More creepy corporate cuteness

I didn’t realise this blandly cute, aggressively friendly, dumbed down graphic design style we see absolutely everywhere on the web has a name.

Why does every advert look the same? Blame Corporate MemphisWired UK
It’s an aesthetic that’s often referred to as ‘Corporate Memphis’, and it’s become the definitive style for big tech and small startups, relentlessly imitated and increasingly parodied. It involves the use of simple, well-bounded scenes of flat cartoon figures in action, often with a slight distortion in proportions (the most common of which being long, bendy arms) to signal that a company is fun and creative. Corporate Memphis is inoffensive and easy to pull off, and while its roots remain in tech marketing and user interface design, the trend has started to consume the visual world at large. It’s also drawing intense criticisms from those within the design world.

“It really boils my piss to be honest,” says Jack Hurley, a Leeds-based illustrator who says his main output is “daft seaside posters.” Hurley was familiar with the style from Facebook’s login page, but had started to see the illustrations, with their sensible, slightly strange characters, while walking around his neighbourhood as well. “I live in a student area and there are some real scumbag letting agents,” he says. “Suddenly they’ve got all this marketing with the bendy-arm-people.”

There’s just so much of it, as this collection curated by tech writer Claire L Evans shows.

Corporate MemphisAre.na
Tracking the illustration style of choice in our tech dystopia.

But perhaps a better name for this style is Alegria.

Facebook AlegriaBUCK
A new style guide, illustration and animation system for the entire Facebook ecosystem. There’s many imitators, but there’s only one Alegria.

This video from Solar Sands explains more.

It starts with a critique of a ludicrous food delivery advert before going into more detail about this style and where it’s come from. But stick around for examples from the 1920s of this flat geometric style done right.

The past, present and future of data analysis

Some interesting reads, courtesy of The Economist’s data analysis newsletter, Off The Charts. Let’s start with this question — are glasses-wearers really less conscientiousness than those who wear a headscarf?

Objective or Biased: On the questionable use of Artificial Intelligence for job applicationsBR24
Software programs promise to identify the personality traits of job candidates based on short videos. With the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI) they are supposed to make the selection process of candidates more objective and faster. An exclusive data analysis shows that an AI scrutinized by BR (Bavarian Broadcasting) journalists can be swayed by appearances. This might perpetuate stereotypes while potentially costing candidates the job.

Here, Stephanie Evergreen makes a solid, essential case for broadening our view of data visualisation and its history. I’ve mentioned khipus here before, but not within this context.

Decolonizing Data VizEvergreen Data
When we talked about these khipu and other forms of indigenous data visualization in a recent panel (with January O’Connor (Tlingit, Kake, Alaska), Mark Parman (Cherokee), & Nicky Bowman (Lunaape/Mohican)), someone in the audience commented, “It made me reflect on traditional Hmong clothing and how my ancestors have embroidered certain motifs on traditional clothing to communicate one’s clanship, what dialect of Hmong one spoke, marital status, everyday life, etc.” And this is one reason why it is so critically important to decolonize data visualization. When white men decide what counts (and doesn’t count) in terms of data, and what counts (and doesn’t count) as data visualization, and what counts (and doesn’t count) as data visualization history, they are actively gaslighting Black and Brown people about their legacy as data visualizers. When we shine a light on indigenous data visualization, we are intentionally saying the circle is much much wider and, as Nicky Bowman said, “There’s room for everyone in the lodge.”

After reconciling the past, let’s look to the future.

Who will shape the future of data visualization? Today’s kids!Nightingale
Graphs are everywhere. So, with the proper instruction, I’d expect today’s kids to become adults that are more proficient at visualizing and interpreting data than today’s adults. Besides parents, teachers, or friends, news organizations also play a role in shaping today’s kids. As Jon pointed out, news organizations can do a great job explaining to us how to read more advanced graphs.

On the other hand, as Sharon and Michael mentioned, because graphs are everywhere, there’s a danger for kids to start thinking that graphs are objective. So it is important for adults to start teaching kids how to think critically, to not necessarily accept the graph and the data at face value. In other words, it’s essential for kids to develop a toolbox. This is good for them and good for democracy — eventually, today’s kids will become more informed citizens.

Something I’m sure Jonathan Schwabish would agree with.

Finding my way, under starry skies

I’m still trying to get my head around Second Life. The scale of it confuses me, with its talk of continents and regions, parcels and places. I need a map. It seems there’s a longstanding technical difficulty with that currently, but here’s a helpful resource — an inworld Maps of Second Life exhibition.

The maps (and more) of Second LifeInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
The maps start from the earliest days of Second Life – 2002 – and run through to almost the present. It encompasses “official” maps, those produced by SL cartographers depicting the Second Life Mainland continents, and specialist maps charting air routes, airports, the SL railways, specific estates. Not only are they informative, some stand as works of art in their own right.

For more background on how that exhibition was curated and designed, here’s an interview with its creator, Juliana Lethdetter.

In an earlier blog post, Inara Pey notes that, whilst maps might not contribute greatly to a sense of community, they’re vital for establishing a sense of presence.

Maps as metaphors: Second Life and SansarInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
However, the idea that the world map presents Second Life as a place, adding to our sense of presence, is harder to deny. In fact, given that Second Life is intended to be a single world of (largely) interconnected spaces, its representation via a map can be a vital aspect of reinforcing this view. In other words, the map is, for many – but not necessarily all of us – an intrinsic part of how we see Second Life as a connected whole, a place.

Of course, there are other ways of seeing Second Life.

Explorer shoots impressionistic photos while traveling through a virtual worldNew World Notes
Mei Vohn’s photostream is a glorious travel journal of Second Life sims highlighted by a person who sees the beauty in a single detail. Her pictures are very impressionistic. They make me think of the phrase “see through a glass darkly” from First Corinthians. Her pictures give us impressions, we have to go there to see it for ourselves.

But let’s go back to 2007, with a video that shows that, whatever technology we use to visualise the worlds around us, Van Gogh’s never far away.

Watch the World – Starry NightAustin Tate’s Blog
Robbie Dingo (aka Rob Wright) produced the “Watch the World” machinima in Second Life in 2007 depicting a build of the Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night” painting…

Remake the starsNew World Notes
What Robbie Dingo has done is something Akira Kurosawa only envisioned: brought Van Gogh’s masterpiece to rich, three dimensional life, and for a brief moment, recast it as a living place. (Brief, for the construction was always intended as a temporary project, “so it’s all been swept away now, leaving only the film behind.”) But for a breathtaking moment you get to the most iconic of starry nights recast under the rising sun.

“One of the challenges was to make it look fluid and simple,” Robbie tells me. “If I have got it right, then it should look like something that was thrown together very quickly, but in reality I worked on this in dribs and drabs over a number of evenings.”

Off their rockers

The latest batch of Public Domain Review postcards arrived the other day. Mad and fab, as always.

PostcardsThe Public Domain Review
Twice a year we send out our special postcard packs — eight postcards, with a textual insert, curated around a different theme each time.

The ‘textual insert’ this time was especially loopy.

The prezent sistem, baist on the prinsipl ov yuezing no nyu caracterz or acsented leterz, iz surtinly not so elegant or so sientific az a sistem bi which sum fifteen nyu caracterz shood be aded tu the egzisting alfabet. But such an alfabet wood meen the scraping ov aul our egzisting founts ov tiep, tiep-rieterz, ets., ets., besiedz being dificult ov acwizishon for the adult jeneraishon. Thairfor such a reform iz unliecly tu cum for meny a dai, if it ever cumz at aul; and we se no reezon whi th children ov the neer fyuetyur shood not, bi a practical mezher ov simplificaishon, be releeved ov the sensles laibor which nou absorbz tu no purpos a hoel yeer ov thair short scuul lief.

From “Tu the Reeder” in the inaugaral issue of The Pioneer ov Simplified Speling (March, 1912) the flagship journal of the Simplified Speling Soesiety.

Goodness me. A bold move to change an alphabet like that (I wonder how Kazakhstan is getting on), they sound off their rocker.

Speaking of which, here’s something else from The Public Domain Review.

Postures of Transport: Sex, God, and Rocking ChairsThe Public Domain Review
What if chairs had the ability to shift our state of consciousness, transporting the imagination into distant landscapes and ecstatic experiences, both religious and erotic? In an essay about the British and American fascination with rocking chairs and upholstery springs in the 19th century, Hunter Dukes discovers how simple furniture technologies allowed armchair travelers to explore worlds beyond their own.

Rocking chairs (and seats that rocked) carried an erotic charge in the nineteenth century. For a certain type of Victorian mind, easy chairs made easy women. Polite society sat erect.

Chairs are weird, though, aren’t they?

Just a little déjà vu?

Hot on the heels of that Second Life/digital identity documentary I shared earlier is news of another documentary exploring virtual themes, but of a very different kind. Have you heard of simulation theory? It’s like Second Life, but instead of being outside looking in, we’re on the inside wanting to look out.

Are we all living in the Matrix? Behind a documentary on simulation theoryThe Guardian
Coincidences we accept as quirks of chance are just imperfections in the system we’ve been plugged in to, whatever shape it might take. We could be brains in a vat, receiving electrical stimuli through wires manipulated by scientists, or perhaps we’re nothing more than bytes of data on some intelligent being’s hard drive. Plato posited that we could be shackled in a cave, mistaking the shadows on the wall for the things casting them. From VR video games to pop culture, any number of metaphors speak to the core concept of a dimension that can be seen through by those who know how to look. In the case of the more adventurous psychonauts accepting these figurative ideas as literal fact, some even attempt to control the illusion.

What is Simulation Theory? Do we live in a simulation?Built In
New York University philosophy professor David Chalmers has described the being responsible for this hyper-realistic simulation we may or may not be in as a “programmer in the next universe up,” perhaps one we mortals might consider a god of some sort — though not necessarily in the traditional sense. “[H]e or she may just be a teenager,” Chalmers said, “hacking on a computer and running five universes in the background… But it might be someone who is nonetheless omniscient, all-knowing and all-powerful about our world.”

Yes, as conspiracy theories go, it’s pretty out there. But think of it as just another whacky creation myth. I mean, do you really understand superstring theory and quantum entanglement? Nah, me neither.

We’ve made it to the weekend — for now

Why remote work may render the 5-day workweek obsoleteFast Company
A mere 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution, there was no such thing as grinding it out for five days in order to run to a Saturday date night or a day of lesiure on Sunday. From the start of when Homo erectus first began roaming the earth, working and living were one and the same. Every day we did our chores. Every day we enjoyed the company of our tribe. The five-day workweek is a sociocultural artifact, not evidence-based framework for maximizing productivity and well-being.

I know several people that enjoy working on weekends (myself included). On weekends there is no steady stream of emails and calls during the day and no scheduled meetings, so all of the time can be allocated to deep-thought tasks, a luxury employees long for but never have the time to get to.

Not for me, thanks. I’ll stick to the status quo.

Coronavirus guidance variants

One of the issues education providers have during this pandemic is keeping up with all the ever-changing guidance.

Higher education providers: coronavirus (COVID-19)GOV.UK
Information on the return of students from January 2021 and NHS Test and Trace channels. Updated ‘Students returning to, and starting higher education in spring term 2021’ with changes to when students can return to campus, updates on testing asymptomatic students and international students, and added information about Erasmus+.

Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreakGOV.UK
What all schools will need to do during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak from the start of the autumn term. Updated with latest changes to: system of controls, attendance, recruitment, free schools meals, estates, wraparound care, physical activity in schools, remote education, catch up, assessment and accountability, and exams.

Providing apprenticeships during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreakGOV.UK
Find out how apprenticeships will continue during the coronavirus (COVD-19) outbreak. Added a new version of ‘Providing apprenticeships during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak’ with updated information on face-to-face training and when to consider a break in an apprenticeship.

Protective measures for holiday or after-school clubs and other out-of-school settings for children during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreakGOV.UK
Protective measures for providers of community activities, holiday or after-school clubs, tuition and other out-of-school settings offering provision to children during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Updated the home education section with further information on vulnerable children who have difficulty engaging in remote education. Also added a section on Test and Trace Support Payments.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for children’s social care servicesGOV.UK
Advice about coronavirus (COVID-19) for local authorities and their partners to help support and protect vulnerable children. Updated sections on ‘Educational settings’ and ‘Alternative provision (AP) schools and providers’ within the main guidance document.

Plenty of time

We should always take the time to appreciate well-designed details. Designer and Apple fan Arun Venkatesan has done a wonderful job here explaining the context behind some of the Apple Watch design cues and references.

The iconic watches that inspired Apple Watch facesArun Venkatesan
[T]he analog faces reveal what Apple does so well — taking the familiar and making it their own. Over the years, they have released quite a few faces with roots in history. Each one started as an iconic watch archetype and was remade to take advantage of the Apple Watch platform. … Let’s dive into five Apple Watch faces — California, Chronograph, Chronograph Pro, Count Up, and GMT.

The intricacy of these old watches is amazing, so sit back and relax to some smooth jazz whilst this rusty old Rolex is repaired.

Restoration of Rusty Rolex – Water damaged 1996 GMT Master IIYouTube
This 1996 Rolex GMT Master II suffered badly. Soaked in water, it spent two years in a drawer. The amount of rust was unbelievable. Actually, apart from the case and bracelet, only 8 of close to 100 internal parts were preserved. But the core challenge was to preserve the mainplate: the very base of the watch that holds all components together.

Finding our digital selves

I’m a big fan of the work of Joanne McNeil and Jenny Odell. I guess the all-knowing Google must have picked up on that somehow, which was why YouTube recommended I watch this video of the two of them, plus others, on a panel discussing social media. The event was organised by the Second Life Book Club, and was what prompted me to resurrect my long-forgotten account last week.

Second Life Book ClubSecond Life
Meet book authors and discuss your favorite books at the Second Life Book Club, a series of literary-minded events. Draxtor Despres will bring established as well as up-and-coming authors, poets, publishers, and indie store owners together for virtual book discussions.

Previous shows are on this YouTube playlist, and news of the next ones are on this events calendar maintained by the host, Bernhard Drax (Draxtor Despres in SL), one of the people behind this award-winning documentary.

Our Digital Selves: My Avatar is MeYouTube
Filmmaker Bernhard Drax travels from Los Angeles to rural South England to explore why people ranging from 24 to 92 years of age find solace and inspiration in a user-created digital wonderland that only exists inside their computers. Drax sends his documentarian avatar Draxtor Despres into the virtual universe of Second Life as well as next generation VR platforms like High Fidelity and Sansar where he meets a 40-something disabled Chicago native feels best represented by a colorful superhero gecko and Cody LaScala – confined to a wheelchair his entire life – who makes his avatar an exact replica of his physical self.

Here are some crappy pics I took from last week’s Book Club event, with the sci-fi writer Julie Novakova. It’s all really piqued my interest in digital identities again, though I feel like such a newbie.

What’s in a name? #10

I was reading about the changing popularity of boys’ and girls’ names in Minnesota — the rise of Emersyn, Remi, and Saylor, for instance; the decline of Stanley — and within the comments were links to these crazy videos showcasing some of the more unusual names for people in Utah.

Mormon Girls Say: Utah NamesYouTube
100% authentic Utah names. We searched far and wide for the latest and greatest in Utah’s naming trends, and we were not disappointed…

Favourite comments:

But wait, there’s more.

Mormon Girls Say: Utah Names Part 2: Boy NamesYouTube
100% Authentic Utah names. You asked, we delivered.

Perhaps these are the loopy opposites of Deborah Roberts’s artwork.

This is my silence

Tinnitus is a strange thing — invisible and, to everyone else at least, silent. That’s the one thing it takes away from us, though. Today is the first day of Tinnitus Week 2021, and the theme this year is #ThisIsMySilence.

#ThisIsMySilenceBritish Tinnitus Association
As a hidden condition, people without tinnitus do not truly understand the huge impact it can have on someone’s life: on the ability to get a peaceful night’s sleep, to concentrate, or just to enjoy silence. Tinnitus can and does have a huge impact on mental health and we need your help to make more people aware of this. The more we show the real impact tinnitus has, the more likely we are to be successful in making tinnitus research funding an urgent priority.

Yes, it’s horrible and there’s no cure, but help and support are available, from AI chatbots and white noise generators, to the BTA’s phone lines and web chats.

British Tinnitus Association presents #ThisIsMySilenceYouTube
For people living with tinnitus, there is no silence. As a hidden condition, people without tinnitus do not truly understand the huge impact it can have on someone’s life: on the ability to get a peaceful night’s sleep, to concentrate, or to just enjoy silence.

If you need support with your tinnitus, contact us for information, advice and an understanding ear. Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm: Freephone: 0800 018 0527, Web chat: tinnitus.org.uk, Email: helpline@tinnitus.org.uk, Text/SMS: 07537 416841

Their latest report, looking into the patient journey and how referrals are managed (or not), makes for interesting reading.

This is my silence: Please listen – Three steps that must be taken to improve the tinnitus patient journeyBritish Tinnitus Association
It was identified in the report that there has been a 22% drop in the number of tinnitus patients offered a referral to specialist care by their GP since March 2020 – despite a climb in cases, links with anxiety and depression, and new National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance emphasising the importance of referrals.