Pharyngula

Look around you

British educational programs are astounding. I caught my daughter self-educating herself with this remarkable series of videos. The one below is on the brain — I learned stuff I’d never known before, and I have a Ph.D. from an Institute of Neuroscience!

Comments

  1. #1 andy
    January 30, 2008

    Look Around You was brilliant. My favourite is probably the one about iron.

  2. #2 Rayzilla
    January 30, 2008

    I caught my daughter self-educating herself with this remarkable series of videos.

    is that what the kids call it nowadays?

    i blame jocelyn elders.

  3. #3 PeteK
    January 30, 2008

    “Tomorrow’s World” for dummies

  4. #4 Dylan Llyr
    January 30, 2008

    Look Around You was terrific. For those who may be unaware, it parodies educational programmes that were shown either late at night or (I think) in the morning. More specifically, the style parodied is that of the programmes of the early 80s (I think). This is the first series.

    The second series consisted of half-hour episodes and actually had studio presenters. Possibly even more surreal, though I think I prefer the first.

  5. #5 Zarquon
    January 30, 2008

    OMFNG – A BBC Micro!

  6. #6 LisaJ
    January 30, 2008

    Man, they totally scooped me! I just finished setting up for an experiment tomorrow where I’ll be using what I thought was ‘my’ newly developed phone-in technology to ask the brain of my E2f3 mutant mouse how many more stem cells it has than its wildtype brother. So much for that patent.

    Oh well, I guess a positive I can take from this experience is that all of my experiments will work, as long as I perform them while wearing only an orange speedo.

  7. #7 James
    January 30, 2008

    Eww. BASIC and GOTO statements. Not cool.

  8. #8 Chris R.
    January 30, 2008

    So that’s what lab coats are for…

  9. #9 Ric
    January 30, 2008

    Self-educating herself? You better set her straight. YOu can go blind from that.

  10. #10 K. Signal Eingang
    January 30, 2008

    These were so great. Everybody here owes it to themselves to check out the “mathematics” one.

  11. #11 Sili
    January 30, 2008

    I want an EBE!

    Does anyone know how the broab is related to the crockus?

  12. #12 John McKay
    January 30, 2008

    You went to an Institute of Neuroscience? I thought you went to an Institute of Superscience.

  13. #13 danley
    January 30, 2008

    Yeah, just like Markram.

  14. #14 tacitus
    January 30, 2008

    Now I know what they mean when they call someone a “pea-brain”.

    Oh, and a BBC Micro (in the opening credits)! My very first personal computer. BBC BASIC was cool, especially since you could embed 6502 machine code in it (and not just bytes encoded as ASCII either, like in the Commodore Pet.

  15. #15 Chris
    January 30, 2008

    Oh how I miss having the Science Channel.

  16. #16 spurge
    January 30, 2008

    Was that The Architect from the Matrix movies playing chess?

  17. #17 madarab
    January 30, 2008

    I’ve been really fond of the programs at learner.org. “The Earth Revealed” and “The Mechanical Universe” are two of my favorites, even though both of them are dated. http://www.learner.org/resources/series78.html http://www.learner.org/resources/series42.html

  18. #18 Les Lane
    January 30, 2008

    I’m sure county boards of education in Florida will welcome alternative views of the brain.

  19. #19 soteos
    January 30, 2008

    Obligatory Monty Python reference in 3…2…1…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00nozzKv6PM#

  20. #20 spudbeach
    January 30, 2008

    Wow. That brings back memories. I remember when computers first became a household item, available for sale at Sears, nobody had quite figured out how to display them. I guess they figured that it was like a toaster — just leave it out plugged in, and people will look at them and just buy them. No need for display programs or sample screens or anything. So, since I was in love, I’d type in a simple little basic program to repeat over and over “I love Becky!”, just like at the start of the video. Only one difference — I remembered the line feed so it looked good!

    Oh, and #7 — BASIC and GOTO’s may have been uncool, but in 1982 – 1983, there wasn’t anything else available on the consumer level. And remember, BASIC back then had no structured programming constructs, so GOTO was what you had to use.

    I just want one of those EBE’s — if a 25 year old one can let you read a book just by flipping through, what would a new one let you do?

  21. #21 Alex Besogonov
    January 30, 2008

    It seems that BBC has somehow got heads-in-a-jar from Futurama!

  22. #22 Chris
    January 30, 2008

    Man I love Look Around You. I have the entire series on DVD. Their episode on sulfur is especially awesome. Especially when they make sulfane which gives the test subject laser vision.

  23. #23 Derek
    January 30, 2008

    As has been mentioned, the best one is probably Iron. I cried laughing at the experiment with the pyramid. Although Sulfur is great too. Creating bumcivilian is always great fun. And when I drink, I drink in bottlesworth.

  24. #24 Rey Fox
    January 30, 2008

    “Clever little brain!” That was awesome. I should have been British.

  25. #25 October Mermaid
    January 31, 2008

    I love these. I don’t know if it’s by the same people, but have you seen the one for birds?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfvEgWINUFc

    What ARE birds? We just don’t know.

  26. #26 Abbie
    January 31, 2008

    I should have been British.

    I’ve thought that too, but I can’t really understand Marmite.

  27. #27 craig
    January 31, 2008

    Peter Serafinowicz was involved in that. Talented funny guy, even if his grandpa was a Nazi war criminal.

    Here’s another one of his, my favorite video in the history of the universe:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfEPGFSVcQ4

  28. #28 Ken Cope
    January 31, 2008

    the qualia…the qualia…

  29. #29 Bride of Shrek
    January 31, 2008

    Poor old Nigel, in the background in the last scene, still desperately trying to sneeze. I nearly wet my pants laughing.

  30. #30 Moggie
    January 31, 2008

    I love Look Around You, and I love the fact that it was made with such obvious affection for the source material, schools’ TV of the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a genuine homage, and the attention to detail is amazing.

  31. #31 bernarda
    January 31, 2008

    Every year, BBC Radio 4 has a series called the Reith Lectures.

    In 2003, it was “The Emerging Mind” by Vilayanur Ramachandran.

    You can still listen and find the transcripts here.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2003/

    As Ramachandran is at UCSD, he may have participated at “Beyond Belief”.

    Other lectures in the series are well worthwhile.

  32. #32 Mac
    January 31, 2008

    I was just watching Look Around You re-runs with my kids . . . what?

    Hang on . . . one of the brain in my lab is skyping me.

  33. #33 Andrew Dennis
    January 31, 2008

    Abbie @26 – I was born and mostly raised in Britain and I don’t get marmite either. I won’t kiss the missus after she’s had it, and I’ve been willing to kiss her after she’s vomited before now.

  34. #34 Sigmund
    January 31, 2008

    Andrew Dennis said
    “I won’t kiss the missus after she’s had it, and I’ve been willing to kiss her after she’s vomited before now.”
    I know what you mean, it helps mask the nasty taste of the marmite.

  35. #35 Charlie Allery
    January 31, 2008

    Awesome. I hadn’t seen these before. But then I saw Edgar Wright’s name (Sean of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) in the credits – the man on the phone to the brain I believe – so understand where some of the awesomeness may be from. And oh, I *So* remember these sort of programmes.

  36. #36 Moggie
    January 31, 2008

    Those of you heathens who reject the heavenly Marmite should try it mixed with peanut butter. You might be converted.

  37. #37 Robin
    January 31, 2008

    #20 – BBC BASIC did have structured programming constants, such as REPEAT…UNTIL loops. It was way ahead of its time. Here’s how the program should have been written:

    10 REPEAT
    20 PRINT “LOOK AROUND YOU “;
    30 UNTIL FALSE

  38. #38 AJS
    January 31, 2008

    You mean they don’t make TV programmes like this in the rest of the world? :rolls eyes:

    The BBC was an awesome computer. It had serial and parallel printer ports, analogue and digital I/O, and a general-purpose expansion bus incase you later thought of anything the designers missed out. All graphics modes emulated the same virtual resolution. You could access most things from BASIC without resorting to machine code; for the other times, there was a built-in assembler. And the 6502 was an easy chip to program.

    BTW, GOTO is entirely legitimate when used properly (and a backward jump to a label that will fit on the same screen as the calling statement certainly qualifies). Unsatisfiable conditions such as “REPEAT ….. UNTIL FALSE” or “FOR X = 0 TO 1 STEP 0 ….. NEXT” are just unnecessarily complicated. You do realise that every processor ever made includes an unconditional jump instruction, yes?

  39. #39 AJS
    January 31, 2008

    You mean they don’t make TV programmes like this in the rest of the world? :rolls eyes:

    The BBC was an awesome computer. It had serial and parallel printer ports, analogue and digital I/O, and a general-purpose expansion bus incase you later thought of anything the designers missed out. All graphics modes emulated the same virtual resolution. You could access most things from BASIC without resorting to machine code; for the other times, there was a built-in assembler. And the 6502 was an easy chip to program.

    BTW, GOTO is entirely legitimate when used properly (and a backward jump to a label that will fit on the same screen as the calling statement certainly qualifies). Unsatisfiable conditions such as “REPEAT ….. UNTIL FALSE” or “FOR X = 0 TO 1 STEP 0 ….. NEXT” are just unnecessarily complicated. You do realise that every processor ever made includes an unconditional jump instruction, yes?

  40. #40 Bride of Shrek
    January 31, 2008

    Ah,

    You computer nerds. You do realise you sound dead sexy when you speak computer jargon don’t you? Technobabble me baby!!

  41. #41 hyperdeath
    January 31, 2008

    #20

    BBC BASIC supported functions, procedures and various types of loop from the outset. (Later versions supported virtually every type of control structure you’d expect in a modern language.) There was absolutely no reason to use GOTO, and indeed it was frowned upon. It was widely used in little demonstration programs, but serious commercial software usually avoided it.

    #39

    Jumps are perfectly legitimate commands (and indeed, when high level languages are compiled into machine code, all forms of loop will be resolved into a set of instructions which includes jumps).

    The reason why jumps aren’t used directly, is that they make code extremely unwieldy. If you have a program with 10,000 jump commands, it becomes an incomprehensible mishmash of Spaghetti code, which is almost impossible to debug or maintain. Therefore, higher order control structures (in which the intended path of execution is far easier to follow) are preferred.

  42. #42 quantum
    January 31, 2008

    No warning? Some people might actually drill through their own brains after watching the “demo”

  43. #43 Andrew Cooper
    January 31, 2008

    My favourite line: ”You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to operate on the brain’…’

    Makes me proud to be British!

  44. #44 charley
    January 31, 2008

    10 PRINT “LOOK AROUND YOU”;
    20 GOTO 10

    Perfectly simple and clear.

    10 REPEAT
    20 PRINT “LOOK AROUND YOU “;
    30 UNTIL FALSE

    50% longer. Confusing if you don’t know the language. Based on blind adherence to the dogma “GOTO=bad programming”.

    BTW, I have no idea what I’m talking about. I just don’t feel like getting to work yet.

  45. #45 Joe
    January 31, 2008

    Series One is the one to go for, though – the half-hour episodes in s2 are just too flabby and all over the place. “Ghosts” in S1 is one of the funniest things I have ever seen on TV.

  46. #46 Ginger Yellow
    January 31, 2008

    The first word processor I ever used was on a BBC Model B. It came on its own ROM chip.

  47. #47 Bride of Shrek
    January 31, 2008

    Classic Brit humour. Where “wood” makes it to the periodic table.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/lookaroundyou/series1/periodic.shtml

  48. #48 Scrofulum
    January 31, 2008

    Still probably more accurate than some of the undergraduate essays I submitted.

  49. #49 Peter Ashby
    January 31, 2008

    Awesome. I hadn’t seen these before. But then I saw Edgar Wright’s name (Sean of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) in the credits – the man on the phone to the brain I believe – so understand where some of the awesomeness may be from. And oh, I *So* remember these sort of programmes.

    The writing credits at the end listed Peter Serafinowicz who is a very clever guy who can occasionally be seen on screen but is usually in the writer credits of some of the more weird comedy outputs over here on radio as well as tv.

  50. #50 AJS
    January 31, 2008

    That periodic table is an absolute classic! It’s not immediately obvious that it’s a joke (which would cheapen it) but when you give it a closer inspection, it just gets funnier and funnier.

    That is how parody should be done.

  51. #51 Brodie
    January 31, 2008

    I pulled a thought muscle watching that.

  52. #52 Dahan
    January 31, 2008

    OK, my day is made. Never seen these before. I see a wasted late morning ahead of me.

  53. #53 TombeauDeCouperin
    January 31, 2008

    Look Around You was exquisite; the episode on music was just genius…

  54. #54 Steve LaBonne
    January 31, 2008

    TombeauDeCouperin- apropos of nothing in particular, may I say that I really like your screen name. As it happens, the orchestra I play in is currently rehearsing the orchestral version for our next concert. (I much prefer the original piano suite, though.)

  55. #55 maxi
    January 31, 2008

    Hahahahahaahahaaa!

    I’ve never seen these before! I was very nearly fooled and then luckily my thinking muscles kicked in.

    I actually remember watching stuff like this at high school – ah the memories!

    Poor Nigel…

  56. #56 Tenax
    January 31, 2008

    I’ve looked around, but only found the Region 2 DVDs. I’d love to get this in Region 1 (USA) for my sister, a science teacher in Texas.

  57. #57 alex
    January 31, 2008

    Look Around You is possibly the best thing there is.

    the giant scissors experiment was particularly memorable: “this is a fairly standard experiment which you may have seen in class….(giant bolt of lightning)… if we look outside, you’ll see a giant pair of scissors have materialised in the air above the lab”.

  58. #58 John Marley
    January 31, 2008

    re: BASIC structural components

    I don’t recall the repeat-until structure when I was learning BASIC in fourth grade (pretty fuzzy, though) but I do remember GOSUB-RETURN and FOR-NEXT, which, IIRC, were preferable to manipulating programs with GOTO.

  59. #59 John
    January 31, 2008

    BBC BASIC had GOSUB/RETURN but most software written in it used PROC and FN for structure – far more stylish. Inferior BASICs like that on the ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 had to rely on clunky GOSUBs.

    BASIC V on the Archimedes was even better and had WHILE loops and CASE-OF-OTHERWISE

    I (well, my Dad) had a Z80 co-processor for my beeb which plugged into the 1MHz Bus and meant I could run CP/M and COBOL. Not much good for playing games though so I didn’t really use it much being only about 10.

    Look Around You is very good isn’t it? The second series is just as funny despite the episodes being 30 mins.

  60. #60 Jyotsana
    January 31, 2008

    Am I the only one who instantly thought of 1990′s “Frankenhooker”? The main character has a pet brain in a jar, and when he needs to think he takes a drill to his brain…doesn’t make him need to sneeze, though :)

  61. #61 Rupert Goodwins
    January 31, 2008

    It’s amazing that everyone’s forgotten why the BBC Micro was called the BBC Micro – that it was thought important enough by the government (a Tory government! Under Thatcher!) to get the nation’s public service broadcaster to create and support a programme of integrated hardware, software and educational broadcasts to get the schools up to speed about the marvellous microprocessor.

    (And yes, that’s the same broadcaster who made Look Around You twenty years later, and Monty Python fifteen years before)

    The reason the BBC Micro was so stuffed with hardware ports, low-level programming tools and solidity, is that the BBC’s own research and development engineers (who for a while were some of the best in the world) got to influence the specifications. Truly the last gasp of the Victorian state love affair with the Industrial Revolution.

  62. #62 catta
    January 31, 2008

    This finally got me to comment after lurking for some time! Pharyngula has rapidly become one of my favourite blogs, even though I’m one of those freaks from the humanities… every time I see a post announcing the discovery (and enjoyment) of something I’ve already been enjoying for a while, I love the blog a little more. Mmmh, confirmation.

    Do check out the rest of this series, it’s fantastic. Peter Serafinowicz is one of those Very Funny People you should keep an eye on (turns up in the excellent Britcoms Spaced and Black Books, for example). Terrific voice, too — the voice of Darth Maul, actually. And, craig: what his grandfather did or didn’t do shouldn’t make a lick of difference to what Peter Serafinowicz is or does. Taking into account everyone’s ancestry when judging them makes for very little fun in life. Also, how far back do you have to go before the relatives and their actions become immaterial? Three generations? Five? A dozen? A few dozen?

  63. #63 AJS
    February 1, 2008

    @Tenax

    As long as you have a modern TV set with an RGB-capable SCART input, you should be able to watch a Region Two DVD and get it in colour. Just reset your DVD player to “all regions” (search for the instructions for how to do this on the Internet: every player is different, unfortunately, but it’s basically a sequence of keypresses on the remote ….. Google something like buzco dvp350 remote region hack) and you should be good to go.

    If your TV set only has composite video inputs, you should get a new one still be able to watch DVDs on a computer. Once you have compiled and installed the appropriate libraries (libdvdread and libdvdcss, If My Memory Serves Me Correctly) you can play any region DVDs in Xine and VLC.

  64. #64 World
    August 4, 2008

    Look Around You was brilliant. Thanks and greetings!

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