Martian open door policy

Unlike the Opportunity Rover, NASA’s Curiosity Rover is still operational, still taking photos and still– pranking us?

Spooky discovery on Mars looks just like an alien doorwayScience Alert
One of the most recent snaps beamed back from the Curiosity rover on Mars has revealed a rather interesting feature in the rocks: what looks to be a perfectly carved out doorway nestling in the Martian landscape.

So this is where the little green men live? Looks like Utah.

Did NASA spot an “alien doorway” on Mars?Hyperallergic
Is it a doorway to another dimension? Probably not. The key to understanding the lost Martian society? Again, likely no. It’s not even a doorway, really, in the intentional sense, but it looks like a doorway and it is on Mars, and that is slightly creepy so let’s go ahead and assume what we are all hoping: ANCIENT DOOR-BUILDERS ONCE LIVED ON MARS. Go on, assume it! It feels great.

Explore for yourself with this link to a large, zoomable composite image, with that doorway shape towards the top, a little left of centre.

MSL 3466 MRGigapan

Paperwork

Tackling a massive pile of paperwork means something a little different to Lisa Nilsson.

Six years in the making, the elaborate ‘Grand Jardin’ by Lisa Nilsson pushes the boundaries of paperColossal
Taking several years to complete, she paid painstaking attention to the complexities and details of the design, balancing intricate organic shapes with precise geometric patterns, all while preserving the composition’s overall symmetry. “The phases of my creative process—as it progressed from the initial spark of inspiration to settling in to work, to decision-making and problem solving, to finding flow, losing flow and finding it again, to commitment and renewal of commitment—were repeated many times over the six years and within the context of widely varying moods,” she tells Colossal.

Such intricate details.

There are many more wonderful photos of this and other designs (tapestries?) from this series on her website.

Tapis seriesLisa Nilsson
This series of works is a continuation of my exploration of the possibilities of the medium of quilling, a centuries-old craft in which narrow strips of paper are rolled into coils and shaped. In moving beyond my initial inspiration in anatomical subject matter, I have opened up the color palette, textures and shapes that are available to me. I am finding renewed inspiration in the decorative arts, predominantly in Persian rugs, Renaissance book bindings, and Byzantine enamels.

And here’s a link to a wonderful essay she wrote about her practice and how she reacts when people say she must have a lot of patience.

I would wish this on anyoneDirty Laundry
My work requires a certain kind of attention, as well as a good deal of focus, faith, tenacity, and boatloads of time – but not what I’d call patience. Patience to me implies tedium. There’s an embarrassment of things in life that I experience as tedious, but making my work ain’t on the list.

To my viewers I offer this analogy: It’s like building a puzzle. Once you get rolling you don’t want to quit. The challenge is not in sticking with it, but in walking away when you ought to, your eyes and back are sore, and you know you really should get up to pee or eat or stretch or get back to the rest of your life. But watching this barnyard scene come together is now the most important thing ever. Finishing it will complete you.

It takes some time

Whilst my watch collection may be sadly lacking, my collection of watch-related blog posts is growing nicely. Here’s a wonderfully interactive tutorial from Bartosz Ciechanowski on what’s going on under the dial. Think of it as an update to Hamilton’s explainer from the 1940s.

Mechanical watchBartosz Ciechanowski
In the world of modern portable devices, it may be hard to believe that merely a few decades ago the most convenient way to keep track of time was a mechanical watch. Unlike their quartz and smart siblings, mechanical watches can run without using any batteries or other electronic components. Over the course of this article I’ll explain the workings of the mechanism seen in the demonstration below.

It starts off simple enough, with springs and levers, but when the mechanisms get gradually more complex and sophisticated, the explanations and colour-coded diagrams remain relatively easy to follow. It’s quite a long, in-depth read that takes some time to get through, but it’s very cleverly done.

And check out the archives for similar breakdowns — from cameras and colours, to tesseracts and GPS.

Pics in space #2

More space doughnuts.

Astronomers reveal first image of the black hole at the heart of our galaxyEvent Horizon Telescope
This result provides overwhelming evidence that the object is indeed a black hole and yields valuable clues about the workings of such giants, which are thought to reside at the centre of most galaxies. The image was produced by a global research team called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration, using observations from a worldwide network of radio telescopes.

When I first read about this new image of a black hole, I thought I’d best wait till that guy from Veritasium explained it, as he did such a clear job of the previous one.

A Picture of the Milky Way’s Supermassive Black HoleVeritasium: YouTube

How astronomers captured images of the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky WayLaughing Squid
Derek Muller of Veritasium explains how astronomers working with the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration were able to capture such amazing shots of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole that sits at the center of the Milky Way.

The amount of work that’s gone into that image is incredible.

Supermassive black hole seen at the center of our galaxyThe Washington Post
The achievement, supported by the National Science Foundation, relied on contributions from more than 300 scientists at 80 institutions, including eight telescopes. One of the telescopes is at the South Pole. The data collected took years to process and analyze.

Observations of the central region of the galaxy are hampered by intervening dust and ionized particles. The Earth’s turbulent atmosphere further blurs the picture. The black hole itself is not visible by definition, but it is encircled by a swirl of photons that can be detected by the huge radio dishes. The black hole is not a static entity: It is “gurgling,” Ozel said. The appearance changes regularly, challenging the scientists to produce a singular image that fit what their telescopes had observed.

It’s not all glamour, though.

How we captured first image of the supermassive black hole at centre of the Milky WayThe Conversation
My role was to help write two of the six papers that have been released in the Astrophysical Journal Letters: the first one, introducing the observation; and the third one, in which we discuss how we made a picture out of the observations, and how reliable that image is. In addition, I was a “contributing author” for all six papers. This is an administrative role, in which I handled all correspondence between our team of over 300 astronomers and the academic journal that published our findings. This had its challenges, as I had to deal with every typo and every mistake in the typesetting.

But wait, there’s more.

NASA visualization rounds up the best-known black hole systemsNASA
This visualization shows 22 X-ray binaries in our Milky Way galaxy and its nearest neighbor, the Large Magellanic Cloud, that host confirmed stellar-mass black holes. The systems appear at the same physical scale, demonstrating their diversity. Their orbital motion is sped up by nearly 22,000 times, and the viewing angles replicate how we see them from Earth.

Overlooked gravitational wave signals point to ‘exotic’ black hole scenariosSpace
Over the past seven years, the researchers have observed 90 gravitational wave signals — ripples in the space-time continuum that indicate “cataclysmic events” such as black hole mergers, the research team said in a statement. They originally detected 44 such mergers during a six-month observational period in 2019, but a second look at the data using a different methodology revealed 10 additional ones.

And here’s a question I never thought to ask.

What do black holes sound like? Like a vision of heaven or hellIndependent
The trick for Nasa and the Chandra X-ray center was learning to shift the pitch of the Perseus black hole’s sounds into the range of human hearing. The black hole’s sounds naturally vibrate 57 octaves below middle C on the piano, and so they had to be scaled up by 57 to 58 octaves — an astonishing 288 quadrillion times higher than their original pitch.

The results are wildly different from the Messier 84 sonification. Where Messier 84 was sonorous and celestial, the Perseus signification is at times discordant, dark, and dirgeful, a sound perhaps more expected from a perfectly dark maw of an all-consuming abyss than the dulcet tones of Messier 84.

Fading memories

Hyperallergic have a review of a fascinating and poignant exhibition from Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz, Invisibilia, that “captures the fleeting, fading sensation of trying to recall something that’s already in the past.”

Oscar Muñoz visualizes the invisibleHyperallergic
The artist’s own face appears in a number of works. In “El juego de las probabilidades” (The Game of Probabilities) (2007), 12 color and black-and-white passport photos taken at different points in his life are cut and spliced together into new combinations. Each face represents a disorienting collapse of time, and raises questions about how much of ourselves continues or changes with time. The composite collages are photographed up close, held by the artist’s fingers, suggesting a sense of intimacy but also hinting at the smallness and randomness of our own existence.

Those woven photos reminded me of Karen Navarro a little. I wish there were some photos of this piece, though.

More faces — and conservation challenges — come with the series Pixeles (Pixels) (1999-2000), a set of portraits made with coffee on sugar cubes. This time Muñoz’s subjects are victims killed in the long-running conflict between Colombia’s military forces and insurgent rebels. When seen up close, the faces break down and the country’s key exports — coffee and sugar — come into focus. Still, Muñoz’s portraits are clearly meant to denounce not just the violence, but also our desensitization to these sorts of images that can occur as they are repeatedly shown in the news media.

So, farewell then, iPod

That’s that, then. Add it to the list.

‘The spirit lives on’: Apple to discontinue the iPod after 21 yearsThe Guardian
In a statement announcing the discontinuation, Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, said the “spirit of iPod lives on”. “Music has always been part of our core at Apple, and bringing it to hundreds of millions of users in the way iPod did impacted more than just the music industry – it also redefined how music is discovered, listened to, and shared,” he said.

RIP iPod 2001-2022: The complete history of Apple’s iconic music playerMacworld
“Why music?” Jobs asked in his introduction. “Well, we love music, and it’s always good to do something you love. More importantly, music is a part of everyone’s life. Everyone! Music’s been around forever; it will always be around. This is not a speculative market.”

Now, 21 years later, Apple has announced that its pocket digital music and media player has reached the end of its life. Apple will continue to sell the iPod touch “while supplies last” and when the last unit is gone, that’ll be the last you’ll ever hear of Apple’s iconic device.

RIP the iPod. I resisted you at first, but for 20 years, you were my musical lifeThe Guardian
Now that the agile upstart has become a knackered warhorse, laden with nostalgia, it’s worth remembering that the iPod was contentious when it was launched back in October 2001, holding a then-remarkable 1,000 songs. What the author Stephen Witt calls “the most ubiquitous gadget in the history of stuff” did more for Apple – paving the way for the iPhone and iPad – than it did for the music industry. While the arrival of the iTunes store 18 months later helped to stem illegal filesharing, the iPod still allowed users to unbundle individual tracks from albums; download sales never came close to making up for collapsing CD revenue during the music business’s lost decade. I was initially grumpy about the iPod, complaining that it devalued music and drove a bulldozer through the concept of the album. A shuffle function? Barbarians! Eventually, of course, I bought one and loved it.

And here’s a look at ten iPod competitors that didn’t make it.

Shuffled by the iPodTedium
In a 2012 retrospective, New Scientist contributor Jacob Aron nailed this device’s many problems compared to an iPod with a single paragraph: “Imagine a portable music player that holds just a single hour of content, interrupts your listening with 30-second advertisements, and whose store offers none of your favorite songs. And all this could be yours for the bargain price of $299.” (One thing it had going in its favor, though? Longevity: Per AudioWorld, it could run on two AAA batteries for a gobsmacking three months.)

An email from a vampire

I’m coming to the end of a book, haven’t decided what to read next, unsure I’ve got the stamina to start that big one. But perhaps, rather than that classic work of literature, I should give this other classic a go, albeit via – email?

Get the classic novel Dracula delivered to your email inbox, as it happensDracula Daily
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an epistolary novel – it’s made up of letters, diaries, telegrams, newspaper clippings – and every part of it has a date. The whole story happens between May 3 and November 10. So: Dracula Daily will post a newsletter each day that something happens to the characters, in the same timeline that it happens to them.

Now you can read the book via email, in small digestible chunks – as it happens to the characters.

I’ve got a few emails to quickly catch up on, but I’ve just found something else I think I should read first, perhaps the original.

The poet, the physician and the birth of the modern vampireThe Public Domain Review
From that famed night of ghost-stories in a Lake Geneva villa in 1816, as well as Frankenstein’s monster, there arose that other great figure of 19th-century gothic fiction – the vampire – a creation of Lord Byron’s personal physician John Polidori. Andrew McConnell Stott explores how a fractious relationship between Polidori and his poet employer lies behind the tale, with Byron himself providing a model for the blood-sucking aristocratic figure of the legend we are familiar with today.

Swoop on over to the ever-reliable Project Gutenberg to read it yourself.

The game is on #2

If you’re at a loose end, try sorting this little game out.

Curvy
Each Curvy puzzle consists of a grid of hexagonal tiles. On each tile appears a single or double set of lines, and each set of lines has its own color. These tiles must be rotated to find a solution in which lines of the same color connect, with no loose ends.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to actually win the game:

Dead treesUnit 520
Dead Trees is a game prototype / destructible physics experiment that is totally not inspired by the popular block laying game™ of unknown origin that takes the initial concept ad absurdum.

I like how it describes itself: “Desaturated colors, no way to win anything. Just stacking and breaking blocks until you lose.”

Hope for the internet?

Counteracting the overwhelming sense of disappointment I feel when thinking about the internet these days is this welcome interview with Matt Mullenweg (cool URL), the founder of WordPress. Long, but quite inspiring.

How WordPress and Tumblr are keeping the internet weirdThe Verge
We’re doing a good job at democratizing publishing. WordPress is on the right path there. Like I said, I think it’ll get to an 85% share. I now feel so strongly about them doing the same thing for e-commerce, because I think that we need those same freedoms: freedom to publish, freedom to transact, freedom to use any payment system, freedom for the transaction fees to be just as low as humanly possible versus going up every year. We need open-source alternatives, not just to Shopify, but also Amazon, and Etsy, and everything else. […]

I’ll tell you a stat most people don’t realize. Half of all users who sign up for WordPress.com every day are there to blog. To be honest, even internally, we assumed everyone was coming to us for CMS features, and I think we over-indexed on that more business-y side that you just described. That’s also because we thought more revenue was coming, but when we sliced the data differently, we actually found that more than half of signups were there primarily to blog. I think it’s cool that people are still blogging. […]

If we can create a third place on the internet that doesn’t have an advertising model — you might have seen that we just launched an ad-free upgrade for Tumblr. Twitter and Facebook never do that because their business models don’t allow them to. But, luckily, since Tumblr isn’t making very much money right now, we can afford to do that and make it the model. I think that’s pretty cool. We have a really decent chance to bootstrap a non-surveillance-capitalism-based social network, which I think is impossible for the incumbents right now. They just have the golden handcuffs.

Good typography doesn’t just grow on trees, you know

Oh wait, maybe it does.

Occlusion GrotesqueBjørn Karmann
Occlusion Grotesque is an experimental typeface that is carved into the bark of a tree. As the tree grows, it deforms the letters and outputs new design variations, that are captured annually. The project explores what it means to design with nature and on nature’s terms.

Observing the GANN learning from the tree and reflecting on the way Occlusion Grotesque grew is both fascinating and complex. The changing shape over time really seems to suggest some underlying growth logic, although rationally we know this is not possible with such simple ML models.

To see the typeface in action, head over to Autralian National University’s School of Cybernetics, where they’ve typeset Richard Brautigan’s poem, All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace.

But what if, instead of your own Beech forest in Denmark, you just have some houseplants?

Green-fingered type designer Anna Sing creates a “bouquet” of typefaces inspired by houseplant historyIt’s Nice That
With no previous experience in type design, the Texas-based multi-disciplinary designer embarked on a whirlwind 15-week project to make four beautiful typefaces inspired by the history of houseplants.

For those of us who just can’t seem to keep a houseplant alive, Anna prescribes her spiky little Sagauro typeface. Its forms mimic the water-absorbing spines of cacti – the perfect option for people who tend to forget to water their plants.

Then there’s Orkyd, which “grew out of the mystery of the grocery store orchid, the houseplant that is always for sale but rarely seen in the home”. Taking just three days to create, Anna spent hours on the floor of her room tracing the symmetrical forms of blossoms from a “600-something-page encyclopaedia of orchids”. This bold yet whimsical typeface was her favourite to create and has enjoyed well-deserved success, recently being featured in Monotype’s 2022 Type Trends report and a Paloma Wool campaign.

In search of lost links

Well, this is disappointing: by way of a response to a request on Twitter for “maximalist novel” reading suggestions, I thought it would be useful to share here the small collection of links I had gathered over the years about Proust and his epic (it has long since occurred to me that, rather than reading Proust, I’d much rather read about reading Proust), but of those five links, I’ve already shared one before, two are now behind paywalls and the other two are returning 404 errors: a setback, yes, but luckily, when I first copied those links to Pinboard I also saved an interesting paragraph or two from them as well, as is my wont — so here they are, then, for posterity (Prousterity?); a few crumbs from lost, link-rotten madeleines.

Proust’s PanmnemoniconJustin E. H. Smith’s Hinternet
There is no denying that the narrator of In Search of Lost Time is one weird little mama’s boy, ever inventing ruses to summon his mother up to his room for another kiss goodnight, over the disappointed protestations of a father who would wish to see him “man up”. There is something delightful (if cherry-picked) in the thought that while the greatest monument of Russian literature broods over whether or not to murder someone just because you can, and the greatest of German novels explores the metaphors of illness in an Alpine sanatorium, France gives us instead, as its contender for the champion’s title, the neverending autofiction of a boy so entranced by the ‘bouquet’ of his own asparagus pee that he longs to call Maman upstairs to whiff it alongside him.

How Proust’s ‘madeleine moment’ changed the world foreverThe Telegraph
The novels were hugely influential on writers all over the world, in that they introduced the idea of writing about “streams of consciousness”. Through Proust’s ubiquitous narrator, they relay in great detail not just what is perceived, but also what is remembered, and the repeated and constant links between perception and memory. Even those who have not read the novels are aware of the journey of memory on which the narrator goes when he tastes a madeleine dipped in tea; it has become “the Proustian moment”.

Reading Proust on my cellphoneThe Atlantic
Knowing where you are, physically, in a bound book keeps you from feeling this oceanic feeling quite so much. It keeps you grounded. But reading the book on your cellphone emphasizes your own smallness, your at-sea-ness, in relation to the vast ocean. There you are, moving along without any compass. How brave you are in your little dinghy, adrift and amazed.

My friends are amused: “But how many times do you have to swipe through those tiny pages on your cellphone to get through a single Proust sentence?” they ask. Sometimes many. Sometimes not even once. Even that record-breaking sentence, which stretches over two and a half pages in my old paperback, takes fewer than a dozen swipes. And turning the page, strange to say, is one of the nautical joys. Each finger drag is like an oar drawn through the water to keep the little glass-bottomed boat moving. After a while you’re not even aware of rowing. You’re simply looking through the glass into an endless ocean, moving silently, blindly forward.

The odd pleasures of reading Proust on a mobile phoneClive Thompson
It occurred to me once, while nose-close with a painting, that novels (and other forms of longform writing) have a bit of the same dual-focus aspect: The writer composes word by word, sentence by sentence — but also has the entire text in mind. We readers experience the whole book both as a single bolus of culture and a collection of individual thrilling sentences or passages.

French writer Marcel Proust’s personal archives headed to auction in ParisEconomic Times
Proust fans will have an opportunity to get their hands on a set of proofs of “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”, the second part of Remembrance, that includes crossed out passages and corrections. The book, which was supposed to be published in 1914, was delayed by the outbreak of World War I and left the author with time to make changes to the manuscript. An original edition of “Swann’s Way”, the first volume of Remembrance and which was published in 1913, will also go up for sale.

The last of its kind, the first of many

The Guardian have started their new Extinction Obituaries series with a memorial to a tiny songbird from Hawaii.

Extinction obituary: why experts weep for the quiet and beautiful Hawaiian po’ouliThe Guardian
In 2004, the po’ouli got one last chance. It took six people 18 months and $300,000 to catch a bird. It was, remarkably, the same individual that Baker had snared seven years previously, when he became the first person to hold a live po’ouli. In that time, the bird had lost an eye. He was old – at least nine – and found captivity stressful. He died in Maui 11 weeks later, between 10pm and 11.30pm, on 26 November, of multiple (tiny) organ failure. He was the last po’ouli ever seen.

How many more of these articles are there going to be? Too many.

Facebook’s leaky data problem

Vice have seen a leaked document written by Facebook privacy engineers which sounds the alarm on how they deal with users’ data.

Facebook doesn’t know what it does with your data, or where it goes: Leaked documentVice
“We’ve built systems with open borders. The result of these open systems and open culture is well described with an analogy: Imagine you hold a bottle of ink in your hand. This bottle of ink is a mixture of all kinds of user data (3PD, 1PD, SCD, Europe, etc.) You pour that ink into a lake of water (our open data systems; our open culture) … and it flows … everywhere,” the document read. “How do you put that ink back in the bottle? How do you organize it again, such that it only flows to the allowed places in the lake?”

An interesting analogy. Stop polluting the lake?