Don’t keep it to yourself

I read quite a lot, as most of us do—from books and newspapers, screens and  phones. But when was the last time you read aloud? Or had something read aloud to you?

As Meghan Cox Gurdon explains, in this extract from her book The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud In the Age of Distraction, reading aloud is something that goes way back.

Rediscovering the lost power of reading aloudLiterary Hub
So far as we can tell, starting in Paleolithic times, in every place where there are or have been people, there has been narrative. Here is Gilgamesh, the Sumerian epic recorded on clay tablets in cuneiform script 1,500 years before Homer. Here are the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, vast Sanskrit poems dating from the 9th and 8th centuries BC. Here too is the thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon legend Beowulf, the Icelandic Völsunga saga, the Malian epic Sundiata, the Welsh Mabinogion, the Persian, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian ferment of The Thousand and One Nights, and the 19th-century Finnish and Karelian epic the Kalevala. This list is necessarily partial.

Once upon a time, none of these stories had yet been fixed on a page (or a clay tablet), but were carried in the physical bodies of the people who committed them to memory. Long before Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press, and 1,000 years before cloistered monks and their illuminated manuscripts, the principal storage facility for history, poetry, and folktales was the human head. And the chief means of transmitting that cultural wealth, from generation to generation, was the human voice.

A secret photographer #2

The enigmatic Vivian Maier may be the most street photographer to hide her work from the world, and a while ago I shared an article about Masha Ivashintsova, a Russian equivalent. Here’s another, though Saul Leiter might be a little different; he was still around to see his work finally recognised.

Why Saul Leiter kept his colorful street photography secret for decadesArtsy
Yet except for his inner circle, no one saw Leiter’s personal color work until toward the end of his life. He adopted the nascent medium in the 1940s, when it was relegated to splashy advertisements and amateur shooters, not fine artists. Walker Evans called color photography “vulgar,” and his contemporaries like Robert Frank and Ansel Adams agreed. When William Eggleston, Helen Levitt, and Stephen Shore ushered in the era of color in the 1970s, Leiter, a private man who never sought fame, was barely a footnote. He had made a living shooting fashion during the heyday of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, but by the ’80s, he was deep in debt and nearly forgotten.

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Leiter wasn’t interested in the human condition, like Frank or Diane Arbus; instead he understood the simple poetry of a stranger’s silhouette, or raindrops on a window pane. “I may be old-fashioned, but I believe there is such a thing as a search for beauty—a delight in the nice things in the world. And I don’t think one should have to apologize for it.”

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A little robot round-up #2

Another quick look at what our new robot overlords are up to.

Robogamis are the real heirs of terminators and transformersAeon
Robogami design owes its drastic geometric reconfigurability to two main scientific breakthroughs. One is its layer-by-layer 2D manufacturing process: multiples of functional layers of the essential robotic components (ie, microcontrollers, sensors, actuators, circuits, and even batteries) are stacked on top of each other. The other is the design translation of typical mechanical linkages into a variety of folding joints (ie, fixed joint, pin joint, planar, and spherical link). …

Robotics technology is advancing to be more personalised and adaptive for humans, and this unique species of reconfigurable origami robots shows immense promise. It could become the platform to provide the intuitive, embeddable robotic interface to meet our needs. The robots will no longer look like the characters from the movies. Instead, they will be all around us, continuously adapting their form and function – and we won’t even know it.

Biological robots – A research team builds robots from living cellsThe Economist
But one thing all robots have in common is that they are mechanical, not biological devices. They are built from materials like metal and plastic, and stuffed with electronics. No more, though—for a group of researchers in America have worked out how to use unmodified biological cells to create new sorts of organisms that might do a variety of jobs, and might even be made to reproduce themselves. …

Though only a millimetre or so across, the artificial organisms Dr Bongard and Dr Levin have invented, which they call xenobots, can move and perform simple tasks, such as pushing pellets along in a dish. That may not sound much, but the process could, they reckon, be scaled up and made to do useful things. Bots derived from a person’s own cells might, for instance, be injected into the bloodstream to remove plaque from artery walls or to identify cancer. More generally, swarms of them could be built to seek out and digest toxic waste in the environment, including microscopic bits of plastic in the sea.

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Sounds like (old) science fiction to me.

Did HAL Commit Murder?The MIT Press Reader
As with each viewing, I discovered or appreciated new details. But three iconic scenes — HAL’s silent murder of astronaut Frank Poole in the vacuum of outer space, HAL’s silent medical murder of the three hibernating crewmen, and the poignant sorrowful “death” of HAL — prompted deeper reflection, this time about the ethical conundrums of murder by a machine and of a machine. In the past few years experimental autonomous cars have led to the death of pedestrians and passengers alike. AI-powered bots, meanwhile, are infecting networks and influencing national elections. Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Sam Harris, and many other leading AI researchers have sounded the alarm: Unchecked, they say, AI may progress beyond our control and pose significant dangers to society.

Back in the real world, of course, the dangers are more mundane. Those “significant dangers to society” are more financial.

Could new research on A.I. and white-collar jobs finally bring about a strong policy response?The New Yorker
Webb then analyzed A.I. patent filings and found them using verbs such as “recognize,” “detect,” “control,” “determine,” and “classify,” and nouns like “patterns,” “images,” and “abnormalities.” The jobs that appear to face intrusion by these newer patents are different from the more manual jobs that were affected by industrial robots: intelligent machines may, for example, take on more tasks currently conducted by physicians, such as detecting cancer, making prognoses, and interpreting the results of retinal scans, as well as those of office workers that involve making determinations based on data, such as detecting fraud or investigating insurance claims. People with bachelor’s degrees might be more exposed to the effects of the new technologies than other educational groups, as might those with higher incomes. The findings suggest that nurses, doctors, managers, accountants, financial advisers, computer programmers, and salespeople might see significant shifts in their work. Occupations that require high levels of interpersonal skill seem most insulated.

Stylish maps of bureaucracy

Finding where you fit in a large organisation isn’t easy sometimes. It can be difficult to see the whole picture. These very stylish organisation charts might be just the ticket.

Organograms | UK GovernmentPeter Cook
Organograms (also known as org charts) show the structure of organisations – in our case UK Government departments. The gallery presents an overview of a number of government departments (from May 2014). Click a department to explore it in more detail.

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I love the moiré effects when you zoom in on some of them. (Via FlowingData)

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I couldn’t help but think of Sam Lowry’s labyrinthine struggles with Brazil‘s Ministry of Information, when I saw these sprawling government department charts. So it was nice to read, this morning, about Jonathan Pryce’s Oscar nomination—best newcomer, indeed.

An unsettling self-portrait

Another reminder of what Van Gogh went through.

Not a fake: Van Gogh self-portrait is his only work painted while suffering psychosis, experts sayThe Art Newspaper
Van Tilborgh believes that the self-portrait was painted in late August 1889, in the asylum just outside Saint-Rémy: “The somewhat unusual type of canvas, the pigments, the sombre palette and the brushwork are all in keeping with his output in the late summer and autumn of that year.”

The painting is now linked to a letter in which Van Gogh wrote that he had made a self-portrait which was “an attempt from when I was ill”. The artist had suffered a severe mental attack at the asylum in mid July 1889, when he tried to swallow paints, but by 22 August he had recovered sufficiently to write to his brother Theo, asking that he be allowed access to his painting materials. Van Tilborgh argues that the artist made the self-portrait a few days later, before he suffered a minor setback and was ill for a short period at the beginning of September.

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It’s an arresting image, though I think the version of it that appears in this article, being somewhat darker, feels much deeper.

Can we not have web 1.0 back?

I do miss the early web, sometimes. Amateurish, in a good way—spontaneous, care-free, lighthearted.

The early internet, explained by one weird Celine Dion fan siteThe Atlantic
Celine Dreams was a bit of a sensation. Toroptsov never lacked for dream submissions, and at the turn of the century—before the internet was a corporatized monoculture repeated across only a handful of giant web properties—a scrappy, DIY fan site could easily build an audience by climbing up search rankings and encouraging active participation. For years, Celine Dreams appeared in the first page of Google and Yahoo search results for Celine Dion—a distinction now reserved for Celine Dion’s official website, Celine Dion’s Wikipedia page, Celine Dion’s Twitter page, Celine Dion on Spotify, and Celine Dion on YouTube.

And then it shut down, blinkering out at the same time as thousands of other fan sites. The whole ecosystem slid into the digital ocean slowly, but pretty much all at once, like a famous ship.

Nothing lasts forever. Especially nowadays.

More of these fan sites disappear all the time, and the Wayback Machine isn’t able to keep even a near-perfect record. Toroptsov’s project, and the work of his “competitors,” are vanishing in what information scientists have long been referring to as the “digital dark age.” “However widely the myth of the automatically archival Internet has spread over the past 70 years, the fact is that the system of networked computing utterly fails as a memory machine,” the UC Berkeley media researcher Abigail De Kosnik writes in her 2016 book, Rogue Archives. “The internet and computers do not constitute the greatest archive in human history, but rather the reverse.”

This applies to iconic software, too.

The last vestige of Internet Explorer dies todayGizmodo
When Microsoft decided to use EdgeHTML, it made sense. Internet Explorer had once been the biggest web browser around and consequently, lots of web page designers focused their energies on making their sites work for IE. But Chrome had a foothold when Edge launched and Microsoft’s new browser just never gained the popularity it needed. Instead, more and more web page designers focused on making the best looking sites the could—for Chrome.

Chrome uses the Blink engine and the source code originates with the open-source Chromium project. The Edge that launches today will rely on Blink and Chromium too.

Some people are clinging on, though. I’ve been reading Joanne McNeils’s newsletter for a while, now, and her website is joyously web 1.0.

joannemcneil.com
Hi, my name is Joanne McNeil and this is my Home Page on the World Wide Web. My book Lurking is out on February 25, 2020 with MCD.

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And do you remember Noah Everyday from the 2000s? He’s back again, and doesn’t look a day older. Ok, that’s a lie. He looks older, we all do.

Man takes picture of himself every day for 20 yearsFlowingData
In 2007, Noah Kalina posted a time-lapse video showing a picture of himself every day for six years. Pop culture swallowed it up. There was even a Simpsons parody with Homer. After another six years, it was a video for twelve years’ worth of photos. Kalina has kept his everyday project going, and the above is the new time-lapse for two decades.

Noah takes a photo of himself every day for 20 yearsYouTube

Leading you through the street art of London

There’s more to street art than Banksy, of course, especially in London. You’d be forgiven for thinking the place was one giant, open air art gallery, going by the number of locations highlighted in this tour of street art hotspots: Brixton, Camden, Dulwich, Hackney, Shoreditch, Walthamstow … (Via London Life With Liz)

10 best places to see street art in LondonDutch Girl in London
Is street art in London legal?’ people often ask me on my history & street art tours in East London. Technically, street art in London is very much illegal. However, having become one of the world’s leading cities to feature such high-quality urban artworks, some local authorities condone it. You won’t be able to find street art in all London neighbourhoods so to help you, I’ve compiled a guide with the best places to see street art in London.

So many wonderful paintings here. I love the contrast between the traditional murals …

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… the photorealistic portraits …

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… and the punchy, graphic work from Stik.

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Challenging universities

It’s great to see some universities overhauling their applications processes to become more diverse, but something that caught my eye earlier was this new kind of offer being made to applicants.

‘Conditional unconditional’ offers on the riseBBC News
Conditional unconditional offers give students a place – regardless of their A-level grades – on condition they make the university their firm first choice. Critics say they encourage students not to work hard to get the best A-levels.

You could say that about any kind of unconditional offer, of course. As Mike Ratcliffe, Nottingham Trent University’s Academic Registrar, explains below, this new type of offer does have the worrying feel of ‘pressure selling’ about it.

The evidence against conditional unconditionals doesn’t stack upWonkhe
One concern expressed around conditional unconditional offers hinges on when a conditional offer made via UCAS is converted to an unconditional offer if the student accepts that provider as their firm choice, in particular if there is an arbitrary time limit. This is the source of the potential, it has been suggested, for universities to engage in “pressure selling”. In our view, there should be no need to require a student to choose before they have all their offers or outside of the standard UCAS decision dates.

But going back to that point about potentially disincentivising students to do well at their A-Levels, he suggests that’s less of an issue.

Another concern is whether applicants with conditional unconditional offers are more likely to coast through the remainder of their level 3 qualifications and thus miss their predicted grades. National data show it is the applicants with higher predicted grades who miss their grades the most; at NTU it is these very students to whom we make conditional unconditional offers. Our statistical modelling suggests that only a tiny proportion (1.2%) of the variables explaining our students’ propensity to miss their predicted grades can be attributed to holding conditional unconditional offers. This is consistent with the UCAS analysis in its End of Year Cycle report in 2018 which concluded: less than 2 per cent of applicants that missed their predicted A levels by two or more grades in 2018, did so as a result of holding an unconditional firm.

I was amused by this other article on WonkHE from Paul Greatrix, the Registrar from Nottingham’s other university, about the latest developments in online courses—‘nanodegrees’. I don’t think he’s a fan.

Stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap – get your micro-credentials hereWonkhe
But despite all the hype around MOOCs and the like, universities and their traditional offerings have proved remarkably resilient and therefore the logical next step was for the MOOC providers to start offering actual qualifications themselves. Not traditional awards of course but excitingly named micro-credentials, nano-degrees and micro-masters courses all of which were described as ‘stackable’ qualifications and would, again, destroy universities with all of their tedious, fusty old style qualifications. …

It remains to be seen whether there is significant demand for these excitingly labelled new programmes and whether they will prove as popular as these extremely small awards previously promoted on Wonkhe.

But given the treatment that MOOCs, advocates of ‘unbundling’ higher ed and those who favour the ‘uber-isation’ of HE receive in Audrey Watters’ wonderful list of the 100 worst ed-tech debacles of the last decade you have to ask if MicroBachelors™ or the like are going anywhere fast.

World on fire

The extent of the wildfires in Australia recently has been heartbreaking, even if some of the images that were doing the rounds were a little ambiguous.

Australia fires: Misleading maps and pictures go viralBBC News
One image shared widely by Twitter users, including by singer Rihanna, was interpreted as a map showing the live extent of fire spread, with large sections of the Australian coastline molten-red and fiery.

But it is actually artist Anthony Hearsey’s visualisation of one month of data of locations where fire was detected, collected by Nasa’s Fire Information for Resource Management System.

“The scale is a little exaggerated due to the render’s glow, but it is generally true to the info from the Nasa website. Also note that not all the areas are still burning, and this is a compilation,” Mr Hearsey wrote on Instagram in response to criticism by viewers that the image was misleading.

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But is this just a taste of things to come?

Analysis confirms that climate change is making wildfires worseNew Scientist
In light of the ongoing wildfire crisis in Australia, Richard Betts at the UK Met Office in Exeter and his colleagues reviewed 57 peer-reviewed studies about the link between climate change and wildfire risk.

All the studies found that climate change increases the frequency or severity of fire-favourable weather conditions.

The review found that fire weather seasons have lengthened globally between 1979 and 2013. Fire weather generally involves hot temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall in the preceding days and weeks, and windy conditions.

So what can be done? We’re hearing more and more about carbon offsetting, with not-even-slightly-green companies like Shell and JetBlue getting in on the act.

Do carbon offsets really work? It depends on the detailsWired
[S]ome critics worry the programs are an excuse to not take tougher measures to curb climate change. If not done right, the purchase of offsets can act as a marketing campaign that ends up providing cover for companies’ climate-harming practices.

When a company buys offsets, it helps fund projects elsewhere to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as planting trees in Indonesia or installing giant machines inside California dairies that suck up the methane produced by burping and farting cows and turn it into a usable biofuel. What offsets don’t do is force their buyer to change any of its operations. …

“What would JetBlue have done if they couldn’t buy offsets?” Haya says. “Would they have put money into efficiency of the planes, or invested in future biofuels to create a long-term alternative to fossil fuels? That’s the fundamental question we have to ask for voluntary offsets: How much is it taking the place of real long-term solutions?”

Talking to myself

Yesterday’s post from Jeremy in Hong Kong was about William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life, a book that shows how ancient Stoic philosophy is still relevant and needed today. And yesterday’s Wintergatan Wednesday video also included a review of William Irvine’s book, coincidentally.

Intrigued, I knew I had this book on my Kindle somewhere, so I thought I should re-read it and maybe blog a review of this book myself.

But then I realised I already had, back in 2013.

Once again, surprised Present Me thanks diligent Past Me for all his help with forgetful Future Me.

Things are on the up!

Well I, at least, can take a positive spin on this.

The mid-life crisis is real, study suggests, as economist pinpoints age of peak misery as 47.2The Telegraph
“Something very natural is going on here… maybe there’s something in the genes,” he said. “When you have this pattern in 132 countries, the reality is, it was really hard to not find it.”

In his paper entitled: ‘Is happiness U-shaped everywhere?’ and published yesterday by the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), Professor Blanchflower said that averaging across 257 individual country estimates from developing countries gives an age minimum of 48.2 for well-being, and doing the same across the 187 country estimates for advanced countries gives a similar minimum of 47.2.

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As a 47.8 year old, I’ve officially passed the nadir so can look forward to a continuing surge in happiness levels from now on!

Update 21/01/2020

Just parking this opposing article here, in case I need to refer to it later…

How to stave off depression in later lifePatient
Whether it’s moving from work into retirement or dealing with the loss of a loved one, it’s evident that the stresses and feelings of isolation in later life can take their toll. And it may come as little surprise that nearly half of all adults aged 55 and over said they had experienced depression, according to a recent survey by Age UK.

A mysterious seismic hum

That really faint noise? For me, it’s a quiet, high-frequency tone that seems to be coming from the centre of my head. For that guy in Arizona, it was a low-pitched drone coming from a neighbouring data centre. But these other unexplained low-frequency rumbles, heard around the world, could be much more elemental.

Ear-pleasing new report confirms volcanic source of mysterious global humSyfy Wire
Now a German scientific team has apparently solved the mystery of a strange seismic humming experienced around the globe since it was first detected in late 2018. And despite many believing it was some alien doomsday device warming up to unleash its planet-killing spores, it appears to be caused by a massive underwater volcano forming just off the coast of Madagascar.

Desk danger!

We all do it. We all know we shouldn’t. But are we at least allowed to read about the perils of eating lunch at our desks, whilst at our desks during lunch?

Why you really shouldn’t be eating lunch at your deskWired UK
“Often meal breaks are a time where you are able to refresh your attention,” says André Spicer, professor of organisational behaviour at Cass Business School in London. “If you don’t take a break in which you go away from your actual place where you’re working, you’re not able to get a boost in attention. Meal breaks basically allow us a productivity refresh.” …

“If you eat at your desk when you’re distracted through working and you’re not giving yourself a proper lunch break, then the food you eat doesn’t fill you up as much,” she says. “You don’t remember that you have eaten in the same way, and you don’t code food in the same way. You’re more likely to feel hungry in the afternoon and then eat more.”

A drop in productivity (heaven forbid!) isn’t the only worry. But help is at hand.

Oh crumbs! Hope of an end to food in keyboardsThe Times
Forget about fingerprint readers, retinal displays or edge-to-edge screens. There is one innovation that computer users have been waiting for since the first office worker decided to eat at their desk, and it could soon be here: crumb-proof keyboards.

Apple patents world’s first crumb-proof keyboardThe Independent
The filing suggests a number of ways in which the problem might be eradicated, discussing the application of gaskets, brushes, wipers and flaps to block gaps, the installation of a membrane beneath each key and even a “bellows” effect in which each key stroke forces air through the board, pushing irksome crumbs out.

Searching for a search engine

Here’s an odd story from The Verge about Google and user choice—or the lack of it.

Bing loses out to DuckDuckGo in Google’s new Android search engine ballotThe Verge
EU citizens setting up Android devices from March 1 will be given a choice of four search engines to use as their default, including Google. Whichever provider they chose will become the default for searches made in Chrome and through Android’s home screen search box. A dedicated app for that provider will also be installed on their device.

The “choice screen” is being introduced by Google following an antitrust ruling from the European Union last March. Google was fined a record $5 billion by EU regulators, who said the company had to stop “illegally tying” its search engine and browser to its mobile OS.

That all sounds fair enough, but the mechanism by which the other search providers are selected is far from straightforward.

The search engines shown to new users will vary for each EU country, with the selection decided based on a “fourth-price” auction system. Each provider tells Google how much it’s willing to pay the company every time a user selects their product as the default. …

All this means that the choices Google will show to users don’t necessarily reflect a search engine’s popularity in that country. Rather, it shows how much the provider is willing to pay for users.

Needless to say, some of Google’s rivals aren’t happy.

Eric Leandri, CEO of privacy-focused search engine Qwant, said it was a “total abuse of [Google’s] dominant position” to “ask for cash just for showing a proposal of alternatives.” Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo, said the auction system was a “pay-to-play auction” that meant “Google will profit at the expense of the competition.” The CEO of Ecosia, a search engine that uses its profits to plans trees, boycotted the auction entirely.

What a shame that the more interesting options like Qwant and Ecosia aren’t getting a look-in. From the article’s list of all the options for users in each EU country, I can see that for the UK the options are: Bing, DuckDuckGo and Info.com. Sorry, who?

Update 15/01/2020

Someone else asking that question.

What is info.com, the search engine soon to appear on all Android devices in Europe?Quartz
Info.com, or InfoSpace, is an online search company and one-time internet darling. It was founded in 1996 in Seattle and backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. InfoSpace went public in December 1998, at the height of the dot-com bubble. By March 2000, it was valued roughly on par with Boeing, at $31 billion. Not long after that, the bubble burst and InfoSpace’s stock price collapsed. “The company once worth more than Boeing fell to the value of two Boeing 777s,” quipped the Seattle Times.

Cinematic video games

1917, with its ingenious camerawork and set design, is getting plenty of award attention. (I feel obliged, though, to remind everyone that it’s not really one continuous take, it just looks like that. Others have managed to do that properly. Surely Russian Ark is the one to beat on that score. But anyway!) Its director, Sam Mendes, unlike David Cronenberg still sees potential in the cinema of the spectacle.

1917 director Sam Mendes “optimistic” about future of theatersCollider
“I am optimistic, actually, but it’s in the hands of the filmmakers more than anything else,” Mendes said to The Hollywood Reporter backstage at the Golden Globes. “It’s up to filmmakers to make films that need to be seen on a big screen and make an audience feel like if they don’t see it on the big screen, they’ll miss out… I think what’s important is that filmmakers are ambitious and that they use the tools of cinema, surround sound, IMAX, and every fiber of their being to make big stories for big screens.”

Its dazzling, attention-grabbing camerawork has its critics, too.

1917 review: turning a nightmare war into a theme park showcaseThe Verge
1917 has a small cast, but there are more than a few faces you’d recognize. Colin Firth makes an appearance, as does Andrew Scott of Fleabag fame, and Mark Strong. You might miss them entirely, though, because the camera never really gets close to them. It never lingers, never engages with them on a level any deeper than the bare minimum for establishing the action. Close cuts are used to foster intimacy, and if a camera never truly gets close to anyone, then we aren’t likely to either. In 1917, the horror and spectacle of war are impressive but never felt.

It’s the visual language of video games, but video games pull it off because that distanced voyeurism also comes with something additive: interactivity. Eventually, you will become involved. That is not something a film can offer.

Others make more positive associations with video games.

‘1917’ is a movie that feels like a videogame—in a good wayWIRED
Perhaps that is why, at times, watching it feels like playing a first-person shooter in the vein of Call of Duty or Battlefield. Like the recently released Gears 5, Mendes’ film wants the audience to experience the trauma of war along with Schofield and Blake, not just learn about it like a history lesson.

If it’s video game cinema you’re after, these 8-Bit Cinema videos from CineFix will sort you out. The concept works especially well for movies that are practically video games to begin with.

Mad Max: Fury Road – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

The Matrix – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

But I think it works just as well for other kinds of movies too, that are perhaps like video games after all.

The Shawshank Redemption – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

And what goes best with a little movie? A little popcorn.

PopcornVimeo

You have to be careful with video games, though. They can become quite expensive.

Austria′s former Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache ′addicted′ to gamingDW
The former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache spent between €2,000 and €3,000 ($2,200–3,300) a month playing the mobile phone game “Clash of Clans,” and charged the fees to his political party, according to a lawyer formerly close to him.

Mad Mormon maps

Via Kottke, a map from 1899 illustrating what can happen when geography, religion and history get mashed together — a map of the ancient inhabitants of North and South America.

Mormon theological geography… on a nine-foot-high banner!Boston Rare Maps
The map was an official production of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) in Independence, Missouri. The RLDS (known since 2001 as the Community of Christ), is a reformist branch of the Church of Latter Day Saints, established in 1860.

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It’s an impressive object for sure, and I do love a good map, but I was most struck by the summary of what this group of people actually believe.

Ten Lost Tribes: Latter Day Saint movementWikipedia
The Book of Mormon is based on the premise that two families of Israelites escaped from Israel shortly before the sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and that they constructed a ship, sailed across the ocean, and arrived in the New World as founders of Native American tribes and eventually the Polynesians.[18] Adherents believe the two founding tribes were called Nephites and Lamanites, that the Nephites were white and practiced Christianity, and that the Lamanites were rebellious and received dark skin from God as a mark to separate the two tribes. Eventually the Lamanites wiped out the Nephites around 400 AD, leaving only dark skinned Native Americans.

All I know of the Mormons is what I’ve learnt by sitting through school concerts that have included songs from that musical, so that was quite illuminating. Native Americans are really Jewish?

Send the lemmings on their way, first class

Video game nostalgia continues with these new stamps from Royal Mail. It’s great to see those lemmings again. I remember spending far too much of my time with those persistent little critters in the 90s.

Classic UK video games get the Royal Mail stamp treatmentIt’s Nice That
Royal Mail has released a set of stamps celebrating a golden era of British video game design from the 1980s and 90s, with nine classic games memorialised in 5×3cm, gum-backed format. Scenes from Lemmings (developed by Psygnosis in 1991) and Sensible Soccer (by Sensible Software, 1992), both created for Commodore Amiga, adorn first class stamps, while the rest of the collection features nostalgic stills from Sony Playstation’s Wipeout (Psygnosis, 1995), Sega Mega Drive’s Micro Machines (Codemasters, 1991) and Elite (Acornsoft, 1984) made for BBC Micro and Acorn Electron.

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Video GamesRoyal Mail
An action-packed collection celebrating classic UK-designed video games that put the ‘joy’ in ‘joystick’. A fun set of Stamps and Collectibles to get your thumbs twitching.

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Technologically grim tales

What a way to end 2019.

The most dangerous people on the internet this decadeWired
In some cases these figures represent dangers not so much to public safety, but to the status quo. We’ve also highlighted actual despots, terrorists, and saboteurs who pose a serious threat to lives around the world. As the decade comes to a close, here’s our list of the people we believe best characterize the dangers that emerged from the online world in the last 10 years—many of whom show no signs of becoming any less dangerous in the decade to come.

It’s not just the people that are alarming, it’s the technology too, and what can be done with it, like this investigation into the smartphone tracking industry. (I didn’t even realise there was such an industry.)

technologically-grim-tales

Twelve million phones, one dataset, zero privacyThe New York Times
Every minute of every day, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017.

But perhaps there’s some room for optimism? Here’s the New York Times again, gazing into their crystal ball.

technologically-grim-tales-2

No more phones and other tech predictions for the next decadeThe New York Times
There has been a lot of gnashing and wailing about screen addiction, “sharenting” and the myriad other negative effects of all the devices we have come to rely on. (I am guilty as charged.) These gadgets have been designed to hook you, not unlike sugar or cigarettes or gambling or opiates. The well known techie Tristan Harris calls it “human downgrading” — and he’s right. But there is yet another opportunity here to push for design ethics, a movement that I think will gain traction as we all assess what our dives into digital have done to humanity. While our tech devices have, on the whole, been good for most people, there is a true business opportunity in making them work more efficiently and without a reliance on addiction. Whether we move toward more intuitively created tech that surrounds us or that incorporates into our bodies (yes, that’s coming), I am going to predict that carrying around a device in our hand and staring at it will be a thing of the past by 2030. And like the electrical grid we rely on daily, most tech will become invisible.

I love the sentiment, but remain very doubtful.

Fangs out after dark

Seeming to lift a page from Kumi Yamashita’s sketchbook, the BBC have brought Dracula to life in this spooky 3D poster for their gripping new series.

BBC’s ‘Dracula’ gets push with clever marketing campaignMy Modern Met
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a well-known tale, which is why ad executives in the UK needed to get creative when coming up with a campaign for the BBC’s new series. Dracula premiered on New Year’s Day and in the lead-up to the event, BBC Creative dreamed up an eye-catching billboard that gets spookier as the sun goes down.

Just as vampires only appear at night, there’s no trace of Dracula as the sun shines. Instead, once night falls, his sinister shadow emerges across the billboard. Mouth open wide and fangs out, there’s no mistaking the silhouette of the show’s lead character.

fangs-out-after-dark

The executives at BBC Creative were looking for a fresh take on the classic tale as a way to get viewers engaged in the new series. Located in Birmingham and London, the two billboards are an exciting, out-of-the-box vision that pairs well with the series’ dark humor.

A clever poster for a clever, gripping, rejuvenated series. With this and A Christmas Carol, the BBC really raised the bar this Christmas. (Via Colossal)

Sledging with Beethoven

Understanding music can be a challenge to those of us who have difficulty reading a score. Thankfully, there are ways to visualise what’s going on.

Some are helpfully straightforward, some are quite complex yet followable and others are more abstract and hypnotic, but I especially love this one, via Jeremy. As he says, “Have a look, but be warned once you’ve started you’ll be there to the end!”

Line Riders – Beethoven’s 5thYouTube

Check out the rest of DoodleChaos‘s YouTube channel for more clever animations. Can you imagine how long he spent rehearsing for this synchronised screen juggling, for instance.