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The Late Movies: Isaac Asimov’s “Visions of the Future”

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The Late Movies

Tonight, a special treat for fans of Isaac Asimov: a TV pilot he created two years before his death. This 40-minute film is based on Asimov’s pilot for Visions of the Future, a series in which he planned to explain the effects of technology on humanity, predict some upcoming changes in technology, and sport his super-hardcore mutton chops. Now, to be frank, this is basically Asimov staring at the camera and talking for about a half hour, with a few minutes of introductory material about him. But if you’re anything like me, seeing Asimov ramble on for a half hour is actually pretty great.

Part 1

The first six minutes are not super exciting (they cover Asimov’s backstory) — if you skip ahead to 6:30 you’ll see the man himself start talking. Discussed: how the space race led to satellite technology, how science fiction and science fact blur together over time, and superconductors (remember when we were all super-psyched about superconductors in the early 90?s?).

Part 2

Genetic engineering, space, sailing vs. solar wind, and space telescopes.

Part 3

COMPUTERS AND ROBOTS! “We’ve discovered a machine that can substitute, at least in part, the human brain… We can look into a future when, for the first time, humanity in general will be freed of all kinds of work that’s really an insult to the complex human brain.” (The latter quote is spoken as DOS commands scroll by.)

Part 4

Superconductors! “We can perhaps use it to create nuclear fusion and give us a completely new source of energy.” Also, maglev trains.

Also, shout-out to the Higgs particle (later called “The God Particle,” which is also my rapper name).

(Via the seriously awesome Brain Pickings.)

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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science
Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

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