Some years ago, back when I was in sixth form and trying to decide what I wanted to study at University, the BBC broadcast a Horizon documentary on novel interfaces for computers, which was presented by Douglas Adams and Tom Baker. The documentary presented a future information system in which you could follow links between documents, images and videos, with software "agents" that helped you find things. More than anything else, it was a novel documentary by itself; how better to show what a new information system might be like, than to film the documentary as if it were being presented by that information system.
The memory of this documentary, Hyperland, stayed with me, and was one of the reasons why I decided to read computer science rather than electronics (this book and this book were the other reasons). Moving forward a few years, I first came across the Web in the autumn of 1993, with the release of the Mosaic browser (I can still remember various of my contemporaries, possibly including evildespot and perdita_fysh, telling me that the Web wouldn't come to anything).
The early Web was quite exhilarating, but it still didn't live up to the promise of Hyperland. I graduated and moved to Cambridge. As I got more disillusioned with my employer (a certain large Scandinavian mobile telecoms company that isn't Ericsson), I spent more time reading academic papers on the subject of hypertext and agents. In order to get a better grounding in AI, I studied for my Masters in Edinburgh. After that, I looked around for PhD places, and found that the University of Southampton was the place to go in the UK if you wanted to do research on hypertext.
The rest, as they say, is history.( Hyperland, via Google Video )
Thanks to stevegreen, I've now seen SuperThunderStingCar, the rather affectionate Pete and Dud parody of all things Gerry Anderson from Not Only...But Also, for the second time in fifteen years. For the UWSF&FS folk, this was shown at a couple of the video weekends back when Mike was running them in the early 90s.( Superthunderstingcar )
While I'm not currently a member of a film society, I don't regret the 10 years that I spent with film societies and the BFFS. For one, I've ended up married to ias as a direct result, but more importantly, I've been introduced to a wide range of cinema and filmmakers that I just wouldn't otherwise have been exposed to (and I'm fairly certain that ias would probably have put those in the same order).
One such filmmaker is Len Lye, a New Zealander who worked in the GPO (General Post Office) Film Unit in the years before WWII. During this time, he produced a number of experimental films using a technique he called direct animation, in which the images were painted or scratched directly onto the celluloid. In order to justify this work to his paymasters, the films usually had some postal-related advertising message tacked on at the end.
The GPO Film Unit was a incredible hotbed of talent; headed by John Grierson, it employed a number of the leading experimental filmmakers of the time, including Lotte Reiniger and Norman McLaren (best known for his later work for the National Film Board of Canada).
But back to Lye. Last week, ias and I took a day off to see the Modernism exhibition at the V&A (more in another post). Tucked into one of the later rooms was a video loop showing Lye's Rainbow Dance; the music from this film was on a constant loop, so we'd had an inkling of what was to come. I was so distracted that I quite failed to drool over the Tatra T87 in the same room...
So, gleaned from YouTube (thank heavens for Web2.0), here are three of Len Lye's finest, three joyful, jazz-infused paeans to parcel rates, post office savings accounts and the importance of posting early:( A Colour Box (1935) ) ( Rainbow Dance (1936) ) ( Trade Tattoo (1937) )
This isn't exactly news, but it may interest some of you. First, a bit of computer history. In 1968, Doug Englebart gave a ninety-minute demonstration of NLS at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco. NLS, the oNLine System, had been under development by the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford since 1962, and had a number of features which we now consider commonplace: the mouse, outline lists, hypertext links, and so on.
The demo was filmed at the time, and there have been copies and fragments of varying quality floating around ever since. Some enterprising soul has now uploaded the full film to Google Video; the text isn't particularly clear, and there are some audio artifacts, but it's still an intriguing glimpse of how the present day used to look when it was still the future.