Leonardo da Vinci’s Visionary Notebooks Now Online: Browse 570 Digitized Pages

Quick, what do you know about Leonardo da Vinci? He painted the Mona Lisa! He wrote his notes backwards! He designed supercool bridges and flying machines! He was a genius about, um… a lot of other… things… and, um, stuff…

Okay, I’m sure you know a bit more than that, but unless you’re a Renaissance scholar, you’re certain to find yourself amazed and surprised at how much you didn’t know about the quintessential Renaissance man when you encounter a compilation of his notebooks—Codex Arundel—which has been digitized by the British Library and made available to the public.

The notebook, writes Jonathan Jones at The Guardian, represents “the living record of a universal mind.” And yet, though a “technophile” himself, “when it came to publication, Leonardo was a luddite…. He made no effort to get his notes published.”

For hundreds of years, the huge, secretive collection of manuscripts remained mostly unseen by all but the most rarified of collectors. After Leonardo’s death in France, writes the British Library, his student Francesco Melzi “brought many of his manuscripts and drawings back to Italy. Melzi’s heirs, who had no idea of the importance of the manuscripts, gradually disposed of them.” Nonetheless, over 5,000 pages of notes “still exist in Leonardo’s ‘mirror writing’, from right to left.” In the notebooks, da Vinci drew “visions of the aeroplane, the helicopter, the parachute, the submarine and the car. It was more than 300 years before many of his ideas were improved upon.”

The digitized notebooks debuted in 2007 as a joint project of the British Library and Microsoft called “Turning the Pages 2.0,” an interactive feature that allows viewers to “turn” the pages of the notebooks with animations. Onscreen glosses explain the content of the cryptic notes surrounding the many technical drawings, diagrams, and schematics (see a selection of the notebooks in this animated format here). For an overwhelming amount of Leonardo, you can look through 570 digitized pages of Codex Arundel here. For a slightly more digestible, and readable, amount of Leonardo, see the British Library’s brief series on his life and work, including explanations of his diving apparatus, parachute, and glider.

And for much more on the man—including evidence of his sartorial “preference for pink tights” and his shopping lists—see Jonathan Jones’ Guardian piece, which links to other notebook collections and resources. The artist and self-taught polymath made an impressive effort to keep his ideas from prying eyes. Now, thanks to digitized collections like those at the British Library, “anyone can study the mind of Leonardo.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Leonardo da Vinci’s Visionary Notebooks Now Online: Browse 570 Digitized Pages is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

14 Self-Portraits by Pablo Picasso Show the Evolution of His Style: See Self-Portraits Moving from Ages 15 to 90


15 years old (1896)

It’s possible to look at Pablo Picasso’s many formal experiments and periodic shifts of style as a kind of self-portraiture, an exercise in shifting consciousness and trying on of new aesthetic identities. The Spanish modernist made a career of sweeping dramatic gestures, announcements to the world that he was going to be a different kind of artist now, and everyone had better catch up. Even in his most abstract periods, his work radiated with an emotional energy as outsized as the man himself.


18 years old (1900)

Picasso’s animus and vitality even permeate his least inviting painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (click here to view), a brothel scene with five geometrical women, two with African and Iberian masks; “a painting of nudes in which there is scarcely a curve to be seen,” writes The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones, “elbows sharp as knives, hips and waists geometrical silhouettes, triangle breasts.” The 1907 self-portrait of Picasso at age 25 (below) comes from this period, when the artist began his radical Cubist break with everything that had gone before.


20 years old (1901)

An older version Les Demoiselles d’Avignon contained a male figure, “a stand-in for the painter himself.” Even when he did not appear, at least not in a final version, in his own work, Picasso saw himself there: his moods, his heightened perceptions of reality as he imagined it.

The somber Blue Period paintings, with their moodiness and “themes of poverty, loneliness, and despair,” correspond with his mourning over the suicide of a friend, Catalan artist Carlos Casagemas. The Picasso in the 1901 portrait further up looks gaunt, broken, decades older than his 20 years. In the 1917 drawing further down, however, the artist at 35 looks out at us with a haughty, smooth-cheeked youthful gaze.


24 years old (1906)

During this time, as World War I ended, he had begun to design sets for Diaghilev’s famed Ballet Russes, where he met his wife, ballerina Olga Khokhlova, and moved in comfortable circles, though he was himself desperate for money. Each portrait delivers us a different Picasso, as he sheds one mask and puts on another. Tracing his creative evolution through his portraiture means never moving in a straight line. But we do see his demeanor soften and round progressively over time in his portraits. He seems to grow younger as he ages.


25 years old (1907)

The severe youth of 15, further up, brooding, world-weary, and already an accomplished draughtsman and painter; the grimly serious romantic at 18, above—these Picassos give way to the wide-eyed maturity of the artist at 56 in 1938, at 83, 89, and 90, in 1972, the year before his death. That year he produced an intriguing series of eclectic self-portraits unlike anything he had done before. See these and many others throughout his life below.


35 years old (1917)


56 years old (1938)


83 years old (1965)


85 years old (1966)


89 years old (1971)


90 years old (June 28, 1972)


90 years old (June 30, 1972)


90 years old (July 2, 1972)


90 years old (July 3, 1972)

via Bored Panda/Twisted Sifter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

 

14 Self-Portraits by Pablo Picasso Show the Evolution of His Style: See Self-Portraits Moving from Ages 15 to 90 is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Women of Jazz: Stream a Playlist of 91 Recordings by Great Female Jazz Musicians

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Browse through an archive of jazz writing from the last, oh, hundred years, and you’ll get the distinct impression that jazz, like the NFL, has been a man’s-man’s-man’s-man’s world. “Of course,” writes Margaret Howze at NPR, “we have Billie, Ella, and Sarah,” and many other powerhouse female vocalists everyone knows and loves. These unforgettable voices seem to stand out as exceptions, and what’s more, “when we think of women in jazz, we automatically think of singers,” not instrumentalists.

Part of the marginalization of women in jazz has to do with the same kinds of cultural blind spots we find in discussions on every subject. We’ve been as guilty here as anyone of neglecting many great women in jazz, sadly. But women in jazz have also historically faced similar social barriers and stigmas as other women in all the arts. There are more than enough female vocalists, pianists, guitarists, trumpeters, drummers, saxophonists, bandleaders, teachers, producers to form a “worthy pantheon,” yet until fairly recently, a great many women jazz musicians have worked in the shadows of more famous men.

Howze’s two-part sketch of women in jazz offers a succinct chronological introduction, noting that “the piano, one of the earliest instruments that women played in jazz, allowed female artists” in the 20s and 30s “a degree of social acceptance.” In those years, “female instrumentalists usually formed all-women jazz bands or played in family-based groups.” One early standout musician, Dolly Hutchinson, née Jones, played the trumpet and cornet in bands all over the country. Hutchinson doesn’t appear in the Women of Jazz playlist below, but you can see her at the top in a clip from Oscar Michaux’s 1938 film Swing!

The Spotify playlist Women of Jazz does, however, offee samples from many other female jazz greats in its 91 tracks, from the very well-known—Nina Simone, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, “Billie, Ella, and Sarah”—to the very much overlooked. In that latter category falls a woman whose last name is familiar to us all. Lil Hardin Armstrong never achieved close to the degree of fame as her husband Louis, but the pianist, writes Howze, “helped shape Satchmo’s early career,” playing in “King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, a group Armstrong joined in 1922. He and Hardin began a romance and eventually married and it was Hardin who encouraged Armstrong to embark on a solo career.”

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Hardin’s “Clip Joint,” featured in the playlist, showcases her sweet, clear contralto, distinguished by a tendency to wrap surprising hooks around the end of each line, pulling us forward to the next or keeping us hanging on for more. (Equally charming and effortlessly swinging, see her on the piano, above, accompanied by drummer Mae Barnes.) Another hugely influential woman in jazz, whose legacy “has also been somewhat occluded,” writes Alexa Peters at Paste, “by the legacy of her husband,” harpist and pianist Alice Coltrane deserves far more acclaim than she receives (at least in this writer’s humble opinion).

“An incredibly gifted avant-garde musician, composer, and arranger,” Coltrane’s solo compositions and her collaborations with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, “are as sublime as they are indelibly important” to the development of spiritual jazz. Her incorporation of Hindustani instrumentation “like drones, ragas, Tabla drum, and sitar,” together with long hypnotic free jazz passages and the unusual choice of harp, contributed a new sonic vocabulary to the form.

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Though hardly comprehensive, the Women of Jazz playlist does an excellent job of outlining a list of great female singers and instrumentalists throughout the history of jazz. As someone might point out, the compilation has its own blind spots. Though firmly rooted in the traditions of the American South, jazz has, since its golden age, been an international phenomenon. Yet the majority of the artists here are from the U.S. For a contemporary corrective, check out The Guardian’s list, “Five of the Best Young Female Jazz Musicians” from the U.K. and Scandinavia, or Afripop’s “Five South African Female Jazz Instrumentalists You Should Know,” or NPR’s list of four great “Latina Jazz Vocalists”….

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And we should not neglect to mention great French women in jazz. In the short film above on French jazz and trumpet duo Nelson Veras and Airelle Besson, the two musicians discuss their collaborative process. Any mention of gender would probably seem awkwardly irrelevant to the conversation. Perhaps all jazz talk should be like that. But it seems that first most jazz fans and writers need to spend some time getting caught up. We’ve got a wealth of resources above to get them started.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Women of Jazz: Stream a Playlist of 91 Recordings by Great Female Jazz Musicians is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Carl Sagan Sent Music & Photos Into Space So That Aliens Could Understand Human Civilization (Even After We’re Gone)

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A popular thought experiment asks us to imagine an advanced alien species arriving on Earth, not in an H.G. Wells-style invasion, but as advanced, bemused, and benevolent observers. “Wouldn’t they be appalled,” we wonder, “shocked, confused at how backward we are?” It’s a purely rhetorical device—the secular equivalent of taking a “god’s eye view” of human folly. Few people seriously entertain the possibility in polite company. Unless they work at NASA or the SETI program.

In 1977, upon the launching of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, a committee working under Carl Sagan produced the so-called “Golden Records,” actual phonographic LPs made of copper containing “a collection of sounds and images,” writes Joss Fong at Vox, “that will probably outlast all human artifacts on Earth.” While they weren’t preparing for a visitation on Earth, they did—relying not on wishful thinking but on the controversial Drake Equation—fully expect that other technological civilizations might well exist in the cosmos, and assumed a likelihood we might encounter one, at least via remote.

Sagan tasked himself with compiling what he called a “bottle” in “the cosmic ocean,” and something of a time capsule of humanity. Over a year’s time, Sagan and his team collected 116 images and diagrams, natural sounds, spoken greetings in 55 languages, printed messages, and musical selections from around the world–things that would communicate to aliens what our human civilization is essentially all about. The images were encoded onto the records in black and white (you can see them all in the Vox video above in color). The audio, which you can play in its entirety below, was etched into the surface of the record. On the cover were etched a series of pictographic instructions for how to play and decode its contents. (Scroll over the interactive image at the top to see each symbol explained.)

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Fong outlines those contents, writing, “any aliens who come across the Golden Record are in for a treat.” That is, if they are able to make sense of it and don’t find us horribly backward. Among the audio selections are greetings from then-UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, whale songs, Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No. 2 in F, Senegalese percussion, Aborigine songs, Peruvian panpipes and drums, Navajo chant, Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night” (playing in the Vox video), more Bach, Beethoven, and “Johnny B. Goode.” Challenged over including “adolescent” rock and roll, Sagan replied, “there are a lot of adolescents on the planet.” The Beatles reportedly wanted to contribute “Here Comes the Sun,” but their record company wouldn’t allow it, presumably fearing copyright infringement from aliens.

Also contained in the spacefaring archive is a message from then-president Jimmy Carter, who writes optimistically, “We are a community of 240 million human beings among the more than 4 billion who inhabit planet Earth. We human beings are still divided into nation states, but these states are rapidly becoming a single global civilization.” The messages on Voyagers 1 and 2, Carter forecasts, are “likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed.” The team chose not to include images of war and human cruelty.

We only have a few years left to find out whether either Voyager will encounter other beings. “Incredibly,” writes Fong, the probes “are still communicating with Earth—they aren’t expected to lose power until the 2020s.” It seems even more incredible, forty years later, when we consider their primitive technology: “an 8-track memory system and onboard computers that are thousands of times weaker than the phone in your pocket.”

The Voyagers were not the first probes sent to interstellar space. Pioneer 10 and 11 were launched in 1972 and 1973, each containing a Sagan-designed aluminum plaque with a few simple messages and depictions of a nude man and woman, an addition that scandalized some puritanical critics. NASA has since lost touch with both Pioneers, but you may recall that in 2006, the agency launched the New Horizons probe, which passed by Pluto in 2015 and should reach interstellar space in another thirty years.

Perhaps due to the lack of the departed Sagan’s involvement, the latest “bottle” contains no introductions. But there is time to upload some, and one of the Golden Record team members, Jon Lomberg, wants to do just that, sending a crowdsourced “message to the stars.” Lomberg’s New Horizon’s Message Initiative is a “global project that brings the people of the world together to speak as one.” The limitations of analog technology have made the Golden Record selections seem quite narrow from our data-saturated point of view. The new message might contain almost anything we can imagine. Visit the project’s site to sign the petition, donate, and consider, just what would you want an alien civilization to hear, see, and understand about the best of humanity circa 2017?

via Ezra Klein/Vox

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Carl Sagan Sent Music & Photos Into Space So That Aliens Could Understand Human Civilization (Even After We’re Gone) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

How Ada Lovelace, Daughter of Lord Byron, Wrote the First Computer Program in 1842–a Century Before the First Computer

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I’ve never quite understood why the phrase “revisionist history” became purely pejorative. Of course, it has its Orwellian dark side, but all knowledge has to be revised periodically, as we acquire new information and, ideally, discard old prejudices and narrow frames of reference. A failure to do so seems fundamentally regressive, not only in political terms, but also in terms of how we value accurate, interesting, and engaged scholarship. Such research has recently brought us fascinating stories about previously marginalized people who made significant contributions to scientific discovery, such as NASA’s “human computers,” portrayed in the book Hidden Figures, then dramatized in the film of the same name.

Likewise, the many women who worked at Bletchley Park during World War II—helping to decipher encryptions like the Nazi Enigma Code (out of nearly 10,000 codebreakers, about 75% were women)—have recently been getting their historical due, thanks to “revisionist” researchers. And, as we noted in a recent post, we might not know much, if anything, about silent film star Hedy Lamarr’s significant contributions to wireless, GPS, and Bluetooth technology were it not for the work of historians like Richard Rhodes. These few examples, among many, show us a fuller, more accurate, and more interesting view of the history of science and technology, and they inspire women and girls who want to enter the field, yet have grown up with few role models to encourage them.

We can add to the pantheon of great women in science the name Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, the daughter of Romantic poet Lord Byron. Lovelace has been renowned, as Hank Green tells us in the video at the top of the post, for writing the first computer program, “despite living a century before the invention of the modern computer.” This picture of Lovelace has been a controversial one. “Historians disagree,” writes prodigious mathematician Stephen Wolfram. “To some she is a great hero in the history of computing; to others an overestimated minor figure.”

Wolfram spent some time with “many original documents” to untangle the mystery. “I feel like I’ve finally gotten to know Ada Lovelace,” he writes, “and gotten a grasp on her story. In some ways it’s an ennobling and inspiring story; in some ways it’s frustrating and tragic.” Educated in math and music by her mother, Anne Isabelle Milbanke, Lovelace became acquainted with mathematics professor Charles Babbage, the inventor of a calculating machine called the Difference Engine, “a 2-foot-high hand-cranked contraption with 2000 brass parts.” Babbage encouraged her to pursue her interests in mathematics, and she did so throughout her life.

Widely acknowledged as one of the forefathers of computing, Babbage eventually corresponded with Lovelace on the creation of another machine, the Analytical Engine, which “supported a whole list of possible kinds of operations, that could in effect be done in arbitrarily programmed sequence.” When, in 1842, Italian mathematician Louis Menebrea published a paper in French on the Analytical Engine, “Babbage enlisted Ada as translator,” notes the San Diego Supercomputer Center’s Women in Science project. “During a nine-month period in 1842-43, she worked feverishly on the article and a set of Notes she appended to it. These are the source of her enduring fame.” (You can read her translation and notes here.)

In the course of his research, Wolfram pored over Babbage and Lovelace’s correspondence about the translation, which reads “a lot like emails about a project might today, apart from being in Victorian English.” Although she built on Babbage and Menebrea’s work, “She was clearly in charge” of successfully extrapolating the possibilities of the Analytical Engine, but she felt “she was first and foremost explaining Babbage’s work, so wanted to check things with him.” Her additions to the work were very well-received—Michael Faraday called her “the rising star of Science”—and when her notes were published, Babbage wrote, “you should have written an original paper.”

Unfortunately, as a woman, “she couldn’t get access to the Royal Society’s library in London,” and her ambitions were derailed by a severe health crisis. Lovelace died of cancer at the age of 37, and for some time, her work sank into semi-obscurity. Though some historians have  seen her as simply an expositor of Babbage’s work, Wolfram concludes that it was Ada who had the idea of “what the Analytical Engine should be capable of.” Her notes suggested possibilities Babbage had never dreamed. As the Women in Science project puts it, “She rightly saw [the Analytical Engine] as what we would call a general-purpose computer. It was suited for ‘developping [sic] and tabulating any function whatever. . . the engine [is] the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity.’ Her Notes anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music.”

In a recent episode of the BBC’s In Our Time, above, you can hear host Melvyn Bragg discuss Lovelace’s importance with historians and scholars Patricia Fara, Doron Swade, and John Fuegi. And be sure to read Wolfram’s biographical and historical account of Lovelace here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Ada Lovelace, Daughter of Lord Byron, Wrote the First Computer Program in 1842–a Century Before the First Computer is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.