There are many ways people amuse themselves in hotel rooms. For me two empty sugar packets, a mirror and a well-placed spotlight kept me entertained (at least briefly) in a Holiday Inn I was staying in last week.
When the spotlight was turned on a face appeared and I couldn’t resist adding a little expression.
Without the sugar packets the mirror merely looked surprised:
But thanks to the expressive power of my improvised eyebrows it became angry:
And then I contemplated using the Sharpie in my bag to give Mirror Man a moustache, but came to my senses.
Interesting new font discoveries excite me more than they probably should. Recently idle thumbs leafing through a design book led me to discover a typeface from the ‘60s which aimed to reinvent those squiggles we make wordy things with. It’s an impractical collection of lines called New Alphabet but has earned itself a place on my list of favourite fonts that aren’t really suitable for everyday use. I’m a sucker for a san-serif and this one’s a science fictiony treat.
New Alphabet was created in 1967 by Dutch graphic designer Wim Crouwel with the aim to improve readability on early low-res computer displays. There’s no curves, just straight lines and 45 degree corners, and there's no upper case. Some of the letters are recognisable while others aren’t but they look good on a page. The overall effect is quite futuristic even now.
Deemed too experimental and unreadable, even by its author, the typeface never really caught on. However it’s interesting to see such a radical way of dealing with what is now an obsolete problem. Does make you wonder if the English alphabet is really as efficiently designed as it could be.
Space, realistic special effects, 1977. Words (and a number) more closely associated with the first Star Wars film. However there was another movie, albeit a short one, released the same year which was equally, if not more, mind blowing in its depiction of space.
Powers of Ten escaped my attention until recently but has instantly become one of my favourite pieces of filmmaking. Suddenly so many visual references to it in movies make sense.
Not only is it an impressive technical achievement, and one which still looks amazing 40 years later, but manages to put the universe in perspective with incredible mathematical accuracy. The camera zooms out from a 1 x 1m picture of a man and woman having a picnic in a park in Chicago at a rate of a power of ten each second. It reaches 1024m before it starts zooming back in at an accelerated rate. It slows down again when it reaches the hand of the man, zooming into an atomic level down to 10-16m.
Of course science has come a long way since 1977 and we can see a lot further in both directions, that doesn’t make the video any less awe-inspiring though.
It was directed by husband and wife architects, furniture designers and filmmakers Charles and Ray Eames and had its special effects designed by Alex Funke who also worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It took 13 months to complete the eight minute film.
An early prototype version made in 1968 is less polished but has the fascinating addition of a clock which shows how fast time moves on Earth in relation to the viewer who is moving close to the speed of light.
A computer generated remake was created in 1996, as part of a documentary entitled Cosmic Voyage, but lacks the magic of the 1977 version, and bits of the older movie look better. A great argument for the magic of practical effects over computer generated ones.
There are many reasons why old books are great. One is the smell, another is the feel and occasionally they’ll contain pictures that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. One of my favourites from a recent purchase, The Modern World Book of Flying (circa 1953), features advice on how to right a crashed flying machine.
Stout length of rope, sturdy volunteers, strong arms of the law… heave… got it. Advice to keep in mind when flying a Wright Brothers-style aircraft.
The book’s typical 1950s vision of space travel’s future (below) is also fun and there’s an interesting prediction by Dr. Werner Brown* that if “work began tomorrow on the construction of an inter-planetary programme, it would take at least ten years before man was in a position to launch the first passenger-carrying rockets”.
Sixty years later and we still haven't sent people to Mars, or any other planet, perhaps that’s because of the cost of said programme – a “conservative estimate” of £1,330,000,000.
And that’s in ‘50s money. According to the Historic Inflation Calculator that amounts to £31,442,264,000 today. Quite a lot considering NASA’s budget in 1958, the earliest one listed on Wikipedia (and then run through a currency converter), was just £319,350,827.83.
*Presumably the book means Dr. Wernher von Braun.
Mark is a freelance writer specialising in technology, television and social media, but is adept at writing about a range of different subjects and in different styles.
As well as writing Mark has experience of creating other forms of digital content including photography, videos and illustrations. He has also worked on various creative digital projects for different organisations.