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July 16th, 2009


This week sees Thomas Dolby release remastered editions of two of the best albums of the early 1980s, his The Golden Age of Wireless and The Flat Earth.

The first is probably best known for a song that wasn't on the original UK release, "She Blinded Me With Science". It featured TV scientist Dr Magnus Pyke's voice, shouting "Science!". One of UK TV's greatest popularisers of science, his enthusiastic (and often over the top) delivery was an early influence on many of my generation.

Following in the connected footsteps of another TV science educator, James Burke, it seems only sensible to use this entry to talk about the final appearance online of one of the greatest series of science lectures ever.

It turns out that Bill Gates has been trying to get approval to digitise the Feynman Lectures for some time - and the first batch of seven, the Messenger Lectures (originally recorded for the BBC), are now online, as part of Microsoft Research's Project Tuva.

From Ina Fried's interview:

You first saw these videos on a vacation 20 years ago. Do you want to talk a little bit about how that happened, and what your reaction was to seeing those lectures?
Gates: Yes. I was in a period where, in order to learn new science, thought it would be a fun thing to see what films there were, and we went to some university catalogs, including University of California system had a catalog of films, and got a lot of health, biology, physics type films--those are those metal cans with big reels--and then we had a projector in a room that we made dark. So even (during) the day, you could thread these films. And there were a lot of interesting ones, but these Feynman lectures that he gave at Cornell...those were just unbelievably good.

After that, I got them put onto videotape, and I got rights to make a small number of videotapes. It was VHS tape at the time, and send it around to some friends who might be interested. But I always had in the back of my mind that it was kind of a crime that there wasn't broad availability of those things, particularly for young people thinking about science.

And so I sort of had this project in mind, and (have been) making some progress in understanding who had the rights, and eventually doing deals for the rights, and then getting these things scanned, and then getting Microsoft Research agreed to host the stuff and create some innovative software around it, which Curtis (Wong) has run. It's taken a long time, but with lots of PCs and the Internet, and my willingness to spend some money, now these things are just going to be out there.

The site's fascinating, and will be even more so as the lectures are annotated and commentaries added.

Project Tuva is an example of how online services can add extra value to video - and it's also the only way most of us will have had the chance to see one of physics' greatest minds in action.

Today this is a small blue thing

It was a blue day the day we went to Whidbey Island. Not one of those sad blue days, this was one of the bright blue days when the wide sky and the still sea and the distant mountains all merge into a swirl of endless light. These are the days that islanders love, the days when we stand on our coasts and just watch the water, lost in the immensity of it all...

You can get homesick just thinking of those days.

We found a little cove on the west coast of Whidbey, where the road slid down a hillside into a tiny park. Walking out onto the rocky beach we could watch the birds skimming the smooth sea. A small rock sat with ripples lapping its tiny shore, an echo of the island, an echo of the distant Olympic Mountains.

Rock (with hidden mountains)

Whidbey Island, Washington
June 2009

Down Under 2010

Folk in Australia can read my Office 2010 review without having to cross those long Indian Ocean fibres, as it's now on ZDNet Australia.

Here's another snippet from the piece, where I raise an issue that I've not seen anyone else considering yet, that Microsoft's focus on SharePoint 2010 as Offfice's integration hub looks set to put them on yet another collision course with anti-trust regulators:
Microsoft has done a lot in Office 2010 to integrate the various Office applications with the Microsoft stack. However, this does mean that you need to have the full Microsoft stack to get the most from Office 2010. You won't get Outlook's MailTips without Exchange 2010, and you won't be able to use any of the co-working features in Word and PowerPoint without SharePoint 2010 or Microsoft's online Office service. If you want to talk to collaborators, Office 2010's presence features require Office Communications Server and Office Communicator. It'll be interesting to see how anti-trust organisations around the world react to this level of integration — especially in light of the European Union Competition Commission's recent decisions.
Australian readers will also be able to see just what applications you get in which version.