A-level and GCSE grade inflation ‘inevitable in English system’ – The Guardian “The system is fraught with problems,” added Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former head of Ofsted. “We know teachers err on the side of generosity. They will always give youngsters the benefit of the doubt and there will be grade inflation. It’s a question of how much. I think we will see roughly what we saw last year which was 10-12% grade inflation, somewhere in that region.”
It’s good to see the beginnings of normality on the horizon, but another year of inflated results is going to prove awkward next year, when school performance slides back down to what it was before all this.
Surely, once everything’s back to normal, we can stop bothering with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets and so on. But, as the first of these two Guardian articles explain, there are plenty of other companies out there — Mozilla Hubs, Gather, Wonder for instance — who are hoping that, not only will we continue to meet online, but we’d do so even more deeply. Needless to say, not everyone agrees.
Can virtual meeting spaces save us all from Zoom fatigue? – The Guardian These platforms are meant to improve remote work, but is a virtual experience that fills the entire day better or worse than spending a couple of hours on video calls but being otherwise generally invisible? “Employers probably want to help people gel, but they risk trying to do too much,” says Dr Linda Kaye, who studies the psychology of gaming and online behaviour. “I’m not saying it’s not useful in a work context, but when you force it on people it becomes inauthentic.” Her research reflects the fact that valuable social connections can be forged online. But just because we can create virtual worlds to work in, should we? […]
Much depends on the type of workplace you’re in – its culture and the sector in which it operates. While Hubs, the platform used by the engineers at the University of Nottingham, could work brilliantly for design, technology or architectural businesses, I’m not sure I can see social workers holding a case conference in a virtual world. Would it feel appropriate for a legal firm dealing with serious crimes to hold their meetings as avatar versions of themselves on Gather? Similarly, it’s hard to imagine holding a disciplinary session as a cartoon version of yourself.
As much as I’m enjoying my weekly book club on Second Life, I’m not sure about swapping the office for it. But it’s not just at work where we feel like we live in a screen. As this fascinating study from UCL shows, thanks to our smartphones we’re living in screens all the time.
“The smartphone is no longer just a device that we use, it’s become the place where we live,” said Prof Daniel Miller, who led the study. “The flip side of that for human relationships is that at any point, whether over a meal, a meeting or other shared activity, a person we’re with can just disappear, having ‘gone home’ to their smartphone. … This behaviour, and the frustration, disappointment or even offence it can cause, is what we’re calling the ‘death of proximity’. We are learning to live with the jeopardy that even when we are physically together, we can be socially, emotionally or professionally alone.” […]
“The smartphone is perhaps the first object to challenge the house itself (and possibly also the workplace) in terms of the amount of time we dwell in it while awake,” they conclude, coining the term “transportal home” to describe the effect. “We are always ‘at home’ in our smartphone. We have become human snails carrying our home in our pockets.”
The experts fell short. The group determined that none of Earth’s existing technologies could stop the asteroid from striking given the six-month time frame of the simulation. In this alternate reality, the asteroid crashed into eastern Europe.
US military has ‘no plan’ to shoot down debris from falling Chinese rocket – The Guardian Speaking with reporters, the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said the hope was the rocket would land in the ocean and that the latest estimate was that it would come down between Saturday and Sunday. … The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, characterized reports that the rocket is “out of control” and could cause damage as “Western hype”. The situation is “not worth panicking about”, it said, citing industry insiders.
Let’s hope those things whizzing above our heads are just satellites and nothing scarier.
For more UFO debunking, you must check out Metabunk.
Cigar shaped UFO over Angels Landing, Utah [Probably Starlink] – Metabunk That doesn’t look like a plane to me at all but I’m pretty certain that you got video of the initial satellite train of the Starlink 22 deployment. A Falcon 9 had launched from Cape Canaveral about three hours earlier. The sats are still clustered together fairly closely since they had only recently been released.
Utah Drone video of UFO [Probably an insect] – Metabunk A few days ago, a youtube video was posted on Reddit r/UFO’s showing an object flying by a drone … With these clear videos is I think we could do some calculations, or other advanced analysis? I am tending towards cgi myself. … Here’s an animation I quickly did of a bug sized object (1cm across) moving at a bug like speed (about 7km/h) towards an approaching camera moving at drone like speed (30km/h). For the FOV I used that of the DJI Phantom Pro 4, the forward camera of which is listed as 50 degrees.
Mick West, the man behind Metabunk, is incredibly thorough in his work, as can be seen by this thread investigating UFOs over Loch Ness. But perhaps there are some satellites overhead right now?
But even on a clear night you might have a problem with light pollution.
Light pollution map A mapping application that displays light pollution related content over Microsoft Bing base layers (road and hybrid Bing maps). The primary use was to show VIIRS/DMSP data in a friendly manner, but over the many years it received also some other interesting light pollution related content like SQM/SQC measurements, World Atlas 2015 zenith brigtness, almost realtime clouds , aurora prediction and IAU observatories features.
England’s quite bright everywhere, especially where I live, though I can see just how well positioned the Kielder Observatory is now. And I’m guessing those islands in the North Sea are oil rigs? Look how so well defined Belgium’s borders are, much like the line between North and South Korea further round the globe.
Reminds me of when I tried looking for Street Views across Europe once. Are there no streets in Germany?
Imagine finally summoning up the courage to start therapy, to disclose your scariest thoughts and feelings, and then this happens.
They told their therapists everything. Hackers leaked it all – WIRED “If we receive €200 worth of Bitcoin within 24 hours, your information will be permanently deleted from our servers,” the email said in Finnish. If Jere missed the first deadline, he’d have another 48 hours to fork over €500, or about $600. After that, “your information will be published for all to see.”
It’s a story that WIRED’s UK version had covered in a very similar way back in December.
A dying man, a therapist and the ransom raid that shook the world – WIRED UK After a handful of sessions, Puro’s therapist moved on to find new work, supposedly saying he couldn’t do anything more to help. Puro has managed alone since then, but his story has taken another dark twist – one that has shaken him to the core. A data breach at Vastaamo led to Puro and thousands of other vulnerable people being extorted by criminals who threatened to expose their highly sensitive data.
Here’s The Guardian’s report from October.
‘Shocking’ hack of psychotherapy records in Finland affects thousands – The Guardian Distressed patients flooded victim support services over the weekend as Finnish police revealed that hackers had accessed records belonging to the private company Vastaamo, which runs 25 therapy centres across Finland. Thousands have reportedly filed police complaints over the breach. Many patients reported receiving emails with a demand for €200 (£181) in bitcoin to prevent the contents of their discussions with therapists being made public.
Devastating for the patients affected as well as the therapy company itself, Vastaamo.
Vastaamo fires CEO, saying he knew about hacking for 18 months – Helsinki Times The psychotherapy centre has determined that its database was hacked in November 2018. Nixu, a Finnish cybersecurity company, found later in its investigation that the centre was targeted also in another hacking, in March 2019. “It’s very likely that the chief executive has known about the issue at that point,” Kahri stated to Ilta-Sanomat.
Hacked Finnish therapy business collapses – Computer Weekly Vastaamo, the Finland-based private psychotherapy practice that covered up a cyber attack on its patient record system in 2018 and then saw its patients directly extorted by cyber criminals, has collapsed into bankruptcy with its services to be acquired by medical services firm Verve.
Hacked psychotherapy centre Vastaamo files for bankruptcy – Yle Uutiset The firm was placed under liquidation in late January. Lassi Nyyssönen from Fenno Attorneys at Law was appointed as liquidator, but after assessing the situation decided that it was not feasible to carry out liquidation proceedings. “It very quickly became clear that the company’s clear, undisputed debts exceed the amount of its assets. That does not of course include possible damages that it may have to pay due to the data breach,” Nyyssönen told Yle.
A sign of the times?
Vastaamo breach, bankruptcy indicate troubling trend – SearchSecurity Prior to learning of the Vastaamo hack, Hypponen said he believed that most attackers are motivated by financial information. “If you’re trying to make money with your criminal attacks, medical information is not a very good target for you. Well turns out, I might have been wrong,” he said during the webinar. “It might be now the case that we are seeing the beginning of the next trend — a trend where medical information is becoming a prime target for financially motivated criminals. They might not just be blackmailing the organization with the encryption of data, but the patients themselves.”
A review in The Guardian of a collection of Jonathan Meades’ writing reminded me just how much I enjoyed his television work over the years.
Pedro and Ricky Come Again by Jonathan Meades review – dandyish Hulk rampage – The Guardian Nationalism, for one thing. “Like all causes, all denominations, all churches, all movements, nationalism shouts about its muscle and potency yet reveals its frailty by demanding statutory protection against alleged libels,” Meades wrote in 2006. The coming of Brexit did not moderate this view. “The nationalist urge to leave was a form of faith,” he observed in 2019. “A faith is autonomous. A faith requires no empirical proof … Taking Back Control was a euphemism for the Balkanisation of Britain, for atomisation, for communitarianism based in ethnicity, class, place, faith. A willing apartheid where the other is to be mistrusted – just like in the Golden Age when we drowned the folk in the next valley because their word for haystack was different from ours.” […]
Probably we don’t deserve Meades, a man who apparently has never composed a dull paragraph. What other living writer has a YouTube channel devoted to low-res digitisations of his TV documentaries that the bootlegging uploaders have literally called a place of worship: the Meades Shrine?
That YouTube channel mentioned above is here, but it in turn wants us to go instead to meadesshrine.blogspot.com, “All Meades’ films can be found there, in one piece, and no copyright takedowns.”
Roger Stevens Building, University of Leeds, Woodhouse, LS2. Designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Built 1968–71, listed Grade II*. The building was erected to house multiple lecture theatres, and acts as a focal point of Leeds University’s expanding campus. An initial design was abandoned in 1963, its cantilevered theatres deemed too expensive. A simpler proposal for ramped circulation eliminated the need for cantilevers. Simplified thus, the building went ahead. Constructed of reinforced concrete, since painted, its character is derived from the ventilation pipes and recessed balconies.
I know their documentary styles couldn’t be more different, but there’s something about the work of both Adam Curtis and Jonathan Meades that I find enthralling, commanding and utterly necessary — binge-worthy material to be sure.
Do you remember the hype about Vantablack, the blackest black that absorbs 99.96% of light shone on it? I mentioned it a while back when BMW used it for one of their cars, though I could have sworn that I had shared these links too:
Can an artist ever really ‘own’ a colour? – The Guardian Painters are outraged that Anish Kapoor, the British sculptor who designed the blood-red Orbit tower for the London Olympics, has exclusive rights to the artistic use of this revolutionary new colour. NanoSystems has confirmed that he alone can paint it Vantablack.
Museum visitor injured after stepping into pit he thought was a painting on the floor – Boing Boing British artist Anish Kapoor licensed the worldwide exclusive rights to use Vantablack in art, which makes him kind of an asshole, but we’ve already complained about him on Boing Boing and that’s not the point of this post. The point is that Kapoor has a work of art at the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal called Descent Into Limbo. It’s an eight-foot deep pit and because Kapoor painted the interior of the pit with Vantablack, it looks like a two-dimensional black circle painted on the floor of the museum. You can guess what happened next.
Anyway, this was the link I wanted to share this time.
Whitest-ever paint could help cool heating Earth, study shows – The Guardian The new paint reflects 98% of sunlight as well as radiating infrared heat through the atmosphere into space. In tests, it cooled surfaces by 4.5C below the ambient temperature, even in strong sunlight. The researchers said the paint could be on the market in one or two years. White-painted roofs have been used to cool buildings for centuries. As global heating pushes temperatures up, the technique is also being used on modern city buildings, such as in Ahmedabad in India and New York City in the US. […]
Andrew Parnell, who works on sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, UK, said: “The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial. How many million tonnes [of barium sulphate] would you need?” Parnell said a comparison of the carbon dioxide emitted by the mining of barium sulphate with the emissions saved from lower air conditioning use would be needed to fully assess the new paint. He also said green roofs, on which plants grow, could be more sustainable where practical.
The sunglasses are a nice touch, but Parnell’s point high-lighted above definitely needs addressing, I think.
Here’s another bookish sculpture to go with the others I found a while back.
Idiom installation – Atlas Obscura For bibliophiles, an infinite tower of books is a nightmare disguised as a dream—a huge collection of literature that you can’t get at because pulling a book or two out will cause the collapse of the tower. But it does make for a wonderful sight.
A real-life iteration of this dream-nightmare is on display at the Prague Municipal Library. Artist Matej Kren’s “Idiom” is a long-term art installation where hundreds of books are stacked in a cylindrical tower. Mirrors placed at the bottom and the top give the exhibit the illusion of being infinite. A tear-shaped opening on one side of the tower allows visitors to peek in and experience what it would be like to drown in a book well.
Matej Kren’s ‘Idiom’ – Awayn Located quite centrally, it’s a fun five minute stop to get some fresh photos and look at the book tower. Though it’s a lovely way for people to step into the building, you don’t have to go too far into it, so you don’t disturb anyone who goes for the actual library. As you come in the main entrance, it is literally in front of you; need to walk upstairs.
Here are some more photos of this little/infinitely large landmark. (via)
In an effort to avoid work/procrastinate/improve my workflow, I thought I’d take a look at Notion, the online productivity/life admin/project-management app/workspace/system. I’d spotted it a while ago, but took no real notice. Time for a revisit?
The productivity app that won the pandemic – Debugger In April 2020, as many businesses were shutting down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Notion was booming. Although the expansive note-taking app had been around since 2013, the company’s founders and investors apparently understood that the way we work would suddenly see a drastic change as the coronavirus spread across the country. Notion founder and CEO Ivan Zhao raised $50 million, pushing the company’s value to $2 billion. The gamble on the part of Zhao and his investors was a good one. Notion’s user base has more than quadrupled since 2019. In August, Zhao told Protocol that each week was its biggest ever in terms of growth.
As well as supporting teams grappling with remote working during our various lockdowns, it’s helping us manage our wellbeing, as Angela Lashbrook goes on to explain.
I’m one of these anxious, depressed, low-control people, which would help explain why I’m always looking for the next solution for transforming my thoughts from a frantic pile of garbage into something resembling coherence. A 2017 dissertation by Charlotte Massey, then a graduate student in cognitive psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, found that when people felt sad, they created more computer folders when organizing their files than those who were in a good mood. According to Massey, research shows that a negative mood can lead people to be more analytical and systematic in their behavior, such as becoming more intently organized and oriented toward problem-solving. Because when we feel bad, we naturally look for ways to identify and fix the problem.
I think this is why productivity apps, in particular Notion, have become so popular in the past year. (Even watching other people use productivity apps has become a popular pastime for some.) A lot of us are not doing great. We are in negative mood states because we are lonely, anxious, and depressed — for obvious reasons. A spreadsheet or a to-do list or a Notion page are not going to solve the pandemic, but if we use them correctly, they can help us feel more in control of our lives.
And so on and so on, round and round. Let’s leave the last word to Angela again, in this piece about a more familiar tool.
The next wellness trend should be Google Spreadsheets – OneZero What a green cell communicates to Hannah, and anyone who uses a similar method of spreadsheet design, is that she kicked ass that day. She got her word count. A red cell, conversely, shows that she didn’t fulfill her end of the bargain, didn’t complete her goal, and now that long beautiful row of green will be marred by a stressful little red box. And while list-making can be beneficial on its own, utilizing a grid that can be visually marred by empty space or the wrong color is a surprisingly effective motivator.
Most artists are not making money off NFTs and here are some graphs to prove it – Kimberly Parker These numbers do not show the democratization of wealth thanks to a technological revolution. They show an acutely minuscule number of artists making a vast amount of wealth off a small number of sales while the majority of artists are being sold a dream of immense profit that is horrifically exaggerated. Hiding this information is manipulative, predatory, and harmful, and these NFT sites have a responsibility to surface all this information transparently. Not a single one has. […]
Truly the most shocking thing about these numbers is that they look ordinary. They look just like every other market. Everything about this is run-of-the-mill, banal, predictable capitalism. That is exactly the point. Despite the promises of revolution, equality, and “lifting artists up” this technology has changed nothing: the few people at the top continue to have the greatest amount of wealth.
To be sure, new technology has brought us enormous benefits, but certain aspects, such as speculation in cryptocurrencies, also bring risk. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, has called Bitcoin “a bubble wrapped in techno-mysticism inside a cocoon of libertarian ideology”.
“Mobile 1.0” is the first account of the Finnish electronics company’s expansion from a small business into a global player in the mobile phone industry, beating huge established brands. The first season will focus on the years 1988-1990, when technology for mobile phones was in its infancy.
Those who want to reminisce a little more might be interested in these videos from Michael Fisher, aka Mr Mobile.
When phones were fun – YouTube Playlist In “When Phones Were Fun,” Michael Fisher re-reviews cellphones from the golden age of mobile, the decade-long span of experimentation from the turn of the century to approximately 2009. From one-of-a-kind relics like the Samsung Matrix Phone and Motorola AURA, to mainstream smash hits like the T-Mobile Sidekick, “When Phones Were Fun” is 50% retro review, 50% mobile-tech history lesson … and 100% nostalgia comfort-food goodness!
But perhaps I should be more optimistic about current phone designers. Not all of them make glossy, black rectangles. Some are designing glossy, black rectangles that bend and swivel.
This article from The New York Times has been pointed out to me several times now, it must have resonated with a large number of people. It’s certainly captured a mood I’ve been in recently, as you can probably tell by the increasingly large intervals between posts here…
There’s a name for the blah you’re feeling: it’s called languishing – The New York Times Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.
It’s not just down to you-know-what, though this feeling of life being held on pause for everyone is obviously a huge part of it.
A worrying essay from Aeon on the dangers of misinformation. As we’ve seen before, it’s not just a case of finding and presenting the facts of the matter.
The misinformation virus – Aeon Misinformation isn’t new, of course. … What’s different today is the speed, scope and scale of misinformation, enabled by technology. Online media has given voice to previously marginalised groups, including peddlers of untruth, and has supercharged the tools of deception at their disposal. The transmission of falsehoods now spans a viral cycle in which AI, professional trolls and our own content-sharing activities help to proliferate and amplify misleading claims. These new developments have come on the heels of rising inequality, falling civic engagement and fraying social cohesion – trends that render us more susceptible to demagoguery. Just as alarming, a growing body of research over the past decade is casting doubt on our ability – even our willingness – to resist misinformation in the face of corrective evidence. […]
I’ve wondered recently if, like school violence, misinformation is becoming part of the culture, if it persists because some of us actively partake in it, and some merely stand by and allow it to continue. If that’s the case, then perhaps we ought to worry less about fixing people’s false beliefs and focus more on shifting those social norms that make it OK to create, spread, share and tolerate misinformation.
How about this for a mad theory? Can you even imagine asking this question?
Is it true? Can COVID-19 vaccines connect me to the internet? – Australian Government Department of Health COVID-19 vaccines do not – and cannot – connect you to the internet. Some of the mRNA vaccines being developed include the use of a material called a hydrogel, which might help disperse the vaccine slowly into our cells. Bioengineers have used similar hydrogels for many years in different ways. For instance, they’ve used them to help stem cells survive after being put inside our bodies. Because of this, some people believe that hydrogels are needed for electronic implants, which can connect to the internet.
Robots have fascinated us for years, but are we looking at them all wrong? Kate Darling, robot ethicist at MIT Media Lab, shows us a different way.
Robots are animals, not humans – WIRED UK Automation has, and will continue to have, huge impacts on labour markets – those in factories and farming are already feeling the after-shocks. There’s no question that we will continue to see industry disruptions as robotic technology develops, but in our mainstream narratives, we’re leaning too hard on the idea that robots are a one-to-one replacement for humans. Despite the AI pioneers’ original goal of recreating human intelligence, our current robots are fundamentally different. They’re not less-developed versions of us that will eventually catch up as we increase their computing power; like animals, they have a different type of intelligence entirely. […]
While there are many socioeconomic factors that influence how individual countries and societies view robots, the narrative is fluid, and our western view of robots versus humans isn’t the only one. Some of our western views can be directly attributed to our love of dystopian sci-fi. How much automation disrupts and shifts the labour market is an incredibly complicated question, but it’s striking how much of our conversations mirror speculative fiction rather than what’s currently happening on the ground, especially when our language places agency on the robots themselves, with pithy headlines like “No Jobs? Blame the Robots” instead of the more accurate “No Jobs? Blame Company Decisions Driven by Unbridled Corporate Capitalism”.
Comparing robots to animals helps us see that robots don’t necessarily replace jobs, but instead are helping us with specific tasks, like plowing fields, delivering packages by ground or air, cleaning pipes, and guarding the homestead. … [W]hen we broaden our thinking to consider what skills might complement our abilities instead of replacing them, we can better envision what’s possible with this new breed.
The New Breed – Pengiun Kate Darling, a world-renowned expert in robot ethics, shows that in order to understand the new robot world, we must first move beyond the idea that this technology will be something like us. Instead, she argues, we should look to our relationship with animals. Just as we have harnessed the power of animals to aid us in war and work, so too will robots supplement – rather than replace – our own skills and abilities.