pitch for Kodak’s latest product, a projector which they have dubbed “The Wheel”. How Don Draper pitches the product (and its new name) is nothing short of incredible. Just watch:

Following is the text of Don Draper’s pitch for “The Carousel”:

Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash. If they have a sentimental bond with the product…My first job: I was in-house at a fur company. This old pro copy writer. A Greek named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new.” It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate but potent…”

Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.

It’s not called the wheel. It’s called THE CAROUSEL. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around, and back home again. To a place where we know we are loved. 

If you’ve never watched Mad Men and this clip doesn’t convince you to start watching it, nothing else will.

Who is The Umbrella Man?

Today is the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In the video linked below, the Academy-award winning filmmaker Errol Morris explores the story behind the one man seen standing under an open black umbrella at the site. It’s a fascinating video. Before you watch, read this statement from Errol Morris himself:

For years, I’ve wanted to make a movie about the John F. Kennedy assassination. Not because I thought I could prove that it was a conspiracy, or that I could prove it was a lone gunman, but because I believe that by looking at the assassination, we can learn a lot about the nature of investigation and evidence. Why, after 48 years, are people still quarreling and quibbling about this case? What is it about this case that has led not to a solution, but to the endless proliferation of possible solutions?

Years ago, Josiah Thompson, known as Tink, a young, Yale-educated Kierkegaard scholar, quit his day job as a professor of philosophy at Haverford College to write the definitive book on the Zapruder film — “Six Seconds in Dallas.” Tink became a private detective, and came to work with many of the same private investigators I had also worked with in the 1980s. We had so much in common — philosophy, P.I. work and an obsessive interest in the complexities of reality. But we had never met.

Last year, I finally got to meet and interview Tink Thompson. I hope his interview can become the first part of an extended series on the Kennedy assassination. This film is but a small segment of my six-hour interview with Tink.

Click here to see the video (I don’t think New York Times allows embedding of its videos).

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On a related note: how would you feel if I posted more videos on this blog? I’ve only shared a couple videos in more than 200 posts, so I’m curious to know what you think…

Incredible Time Lapse Video from El Teide, Spain

I don’t usually post non-reading items on this blog. But when something as beautiful as Terje Sorgierd’s “The Mountain” comes along, I cannot resist not posting it. It’s one of the most astounding time lapse videos I have ever seen. Witness for yourself:

From Terje himself:

The goal was to capture the beautiful Milky Way galaxy along with one of the most amazing mountains I know, El Teide (the highest mountain in Spain). I have to say this was one of the most exhausting trips I have done. There was a lot of hiking at high altitudes and probably less than 10 hours of sleep in total for the whole week. Having been here 10-11 times before I had a long list of must-see locations I wanted to capture for this movie, but I am still not 100% used to carrying around so much gear required for time-lapse movies.

What is most spectacular, I think, is the way the Milky Way dances with the golden-orange sky, as evidenced at around 0:32 in the video. There was a large Sahara storm as Terje was filming, the winds of which carried the sand particles to the northern hemisphere. The result is mesmerizing.

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A question for the reader/viewer: If this isn’t the most amazing time lapse video you’ve ever seen, could you please point me to one that is?