COLUMN: This Week's Web Picks: an animated calling; all kinds of weather; a name and a place; script writing
This is the next in a series of posts about interesting and useful websites.
Small Time Inc.
Stephen Irwin is a highly talented maker of quirky animated films. His Moxie won the Audience Award at this year's Ann Arbor Film Festival. It's almost impossible to describe his short films — that's their strength.
Like most good animators he thinks with his fingers; he laughs with them. He draws — literally — on his imagination where most of us settle for plodding, invisible reason and expectation. In a world dragged down by understanding, I found myself gravitate toward his work, because I felt it before I could understand it. Which was a relief.
Irwin's site is simple. It consists mostly of links to many of his animations, some of them, like Horse Glue, available for full screening on Vimeo, the wonderful site that lets videographers post their works. Some of his work can be found on YouTube also.
Like graphic artists everywhere, Irwin has found (or had to find) work in advertising. His clever piece for Adidas is one example. The Library link on Irwin's site is expansive. It links to the works and sites of other filmmakers, photographers, artists that he knows or admires, like Ian Cheng's Brats. and Jeff Scher's Yours.
Irwin's blog link goes to his miscellaneous work, and traces his creative process, progress, setbacks and successes. Not everybody will get Irwin's work or mindset (he's British, after all). But for those who give in to its charms, get ready for some serious relaxation and brow-furrowing smiles. His home page is a secret hideout of wry and conscience-driven chuckles.
When will be the best time to see the fall foliage in Escanaba? Would you farmers like to know what the expected degree day accumulation will be in Gaylord by Aug. 30? For weather watchers, there is no such thing as too much information.
This site, stuffed as it is with links, maps, tables, charts, scans, cams and many-colored promises of accuracy, offers to close every window on the scourge of unpredictability. Here everything is knowable either because it once happened, can be quantified, can be wrapped around an algorithm, can be fitted against a well-known shape, or because it resembles a pattern, if examined long enough.
Many of the links extend beyond Michigan, even beyond what we think of as weather — which is fine. Would you like a Great Lakes Marine Advisory map? Many links go to other websites with exotic information, like streamflow conditions. Hundreds of specialized radar and satellite maps are here, often animated. Current airport weather observations are here. Other links inevitably point to the U of M's dreaded archenemy, the ex-aggie MSU's superb web pages — but wouldn't you expect them to be land and weather experts?
To be honest, you have to wonder why this website exists at all, when thousands of other instant weather providers are available on virtually every electronic device known to man or beast. After all, navigating to these specialized weather reports can take, well, five minutes, during which conditions have surely changed.
Isn't NOAA's weather page a better all-around source anyway? Maybe it is. I should tell you about it sometime, even if it's not proudly, packed with endless, unimaginable data sources like Weather Michigan's is. It may even have more weather than Michigan does.
This is the best-known, most comprehensive and meticulously documented website — a vast, sober, un-hysterical resting place for the world destroyed by the Holocaust, what Jews now call The Shoah. Call it what you will, the worst atrocity committed against human beings in recorded history by the highly-efficient bureaucracy of an advanced nation is memorialized here by Yad Vashem (it means "a place and a name"), an organization founded in 1953.
Here resides a murdered world that speaks in document, narrative, photograph, film, testimony, art, music, lecture, courses, exhibitions, a museum and a vast, multi-lingual bibliography. The centerpiece of this site is the Names Database, where more than 3 million murder victims can be looked up, and detailed records of their existence made visible. Millions more await discovery.
Another page concerns the Righteous Among the Nations, mostly non-Jews who risked or sacrificed their lives to save their marked neighbors and countrymen — like Leopold Socha, hero of "In Darkness," Agnieszka Holland's Oscar-nominated film about one such effort, (showing on Oct. 10 in Ann Arbor). There is an archive displaying more than 1,700 photos of the Warsaw Ghetto. Dozens of video lectures can be seen online. The online film database catalogs more than 5700 films and 55,000 survivor testimonies, though these can only be viewed at the Institute, in Jerusalem.
Countless stories, articles, and pictures in many formats flesh out the legendary names, places and politics (Zyklon, Treblinka, armbands) that once drained all the blood from the dream of justice. These records of heartbreak, loss, faith, courage, once-unimaginable moral sickness and physical horror really need nothing more than the attention history is always threatening to take away from them.
It's amazing enough that more than 6,000 separate languages exist and that thousands of others, like Susquehannock — all of them capable of expressing the need for safety, or hunger or love — are lost or disappearing. People grunt, people talk, people make noise, but noises fade to silence. So people turn speech into written marks.
Lawrence Lo's hobbyist site presents hundreds of written languages and the signs and symbols — along with the histories of their speakers and regions — that have been used to represent them. What to make of languages that now can't be spoken but still can be seen?
Here are Cherokee, Luwian, Mangyan, Hittite, Tibetan, Old Hungarian, Futhark, Linear B, and Buginese, listed by timeline, region and type. Short essays are available on language change, phonetics, and families. A superb list of links to linguistics and writing systems tops off the site's value. By far the most useful pages are the individual entries on each script.
Grammars, texts, learning and translation hints aren't given; but the stories and the glyphs, symbols, characters and "alphabets" themselves are featured, along with maps of their venue, discussed in plain, engaging language meant to bypass the specialized jargon linguists often employ. These are scripts you'll never hear on tongues or see in Google Translate — only on two-dimensional surfaces. No one speaks or remembers most of them today, which is perhaps the best reason for our seeing the shapes so many sounds have used to survive sound bytes.