You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sat, Jun 30, 2012 : 1 a.m.

This Week's Web Picks: War! What it is good for; watch the birdie; making movies cinematic; when science is embarrassing

By Paul Wiener

This is the next in a series of posts highlighting useful and interesting websites.

The American Civil War Homepage

Take a look at these musical Civil War celebrations, courtesy of the 2nd South Carolina String Band. Now that is serious fun! Don’t ask me why millions of Americans are fascinated by the Civil War. All I know is that they are and that no interest group, to my knowledge, has a greater love or hunger for information.

And there seems to be endless amounts of it, so much that indeed we may never need another civil war to replenish them! But even the most devoted, obsessive Civl War history buff may be daunted by this page, which contains more links to facets of its history than could ever be imagined.

Here are hand-drawn battlefield maps. Regimental histories from every state. Battle descriptions like this one of Van Buren, Arkansas. Reenactment organizations and their schedules. Sheet music, biographies of every military commander, documents, scholarly studies, paintings, newspaper reports, cartoons, essays, an encyclopedia, naval history, Lincolniana, and many links to sites like this one that are even better organized.

This site closed last year, and some of its many hundreds of links are dead. It’s also not searchable. But a quick examination of all the arcane details that it promises should be more than enough to make you keep clicking.

Osprey Nest Cam

Many people pay much less attention to unmediated reality than they do to the same reality presented on a screen. The world of videocamming depends on this for its appeal. It can bring to life what often seems motionless, endless and unchanging.

Don’t people strolling on a busy street usually seem to be going nowhere, as if moving were a way of standing still? Cams are everywhere — in birds’ nests, in traffic, on street corners, atop buildings, in backyards, on seashores — but they’re not always easy to find online. offers links to hundreds of them, but many are nonfunctional, time-lapsed or have commercial strings attached.

This osprey cam in Estonia seems to be reliable; just remember, it’s seven hours later there. In an age when GPS apps, Facebook, cell phone cameras and Twitter have made selfcams of our lives, it’s good to pause now and then and look at the worlds that only appear to be static but are always moving beyond us.

Senses of Cinema

Say you’re serious about movies. Say you need a thorough, readable, well-informed biographical and critical portrait of the great film director Nicholas Ray (Rebel without a Cause, They Live by Night, etc). Where would you look? Movies (film, cinema, whatever) is surely one of the most webbed-about topics out there.

And why not? We all worship movies, and have talked about them since before they could talk. Where to begin?

There are a googol’s worth of righteously expert, amateur and scholarly opinions out there about quality, lists of best and worst films and directors, tons of stills and videos to pore over, mind-boggling costs, earnings and industry financials to ponder, basic as well as esoteric genres (girls with guns, beach party films) that are still evolving, festivals all over the globe, endlessly changing technologies, and all those archives. Even lost and forgotten films and stars are studied for the hints they held for the future. And as The Artist proved, films about film are nearly always winners.

For those who imbibe films as if they were single malt scotch, Senses of Cinema, coming from Australia since 1999, is about a good a film magazine as can be found. Its specialty is its hundreds of critical film director biographies, but it also has countless essays and discussions (not reviews) about films past and present, reviews of books about film, film festival reports, and “annotations” of many titles.

Its distinguished editorial staff solicits contributions but attracts and publishes only the best. All its 62 issues are available online. Since SoC began it has attracted critical attention as a world class venue for theorizers, nit-pickers, sages, obscurantists, eyewitnesses, braggarts, debaters, squabblers, quibblers and downright unvarnished lovers of cinema. Which one are you?

Improbable Research

You must remember this: a kiss is just a kiss. But is a sigh just a sigh? Well, you can read the researched and analyzed answer in a respectable, peer-reviewed journal. If that doesn’t spin your wheels, try reading the study “Dizziness in Discus Throwers is Related to Motion Sickness Generated While Spinning” in Acta Oto-laryngologica. Or “Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of Bearded Men,” in Applied Microbiology.

You might expect Improbable Research to be a politically-motivated site all about the government wastefully funding absurd projects. It’s not. The government might fund some of their spotlighted research, but this Cambridge, Mass.-based website is really a serious, international organization, born in 1996.

Comprised mainly of scientists, it holds conferences, publishes books, newspaper columns and a magazine and sponsors the infamous Ig Nobel Prize Awards, all in the name of good-natured scientific outrage. So if you’re looking for a study of why pregnant women don’t tip over or the spermacidal potency of Coca-Cola, or even if you want to read what you already know about the last corporate meeting you attended, chances are it’s already won a major award from these all-too-observant satirists.

Paul Wiener of Ann Arbor was a librarian for 32 years at Stony Brook University, in Long Island, N.Y., where he managed the English Literature, Art and Film Collections and taught internet research. He may be reached at