Here’s Johnny!

William Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic first appeared in Omni magazine in 1981, before being published in his Burning Chrome collection in 1986. It takes place in the same world of Gibson’s cyberpunk novels, Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive and, in the 1995 movie at least, starts on 17 January 2021.

Johnny MnemonicMuseum of Arts and Design
Artist Robert Longo’s directorial debut, Johnny Mnemonic adapts for the big screen William Gibson’s story of the same name. Set in a dystopian 2021, when megacorporations rule the world, the movie features Keanu Reeves as Johnny, a “mnemonic courier” who discreetly transports information too sensitive to carry over the Net via a special device implanted into his brain—a career that’s cost him his childhood memories. Hoping to recover them through an expensive surgery, Johnny agrees to one last job, which requires him to download more information than his implant can handle.

2021 and the conspiracies of Johnny MnemonicWIRED
Johnny is a digital-era delivery guy. If you need some data transported hypersecurely, simply load it into his head and off he goes: your very own walking—more often running, from bad guys—USB air-gapped meatstick. So what if the gig comes with memory lacunae and the risk, in the event of information overload, of brain-burst, to say nothing of the Yakuza at your back, who are more than happy to carry out a file transfer by way of decapitation? It pays well, and you look cyber-cool doing it.

Gibson’s cyberspace was always bound up with the body. Data can be wet-wired; manipulating files requires Power Gloves and an “Eyephone.” When Johnny jacks in, it kind of hurts. Such meat-meets-metal has, in the quarter-century since Johnny Mnemonic came out, been called a failure of prediction. Our internet ended up disembodied, virtualized, socially distanced, our iPhones more of a figurative prosthesis. Yet, this last year, we sat slack at our desks, muscles atrophying, nerves attenuating, as we doomscrolled our way to new aches, new anxieties, new ailments. Some wild-eyes went so far as to claim that 5G triggered the pandemic, which is the most Gibson-sounding conspiracy of all. In Johnny’s world, the black shakes are caused not by a virus but by a signal. Epidemic through technic. There’s something in the air, no matter what you do. You’re already sick, you’re already dying. Connectivity is killing you.

Looking back at Johnny MnemonicDen of Geek
Really, it’s pretty difficult to figure out exactly why this film doesn’t live up to the brilliance of Gibson’s material, and why it didn’t find a wider audience. It may be down to the studio’s interference – allegedly, the film was re-cut shortly before its release, to be more mainstream; Gibson himself attests that the rough cut was funnier and more alternative. It may also be that the general cinema-going audience may not have known what to make of it – it was science-fiction, yes, but without the usual tropes they might expect of the genre. Virtual reality had also been done before, and Johnny Mnemonic’s cyberspace sequences are similar to those seen in 1992’s The Lawnmower Man, and 1995’s Virtuosity also played around with the concept a few months later – really, audiences were promised nothing new. And, of course, nobody knew The Matrix was only four years away, which would redefine the way in which simulated realities had been presented in films forever.

Can technology make you sick, like ‘NAS’ does in Johnny Mnemonic?Syfy Wire
The real risk of exposure to technology might exist not in the technology itself, but in our relationship to it. It’s true that excessive internet usage is linked to depression. What’s unclear is which factor is the instigator. One interpretation of the data suggests that excessive internet usage causes depression. This makes intuitive sense as the information most readily available online is overwhelmingly negative. Another interpretation is that those predisposed to depression exhibit higher internet usage. […]

NAS or the Black Shakes, the physiological disease showcased in Johnny Mnemonic, has yet to rear its head, but the psychological impact of constant information demanding attention can have real consequences. And we all need to be aware of where we devote our attention, what society is demanding from us, and how we navigate an ever-changing and increasingly digital landscape.

Musical meanderings

One of the pieces of classical music on YouTube I keep replaying is this performance of Dvořák’s String Quartet No 12, played by the wonderful Pražák Quartet. It’s such a lyrical piece, played with passion and vigour.

It’s fun to compare that early video of the four of them with this performance of Schubert’s String Quartet No 15 several years later.

Time marches on for all of us, though sadly it didn’t march for very long for Schubert himself.

A lost paradise of purityStandpoint
Of all the premature deaths among the ranks of the creative, none is more painful to contemplate than Franz Schubert’s. His cutting off in November 1828 at the age of 31 was not as brutal in strictly chronological terms as Keats’s at the age of 25 in 1821, but there is with Schubert a yearning to know the music which he never composed that is even greater than the regret for Keats’s unwritten poems. All Schubert’s works are in a sense early works, and it is striking to think that by the time Haydn reached the age at which Schubert died, he had written none of the music for which we now revere him.

Let’s move from Schubert to Bach, and from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Boomwhacker Bach: Prélude n°1 aux tubes musicauxThe Kid Should See This
This performance by Les Objets Volants is a wonderful mix of work and play… an exercise in “juggling” that requires an immense amount of concentration and teamwork. Boomwhacker Bach! In front of an audience in Luxeuil les Bains, France, this is Prélude n°1 aux tubes musicaux, or Johann Sebastian Bach’s first prelude played with boomwhackers.

All good stuff, but perhaps this musical post has been too male-dominated so far? Let’s address that.

New documentary Sisters with Transistors tells the story of electronic music’s female pioneersOpen Culture
“Technology is a tremendous liberator,” says Laurie Anderson in her voiceover narration for the new documentary Sisters with Transistors, a look at the women who have pioneered electronic music since its beginnings and been integral to inventing new sounds and ways of making them. “Women were naturally drawn to electronic music. You didn’t have to be accepted by any of the male-dominated resources. You could make something with electronics, and you could present music directly to an audience.”

“The history of women has been a history of silence,” Rovner writes. “Music is no exception.” Or as Oliveros put it in a 1970 New York Times Op-Ed:

Why have there been no “great” women composers? The question is often asked. The answer is no mystery. In the past, talent, education, ability, interests, motivation were irrelevant because being female was a unique qualification for domestic work and for continual obedience to and dependence upon men.

All good stuff, but perhaps this musical post has been too human-dominated so far? Let’s address that.

Composer transcribes animal sounds to sheet musicBoing Boing
Alexander Liebermann, an accomplished composer living in Berlin, has been challenging himself to transcribe the sounds of penguins, whales, and other animals as an exercise for ear training.

Ear training challenge – Emperor PenguinYouTube
During courtship, the male and female penguins trumpet loudly to each other, thus learning each other’s call (They recognize each other amidst breeding colonies that consist of up to 40,000 penguins because of their calls). Emperor penguins typically use both sides of their syrinx simultaneously, producing vocalizations using ‘two-voices’. In the videos I have seen, calls of adult penguins mostly consisted of two-voice vocalizations using three different intervals: M2, m3, M3. In contrast, those of the chicks consisted of single voices outlining numerous intervals: m3, M3, P4, TT, P5, m6.

Oops! I did it again

Whilst MI5 gets accused of unlawfully handling their data, the police just lose theirs.

Home Office urged to explain 150,000 arrest records wiped in tech blunderThe Times
Priti Patel has been urged to explain an “extraordinarily serious security breach” after The Times revealed a technology blunder wiped more than 150,000 fingerprint, DNA and arrest history records off police databases. The error may allow offenders to go free because biometric evidence left at crime scenes will not be flagged up on the Police National Computer (PNC).

Priti Patel under fire as 150,000 police records accidentally lostThe Guardian
The Home Office released a statement from the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, but the shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said this was not good enough and called on Patel to provide an urgent statement.

Don’t worry about it, though. They’ll have that deleted data back in no time.

Police scrambling to recover more than 150,000 records wiped from UK databaseThe Independent
The policing minister, Kit Malthouse, said Home Office and law enforcement officials were working “at pace to recover the data”. “While the loss relates to individuals who were arrested and then released with no further action, I have asked officials and the police to confirm their initial assessment that there is no threat to public safety,” he added. “A fast time review has identified the problem and corrected the process so it cannot happen again.”

Dratted ‘housekeeping’, eh? 150k+ records deleted off UK’s Police National Computer databaseThe Register
It is reported that Home Office staff are trying to get some of the deleted information back. This implies, strongly, that they cannot simply restore the deleted information from backup files.

Well, as has been pointed out on Twitter, accidents happen.

Britain destroyed records of colonial crimesThe Guardian
Review finds thousands of papers detailing shameful acts were culled, while others were kept secret illegally.

And happen.

114 child sex files linked to MPs have ‘vanished’Express
A total of 114 files linked to allegations of paedophile activity in Westminster may have been destroyed, MPs were told yesterday.

And happen.

Grenfell files ‘lost forever’ after laptop wiped, inquiry hearsITV News
Some emails, documents and design drawings relating to the Grenfell Tower refurbishment appear to have been lost forever after being wiped from a laptop, the inquiry into the fire has heard.

And happen.

Home Office destroyed Windrush landing cards, says ex-stafferThe Guardian
Evidence of UK arrivals discarded despite case worker protests, says former employee.

Update – 16/01/2021

A day later and that initial total is now seen as a little on the low side.

Starmer urges home secretary to ‘take responsibility’ as it emerges 400,000 police records deleted in ‘human error’Sky News
Home Secretary Priti Patel has come under fire since it was first reported by The Times that 150,000 records were lost, although it is now understood the figure is much higher. Some 213,000 offence records were wiped from the Police National Computer, along with 175,000 arrest records and 15,000 person records.

Police probes compromised after computer records deletedBBC News
[The letter from the National Police Chiefs’ Council] says that some of the records had been marked for indefinite retention following earlier convictions for serious offences. And it reveals that a “weeding system”, developed and deployed by a Home Office PNC team, started to delete records wrongly last November. The process was only brought to a halt at the start of this week. […]

It comes after about 40,000 alerts relating to European criminals were removed from the PNC following the UK’s post-Brexit security deal with the EU.

Doomed

Have you ever compared Facebook’s algorithmic autonomy and global reach to a Cold War era mechanism for assured nuclear destruction? Perhaps you should.

Facebook is a Doomsday MachineThe Atlantic
[I]t took the concept of “community” and sapped it of all moral meaning. The rise of QAnon, for example, is one of the social web’s logical conclusions. That’s because Facebook—along with Google and YouTube—is perfect for amplifying and spreading disinformation at lightning speed to global audiences. Facebook is an agent of government propaganda, targeted harassment, terrorist recruitment, emotional manipulation, and genocide—a world-historic weapon that lives not underground, but in a Disneyland-inspired campus in Menlo Park, California. […]

Megascale is nearly the existential threat that megadeath is. No single machine should be able to control the fate of the world’s population—and that’s what both the Doomsday Machine and Facebook are built to do. […]

[T]here aren’t enough moderators speaking enough languages, working enough hours, to stop the biblical flood of shit that Facebook unleashes on the world, because 10 times out of 10, the algorithm is faster and more powerful than a person. […]

In other words, if the Dunbar number for running a company or maintaining a cohesive social life is 150 people; the magic number for a functional social platform is maybe 20,000 people. Facebook now has 2.7 billion monthly users. […]

If the age of reason was, in part, a reaction to the existence of the printing press, and 1960s futurism was a reaction to the atomic bomb, we need a new philosophical and moral framework for living with the social web—a new Enlightenment for the information age, and one that will carry us back to shared reality and empiricism.

Those were the paragraphs that Patrick Tanguay highlighted in one of his recent newsletters. As much as I love reading about the horrors of Facebook — and social media more widely — I’m left wondering what the point of this piece was. Will attitudes really change after reading this, or is this just more confirmation bias? Take this paragraph, for instance.

These dangers are not theoretical, and they’re exacerbated by megascale, which makes the platform a tantalizing place to experiment on people. Facebook has conducted social-contagion experiments on its users without telling them. Facebook has acted as a force for digital colonialism, attempting to become the de facto (and only) experience of the internet for people all over the world. Facebook has bragged about its ability to influence the outcome of elections. Unlawful militant groups use Facebook to organize. Government officials use Facebook to mislead their own citizens, and to tamper with elections. Military officials have exploited Facebook’s complacency to carry out genocide. Facebook inadvertently auto-generated jaunty recruitment videos for the Islamic State featuring anti-Semitic messages and burning American flags.

That’s an appalling summary, unconscionable, how can this continue, something must be done etc etc. And yet here we are, nearly 3 billion users. Is it all being dismissed as tabloid exaggeration, resulting in nothing changing? A Doomsday that nobody notices?

Reminders that art and politics often go hand in hand

Art shippers face ‘teething problems’ transporting works to Europe after BrexitThe Art Newspaper
Some air freight crates are being broken open by customs officials in EU, but UK lockdown is posing greater problems, members of the trade say.

US Capitol’s works of art survive amid right-wing rampage in WashingtonThe Art Newspaper
The authorities say that cleaning and conservation will be needed, however, after art was damaged by tear gas, pepper spray and fire extinguishers.

The Nazi art dealer who supplied Hermann Göring and operated in a shadowy art underworld after the warThe Art Newspaper
A new book by Jonathan Petropoulos explores Bruno Lohse’s devotion to Hitler’s number two.

Let’s go shopping down Memory Lane

You wouldn’t think the humble carrier bag would be such an evocative thing.

Plastic fantastic: Vintage carrier bagsThe Guardian
Hull-based artist Aaron Thompson’s Instagram project Carry a Bag Man is a trip down memory lane. … So far, he’s photographed more than 250 for Instagram, from shops such as WH Smith, Topshop and HMV.

Many of them are likely to bring back fond memories of the shopping sprees in January sales from years gone by. “The effort put into advertising back then was so much more creative and out-there,” he says. “It’s great to look at a bag and get that burst of nostalgia as soon as you see a design you’ve totally forgotten about.”

But what shall we buy with our hundreds of carrier bags? Thousands of beer cans, of course!

The archaeologist who collected 4,500 beer cansGastro Obscura
Maxwell’s work blurs the line between rubbish and relic, raising the question of when beer cans become valuable artifacts worthy of study and preservation. But in many parts of the country, any object on public land that is at least 50 years old is considered historic and therefore eligible for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966—as long as they meet certain criteria. This makes the ability to date beer cans a useful skill for archaeologists.

For Maxwell, this trash was a treasure trove. “The cans were weird and old and mysterious looking,” he says. “They had punches to open them instead of pull rings, and all I knew was that they predated me.” Maxwell learned to decipher their stories by pouring over collectors’ guides and trade magazines, and summers spent hunting along the highway developed into a lifelong passion for collecting and studying beer cans. Over the decades, Maxwell amassed 4,500 cans, which he recently cut down to 1,700 due to a lack of storage space.

2021 off to a flying start

Trump and his followers aren’t going out quietly, are they?

Pro-Trump mob storms US CapitolThe Guardian
A mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol after mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital. They breached security, took over the rotunda and House chamber, and disrupted the vote certification for Joe Biden.

Riot, insurrection or social media performance?

The pro-Trump mob was doing it for the ‘GramBuzzfeed News
For Trump supporters who occupy those extreme-right universes, anyone who believes that Trump lost the election is the delusional one. What’s more: they experience this narrative entirely online, safe from facts, where stars of this alternate universe emerge to cement it for them. And there is a reward to be found in that stardom: After all, why would anyone don a costume like the QAnon Shaman, if not as a play for the cameras?

But if the stardom is the reward, what of their revolution? Don’t they have work to do, a vote to stop? For many in the mob that showed up in DC, the posing is the work.

Twitter has been such a huge part of this presidency, it’s hard to imagine one without the other. Up to now, at least.

Twitter permanently suspends President Donald Trump’s accountTime
In a series of tweets on its @TwitterSafety account, the social media giant said that Trump’s account had continued to violate the rules even after being warned by temporarily locking Trump’s account on Wednesday evening after the insurrection that caused the death of at least six people, either at the Capitol or from injuries sustained there.

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter said in its announcement. “In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action.”

Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrumpTwitter Blog
Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open. However, we made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things.

Well, that’s one less password for him to remember, at least.

Trump goes “ballistic” after Twitter ban, says he’s looking at creating own platformSlate
Trump seemed to be engulfed by a burning desire to tweet and so he grabbed hold of the official @POTUS Twitter account and published a statement that the White House also issued separately. Trump lashed out at Twitter, saying it had “coordinated with the Democrats and the Radical Left” to remove his account. Trump also said he had been “negotiating with various other sites” and that he and his allies are looking “at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future.” Twitter quickly took down the messages from the @POTUS account. Donald Trump Jr. characterized the ban as “absolute insanity,” adding that it showed how “we are living Orwell’s 1984.”

Trump Jr’s reference to 1984 is interesting. He’s not the first to spot similarities.

One alternative to Twitter, favoured by his supporters is (was?) Parler.

Apple suspends Parler from App StoreTechCrunch
Apple confirmed that it has suspended the conservative social media app Parler from the App Store, shortly after Google banned it from Google Play. The app, which became a home to Trump supporters and several high-profile conservatives in the days leading up to the Capitol riots, had been operating in violation of Apple’s rules.

Amazon will suspend hosting for pro-Trump social network ParlerBuzzfeed News
“Recently, we’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms,” the email reads. “It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.” […] On Parler, reaction to the impending ban was swift and outraged, with some discussing violence against Amazon. “It would be a pity if someone with explosives training were to pay a visit to some AWS data centers,” one person wrote.

It seems to me that these people aren’t contesting their 2020 loss, but the one from 1865.

Generating a new art market

Many of us are feeling the pinch these days, as the pandemic continues to take its toll on jobs and livelihoods. But there are still people out there more than happy to keep spending.

Instagram rules but don’t expect loyalty: new report analyses our online art buying behaviourThe Art Newspaper
The online art market has been a rare winner during the Covid-19 pandemic, with rising totals and many new buyers starting their collections digitally. […] Art collectors have also spent more money online, increasing the average spend—29% paid an average of $10,000+ per painting, up from 20% in 2019. Those spending over $50,000 on a work went up to 11% ( 4% in 2019).

A little out of my league, but have you seen this? Unique, original art for under £100. Generative art has a rich background, and I know I’ve highlighted new ways of buying art before, but does this feel a little scammy to anyone else?

ART AI – AI generated paintings
We use artificial intelligence to create a vast variety of original artworks. This allows us to sell each artwork once, making one of a kind art accessible to all. […] When you find something you really love, you don’t always want to share it. We find that we are emotionally connected to the art we make and the art we buy – we want it just for ourselves. Thanks to our advanced artificial intelligence, ART AI makes owning one of a kind AI art accessible to everyone, for the first time ever.

I mean, these types of images are ten-a-penny now, aren’t they?

GANksy – A.I. street artist
We trained a StyleGAN2 neural network using the portfolio of a certain street artist to create GANksy, a twisted visual genius whose work reflects our unsettled times. 256 masterpieces are for sale starting at £1, rising by a pound as each one is purchased.

This Fucked Up Homer Does Not Exist
Created by Thomas Dimson (@turtlesoupy) Based on Lightweight GAN from lucidrains.

That’s crying out to be monetised. The way one Bartkrustyhomer transitions to the next would make for a nightmarishly soothing screensaver, for instance.

Things are looking up #5

I don’t remember adding this to my YouTube ‘Watch Later’ playlist, but I’m glad I did. A charming documentary on a bizarre, elegant, yet absolutely enormous cloud.

Secrets of a Strange CloudYouTube
This is about the Morning Glory Cloud in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, Australia. It is an amazing atmospheric phenomenon. It is a shockwave which can be over a thousand kilometres long. Other meteorological terms for this type of formation is a shelf cloud, roll cloud or soliton. They can happen unpredictably in other places in the world but the Gulf of Carpentaria is the only location place where they happen with some degree of regularity around September and October.

Whilst we still have our heads in the clouds, ponder this strange notion — that we didn’t always know where birds went in the winter. They seemed to just vanish each year. Perhaps, rather than flying to different countries, they flew a little further.

When birds migrated to the MoonThe MIT Press Reader
Morton rejected Aristotle’s widely accepted hibernation theory, and pointed out a major flaw in the theory that the birds simply migrated to another place on Earth: No one in Europe knew where they went. They literally disappeared. He argued that returning birds, like woodcocks, appeared to drop suddenly from the sky over ships at sea.

Their round trip to the moon took one month each way, taking the distance to the moon and the length of their absence into account. There was no atmospheric resistance to impede their flight (so he had taken on board that much of Pascal’s conclusions) and the journey between the worlds was aided by lack of gravity. They slept for much of it, living off their body fat. It was all logical enough, in its own way.

You must read that article for its charming account of Domingo Gonsales flying to the Moon on his swan engine.

It’s a good job he didn’t try that trip a few hundred years earlier.

In 1110, the Moon vanished from the sky. We may finally know whyScience Alert
“On the fifth night in the month of May appeared the Moon shining bright in the evening, and afterwards by little and little its light diminished, so that, as soon as night came, it was so completely extinguished withal, that neither light, nor orb, nor anything at all of it was seen,” an observer wrote in the Peterborough Chronicle.

It was bright enough a week ago, spookily peering through the clouds, though this shot using my binoculars doesn’t do it justice.

Perhaps I need to take some pointers from the experts.

Taking good photos in bad lightPhotography Life
When the sky is gray or the sun is directly overhead, it can be tough to find inspiration for high-quality photography. My hope with this article is to share some tips that have worked for me when I photograph in bad lighting conditions – something which every photographer experiences at some point.

So, farewell then, Erasmus

My first post on this site about Brexit was in February 2016. I had found some articles from a university perspective, on why we should stay in the EU. Here we are, almost five years later, on the other side of all that, and the consequences for HE of our leaving are starting to show.

Britain mourns a cherished education exchange program ended by BrexitThe New York Times
Once able to study and work anywhere in the European Union without a visa, young Britons will now be treated like people from any other country outside the bloc when it comes to applying for educational programs — or jobs. The withdrawal is also a blow for Britain’s vaunted universities, a powerful symbol of its soft power in Europe and around the world, and an important source of income for the country.

But don’t worry though, the government has a cunning plan.

New Turing scheme to support thousands of students to study and work abroadGOV.UK
The programme will provide similar opportunities for students to study and work abroad as the Erasmus+ programme but it will include countries across the world and aims to deliver greater value for money to taxpayers. The UK will reap the rewards from the investment, by boosting students’ skills and prospects, benefitting UK employers, and supporting Global Britain’s ties with international partners.

Is that to be our brand name now, ‘Global Britain’? 🙄

And the Brexit trade agreement itself doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence, does it?

Brexit deal mentions Netscape browser and Mozilla MailBBC News
Experts believe officials must have copied and pasted chunks of text from old legislation into the document. The references are on page 921 of the trade deal, in a section on encryption technology. It also recommends using systems that are now vulnerable to cyber-attacks. The text cites “modern e-mail software packages including Outlook, Mozilla Mail as well as Netscape Communicator 4.x.” The latter two are now defunct – the last major release of Netscape Communicator was in 1997.

So much to read, so little time #2

Get any good books for Christmas? I got the obligatory gift voucher, just trying to decide what to spend it on now.

The best books of 2020Kottke
Let’s start with the NY Times. Their 10 Best Books of 2020 includes Deacon King Kong by James McBride while their larger list of 100 Notable Books of 2020 has both Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff and The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack on it. The Times’ critics have their own list for some reason; one of the books they featured is Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley.

I came across that last one back in February, still not got around to it. I’m in good company, at least.

Building an antilibrary: the power of unread booksNess Labs
For Umberto Eco, a private library is a research tool. The goal of an antilibrary is not to collect books you have read so you can proudly display them on your shelf; instead, it is to curate a highly personal collection of resources around themes you are curious about. Instead of a celebration of everything you know, an antilibrary is an ode to everything you want to explore.

But that doesn’t help me pick what to get with my voucher, does it?

Help us pick the best book cover of 2020Electric Literature
This hasn’t been an easy year for sustained, careful reading. But you know what doesn’t take any attention at all? Judging a book by its cover! That’s why we’re doing our first ever “best book cover of the year” tournament—and we want you to weigh in.

These were their finalists. Which one do you think won? I think they made a good choice.

Time flies

Do you remember Noah Kalina, the photographer who took a picture of himself every day for twenty years? Here’s something similar — less structured, perhaps more melancholic.

The photographer who set out to watch herself ageThe New Yorker
Over nearly four decades, beginning in the early eighties, the photographer Nancy Floyd executed an epic project of self-documentation, the results of which are collected in her new volume, “Weathering Time.” But it is not Floyd’s strict adherence to a plan that makes her project so compelling. It’s that she completed it with a laid-back kind of tenacity—an anti-perfectionistic, unfixed attitude, which lends her book, a curiously organized archive of some twelve hundred black-and-white images, a meandering charm.

Nancy Floyd has been photographing herself every day for almost 40 yearsi-D
The resulting “visual calendar”, as Nancy calls it now, consists of over 2,500 photographs. “Most often I’m by myself in these straightforward images, but sometimes I’m with family and friends. As time passes, births, deaths, celebrations, and bad days happen. Pets come and go, fashions and hairstyles evolve, typewriters, analog clocks, and telephones with cords disappear; film gives way to digital and the computer replaces the darkroom.”[…]

I like the surprises that arise when I pull together photographs to create new categories, such as Trousers or Shirts with Word. … I’ve been waiting for years to be the same age as my parent’s in my pictures. This year I made my first image: Mom and Me at 63. Viewing the pictures side-by-side there is no doubt that I am my mother’s daughter.

I’ve got to try this for myself. There must be some interesting juxtapositions to be found within the thousands of photos I’ve got on Flickr, not to mention all the boxes of old prints squirreled away in various cupboards upstairs…

What’s in a name #9

Venice, 1570s, and Paolo Veronese, who had been commissioned by the Dominicans to paint the Last Supper, finds himself up against the Venetian version of the Spanish Inquisition. His depiction of this biblical scene seemed irregular, to say the least. Perhaps even blasphemous?

The Lost Last SupperYale University Press Blog
That dog, what is the dog doing there, a dog in the vicinity of Jesus, this is surely blasphemy? He should have painted Mary Magdalene there, should he not?
Yes, but he did not think she would look right in that spot.
And that bloody nose? That’s not fitting, is it?
Yes, but it was intended as a servant who had had an accident.
And what about that man there, the one who looks so German, armed with a halberd? That would take some time to explain. Please answer!
You see, we painters are accustomed to taking the same liberties as poets and madmen, and so I painted those two halberdiers, one eating and the other drinking at the foot of the stairs, yes, but so that they can immediately be of service, because I believe that a man as wealthy as the host would have had such servants.
And that fellow who looks like a court jester, with a parrot on his fist, what is he doing there?
He is there for decoration, as is customary.
And who is sitting at the Lord’s table?
The twelve Apostles.
What is Saint Peter doing, the first one sitting there?
He is carving the lamb into portions for the whole table.
And the man beside him?
He is holding up his plate.
And the next one?
He is picking his teeth with a fork.
Who do you think was actually present?
I believe there was only Christ and his apostles, but if there is any space remaining in a painting then I fill it with figures of my own invention.
So did someone commission you to include Germans and jesters and people of that sort?
No, Sirs, but I saw that I had lots of space, so I could add a great deal.

The Holy Tribunal determines that this rabble is not worthy to accompany such a sacred event, and orders the dog, the bloody nose, the tooth-picker, the Germans, all of it, to be painted over. But the artist, with the permission of the Dominicans, has a better idea.

He barely changes the painting at all, he just gives it a different name, and that is what it is still called today in the Accademia: Feast in the House of Levi, and if paintings were allowed to have a subtitle, in this case it might be: or, Hoodwinking the Inquisition.

Jigsaw’s “Jigsaw” jigsaw

What used to be seen as quite a dull, old-fashioned way to pass the time has swung back round again and become very Instagrammable.

Everyone wants a puzzleVox
Puzzles have become increasingly popular — especially for millennials — in a way that outweighs what I thought might be the white noise of my personal preference for them. On Instagram, hashtags like #jigsawpuzzles and #puzzlesofinstagram yield tens of thousands of posts. TikTokers and YouTubers often post time lapses of themselves assembling beautiful, difficult jigsaws.

You don’t have to limit yourself to completing just one jigsaw at a time, though.

Surreal jigsaw puzzle montagesThe Guardian
“A jigsaw puzzle manufacturer typically uses the same cut pattern for different puzzles,” Klein explains. “This makes the pieces of their puzzles interchangeable and I find that I can combine two or more to make a surreal image that the manufacturer never imagined.” … For his work, Klein uses vintage puzzles from the 1970s-90s, the selection of which can take years: “It’s an obsessive but enjoyable treasure hunt,” he says.

Jigsaws are certainly no longer what they used to be.

Someone creates a transparent jigsaw puzzle and it’s evilDeMilked
Jigsaw puzzles are a great way to pass time while you’re stuck in quarantine. However, someone came up with a way to make this fun and relaxing activity into a nightmare. We present to you – transparent jigsaw puzzles.

Assemble the jagged pieces of this shattered puzzle and fix ‘The Accident’Colossal
While most shattered glass heads straight to the trash, Yelldesign’s panes actually can be reassembled into a single sheet, turning a groan-inducing mistake into a delightfully tedious activity. Comically titled “The Accident,” the acrylic puzzle is comprised of 215 jagged and cracked pieces resembling a broken window. Yelldesign warns, though, that although you don’t have to worry about getting cut or scratched by the pointed edges, assembly isn’t an easy feat.

A 224 piece jigsaw puzzle featuring 43 different cat shaped pieces that need to be herded togetherLaughing Squid
The Herding Cats Puzzle by Nervous System (previously) is an aptly named wooden jigsaw puzzle made up of 224 pieces in 43 different feline shapes. When all the cats are herded together, the result is a brilliantly colored giant blue-eyed fluffy kitty designed by Anne Sullivan.

An ‘infinite’ galaxy puzzle that can be built in any directionColossal
The team over at Nervous System recently designed this fun Infinite Galaxy Puzzle that tiles continuously in any direction. Pieces from the top can be removed and added to the bottom, and likewise from side to side. So regardless of where you start the puzzle can continue in a seemingly infinite series of patterns.

I love the idea of a seemingly infinite jigsaw. Here’s another, and my favourite. From Darren Cullen, whose Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives project is more used to producing hard-edged, satirical advertising campaigns than dizzying Christmas gifts.

Descend into the endlessly repetitive loop of ‘Jigsaw Jigsaw’Colossal
If 2020 were packaged in a box, it would be Darren Cullen’s “Jigsaw Jigsaw.” Just like our repetitive days and seemingly endless fascination with simple pastimes, the 1,000-piece game relies on the Droste effect and features a recursive image that spirals into the same black-and-white puzzle over and over.

I was happy to help crowdfund this when plans were first announced to make this a real puzzle. It arrived earlier this month, but I gotta say, it’s not easy. This is as far as we got.

A Christmas singalong like no other

Missing live music? Make some yourself, with another interactive musical thing from Google.

Google’s Blob Opera lets you conduct a quartet of singing blobs for instant festive joyIt’s Nice That
Whatever you’re doing right now, it can wait – because Blob Opera is probably the most fun you’ll have today. A new machine learning experiment by David Li for Google Arts & Culture, the online interactive instrument features four animated blob characters which you can conduct to create your own music.

Try it for yourself!

Blob OperaGoogle Arts & Culture
Create your own opera inspired song with Blob Opera – no music skills required! A machine learning experiment by David Li in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture.

it’s all very silly, but you have to admit, they do make a wonderful sound. That’s due, no doubt, to some clever coding, but also to the skills of the real humans behind these machine-learned voices.

You can now create your own 4-part ‘Blob Opera‘ with this addictive Google appClassic FM
The voices are those of real-life opera singers, tenor Christian Joel, bass Frederick Tong, mezzo-soprano Joanna Gamble and soprano Olivia Doutney, who recorded many hours of singing for the experiment. You don’t hear their actual voices in the tool, but rather the machine learning model’s understanding of what opera singing sounds like, based on what it learned from the four vocalists.

It’s all great fun. And I hadn’t realised how extensive the Google Arts & Culture site is. Lots to play with, whilst we wait for all the real galleries and museums to get back to normal.

Trump’s Twitter troubles

We all know how important a strong password is, right?

Top 200 most common passwords of the year 2020NordPass
Here are the worst 200 passwords of 2020. The list details how many times a password has been exposed, used, and how much time it would take to crack it. We also compare the worst passwords of 2019 and 2020, highlighting how their positions have changed. The green arrows indicate a rise in the position while the red ones – a fall off. Check if your password is on the list and strengthen it if it is.

Well, you’ll never guess what.

Dutch prosecutors say Trump’s Twitter account was hacked by guessing his password: maga2020!Vox
Despite insistence from the White House and Twitter that there was no evidence of a hack, public prosecutors in the Netherlands confirmed details of an intrusion on Wednesday. The hacker, 44-year-old Victor Gevers, was facing potential jail time for accessing the president’s infamous social media account. But prosecutors said Gevers had acted in an “ethical” way by immediately disclosing what he had done to Dutch authorities.

Trump Twitter ‘hack’: Police accept attacker’s claimBBC News
Mr Gevers said he was very happy with the outcome. “This is not just about my work but all volunteers who look for vulnerabilities in the internet,” he said. The well respected cyber-security researcher said he had been conducting a semi-regular sweep of the Twitter accounts of high-profile US election candidates, on 16 October, when he had guessed President Trump’s password. […]

Earlier this year, Mr Gevers also claimed he and other security researchers had logged in to Mr Trump’s Twitter account in 2016 using a password – “yourefired” – linked to another of his social-network accounts in a previous data breach.

Will it Stand up?

Stephen King, author of 70+ novels and short story collections, is almost as famous for the 30+ adaptations of his stories as for the books themselves.

America’s dark Disney: How Stephen King conquered the screenThe Independent
“There are conventions and stylistic choices that he makes in his work that tap into a very core sense of the human psyche,” Apicella explains. “You’re willing to go into this crazy paranormal stuff, because at the heart of it is something we’ve all experienced, whether it’s coming of age, or financial hardship. He’s brave enough to unpack what frightens us in the most extensive and imaginative way.”

Back in 2017, I set myself the task of reading Stephen King’s It again, after a 30 year gap, before I saw the latest version with Bill Skarsgård and co. In fact, the original driver was to re-read the book before I read this wonderfully cutting/draining book review/reading journal, before I saw the film.

Reading Stephen King’s It is an exhausting way to spend a summerThe Verge
Now is probably a good time to point out that Stephen King is out of control. There is no way an editor even glanced at this book before it was published. It took 350 pages for the seven main characters (too many!) to individually meet the central monster and then collectively acknowledge its existence, and we frequently took extended breaks to talk about architecture.

But by the time I finished the book, I had had my fill of it and didn’t bother watching the film. And still haven’t. I might get round to it.

Anyway, I only mention this now as it’s just happened again.

Wanting something hefty to read during the first coronavirus lockdown this summer I turned to King’s The Stand, that cheery tale of survival in a post-pandemic world that I first waded through in the late 80s. It seemed to be the right thing to do.

Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: what we can learn from literary historyThe Conversation
Literature has a vital role to play in framing our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is worth turning to some of these texts to better understand our reactions and how we might mitigate racism, xenophobia and ableism (discrimination against anyone with disabilities) in the narratives that surround the spread of this coronavirus. Ranging from the classics to contemporary novels, this reading list of pandemic literature offers something in the way of an uncertain comfort, and a guide for what happens next.

I’ve finally got to the end of its 1,152 pages and have learnt that, after having had my fill of it all, a new adaptation is on its way, one that I’m — yet again — in no rush to see.

The 5 most challenging parts of adapting The StandPolygon
In a case of what could be considered great or terrible timing, depending on how you look at it, CBS All Access’ The Stand will arrive smack dab in the middle of an actual global pandemic. Will people flock to a show dramatizing a similar (albeit far more deadly) pandemic story when a real one has kept them locked in their homes for nine months?

‘The Stand’ doesn’t play by the bookRolling Stone
This new version has its inspired moments, like the way Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” somehow turns out to be the perfect theme song for Flagg, but the structure keeps sucking the life out of things, from major characters to more minor ones. The unhinged pyromaniac who calls himself Trashcan Man appears in a parallel narrative throughout the book before playing a huge role in its climax; here (played in suitably off-kilter fashion by Ezra Miller), he doesn’t turn up until the season is more than halfway done. Without the connective tissue, presented in the proper order, little of what we see feels like it matters.

Will this be something to watch if/when it works its way onto a channel I can access? Perhaps I need to wait 30 years again.

Creative reality

I enjoyed these recent interviews with a couple of creatives. It’s good to see some more work from Simon Stålenhag is on its way.

Simon Stålenhag puts a darker twist on his nostalgic sci-fi worldsThe Verge
There’s a weird coincidence in that it features police brutality and face masks — it has nothing to do with COVID or the protests in the US. I did it before they broke out. And that made me feel like I was afraid people might see this as a cheap exploitation of real-world events.

There are a lot of faceless enforcers of state violence. That’s a theme in The Labyrinth. While doing this, those images started pouring in from the protests in the US. When I started thinking about it, it was from protests in Spain in 2016 or 2017, I remember thinking it’s so weird that a democracy can have these thugs on the payroll to do these things. […]

It felt really weird when I really saw stuff in the news… reality is worse than your imagination.

Reality may be worse than your imagination for that artist, but it’s better for this one.

A conversation with animator and director Anna Mantzaris explores her penchant for nuanced emotion and finding humor in the mundaneColossal
Sometimes reality is better than your imagination. Sometimes when I try to make things up, I cannot make them as funny as a really good observation of something that happens. You’re like, “This is too good to be true. This is so weird.”

I thought I had already shared a link here to Anna’s witty and poignant Enough animation, but I can’t find it now, so I guess I didn’t. So here it is.

Staff Pick Premiere: Enough is enoughVimeo Blog
Mantzaris’ work lives somewhere between tragedy and comedy – a duality beautifully realized in her visual aesthetic. Her characters are stuck in a modern world defined by a sense of loneliness and isolation, where communication is either muffled or noisy, but never pleasant. … “I knew I wanted the characters to be quite awkward, imperfect but yet sympathetic,” explains Mantzaris. “I wanted them to have a soft feeling to contrast the not so soft actions.”