Links for 29 September 2009 through 30 September 2009

Stilgherrian’s links for 29 September 2009 through 30 September 2009, published with very little care whatsoever:

Rediscovering James Burke

Photograph of James Burke

It was my very great pleasure today to discover that James Burke‘s groundbreaking TV series Connections and The Day the Universe Changed are all on YouTube.

Connections is more than 30 years old now — it was first broadcast in 1978 — and yet the way it weaves its threads through the history of science is still relevant to a contemporary audience. One thing I did notice, though, is how bleak his worries are, obviously an element of the Cold War mentality of the time.

Burke’s witty writing is a key part of the enjoyment, as this snippet from episode 2 shows:

I suppose Shakeaspeare and the travel agents have done more than anybody else to give us our Technicolor view of Elizabethan England, starring the Queen herself as a kind of swashbuckler in pearls. The fact is, about all she had time for was bookkeeping. When she took the place over in 1558, it was National Disaster Week. The money was worthless. There was no money! There was plague. The cities were packed and stinking.

Elizabeth appealed to the decent English middle class, with their healthy desire for prestige, power, fun and games, and cash. Soon, anybody who wanted to be anybody was on the make. And none more than that famous bunch of privateering seadogs led by Drake, Raleigh and Hawkins, who sailed the Atlantic looking for new American trade opportunities for England, setting up colonies, knocking off Spanish galleons — and doing it all with a kind of gutsy disregard for convention that we describe today as “criminal”.

I’ve often wanted to make programs like Burke’s. He gives hope to someone who, like him, has “a good face for radio”. I know that re-watching these old favourites will be important in many ways.

Let’s fix the Stopped Clocks

One of the little annoyances in my life is that the clock on the Newtown Post Office in Sydney is permanently stuck at 3.45pm. Public clocks, key piece of civic infrastructure in the Victorian age, are now neglected.

I was therefore rather pleased to stumble across this video clip promoting the Stopped Clocks movement which appeared on the BBC’s The One Show .

Would anyone like to start a Sydney chapter with me? If so, what Stopped Clocks do you know about?

Links for 03 July 2008 through 04 July 2008

Stilgherrian’s links for 03 July 2008 through 04 July 2008, gathered with joy and mutton:

  • Draft Report | Garnaut Climate Change Review: The Draft Report describes the methodology for evaluating the costs and benefits of climate change mitigation; to the application of the science of climate change to Australia; to the international context, and to Australian mitigation policy.
  • Turing Test | xkcd: On the other hand, maybe the test is to make the examiner think that HE'S the computer!
  • Turing test | Wikipedia: "The Turing test is a proposal for a test of a machine's capability to demonstrate intelligence." What I love about the REAL Turing test is the subtlety of it… It's not faking a human, it's faking a human faking.
  • Manned Cloud by Jean-Marie Massaud | Dezeen: This just has to be the most beautiful design for an airship I've ever seen. Guys, build it soon!
  • The BBC and the future of broadcasting | Stephen Fry: Stephen Fry's speech on the future of public service broadcasting, and the BBC in particular.