League table fatigue

Another weekend saw another trip to a university’s Open Day, and another PowerPoint presentation full of league table statistics…

Unknown pleasures: exciting new uni rankings
As this commentary from my colleague Professor Mike Merrifield observes using university league tables is not a great way to choose where to apply for a university place both because of the way they are compiled and their inherent flaws.

But there are plenty of them out of there and they never stop coming. And we are now in peak league table season. So, put your sceptical face on and have a look at a couple of the most recent major offerings.

Meanwhile.

Vast differences exposed in graduate outcomes
New data published today shows the wide variation in graduate outcomes depending course and institution.

Government reveals student loan contribution
Data published today shows forecasts for student numbers, the cost of student loans and loan repayments in England.

Don’t leave your computer unattended

Or this might happen.

Update faker
Update Faker allows you to “fake a system update”, it’s the perfect way to prank your friends, family members or colleagues. Especially when they’re working on something rather important.

Yes, it’s just a silly prank (reminds me a little of Hacker Typer), but you could see it as an important security/GDPR lesson.

Ever since the launch of updatefaker.com we’ve been flooded with positive feedback both online and in real life. And everyone who’s ever fallen victim to update faker will never leave their PC unattended again, which certainly is a good thing. You never know what bad things people are up to. This website is literally one of the least bad things that can happen to an unattended PC.

Seeing sounds

It was the one on how quartz watches work that first caught my eye, but I’ve been enjoying working my way through the rest of Steve Mould’s science videos.

These two are my favourites so far, though I’ve yet to see them all.

Laser + mirror + sound
A laser shining on a mirror driven by a speaker creates cool patterns.

Interaural time difference and how to find your phone instantly
The science of sound localization is really interesting. This video is specifically about interaural time difference and how mobile phone ringtones are badly designed for the way our brains detect sound direction. You can make you phone easier to find by changing the ringtone to white noise. Also, emergency vehicle sirens like ambulances are badly designed for the same reason.

And another thing #2

How often have you thought about your Shift + 7 key?

Ampersands: A beloved character
It began life as a shortcut for scribes and proved just as useful for early typesetters, eventually working its way into the English alphabet as the 27th letter. We collectively dropped it from the ABCs, and the decline of handwriting and manual typesetting made it less useful. But its flexibility and grace have kept it on our business cards and movie posters.

These Quartz Obsession emails are typically full of wonderful rabbit holes, and this one’s no exception. Let’s start with a quick introduction.

Where did the ampersand originate?
Developed from the Latin et (“and”), the ampersand, formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet, is a character with a cult following among students of typography.

And not just students of typography — the lowly ampersand can count lawyers, entrepreneurs, movie producers and restaurant owners as fans, if these links are anything to go by.

For law firms, the ampersand is a character worth saving
Paul Hastings, Norton Rose Fulbright, Hogan Lovells, Proskauer Rose, Baker Botts: the list of new BigLaw titles built on the corpses of ampersands is almost endless. All these firms discarded their ampersands as if they were ashamed of them.

There are practical reasons so many hipster businesses follow the exact same naming structure
There’s also a nostalgic feel to this construction. “At some point in its early history, I’d guess the germ of that trend was an allusion to the common practice in 17th/18th/19th centuries of naming your company after its principals (e.g. Gieves & Hawkes, Dege & Skinner, Marks & Spencer, etc.),” says Simon. “Could be some of your fashion brands want to allude to handcraft, to pre-industrial or non-industrial processes.”

Stereotypography
So far, critical appraisal of the ampersand in Pride & Prejudice has been mixed. On Slate, David Edelstein calls the ampersand one of the “ominous first impressions” that he had to get over in order to like the movie. The Toronto Globe and Mail (or is it “Globe & Mail”?) says the ampersand signals a “contracted, contemporary approach” to the novel. The San Francisco Chronicle finds the typographical choice to be indicative of the movie’s “jaunty approach.” And the Detroit Free Press says “the only thing really new” in the film is “the hip ampersand of the title.”

Contemporary! Jaunty! Hip! That’s a lot of stereotypical baggage to put on a modest piece of punctuation that has been kicking around in one form or another for about two thousand years.

Petition · Restore the ampersand as the 27th letter of the alphabet
This isn’t just for us. Think of all the uses of the ampersand out there, and all the people and organizations that could benefit from allowing the ampersand back into our alphabet.

We’re not asking for much. And to be completely honest, we’re not exactly sure who calls the shots on these sorts of things, but having Merriam-Webster on our side seems like a good start.

Bring back the Ampersand

It’s fair to say that graphic designers and typesetters are this character’s biggest admirers, though.

Font Aid IV: Coming Together
The Society of Typographic Aficionados is proud to announce the release of “Coming Together”, a font created exclusively for Font Aid IV to benefit the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The font consists entirely of ampersands, to represent the idea of people coming together to help one another. Type designers, graphic designers, and other artists from around the world contributed artwork to the font.

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Design by: Herb Lubalin
Herb Lubalin is best known for his logotypes, or as he called them ‘expressive typography’. One of his most famous works is the Mother & Child masthead he designed for a Curtis magazine, where the ‘O’ in the word mother is a womb for the word child. The use of the ampersand in this design is pure genius.

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Attitudes toward hyphenation and rag settings
In fact, Gill was even more willing to challenge convention than Dowding. Not only did he liberally use ampersands for “and” but he also used contractions (e.g., “tho’”), and superscript letters (e.g., “production”) to achieve even spacing. But most importantly, he advocated that text be set flush left, rag right (though he did not use that phrase) as not only more natural than justified setting, but as the best way to guarantee consistent word spacing. He considered the insistence on justified text to be nothing more than a superstition, remarking that “even spacing is more important typographically than equal length.” In his view justified text existed to satisfy man’s desire for neatness.

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That last link is my favourite, I think. I could read about typography and book design all day. There’s something very calming and comforting in a well set page of text like the one above. Those margins!

So it was a wonderful coincidence to see that today’s Aeon newsletter contained this link about book printing.

What’s as satisfying as a good book? Seeing one made the old-fashioned way, by hand
The director Glen Milner charts each step in the process as bookbinders piece together a new hardbound edition of the memoir Mango and Mimosa (1974) by the British writer and painter Suzanne St Albans. From folding pages to sewing and gluing paper to the leather spine, skilful human hands are front and centre throughout. Milner documents this melding of mechanics and craft with an almost musical rhythm, conveying skills and methods born of centuries of refinements.

Birth of a Book

And would you believe it, that printing and bookbinding company is in Leeds, just 5 miles away from me!

A well-connected farm

The festival itself really doesn’t appeal, but the infrastructure required is incredible.

How Glastonbury Festival builds a city-sized phone network for just one weekend
In 2010, data usage over the Glastonbury network reached 0.11 terabytes. In 2013, the first year of 4G at the festival, it jumped to 12.3, and at the last event in 2017 (2018 was a fallow year) it rose to 54.2 terabytes. The busiest time for data uploads was during the “legends” slot on Sunday afternoon, when Bee Gee Barry Gibb took to the Pyramid Stage. This year, EE predicts that data usage will pass 60 terabytes – with 5G being brought to the festival for the first time to take on some of the load.

The main challenge is not coverage but capacity, given the tight geographic space people are packed into. “We’re looking at Glastonbury being the size of York, but the capacity required is more like central London,” says Bennett.

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Buyer beware

A team of US academics have published research, Dark Patterns at Scale: Findings from a Crawl of 11K Shopping Websites, which they believe shows the massive prevalence of sneaky user interface tricks designed to catch us out.

The seven deadly sins of the 2010s: No, not pride, sloth, etc. The seven UI ‘dark patterns’ that trick you into buying stuff
Dark patterns – user interfaces designed to deviously manipulate people into doing things – have become common enough on websites and in apps that almost two dozen providers have sprung up to supply behavior persuasion as a service.

And in some cases, these firms openly advertise deceptive marketing techniques, describing ways to generate fake product orders and social messages celebrating those fake orders.

These are their proposed categories of user-interface tricks.

Sneaking
Attempting to misrepresent user actions, or delay information that if made available to users, they would likely object to.

Urgency
Imposing a deadline on a sale or deal, thereby accelerating user decision-making and purchases.

Misdirection
Using visuals, language, or emotion to steer users toward or away from making a particular choice.

Social proof
Influencing users’ behavior by describing the experiences and behavior of other users.

Scarcity
Signalling that a product is likely to become unavailable, thereby increasing its desirability to users.

Obstruction
Making it easy for the user to get into one situation but hard to get out of it.

Forced Action
Forcing the user to do something tangential in order to complete their task.

‘Urgency’ and ‘scarcity’ sound like pretty standard advertising methods that we should be very used to by now, but some of those others are very dubious. Here are some screenshots from the research paper.

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Fig. 3. Three types of the Sneaking category of dark patterns.

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Fig. 5. Four types of the Misdirection category of dark patterns.

What can be done? Here’s one idea they discuss in the paper which I like the sound of.

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Fig. 10. Mockup of a possible browser extension that can be developed using our data set. The extension flags instances of dark patterns with a red warning icon. By hovering over the icon, the user can learn more about the specific pattern.

So long everybody

Hell is other people? No problem.

This camera app uses AI to erase people from your photographs
Bye Bye Camera is an iOS app built for the “post-human world,” says Damjanski, a mononymous artist based in New York City who helped create the software. Why post-human? Because it uses AI to remove people from images and paint over their absence. “One joke we always make about it is: ‘finally, you can take a selfie without yourself.’”

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Bye Bye Camera – an app for the post-human era
According to Damjanski: The app takes out the vanity of any selfie and also the person. I consider Bye Bye Camera an app for the post-human era. It’s a gentle nod to a future where complex programs replace human labor and some would argue the human race. It’s interesting to ask what is a human from an Ai (yes, the small “i” is intended) perspective? In this case, a collection of pixels that identify a person based on previously labeled data. But who labels this data that defines a person immaterially? So many questions for such an innocent little camera app. […]

A lot of friends asked us if we can implement the feature to choose which person to take out. But for us, this app is not an utility app in a classical sense that solves a problem. It’s an artistic tool and ultimately a piece of software art.

But, as that Artnome article explains, he’s by no means the first to do this…

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Meanwhile, Italian sculptor Arcangelo Sassolino (is he a sculptor? What’s the reverse of sculpture?) is creating another disappearance.

Dust to Dust: Arcangelo Sassolino’s literal and conceptual erasure of the classical aesthetic
In Arcangelo Sassolino’s ‘Damnatio Memoriae’, a custom-made machine grinds a white marble torso to dust; dematerializing classicism and all that it revered over the course of a four month exhibition period at Galerie Rolando Anselmi in Berlin.

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In this conceptual and literal erasure of the classical aesthetic, Sassolino questions the value of the narrative proposed by the Western canon and asks if we can free ourselves from the rules of the past. While the statue is changed by the process of grinding, it does not disappear—becoming instead fine dust that spreads through the exhibition space like mist. This new form allows the sculpture, and thus classicism, to invisibly permeate the exhibition space. As it settles on the walls and floors of Galerie Rolando Anselmi, and on those who visit the show, the complex reality of extracting oneself from the restrictive idealism of classicism becomes abundantly clear.

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Speaking of classically proportioned behinds.

New art project seeks to reveal the “real size” of modern life’s most famous behind
“The wait is finally over,” we’re told. “Hundreds, potentially thousands of images of the world’s most famous body part have been analysed and carefully measured. Interviews have been read through and words evaluated. Everyone has always known that it’s big, but exactly how big is it?”

Ida-Simon is, of course, talking about Kim Kardashian’s behind. No mere attempt at digital titillation, the pair describes the project, simply titled The Bum as “a commentary on the time we live in.”

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The sounds of up north

Made as part of BBC4’s ‘Listen to Britain’, this glimpse into a typical day and night round here shows that it’s not all green Dales and romantic moors.

That Yorkshire sound
A hand drawn animated documentary, following the rhythms of a day in Yorkshire. It captures the sound of Yorkshire, from it’s multicultural and bustling cities like Bradford and Sheffield, to the delicate sounds of birds in the country side and the hypnotic rhythm of the motorways and train tracks.

A timely refresher

Following on from that post about watchmakers, here are a couple of videos explaining how mechanical and quartz watches work. In this opaque and bewildering hi-tech world of ours, it’s refreshing to find something complex yet still understandable.

First, this 1940s explainer from Hamilton. (I love the narrator’s accent!) Ironically, the pacing for this short documentary is a little slow by today’s standards, but I found that quite helpful.

How a watch works (1949)
A simple demonstration of the basic design and operation of a watch, including stop-motion animation showing a watch being assembled from many parts.

Science YouTuber Steve Mould brings us up-to-date with this look at quartz watches. I didn’t realise how similar they are to mechanical watches, in a way. 

How a quartz watch works – its heart beats 32,768 times a second
Quartz watches have a tiny crystal tuning fork inside that vibrates at 2^15 Hz and there’s a really clever reason for that. This video also talks a bit about how mechanical watches work.

Did you lose your baggage today?

So, today was Let It Go Day, apparently.

Today (23rd June, 2019) is… Let It Go Day
Let It Go Day is another one of the bevy of holidays created by Thomas and Ruth Roy of Wellcat Holidays & Herbs. They knew the difficulty of living with a pocketful of regrets that haunts you during every quiet hour, and knew that letting them go was the only way to find peace and contentment in their lives. So it was that Let It Go Day was created, with the intent of encouraging others throughout the world to let go of their regrets and forgive themselves for actions taken in the past.

Perhaps file this under ‘Whatever will they think of next?’

It’s national Let It Go Day, so here are 8 things you should definitely… well, let go of
6. Regret. I believe in learning from mistakes but not getting mad at yourself for making them. We do what seems like the best decision in the present, and we can’t always know that our future perspective will look like. We also can’t know how the future would have turned out if we’d acted differently. The results of our “mistakes” are often blessings in disguise.

Looking through Cindy Sherman’s Rear Window

News of an upcoming exhibition of Cindy Sherman’s photography at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from the end of June to mid September. This is from the British Journal of Photography last year.

Huge Cindy Sherman retrospective goes on show at NPG next year
Titled Cindy Sherman, the exhibition will feature around 180 works, including the seminal series Untitled Film Stills. Shot from 1977-1980 in New York, the 70-strong series cemented both her reputation and her approach – manipulating her own appearance to explore the complex relationship between facade and reality.

Also on show will be all five of Sherman’s Cover Girl series, made in 1976 when she was a student, as well as more recent work such as Clowns and Society Portraits, plus material from her studio that gives an insight into her working process.

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Interestingly, as The Art Newspaper explains, this is all Hitchcock’s doing.

Cindy Sherman gets first UK retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery
The photographer Cindy Sherman grew up in New York’s Long Island in the 1950s. She was a self-confessed “child TV addict”. Her parents would leave her at home to go to parties, and she would watch the same films on repeat. Her favourite childhood film, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, is “her blueprint,” the curator Paul Moorhouse says ahead of Sherman’s first retrospective in the UK, at London’s National Portrait Gallery. “That’s how I understand her work,” Moorhouse adds.

Sherman would repeatedly watch the wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart as he in turn obsessively observes his neighbours, attempting to fathom their lives via fragmentary visual glimpses. In adulthood, Sherman would quote Grace Kelly’s instruction to Stewart: “Tell me everything you saw—and what you think it means.”

“Sherman’s art poses the very same challenge,” Moorhouse says. “She invites us to see her and then work out what she means. She is pure appearance.”

She began in the 70s, but her work is still vital today.

Sherman succeeded in “expanding the definition” of portraiture by actively “presenting a false image”, Moorhouse says. And that makes her “almost uniquely current”.

“There’s a sacrosanct notion, a holy cow, in art history: that we can read a person’s character by looking at their face,” Moorhouse says. “We’re always looking at other people and trying to work out who they are. But the truth is we can never really tell. You can only interrogate their appearance.”

Understanding and exploring that tension lies at the heart of Sherman’s art, Moorhouse says. And this tension is ever more pressing when seen through the prism of social media and projected identity.

“No other artist interrogates the illusions presented by modern culture in such a penetrating way,” Moorhouse says. “Advertising, fake news, social media, even pornography—no other artist scrutinises so tellingly the façades that people adopt or our struggle to make sense of what’s presented to us via our cultural outposts.”

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Co-incidental music

Time flies. One minute I’m graduating with a university degree, wondering what on earth I’m going to do with it. The next minute*, I’m at a university again, only this time with child #1 on his first Open Day visit.

That evening, whilst reminiscing about my student days and bored of our usual radio station, child #2 switches to Pete Tong’s House Nation programme, something we’ve never listened to before. And just at the right time to catch this blast from the past — Kaw-Liga from The Residents.

The Residents – Kaw-Liga

I don’t think I’ve listened to that since leaving university. Back then, it was their interactive Gingerbread Man and Freakshow CD-ROM work that first caught our eye, I think. (When was the last time you saw the word CD-ROM?)

The Residents 1994 interview PCTV

It’s strange to think that, even though we had the internet in the mid-nineties, it wasn’t anywhere near as easy or as embedded as it is now. This was 10 years before YouTube was founded. It’s taken me just moments to find the original 1950s Hank Williams version and to learn that that bassline in The Residents’ version is deliberate.

Kaw-Liga
The avant-garde band The Residents recorded the song for their 1986 album Stars & Hank Forever: The American Composers Series, replacing its original backing music with the bassline of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. This was more than likely a reference to Williams’ wife, who was named Billie Jean.

* OK, not the next minute, but the 12,610,000th one. Roughly.

Someone’s death makes someone rich

Can’t help but think this shouldn’t have gone on sale.

Pistol that Van Gogh ‘used to shoot himself’ sells for £115,000 at Paris auction
An anonymous phone bidder took home the Lefaucheux revolver, its casing heavily rusted and the inlay of the curved handle missing, for more than double the highest estimates made by experts at auction house Drouot.

“It is a very emblematic piece,” said auctioneer Gregoire Veyres. “The fact that it’s a gun, it’s an object of death. And if van Gogh is van Gogh, it’s because of his suicide and this gun is part of it.”

Van Gogh’s gun, ‘most famous weapon in art history’, sells for €162,500
The auctioned Lefaucheux pinfire revolver is almost certainly the weapon used, although this cannot be conclusively proved. The type of weapon, its calibre, its severely corroded state and the location and circumstances of the find strongly suggest it is the gun. In the evening of 27 July 1890 Van Gogh suffered a gunshot wound while in a wheatfield and he then staggered back to the inn, dying two days later.

Fixing music

I can’t think of many things more enjoyable than listening to music. Starting with the radio alarm clock in the morning, mp3s on the bus, Spotify in the office, to relaxing with the radio again on an evening, I try to have music around me all day. Why (apart from distracting me from my tinnitus)? Because it’s pleasurable, of course. But why is it pleasurable? Er, good question.

It’s hard to know why music gives pleasure: is that the point?
We know music is pleasurable, the question is why? Many answers have been proposed: perhaps none are quite right.

The thought of being without music or amongst music makers is horrible — “Between 2007 and 2017, funding for arts programs in Philadelphia public schools was cut from $1.3 million to $50,000 annually.” So begins this short, quirky documentary from Topic.

Broken Orchestra

The format of the film could be seen as gimmicky, but I think its setting and style are really appropriate. And quite moving in parts.

How Philadelphia fixed its ‘Broken Orchestra’
When the Philadelphia public-school system began losing almost all the funding for its music-education programs in 2007, thousands of instruments in need of repair were forced into retirement, and community members moved to action. In this triumphant new documentary by Charlie Tyrell, we are introduced to a few of the innovators, educators, volunteers, advocates, and musicians behind Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, a music and art project begun in 2017 that raised awareness for the issue, helping to get those broken instruments back into Philadelphia students’ hands.

From Philadelphia’s Broken Orchestra to Manchester’s Kaleidoscope Orchestra, and their re-imagining of The Prodigy’s music. We’ve seen this kind of thing before — Nick Proch’s orchestral arrangement of Rage Against the Machine, for example, and of course 2Cellos and Thunderstruck — but there is surprising delicacy and emotion here.

A gorgeous orchestral tribute to the late Keith Flint of The Prodigy
In April we recorded this tribute to Keith Flint. We were shocked and saddened to hear of his passing and wanted to pay our respects through an orchestral medley featuring music by The Prodigy. We’re continually trying to help raise awareness for the mental health of musicians as it affects so many of us.

Tribute to Keith Flint – The Prodigy Orchestra Medley

More on music and loss.

Italy violin-makers rush to save damaged wood
An unprecedented wave of storms has knocked trees down in Italy’s forests and artisans are racing to salvage the valuable wood before it rots. More than 2,500,000 red spruce trees were felled in violent storms. Red spruce is a wood prized by violin-makers – and they are concerned that supplies of it are running out, which makes destructive weather like this even more devastating.

An emotional reunion between cello and cellist
The accident led to the discovery of other, more insidious problems: Matteo’s three-hundred-year-old insides were collapsing. The top was losing its arch; the cracks were widening. “A domino effect,” Haimovitz said. He visited every two months. Once, he arrived to find cello parts scattered around the room, attended to by different experts, like an intensive-care unit. “For thirty years, it goes everywhere with me, and then, so suddenly, not to have it around? And then to see it—” He broke off, full of emotion.

Art in the age of Netflix

The Dalí Museum isn’t the only one to use new technologies to draw in the crowds.

The Cleveland Museum studied how to best engage visitors in the age of Netflix. Here’s what they found
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s initiative, an interactive three-room experience (and app) called the ARTLENS Gallery, is one of the more comprehensive projects in the museum-tech sphere. It offers the opportunity for visitors to virtually explore artworks up close, create their own digital compositions, and learn about the museum’s collection by taking pictures with their phones.

To pre-empt any charges of gimmickry, perhaps, the museum conducted a two-year study on digital technology and visitor engagement.

Perhaps the most interesting figure had to do with millennials, an elusive demographic whose attention—and money—has long been coveted by institutions.

Millennials were 15 percent more likely to visit the digital galleries than older adults (44 percent compared to 29 percent, respectively) and 88 percent said that the digital component of their visits made them appreciate the value of an art museum.

“We’re not competing with other museums. We’re competing with Netflix,” says Jane Alexander, the museum’s chief digital officer. “You can be six years or 80 years old, you can have an art history degree or not—we want people to realize there’s something here for everyone.”

Keep an eye on the time

A mesmerising, meditative film introducing us to Faramarz, a London-based Iranian watchmaker. The world may seem chaotic, but “everything is in exactly the right place.”

The Watchmaker: A philosohy of craft and life
Filled with the pulses of numerous ticking watch hands, this short documentary from the UK filmmaker Marie-Cécile Embleton profiles a London-based Iranian watchmaker as he muses on the delicate and temporal nature of his work. As Faramarz meticulously polishes wood, shapes metal and positions springs, his personal philosophy emerges – one that values the minutiae of moment-to-moment experiences, and finds craft in all things.

Mitka Engebretsen is another watchmaker working in the UK. Here’s his set-up, somewhat shinier, though no less hypnotic.

Mitka’s vintage watch service

He lets us follow along on his blog when he’s servicing his clients’ vintage watches. The intricacy and precision is wonderful to see, however out of my reach they may be. Not that there’s anything wrong with my current watch — I love it!

What would he make of this video from Watchfinder & Co on the level of expertise that goes into producing fake watches these days, fakes that will still set you back £1,000.

This fake Rolex is the most accurate yet
Two years ago, we investigated just how far fake watches have come when we compared a real Rolex Submariner with a fake one. For anyone thinking that fake watches were the easy-to-spot domain of the seaside tat shop, we demonstrated that it’s harder to spot a fake than you might think. Two years on, and it’s got even harder.

One way round that, of course, is to not have a watch at all.

A Norwegian city wants to abolish time
“You have to go to work, and even after work, the clock takes up your time,” Hveding told Gizmodo. “I have to do this, I have to do that. My experience is that [people] have forgotten how to be impulsive, to decide that the weather is good, the Sun is shining, I can just live.” Even if it’s 3 a.m.

AI Spy

It seems we’re not the only ones playing with that AI fake face website.

Experts: Spy used AI-generated face to connect with targets
“I’m convinced that it’s a fake face,” said Mario Klingemann, a German artist who has been experimenting for years with artificially generated portraits and says he has reviewed tens of thousands of such images. “It has all the hallmarks.”

Experts who reviewed the Jones profile’s LinkedIn activity say it’s typical of espionage efforts on the professional networking site, whose role as a global Rolodex has made it a powerful magnet for spies.

Yes, it’s obviously a fake. I mean, only a fool would fall for that, right?

“I’m probably the worst LinkedIn user in the history of LinkedIn,” said Winfree, the former deputy director of President Donald Trump’s domestic policy council, who confirmed connection with Jones on March 28.

Winfree, whose name came up last month in relation to one of the vacancies on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, said he rarely logs on to LinkedIn and tends to just approve all the piled-up invites when he does.

“I literally accept every friend request that I get,” he said.

Lionel Fatton, who teaches East Asian affairs at Webster University in Geneva, said the fact that he didn’t know Jones did prompt a brief pause when he connected with her back in March.

“I remember hesitating,” he said. “And then I thought, ‘What’s the harm?’”

<sigh> It might not be the technology we need, but it’s the technology we deserve.

But fear not, help is at hand!

Adobe’s new AI tool automatically spots Photoshopped faces
The world is becoming increasingly anxious about the spread of fake videos and pictures, and Adobe — a name synonymous with edited imagery — says it shares those concerns. Today, it’s sharing new research in collaboration with scientists from UC Berkeley that uses machine learning to automatically detect when images of faces have been manipulated.

But as Benedict Evans points out in a recent newsletter,

Potentially useful but one suspect this is just an arms race, and of course the people anyone would want to trick with such images won’t be using the tool.

Magnetic Chernobyl

Before 26 April 1986, Chernobyl was the name of a city in Ukraine. It was also the name of a nuclear power plant close by, near the city of Pripyat (population 49,000). I can’t imagine many people in the West would have heard of it. After 26 April 1986, that all changed, of course.

In 2014, Danny Cooke and a documentary crew spent some time there, and showed us around.

Eerie drone footage shows Chernobyl from above
“We spent the week together exploring Chernobyl and the nearby abandoned city of Pripyat. There was something serene, yet highly disturbing about this place. Time has stood still and there are memories of past happenings floating around us.”

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl

Its radioactive magnetism keeps pulling us back.

Chernobyl’s horrifying realism merits its place as TV’s top show
It’s this combination of forensic attention to detail and chilling terror that has made Chernobyl, now IMDB’s highest-rated TV series of all time, so compelling. Creator Craig Mazin has captured why, 33 years after it occurred, Chernobyl continues to grip the public’s imagination, and why the event has become a metonym for grand-scale, human-induced suffering: the prospect of nuclear disaster still makes for the ultimate horror story.

HBO’s Chernobyl vs Reality – Footage Comparison

Pripyat may be a ghost town, but it’s not empty.

Meet the dogs of Chernobyl – the abandoned pets that formed their own canine community
After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Pripyat and the surrounding villages were abandoned, and residents were not allowed to take their pets to safety. Chernobyl Prayer, a devastating oral history of the period, tells of “dogs howling, trying to get on the buses. Mongrels, alsatians. The soldiers were pushing them out again, kicking them. They ran after the buses for ages.” Heartbroken families pinned notes to their doors: “Don’t kill our Zhulka. She’s a good dog.” There was no mercy. Squads were sent in to shoot the animals. But some survived and it is mainly their descendants that populate the zone. […]

While the dogs get some food and play from the visitors, their health needs are met by Clean Futures Fund, a US non-profit organisation that helps communities affected by industrial accidents, which has set up three veterinary clinics in the area, including one inside the Chernobyl plant. The clinics treat emergencies and issue vaccinations against rabies, parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis. They are also neutering the dogs. Lucas Hixson, the fund’s co-founder, says: “I don’t think we’ll ever get zero dogs in the exclusion zone but we want to get the population down to a manageable size so we can feed and provide long-term care for them.” This makes Chernobyl safer for the dogs, but also for the workers and visitors.

‘Visitors’. They’re not to be called tourists, that would be too- … crass?

As seen on TV: Fans of HBO series flock to Chernobyl, Geiger counters in hand
Fallout zones don’t usually make popular tourism attractions, but tour agencies are reporting as much as a 40 percent jump in daytrip bookings to the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident since the debut of the hit HBO miniseries Chernobyl, according to Reuters. More than six million people watched the series finale last Monday, so there’s every reason to expect the tourism boomlet will continue. […]

Scientists have estimated that it will not be safe for humans to live in the 770-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for up to several hundred years, given that contamination levels are not consistent in the surrounding area. Still, the Ukrainian government opened Chernobyl to tourists in 2011 and about 60,000 tourists visited Chernobyl last year, noted local tourism official Anton Taranenko at a recent press conference.

Milka Ivanova, from Bulgaria, and Dorina-Maria Buda, from Romania, were five years old in 1986. They’re now academics at Leeds Beckett University. Here, they share their perspective.

Chernobyl: we lived through its consequences – holidays in the fallout zone shouldn’t be a picnic
As I write this – decompressing my memories and digging up those of my family back in Romania – there’s still a heaviness in my chest. Milka and I channel our anxieties over Chernobyl and life in communist eastern Europe into our research. To overcome the restraints of those days, I have travelled, worked and studied in eight countries on four continents. My published work deals with psychoanalytic theories of the death instinct, trauma and nuclear tourism – the industry that monetises a fascination to visit places where nuclear accidents have laid waste to people and their communities. The Fukushima disaster of March 2011 in Japan created the most recent entry in this list of tourist hotspots.

Interestingly, 2011 was also the year that Chernobyl was officially declared a tourist attraction. The HBO miniseries has generated interest in nuclear tourism, but this fascination with our communist history is nothing new among western tourists.

Along a bleak river

Expect more of these over the coming years; melancholic, soulful studies of our degrading environment.

Zhang Kechun documents the bleak reality of China’s Yellow River
Once a site of prosperity, the river is filled with a spiritual history in Chinese mythology. “I decided to take a walk along the Yellow River… so that I could find the root of my soul”, explains Kechun in his artist statement. “Along the way, the river from my mind was inundated by the stream of reality. Once full of legends, [the river] had gone and disappeared. That is kind of my profound pessimism”, he writes. Zhang spent four years documenting the river, the results of which reflect a bleak reality: industrial sabotage, pollution, and the long-term effects of floods are portrayed through grey and beige tones. The river has flooded many times and with such extreme consequences, that is has become known as the River of Sorrow.

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“Minimalist infantilization”

You don’t need a degree in visual identity to notice a certain amount of homogeneity amongst corporate branding these days. Graphic designer and writer Rachel Hawley investigates this  “creepy cheerfulness of a thousand smiling san serifs.”

The corporate logo singularity
By the time Facebook and Google got in on the fun, of course, this new style was well underway. Motorola, Spotify, Airbnb, PayPal, and Lenovo had all undergone similar redesigns; over the next few years, Dropbox, Mastercard, Pandora, Pinterest, and Uber followed suit, among others. The twenty-first century, it became clear, would be smooth, sleek, and simple.

What we’ve been left with is the unsettling omnipresence of a single corporate aesthetic, its reach rapidly expanding beyond its tech origins. Taken individually, any of these wordmarks might effectively communicate the intended qualities of friendliness and approachability; together, their cheerfulness is downright creepy, like the painted-on smile of a clown’s face. […]

Here, the truth is made plain: the childlike nature of corporate branding isn’t a random trend, but part of the mindset that consumers ought to be treated like children. Details are the sinister machinations of faceless authority figures; friendly colors and geometric letters like those on a toddler’s building blocks are comforting by contrast. That each brand looks more or less like the next is only for the better: the world is a little smaller that way, less likely to confuse or frighten. As Jesse Barron wrote for Real Life magazine in 2016, “We’re in the middle of a decade of post-dignity design, whose dogma is cuteness.” Cuteness, employed as these companies do, talks down to you without words.

In related news, Firefox is having a rebrand. And yes, this feels quite ‘cute’ too, after reading Rachel’s article.

Mozilla gives Firefox a new look that goes beyond the logo
Built around four distinct ideological pillars — a radical optimism about the internet, a desire to build better products, a drive towards openness, and a belief in the fundamental importance of being driven by strong convictions — the new look and feel isn’t the end of story, with Mozilla claiming that: “As a living brand, Firefox will never be done. It will continue to evolve as we change and the world changes around us.”

Firefox’s new logo has more fire, less fox
But before you say “What did they do to that poor fox!” know that the logo you see above actually isn’t the browser logo — that’s the brand-new overarching logo for Mozilla’s whole family of Firefox products, with each component (including the browser) having its own logo, too.

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