Martian music

How would a piano sound on Mars? Embark on an interplanetary sonic journeyAeon Videos
If the Universe is born and no one is present to hear it, does it still make a sound? Well, theoretically, yes. As this video from the US filmmaker John D Boswell explores, where a ‘thick soup of atoms’ is present, sound is possible. Made in collaboration with the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz, this short documentary deploys dramatic CGI visuals, a pulsing score and the voices of prominent scientists to explore the sounds of space – from those humanity has recorded to those we can only speculate about.

The Sounds of Space: A sonic adventure to other worldsYouTube
Space is more than just a feast for the eyes. It’s a feast for the ears. You just have to know where — and when — to look. Floating in the silent void of space are trillions of islands of sound, each with their own sonic flavor — some eerily familiar, some wildly different than Earth’s. And even space itself was once brimming with sound.

A secret photographer #3

Not quite sure why, but I found myself wondering what Audrey Tautou, the star of Amélie, is up to these days. Yes, she’s still working as an actress, but has also found another outlet for her creativity. Here’s a hint from a 2008 interview, ostensibly promoting a rom-com she starred in at the time.

‘It doesn’t take much to catch a man’The Guardian
Audrey Tautou has this thing with journalists: she takes their photograph. She started doing it soon after the release of Amélie, when she became, almost overnight, one of the most in-demand interviewees on the planet. She waits until the end of your allotted slot, asks politely if you’d mind, then points her Leica at you and presses the button. She has no idea how many of these snaps she has taken – “maybe as many as 400, I guess” – nor what she is going to do with them, but they are her compensation for the time she has spent, over the past few years, sitting in over-decorated hotel rooms talking about herself.

“They’re just kind of lost hours for me,” she says, apologetically. “All that time talking totally about myself, which is of course a fascinating subject but not exactly new and exciting for me. And then the interviews appear, and obviously there’s not really going to be anything very new or exciting for me in them either, because I was the one being interviewed. I wanted there to be something in the whole process for me. I’m thinking of maybe turning them all into table mats. That was a joke, by the way.”

Almost ten years later, these snapshots became part of something a little grander than table mats.

Audrey Tautou’s very private self-portraitureThe New York Times
In July, the annual Rencontres d’Arles photography festival will show Tautou’s photographic work for the first time. The precisely cataloged and annotated portraits of journalists will sit alongside three other bodies of work by the actress: All are forms of self-portraiture. Counterbalancing her pictures of the journalists responsible for creating her public image are small, spontaneous snapshots Tautou takes of her own reflection. “I always have a camera with me,” she says.

“I’m an actress, but I’m not only an actress,” Tautou says. “This part of me that has grown and grown and grown for all those years was more important for my balance than I’d thought. Now it’s this part of me I want to express and develop. So to me, it’s something very intimate, it’s not a hobby. It’s a way to become complete.”

Audrey Tautou: SuperfacialLes Rencontres d’Arles
In a series of self-portraits using film photography, and shown to the public for the first time, Audrey Tautou explores her image, playing with her celebrity status by turning herself into her own model. As creator of her own image, she imagines herself, not without humor, from head to toe, in dramatizations which openly bear the signs of their artificiality. These photographic fictions create the space for her long-distance look at herself, and invent another angle on the actress.

Audrey Tautou: ‘My subject in these photos is somebody between the character and who I am’The Guardian
Tautou says that she was always interested in creating work, and in living a life less ordinary, rather than pursuing fame. After Amélie, the drawbacks became apparent: “Because your face is known, people will see it before you. It’s like a glass screen you can see through but in fact there’s always a reflection of their imagination, their fantasme.” […]

By dressing herself up, she says, she enters a kind of “no woman’s land”, where she is neither herself nor a made-up figure that might readily be associated with her. It’s a sort of “fake instantaneous moment”. “It’s not realistic mise-en-scène. My subject, in these photos, to me it’s not a real proper character. It’s somebody between the character and who I am. It’s somebody just right in the middle of the travel between the regular humans, the normal humans, and the one who’s going to become a character.”

She loves the poetry and the evanescence of photographers such as Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus and the great chronicler of Parisian life, Brassaï. Is it because, perhaps related to her work as an actor, she is interested in those who suggest the story beyond the frame? She agrees: “I like when an image could be just one of several others which would create a story. That you can imagine who are those people or what would happen before, what’s going to be next; I like when there’s a past and a future that we can imagine when we see photos.”

Saying goodbye

Another article about grief and chatbots, and another one about the end of the web.

The Jessica Simulation: Love and loss in the age of A.I.San Francisco Chronicle
As Joshua continued to experiment, he realized there was no rule preventing him from simulating real people. What would happen, he wondered, if he tried to create a chatbot version of his dead fiancee? There was nothing strange, he thought, about wanting to reconnect with the dead: People do it all the time, in prayers and in dreams. In the last year and a half, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. and Canada have died of COVID-19, often suddenly, without closure for their loved ones, leaving a raw landscape of grief. How many survivors would gladly experiment with a technology that lets them pretend, for a moment, that their dead loved one is alive again — and able to text?

The day the good internet diedThe Ringer
The internet lasts forever, the internet never forgets. And yet it is also a place in which I feel confronted with an almost unbearable volume of daily reminders of its decay: broken links, abandoned blogs, apps gone by, deleted tweets, too-cutesy 404 messages, vanished Vines, videos whose copyright holders have requested removal, lost material that the Wayback Machine never crawled, things I know I’ve read somewhere and want to quote in my work but just can’t seem to resurface the same way I used to be able to. Some of these losses are silly and tiny, but others over the years have felt more monumental and telling. And when Google Reader disappeared in 2013, it wasn’t just a tale of dwindling user numbers or of what one engineer later described as a rotted codebase. It was a sign of the crumbling of the very foundation upon which it had been built: the era of the Good Internet.

Creating something from something

Let’s try that phrase ‘from the sublime to the ridiculous’ in reverse.

Generating images from an internet grab bagAI Weirdness
Here’s “a toaster”

The toaster is partially made of toast so I tried to get it to generate a toaster made of chrome instead. Turns out I don’t think I can get it to do a toaster made of chrome without in some way incorporating the logo of Google Chrome. General internet training seems to poison certain keywords.

Ok, never mind all that.

“Bound Species” by Photographer Jennifer LatourBooooooom
The first lock down in 2020 gave Vancouver photographer Jennifer Latour a chance to develop a beautiful new body of work, and the inspiration actually came from her work as an FX makeup artist. “It was only when I started visualizing the plants and flowers as an extension of my work in special effect makeup that it all started coming together and the splicing began. I now see each piece as kind of Frankenstein of sorts with so many fun variation to come!”

Just floating by

First, something almost invisible drifting through the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

A rare sighting of a glass octopus reveals its nearly transparent membrane in extraordinary detailColossal
With a speckled, iridescent membrane, the aquatic animal is almost entirely transparent—only its optic nerve, eyes, and digestive tract are visible to humans—and sightings like these are so infrequent that scientists previously resorted to studying the species only after pulling it from the stomachs of its predators.

And then, floating over over a park in Japan, an image seemingly straight out of the pages of a Junji Ito horror story.

A giant head hot air balloon floats over a Tokyo parkLaughing Squid
Japanese photographer Disc Yuri On used a Panasonic video camera from 1999 to capture the rather startling sight of a giant hot air balloon in the shape of a head that was trying to float high above Yoyogi Park in Tokyo but was hampered by the wind. When a siren sounded, however, the balloon spun around and faced the camera directly. The stuff of nightmares.

Think again

I still can’t get my head around Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, no matter how many explanatory videos I watch. Perhaps I need to move on to a different time-bending movie, like this one from Johan Grimonprez.

Double TakeThe Guardian
No better way to mark the 50th anniversary of Psycho … than with this bizarre and distinctly inspired mash-up by writer Tom McCarthy and film-maker Johan Grimonprez. Their ever so slightly mad cine-essay, based on a Borgès short story, and perhaps influenced by British film-maker Chris Petit, is a delirious bad trip, imagining that Alfred Hitchcock, working on the set of The Birds in 1962, is visited by his own double: the near-dead Hitchcock from 1980, who enigmatically hints at how cold war history may or may not turn out. (The older Hitchcock double is of course only slightly better informed on this subject than the younger.)

Double Take by Johan GrimonprezVimeo
Acclaimed director Johan Grimonprez casts Alfred Hitchcock as a paranoid history professor, unwittingly caught up in a double take on the cold war period. The master says all the wrong things at all the wrong times while politicians on both sides desperately clamor to say the right things, live on TV.

Double Take targets the global rise of ‘fear-as-a-commodity’, in a tale of odd couples and hilarious double deals. As television hijacks cinema, and the Khrushchev and Nixon kitchen debate rattles on, sexual politics quietly take off and Alfred himself emerges in a dandy new role on the TV, blackmailing housewives with brands they can’t refuse.

Whensday

I see another Monday had rolled around (‘Freedom day’, no less, hashtag eyeroll). But is Monday your Monday? Or do you have your Monday on another day, Thursday for instance?

The best day to go into the office is…WIRED UK
Many companies seem to be following the idea that people are most productive at the start of the week, and therefore should be in the office on those days. […] A scientific study of workplaces and behaviour in them found that people are least civil with colleagues at the start of the week. They gradually become more friendly and engaging with their peers as the week goes on, though become slightly less civil on Fridays than they were on Thursday.

What really happened in Iceland’s four-day week trialWIRED UK
[T]here are a few caveats to note about this research before everyone stops coming into work on Fridays. First, despite the headlines – including the one on this newsletter – Iceland didn’t trial a four-day work week. Instead, the two trials reduced hours from 40 each week to 35 or 36.

See also:

Neckties are the new bow tiesThe Atlantic
As America struggled to recover from a global pandemic, a shattered economy, and record unemployment levels, headlines despaired: “neckties doomed.” Men were “slashing their clothing bills” to retailers’ chagrin, the Associated Press reported. Those who continued to wear ties were downgrading from colorful, expensive silk to plain, cheap cotton. The year was 1921, and reports of the tie’s death were premature, to say the least.

A century later, as Americans begin to emerge from another financially devastating pandemic, another rash of headlines is predicting the tie’s imminent demise.

Fake views for real crowds

I thought these two recent, very visual articles from The New York Times went together well.

At this Instagram hot spot, all the world’s a stage (and the buffalo’s a prop)The New York Times
With that, the visitors called it a wrap, satisfied they had gotten the perfect photographs of the bucolic scene. Later, the images would pop up across the Chinese internet, with captions like, “Going to work in the morning light.” A few, however, were more honest in their tags: #fakeactionshot. For the farmer (and the buffalo) had only been performing for the tourists and their cameras.

Such staged photo shoots have become the specialty of Xiapu County, a peninsula of fishing villages, beaches and lush hills known as one of China’s top viral check-in points. It is a rural Epcot on the East China Sea, a visual factory where amateur photographers churn out photogenic evidence of an experience that they never had — and that their subjects aren’t having either.

That’s a great line. I mean, look at this.

These crowds of happy snapping tourists reminded me of those others on that beach, as well as the thousands in the Louvre. Oh, to get away from it all.

How crowded are America’s national parks? See for yourself.The New York Times
Americans are flocking to national parks in record numbers, in many cases leading to long lines and overcrowded facilities. Here’s what four parks looked like over the holiday weekend.

I love the video clip they choose to head up that article — a tired, bored toddler not wanting to cooperate with the obligatory selfie, whilst others hang around, waiting their turn to take the same photo.

Big cats in Japan

A hyperrealistic giant meowing 3D calico cat on a billboard towers over Tokyo’s busy Shinjuku StationLaughing Squid
This giant feline wakes up at 7 AM and interacts with the public until 1 AM. This includes meowing, stretching and moving toward the edge of the billboard in between other visual advertisements on the giant screen. This ad was created for Cross Shinjuku Vision, in partnership with MicroAd and Unica.

A digital cat is melting hearts (and napping a lot) in JapanThe New York Times
“There are many reasons we decided to display the cat, but one of the big reasons is that with corona, the world became very dark,” Mr. Ohkawa added, referring to the coronavirus pandemic. “Through the cat display, we wanted to revive Shinjuku and make it brighter.”

You can see what it’s up to yourself, on the advertising unit’s own YouTube channel. It was dozing off, the last time I checked.

Watch out, Mario!

Nintendo is teaming up with Tag Heuer on a Mario-themed watchThe Verge
The site doesn’t list any details on pricing, but from what I can tell, most Tag Heuer watches cost at least a grand, so it seems likely that this Super Mario watch won’t be cheap. And I have to say that the collaboration isn’t one I’d expect to see from Nintendo, which I wouldn’t consider a luxury brand. But I’m definitely curious as to what this watch might look like, and I’ll be keeping an eye on the official reveal next week.

Are watches too expensive? Revolution
Through the sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth from people who dreamt ten years ago that they’d save up for a Rolex, it all seems a bit bleak. And it would be, were it not for brands like Hamilton, Longines and Maurice Lacroix. With over three-and-a-half centuries of experience between them, they’ve got what it takes to right the balance and rewind time on watch prices.

Version numbers and default fonts

Can’t really get excited about a new version of Windows, no matter how much the Google News algorithm thing wants to push it at me.

Microsoft looks ready to launch Windows 11The Verge
It’s not long until we find out whether Microsoft is ready to dial the version number of Windows up to 11. The Windows elevent (as I’m now calling it) will start at 11AM ET on June 24th, and The Verge will be covering all the news live as it happens.

Windows 11 is already full of bugs, but you shouldn’t worry about itTechRadar
Microsoft has released an early version of Windows 11 for members of its Windows Insider Program, and users are already encountering issues and bugs with the new operating system. That’s kind of the point of course, as this developer build is being used as a kind of pre-release beta for the full version that’s expected to launch in “Holiday 2021”, and people who are using it are encouraged to spot and report any bugs and issues.

Why Windows 11 going with Amazon for its Android apps, and not Google, is a masterstrokeTechRadar
It’s an ingenious move when you think about it. It enables more apps on the new Microsoft Store with minimal effort from Microsoft, and helps it become a substantial rival to Apple’s Mac App Store, with iOS apps now available on M1 Macs.

Windows 11 looks a little different. Here’s what’s changingCNET
Windows 11 features a streamlined new design, with pastel-like colors and rounded corners, and overall a more Mac-like look. The Windows Start menu has moved from the bottom left of the screen to the middle, with app icons arranged in the center next to it.

For years, Apple sold itself as the anti-Microsoft. Now Windows 11 is the anti-AppleCNET
But the Microsoft of old didn’t entirely go away. Analysts believe Nadella’s broadsides against Apple during his Windows 11 launch speech weren’t just about knocking Microsoft’s biggest frenemy. His tone wasn’t jovial, nor was he dismissive like former CEO Steve Ballmer when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs first showed off the iPhone in 2007. Nadella was serious.

This caught my eye, however.

Beyond Calibri: Finding Microsoft’s next default fontMicrosoft Design
Default fonts are perhaps most notable in the absence of the impression they make. … Calibri has been the default font for all things Microsoft 365 since 2007, when it stepped in to replace Times New Roman across Microsoft Office. It has served us all well, but we believe it’s time to evolve. To help us set a new direction, we’ve commissioned five original, custom fonts to eventually replace Calibri as the default.

So, farewell then, Calibri and hello either Tenorite, Bierstadt, Skeena, Seaford or Grandview.

Who comes up with these names, I wonder.

Microsoft is rolling out a new default font to 1.2 billion Office users after 14 years — and the designer of the old one is surprisedCNBC
As de Groot put it in an email, “I had proposed Clas, a Scandinavian first name and associated with ‘class,’ but then the Greek advisor said it meant ‘to fart’ in Greek. Then I proposed Curva or Curvae, which I still like, but then the Cyrillic advisor said it meant ‘prostitute’ in Russian, it is indeed used as a very common curse word.”

I’m not sure how the title of that article squares with the title of this one.

Even the Calibri font’s creator is glad that Microsoft is moving onWIRED
It’s the end of an era, but Calibri’s designer, Lucas de Groot, has no qualms about letting his typeface rest for a bit. “It’s a relief,” he says. De Groot created Calibri in the early 2000s, as part of a collection of fonts for enhanced screen reading. “I designed it in quite a hurry,” he says. “I had some sketches already, so I adapted those and added these rounded corners to get some design feeling in it.”

Do you have a favourite?

Microsoft’s new default font options, ratedTechCrunch
Bierstadt is my pick and what I think Microsoft will pick. First because it has a differentiated lowercase l, which I think is important. Second, it doesn’t try anything cute with its terminals. The t ends without curling up, and there’s no distracting tail on the a, among other things — sadly the most common letter, lowercase e, is ugly, like a chipped theta. Someone fix it. It’s practical, clear and doesn’t give you a reason to pick a different font.

Regardless, there’s certainly a bewildering number of typefaces out there. Too many?

All you need is 5 fontsBetter Web Type
I came to the same conclusion as Massimo and many other designers—I don’t need a huge range of fonts of questionable quality to choose from, I only need a few high quality ones. So I created my own list of 5 fonts that I use most often.

But how about a little background on a very different Microsoft font.

The origin story of the Wingdings fontUX Collective
Wingdings was never intended to be typed. Contrary to what happens today, when we can just select one picture from many available online, and copy and paste it on a document; in the ’90s was not easy to find pictures that could be used in an uncomplicated way with the text. In addition, image files were too large for the simple HDs of computers at the time. Therefore, Wingdings offered an alternative for anyone who wanted to use icons in high resolution and that could be resized, but without taking up a lot of space on the machines.

This way, the font can be considered the offline predecessor of the emoji, an alphabet that is now an integral part of modern communication.

Why the Wingdings font existsVox
“We were influenced by images from similar historical and modern sources,” Bigelow says. The Lucida Icons spanned many eras. “Pointing fingers and hands go back to medieval manuscripts and, before that, to ancient Roman gestures; airplanes are 20th-century inventions; and keyboards, computers, computer mice, and printers, included in the Lucida Icons fonts, were part of office life in 1990 when we drew the images.”

Not selling the web, ok?

Tim’s in the news again, in another ridiculous NTF story.

Tim Berners-Lee’s NFT of world wide web source code sold for $5.4mThe Guardian
The NFT sold on Wednesday was created by the English scientist Berners-Lee in 2021 and represents ownership of various digital items from when he invented the world wide web in 1989. The sale effectively comprises a blockchain-based record of ownership of files containing the original source code for the world wide web. The final price was $5,434,500 and half of the bidders were new to Sotheby’s.

A tidy sum.

Tim Berners-Lee defends auction of NFT representing web’s source codeThe Guardian
“This is totally aligned with the values of the web,” Berners-Lee told the Guardian. “The questions I’ve got, they said: ‘Oh, that doesn’t sound like the free and open web.’ Well, wait a minute, the web is just as free and just as open as it always was. The core codes and protocols on the web are royalty free, just as they always have been. I’m not selling the web – you won’t have to start paying money to follow links. “I’m not even selling the source code. I’m selling a picture that I made, with a Python programme that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me.

That ‘not selling the source code’ doesn’t quite square with how this was being reported earlier, but whatever.

World Wide Web code that changed the world up for auction as NFTReuters
The original source code for the World Wide Web that was written by its inventor Tim Berners-Lee is up for sale at Sotheby’s as part of a non-fungible token, with bids starting at just $1,000. […] The digitally signed Ethereum blockchain non-fungible token (NFT), a one-of-a-kind digital asset which records ownership, includes the original source code, an animated visualization, a letter written by Berners-Lee and a digital poster of the full code from the original files.

But think of the trees

I’m a big fan of the photographer/designer/writer/walker Craig Mod, so it was great to read an interview with him in a recent Why Is This Interesting newsletter.

The [Tuesday] media diet with Craig ModWhy is this interesting?
Describe your media diet. Internet goes off before bed. No internet until afternoon. Mornings are for reading books and writing. I try to limit news to smart speaker updates — “Hey Googs, what’s the latest NPR news?” — since there is a natural backstop (the update ends) and it’s impossible to get sucked into hours of news gaping this way. Books, I read 50/50 on a Kindle/paper. Kindle is usefully quick and dirty although I despise the ecosystem. Any book I love enough to finish on Kindle I immediately buy the paper version for my library. Longform articles usually get sent to my Kindle or printed out for reading later since I find focusing on a long-form essay in a browser is akin to self-waterboarding. Mediums definitely matter! And if someone spent a great deal of time on a 5,000-word essay for NYT Magazine or The Atlantic, I want to make sure I’m fully there (full attention, full focus) for the ride.

Whilst I love his writing on reading and book design, I’m not sure about that “Any book I love enough to finish on Kindle I immediately buy the paper version for my library” line. I have so many great books on my Kindle that I’ve really enjoyed, and I would struggle to justify buying hundreds of paperbacks just to see them lined up on my bookcase.

Who am I kidding I’d love to do that.