Collapsing time, increasing order

What do you get if you cross the patient fastidiousness of Pelle Cass with the diligent meticulousness of Ursus Wehrli? This guy.

Cy Kuckenbaker’s time collapse videos let you see daily life as you’ve never seen it before
His “time collapse” videos stemmed from a desire to get to know the city in which he lives with the same vigor he brought to bear as a Peace Corps volunteer in his 20s, exploring Iraq, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

This impulse might lead others to join a club, take a class, or check out restaurants in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

For Kuckenbaker, it means setting up his camera for a fixed shot, uncertain if his experiment will even work, then spending hours and hours in the editing room, removing the time between events without altering the speed of his subjects.

Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Color: San Diego Study #3

They’re doing their best

People are getting a little twitchy about GCSE results day tomorrow, I think.

Poorer pupils twice as likely to fail key GCSEs
Russell Hobby, the chief executive of the education charity Teach First, which carried out the research, said: “A child’s postcode should never determine how well they do at school, yet today we’ve found huge disparities based on just that. Low attainment at GCSE is a real cause for concern as it can shut doors to future success and holds young people back from meeting their aspirations.”

Pupils ‘refusing to sit GCSE exams in new tougher format’
“Making exams harder doesn’t make kids smarter or more employable. It does make them more stressed, anxious and depressed – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” one senior teacher told ASCL.

Another said it was “soul-destroying” to see well-prepared students struggle to cope: “The difficulty of reformed GCSEs places undue stresses upon students and staff. The sheer volume of examinations in such a short space of time leads to tired and weary students.”

GCSE results: further decline in arts and technical subjects
This is a story echoed elsewhere, in the decline in arts GCSE and A-levels and the steady but steep decline in BTEC vocationally related qualifications. And it seems to blame for these changes is the arrival of the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) – a set of subjects at GCSE that are said to keep “young people’s options open for further study and future careers” – but which appears to do the opposite.

A big hand

Remember Mario Irarrázabal? Well, he’s not the only one with big hands.

New Zealand’s giant hand sculpture is the stuff of nightmares
You’ve got to hand it to New Zealand artist Ronnie van Hout. His public sculpture Quasi is part self-portrait, part oversized Thing from The Addams Family, and completely terrifying. Perched atop City Gallery Wellington in the Kiwi capital, the 16-foot-tall hand-face statue looks like something out of Salvador Dalí’s nightmares.

It’s the strangest self-portrait I’ve seen in a while.

Ronnie van Hout: Quasi
His work explores the freak, the outsider, the reject. His public sculpture Quasi is a partial self-portrait. The giant hybrid face-hand is based on scans of the artist’s own body parts. It’s as if ‘the hand of the artist’ has developed a monstrous life of its own.

a-big-hand

Are we all under surveillance?

We’re used to seeing CCTV cameras absolutely everywhere in this country, but this creepy introduction of facial-recognition technology is something I thought only happens in places like authoritarian China.

‘Deeply concerned’ UK privacy watchdog thrusts probe into King’s Cross face-recognizing snoop cam brouhaha
It emerged earlier this week that hundreds of thousands of Britons passing through the 67-acre area were being secretly spied on by face-recognizing systems. King’s Cross includes Google’s UK HQ, Central Saint Martins college, shops and schools, as well as the bustling eponymous railway station.

“I remain deeply concerned about the growing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, not only by law enforcement agencies but also increasingly by the private sector,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham in a statement on Thursday.

“We have launched an investigation following concerns reported in the media regarding the use of live facial recognition in the King’s Cross area of central London, which thousands of people pass through every day.”

So, not only is GDPR’s notion of consent being ignored in our online life, but we are being tracked without our consent outside in the real world, too.

It’s good to see some people are fighting back.

Adversarial fashion designed to trick automated license plate readers
When hacker and fashion designer Kate Rose learned – through a conversation with Dave Maass, a researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation – that the plate readers kind of suck at their jobs, she got an idea. Her new line “Adversarial Fashion” is the result. Unveiled at the DefCon cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas last week, the garments spell out the words of the fourth amendment of the US constitution, which protects Americans from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

under-surveillance.jpg

That dystopian future creeps nearer every day. And here’s more evidence that “Years and Years” will end up being a fact-based documentary rather than a far-fetched satire.

Robotic contact lens that allows users to zoom in by blinking eyes revealed by scientists
The lens is made from polymers that expand when electric current is applied. It is controlled using five electrodes surrounding the eye which act like muscles. When the polymer becomes more convex the lens effectively zooms in.

Scientists hope one day this could help create a prosthetic eye or a camera that can be controlled using eyes alone.

The thrill of seeing

We take so much for granted these days, screens are everywhere, moving images are all around us. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like before this deluge.

Our ideas about what early movies looked like are all wrong
During the first film screenings in the 1890s, viewers marvelled at moving images that had an unprecedented power to transport them to faraway places in an instant. At first, these shorts – which included glimpses of everything from Niagara Falls to elephants in India – had no narrative structure. Audiences flocked to theatres simply for the novel experience of seeing people and places, some familiar and others deeply strange, rendered lifelike and immediate before their eyes. And, as the film curator Dave Kehr explains in this video from New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the images were hardly the grainy and frantically paced footage that has become synonymous with ‘old film’ today. Rather, viewed in their original form on large screens and prior to decades of degradation, these movies were vivid and realistic. In particular, early 68mm film, which was less practical than 35mm film and thus used less frequently, delivered startlingly lifelike impressions of distant realities to early moviegoers.

The IMAX of the 1890s – how to see the first movies

It’s quite arrogant of us to dismiss those early films as merely a stepping stone to our superior technologies today. You could argue that, given the quality of these new versions and the freshness of those first audiences, these movies made more of an impact than what we see today.

the-thrill-of-seeing-2.jpg

And perhaps the same can apply to television a few decades later.

I love the idea of fake aerials. Of course, you can take a love of television too far.

Someone left old TVs outside 50 homes in Virginia while wearing a TV on his head. No one knows why.
“Everyone started coming out of their houses, walking around the neighborhood looking at the TVs there on the doorstep,” said Jeanne Brooksbank, one of the recipients, who lives in the Hampshire neighborhood. “It was very ‘Twilight Zone.’ ”

the-thrill-of-seeing-1

Not even banks are safe

How many more of these stories will we read? Is someone keeping a list?

PIN the blame on us, says Monzo in mondo security blunder: Bank card codes stored in log files as plain text
Trendy online-only Brit bank Monzo is telling hundreds of thousands of its customers to pick a new PIN – after it discovered it was storing their codes effectively as plain-text in log files. As a result, 480,000 folks, a fifth of the bank’s customers, now have to go to a cash machine, and reset their PINs.

Major breach found in biometrics system used by banks, UK police and defence firms
The fingerprints of over 1 million people, as well as facial recognition information, unencrypted usernames and passwords, and personal information of employees, was discovered on a publicly accessible database for a company used by the likes of the UK Metropolitan police, defence contractors and banks.

Mechanical, musical marvels

I’m not sure how I’ve failed to share Wintergatan’s Marble Machine video before now. It’s from a few years ago, but I still come back to it and am just as blown away as I was the first time I saw it.

Wintergatan – Marble Machine

It’s just (just??) a large music box, really, but it made quite an impression, to say the least. And as technically astounding as that is, a new-and-improved version is being built, and musician/designer/engineer Martin Molin has been sharing the journey in some detail. It looks and sounds incredible.

Marble Machine X plays drums

As well as showing us his own work, Martin has filmed his favourite music machines from the Speelklok Museum in Utrecht, in the Netherlands. They’re just as bizarre.

100 year old self-playing violin – “The Eighth Wonder of the World”
This amazing instrument is The Hupfeld Phonoliszt Violina – an Orchestrion with self-playing Violins, Enjoy!

Domtoren Clock Tower plays the Marble Machine song
Malgosia Fiebig surprised me completely by playing the Marble Machine song on the Carillion of the Domtoren clock tower for the whole city of Utrecht!

It’s crazy to think that that 900 year old tower, all 112.5 metres of it, is one instrument.

mechanical-musical-marvels

Have you heard the one about… ?

So today was national Tell A Joke Day, apparently.

I’m Sorry I’ve Written A Joke
What’s the difference between USA and USB? One has a white lead and never seems to be the correct way round, the other is an industry standard for cables.

What do you call a big reptile that gets someone else to bite you? A deligator.

Although a transvestite friend of mine lives in Greater Manchester, he also has a Wigan address.

My scouse uncle does greengrocery deliveries in Shoreditch. He doesn’t have a van. He does avocado.

Groan!

A dazzling early-morning commute

Certainly more vibrant and kaleidoscopic than my sleepy 98 bus.

D A Pennebaker transformed documentary filmmaking. This is his first film
With its frenetic pace, early morning hues, avant-garde touches, and playful use of shapes and patterns, Pennebaker’s first short, Daybreak Express (1953), made for a precocious debut. The sounds of an eponymous Duke Ellington composition form the film’s clattering backbone, as Pennebaker crafts an urban mosaic from Manhattan’s soon-to-be demolished Third Avenue elevated train line. While more experimental than much of the work he would be celebrated for later, Pennebaker’s career-long knack for kinetic editing, adventurous storytelling and skilfully marrying music and images still permeates nearly every frame.

Daybreak Express

The result you were after?

Another year, another A-level results day, another set of the usual stories in the media. This one caught my eye, though, about Labour’s plans to change the university application process timeline, removing the need for predicted grades.

A-level results: a minority of students achieve predicted marks, so yes the system should be reformed
It’s generally accepted that going to university plays a significant part in shaping lives, and the skills gained there help to sustain a thriving society. So it seems odd that at the heart of this process is guesswork – with the bulk of university offers based on predicted grades.

Indeed, Labour has announced plans to replace offers based on predicted grades with a new “fairer” system of post-qualification admissions. Under Labour’s plans, students would apply for their higher education place after receiving their results instead of the current system of predicted grades – which the party says penalises disadvantaged students and those from minority backgrounds.

My first reaction with these kinds of plans is to almost faint at the thought of the upheaval everyone would have to go through. Hundreds of universities, thousands of schools, millions of students. Would there have to be a pilot implementation with just a few schools? Or just a few universities? How would that work? Would that create a two-tier system? Could it really all be turned around in such a short timeframe? What if it all went wrong?

But then, if other countries can do it, why can’t we?

All of which makes Labour’s most recent suggestions of reforming the system a step in the right direction. Indeed, a 2019 report from The University and College Union revealed that post-qualification admissions were the global norm, and that countries the UK often benchmarks against – such as Germany, Singapore, Australia and the US – all use this system.

The OECD’s top five countries with the highest performing graduates also use post-qualification admissions – so it’s possible that students in those countries are being better matched to institutions and thriving accordingly.

Want a better holiday?

Time away from work is great, but is a break from your phone even better?

Leave your phone at home this holiday and you’ll feel better (after you feel worse)
Travellers at this stage were forced to travel in an old-fashion manner, navigating using a printed map, talking to strangers, and reading printed bus timetables. Two of our participants even gave up at this stage as they found the emotional experience unbearable.

Those that stuck it out were glad they did.

Our participants overcame the initial emotions and then started to enjoy the digital-free experience. They found themselves more immersed in the destination, created more valuable moments with their travel companions, and had many more memorable and authentic encounters with locals.

They felt free, happy, excited, and relieved. One participant said: “I feel quite good that I made it this far without technology. I feel quite liberated.” Without the disruptions of digital technologies, they were fully engaged with their holiday experience, demonstrating that a digital-free holiday can contribute to wellbeing.

But if it’s a relaxing holiday you’re after, why not take a trip to Battle Creek Sanitarium, John Kellogg’s medical spa and birthplace of the corn flake?

Dr. John Kellogg invented cereal. Some of his other wellness ideas were much weirder
Kellogg’s interest in the therapeutic powers of electricity didn’t end with light baths. With a device he cobbled together from telephone parts, he began to administer mild doses of electrical current directly to his patients’ skin. Kellogg claimed these “sinusoidal current” treatments were painless and wrote that he’d tested them in “many thousands of therapeutic applications.” While electrical stimulation is used to this day for certain medical purposes, the ever-optimistic Kellogg maintained that it could treat lead poisoning, tuberculosis, obesity and, when applied directly to the patient’s eyeballs, a variety of vision disorders.

Struggling with GDPR, or just ignoring it?

It’s been over a year now, but are we all still feeling our way with GDPR?

PwC’s data practices rejected in GDPR rebuke
With enforcement of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) still in its infancy, companies may be floating trial balloons to see which arguments resonate with authorities. PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) recently tested the air currents in Greece, but was shot down by the Hellenic Data Protection Authority in a case involving the processing of employee data.

PwC will have to work to rebuild trust after shock GDPR fine
The Greek representative of PwC is the first of the “Big 4” to be fined under the GDPR. Moreover, it’s the first consultancy that has actually helped many of its clients with GDPR compliance over the last year. It seems astounding that a company of PwC’s size and reputation that’s making a lot of money on giving advice on the GDPR has been burned by the very fire they help clients to avoid on a daily basis.

Or perhaps we’re just ignoring it completely. Research just out has shown what we already know to be the case — most of those cookie notices everywhere aren’t following the EU privacy-first GDPR regulations. At all.

Most EU cookie ‘consent’ notices are meaningless or manipulative, study finds
Their industry snapshot of cookie consent notices found that the majority are placed at the bottom of the screen (58%); not blocking the interaction with the website (93%); and offering no options other than a confirmation button that does not do anything (86%). So no choice at all then.

A majority also try to nudge users towards consenting (57%) — such as by using ‘dark pattern’ techniques like using a color to highlight the ‘agree’ button (which if clicked accepts privacy-unfriendly defaults) vs displaying a much less visible link to ‘more options’ so that pro-privacy choices are buried off screen.

And while they found that nearly all cookie notices (92%) contained a link to the site’s privacy policy, only a third (39%) mention the specific purpose of the data collection or who can access the data (21%).

[…]

This is an important finding because GDPR is unambiguous in stating that if an Internet service is relying on consent as a legal basis to process visitors’ personal data it must obtain consent before processing data (so before a tracking cookie is dropped) — and that consent must be specific, informed and freely given.

Yet, as the study confirms, it really doesn’t take much clicking around the regional Internet to find a gaslighting cookie notice that pops up with a mocking message saying by using this website you’re consenting to your data being processed how the site sees fit — with just a single ‘Ok’ button to affirm your lack of say in the matter.

In the way that those US academics highlighted the dark patterns used with shopping sites, there needs to be a way of reporting and highlighting these non-compliant cookie notices, or they’ll just get away with it.

No idea

I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels a little clueless sometimes. But, as Amit Katwala from Wired UK concludes, “you have to question the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and the ‘will of the people’ when five per cent of Brits don’t even know if they’ve planned their own funeral.”

Why I’m obsessed with people who respond ‘don’t know’ to really obvious YouGov questions
Scrolling through the results of similar polls over subsequent days, weeks and months, I found a country that is deeply confused on a lot of seemingly straightforward issues. Two per cent of Brits don’t know whether they’ve lived in London before. Five per cent don’t know whether they’ve been attacked by a seagull or not. A staggering one in 20 residents of this fine isle don’t know whether or not they pick their nose.

[…]

Digging into the demographics is fascinating. The further north you go in the country, the less likely people are to know whether or not they can swim. Older people are less likely to have been surfing, but more likely to know whether or not they have.

Seventeen per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t know if they’ve ever attended, watched or listened to Glastonbury, compared to zero per cent of the over-65s. Generally (based on my admittedly unscientific whizz through the funniest-looking poll questions), the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket seems the most likely to respond ‘don’t know’ – which could be down to their relative lack of life experience, or perhaps general indifference to surveys as a whole. By the same token, maybe it’s unsurprising that the over-50s seem pretty sure of themselves.

Has e-mail had its day?

However much we might loathe it, I used to think that e-mail was here to stay. But now I’m not too sure. How many people do you know who enjoy using it? How many young people do you know who use it at all?

Perhaps it will go the same way as CDs or VHS tapes — technological marvels that revolutionised everything, only to become old-fashioned and disappear shortly afterwards. Let’s hope.

Was e-mail a mistake?
Digital messaging was supposed to make our work lives easier and more efficient, but the mathematics of distributed systems suggests that meetings might be better.

Email hackers are winning
The lesson of Efail is that you can build everything well, but if you’ve built on a bad foundation, there’s no structure strong enough to stand. No one is responsible for email itself, and in the days since the Efail disclosure people have been pointing fingers at each other—email clients, vendors, OpenPGP standards, and S/mime software vendors. It’s no one’s fault and it’s everyone’s fault. These kinds of disclosures, and the hacks built on the flaws of email, will keep coming for the foreseeable future.

Hoover’s fatal mess

A cautionary tale from the 90s. How not to manage a marketing campaign.

The worst sales promotion in history: Hoover’s free flight fiasco
In late 1992, the UK branch of the vacuum manufacturer, Hoover, offered an impossibly sweet promotion: If a customer bought any product worth £100, he’d get two free round-trip flights to the United States.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, pretty much everything. Multi-million pound losses and the end of the company, at one time one of the most trusted in the UK.

Under a new promotion, that same £100 Hoover purchase could net a UK-based customer two free round-trip flights to New York or Orlando — a package worth £600+ (£1200, or $1,460 USD, today).

When Hoover ran this plan by risk management professionals, the company was warned that it would be an absolute disaster.

“To me it made no logical sense,” recalled Mark Kimber, one of the consultants. “Having looked at the details of the promotion [and] attempting to calculate how it would actually work I declined to even offer risk management coverage.”

A quick look at the numbers. What were they thinking?

hoovers-fatal-mess

Don’t give up on social media just yet

Most of the social media articles I share here are quite negative. I think it’s got a lot to answer for, in making us less social. But perhaps there are some pockets of positivity out there, as this Scientific American blog post explains.

The technology of kindness
People’s ability to connect is the glue that holds our culture together. By thinning out our interactions and splintering our media landscape, the Internet has taken away the common ground we need to understand one another. Each of us is becoming more confident about our own world just as it drifts farther from the worlds of others.

[…]

Diagnosing technology’s damaging effects is the first step toward reversing them. Harris co-founded the Center for Humane Technology to encourage developers and investors to build “regenerative,” rather than extractive, online platforms. The idea is that our capacity for empathy runs just as deep as our vanity, outrage or fear, and technology should highlight healthier forces.

Rather than thinking that Twitter and Facebook are the only options, we’re introduced to ChangeAView, RareConnect, Koko and 7 Cups.

Sites such as ChangeAView and 7 Cups can appear like oases of connection in a landscape bereft of it—exceptions that prove the rule. But what sets connected platforms apart is their break from common, antisocial online practices. They allow people to be vulnerable and visible to one another and reward them for listening rather than shouting. Other social media companies could follow suit: by reforming their incentive structures such that open-minded, positive posts rise more quickly or by facilitating longer, richer communication between users. But they must make progress on this mission intentionally and soon.

Perhaps there’s hope for them (and us) yet.

Life’s ups and downs

Going to any amusement parks this summer? Maybe give this one a miss.

An amusement park-themed animated short by Fernando Livschitz goes off the rails
The fate of riders on roller coasters and ferris wheels takes an unexpected turn in “Beautiful Chaos”, a new short from Fernando Livschitz of Black Sheep Films.

Beautiful Chaos
Chaos it said to be the opposite of order, and order, the basis for beauty. But that doesn’t mean that chaos can’t be beautiful too.

It reminds me of one of my favourite videos, the award-winning Centrifuge Brain Project, from the Institute for Centrifugal Research, by Till Nowak.

The Centrifuge Brain Project
Written/produced/directed by Till Nowak, starring Leslie Barany.

It’s from 2011, but clips from this are still making the rounds on social media, fooling people into thinking these nightmarish constructions are real.

Till Nowak makes impossible possible
“There are actually still people, especially if they see it on the internet, that really think everything is real. To me that is super interesting because the film is also about our reception of media, how we believe everything, how media can manipulate us. I had never expected that a lot of people would believe the whole film. I thought okay, maybe the first half, but then… For me as a filmmaker and my filmmaker friends, it is very obvious. But people who are not working with the media, it is very surprising for me, how much they believe. Sometimes it is a bit shocking – but also an honor and a compliment because it means that the film was convincing,” Nowak comments.

Nothing will change unless something changes

Such horrible news, again. Here’s The Onion, again.

‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens
DAYTON, OH—In the hours following a violent rampage in Ohio in which a lone attacker killed 10 individuals and injured 27 others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Sunday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place.

‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens
EL PASO, TX—In the hours following a violent rampage in Texas in which a lone attacker killed 20 individuals and injured 26 others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Sunday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place.

The ‘Recommended Stories’ section on each of those pages really drives the point home.

nothing-will-change-2

It’s difficult for other countries to understand why this is still such an issue.

America’s mass shootings are a political choice
Empirically, the US is an outlier on gun violence because it is an outlier on gun access. Americans have easier access not just to guns, but specifically to military-designed semi-automatic weapons with large magazines that are able to murder with efficiency.

Getting rid of those weapons might not solve all the problems, but it’s a start, surely.

Non-reflecting reflections

We’re continually fascinated by mirrors, the first selfies, regardless of what Borges might sayWired introduces us to the work of interactive artist Daniel Rozin and shows us a few of his mechanical marvels.

This artist makes kinetic ‘mirrors’ that echo your movements
The interactive element is crucial, according to Rozin. “My pieces are very boring when there’s not a person in front of them,” he explains. “But the minute a person stands in front, it takes your image. I try to think that maybe it takes more than your image, that maybe it’s capturing something about your soul and displaying it back to you.”

How this guy makes amazing mechanical mirrors
Daniel Rozin, Artist and Professor, Interactive Telecommunications Program, NYU, makes mechanical “mirrors” out of uncommon objects that mimic the viewer’s movements and form.

Daniel Rozin, “PomPom Mirror,” 2015

As well as creating mirrors from fur and hundreds of stuffed toys, what else could you use? Mud?

Interactive sculptures mirror visitors’ movements in shimmering fabrics and cracked clay
In his recent piece Cracked Mud (2019), a mound of clay pieces undulate and upturn in response to visitors’ movements below a low-hanging orb. The suspended light mimics the sun, hovering over the manipulated and cracked earth below. Another piece, Fabric Mirror (2019), uses a digital camera and 400 motors to capture the movements of those who walk past, imitating their gestures in twisting gold and red fabric. Both works allude to how the sun interacts with our bodies and the earth, the former representing a barren future, while the later explores our reflection bathed in shimmering gold.

The global design collection Universal Everything take a similar but more high-tech approach here, with this installation that greeted visitors to The Barbican’s recent AI: More Than Human exhibition.

Futuristic shapes mirror human movement in a responsive animation by Universal Everything
Future You presents a non-human animated figure that wiggles, shifts, and bends in tandem with the user, presenting up to 47,000 possible variations in appearance. The animation also evolves alongside the user, becoming more agile as it learns movements specific to the visitor’s body.

Future You installation at AI: More Than Human, Barbican, London