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Measuring the average foot

5 minutes

The trial

16 minutes

Poetry of perception: ‘We Grow Accustomed to the Dark’

2 minutes

Tusalava

9 minutes

How ISPs violate the laws of mathematics

6 minutes

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Before modern measurement standards, finding the length of a foot took a village

The foot is a most easily accessible tool and it had a lengthy history as a means of measuring before the introduction of national and international standards. So how were earlier standards created? In this short video from 1981, the British physicist Reginald Victor Jones demonstrates a clever methodology for finding the length of an average foot illustrated in a 16th-century German geometry book. The video is excerpted from Jones’s 1981 Royal Institution Christmas Lecture series ‘From Magna Carta to Microchip’, a marvellously dated and humorously English account of the history and principles of measurement.

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When protecting the US Constitution means defending accused terrorists

After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States’ departments of Defense and of Justice launched a series of unprecedented initiatives aimed at fighting terrorism, including US Constitution-bending rendition, torture and detainment programmes. Eighteen years later, many of the methods used in the wake of the attacks remain legally ambiguous and largely hidden from public view. And no place has become more emblematic of extralegal post-9/11 practices than Guantánamo Bay: a US naval base on the eastern edge of Cuba, which since 2002 has served as a detention camp for accused terrorist combatants, who, in many cases, have been held for years without trial.

This short documentary follows three US Department of Defense lawyers – Alka Pradhan, James Connell and Sterling Thomas – working on a Guantánamo Bay case fraught with unique challenges and sensitivities. The trio serves as the defence team for Ammar al-Baluchi, one of five men currently facing the death penalty for 9/11-related crimes. To do their job, the lawyers must earn and keep al-Baluchi’s trust, present their defence before the family members of 9/11 victims, and even fend off interference from the very government entity for which they work – and which they accuse of repeatedly violating attorney-client privilege. It might seem an unenviable position, but it’s one they’ve taken on willingly, viewing their work as essential to protecting the US Constitution in a place where the rule of law has been so frequently and brazenly disregarded.

Director: Johanna Hamilton

Website: Field of Vision

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‘Then – fit our Vision to the Dark’: exploring sight with Emily Dickinson

Written by Emily Dickinson during the depths of the US Civil War, the untitled poem known as ‘We Grow Accustomed to the Dark’ conjures hope and perseverance amid waves of chaos and uncertainty. In this animation, the UK filmmaker and illustrator Hannah Jacobs visualises the poem in fleeting scenes that oscillate between vibrant colour and darkness, through which human figures careen. Beginning with an epigraph drawing a parallel between artistic and scientific discovery, the video was created for an online neuroscience course at Harvard University as part of a series that explores the human sensory experience through poetry and animation.

Animator: Hannah Jacobs

Producer: Nadja Oertelt

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Life emerges, evolves and fights for supremacy in this 1929 avant-garde classic

The New Zealand-born artist Leonard Charles Huia Lye (1901-80), better known as Len Lye, is renowned for his work in kinetic sculpture and experimental film, and is widely considered one of the most innovative modernists of the 20th century. Lye’s first film, Tusalava (1929), produced over two years following a move to London, was born of the city’s emerging experimental film scene and Lye’s abiding interest in Maori, Aboriginal and Samoan art. Composed of some 7,000 hand-drawn images, the abstract animation synthesises modern and ancient art as it depicts simple life forms emerging, evolving and coming into conflict. As with the influence of African art on Pablo Picasso, Lye’s use of so-called ‘primitivism’ has been both praised for introducing non-Western perspectives to Western art, and criticised for cultural appropriation. The film was originally paired with a now-lost piano score from the UK-born composer Jack Ellitt. This version features the UK composer Eugene Goossens’s composition Rhythmic Dance (1928), which Lye later suggested as an alternative accompaniment.

Director: Len Lye

Score: Eugene Goossens

Websites: The Len Lye Foundation, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

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If simple logic isn’t working with your internet company, try Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory

This tongue-in-cheek animation from the US YouTuber Henry Reich – the mind behind MinutePhysics – is a creative exercise in how not to lose your cool when faced with the abyss of illogic. Recalling the mundane, mindnumbing tribulations of trying to get a straight answer on billing from his internet service provider (ISP), Reich concludes that the company isn’t just guilty of subpar customer service – their policies also break nearly every fundamental law of modern mathematics. Reich’s clever excoriation of telecommunication companies was created for The Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses (BAHFest), an annual ‘celebration of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect scientific theories’.

Video by MinutePhysics

Aeon for Friends

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Before modern measurement standards, finding the length of a foot took a village

The foot is a most easily accessible tool and it had a lengthy history as a means of measuring before the introduction of national and international standards. So how were earlier standards created? In this short video from 1981, the British physicist Reginald Victor Jones demonstrates a clever methodology for finding the length of an average foot illustrated in a 16th-century German geometry book. The video is excerpted from Jones’s 1981 Royal Institution Christmas Lecture series ‘From Magna Carta to Microchip’, a marvellously dated and humorously English account of the history and principles of measurement.

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Essay/
Computing and artificial intelligence
Moral technology

Self-driving cars don’t drink and medical AIs are never overtired. Given our obvious flaws, what can humans still do best?

Paula Boddington

Essay/
Stories and literature
Lost in migration

When Walter Benjamin fled France in 1940, he took a heavy black suitcase. Did it contain a typescript? Where is it now?

Giorgio van Straten