A new moon?

I can’t help but think this comes under the ‘just because we can, doesn’t mean we should’ heading.

Chinese city to replace street lights with orbiting artificial moon by 2020
Within two years, the city of Chengdu aims to swap out its ground-based street lighting with the soft glow of an artificial moon, casting light across 50 square miles of the urban landscape. […]

Reflective panels on board the machine will pick up and redirect the sun’s rays. The satellite will actually glow multiple times brighter than the moon itself, creating a dusk-like atmosphere on demand. The precise illumination can be varied in different sections of the city as well.

a-new-moon-1

I’m sure it’s very technically impressive and will put Chengdu on the map, but…

A Chinese company has plans for an artificial moon to replace streetlights
Meanwhile, other groups are trying to make the world dark again. A 2016 study showed that more than 80% of the world, and 99% of people in the US and Europe, live in “light-polluted” areas, where the sky’s natural glow has been altered by artificial light from buildings and street lamps. Entire cities, like Flagstaff, Arizona and Ketchum, Idaho, are actively working to reduce light emissions at night. Both are certified “dark sky communities” by a group called the International Dark Sky Association, which offers dark sky designations to towns, parks, reserves, sanctuaries, and other places actively working towards a “more natural night sky.”

I remember first reading about dark sky initiatives when we went to the Kielder Observatory, within the Northumberland Dark Sky Park. This fake moon does seem to be a move in the wrong direction.

Trying not to crash out

Crash test dummies. We all know how they’re used, but where do they come from? (Not the Canadian ones.)

Here’s what purports to be a look at how society’s expanding girth is affecting model manufacture. But really it’s more an exploration of the strained economics within this singular industry.

Crash-test dummies are getting fatter because we are, too
The business of making and selling crash dummies is odd, and not only because it involves faceless mannequins acting as proxies for the mangled and the dead. Dummy makers spend years and millions of dollars developing products that customers profess to admire but decline to buy. Vehicles and drivers have changed dramatically, but the model of dummy used in many government-required crash tests has been around for four decades. The industry sells a mere 200 to 250 dummies in a decent year and generated $111 million in revenue globally in 2016, according to market-research company Technavio.

[…]

There are good reasons to use dummies like this. Millions more elderly drivers are on the road now that the baby-boom generation has entered its 70s. They tend to have bigger waists and additional thigh fat, which can allow a seat belt to slide above the pelvis to the soft tissue covering organs. To create a dummy that addresses those issues, Humanetics has spent six years and more than $2 million. “This is our halo dummy, our Corvette,” Beebe says, gesturing to the grandma stand-in. But the company has yet to sell a single one. “We’ve seen some car companies say, ‘We like it,’ but nobody has said, ‘We want to buy one,’ ” O’Connor says.

trying-not-to-crash-out-2

It’s getting crowded up there

The Economist has a very effective, scrolling infographic on the changing pattern of states and companies that are filling up our skies.

The space race is dominated by new contenders
Some 4,500 satellites circle Earth, providing communications services and navigational tools, monitoring weather, observing the universe, spying and doing more besides. Getting them there was once the business of the superpowers’ armed forces and space agencies. Now it is mostly done by companies and the governments of developing countries.

getting-crowded-1

In the past decade the West’s space-launch market has become more competitive thanks to an innovative new entrant, SpaceX. But state-run programmes still lead the way in emerging markets. In 2003 China became the third country to put a person into orbit; India plans to follow suit in 2022. Both sell launch services to private clients. China did legalise private space flight in 2014, but no companies based there have yet reached orbit on their own.

But looking at this, you wonder if there’s any space left up there.

A beehive of satellites
The launch of the first artificial satellite by the then Soviet Union in 1957 marked the beginning of the utilization of space for science and commercial activity. During the Cold War, space was a prime area of competition between the Soviet Union and the U.S.

In 1964 the first TV satellite was launched into a geostationary orbit to transmit the Olympic games from Tokyo. Later, Russian launch activities declined while other nations set up their own space programs. Thus, the number of objects in Earth orbit has increased steadily – by 200 per year on average.

getting-crowded-2

The debris objects shown in the images are an artist’s impression based on actual density data. However, the debris objects are shown at an exaggerated size to make them visible at the scale shown.

Thanks for clearing that up.

Art and AI #3

A very interesting follow-up to that story about the first artwork by an AI to be auctioned. It seems the humans behind the AI, Hugo Caselles-Dupré and the Obvious team, have had to face some considerable criticism.

The AI art at Christie’s is not what you think
Hugo Caselles-Dupré, the technical lead at Obvious, shared with me: “I’ve got to be honest with you, we have totally lost control of how the press talks about us. We are in the middle of a storm and lots of false information is released with our name on it. In fact, we are really depressed about it, because we saw that the whole community of AI art now hates us because of that. At the beginning, we just wanted to create this fun project because we love machine learning.” […]

Early on Obvious made the claim that “creativity isn’t only for humans,” implying that the machine is autonomously creating their artwork. While many articles have run with this storyline, one even crediting robots, it is not what most AI artists and AI experts in general believe to be true. Most would say that AI is augmenting artists at the moment and the description in the news is greatly exaggerated. […]

In fact, when pressed, Hugo admitted to me in our interview that this was just “clumsy communication” they made in the beginning when they didn’t think anyone was actually paying attention. […]

As we saw with Salvator Mundi last year and with the Banksy last week, the most prestigious auction houses, like museums, have the ability to elevate art and increase its value by putting it into the spotlight, shaping not only the narrative of the work, but also the narrative of art history.

art-and-ai-3-2

The times are a-changing … or not

Don’t forget to turn the clocks, er… wait a minuteback this weekend.

Europeans could be turning clock back for the last time
The commission has decided to act after a public survey, which drew a record 4.6 million respondents, showed overwhelming support among voters for ditching daylight saving time. European officials said the reaction from citizens was on a “massive, unprecedented scale” and that the consultation had sparked “the highest number of responses ever received.” …

However, a report published this week from the UK’s House of Lords European Union Committee revealed that 84.6 percent of replies to the poll came from just three countries, with an overwhelming 70 percent from Germany alone, prompting accusations that the poll isn’t representative.

Politicians from northern countries, including Lithuania, Finland, Poland, and Sweden, among others, have voiced support for reform and want the clock change dropped, due to their long, dark winters. They point to evidence that altering the time can cause short-term sleeping disorders, reduced performance at work, and even serious health problems such as heart attacks.

Well, if it changes over there, it’s not likely to over here, post-Brexit and all that.

When do the clocks go back and could 2018 be the last time they change?
Changing the clocks seems set to stay in the UK. It is just over 100 years since the concept of changing the clocks was introduced by the 1916 Summer Time Act, and there doesn’t appear to be any great groundswell of opinion among British politicians about changing domestic arrangements for British summer time.

Vroom vroom

I’m sure I heard someone once describe riding one of those high-powered Japanese motorbikes as being like sitting on artillery, compared to Harley Davidson’s armchair feel. Well, with this electric bike from Germany, you can feel what it’s like to be ‘riding on top of a bazooka’.

SOL Motors Pocket Rocket Is a 50mph urban “Noped”
Making its official debut at the INTERMOT International Motorcycle Fair in Cologne, the SOL Motors Pocket Rocket’s unusual large aluminum tube design is functionally driven, encompassing the noped’s removable 220V battery power source and an internal computer compatible with both iOS and Android apps. Each end is capped by LED lights: a 6-bulb headlamp up front, and a circular array of rear brake lights and turn signals in the rear. The design is reminiscent of Vanmoof e-bicycles, sharing a similar large tubular top tube design, exaggerated even further into artillery-sized proportions.

vroom-vroom-2

It’s certainly a distinctive take on the classic design. Reminds me a little of this crazy bike.

For more strange versions of this everyday object, check out this project from designer Gianluca Gimini, who asked friends and random passers by to draw a bicycle from memory. It’s harder than think.

Velocipedia, Gianluca Gimini’s bicycle, sketches and mockups
Some diversities are gender driven. Nearly 90% of drawings in which the chain is attached to the front wheel (or both to the front and the rear) were made by females. On the other hand, while men generally tend to place the chain correctly, they are more keen to over-complicate the frame when they realize they are not drawing it correctly. One of the most frequent issues for participants was not knowing exactly how to describe their job in short. The most unintelligible drawing has also the most unintelligible handwriting. It was made by a doctor.

vroom-vroom-3

vroom-vroom-4

Medicinal museums

In a nice follow-up to those posts about art as therapy from Alain de Botton, here’s news from Canada about putting that into practice.

Doctors in Montreal will start prescribing visits to the art museum
“In the 21st century, culture will be what physical activity was for health in the 20th century,” predicts Nathalie Bondil, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts director general, in the Montreal Gazette. … Now, it’s joining forces with Médecins Francophones du Canada, an association of French-speaking doctors, to allow member physicians to prescribe art. Hélène Boyer, vice president of the medical association, explained to the Gazette: “There’s more and more scientific proof that art therapy is good for your physical health. It increases our level of cortisol and our level of serotonin. We secrete hormones when we visit a museum and these hormones are responsible for our well-being.”

What must they be thinking of us?

Here’s a continental perspective.

Brexit Talks: Watching a country make a fool of itself
The United Kingdom is currently demonstrating how a country can make a fool of itself before the eyes of the entire world. What was once the most powerful empire on earth is now a country that can’t even find its way to the door without tripping over its own feet. […]

Almost everyone who has a say in Brexit belongs to the British establishment, meaning they went to an outrageously expensive private school and completed their studies at Cambridge or Oxford. In this regard, too, we have been enlightened. What in the name of God do they learn there? It certainly can’t be skills that would prepare them for the real world. Or would you trust a lawyer who regularly shows up to negotiations so completely unprepared that they have to be broken off again after just a few minutes?

Mystery man

I love this little piece from the Futility Closet blog, on a character in James Joyce’s Ulysses that Bloom can’t quite place.

Mostly cloudy
He turns up again later: “In Lower Mount street a pedestrian in a brown macintosh, eating dry bread, passed swiftly and unscathed across the viceroy’s path.”

And still later: “A man in a brown macintosh springs up through a trapdoor.”

Altogether the mysterious man is mentioned 11 times in the novel. In the Cyclops episode we’re told, “The man in the brown macintosh loves a lady who is dead,” and in Ithaca, a catechism of questions and answers, we’re asked, “What selfinvolved enigma did Bloom risen, going, gathering multicoloured multiform multitudinous garments, voluntarily apprehending, not comprehend? Who was M’Intosh?”

Thankfully, Vladimir Nabokov puts us out of our misery. Possibly.

IRC is 30 years old

I was never really nerdy enough to properly join in with this at the time, but it’s an interesting stroll down memory lane nevertheless.

On its 30th anniversary, IRC evokes memories of the internet’s early days
I used IRC in the early 1990s, when there were all kinds of fun things to do. There was a server with a bot that played Boggle. I was the know-it-all music snob who got kicked out of a chat channel someone set up at Woodstock ’94. I created keyboard macros that spewed out ASCII art. I skipped Mike Tyson’s pay-per-view boxing match in 2006 to watch someone describe it on IRC.

<jon12345> lewis connects again
<jon12345> arg
<jon12345> on the ropes
<CaZtRo> HES GOIN DOWN
<CaZtRo> tyson is DOWN
<DaNNe_> no!
<CaZtRo> DOWN DOWN DOWN
<DaNNe_> why ..

Internet Relay Chat turns 30—and we remember how it changed our lives
There was a moment of silence, and then something odd happened. The channel went blank. The list of users disappeared, and NetCruiser politely played the Windows alert chime through the speakers. At the bottom of the IRC window, a new message now stood alone:

“You have been kicked from channel #descent for the following reason: fuck off newbie”

I guess the Internet of 1995 wasn’t that different from the Internet of 2018.

Amateur art thieves

I’m not really one for true crime stories, but this one’s too strange to pass by.

The great Rikers Island art heist
For forty years, an original Salvador Dalí painting went unnoticed inside New York City’s massive jail complex. Then a gang of thieves decided it might be worth something.

It’s a great story but I don’t think this one will get the Hollywood treatment. We’re not talking Ocean’s Eleven here.

After the drill began and the jail’s lobby was deserted, the thieves got to work. One stood watch. Another slipped off the painting case’s locks. The third kept tabs on the fire drill’s progress. Within a few minutes, a replica of the Dalí hung in its place. The substitute was far from a perfect match, and the thief standing guard wasn’t convinced. “That looks ridiculous,” he said.

A few hours later, in the early morning, two prison guards stationed next to the jail’s lobby noticed that something about the painting was off. It seemed markedly smaller, and in place of its carved mahogany wood frame, a brown frame had been painted around the edge of the canvas. A fake.

They painted the frame onto the canvas? Turned out to be an inside job.

No going back

As a photography student in the 1970s, Edward Burtynsky was told to find “evidence of man”. He’s still at it, creating what could be called quite a depressing collection of photographs, though this Wired journalist sees them more positively.

The devastating environmental impact of human progress like you’ve never seen it before
By and large, Burtynsky is still at work on that first-year assignment, only now he uses better cameras and criss-crosses the globe. His images are vast and uncanny landscapes of quarries, mines, solar plants, trash piles, deforestation and sprawl – pictures of depletion and desecration that are testament to the collective impact of humankind. Yet Burtynsky’s photos are not depressing. They are reverential and painterly, capturing gargantuan industrial processes in fine detail.

no-going-back-1

no-going-back-1d

There are many more of his extraordinary photos on this article from the BBC.

Striking photos of human scars on Earth
“Most people would walk by a dump pile and assume that there’s no picture there,” Burtynsky has said. “But there’s always a picture, you just have to go in there and find it.” One of his famous sequences depicts mountains of discarded tires in California. Another shows mountains of poached ivory being burnt. Waves of rock curve into an unsettling symmetry in his photo of Chuquicamata, one of the world’s largest open-pit mines. There is dark irony in his radically anti-idyllic view of the world.

no-going-back-1b

no-going-back-1c

And on a similar theme, some more remarkable images of the impact we have on our environment, from a slightly higher perspective.

These stunning satellite images show how growing cities change the planet
In a satellite image of Las Vegas in 1976, the city still looks relatively small. By 2015, after the population had grown more than six times, another image shows the sprawl of streets, houses, and golf courses into the surrounding desert. In a new book of stunning images of cities shown from above, the picture of Vegas is cropped to include nearby Lake Mead, its primary water source. “You actually see Lake Mead retreat and the city grow,” says Meredith Reba.

no-going-back-2

Strange moves

A couple of music videos that have caught my eye recently.

Little Big – Skibidi

No idea. Psy meets Begbie?

Loyle Carner – Ottolenghi

Here’s some more on the making of that.

Oscar Hudson reveals (some) of the secrets behind his video for Loyle Carner
Set on a train, which looks like a classic (unreliable) Southern or South Eastern network model from the seat pattern, Ottolenghi switches from VHS footage filmed by Ben (Loyle Carner) on a real train before switching to a set built in a studio. The beginnings of the video developed from a “super simple” idea of Ben’s: he would fall asleep on a real train journey, and then “start to dream a train journey,” Oscar explains. “I wanted to do something that ‘woozed’ back and forth between dream and reality where details from real life get amplified and warped in the dream.”

Understanding EAL students’ backgrounds

A teacher at the school I work at shared these news reports from the last couple of weeks, to give us an insight into the background of some of our EAL students; what they may have experienced in their countries and why they may have come here. I thought I’d share them here too.

Far right in Czech Republic: the politicians turning on Roma
Hostility towards Roma people is so ingrained in Czech political life, the country’s president recently called them “work shy”, and in this weekend’s Czech municipal elections some politicians are openly stirring up virulent anti-Roma sentiment.

I know one should never read YouTube comments, but the majority under that video make for difficult reading.

‘It’s just slavery’: Eritrean conscripts wait in vain for freedom
With their hopes dashed that peace with Ethiopia would bring an end to national service, young Eritreans must either accept a life of forced labour or flee.

A dark side

Stephen Shames’ best photograph: Robert Kennedy in his final days
There are clear parallels for me with what’s happening right now. Most 21 year olds are idealistic. Everyone grows up a patriot. You’re in school, you salute the flag, you read the sanitised history in your textbooks. Then there’s a polarising moment like this that shoves you into the real world.

In the US, beyond the election of Trump, which was a fluke, Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the supreme court is one such moment. Young people here having their eyes opened. They are realising there’s a dark side to the United States. Their idealism is being shaved away.

Cutting out distractions

Do you get easily distracted?

Screen blocking glasses
IRL Glasses are the answer to screen overload and digital fatigue, putting people back in the driver’s seat to control when and how they interact with screens. Wearing IRL Glasses makes screens that are “on” look like they are “off.”

cutting-out-distractions-1

Or perhaps you’re looking for something for the office?

Open offices have driven Panasonic to make horse blinders for humans
At what point do we just give up and admit we’re living in exactly the dystopian nightmare speculative fiction warned us about? It probably ought to be these horse blinders for people, which look like something straight out of a Terry Gilliam movie.

cutting-out-distractions-3

Or how about something more … Halloweeny?

This vintage anti-distraction helmet looks like a creepy horror show prop
Distractions are all around us, whether it’s ambient noise or the colorful items around you, and it’s sometimes extremely difficult to concentrate on the task you need to finish. A 1920’s anti-distraction helmet, known as the Isolator, was invented to address this issue.

cutting-out-distractions-2

Hard work being lazy

Two articles on some recently published books which I thought worked well together.

What we do: The evolution of work
Much of Komlosy’s writing about the evolving understanding of labor is illustrated with excellent examples of linguistic differences. Across European languages, she points out, there exists a structural distinction roughly equivalent to what we’d recognize in English as that between “labor” and “work”—the former traditionally more toilsome, the latter signifying not just effort but also the redemption of a realized product. German makes the split between arbeit and werk; French, between travail and oeuvre. In one telling etymology, she points out that travail (and its Spanish and Portuguese cousins, trabajo and trabalho) comes from the Latin tripalium, a three-pronged stake used to torture slaves in ancient Rome. Oeuvre, on the other hand, along with the Latin opus and the Italian opera, speaks for itself.

Idleness as flourishing
It is hard work to write a book, so there is unavoidable irony in fashioning a volume on the value of being idle. There is a paradox, too: to praise idleness is to suggest that there is some point to it, that wasting time is not a waste of time. Paradox infuses the experience of being idle. Rapturous relaxation can be difficult to distinguish from melancholy. When the academic year comes to an end, I find myself sprawled on the couch, re-watching old episodes of British comedy panel shows on a loop. I cannot tell if I am depressed or taking an indulgent break. As Samuel Johnson wrote: “Every man is, or hopes to be, an Idler.” As he also wrote: “There are … miseries in idleness, which the Idler only can conceive.” This year brings three new books in praise of wasting time.

Nothing positive about Brexit

The further we go with this, the more intractable and stupid it all seems.

The hole where the Brexit deal should be
The great sticking point—around the Irish border—has always been there. Since the Brexit negotiations began, in the summer of 2017, they have been vexed by the logical need to create a border between Ireland (a member of the E.U.) and Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom), and the political need not to have a border, in order to protect the island’s peace process. Squaring this circle would be hard enough under any circumstances, but, to pass legislation, May’s government relies on the ten members of Parliament who belong to the hard-line, pro-union Democratic Unionist Party. Any solution to “the Irish backstop,” as it is known, is likely to involve Northern Ireland staying more or less within the E.U.’s structures, while the rest of the U.K. takes a step away. This is a no-go for the D.U.P.

Brexit: a cry from the Irish border
‘Jacob Rees-Mogg you’re right. You don’t need to visit the border… you need to have lived here.’ Belfast-born actor Stephen Rea explores the real impact of Brexit and the uncertainty of the future of the Irish border in a short film written by Clare Dwyer Hogg.

John Major: I have made no false promises on Brexit – I’m free to tell you the truth
I understand the motives of those who voted to leave the European Union: it can – as I well know – be very frustrating. Nonetheless, after weighing its frustrations and opportunities, there is no doubt in my own mind that our decision is a colossal misjudgment that will diminish both the UK and the EU. It will damage our national and personal wealth, and may seriously hamper our future security. It may even, over time, break up our United Kingdom. It will most definitely limit the prospects of our young.

And – once this becomes clear – I believe those who promised what will never be delivered will have much to answer for. They persuaded a deceived population to vote to be weaker and poorer. That will never be forgotten – nor forgiven. […]

None of the mainstream political parties is in a healthy condition. Both the Conservatives and Labour face pressure from fringe opinion within their own membership. My fear is that the extremes of right and left will widen divisions and refuse to compromise, whereas more moderate opinion will often seek common ground. The risk of intransigence – “my way or no way” – is that the mainstream parties will be dragged further right and further left.

Our nation should not tolerate the unreasoning antipathy of the extremes – to the EU, to foreigners or to minority groups. Such antipathy is repellent, and diminishes us as a nation. Softer, more reasonable voices should not be drowned out by the raucous din of the loudest.