So, farewell then, Argos catalogue

Some sad news via Bill Bailey.

Argos axes ‘book of dreams’ catalogue after 48 yearsBBC News
“The laminated book of dreams,” was how comedian Bill Bailey jokingly described the plastic-coated Argos catalogue. But 48 years on from its launch, the catalogue is finally coming to an end. The encyclopedia-like catalogues, the basis of many a child’s Christmas wishlist, will no longer be regularly printed by the end of the January 2021.

And I see that the link to the catalogues from the 70s onwards that I shared last October has gone now, too. What a shame.

Update 01/08/2020

Here’s a working link (for now, at least) to that back catalogue, via things magazine.

Walk a mile in someone else’s screen

TheirTube – How do the recommended videos look on their Youtube home page?
This whole project started when I was in a heated discussion with a person who thought climate change was a hoax and 9/11 was a conspiracy. Through conversations with him, I was surprised to learn that he thought everyone’s YouTube feed had the same information as his own feed. When we showed each other our YouTube homepages, we were both shocked. They were radically different. And it got me thinking about the need for a tool to step outside of information bubbles.

Bird watching, kind of

Find yourself staring out of windows? Try some different ones.

WindowSwap lets you cycle through picturesque views from all over the worldThe Verge
There’s something very positive about the experience. Strangers are taking their time to share their favorite watching spot to help those who might not have one (or are just tired of their own). It is a small gesture of kindness and reminder of the positive ways the internet can make the world feel smaller.

As I mentioned before, one of the benefits of working from home is I get to enjoy the view of our little bird feeder all day. I’ll be back in the office at some point, I’m sure, but I know which website to turn to when I get there.

Bird Library, where the need to feed meets the need to read
Welcome to the Bird Library, feeding the birdbrains of Virginia. Concerned about bird literacy? So are we. We believe in biodiversity and welcome birds of all colors, shapes, and species … even squirrels.

Its live video feed is the only way I’ll get to see cardinals, I think, and all the library’s other exotic (to us in the UK, at least) patrons.

But if you’re wanting to see some truly beautiful birds:

Fantastical images of birds from the 2020 Audubon Photography AwardHyperallergic
The National Audubon Society annually rewards excellence in nature photography; the 2020 winners offer a stunning array of aviary photographs that continue to amaze with their vivid colors and curious behaviors.

This hypnotic artwork from Andy Thomas is my favourite, I think. I’ve seen visualisations of bird flight before, but not their song. These reinterpretations of bird song take very strange and dramatic forms reminiscent of flowers, insects and the birds themselves.

Digital sculptures visualize chirps of Amazonian birds in a responsive artwork by Andy ThomasColossal
Based on an audio recording from a 2016 trip to the Amazon, Australian artist Andy Thomas interprets birds’ trills, squawks, and coos through an animated series of digital sculptures. … With each chirp, the fleeting masses contort, grow, and disassemble into a new, vibrant form.

Instead of a window I could happily have this playing on a loop all day on a monitor on a wall or something. I wonder what the sparrows and goldfinches on my bird feeder would make of that.

Leave a message after the tone

More red phone boxes adopted in Yorkshire than are left in traditional useYorkshire Post
In Stutton near Tadcaster, the decommissioned box was converted into a Christmas card last year, passing on festive messages to neighbours and friends. There is an art gallery in Settle, while York’s oldest phone box on Duncombe Place now houses a defibrillator.

On the shelf

I’ve a number of posts here about libraries, but I’ve never seen one with such substantial shelving.

The Old Cincinnati Library before being demolished, 1874-1955Rare Historical Photos
Built in 1874 on the site reserved for an opera house, the Old Cincinnati Library was a thing of wonder. With five levels of cast iron shelving, a fabulous foyer, checker board marble floors and an atrium lit by a skylight ceiling, the place was breathtaking. Unfortunately that magnificent maze of books is now lost forever.

Some rather more genteel shelving on display here.

One of the world’s oldest reading rooms at the University of OxfordThe Mind Circle
This collection of images of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, while not of the most impressive library interior, are actually extremely rare, and most likely the best images of the interior available anywhere online. Photography of this library, which dates as far back as 1487 during the Medieval period, is usually completely prohibited as it contains many priceless original books, including manuscripts of the gospels of the Bible from the 3rd century, a Shakespeare First Folio and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (one of 42 left in the world).

I’d like to add you to my professional network

How a Chinese agent used LinkedIn to hunt for targetsBBC News
Former government and military employees and contractors are not shy about publicly posting details of their work histories on the website in order to obtain lucrative jobs in the private sector. This presents a potential goldmine to foreign intelligence agencies.

Not just AI spies, then?

Paintings with punch

Banksy paintings worth an estimated £1.2m to be sold at charity auctionThe Guardian
This triptych hangs in Sotheby’s galleries alongside works by some of history’s greatest landscape painters, including Bellotto, Van Goyen and Turner. Banksy’s work, however, stands alone for its potent political message.

We’re doomed! #2

You can now boot a Windows 95 PC inside Minecraft and play Doom on it – The Verge
If you’ve ever wanted to build a real and working Windows 95 PC inside Minecraft, now is the time. A new VM Computers mod has been created for Minecraft that allows players to order computer parts from a satellite orbiting around a Minecraft world and build a computer that actually boots Windows 95 and a variety of other operating systems.

uDrunkMate on Reddit

Here’s another one, though all might not be as it seems.

Doom running in task manager with each CPU core as a pixel, supposedlyBoing Boing
In this footage, a supercomputer’s CPU cores — nearly 900 of them — are neatly lined up in the Task Manager. The Doom logo appears, generated by code that targets each core. Then Doom itself plays, each “pixel” generated by thrashing a core with just the right amount of busy work.

You’re right to be incredulous — the article goes on to explain how that video might be fake.

He can’t help himself

A new Will Self short storyWill Self
It’s usually a mistake for a fiction writer to rush into print with a story that takes flight, imaginatively, from events that are still underway, and which are affecting large numbers of people. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, this injunction to keep out would seem to be as strident as the black-and-yellow striped tape swagged about a crime scene.

Making music again

Our concert halls might be re-opening in the summer, but in the meantime:

A cello concert in a swimming pool – this is classical music during COVID-19 distancingClassic FM
The concert took place south of Stuttgart, in the empty swimming lanes of the Entringen outdoor pool. We fancy the shape of the pool, with its steady slope and cellist against a wall, would have provided quite a fantastic acoustic.

Some people are staying indoors, though.

IndoorsScottish Ballet
With 28 doors and 36 dancers, Indoors is a playful new work by Sophie Laplane, set to Mozart’s ‘Papageno, Papagena’. Rehearsed via Zoom and recorded in lockdown, the short film explores ways we can open our doors to new possibilities, all in Laplane’s distinctly unique style.

A taste of things to come?

Around the world, we’re getting a glimpse of what live music looks like post-lockdownClassic FM
Theatres reopen in Europe and concert halls around the world have started to implement social distancing policies to stem the spread of coronavirus – here’s how music, of all genres, looks in a new era.

It’s a cover-up

Yes I know they might not be very comfortable, but are you wearing yours yet? No? Here’s a little encouragement.

Wear a mask, save livesMoss and Fog
[H]ere are some cleverly edited classic paintings, with the characters all wearing face coverings. The work of Genevieve Blais, her Instagram account is PlagueHistory, and uses black humor to get the point across.

I’ve found myself trying to hold my breath for the entire time I’m wearing mine, to stop them from fogging up my glasses. Perhaps I need a different mask.

Clever ramen face mask that makes the fogging up of glasses look like steam rising from the noodlesLaughing Squid
Artist Shibata Takahiro, an animator by trade, created a very clever protective face mask that looks like a yummy bowl of ramen for the bespectacled population. This design incorporates the inevitable fog of glasses that occurs while wearing a mask as steam rising from the hot noodles.

Perhaps you prefer doughnuts to noodles.

Make your own Krispy Kreme face shieldYouTube
Andy Clockwise shows you how you can make your very own Krispy Kreme face shield using just the lid from a 12 box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, some sticky tape and a pair of scissors.

I think I’ll pass on that. How about these instead?

Face masks hold fish tanks and overgrown patches of botanics in surreal illustrations by Kit LayfieldColossal
A long way from the packs of blue, disposable masks many of us bulk purchased at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the face coverings Philadelphia-based illustrator Kit Layfield envisions are a bit more complex and otherworldly. He draws intricate contraptions featuring the traditional nose-and-mouth covering that then are connected to larger collars adorned with luxuriant shrubs, miniature ecosystems, and tiny fish tanks. The individual subjects all are situated within the diverse environments, providing the necessary structure to keep the micro-systems flourishing.

Science fiction, present tense

23 of the best sci-fi books everyone should readWired UK
It is a pro-science novel that at its heart shows Dr Frankenstein as the callous fiend of the story, who created a being and was not willing to accept responsibility for his actions. In an age where the space between technical life and death is narrower than ever, and scientists are playing with the makeup of what makes us humans, Frankenstein can still teach an important lesson: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Ignore your inbox

Why email loses out to popular apps in ChinaBBC Worklife
Zhong Ling, assistant professor of economics at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, believes WeChat fits into the Chinese working culture. “WeChat, as a messaging platform, demands less formal working time than email,” she says. “This informality makes people more likely to respond instantaneously… the demand for [an] immediate response is motivated by the cultural and business environment in China.”

Feeling well?

Insane after coronavirus?London Review of Books
My mind had moved a few inches to the left of its usual place, and I developed what I realised later were actual paranoid delusions. ‘Jason’s cough is fake,’ I secretly texted a friend from the bathtub, where I couldn’t be monitored. ‘I … don’t think his cough is fake,’ she responded, with the gentle tact of the healthy. ‘Oh it is very, very fake,’ I countered, and then further asserted the claim that he had something called Man Corona.

To get help, pick up your phone

This is not an easy time to be living through, but perhaps spending more time on your phone could help. Did you know that the NHS has an app library, full of health-related NHS-tested apps? There’s a mental health section, with apps dealing with all sorts of issues from stress, anxiety and panic attacks, to insomnia and self-harm and more.

Can apps help you manage your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic? – Patient
“This is a time of great unrest and financial anxiety and some people may not feel confident or able to enter into the commitment of more traditional modes of therapy when their lives feel so up in the air,” she says. “The cost and upkeep of a therapy relationship on balance may only add to anxieties rather than resolve them, so an app may be a useful short-term intervention until they can access the right avenue of support.”

Sadly, there’s nothing on there about tinnitus, my constant companion, but fear not, help of a familiar kind might be on the way.

Are iCBT chatbots helpful for tinnitus?British Tinnitus Association
Two studies are investigating a new iCBT smartphone application that has been developed by Fabrice Brady, the Co-Founder at Hearing Power and Dr James Jackson, at Leeds Trinity University, to help reduce tinnitus related distress.

Tinnitus remedies and reliefTake on tinnitus
One in eight people suffer from tinnitus and experience a ringing in the ears or buzzing in the ears. There are lots of promises of tinnitus remedies, treatments and cures online. Take on tinnitus is designed to help you better understand tinnitus and offer practical ways that could help to relieve your tinnitus.

How to cope with the crisis

Some fascinating images from this New York Times article on how Thailand is dealing with its coronavirus crisis. Here are just a few of them.

No one knows what Thailand is doing right, but so far, it’s workingThe New York Times
Can the country’s low rate of coronavirus indfections be attributed to culture? Genetics? Face masks? Or a combination of all three?

Where’s the harm?

Lots of talk about masks and where we should be wearing them. David McCandless and the Information is Beautiful team have updated their set of coronavirus infographics (previously) with this presentation of the risks involved with certain activities.

COVID-19 CoronaVirus infographic datapackInformation is Beautiful
Created by David McCandless, Omid Kashan, Fabio Bergamaschi, Dr Stephanie Starling, Univers Labs, Tom Evans.

It doesn’t quite line up with this infographic from the Texas Medical Association, but I’d say it’s close enough, you get the point.

How risky is visiting a museum? This graphic about COVID-19 transmission provides come answersHyperallergic
TexMed characterizes things like getting restaurant takeout, getting gas, and even playing tennis as low-risk activities (two on a scale of one to 10). Grocery shopping, going on a walk with others, visiting a library or museum, and playing golf all fall in the moderate-low range (three to four) — that last is of course great news for the president! Highest-risk activities (eight or more) include, unsurprisingly, sports stadium events and concerts, going to a movie theater, attending religious services with 500+ worshippers, and going to a bar — which was a major cause of outbreak in Michigan last week. Texans shouldn’t despair, though! Based on this graphic, it is still safe to shoot guns in the air (at least with respect to COVID-19 complications), do outdoor line dances in rigid six-feet distance grids, and ride the open range.

Here are some other ways of looking at.

COVID Risk Chartxkcd
First prize is a free ticket to the kissing booth.

Handy chartThe New Yorker Cartoons on Instagram
A cartoon by @rozchast.

Lots of reasons to wear a mask. But then again…

Why You Don’t Need A Mask – COVID-19
You don’t need a mask because…

Making (mindful) music

A while ago I shared a post about brainy music. Here’s some mindful music of a different kind.

Can biofeedback help to unlock the mysteries of music’s therapeutic effects? – Aeon Videos
The US musician and research scientist Grace Leslie works at the frontiers of biotechnology and experimental music. From her Brain Music Lab at the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, Leslie and her students probe the physiological effects of sounds and rhythms, including how biofeedback could potentially be used to create new sonic therapies.

So can a mind sing? Filmmaker Vier Nev thinks so.

Staff Pick Award at Annecy 2020: “A Mind Sang” by Vier NevVimeo Blog
Seeing a shape in the clouds, a face on Mars, or Jesus in your toast is called “pareidolia.” Our tendency to perceive objects, patterns, and meanings incorrectly is a psychological phenomenon filmmaker Vier Nev turned into hypnotizing art in his transfixing animated film, “A Mind Sang.” Leading the audience through themes of transformation, perspective, and rebirth, this work of art kept us visually engaged through each second of the film with stunning optical illusions and a haunting and rich musical score. (via Kottke)

That felt like an eye exam. Let’s have something more … relaxing?

ToccataOptical Arts
The film is an exploration on the nature of time, the relentless violence of entropy and creative energy and its relationship to music itself. The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor has a cinematic history going back to the silent film era, when orchestras played music to films. The piece became often used in the horror genre and famously as the opening to the 1970’s film Rollerball. (via Laughing Squid)

I love this, the slo-mo timing is perfect. Here’s some more.

Orchestra instruments captured in super slow motionLaughing Squid
A performer with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra demonstrated what the performance of a stand-up double bass looks like in super slow motion. The footage captures how the bow connects with and releases from the string in order to make beautiful music.

Careful with those bows.

Man in Japan arrested for attacking pedestrian with violin bow Classic FM
The man, who was wielding a horsehair bow, was also reported to be holding a violin. He has no known address and is reported by police to have been intoxicated at the time of the incident.

Maybe he wasn’t a classical music fan. How about something light and carefree?

How the ‘Oh Yeah’ song in Ferris Bueller came to beGreat Big Story
“Oh Yeah.” You’ve heard this song—full of oh yeah, bow bow and ch-ch ch-ch ch-ka!—who knows how many times over the years. Recorded by the Swiss synth pop duo known as Yello, “Oh Yeah” became a pop culture phenomenon after being featured in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” In the 1986 movie, the percussive piece is the soundtrack to the scene where Cameron shows off his father’s prized Ferrari to his friend Bueller. And we all know what happened after that. (via Laughing Squid)

Or something just as poppy but perhaps less carefree?

A brilliant but appropriately anxiety-inducing animated video for the Sparks song ‘The Existential Threat’Laughing Squid
Cyriak Harris, the creative mind behind many wonderful surreral short films, created a brilliant but appropriately anxiety-inducing animated music video for the song “The Existential Threat” by the Los Angeles band Sparks, from their album “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip”.

Or some vintage rock?

Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” gets a video after 43 yearsBoing Boing
On Thursday, on his Instagram account, Iggy Pop announced that, after a 43 year wait, his classic track, “The Passenger,” has a video.

Let’s end how we began, with something mindful. Kind of.

Buddhist monk performs a badass cover of the Judas Priest song ‘Breaking the Law’ on classic instrumentsLaughing Squid
Buddhist monk Kossan1108, who does amazing, minimalist covers of classic rock songs with traditional instruments, performed a pretty badass cover of the classic Judas Priest song “Breaking the Law”. He used the wooden fish to keep the beat, a standing bell to add color and his own voice to cover the lyrics.

We’re all in this together #3

Here’s an interesting way of visualising the scale of all this. As in real life, it starts slowly then builds up. And up, and up.

A time-lapse map of every death from the Coronavirus pandemicYouTube
This is an audio-visual time-lapse of every death from the Coronavirus pandemic from January to June 2020. Inspired by Isao Hashimoto’s “A Time-Lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion Since 1945”; each country is represented by a tone and an expanding blip on the map when a death from Covid-19 is recorded. Each day is 4 seconds long, and at the top of the screen is the date and a counter showing the total numbers of deaths. Every country that has had a fatality is included. (via Kottke)

It’s very easy to criticise other countries’ responses to this global crisis. For instance:

Angry folks throw an anti-mask rally in Florida, the state that just broke a Covid-19 recordBoing Boing
Rather than give up their “freedom” by simply wearing a mask, they’d rather risk losing a bigger freedom by filling hospitals to full capacity (as they did in, er, Florida), shutting down international travel (because other countries are turning Americans away who try to enter), shutting down cities and states with a high coronavirus caseload, and obliterating our economy. With that kind of logic, Americans should be permitted the freedom to drive drunk or race cars on public streets.

Jimmy Fallon predicts Trump will say he was the first to wear a maskThe New York Times
After the president finally wore a face mask in public, the “Tonight Show” host called it “a really smart move — if today were March 13th.”

Sweden ‘literally gained nothing’ from staying open during COVID-19, including ‘no economic gains’The Week
Ironically, Bloomberg News reports, the social distancing requirements in Sweden are now more stringent than in Denmark, Norway, and Finland, all of which opted for strict lockdowns early on. Sweden’s 5,420 COVID-19 deaths may not seem like much compared with 130,000 in the U.S., but per capita that works out to 40 percent more fatalities than in the U.S. and 12 times more than Norway, seven times more than Finland, and six times more than Denmark, the Times notes.

But we’re far from getting everything right here. For instance:

UK among highest COVID-19 health worker deaths in the worldAmnesty International UK
The 61-page report – Exposed, Silenced, Attacked: Failures to protect health and essential workers during the pandemic – shows that, with at least 540 health and social workers having died from COVID-19 in England and Wales alone, the UK is second only to Russia, which has recorded 545 health worker deaths. […]

Healthcare professionals across the UK were also warned not to talk about shortages in protective equipment. Almost half of healthcare workers questioned as part of a major survey by the Doctors Association UK said they had effectively been gagged and prevented from raising concerns.

Revealed: 20 areas of England at most risk of coronavirus resurgenceThe Guardian
The government has drawn up a list of 20 councils facing the worst coronavirus outbreaks in England, with Bradford, Sheffield and Kirklees identified as areas needing “enhanced support”, according to a classified document leaked to the Observer and the Guardian.

Perhaps there’s not much to choose between them.

The pandemic is the world’s long overdue reality checkForeign Policy
Three of the four largest democracies run by illiberal populists—the United States, Brazil, and the U.K.—now rank one, two, and three in deaths from the coronavirus. (India currently lags behind but is moving up with frightening speed.) That is not a coincidence, for the leaders in each country have tried to minimize the gravity of the disease or—in Bolsonaro’s case—deny it altogether. Populist leaders deny COVID-19 for the same reasons they deny climate change: first, because acknowledging a force beyond their control might break the spell of omniscience in which they have bound their followers; and second, because deference to science and logic undermines the emotional sources of their appeal. If Anthony Fauci is right, Trump must be wrong.