When it comes to stress, we’re all birdbrains?

Another stressful Monday in the office? Let the birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology put things into perspective for us.

What can we learn about stress from birdsCornell Lab of Ornithology: YouTube
Stress is a common part of modern life, and everyone has experienced its negative effects. Many people even suffer health impacts from chronic stress. So why do we stress out when facing challenges? Research in birds is helping us to discover when natural selection favors a strong stress response, and when it is better to stay calm.

Metaverse schmetaverse #2

VR headsets are bulky and cumbersome, convincing virtual touch is a long way off, and I’ve no idea if virtual smell is a thing. But not to worry, enthuses philosophy professor David Chalmers, “these temporary limitations will pass.”

Adventures in technophilosophy: On the reality of virtual worldsLiterary Hub
The physics engines that underpin VR are improving. In years to come, the headsets will get smaller, and we will transition to glasses, contact lenses, and eventually retinal or brain implants. The resolution will get better, until a virtual world looks exactly like a nonvirtual world. We will figure out how to handle touch, smell, and taste. We may spend much of our lives in these environments, whether for work, socializing, or entertainment. My guess is that within a century we will have virtual realities that are indistinguishable from the nonvirtual world.

And from this assertion it’s only a short haptic skip and a jump to his take on simulation theory and his belief that VR technologies will eventually “be able to support lives that are on a par with or even surpass life in physical reality.”

As much as I enjoy spending time in Second Life, I think I’ll leave the notion that virtual worlds could one day be indistinguishable from the physical world to the movies. Here’s Joanne McNeil’s take on VR and the metaverse.

Freedom as a preset: Joanne McNeil on metaverses past and presentFilmmaker Magazine
There was a brief moment of VR hype in 2016 that faded, but this new round of messaging—and investment—suggests that this time plans are serious. Plus, the technology latches on, Voltron style, to other enormously hyped digital trends like the marketplace blockchain concepts known as Web3. […]

Money isn’t the opposite of freedom, exactly, but capitalism certainly forecloses on our degrees of it. In a widely circulated interview The Verge conducted in December with the stars of The Matrix, Keanu Reeves laughed at the idea of NFTs and seemed largely unimpressed with Facebook and other “capitalistic platform” applications of virtual world technology, which he is otherwise enthusiastic about.

NFTs again. It’s hard to imagine them providing a solid foundation for the metaverse.

‘Huge mess of theft and fraud:’ artists sound alarm as NFT crime proliferatesThe Guardian
In theory, blockchain technology was supposed to make it easier for digital artists to sell unique tokens of ownership, offering buyers a permanent record of ownership linked to the work. […]

But other artists say that the past year’s crypto boom has been a nightmare. Among the problems is that anyone can “mint” a digital file as an NFT, whether or not they have rights to it in the first place, and the process is anonymous by default. “It is much easier to make forgeries in the blockchain space than in the traditional art world. It’s as simple as right-click, save,” said Tina Rivers Ryan, a curator and expert in digital art at the Albright-Knox gallery in Buffalo, New York. “It’s also harder to fight forgers. How do you sue the anonymous holder of a crypto wallet? In which jurisdiction?”

The big Bitcoin drop, explainedWealthsimple
“The market is still deciding whether [bitcoin] is going to be an alternate financial system or if it’s some kind of a scam,” Stephane Ouellette, of the Toronto-based institutional crypto platform FRNT Financial, told Bloomberg in December. After all, even if you do believe that cryptocurrencies will lead to a new technological era and change the financial world and all that jazz, bitcoin might not be the token that endures and defines defi. The big question is whether the panic late this week and the forced sales will continue to weigh on bitcoin’s price, or if crypto true believers and value seekers can outweigh these forces.

History, homeward bound (hopefully)

That recent post about the not-really-“homecoming” of the Nedra Sky Disc got me thinking about those culturally significant artefacts and paintings that really do need to go home. Here’s a brief list of recent articles from The Art Newspaper to get us started. I’m sure there are unfortunately many more.

Austria takes first step to return artefacts from colonial eraThe Art Newspaper
Though country was not a colonial power, major museums in Vienna have acquisitions of colonial goods.

German museums may have thousands of looted relics from China’s Imperial Palace, research group believesThe Art Newspaper
Collaborative research by major German institutions may expose huge amounts of Chinese objects taken during Boxer Rebellion.

Nigeria seeks to calm tensions over return of Benin bronzesThe Art Newspaper
Government museums body takes control of repatriated artefacts after ruler of Benin challenges new trust set up to unify Nigerian claimants.

Germany returns Nazi-looted, Dutch Golden Age painting to Jewish dealer’s heir—but more than 800 works are still missingThe Art Newspaper
Ice Skating by Adam van Breen was acquired by Hermann Göring, Adolf Hitler’s second-in-command, and bequeathed to the city of Trier’s museum in 1987.

Heavenly maps, henges and hats

Whenever I hear news of artefacts being returned home, I immediately assume they’re leaving these shores, not coming back.

British Museum hails ‘homecoming’ of world’s oldest map of the starsEvening Standard
The British Museum has welcomed the “homecoming” of the Nebra Sky Disc which features Cornish gold to their Stonehenge exhibition. The piece is 3,600 years old and is said to be the world’s oldest surviving map of the stars. The 30cm bronze disc with a blue-green patina is decorated with inlaid gold symbols thought to represent the sun, moon, stars, the solstices and the Pleiades constellation.

That ‘homecoming’ word is doing a lot of work in this case, as it’s just the gold that is thought to come from Britain, not the disc itself. Still, it’s a beautiful Bronze Age (Iron Age?) map (clock?) and part of what looks to be a fascinating exhibition.

The World of Stonehenge slated for exhibition in 2022Fine Books & Collections
The world of Stonehenge (17 February – 17 July 2022) is the UK’s first ever major exhibition on the story of Stonehenge. Key loans coming to the British Museum and announced for the first time today include: Britain’s most spectacular grave goods which were unearthed in the shadow of Stonehenge; elaborate ancient gold hats depicting the cosmos; and the astonishing wooden monument – dubbed Seahenge – that recently emerged after millennia from the sands of a Norfolk beach.

Seahenge? What’s that?

SeahengeExplore Norfolk
Seahenge was so called by the media as it resembled Stonehenge in Wiltshire. It’s a huge tree stump that was buried upside down with its roots upper most, and surrounding this tree stump were 55 timber posts, which had been cut from smaller oaks in the surrounding area. It must be remembered, of course, that 4000 years ago Holme beach was a salt marsh, not a sandy beach. Some say the upturned tree stump was put there so dead bodies could be laid on top and birds and animals could then pick away at the flesh and bones. Gradually, over 3000-4000 years (!) the sea has encroached the land and covered the peat beds which were naturally preserving the timbers. The exact purpose of the timber circle has never quite been determined.

There are some clearer images of it from within Assassin’s Creed, bizarrely.

But going back to that article from Fine Books & Collections, what was it saying about those gold hats?

Newly revealed today as going on show in the exhibition are two rare and remarkable gold cone-shaped hats – the Schifferstadt gold hat from Germany and the Avanton gold cone from France. This is the very first time either will have been seen in Britain. These are decorated with elaborate solar motifs that reflect the religious importance of the sun during this era. Only two other examples of these hats are known to have survived. Serving as headgear during ceremonies or rituals, they perhaps imbued the wearer with divine or otherworldly status. Carefully buried alone or accompanied by axes, rather than interred with the deceased, it seems they were held in trust for the community. Similar motifs are to be found on a belt plate on loan from the National Museum of Denmark. This example, and others like it, was found on the stomach of a woman buried in Scandinavia. It’s conical central point might represent the same concept as the sun hat, but in miniature form.

Feeling hungry? #3

Plenty of food for thought here, with this photography series from Peter Menzel. He and writer Faith D’Alusio travelled the world, documenting what an average family typically eats in a week, and what it costs.

Hungry Planet portrait galleryPeter Menzel

This article in The Guardian pairs a selection of the photos with a line on how much the families spend each week on their food bill.

Hungry Planet: What the World EatsThe Guardian
Californian photographer Peter Menzel visited 24 countries for the book Hungry Planet. From the Aboubakar family, from Darfur, Sudan, who spend 79p feeding six people, to a German family who spend around £320, his work shows how much the world’s weekly groceries cost

The differences are quite startling. Food for thought, indeed.

Combating art crime

From stolen golden toilets and botched Dalí robberies, to fake Banksy NFTs and almost entirely fake museums, the scale of art crime is enormous. How do you tackle all this?

How does the FBI Art Crime team operate?Hyperallergic
Though high-profile art thefts certainly still happen — in March 2020, for example, a masterpiece by Vincent van Gogh was stolen from a Dutch museum that was temporarily closed under pandemic lockdown — the publicity generated around the theft of important works hinders their resale. The FBI Art Crime Team maintains a public “Top 10 Art Crimes” list inspired by the FBI’s “10 Most Wanted Fugitives” list, which has been around since 1950. Topping the list are artifacts looted from Iraq in 2003 — many of which have been recovered and repatriated, though thousands of returns remain outstanding — and the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist, which involved the theft of an estimated $500 million of paintings in a single night in 1990; despite the museum’s offer of a $10 million reward, the crime remains unsolved more than three decades later.

Did you know there are more than 52,000 items on Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art database? Thankfully, there’s an app for that.

You can now report stolen art using Interpol’s new appHyperallergic
A new mobile app launched by Interpol, the global criminal police organization, aims to help identify and track stolen art and cultural property. The ID-Art app provides real-time access to the agency’s Stolen Works of Art database, an international archive of more than 52,000 objects verified to be missing along with images, descriptions, and certified police reports.

I was wondering if they got anywhere with that stolen Van Gogh from March 2020. It turns out they did.

Man sentenced to eight years in prison for theft of van Gogh and Hals paintingsARTnews.com
A Dutch man was sentenced to eight years in prison for stealing paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Frans Hals in 2020. In its ruling on Friday, the Central Netherlands Court also said the that the man, who was not identified in the sentencing, must pay €8.73 million ($10.2 million) to the owner of the Hals painting. Both the Hals and the van Gogh paintings remain missing.

Colour blind

OK I’m not colour blind — I see colours, I just don’t understand them. Here’s a video from the American Museum of Natural History, via The Kid Should See This, that ought to help.

Seeing colorYouTube
Learn how our color vision works as we follow a beam of sunlight bouncing off a beach ball. In this visual journey, we’ll explore the physics of visible light, the structure of our eyes, and how our brain processes visual information.

So white light — the colour white — includes all the other colours? I knew that on a theoretical level, but what does that actually look like? Here’s another video. Let’s get up really close to the screen.

How a TV works in slow motionYouTube
If you are reading this, you’ve seen a screen with your eyes. But have you REALLY seen it though? Like real proper seen it? Don’t worry, Gav is here to help you out. This is How a TV works in Slow Motion.

As always with the Slow Mo Guys, it’s a fascinating video in its own right (check out the speed Mario grows his moustache, for instance), but at 5:48 Gavin sets out to show us the illusion of colour.

This is (fake) white, up close
This is (fake) white, closer

Maybe this colour separation experiment from Tomohiro Okazaki will help.

Perhaps I should worry less about colour. Sometimes, it’s barely noticeable.

Sacré bleu: French flag changes colour – but no one noticesThe Guardian
Emmanuel Macron’s office has darkened the blue in the French flags flying around the Élysée Palace to bring the tricolore in line with how it looked after the French revolution. Presidential aides said the change happened in July last year, but nobody appears to have noticed until now.

Moving children’s drawings

We all like a list of life hacks/advice for better living, especially this time of year.

100 ways to slightly improve your life without really tryingThe Guardian
Whether it’s taking fruit to work (and to the bedroom!), being polite to rude strangers or taking up skinny-dipping, here’s a century of ways to make life better, with little effort involved.

This one in particular caught my eye.

15 Keep your children’s drawings and paintings. Put the best ones in frames.

A great idea!

Why children’s drawings matterThe School of Life: YouTube
Children can’t draw very well in the technical sense – but their art has important value for us nevertheless.

If only they could come to life and dance around as they do in that animation. Well, now they can.

Animated drawingsMeta AI Research
Bring children’s drawings to life, by animating characters to move around!

Children’s drawings have a wonderful inventiveness, energy, and variety. We focus on the consequence of all that variety in their drawings of human figures as we develop an algorithm to bring them to life through automatic animation.

Glorious Geocities homepage archaeology

Cameron Askin has created a wonderfully giddy collage of the animated GIFs and other mad decorations that completely covered our Geocities homepages back on the 90s. And follow the links to see archived pages care of the WayBack Machine too. I wonder if he used that Geocities Torrent.

A love letter to the Internet of oldCameron’s World
In an age where we interact primarily with branded and marketed web content, Cameron’s World is a tribute to the lost days of unrefined self-expression on the Internet. This project recalls the visual aesthetics from an era when it was expected that personal spaces would always be under construction.

I came across this via a recent B3ta newsletter, but this animated tribute to clashing colour schemes and Comic Sans and Times New Roman has been blasting away since 2015, going by the links to all the press about the project Cameron has collected.

Revisit everything wonderful about Geocities with one impeccable websiteFast Company

Travel back in time to the best and weirdest GeoCities sitesVice

RIP GeoCities: what the internet looked liked before the internet was coolIt’s Nice That

Gaze deeply into this loving tribute to the heyday of Geocities web designAV Club

Cameron’s WorldBoingBoing

Hundreds of Geocities images organized neatlyHyperallergic

This nostalgia project is keeping GeoCities aliveThe Daily Dot

Witness a glorious graveyard of Geocities GIFsThe Next Web

Think today’s internet is weird? Check out this madness from back in the dayHuffington Post

Anybody there?

A pleasing philosophical coincidence I came across recently.

I’m happily devouring Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life and was at the section on presence and afk, when one of my favourite blogs posted this:

While you were outFutility Closet
A pleasing little philosophy puzzle: If there’s a sentence that’s guaranteed to be false in any context, surely it’s this:

“I am not here now.”

But this very phrase is played on millions of answering machines and voicemail systems every day, and we all understand it to be true. I, here, and now are indexicals, words whose meanings change with the circumstances of their utterance. Here each seems to make a rather uncertain reference, and the resulting sentence on its face cannot be true, yet we all understand it readily. How?

You don’t need to be lost in Second Life to puzzle over the virtuality of time and place.

Better late than never

50 years after they were posted, a family in Florida receive a couple of parcels.

2 packages with 1971 postmark delivered to Lake Worth Beach homeWPTV
“We found two parcels on the outside of our door,” Stephanie Russo said Wednesday. “At first, I didn’t pay much attention because we’ve had plenty of packages delivered in the last month.” When the family opened the packages, they found two psychedelic posters inside.

After some searching she found the family that occupied the house at the time.

Feigert said he was 13 years old when he lived in the house. He said his father was known to randomly write companies and request stuff. … Russo received two posters. She has decided to give one to Feigert and keep one for herself.

She kept one? But they weren’t hers. Anyway, here’s a more heart-warming version on the same theme.

WWII soldier’s letter from Germany finally delivered 76 years after sendingBoston 25 News
A letter penned by a young Army sergeant in Germany to his mother in Woburn was lost in the mail for 76 years until finally being delivered last month. On Dec. 6, 1945, 22-year-old Sgt. John Gonsalves wrote to his mother, sending his well wishes and hopes of returning home soon. … That letter wouldn’t make it to its destination, sitting unopened for more than three quarters of a century, until suddenly and inexplicably, late last month, it showed up in a United States Postal Service facility for processing and distribution in Pittsburgh.

World War II soldier’s long-lost letter delivered to his widow 76 years laterUPI.com
Gonsalves said receiving the 76-year-old letter and reading her late husband’s words from a time before they had even met was emotional. “I love it. I love it. When I think it’s all his words, I can’t believe it. It’s wonderful. And I feel like I have him here with me, you know?”

In praise of pessimism #3

Happy new year and so on. Any New Year’s resolutions? Quite a while ago I shared an article warning us about the rash of ‘new year, new you’ fluff we face each January. Here’s another critique of the wellness industry.

The art of negativity: On rejecting positive thinkingPrzekrój Magazine
Modern society enforces a bias towards positivity and forward-thinking attitudes; one of the many curses of late capitalism. Workplace presenteeism in the name of corporate productivity is one symptom of this, but so too are the vapid platitudes peddled by tabloid media and the subtle determinism of ‘Like’ buttons on social media. In any case, this prevailing upbeat wind can often blow us out to sea, leaving those with negative emotions like castaways clad in counterfeit joy. The demand for constant optimism leaves many trying to hide the shame or resentment of experiencing negative thoughts and feelings. Human experience runs the full gamut of sentiment, and sometimes we have no choice but to roll with the punches and accept the negative side of life. […]

In fact, it could be argued that so-called ‘toxic positivity’ is more hazardous a phenomenon than the matter-of-fact attitude of negativity. In vogue as a psychological phenomenon, toxic positivity is essentially the idea that negative emotions are inherently ‘bad’ and that the most suitable response to emotional turmoil or pain is always a positive mindset (however inappropriate that may be.) Indeed, toxic positivity at large has become so ubiquitous as to represent something of an inculcated attitude in some people’s everyday interactions with one another. It is the (often unintentional) gaslighting platitudes desperately rendered in response to negativity. “Everything happens for a reason,” the terminally ill patient hears; “It could be worse,” someone bleats as another loses their job; or, “At least you have your health,” says the friend to a fresh divorcée. […]

As Oliver Burkeman described earlier, those wonderfully transformative and giddily affirmative self-help books don’t keep on selling despite the fact that they don’t work, but rather because they don’t work. This article continues with another take on that.

The so-called ‘wellness’ industry swindles consumers by selling the idea of positive wellbeing to a vulnerable customer base desperately sinking money into spa retreats, dieting, juice cleanses and holistic therapies. Wellness capitalism is the symptom of a much more corrosive condition; as if more consumption were the answer to healing the wounds of capitalism. In reality, the promises of ‘mindfulness’, ‘positive mental attitude’ and ‘healthy living’ pledged by the industrial wellness complex are exposed as just one more arrow in the quiver of exploitation. There is nothing revolutionary about paying for a product. Under late capitalism, we are always alienated, cheated and ripped-off: why should this business model of idealized versions of the salubrious self be any different?

Nothing like a little positivity to start the year, eh?