Everything’s upside-down

Feeling disorientated?

Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger unveils new public work, The World Turned Upside Down
Forcing the viewer to reconsider their relationship to the traditional Mercator projection of the world (i.e. the one most of us immediately see in our mind’s eye when we’re asked to conjure up an image of the globe) by asking us to consider both the vastness of the oceans and the true size of Africa, The World Turned Upside Down we’re told, reflects “the spirit of progressive enquiry that has characterised the School since its inception.”

Minouche Shafik, LSE Director, is quoted as saying, “this bold new work by Mark Wallinger encapsulates what LSE is all about. We are committed to tackling the biggest global challenges through our research and teaching, and this means seeing the world from different and unfamiliar points of view.”

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It’s a simple idea, effectively realised, and sits nicely alongside this magazine cover from Germany.

“A small twist with a big impact”: New ZeitMagazin International cover reflects topsy-turvy Europe
The new SS19 issue of ZeitMagazin International, the German weekly’s English-language sister publication, is all about Europe in a time of confusion and uncertainty. Mirko Borsche, the creative director of the biannual glossy magazine, has created a limited-edition cover for 1,000 copies showing the map of Europe turned upside-down.

“It’s interesting, because the European map looks totally strange, even though fundamentally I haven’t changed anything, apart from turning the country labels 180 degrees.” He says the decision was mainly motivated by the team in Berlin’s feelings about Brexit. “Personally, I’m sad about it,” he says. “But like the cover itself, I think it will change everything without changing very much.”

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Art, design and politics are more entwined than ever.

Luc Tuymans: ‘People are becoming more and more stupid, insanely stupid’
This is a dark time, Tuymans says. “Think of England, it’s no longer an empire although the English still think it is, which is basically insanity. Think about Brexit, about this narcissistic idiot Trump, the whole constellation of the West is in dire straits.” In the face of this, it is important to study not just our history—“people forget, that’s one thing,” Tuymans says—but the way we construct it and misremember it. At the heart of Tuymans’s project is a central conceit: that images are unreliable, that they can offer us no more than a fragment of reality and that our own memories, personal or collective, mislead us.

Self-improvement

The Economist’s charts are usually very clear and helpful, but that’s not to say they can’t be improved – as they themselves show.

Mistakes, we’ve drawn a few
At The Economist, we take data visualisation seriously. Every week we publish around 40 charts across print, the website and our apps. With every single one, we try our best to visualise the numbers accurately and in a way that best supports the story. But sometimes we get it wrong. We can do better in future if we learn from our mistakes — and other people may be able to learn from them, too. …

Misleading charts
Let’s start with the worst of crimes in data visualisation: presenting data in a misleading way. We never do this on purpose! But it does happen every now and then. Let’s look at the three examples from our archive.

Mistake: Truncating the scale

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Twenty years of bullet time

John Wick’s son Neo turns 20 this year. Kind of.

The Matrix at 20: how the sci-fi gamechanger remains influential
Yet objects tend to shift during flight, and in the year 2019, The Matrix has endured as both touchstone and Rorschach blot, a way for people of vastly different ideologies to make sense of the world around them. The effects are still a marvel, but the film’s ideas have taken root in a destabilized culture where conspiracy theories flourish and individuals are defining for themselves what is and isn’t real, and what constitutes freedom in a heavily monitored, highly synthetic technological space. Neo may “follow the white rabbit” into a Wonderland of personal discovery, but we’re citizens of Wonderland now, having made a second home for ourselves where the laws of gravity don’t apply. […]

Yet the idea of the world as changeable seems far closer to what the film’s creators, the Wachowskis, had in mind. In the time between then and now, the Wachowskis have both gender transitioned and The Matrix seems at least a subconscious reference to the evolution to come. Much has been written about the film as trans allegory, and the reading bears out in the possibility for humans to define themselves however they like, outside the fixed identities enforced by the machines. Whenever Agent Smith snarls “Mr Anderson”, it feels like a menacing taunt, his refusal to allow Neo to untether himself from the matrix and discover who he actually is. That goes beyond red-pilling, which is about the authoritarian business of telling someone how things really are, and grants them the latitude to figure it out on their own.

The trans narrative escaped me then, and escapes me still. It’s certainly a philosophical film, though.

15 facts about The Matrix on its 20th anniversary
7. The actors were asked to brush up on their knowledge of philosophy before production began.

The Wachowskis had all the lead actors read Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard, Out of Control by Kevin Kelly, and Introducing Evolutionary Psychology by Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate in order to better understand the world of the movie. In the film, Neo actually hides his illegal computer files in a copy of Baudrillard’s book.

Not everyone’s a fan, however.

The Matrix’s male power fantasy has dated badly
It’s this attitude which now seems so antiquated – so glaringly late-20th Century. Anderson isn’t kept awake at night by war or climate change or the rise of fascism. He isn’t campaigning for equal rights – and he certainly isn’t doing any Kung-fu practice. He’s a white-collar worker whose most pressing problem is a slight dissatisfaction with ordinary office life. He is, fundamentally, a less witty brother of Chandler Bing from Friends. And they have plenty of other brothers. One is the unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) of Fight Club. The other is Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a disgruntled software programmer in Mike Judge’s cult comedy, Office Space. Both of those films came out in 1999, as The Matrix did. And as different as the three of them may appear, they all share a theme whose prevalence in 1990s pop culture culminated with the debut of the BBC2 sitcom The Office, in July 2001. The theme is that being a handsome, middle-class, thirtysomething professional is ultimately not very fulfilling. The Matrix may allude to Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, to Jean Baudrillard and Jesus, but its central thesis is right there on the Office Space poster: “Work Sucks”.

Perhaps those confusing sequels were to blame for souring it a little.

The ending of The Matrix trilogy finally explained
One major theme that came to the fore as the series reached its conclusion had to do with the similarities between humans and machines. In the original, they couldn’t seem more different, but by Revolutions, programs in the Matrix are portrayed as being almost more human than our heroes, loving and happy individuals, as worthy of existence as any person. Further, characters from the first film who were firmly human or machine are portrayed in the sequels as having a little bit of both. […]

The humanizing of the Machines and the complimentary mechanization of Neo made for a storytelling turn that audiences weren’t really ready for. People who saw The Matrix couldn’t be faulted for expecting an ending that saw Neo winning by doing his Superman thing and eradicating humanity’s robot overlords. Instead, Neo triumphed by becoming a bridge between man and machine, sacrificing his own life for the sake of securing the future.

Still being led by donkeys

I’ve mentioned them before, but I’m more than happy to share another article about them. It was great to see one of their billboards just down the road from me here in Leeds, and here they are again, on that recent Brexit march.

How the viral Led by Donkeys anti-Brexit campaign is haunting flip-flopping politicians
On a weekend that featured an array of aesthetically creative Brexit protest signs, the most memorable was perhaps the simplest: just a quote from arch-Brexiteer David Davis, blown up to massive size and unfurled over the thousands of protestors gathered in London’s Parliament Square.

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I think they’re right about the impact of these physical, in-your-face representations of what could be seen as throwaway lines.

Richard says that the effectiveness of the group’s tactics has something to do with relationship between offline and online speech. “We discovered that if you take a digital format, a digital message and you put it up on a six-meter-by-three-meter billboard in a town centre, in a physical space, it forces that politician to own those words,” he says. Bringing an online quote into the offline world seems to overcome the internet’s ephemerality; it makes a statement more substantial.

Another take on all that.

The Brexit farce is about to turn to tragedy
Welcome to Disneyland. Leading Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg is playing Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice from Fantasia; Theresa May is the wicked witch from Snow White — though she is short on magic. Across the pond, an evil ogre known as Donald Trump is waiting to eat us all up.

It’s grim; but it’s a great learning experience. Has anyone learnt? Has former Brexit secretary David Davis worked out that his plan to leave the EU while retaining “the exact same benefits” as staying in the single market, was a little ambitious? Or that the Germans actually care more about the integrity of the EU than about selling Brits BMWs? Has Michael Gove finally noticed that we did not after all “hold all the cards” the day after we voted to leave? Has anyone worked out that frictionless trade is quite complicated, and that the dreary Brussels machinery does a good job for us?

We shouldn’t count on it.

I loved this last line. An inquiry is coming, surely?

Government by slogan does not work. Are we taking back control or handing it over to Brussels? By the time we find out, it will be too late. If the UK prime minister had a sense of humour, she would set up the committee of inquiry now, so it could take evidence in real time, as the tragedy unfolds.

Spoilers

Here’s how it all ends.

Timelapse of the future
A regular time lapse of that voyage would take forever, so Boswell cleverly doubles the pace every 5 seconds, so that just after 4 minutes into the video, a trillion years passes in just a second or two. You’d think that after the Earth is devoured by the Sun about 3 minutes in, things would get a bit boring and you could stop watching, but then you’d miss zombie white dwarfs roaming the universe in the degenerate era, the black hole mergers era 1000 trillion trillion trillion trillion years from now, the possible creation of baby “life boat” universes, and the point at which “nothing happens and it keeps not happening forever”.

Articles about Replika are replicating

Another piece on Eugenia Kuyda and how Replika came about, following an attempt to create a bot that could discuss restaurant recommendations.

This AI has sparked a budding friendship with 2.5 million people
Kuyda had high hopes for the service because chatbots were becoming all the rage in Silicon Valley at the time. But it didn’t take off. Only about 100,000 people downloaded Luka. Kuyda and her team realized that people preferred looking for restaurants on a graphical interface, and seeing lots of options at once.

Then In November 2015, Kuyda’s best friend, a startup founder named Roman Mazurenko, died in a car accident in Russia.

I’ve heard it before, but it’s still a sad start to the story.

Replika’s growing popularity among young people in particular (its main users are aged between 18 and 25) represents a renaissance in chatbots, which became overhyped a few years ago but are finding favor again as more app developers can use free machine-learning tools like Google’s TensorFlow.

It also marks an intriguing use case for AI in all the worry about job destruction: a way to talk through emotional problems when other human beings aren’t available. In Japan the idea of an artificial girlfriend, like the one voiced by Scarlett Johansson in the movie Her, has already become commonplace among many young men.

You must check out that last link, about those Japanese artificial girlfriends. It’s hard to believe the manufacturers, Gatebox, are suggesting you can have a relationship with an alarm clock.

A holographic virtual girlfriend lives inside Japan’s answer to the Amazon Echo
Instead of a simple, cylindrical speaker design, Gatebox has a screen and a projector, which brings Hikari — her name, appropriately, means “light” — to life inside the gadget. On the outside are microphones, cameras, and sensors to detect temperature and motion, so she can interact with you on a more personal level, rather than being a voice on your phone.

The result is a fully interactive virtual girl, who at her most basic can control your smart home equipment. The sensors mean she can recognize your face and your voice, and is designed to be a companion who can wake you up in the morning, fill you in on your day’s activities, remind you of things to remember, and even welcome you back when you return home from work.

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Update • 24 Dec 2020

And here’s another take on that virtual girlfriend theme.

The AI girlfriend seducing China’s lonely menSixth Tone
Others users contacted by Sixth Tone describe themselves in a similar fashion: lonely, introverted, and with low self-esteem. They all appear to feel adrift in China’s fast-changing society. “I don’t know why I fell in love with Xiaoice — it might be because I finally found someone who wanted to talk to me,” says Orbiter, another user from the eastern Jiangxi province who gave only a pseudonym for privacy reasons. “Nobody talks with me except her.”

Li Di, CEO of Xiaoice, embraces the idea that his company provides comfort to marginalized social groups. “If our social environment were perfect, then Xiaoice wouldn’t exist,” he tells Sixth Tone.

A response to that petition

The government have responded to that viralled petition that 5,830,676 (and still counting) people have signed, about revoking Article 50.

Petition: Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.
It remains the Government’s firm policy not to revoke Article 50. We will honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum and work to deliver an exit which benefits everyone, whether they voted to Leave or to Remain.

Revoking Article 50, and thereby remaining in the European Union, would undermine both our democracy and the trust that millions of voters have placed in Government.

I don’t think they could have responded any other way.

The map of where the signatories come from is interesting. People from every constituency have taken part, from what I can see, following the north/south, urban/rural pattern seen in the original referendum.

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Speaking of which:

EU cannot betray ‘increasing majority’ who want UK to remain, says Tusk
Tusk said: “Let me make one personal remark to the members of this parliament. Before the European council, I said that we should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy, which would of course mean the UK’s participation in the European parliament elections. And then there were voices saying that this would be harmful or inconvenient to some of you.

“Let me be clear: such thinking is unacceptable. You cannot betray the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke article 50, the 1 million people who marched for a people’s vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union.”

Update 15/04/2019

Even though the government responded negatively, above, the petition was still debated in the House of Commons. Here’s the Hansard transcript.

Leaving the European Union
It is entirely coincidental that the date is 1 April, but I must confess to hoping right up until noon that the Prime Minister was at some point going to reveal to the nation that the Government’s entire handling of Brexit has actually been the most painstaking and elaborate April fool’s day hoax in history, and that she does in fact have a plan to get us out of this mess. Regrettably, that did not happen, and we are still in a national crisis.

Take it easy

Remember Florentijn Hofman’s gigantic rubber duck in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour some years ago? Something else is floating about there now.

KAWS floats a massive inflatable sculpture in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour
The reclined, monochrome figure is the largest to date for the American artist, with recent previous iterations of the project installed at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, and on Seokchon Lake in Seoul, South Korea. The figure was purposefully designed to be in a peaceful repose, its crossed-out eyes gazing at the sky above.

“I was thinking of all the tension in the world, and I wanted to create work that would make people think about relaxing,” KAWS recently told TIME. “And there’s nothing more relaxing than lying on your back in water and looking up at the sky.

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It’s can’t be that relaxing for the organisers, though.

A giant KAWS sculpture will float in Hong Kong’s harbor
The 10-day waterborne installation, set to begin March 22nd, is the latest stop for a touring exhibition of the giant sculpture to different Asian cities, dubbed “KAWS:HOLIDAY,” and organized by AllRightsReserved. The company put together other viral hits in Hong Kong’s main harbor, including Paulo Grangeon’s sleuth of 1,600 papier maché pandas and Florentijn Hofman’s giant rubber duck, which famously deflated in 2013. The KAWS sculpture will be anchored in the harbor by a metal base weighing 40 tons, with the project costing over HK$10 million ($1.3 million), according to the South China Morning Post.

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Gone but not forgotten

A comprehensive list of what could be described as Google’s project failures.

Killed by Google – the Google graveyard & cemetery
Killed by Google is a Free and Open Source list of dead Google products, services, and devices. It serves to be a tribute and memorial of beloved products and services killed by Google.

We shouldn’t be afraid of failing, as that’s how we grow. I wouldn’t describe Google Reader as a failure, though. Still sorely missed.

Another data protection failure

Hot on the heels of Facebook’s latest password problem, TechCrunch has news of another online service with a very shoddy approach to data protection – i.e. there wasn’t any.

The app, Family Locator, allows families to track each other’s movements, similar to the location sharing option in Google Maps. But it seems the backend database for their nearly a quarter of a million users wasn’t protected at all.

A family tracking app was leaking real-time location data
Based on a review of the database, each account record contained a user’s name, email address, profile photo and their plaintext passwords. Each account also kept a record of their own and other family members’ real-time locations precise to just a few feet. Any user who had a geofence set up also had those coordinates stored in the database, along with what the user called them — such as “home” or “work.”

They tried to get in touch with the developer, React Apps, but to no avail.

The company’s website had no contact information — nor did its bare-bones privacy policy. The website had a privacy-enabled hidden WHOIS record, masking the owner’s email address. We even bought the company’s business records from the Australian Securities & Investments Commission, only to learn the company owner’s name — Sandip Mann Singh — but no contact information. We sent several messages through the company’s feedback form, but received no acknowledgement.

On Friday, we asked Microsoft, which hosted the database on its Azure cloud, to contact the developer. Hours later, the database was finally pulled offline.

Note to self — and to the world

An article from Wired on how much we’re relying on our phone’s Notes app.

How the Notes app became our most private and public space
If you want to stare into the deepest depths of my soul, you’ll find it in the iPhone Notes app. Tucked between Hayu – the streaming app I use to watch episodes of Real Housewives in HD – and my calendar, the Notes app contains information about me that no one else knows. There are long, meticulously-drafted messages I considered sending my boyfriend to explain why he, not I, was in the wrong. There are thoughts I’ve had after a few too many vodka sodas, or drifting in and out of sleep. There are lists of ideas and plans that I don’t quite feel ready to share with the world.

And our music and TV personalities are using this too, as a method to shortcut the usual press release and manufacture some authenticity.

Notes apologies are a clear example of the “Kardashian” effect. Rather than maintaining distance, celebrities are increasingly using this communication method to feed into their fans’ desire for a friendship and individual dialogue. This is, of course, nothing but a fantasy that they are happy to maintain in exchange for their fans’ devotion.

This is nothing new, however. Here’s almost the same article from 2016.

Famous people love sharing from the Notes app, although Apple has made it a struggle
In the last year or so, a bunch of celebrities have made public statements by sharing from the Notes app on their iPhones. Taylor Swift did it most recently, but previously, other young stars like Ariana Grande, Amy Schumer, and Demi Lovato made public statements by posting a screenshot of one of their Notes on Twitter or Instagram (or both simultaneously because they’re that social media-savvy).

The writing in the walls

I’ve not really thought about bricks before, unless they’re in artworks of one kind or another. But here, they’re being considered as design objects in themselves. Or rather, the makers marks that get stamped onto the top of each one.

Patrick Fry unearths our new favourite design gem: bricks!
For Patrick, this hidden typographic mark links to his own obsession with “design that isn’t necessarily created by designers but rather engineers, craftsmen and the like,” he tells It’s Nice That. “It’s design for utility that often has a strange, imperfect quality that really appeals; it holds an honest story. This ‘outside design’ exists apart from our historical understanding of graphic design, it’s raw and unrecognised.” And in turn, makes bricks one of those fascinating elements of design that are ubiquitous, and that we couldn’t really live without.

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Art and biology

Exploring ways of representing the human body has been a mainstay of art for millennia. Here are two examples — one hard as iron, the other soft as paper.

The body as machine: first imagined in 1927, now brought to new, animated life
Originally an interactive installation, this short video from the German animator Henning M Lederer breathes new life into Kahn’s illustration, augmenting the original image with mechanical movements and sounds. Lederer’s update offers a visually and conceptually rich melding of technology, biology and design, echoing a time when machinery permeated the collective consciousness in a manner quite similar to computing technology today.

There are many more videos (including some wonderfully animated book covers) on Henning Lederer‘s website, but for a different take on what goes on inside us, check out the work of Eiko Ojala.

Paper illustrations and GIFs explore the body and mind in new work by Eiko Ojala
New Zealand and Estonia-based illustrator Eiko Ojala creates cut paper illustrations that present shadow and depth through creative layering of colorful pieces of paper. Recently, his editorial illustrations have been focused on the mind and body, like a cut paper GIF he created for a story on heart attacks in the New York Times. Others, like two Washington Post illustrations, attempt to uncover the thoughts and feelings sequestered in children’s minds by layering images inside the shape of a boy’s profile.

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Oh Facebook, what have you done now?

The Register nails it, once again.

Let’s spin Facebook’s Wheel of Misfortune! Clack-clack-clack… clack… You’ve won ‘100s of millions of passwords stored in plaintext’
Facebook today admitted it stored “some” of its addicts’ account passwords in a plaintext readable format. For “some”, read hundreds of millions.

The antisocial network quietly made the mea culpa in a statement that followed its breathless announcement of the Oculus Rift S Virtual Reality headset. The password snafu confession was, as far as we can tell, forthcoming from the Silicon Valley giant only after investigative journalist Brian Krebs blew the lid off the blunder.

Other news sources are happy to pile in, of course.

Why Facebook waited 3 months to disclose its latest privacy screw-up
We reached out to Facebook in an attempt to answer this question, but unsurprisingly received no response as of press time. Troy Hunt, a security researcher perhaps best known for running the breach disclosure site HaveIBeenPwned, was significantly more willing to chat.

“I suspect Facebook decided not to initially disclose the issue as they had no evidence of the data being used maliciously,” he wrote over Twitter direct message. “I can understand that position insofar as whilst the storage was clearly improper, without a compromise of the stored data the impact on customers would have been zero.”

This, of course, assumes that the passwords weren’t improperly accessed. Facebook claims as much in its blog post, but that requires you to trust Facebook. Which, well, you’d be forgiven for not jumping at the opportunity.

They’re all talking about whether these plaintext passwords were accessed by Facebook staff, whether anything malicious happened, but I think they’re missing a question — how did this happen?

Facebook’s own statement:

Keeping passwords secure

Or rather, not keeping them secure.

As part of a routine security review in January, we found that some user passwords were being stored in a readable format within our internal data storage systems. This caught our attention because our login systems are designed to mask passwords using techniques that make them unreadable.

Obviously not designed well enough, because that didn’t happen this time.

In line with security best practices, Facebook masks people’s passwords when they create an account so that no one at the company can see them.

No it doesn’t.

In security terms, we “hash” and “salt” the passwords, including using a function called “scrypt” as well as a cryptographic key that lets us irreversibly replace your actual password with a random set of characters. With this technique, we can validate that a person is logging in with the correct password without actually having to store the password in plain text.

Yes yes yes, that’s all well and good, but that didn’t happen this time, because— ? Who knows, perhaps they’ll tell us the next time this happens?

Happy birthday Bach

I love this Google Doodle, though even Bach can’t rescue my appalling lack of musical ability!

Google’s first AI-powered Doodle is a piano duet with Bach
Starting on March 21st, you’ll be able to play with the interactive Doodle, which will prompt you to compose a two-measure melody or pick one of the pre-existing choices. When you press the “Harmonize” button, it will use machine learning to give you a version of your melody that sounds like it was composed by Bach himself.

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Various Google teams were involved in this project, including Google Magenta. There is an incredible amount of detail about the technologies behind the Bach harmonies on their own site.

Coconet: the ML model behind today’s Bach Doodle
Coconet is trained to restore Bach’s music from fragments: we take a piece from Bach, randomly erase some notes, and ask the model to guess the missing notes from context. The result is a versatile model of counterpoint that accepts arbitrarily incomplete scores as input and works out complete scores. This setup covers a wide range of musical tasks, such as harmonizing melodies, creating smooth transitions, rewriting and elaborating existing music, and composing from scratch.

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I cannot begin to understand what’s going on there, but it sounds good.

A class act

Brexit blah blah blah. Chris Dillow makes some interesting points on how we might have got here.

On class difference
My point here should be a trivial one. Background determines character, so rich backgrounds tend to generate different characters than poor ones. I’d suggest other differences, all of which should disqualify most posh people from politics:

1. If everything comes naturally to you, you don’t need to think so much about how to get it. So you under-invest in learning how to hustle, negotiate or strategize. (Is it really an accident that the western politician who most mastered these arts, Lyndon Johnson, came from a poor home?) This might be one reason why Brexit has gone badly. Having spent his entire life thinking he could get what he wants simply by asking, Jacob Rees-Mogg has been disturbed to find that the EU doesn’t work like that …

3. The rich don’t appreciate just how important money is. For a poor family, an extra fiver at the end of the week can make the difference between relief and misery. This warps their political priorities. Whereas I regard economic growth and redistribution as the main political issues, the rich have others – Brexit if you are on the right, Palestine if on the left.

And so on.

Whilst we’re on the subject (kinda):

 

Use IT, don’t abuse IT

Two extremes of the use (no use, misuse) of technology in education.

Virtual computing
Ghanaian teacher Richard Appiah Akoto faced a difficult problem: He needed to prepare his students for a national exam that includes questions on information technology, but his school hadn’t had a computer since 2011.

So he drew computer screens and devices on his blackboard using multicolored chalk.

‘I teach computing with no computers’ – BBC News

The article continues:

After Akoto’s story went viral last March, Microsoft flew him to Singapore for an educators’ exchange and pledged to send him a device from a business partner. He’s also received desktops and books from a computer training school in Accra and a laptop from a doctoral student at the University of Leeds.

Meanwhile…

Government pledge to ‘beat the cheats’ at university
In the first of a series of interventions across the higher education sector, Damian Hinds has challenged PayPal to stop processing payments for ‘essay mills’ as part of an accelerated drive to preserve and champion the quality of the UK’s world-leading higher education system.

Hinds calls on students to report peers who use essay-writing services
The true scale of cheating is unknown, but new technology has made an old problem considerably easier. In 2016, the higher education standards body, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) found about 17,000 instances of cheating per year in the UK, but the number of students using essay-writing services is thought to be higher as customised essays are hard to detect. A study by Swansea University found one in seven students internationally have paid for someone to write their assignments.

Looking for connections

As this video from Kurzgesagt explains, “We are living in the most connected time in human history, and yet an unprecedented number of us feel isolated.”

Loneliness
Everybody feels lonely sometimes. But only few of us are aware how important this feeling was for our ancestors – and that our modern world can turn it into something that really hurts us. Why do we feel this way and what can we do about it?

I mentioned last year the steps being taken by the government and others to tackle loneliness. Help might be at hand, though. Literally.

Loneliness is bad for your health. An app may help.
Little changed for those in either the control group or the one taught attention-only mindfulness. But the subjects whose training included acceptance and equanimity were measurably more sociable. Their daily routines, after using the app for two weeks, typically included several more interactions with people that lasted at least a few minutes, and their questionnaires showed a decline in their feelings of loneliness.

Because loneliness, like mindfulness, is a subjective state, it’s difficult to make definitive conclusions about why and how a focus on acceptance prompted greater sociability. But David Creswell, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon who conducted the study with the lead author, Emily Lindsay, believes that “the equanimity piece is key.” The poise it teaches, he says, may help people become less self-judgmental, less self-conscious, more amenable to interacting with others.

Here’s another write-up of the research, from Reuters this time.

Smartphone mindfulness app may help curb loneliness
“Perhaps by practicing monitoring and acceptance daily, even though for a short period of time, we can feel more at peace and free, more centered, and less affected by the possible negative thoughts and feelings generated in our mind,” Zhang said. “So we are closer to who we really are – we are social beings and we inherently need to connect to others.”

A theme which kicks off this stand-up routine from Simon Amstell, from 2010. This is how he starts, once the applause as he walks on stage dies down.

“Hello. Thank you. How are you? Are you all right? Well, this is fun, isn’t it? This is sort of a fun thing to be doing. This is fun, right? I’m quite lonely, let’s start with that.”

Simon Amstell – Do Nothing Live

Don’t worry, though. He ends it on quite a positive, inspirational note. It’s all about letting go.

MySpace isn’t your space anymore

Rolling Stone reflects on the news that MySpace has deleted all the music, photos and videos uploaded before 2016, seemingly as a result of a dodgy server migration project.

The internet is not your friend: MySpace and the loss of memories
But the loss was also deeply felt by nostalgia-happy millennials who came of age on MySpace, of which there are many: at its peak in 2006, MySpace had about 100 million users, many of whom were adolescents at the time. For those who were in their teens during those heady post-Friendster, pre-Facebook years, MySpace was nothing less than an introductory course in the fledgling field of How to Be Extremely Online — for better or, more likely than not, for worse.

So much of our lives is online now. Or rather, the memories of key events in our lives are tied to images and information kept online, outside of our control.

“There’s no way to recover the information we entrust to third parties,” Sarah Ditum wrote last week in a prophetic op-ed for the New Statesman. “We use Facebook, Gmail and Dropbox in the expectation that whatever we put there today will still exist tomorrow, but that can be a misplaced faith.” And that faith can come with some seriously devastating consequences, as evidenced by the posts from distraught posters on Reddit, one of whom is a father whose son passed away at 20, who now no longer is able to access a guitar demo he recorded at the age of seven. While we may refer to the disappearance of our embarrassing post-sex selfies and Taking Back Sunday-lyric-laden status updates as a “blessing,” it certainly doesn’t feel that way to those of with lost loved ones, whose connections to their online lives, however tenuous they may be, are some of the only connections they still have.

Bees, breathing and Buddhism

A painful lesson in Zen and the art of honeybee reverence
After the stings, I had a new kind of puzzle to solve. What were the bees trying to tell me with this intense pain? As I blew up, my thoughts came: I should know to pay closer attention and not brazenly steal from creatures I am trying to advocate for and protect. I shouldn’t take them for granted. Relationships with insects aren’t easy. And, as a friend reminded me, love hurts sometimes.

Breathtaking
This is conscious breathing’s more beguiling side: its capacity to interact with emotion, the psyche, perhaps even the spirit. A century of philosophical globalisation has seen a broadly Eastern conception of conscious breathing move from the esoteric to the mainstream. Today, certain techniques are so mainstream that your doctor is just as likely to recommend them as your hippie sibling. Hillary Clinton has said that, along with Chardonnay, yogic breathwork helped her get over losing the 2016 US election to Donald Trump.

How Buddhism resolves the paradox of self-deception
It might strike the modern reader as patently wrongheaded to suggest that any religious tradition contains the seeds of a solution more satisfying than secular proposals. For, understandably, many see religious belief as coterminous with wishful thinking and incompatible with reason. However, the Buddhist response sketched here depends exclusively on arguments about human nature that are equally open to dispute and defence. There is no recourse to mystical or non-empirical claims.