Watch the numbers

For things that can cost so much money, you wouldn’t think anyone would want to cut corners…

The case for better watch typographyHODINKEE
[O]nly a small and decreasing number of watchmakers go to the trouble of creating custom lettering for their dials. More often, watch brands use off-the-rack fonts that are squished and squeezed onto the dial’s limited real estate. Patek Philippe, for example, has used ITC American Typewriter and Arial on its high-end watches. French brand Bell & Ross deploys the playful 1980 typeface Isonorm for the numerals on many of its timepieces. Rolex uses a slightly modified version of Garamond for its logo. And Audemars Piguet has replaced the custom lettering on its watches with a stretched version of Times Roman.

That watchmakers use typefaces originally created for word processing, signage, and newspapers highlights a central paradox of watch design: These tiny machines hide their most elegant solutions under layers of complexity, while one of the most visible components – typography – is often an afterthought.

Of course, it’s not all like that.

Our favourite uses of typography in watchesA Collected Man
Good typography should be almost unnoticeable. Blending seamlessly into the rest of the design, it should tell you everything you need to know, without you being aware of it. Despite the many restrictions that are applied to dial layout, the creativity that can be seen in typography across horology is quite staggering. To put it simply, typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible and appealing when displayed. As the dial is the main point of interaction with a watch, it is arguably one of its most important parts, and certainly one that can produce the most emotion. This is why typeface can play such a vital, yet subtle, role in how we experience and feel about a certain piece.

A rather unexpected instance of a brand using a completely different typeface for just one model is the Patek Philippe 5212A weekly calendar. Perhaps designed to reflect the singularity of the rarely seen complication, this reference was printed with a handwritten typeface that, when studied, almost looks shaky. While this could appear like a mistake at first, it was revealed that the typeface was in fact chosen by their design team to “recall an epoch in the not too distant past when notes were still written by hand in paper diaries.”

Here’s more on that “handwritten” watch.

Complications Ref. 5212A-001 Stainless SteelPatek Philippe
Patek Philippe introduces a new complication to its calendar watches: the weekly calendar, a semi-integrated mechanism displaying the current week number, in addition to the day and date. A particularly useful feature for the modern businessman.

I love that, “the modern businessman” indeed. Like this one, you mean? But anyway, it’s not occurred to me until now that, for these watchmakers, typography is more numerical than alphabetical.

Breguet numeralsBreguet
Some Breguet watches display the distinctive numerals that A.- L. Breguet designed. Although he himself was no calligraphist, Breguet’s Arabic numerals show his flair for combining function with elegance. Still used today, particularly on watches with enamel dials, Breguet numerals first appeared before the French Revolution when they shared the dial with tiny stars to mark the minutes and stylised fleur-de-lys at five-minute intervals. By 1790 they had assumed their definitive form.

You can see these Breguet numerals on the Dubuis watch above, as well as the Patek Philippe in the header image. But manufacturing limitations also play their part in watch typography. Have a look at these 4s.

Decimal fontsFonts by Hoefler&Co.
Watch lettering is printed through tampography, a technique in which ink is transferred first from an engraved plate to a spongy, dumpling-shaped silicone pad, and from there onto the convex dial of a watch. To reproduce clearly, a letterform needs to overcome the natural tendencies of liquid ink or enamel held in suspension: tiny serifs at the ends of strokes can create a larger coastline, to help prevent liquid from withdrawing due to surface tension; wide apexes on characters like 4 and A eliminate the acute angles where liquid tends to pool.

Hence that flat top 4. I hadn’t noticed them before, but they’re everywhere.

Polar certainties

Here’s something I wasn’t expecting to be reading about this week — the search for meteorites at the South Pole.

Polar Light, by Barry LopezHarper’s Magazine
These field quarters are a National Science Foundation (NSF) deep-remote cold camp, in the Transantarctic Mountains, 220 miles from the South Pole. We’re encamped near the base of Graves Nunataks, an isolated set of mountain peaks standing proud of a massive ice sheet. (“Nunatak” is an Iñupiaq word, imported from the Northern Hemisphere, describing rock exposed above an ice sheet.) Except for our cookstoves we have no source of heat, and the four men and two women in our party have been here for nearly two weeks. Our camp is at the edge of the Polar Plateau that forms Antarctica’s vast interior, an ice cap four times the size of Greenland, a region of the world I have been chronicling for the past thirty years. On this frigid summer day in mid-January, 1999, the six of us are many hundreds of miles from any other human, except for those at the South Pole.

Once taken in hand and placed under a microscope each meteorite is revelatory. The overwhelming majority of them come from the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter, and are so distinctive, one from the other, that scientists have been able to create a kind of geography of the asteroid belt, a geologic map that allows them to push deeper into our still hazy understanding of how the solar system evolved. In short, every meteorite represents an important contribution to the unraveling of the mystery of Earth’s origin. Therefore, though the six of us will find only 186 meteorites, our weather-compromised effort will still be viewed as successful.

But it was this image from the article that I first saw on the TYWKIWDBI blog that caught my eye, as it reminded me of that looping mathsy animation I found earlier. It’s a multiple-exposure photograph showing the sun orbiting the South Pole one afternoon, through the night and into the next morning — a midnight sun.

Time doesn’t stand still, even at the South Pole. Towards the end of their expidition, the scientists ponder the shift to the more quantative, less hands-on approach they’ve noticed over the years.

Back in ­McMurdo we’ve both witnessed changes as the hallways of the old science building, perennially crowded with camping gear, have given way to the antiseptically tidy and brightly lit hallways of the Crary Science and Engineering Center. The corridors of the building buzz with the ceaseless clicking of keyboards, a kind of white noise, accompanied by the electronic beeps that signal a task has been completed or information is now awaiting retrieval. The numerical results of a theoretical approach, of someone’s plumbing the nimbus of numbers surrounding a little-understood event, are both esoteric and arcane; and the speed with which they’re produced, and the sheer volume of them, is intimidating. The process suggests that knowledge has been obtained, but in fact there is not much more here than staggering specificity and a quantity of numbers significant enough to support statistical probability. Massive data sets, for some, represent irrefutable truth, or insights that transcend previously established boundaries, but the data might be no more than intensely self-referential. Impressive but unconvincing.

The belief that one can reach a state of certainty, about anything, acts as a goad for those who regard the anomalies that inevitably turn up in their data not as a caution but as an inconvenience.

“I had a theology professor once,” I say to John, “who told us that religion was not about being certain but about living with uncertainty. It was about being comfortable with doubt, and maintaining the continuity of one’s reverence for a profound mystery.”

I’m not sure John hears me. He is reclined on his sleeping bag with only his lower legs visible to me past a pile of gear. Perhaps he’s fallen asleep. It’s been a long day.

“We gain deeper knowledge,” he finally responds. “But no guarantee that we’re any closer to wisdom.”

A sentiment still necessary today, as shown by Content Catnip in one of her quotes from Svend Brinkmann’s recent book, Standing Firm: Resisting The Self Improvement Craze.

Comforting thought: Doubt is a virtue, certainty is blinkered tunnel visionContent Catnip
In essence, certainty is dogmatic, whereas doubt has an important ethical value. Certainty’s ‘I know’ can easily lead to blindness. Doubt on the other hand, leads to openness, to other ways of acting and new understandings of the world.

Antarctica is certainly a remarkable place. It’s strange to think that we knew more about the far reaches of the solar system than the bottom of our own planet. Perhaps you fancy a trip there yourself? No problem — if you have a spare $50,000 or so. Best be quick, though.

Miles of ice collapsing into the seaThe New York Times
The acceleration is making some scientists fear that Antarctica’s ice sheet may have entered the early stages of an unstoppable disintegration. Because the collapse of vulnerable parts of the ice sheet could raise the sea level dramatically, the continued existence of the world’s great coastal cities — Miami, New York, Shanghai and many more — is tied to Antarctica’s fate.

Happy birthday to us

I didn’t know I shared a birthday with Paddington Bear!

5 facts about Paddington Bear to know before you visitPark Grand
Much like the Queen, Paddington Bear has two birthdays. He celebrates on the 25th December and the 25th June. This is because when Paddington Bear arrived to live with the Brown family, he couldn’t remember his birthday. So, they decided they’d celebrate twice.

Yes the movies were very successful, but my Paddington always wore a black hat, not red.

Technical side of PaddingtonThe World of Animator Ivor Wood
The technique as many will be aware was revolutionary within children’s programmes and commercial animation as a whole. Having 2D paper cut outs for 90% of the show with only Paddington and his personal objects being created as 3D models, the production method was ambitious and risky, having never been attempted within such tight production schedules and budgets. In many ways it was economical in that the sets could be quickly created and changed but aesthetics such as the lighting and the marrying of 2D and 3D was to be a tough technical challenge for all involved.

Happy Amazon Prime Day, Jeff

Hosts of Australia’s Today giggle their way through a segment on Jeff Bezos’ weiner-shaped spacecraftAV Club
Last week, we learned that Dr. Evil cosplayer Jeff Bezos would be leaving for space on a rocket that completes his attempts to fully embody the Austin Powers villain by being shaped like a giant metal penis. The hosts of Australia’s Today morning show were tasked with reporting on this story when it was first announced, and found themselves giggling through the entire segment as images of space dicks were displayed on the green screen behind them.

Tens of thousands sign petition to stop Jeff Bezos from returning to EarthNPR
On July 20, Amazon’s founder and billionaire magnate Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark will board the New Shepard suborbital rocket system. The Bezos brothers, one auction winner with $28 million to spare, and a fourth person will become the first crew aboard the reusable rocket for its 11-minute voyage to space.

Since Bezos made the announcement about his journey to space this month, tens of thousands of people have come together to petition against his return to the planet.

Orbiting plywood?

We’re used to wooden acting in space, but what about some actual wood?

World’s first wooden satellite aims to prove plywood can survive spaceCNET
The WISA Woodsat is a 4-inch (10-centimeter) square satellite that’s scheduled for a fall launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket in New Zealand. Getting to orbit is only part of the adventure. Once it’s there, the team will monitor the little cube to see how its plywood build stands up to cold, heat, radiation and the vacuum of space.

Woodsat is the brainchild of Jari Makinen, co-founder of CubeSat replica kit company Arctic Astronautics. The European Space Agency, or ESA, is providing a suite of sensors to track the satellite’s performance and will also help with pre-flight testing.

I remember reading about something similar last year.

Japan developing wooden satellites to cut space junkBBC News
A Japanese company and Kyoto University have joined forces to develop what they hope will be the world’s first satellites made out of wood by 2023. … Space junk is becoming an increasing problem as more satellites are launched into the atmosphere. Wooden satellites would burn up without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere or raining debris on the ground when they plunge back to Earth.

Coverage of “wooden satellites” misses the pointArs Technica
Unfortunately, making satellite housings out of wood won’t help with this, for many, many reasons. To start with, a lot of the junk isn’t ex-satellites; it’s often the boosters and other hardware that got them to orbit in the first place. Housings are also only a fraction of the material in a satellite, leaving lots of additional junk untouched by the change, and any wood that’s robust enough to function as an effective satellite housing will be extremely dangerous if it impacts anything at orbital speeds.

Art bargains

Collecting modern art can be a costly affair. I guess you’ve just got to be in the right place at the right time.

Discovered: American couple buys a picture by Van Gogh’s friend Edmund Brooke for $45 in antiques shopThe Art Newspaper
During the last weeks of Van Gogh’s life he got to know an Australian artist who had spent most of his life in Japan. Until very recently Edmund Walpole Brooke remained an enigmatic figure, but the Japanese Van Gogh specialist Tsukasa Kodera has now tracked down one of his watercolours. It was bought in April for $45 by an American couple.

Fame: Portrait by David Bowie found in a thrift store goes up for auctionThe Globe and Mail
A painting by David Bowie purchased last summer at a donation centre in rural Ontario for $5 is expected to fetch upward of $12,000 at auction this coming week. The semi-abstract portrait by the Changes singer is a small acrylic and computer collage on canvas, dated 1997, with Bowie’s signature on the reverse.

Bowie’s painting is currently at $50,100. The auction’s set to close the day before my birthday — it would make a wonderful birthday present, if anyone reading is looking for ideas!

It’s good to pay attention. Sometimes.

Via It’s Nice That (and slightly reminiscent of Stine Deja’s work), lessons from a world-renowned performance artist on how to develop your powers of attention.

The Abramović MethodWeTransfer’s digital experience
My name is Marina Abramović and I am a performance artist. To be a performance artist, it’s a very difficult task. You need lots of preparation in order to make long durational performance work. So I developed different exercises to help myself for generating big willpower and concentration, crossing physical and mental limits. Later on, I understood these exercises can serve not just me but anybody else in any profession in the world. So I turned these exercises into something I call The Abramović Method.

But then again…

Sometimes, paying attention means we see the world less clearlyPsyche Ideas
Taken as a whole, these results suggest that, sometimes, attention can mislead us about the world. This is not to say that attention always distorts our knowledge of the world, but it does suggest that it might not be the unproblematic guide to knowledge that we originally thought. In order to unravel the complex link between attention and knowledge, we might need to change the way we think about both of these faculties.

Just 15 minutes

Turns out it only takes me a quarter of an hour to go from yeah-it’s-an-ok-painting-I-guess to god-you’re-right-that’s-amazing-I-never-realised.

Great art explainedYouTube
I’m James Payne, a curator, gallerist and a passionate art lover. I am on a mission to demystify the art world and discover the stories behind the world’s greatest paintings and sculptures. Each episode will focus on one piece of art and break it down, using clear and concise language free of ‘art-speak’.

Unlikely journeys

I think I’ve incorrectly conflated two separate topics when I think about cars of the future; electric cars and self-driving cars. The former doesn’t have to rely on the latter, right? Perhaps that’s just as well.

The costly pursuit of self-driving cars continues on. And on. And on.The New York Times
The wizards of Silicon Valley said people would be commuting to work in self-driving cars by now. Instead, there have been court fights, injuries and deaths, and tens of billions of dollars spent on a frustratingly fickle technology that some researchers say is still years from becoming the industry’s next big thing.

Now the pursuit of autonomous cars is undergoing a reset. Companies like Uber and Lyft, worried about blowing through their cash in pursuit of autonomous technology, have tapped out. Only the deepest-pocketed outfits like Waymo, which is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet; auto giants; and a handful of start-ups are managing to stay in the game.

But as we’ve seen before, electric cars come with their own unique challenges.

Electric cars can sound like anything. That’s a huge opportunity to craft the soundscape of the futureTime
Then there’s whatever BMW is doing with its i4 electric-sedan concept. At low speeds, the i4 sounds like an electrified orchestra warming up for a performance. But as it accelerates, the tone becomes deeper and lower. Then comes a high-pitched skittering effect, as if some kind of reality-bending reaction were taking place under the hood. “We conceived a sound to celebrate the car, intended as a highly complex performative art installation,” says BMW sound designer Renzo Vitale. Vitale, who worked alongside famed film-score composer Hans Zimmer on the i4, says it was his counterintuitive idea to make the noise deepen as the car gains speed. “It was a metaphoric way to say, ‘We are looking at the past,’” he says.

Perhaps, by the time all this is resolved, there’ll be less need for these crazy machines.

Commuting is psychological tortureWelcome to Hell World
I can’t even calculate the savings in gas, wear on my car, etc. But I can tell you that with nearly two hours back in each of my days, plus the extra 40 minutes or so of making myself presentable to be in close proximity to others, I have been able to reinvest that time in myself. I have been eating better, I have time for the gym, I have time to give my dogs the exercise they need. I know this year has been mentally taxing on so many, but I’ve found these changes work so much better for me.