Does It Help To Know History?

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker

The advantage of having a historical sense is not that it will lead you to some quarry of instructions, the way that Superman can regularly return to the Fortress of Solitude to get instructions from his dad, but that it will teach you that no such crystal cave exists. What history generally “teaches” is how hard it is for anyone to control it, including the people who think they’re making it.

The CIA's first tweet

By now you probably know the CIA joined twitter recently. You've probably seen their first tweet, but just in case, here it is:

I'm using the situation to steer you in a different direction. Recenly Radiolab spent an episode exploring the origins of the phrase "neither confirm nor deny." It is a must-listen episode about the ubiquitous CIA phrase, so ubiquitous it became their first tweet. 

How We Got To Now with Steven Johnson

Discover the extraordinary in just about everything ordinary. Join best-selling author Steven Johnson for a 6-part series that explores the power and the legacy of great ideas. Hear the stories behind the remarkable ideas that made modern life possible, the unsung heroes who brought them about and the unexpected and bizarre consequences each of these innovations triggered.

I am a big fan of Steven Johnson's writing. Pick one of his books and you'll be hooked. He has a fascinating way of translating technological stories to something everyone can understand and relate to. I'm looking forward to it. The series premieres in October on PBS and BBC and will have an accompanying book to go with it. Here is a taste of the first episode: 

In the 1880s there were 8,000 different time zones in the U.S. - 27 in Michigan and 38 in Wisconsin alone! Each of the 50 different railroads also maintained their own time. Just imagine the headache traveling caused! The new 6-part series HOW WE GOT TO NOW WITH STEVEN JOHNSON airs Wednesdays, October 15, 9-11 and October 22-November 12, 10-11 pm ET.


Ken Burns' New iPad App Turns U.S. History Into Beautiful Mixtapes

The app, simply called “Ken Burns,” allows the user to surf an overarching timeline year by year, seeing how clips from each film line up chronologically with – and, as Burns says, “speak to” – each other. Zoom in on 1869, for example, and a cloud of clips from The Civil War, The West, and The National Parks orbit in parallax formation around one another; swipe to 1930, and it’s clips from Jazz, Prohibition, Baseball, Huey Long, Thomas Hart Benton and The Dust Bowl. You can also watch its six playlists straight through – they range in length from 20 minutes to an hour long – or select individual clips à la carte.
 
The concept came out of a conversation Burns was having two years ago with MacKinnon, who is the music entrepreneur behind Hear Music and has known Burns since they worked together on music components for 2001′s Jazz.

 

“Ken and I were talking about how his films were in the search engines of iTunes and Netflix, and they’re always the top-rated thing when they run on PBS, but there wasn’t a digital place where all of his films were presented as one thing, as an integrated body of work,” says MacKinnon. “Then he paused for a second, and looked at me and said, ‘I really love my iPad.’”

Download the app but only if you are prepared to lose your day to it.