The beginnings of linguistic inclusion?

Bong Joon Ho’s latest film Parasite has been doing quite well recently, subtitles notwithstanding.

Trump inexplicably complains about ‘Parasite’ Oscar winsThe Wrap
“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards? And the winner is a movie from South Korea,” said Trump. “What the hell was that all about? We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give him the best movie of the year? Was it good? I don’t know. Can we get ‘Gone With the Wind’ back please? ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ So many great movies, the winner is from South Korea. I thought it was best foreign film, right? Best foreign movie. No! Did this ever happen before?”

I loved this take on it from Language Log, a wonderfully anachronistic-looking blog from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Overcoming the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles”: The Oscars and multilingualismLanguage Log
It is well known that multilingualism is the norm rather than the exception around the world … so monolingualism in countries like the USA is at least as unnatural as subtitles on a movie, if not more so.

In his speeches and interviews, director Bong Joon Ho consistently code-switches between English and Korean (e.g. here). This is another novelty. Code-switching is not commonly seen on American TV. I loved his half-apologetic, half-cheeky laugh when he said in perfect English: “I am a foreign language filmmaker so I need a translator here. Please understand.” The interpreter herself has been in the spotlight as well.

Watch out men, it’s a Leap Day!

Vintage Leap Day postcardsPostcrossing
2020 is a Leap Year, so how about a look at some old postcards illustrating one of the best-known Leap Day traditions? If you’ve never heard of this, the tradition is that on Leap Day (and only on Leap Day!) women can propose to men.

And there were some serious consequences for those that refused. Huffington Post has more on this and other marriage superstitions and traditions, and check out this Flickr group for more Leap Day postcards.

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Tackling poor behaviour in schools

A press release from the DfE today.

Experts to help tackle poor behaviour in schoolsGOV.UK
Schools with exemplary behaviour practices are being invited to lead the Government’s £10 million programme to improve discipline, as part of work to raise school standards across the country. Supported by renowned behaviour experts, these schools will work in partnership with those that need help to turn around their behaviour culture, equipping heads and senior leaders with the tools they need to tackle poor discipline.

Education Secretary: We’re going on a discipline drive in schoolsGOV.UK
We plan to build partnerships between schools which are leading on this issue with those who want to turn their own cultures around, allowing institutions with poor behaviour to learn from those with the best. They’ll be led by former teacher and behaviour expert Tom Bennett, along with a team of current and former headteachers with broad experience of creating disciplined environments in their own schools

So who are these experts?

Revealed: The experts leading £10m behaviour programeTes News
The seven-strong team will work alongside headteachers and leaders from 20 outstanding schools in order to improve behaviour in around 500 schools which are struggling with poor behaviour. The group is being led by the DfE’s behaviour tsar Tom Bennett, who is the founder of ResearchED, an international conference of teachers that aims to boost knowledge of current research among the profession.

DfE reveals Tom Bennett’s new behaviour taskforceSchools Week
Bennett, the DfE’s lead behaviour adviser, said: “There are some incredible schools out there making miracles happen every day, but many schools who, often through no fault of their own, face huge challenges getting there. Behaviour hubs will support these schools with the schools who know how to turn things around.”

Exclusive: DfE behaviour expert ran unlawful exclusionsTes News
Mark Emmerson, chief executive of the City of London Academies Trust, was in charge of The City Academy in Hackney in 2016, when pupils were voluntarily “withdrawn” by parents – without these absences being recorded as fixed-term exclusions.

Let’s hope they succeed. It’s an emotive topic for sure, but only an idiot would imagine there are any simple fixes or easy answers here.

Ban phones and queue in silence for better GCSEs, says Gavin WilliamsonThe Telegraph
Gavin Williamson has urged schools to implement stringent discipline regimes, such as lining up in silence before lessons. He said that often “common-sense solutions” can be used to curb unruly behaviour as well as lead to outstanding academic results.

Point proven, then. Meanwhile, here’s an overview of some of the research on what might influence student behaviour.

Are parents to blame for bad behaviour?Tes News
As hysteria mounts over knife crime, school exclusions and persistent bad behaviour, “I blame the parents” is once again a common refrain. But to what extent does parenting affect how a child behaves in school? Considering the number of parenting courses on offer through schools, and through government services, the perception is clearly that the impact is significant. But, as always, it’s a bit more complex than that.

Well said. Meanwhile.

The banality of evil

You remember that post I shared in June 2014 about the CIA’s Twitter account, right? It seems it’s not improved in the intervening six years.

The CIA’s Twitter account is a war crimeThe Outline
Social media obscures the realities of the entity using it, instead allowing it to represent itself as the more-abstracted notion of “a brand.” The public opinion of an occupation that requires one to partake in “forced sodomy for prisoners who refused food” gets confusing when that same entitity is posting pictures of adorable deer, joking that they’re just as stealthy as its employees. This isn’t just its social media team: the CIA hires a litany of employees, “operations officers, to analysts, to librarians and public affairs,” whose roles’ banality upholds the whole operation. Maybe the CIA intentionally runs this account knowing we’d be all, “WTF, CIA?”. Worse, maybe it’s really such a “normal” workplace that most individuals who work there are just as far removed from its conduct as you or I, which leads them to believe this kind of thing is completely fine.

I wonder if they refer to their style guide when drafting those tweets.

Writing tips from the CIA’s ruthless style manualQuartz
As revealed in the manual, the CIA is a prescriptivist scold, a believer in the serial comma, and a champion of “crisp and pungent” language “devoid of jargon.” It takes a firm stand against false titles used attributively and urges intelligence writers to lowercase the w in Vietnam war (“undeclared”).

Perhaps they just need another coffee.

At CIA Starbucks, even the baristas are covertWashington Post
The new supervisor thought his idea was innocent enough. He wanted the baristas to write the names of customers on their cups to speed up lines and ease confusion, just like other Starbucks do around the world. But these aren’t just any customers. They are regulars at the CIA Starbucks.

Talking rubbish

Whilst I could be described as being a ‘knowledge worker’, I work in a place as far from Silicon Valley as it’s possible to be. There is no table-football or Lego in my office. We don’t have hot desks or use Slack. And there’s no expectation that we swap the 9-to-5 with 996, that is 9am to 9pm, six days a week. Less 24/7, more 7-and-a-half/5. Others aren’t so lucky, however.

Silicon Valley ruined work cultureWired
Lyons believes these new-agey corporate practices, along with perks like free snacks or beer on tap, are simply a misdirection from something rotten at the core. He blames worker unhappiness not just on Silicon Valley’s work culture but also on its business model—one he calls “shareholder capitalism.” The modern tech company is obsessed with growth and profit, at the expense of its employees and to the benefit of its investors. Some lucky employees might have stock options, but most don’t, and even then it’s a small percentage of the money flowing back to investors. The perks, then, function like trick mirrors, “a way to distract employees and keep them from noticing that their pockets are being picked.”

I’m imagining Uncanny Valley, Anna Wiener’s new book on Silicon Valley and start-up culture, to be a Microserfs for millennials. It probably isn’t.

Seduced by Start-up Land: A new memoir about millennial ambition in Silicon Valley – The Cut
Uncanny Valley is a memoir about Wiener’s journey through start-up culture during its most bullish and self-aggrandizing era, and how her idealism gives way to disappointment and horror as society starts to suffer the consequences of tech’s unchecked fetish for growth.

Examining endemic ills of tech bros in ‘Uncanny Valley’The Boston Globe
The most valuable question Wiener asks is why we are allowing that to happen — why we have such blind faith in these “ambitious, aggressive, arrogant young men from America’s soft suburbs,” why we’re so seduced by their confidence that we assume their priorities should be our own, why we defer to them when we ought to be saying no.

As well as via some very suspect management practices, that culture is expressed by the choice of language being used.

Garbage language: Why do corporations speak the way they do?Vulture
Wiener writes especially well — with both fluency and astonishment — about the verbal habits of her peers: “People used a sort of nonlanguage, which was neither beautiful nor especially efficient: a mash-up of business-speak with athletic and wartime metaphors, inflated with self-importance. Calls to action; front lines and trenches; blitzscaling. Companies didn’t fail, they died.” She describes a man who wheels around her office on a scooter barking into a wireless headset about growth hacking, proactive technology, parallelization, and the first-mover advantage. “It was garbage language,” Wiener writes, “but customers loved him.” […]

I like Anna Wiener’s term for this kind of talk: garbage language. It’s more descriptive than corporatespeak or buzzwords or jargon. Corporatespeak is dated; buzzword is autological, since it is arguably an example of what it describes; and jargon conflates stupid usages with specialist languages that are actually purposeful, like those of law or science or medicine. Wiener’s garbage language works because garbage is what we produce mindlessly in the course of our days and because it smells horrible and looks ugly and we don’t think about it except when we’re saying that it’s bad, as I am right now.

She’s not the only one to spot this, of course.

Corporate buzzwords are how workers pretend to be adultsThe Atlantic
From a more cynical perspective, buzzwords are useful when office workers need to dress up their otherwise pointless tasks with fancier phrases—you know, for the optics. Coal miners and doctors and tennis instructors have specific jargon they use to get their points across, but “all-purpose business language is the language you use when you aren’t really doing anything.”

Perhaps, instead of using garbage language, we could flick through the pages of Eunoia, a diction of words that don’t translate.

Eunoia: The internet’s dictionary of untranslatable wordsBlog of the Long Now
Eunoia is itself an untranslatable word meaning a “well-mind” or “beautiful thinking.” The user can search Eunoia’s database by “language, tag, or the word itself. There are over 500 words in the database, across 50+ languages and 50+ tags.”

The language with the highest untranslatable words was German; from the well-known Schadenfreude, which means to be happy at someone else’s misfortune, to the complicated Jein, meaning both yes and no.

That last one, jein, reminded me of this new construction that I’m still looking for an excuse to use.

But/andRobin Sloan
I find that in my own writing, my own sequencing of ideas, what I most often want is “and,” except that “and” is so linear: it can’t capture a turn or a twist. The layers of “but/and” do it almost perfectly, and, as a bonus, its clumsiness basically admits, “I am no great rhetorician; this is not a mathematical proof; I’m just trying my best,” which, to me, is a great benefit. […]

“And” is the continuation, fine as far as is goes; “but” is the negation, even if you pretend it’s not; “but/and” is the turn, the twist, the resonance, the perfect fifth.

Too soon?

The coronavirus outbreak continues apace, but has China turned the corner?

With its epidemic slowing, China tries to get back to workThe Economist
So along with reporting the number of new infections every day, officials are now reporting on the number of reopened businesses in their territories. The province of Zhejiang, a manufacturing powerhouse and home to Yiwu, leads the country so far, with 90% of its large industrial enterprises having restarted. But many of these are running at low capacities. Jason Wang is a manager with a clothing company that sells winter coats at Yiwu International Trade City. His factory started up again but only half of his employees have returned. “The government, enterprises, workers—everyone is making a gamble in restarting. But we have no choice, we have to make a living,” he says.

Meanwhile.

China pushes all-out production of face masks in virus fightNikkei Asian Review
Companies ranging from state-owned carmakers to oil producers are installing production lines as the government aims to raise output by at least 70%. But it will not be easy to meet demand from 1.4 billion people desperate for a measure of protection against infection.

Iran’s Deputy Health Minister has tested positive for coronavirusBuzzFeed News
Iraj Harirchi, the head of Iran’s anti-coronavirus task force, tested positive a day after a news conference where he appeared visibly sick. He wasn’t wearing a mask.

Coronavirus has now spread to every continent except AntarcticaCNN
Public health officials warned Wednesday that the spread of the novel coronavirus is inching closer toward meeting the definition of a global pandemic, as the number of cases outside mainland China continues to grow, including in South Korea where a US soldier has tested positive for the virus.

Rush Limbaugh: Coronavirus is being ‘weaponized’ by Chinese communists to ‘bring down’ TrumpMediaite
“It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump,” claimed Limbaugh. “I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus…. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”

Pianist Yuja Wang issues emotional reply after critics shame her for wearing glasses on stageClassic FM
“Humiliated” after being detained at the airport, Yuja Wang says she delivered the recital in sunglasses to hide her tears.

How the coronavirus revealed authoritarianism’s fatal flawThe Atlantic
China’s use of surveillance and censorship makes it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on in his own country.

Mass coronavirus testing to be launched in Britain to uncover how far disease has spreadThe Telegraph
Thousands of Britons will be tested by GPs for coronavirus, amid fears that the explosion of cases in Europe means there could be far more cases in the UK than are known about.

Facebook is banning ads that promise to cure the coronavirusBusiness Insider
In a statement, a spokesperson told Business Insider: “We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention.”

I’ll just share this here, too.

An authentic 16th century plague doctor mask preserved and on display at the German Museum of Medical HistoryDesign You Trust
The mask had glass openings in the eyes and a curved beak shaped like a bird’s beak with straps that held the beak in front of the doctor’s nose. The mask had two small nose holes and was a type of respirator which contained aromatic items. The beak could hold dried flowers (including roses and carnations), herbs (including mint), spices, camphor, or a vinegar sponge.

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Time is money

Here’s a simple but effective way of getting across the differences in salaries and incomes from Neal Agarwal.

Printing money
Visualizing rates from minimum wage to the national deficit.

Another one of his constructions that caught my eye was Who Was Alive? Enter the year you’re interested in, and the page will list dozens of famous figures throughout history, with their ages and portraits. In 1944, for instance, Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro and Miles Davis all turned 18. Imagine that party.

Top flight fakery

A while ago I shared news of the world’s first AI presenter. And there’s lots here about fake news. But what about taking deepfake-style technology to produce true news?

Reuters uses AI to prototype first ever automated video reportsForbes
Developed in collaboration with London-based AI startup Synthesia, the new system harnesses AI in order to synthesize pre-recorded footage of a news presenter into entirely new reports. It works in a similar way to deepfake videos, although its current prototype combines with incoming data on English Premier League football matches to report on things that have actually happened. […]

In other words, having pre-filmed a presenter say the name of every Premier League football team, every player, and pretty much every possible action that could happen in a game, Reuters can now generate an indefinite number of synthesized match reports using his image. These reports are barely indistinguishable from the real thing, and Cohen reports that early witnesses to the system (mostly Reuters’ clients) have been dutifully impressed.

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(via Patrick Tanguay)

Update 26/02/2020

Just found another example of a deepfake video being used in a, if not true, at least positive sense.

We’ve just seen the first use of deepfakes in an Indian election campaignVice
When the Delhi BJP IT Cell partnered with political communications firm The Ideaz Factory to create “positive campaigns” using deepfakes to reach different linguistic voter bases, it marked the debut of deepfakes in election campaigns in India. “Deepfake technology has helped us scale campaign efforts like never before,” Neelkant Bakshi, co-incharge of social media and IT for BJP Delhi, tells VICE. “The Haryanvi videos let us convincingly approach the target audience even if the candidate didn’t speak the language of the voter.”

A purposefully not smart phone

Phones. It’s a love/hate relationship for sure. Technology companies have long since realised how bored we get with what we have, and are forever designing “better” versions of the same thing for us to buy next—shinier, bendier, or just plain bigger. This is not without problems.

Z Flip and Razr: Folding screens bubble and scratch, tests findBBC News
It follows the troubled release of Samsung’s first foldable phone one year ago, leading some analysts to question whether foldable screen technology is ready for mainstream release.

Large screen phones: a challenge for UX design (and human hands)Imaginary Cloud
Each OS version ends up having their own UX animations but at the end of the day, the truth is, many navigation elements are still situated at the top part of the screen, with emphasis on the top left corner. Where are these giant handed UX designers? Can’t we solve that?

In an area forever pursing the latest gimmicky design, how refreshing to see this pared-back, no-nonsense approach.

An anti-smartphone with a rotary designed and built by space engineer Justine HauptColossal
Justine Haupt, a developer of astronomy instrumentation at Brookhaven National Laboratory, spent the last three years developing a device that strips away all of the non-phone functions of modern smartphones. The Portable Wireless Electronic Digital Rotary Telephone (aka Rotary Cellphone) does not have a touchscreen, menus, or other superfluous features. It fits in Haupt’s pocket, and it makes calls.

She’s sharing the open source design on her website, if you fancy getting yourself one.

Portable Wireless Electronic Digital Rotary Telephone (AKA: Rotary Cellphone)Justine Haupt
This is a statement against a world of touchscreens, hyperconnectivity, and complacency with big brother watchdogs.

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Update 26/02/2020

I’m not sure that phone would be getting all this attention if it didn’t have a rotary dial that pinged all our nostalgia nerve endings. Here’s a follow-up piece from The Outline on that and the Freewrite “typewriter” which thinks that, unfortunately, “technology nostalgia won’t ever be enough to conquer smartphone addiction.”

Go ahead, rotary phone, try and distract meThe Outline
Anti-distraction tools such as these be effective, in the same way that driving a Ford F-150 pickup truck is an effective way of carrying piles of dirt or whatever people who use pickup trucks carry around in them. But many people do not buy a truck because they use it for such purposes, they buy it because it’s comfortable to drive, and they like how it looks and what it says about them. The aesthetics of distraction-free hardware, consciously or not, are rooted in nostalgia as much as they are in functionality: the rotary phone and the portable “typewriter” have not been in common use for decades, but the virality of Haupt’s phone and the apparent sales success of the Freewrite suggest that people long for an older, less distraction-prone time. […]

Harris and his cohort at the Center for Humane Technology are not on a buddy-buddy basis with big tech conglomerate leadership, but they ably represent how anxieties about the deleterious impact of technology can be repurposed by tech companies themselves. Justine Haupt’s rotary phone suggests a separate DIY approach, an open-source invitation for others to disconnect. The Freewrite is an easier, more expensive alternative. What they both lack is a sense of the politics of distraction, how the only way to actually end mass distraction is to completely remake the conditions that allow it to flourish in the first place.

What else doesn’t exist?

I admit I had fun with those people who don’t exist and their related websites, but it’s getting a little silly now. An artificially intelligent songwriter? AI feet??

These lyrics do not exist
This website generates completely original lyrics for various topics, uses state of the art AI to generate an original chorus and original verses.

Want some happy metal lyrics about dogs? No problem.

I am the dog in you
I am the dog in you
How one animal can be so tense, yet so free?
Such vicious dogs in search of a trophy

This foot does not exist
The foot pic, then, becomes a commodity which the consumer is willing to pay for on its basis as an intimate, revealing, and/or pornographic (and perhaps power-granting, when provided on request) asset, while the producer may** see it as a meme, a dupe, a way to trick the horny-credible out of their ill-spent cash.

Balance and power

If you liked Universal Everything’s films on human and digital movement, you’ll enjoy this visualisation of the kinetics of sports.

Behold the invisible swoosh and swirl of athletic movement in digital artAeon
Forms is a collaboration between the London-based visual artists Memo Akten and Davide Quayolas, and it generates dynamic digital art from the bodies of world-class athletes at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Inspired by modernist and early photographic interrogations of bodies in motion, such as Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2 (1912), the project, in Akten’s words, plays with ‘abstract forms, visualising unseen relationships – power, balance, grace and conflict – between the body and its surroundings’.

The video above, Forms (process), shows how the source video was transformed into the final film.

FormsMemo Akten
Rather than focusing on observable trajectories, it explores techniques of extrapolation to sculpt abstract forms, visualizing unseen relationships – power, balance, grace and conflict – between the body and its surroundings.

Unforeseen Brexit impact #641

This could get interesting.

Brexit could be about to totally mess up the UK’s time zonesWired UK
In March 2019 the European Parliament approved a proposal that spelled the end of clock changes within the EU. From 2021, EU member states will have to choose whether to stick to summer or winter time for good, with no more springing forward or falling back.

London two hours behind Paris? Two different time zones each side of the border in Ireland? Not to worry, though, I’m sure the government has it all under control. Er …

Although the government has made it clear that it doesn’t want to follow the EU’s example, it hasn’t been exactly forthcoming on what will happen if when we fall out of step with the rest of the EU. In an effort to prod them into action, the House of Lords has released a report analysing what will happen if the UK opts to keep the clock change – with the potential for chaos on the Northern Ireland border and trade with Europe.

The hills are alive with the sound of the Oomphalapompatronium ♪♬♫

More marvellous musical contraptions.

Len Solomon and his amazing DIY musical contraptionsThe Kid Should See This
Making instruments can be as simple as adding different amounts of water to a row of bottles or as elaborate as creating your own pipe organ-style instruments from any object that suits a musical vision. That’s what Len Solomon does. For over 30 years, he’s invented instruments by “filing and sawing” parts like “old vacuum cleaner tubes and plastic bottles, hardware supplies like PVC pipes and copper tees, and specialty items he makes himself like rubber squeeze balls and fipples.”

How this guy makes amazing DIY musical contraptions – YouTube

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It’s all relative

That guy from Amazon has been out shopping.

Jeff Bezos Sets Record With $165 Million Beverly Hills Home PurchaseBloomberg
News of the sale emerged just days after filings showed Bezos cashed out $4.1 billion of Amazon shares and comes amid reports that he’s also entered the art market. He reportedly set a record for artist Ed Ruscha at a Christie’s auction with a $52.5 million purchase of “Hurting the Word Radio #2” in November and also bought “Vignette 19” by Kerry James Marshall for $18.5 million.

Sounds like a lot of money, right?

Jeff Bezos bought the most expensive property in LA with an eighth of a percent of his net worthThe Verge
It is literally impossible to imagine just how rich the wealthiest people on the planet are. The difference between their bank accounts and yours — yes, you, the person reading this — is that they can spend the monthly interest on their holdings and buy things like airplanes and islands. It is probably important to note here that Amazon paid zero dollars in federal income tax on $11 billion in before-tax profit in 2018; this year, it will pay out $162 million on $13.3 billion in profit — a whopping 1.2 percent effective tax rate.

An eighth of a percent? It’s all relative, as this interactive graphic from The Washington Post, very cleverly demonstrates.

What Michael Bloomberg’s $11 million Super Bowl ad would cost you on your budgetWashington Post
Very few of us can comprehend what it’s like to be uber-wealthy like Mike Bloomberg, one of the richest people in the world and a Democratic presidential candidate. For example, the former New York mayor spent $11 million of his own money on a 60-second Super Bowl ad. How much money would that mean to you? Let’s put the finances of the ultra-rich into the context of everyday life.

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(via FlowingData)

Better Valentine alternatives

If you don’t want to send your sweetheart a Vinegar Valentine’s card, you could always try something a little different, like– a Valentine’s wall?

Say it with Banksy? Valentine’s gift catapults house to street art fameThe Guardian
She said: “We really want to preserve it, but he’s given us a bit of a headache. First thing’s first is to maybe get some Perspex to preserve it so everyone can enjoy it and then try to get some professional advice. It has been a crazy day, with lots of people being able to come and enjoy it and we want people to be able to continue doing that.

“I just kept like squealing and I’ve not stopped smiling all day. It’s just so special. They are calling it the Valentine’s Day Banksy.”

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It’s nice to see that Banksy has since confirmed it’s one of his.

OK, so sending someone some street art might not be very practical. Pen and paper it is, then.

Grab a pen. It’s time to revive the love letter.The Lily
Unlike digital messages, they’re concrete; we can feel their weight in our hands. (“Will we ever glow when we open an email folder?” Simon Garfield writes in a book celebrating letter writing. “Emails are a poke, but letters are a caress, and letters stick around to be newly discovered.”) Months, years, decades in the future, they prove we lived and loved, savored and felt sorrow. They allow us to grasp at immortality.

Enduring love: how greetings cards are surviving the smartphone eraThe Guardian
“The real growth we’re seeing is among people sending a message to cheer someone up,” says Fergusson, explaining that there has been a huge rise in “No occasion” cards. She believes millennials and gen Z are buying these cards because they are more powerful than social media messages. Hare calls her new range “contemporary sentiments” – one card says, “Just be your beautiful self”, while another reads: “Proud of you.” In 2019, the online retailer Moonpig launched a collection with the Samaritans – personalised cards were emblazoned with messages such as: “Matthew, I’m not sure how to help but if you need me, I’m here.” Fergusson says there has been a recent rise in “man-to-man” sending, but GCA research suggests 85% of cards are bought by women.

Alternatively…

Poundland sells 40,000 engagement rings ahead of Valentine’s DayBBC News
The £1 “Bling Rings” and “Man Bands” are meant to be used as “placeholders” for proper rings, it said. But one analyst described such promotions as “increasingly desperate”.

And here’s a modern take on that Vinegar Valentine idea.

Name a cockroach after your ex and watch an animal eat it on Valentine’s DayCNN
For just $5, zoo staff will name a cockroach after your former lover and feed it to an animal at their “Cry Me a Cockroach” event on Valentine’s Day. And if your ex-boo was an especially snakey one, pay $20 more to have them name a rat and feed it to a reptile instead.

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Update 20/02/2020

Sadly/inevitably, that Banksy Valentine’s Day graffiti has been graffiti-ed, which raises a number of interesting questions (including is it even possible to actually damage Banksy’s artwork, given that it itself is criminal damage, in law).

Banksy: what happens when someone vandalises graffiti – and who owns it anyway?The Conversation
Where graffiti has been applied to the wall of a property, that physical piece of “art” belongs to the owners of the property, who may choose to lawfully remove it or to protect it. If the property is rented – as is reportedly the case for the Valentine’s mural – the graffiti becomes part of the fabric of that building and belongs to the property owner, not the tenants. Ownership of the intangible rights to the artwork (the copyright), however, will remain the property of Banksy as the artist.

Valentines cards, but with added acetic acid

Happy Valentine’s Day! Did you get any cards this year? Let’s hope you didn’t receive one of these.

The rude, cruel, and insulting ‘Vinegar Valentines’ of the Victorian eraAtlas Obscura
In the 1840s, hopeful American and British lovers sent lacy valentines with cursive flourishes and lofty poems by the thousands. But what to do if you didn’t love the person who had set their eyes on you?

In the Victorian era, there was no better way to let someone know they were unwanted than with the ultimate insult: the vinegar valentine. Also called “comic valentines,” these unwelcome notes were sometimes crass and always a bit emotionally damaging in the anti-spirit of Valentine’s Day.

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OK, so let’s assume your Valentine shares your feelings and agrees to go on a date. What could possibly go wrong?

Stupid Cupid: Valentine’s Day disasters, as seen by waitersThe Guardian
While some of us make too much effort on Valentine’s Day, others haven’t even mastered the first rule of dating: don’t perv on someone who is not your partner. Stephenson-Roberts observes that “wandering eyes” are a common feature of the evening. Digital flirting isn’t unheard of, either. Peppe Corallo, bar manager at London’s Kitchen at Holmes, remembers one woman who suddenly started screaming at her boyfriend during dinner. Why? He had been checking Tinder at the table. She hurled her champagne in his face before storming out. Unsurprisingly, her sodden lover soon paid up and left too. “I felt bad for him in some ways, but at the same time, don’t put your phone on the table where your girlfriend can see,” Corallo advises.

The tech left behind

I first read this on my phone and now here I am, blogging about it on my tablet.

Why laptops could be facing the end of the lineThe Conversation
Research shows that PC and laptop ownership, usage and importance have declined over the past three years, replaced largely by smartphones. A survey of internet users found just 15% thought their laptop was their most important device for accessing the internet, down from 30% in 2015, while 66% thought their smartphone was most important, up from 32%.

This has led some commentators to predict the slow death of the laptop because of young people’s preference for and greater familiarity with the devices in their pocket. But a survey by UK regulator Ofcom in 2017 also found there has also been a record rise in older people using smartphones and tablets.

Good riddance?

How your laptop ruined your lifeThe Atlantic
As laptops have kept improving, and Wi-Fi has continued to reach ever further into the crevices of American life, however, the reality of laptops’ potential stopped looking quite so rosy. Instead of liberating white-collar and “knowledge” workers from their office, laptops turned many people’s whole life into an office. Smartphones might require you to read an after-hours email or check in on the office-communication platform Slack before you started your commute, but portable computers gave workers 24-hour access to the sophisticated, expensive applications—Salesforce CRM, Oracle ERP, Adobe Photoshop—that made their full range of duties possible.

Mobiles, mobiles, mobiles. They’re practically compulsory these days.

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Desktop vs Mobile vs Tablet market share worldwideStatCounter Global Stats
Mobile – 52.02%, Desktop – 45.29%, Tablet – 2.7%

But not all mobiles, though. Did you ever have a Blackberry, the one that perhaps started it all?

RIP Blackberry phones — you really f***ed us over, but that keyboard was greatThe Outline
Blackberry phones died a slow death throughout the 2010s, as people migrated to newer phones with a wider selection of functions, apps, and so on. But the Blackberry’s rise was marked by the cultural shift that is, I think, the greatest anxiety of the smartphone era: the rapid upswing in how much time we spend on our damn phones.

When Barack Obama became president in 2008, he famously fought for (and won) the right to keep using his Blackberry (the phone would become the official device given out by large swathes of the federal government, including Congress). And years before reverting to a “dumb phone” became a thing for trendsetters like Anna Wintour, magazine writers tried the same stunt to lessen their Blackberry usage. One Daily Mail headline from 2006 warned of a “Blackberry addiction ‘similar to drugs,’” describing the kind of behavior we now readily associate with social media and phones more generally (“One key sign of a user being addicted is if they focus on their Blackberry ignoring those around them.”).

The rise and fall of BlackBerryYouTube

Another GlobalStats chart that caught my eye was this one, illustrating Chrome’s dominance over the other browsers.

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Browser market share worldwideStatCounter Global Stats
Chrome – 64.1%, Safari – 17.21%, Firefox – 4.7%, Samsung Internet – 3.33%, UC Browser – 2.61%, Opera – 2.26%

Here’s The Register’s take on that.

Why Firefox? Because not everybody is a web designer, sillyThe Register
The problem with thinking that the web would be better with only one browser is that it raises the question – better for who? Better for web designers? Maybe, but that’s a statistically insignificant portion of the people on the web. Better for users? How?

But for those of us that are/were, here’s a look back at a simpler time.

Old CSS, new CSSFuzzy Notepad
Damn, I miss those days. There were no big walled gardens, no Twitter or Facebook. If you had anything to say to anyone, you had to put together your own website. It was amazing. No one knew what they were doing; I’d wager that the vast majority of web designers at the time were clueless hobbyist tweens (like me) all copying from other clueless hobbyist tweens. … Everyone who was cool and in the know used Internet Explorer 3, the most advanced browser, but some losers still used Netscape Navigator so you had to put a “Best in IE” animated GIF on your splash page too. […]

Sadly, that’s all gone now — paved over by homogenous timelines where anything that wasn’t made this week is old news and long forgotten. The web was supposed to make information eternal, but instead, so much of it became ephemeral. I miss when virtually everyone I knew had their own website. Having a Twitter and an Instagram as your entire online presence is a poor substitute.

Indeed.

Mapping the outbreak

Here’s a new tool, updated daily, to help us visualise the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

2019-nCoV-tracker
[H]eadlines can be hard to interpret. How fast is the virus spreading? Are efforts to control the disease working? How does the situation compare with previous epidemics? This site is updated daily based on the number of confirmed cases reported by the WHO. By looking beyond the daily headlines, we hope it is possible to get a deeper understanding of this unfolding epidemic.

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You can overlay the data from previous epidemics, too, as this summary from The Conversation explains.

Coronavirus outbreak: a new mapping tool that lets you scroll through timelineThe Conversation
Comparisons with other recent outbreaks are also revealing. At one end of the spectrum, the 2014 Ebola epidemic can be distinguished by its devastating virulence (killing nearly 40% of the 28,600 people infected) but narrow geographic range (the virus was largely confined to three countries in West Africa). On the other hand, the 2009 swine flu pandemic was far less virulent (with an estimated mortality rate of less than 0.1%), but reached every corner of the globe.

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A very useful resource. This is exactly the kind of context our news needs to be providing.

Cases Deaths Countries affected Case fatality rate
2003 SARS 8,096 774 26 9.56%
2009 H1N1 (swine flu) 60,800,000 18,499 214 0.1%
2014 Ebola 28,646 11,323 10 39.53%
2019 nCoV:
12 Feb
45,171 1,115 26 2.5%
2019 nCoV:
2 Mar
88,913 3,043 62 3.4%
2019 nCoV:
13 Mar
125,048 4,613 118 3.7%

Update 13/02/2020

Thanks to China’s fast response, are we about to turn the corner?

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A ray of hope in the coronavirus curveThe Economist
Trying to forecast the trajectory of a new virus is complex, with scant initial information about how infectious it is. Several scientists made valiant attempts based on early data from China. Some warned that it might not peak until May, but that was before China implemented strict containment measures. The more pessimistic ones now look too gloomy. Cheng-Chih Hsu, a chemist at National Taiwan University, plugged different scenarios into a simple model for estimating the spread of epidemics (the incidence of daily infections typically resemble bell curves, with slightly fatter tails as transmissions peter out). The tally of confirmed cases so far closely fits a seemingly optimistic forecast by Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese respiratory expert, who said on January 28th that transmissions would peak within two weeks.

The end can’t come soon enough.

The coronavirus is the first true social-media “infodemic”MIT Technology Review
On February 2, the World Health Organization dubbed the new coronavirus “a massive ‘infodemic,’” referring to “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” It’s a distinction that sets the coronavirus apart from previous viral outbreaks. While SARS, MERS, and Zika all caused global panic, fears around the coronavirus have been especially amplified by social media. It has allowed disinformation to spread and flourish at unprecedented speeds, creating an environment of heightened uncertainty that has fueled anxiety and racism in person and online.

Update 02/03/2020

I’ve updated the figures in the table above, using data from the tracker. Whilst the numbers of new cases in China is slowing down, they’re increasing everywhere else. And so too is the fatality rate, worryingly.

Update 13/03/2020

And still climbing.

For your shelf of earthly delights

I don’t know about you, but I’m very tempted.

Collectable Hieronymus Bosch figurinesDangerous Minds
I’m not a big knickknack person. I like to keep my home sparse in the “tiny objects” departament. But I must admit I really do dig these Hieronymus Bosch figurines. They’re kinda cool-looking in their own obviously weird way. I especially like the ones from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.

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Those not familiar with this strange Dutch painter from the 1400s should start here.

Hieronymus Bosch review – a heavenly host of delights on the road to hellThe Guardian
The public face of Bosch, walking the streets of this little city, was that of a good townsman and Catholic. His private thoughts emerge in the most unexpected and miraculous of all the treasures assembled – his drawings. … They show us the secret Bosch, a man with a mind full of monsters. One drawing is called The Wood Has Ears, The Field Has Eyes – a saying inscribed as on Goya’s Caprichos. Human ears hang from the trees. Human eyes stare out of the ground. It is like a Magritte. Only much scarier.

And for a spectacular, in-depth look at his most famous painting, check out this interactive, incredibly detailed version from the team behind the documentary Hieronymus Bosch, Touched by the Devil.

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Extraordinary interactive hi-res exhibit of Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’Colossal
Teaching art history online can be tough, despite a wealth of tools and technologies it’s difficult to create an environment that compares to a great teacher who can make artworks engaging to a live audience. However, this new interactive exhibit of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous Garden of Earthly Delights completely nails it. This is the internet we were promised.

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It’s not all about the money

This seems appropriate to share after yesterday’s post about late capitalism. Last year, the Augar report on university funding was published, which was roundly criticised at the time.

Universities condemn ‘catastrophic’ plan to link fees to graduate payThe Guardian
Dr Jason Scott-Warren, a lecturer in English at Cambridge University, says: “The idea of measuring the success of degrees by graduate earnings is despicable and we can only hope that future governments will abandon this market logic.”

It seems that concept of linking value of education to earnings is spreading to other areas. Anything that mentions Ofsted is usually trouble.

Alarm at Ofsted-style plan to rank universities by graduate earningsThe Guardian
In November the Conservative manifesto set off alarm bells in universities by promising to tackle “low-quality courses”. Now senior academics close to Westminster say the government is pressing on with this in a plan that could replicate the four Ofsted categories used for schools, flagging up university courses the government considers inadequate. […]

Controversially, graduate earnings are expected to be the bar by which the government will judge courses. Higher education experts warn this would damage the arts and humanities, where starting salaries are typically much lower than in disciplines such as medicine or law. […]

Prof Alec Cameron, vice-chancellor of Aston university, in Birmingham, says: “Salary is evidence of things, including where you live, what sector you’re in, and what sort of job you are pursuing. We should push back against the idea that a good salary is an adequate measure of how much a job matters to society.”

How can anyone think this is a good idea?