Recommendation- 3 Videos about Writing and Libraries

So, if anyone has read some of my past recommendations, you will know that I enjoy learning about languages and the history of writing. I thought I had recommended two of these videos before, but apparently I have made the mistake of not doing so yet. The third video is a lecture from Irving Finkel, who I have become familiar with as the expert on cuneiform that is always interviewed for documentaries on ancient writing. In fact, one of my favorite documentaries features him, and I will recommend that one later this month. For now, let me stick with just three, since that accounts for about three hours of viewing if you watch them all!

I will first say, if you feel like lectures are dry, boring experiences, you have never listened to Dr. Finkel give one. He is delightful to listen to, clearly loves his work, and, like many historians I have have met, wants to make sure you understand that his time period is the best! From personal experience with reading primary documents in depth, it is easy to hear how well Dr. Finkel knows the material and the people who wrote the documents. I do not have the expertise that Dr. Finkel has with cuneiform, but I recognize the ability to begin to understand personalities from just government and official documents. There were a number of times I could almost hear the sighs of frustration by the writer of the council minutes from a meeting over 200 years ago. However, the first two videos I am going to recommend are a little less like a lecture, and will take you through the beginnings of the written word and how it developed until the time of the movable type printing press

The first 2 videos are a set of documentaries from PBS NOVA. The first one is called A to Z: The First Alphabet. The second in the series is A to Z: How Writing Changed the World. While the first one is my favorite of the two, I highly recommend both of these. They are easy to follow, and tell the wonderful story of the beginning of writing, the development of the alphabet by a group of immigrants, and the way writing transformed how civilizations worked. You can find both of these videos on the PBS Passport website, or check your public library’s streaming service for Films on Demand, which carries the videos.

The third video is a talk by Dr. Finkel from the British Museum YouTube Channel. It is entitled The Great Library at Nineveh, and Dr. Finkel talks about the tablets found in the ruins of the library, some of the documents that have been translated, and what is known (and unknown) of the library’s holdings. There is also some general history about the start of the library by King Ashurbanipal of Assyria. The real fun is hearing Dr. Finkel talk about this subject as only he can!

Featured image at top is “Zine Study XIV: [language]” by Shawn Econo is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Recommendation – PBS EON series

Well, that attempt at having two postings per month did not last long! I didn’t post in February, so this is really late. It is also another recommendation for a great series on YouTube, especially for those who are interested in science and dinosaurs. If you watch YouTube much, you might have come across some of the shows from PBS Digital Studios. There are a number of them that you can watch, and they are all similar in structure and length. The one I am going to describe today is called Eons, and it is about different points in Earth’s history, from the very beginning of life up until the beginnings of the human era. The one most people might notice first are the episodes on dinosaurs, but there are a lot of other subjects covered, such as all those about species that were around earlier, sometimes much earlier, such as trilobites and crocodilians (yes, that is an actual word for an real group of animals from the Triassic period; I’m not making it up!).

I’ve watched a lot of these episodes, and I do have my favorites. There are a lot of episodes, since the series has been around for about 4 years. There are subjects for most interests, such as the evolution of insects, plants, fungi, the beginning of plate tectonics, the snowball earth, and other strange and interesting things about earth’s past. Each episode is similar – they last from 6 to 15 minutes, there are a lot of illustrations and graphics show about the subject or animals, and the narrator gives both scientific details using the latest research and the debates around that research. One thing you do have to get used to is the pace – it is fast. They actually give a lot of information in that short run time, but the amount of information means that there aren’t any pauses in the flow. So you have to pay attention, or you might be watching the video two or three times to catch everything. There are also a lot of strange words, so trying to memorize any of them calls for either a lot of concentration, or you will be looking up a lot of strange words on Google! One thing that’s provided in the Description section are the links for the research mentioned in each episode, so you can look up those subjects that catch your interest.

The narrators are generally very good, and keep the fast pace of words understandable (I know from experience that takes of a lot of work). They also have enthusiasm for their subjects, and they are usually very enjoyable to listen to. There are about 4 or 5 different hosts, and they rotate for the different episodes. I do have favorite episodes, but that has to do with the subject matter, not the host narrator. I am going to embed a couple of my favorite episodes here, but I am also including the direct link the YouTube channel for PBS Eons so you can find your own favorite!

Link- PBS Digital Studios EONS

This episode is a good introduction to how the show talks about the history of the planet, and will get you used to the different time periods.

This episode is about dinosaurs, but maybe not the ones that most people think about first! It is the story of how we began to realize that dinosaurs are still around – as birds.

This last one is just fun – its about the theory on why humans don’t have fur like most other mammals. Hearing about the ways scientists and researchers went through the process of developing theories of evolution is one of the really great things about these videos. I highly recommend trying them out!

Recommendation- Webb Telescope

Soooooo – I have really gotten behind on writing posts. In my defense, I used my holiday break to redesign a website, and then I have been getting adjusted to a new internship/practicum for this semester with NC LIVE, in addition to continuing work as a research assistant, a class, and working as an intern at the campus library. So I am going to go ahead and say that updating is going to be a spotty for a few months! I have decided to try to do at least two Recommendation posts a month, and see how that goes. If possible, I will add another post sometime in the month. It’s just a matter of getting into the habit, so here goes!

I decided to post a few embeds about the Webb Telescope that just achieved its halo orbit of the L2 point last week. It was an incredible achievement, and I was tracking it from it’s launch on December 25 to is final orbit. NASA has a great website that has updates on how it is proceeding and what is coming up. Now that the telescope is completely unfolded, and it is in place at the L2 point, there are several months of testing and getting the mirrors completely aligned for observations. I remember the same process being done for the Hubble telescope, but without all the great internet options for keeping up with it’s progress. I was taking astronomy as Hubble was being launched and tested, and I remember the excitement of waiting for the first images (which were a big problem that had to be corrected with a spacewalk).

I have been listening to a number of podcasts about the telescope, and I also wanted to know more about Lagrange Points (Webb is at L2 of 5). So in addition to the NASA JWST link, I have a YouTube video by a Scottish physicist named Scott Manly, who has a really good video explaining what the Lagrange points are and how they work. For general information about the telescope and what it is going to look for, I am including two podcasts from Vox media’s Unexplainable, which I have recommended before. These two podcasts are each about 25 minutes, and give a good overview. If you like astronomy like I do, the Webb Telescope is a great thing to be excited about!

Webb Telescope –NASA website link

You can also check out the YouTube videos of the big points of opening the telescope. They are usually about 2 hours long, but they contain a lot of information from the people actually doing the work of launching and unfolding the telescope. (The featured image for this post is from the NASA artist images of the telescope in space; you can find those from this link as well!)

General overview from Vox

Lagrange Points description

Recommendation – Learning Microsoft Excel and Website Coding

I am late in getting this new entry posted, but I have been learning new things at a quick pace! I wanted to share two resources for anyone wanting to learn how to work with Excel sheets or how to code for websites. My class work lately has been heavy on website design, and my work as a graduate assistant has required more detailed knowledge of using Excel sheets than I had previously known. Like everyone else, I turned to the web to see what was available (and yes, I am in graduate school, but they expect me to find a lot of this information myself!). After trying several different avenues, I found two resources that I wanted to share. I have found both to be very helpful with learning and practicing new skills, so if you are interested in either, check these out!

The first is learning Excel. If you are like me, you probably have done some basic work with Excel, but never really needed to go very deep into its various uses. There are a lot of people who have to learn Excel for a job, but most people don’t deal with numbers and statistical analysis every day. However, if you want to gain a new skill on your own, I have found a set of YouTube videos that helped me a lot when working with Excel files. The person who presents these videos has a website with other resources as well, so I am going to include links for both his channel and website at the end of this section. The title of the video set is Microsoft Excel Tutorials for Beginners, and there are about 13 total videos. However, you can pick and choose which videos interest you, depending on what you want to learn. The presenter, Jamie Keet, provides a timed overview of each video, most of which are around 20 minutes. The overview allows you to jump to the sections you want to hear, or perhaps re-hear, without going through the entire video. His video is easy to follow, and he doesn’t make assumptions about what you already know. If you already know how to work with certain parts of Excel, you can always jump to the next section. (I recommend listening to the whole thing first, he provides little time saving tricks you might not know.) Mr. Keet also has a website/blog called Teachers’ Tech that has other helpful content for those wanting to learn about digital resources. I highly recommend the videos!

Microsoft Excel For Beginners and

Teachers’ Tech website

My second recommendation is for learning HTML and CSS coding. To be honest, most people probably don’t need to learn coding if they want to create a website or use most modern digital media. However, learning is always fun, and it helps you understand how websites work. If you are using a CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress, Wix, or Weebly, learning how coding works can help you make better decisions when you are creating your digital works. And really, at least you will know why the darn thing won’t do what you want it to! For learning coding, my biggest help has been W3Schools. This website is run out of Norway, and started in 1998. It has all different types of coding lessons, and the tutorials are very simple. Some people might think they are too simple, but I have found them easy to understand and quick to go through. You will need to practice your coding by writing code (I use Atom, a free download coding software, but you can easily just use Notepad if you are on a PC). The main thing about the way this teaches coding is through gradually taking you though each part, and allowing you to open up a practice page. On the practice page you have the code on one side, and the webpage result on the other. This makes it very simple to change something and see the result right beside the code. I wouldn’t try to do much writing on the Example pages, but once you get the idea, you can work on Notepad or any other code software and try out what you are learning. If you just want to dip your toes into coding, W3Schools are really nice to use.


Featured Image by Lawrence Monk from Pixabay

Recommendations – Documentaries

In this post, I am going to recommend a couple of documentaries about two of my favorite subjects, astronomy and language. I have watched both of these videos numerous times, and they always make me happy and tear up at the same time, as well as being just really good documentaries. Both of these videos are available on NCLive through most public and academic libraries. However, if you are not in North Carolina, you can check your own public library video streaming and DVD collection. The astronomy documentary, The Farthest, can also be found on PBS Passport. And currently the language documentary, Breaking the Maya Code, is on Amazon Prime.

I’ll start with The Farthest – Voyager in Space released in 2017, which is a film on the building, launch, and travel to the outer planets by Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. It is one of the best astronomy videos I have ever watched, and I really like documentaries and films on astronomy. The format includes commentary by some of the scientists who worked on the project, together with still photography, contemporary video, and a great music score that weaves into a whole that is both informative and entertaining. The film captures the epic scale of the achievement, but also makes it personal to the people that worked on the project, emphasizing the human aspect of the search for answers through science. While it has a lot of good science information in it, the emotion it conveys about why we reach for the stars, and strive to know what is outside our planet, is a constant theme of the film. If you want to feel optimistic about the human species, this film can give you hope. (2 hour film)

The second film I want to recommend is called Breaking the Maya Code (2008). Like the above documentary, it is one that combines interviews of linguists with a really good narrative and great pacing. The music score can’t compete with The Farthest, but other than that, it is an excellent documentary. The subject of this film is the effort to translate the Maya glyphs found in ancient Central American cities, after almost all books of the writing were destroyed during the Spanish Conquest. As a historian and a new librarian, I find this documentary painful when considering how much was lost when European colonists destroyed so many books of the Mayan people during the 1600s. However, it is also uplifting to see some efforts being made to return the writing to those Mayan descendants now living in southern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, especially since their modern language is what gave the clues to translating the ancient writing. The film follows the beginnings of the efforts to translate the carvings of the Mayans by Europeans during the 1800s, then goes back to the reasons for the loss of the language. From there, it picks back up with the efforts in the 20th century to figure out the complex Mayan language and translate it to better understand the Mayan culture. One of the most fascinating parts of the film is how the invention of the fax machine and the photocopier made such a difference in the speed of understanding. Even before the advent of the internet and its coordination of scientific discovery across the world, these two machines helped researchers to collaborate in their efforts. That cooperation and the use of many minds to make progress is inspiring for the future. And the last part of the video, about the schools in Guatemala that are teaching Mayan writing to its children, is a wonderful use of historical knowledge to help a people connect with the past that was taken from them. All in all, a great documentary to watch for anyone. (2 hour film)

Featured image at top is “Zine Study XIV: [language]” by Shawn Econo is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit


Just to provide a little update on a new podcast I am looking forward to from Vox website. This is the one that I recommended from November, that is a science based podcast on unknown questions of science. I really liked their teaser episode that I linked to in that post, so I wanted to pass on that they are starting up the full podcast on March 10. I am going to embed their trailer here, but check them out on the website if you like weird science.

Podcast Recommendation

There are a number of podcasts on Vox that I have listened to, and The Land of the Giants is one of the better ones that I really enjoyed. The second season of 7 podcasts investigates the rise of Netflix and its influence on the movie and TV business. The first episode in the season is about the basics of how Netflix is run, and the next 6 are about the beginning of Netflix, its competition with Blockbuster (and how many people remember all the descriptions about getting videos at Blockbuster!) and then its rise as an independent studio, creating its own media offerings. Each episode is about half an hour, so its less than some other podcasts. I really like how they present the information. I was aware of the basics of the rise of Netflix, but this podcast gave a really good in-depth discussion about what Netflix did and didn’t do to affect that rise. The last episode is about the streaming wars, so it brings it up to the present day. This is the second season in the series, the first was about Amazon. I haven’t listened to that set of episodes, but I will catch up at some point. Overall, a really good podcast to learn about the rise of some of the big companies today. (The embed below is the introduction to the second season about Netflix. The link to Vox is here to listen to the full podcast, it is the second listed. You can listen to them on the Vox website, but realize that at the end of each episode the next one up goes backward, not forward. Not sure why they do that. If you want to listen on Spotify, here is the link.)

I Love Astronomy

When I was in college (the first time) I seriously thought about going into astronomy as a career. My main problem is that math is just not a great subject for me. It is possible that I could have really worked on that weakness, but I decided to go in a different direction. So all my interest in astronomy and space (honestly, I’ll keep up with most of the physical sciences, and half of the social sciences!) goes into reading about the latest discoveries, and occasionally pulling out my 6 inch Dobson telescope. I watch for the newest headlines in Science News magazine, which gives me a good overview of all the main disciplines. The latest updates on the Webb telescope, the planetary discoveries about Jupiter, Saturn, and exoplanets, and the information coming from the New Horizons spacecraft are all fascinating to read about. So I was excited to listen to a new podcast from the Vox website called Unexplainable. This was the intro podcast for a hopefully new series about different science questions. This one is quite good, so I hope they keep doing them. It is on the discovery and on-going questions about dark matter. If you haven’t heard about dark matter, it is one of the really frustrating questions that science is trying to figure out, but just hasn’t had any success answering yet. Apparently, the observations of the visible matter in the universe seems to indicate that we are missing more than we are seeing. This podcast does a good job of getting across the questions that make science both so very interesting, and also something that some people really don’t like or understand about scientific discovery. Most people really want a final answer, they don’t like the idea that there will always be more to learn, and sometimes that knowledge will completely change everything you thought you knew. But that is exactly what science does, it constantly asks questions. This podcast about dark matter really gets at that fundamental property of scientific inquiry, and as a bonus, talks about the woman astronomer who pushed the idea of dark matter to the forefront of astronomy, Vera Rubin. If you are at all interested, have a listen! (And look, I figured out how to embed a podcast, yay me!) If you prefer to read your podcast, here is the link for the Vox website. The text version does have some pretty nifty graphics and pictures.

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