1964 — Michael Apted started making the most profound documentary series in the history of cinema


Dan Winters/NY Times

Apted, now 78, is ready to wrap it up.

To spend time with a child is to dwell under the terms of an uneasy truce between the possibility of the present and the inevitability of the future. Our deepest hope for the children we love is that they will enjoy the liberties of an open-ended destiny, that their desires will be given the free play they deserve, that the circumstances of their birth and upbringing will be felt as opportunities rather than encumbrances; our greatest fear is that they will feel thwarted by forces beyond their control…

❝ These are the tensions that have animated and shaped the “Up” programs on their way to becoming the longest-running documentary film series of all time…The first film was conceived as a special one-off episode of a program called “World in Action.” The mid-1950s saw an end to the BBC’s monopoly on terrestrial broadcasting, and “World in Action” became the flagship current-affairs program of a Manchester-based commercial upstart called Granada Television.

RTFA. I’ll not try to knock-off a precis of this documentary. It has stepped back into the lives of the children every seven years for about five edited minutes each time. It is the record of a changing society.

Even in the wildest corner of your yard (or prairie) mice will run on wheels

Yes, I know this is a couple years old. But, I somehow missed it first time round.

In 2009, neurophysiologist Johanna Meijer set up an unusual experiment in her backyard. In an ivy-tangled corner of her garden, she and her colleagues at Leiden University in the Netherlands placed a rodent running wheel inside an open cage and trained a motion-detecting infrared camera on the scene. Then they put out a dish of food pellets and chocolate crumbs to attract animals to the wheel and waited.

Wild house mice discovered the food in short order, then scampered into the wheel and started to run. Rats, shrews, and even frogs found their way to the wheel—more than 200,000 animals over 3 years. The creatures seemed to relish the feeling of running without going anywhere.

The study “puts a nail in the coffin” of the debate over whether mice and rats will run on wheels in a natural setting, says Ted Garland, an evolutionary physiologist at the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the work. More importantly, he says, the findings suggest that like (some) humans, mice and other animals may simply exercise because they like to. Figuring out why certain strains of mice are more sedentary than others could help shed light on genetic differences between more active and sedentary people…

On average, the backyard mice she and colleagues observed ran in 1 to 2 minute stints, roughly the same duration as that seen in lab mice, they reported online…in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The team also set up a second wheel in a nearby nature preserve of grassy dunes and attracted a similar crowd of enthusiasts.