Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson


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.
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