Just 15 minutes

Turns out it only takes me a quarter of an hour to go from yeah-it’s-an-ok-painting-I-guess to god-you’re-right-that’s-amazing-I-never-realised.

Great art explainedYouTube
I’m James Payne, a curator, gallerist and a passionate art lover. I am on a mission to demystify the art world and discover the stories behind the world’s greatest paintings and sculptures. Each episode will focus on one piece of art and break it down, using clear and concise language free of ‘art-speak’.

Unlikely journeys

I think I’ve incorrectly conflated two separate topics when I think about cars of the future; electric cars and self-driving cars. The former doesn’t have to rely on the latter, right? Perhaps that’s just as well.

The costly pursuit of self-driving cars continues on. And on. And on.The New York Times
The wizards of Silicon Valley said people would be commuting to work in self-driving cars by now. Instead, there have been court fights, injuries and deaths, and tens of billions of dollars spent on a frustratingly fickle technology that some researchers say is still years from becoming the industry’s next big thing.

Now the pursuit of autonomous cars is undergoing a reset. Companies like Uber and Lyft, worried about blowing through their cash in pursuit of autonomous technology, have tapped out. Only the deepest-pocketed outfits like Waymo, which is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet; auto giants; and a handful of start-ups are managing to stay in the game.

But as we’ve seen before, electric cars come with their own unique challenges.

Electric cars can sound like anything. That’s a huge opportunity to craft the soundscape of the futureTime
Then there’s whatever BMW is doing with its i4 electric-sedan concept. At low speeds, the i4 sounds like an electrified orchestra warming up for a performance. But as it accelerates, the tone becomes deeper and lower. Then comes a high-pitched skittering effect, as if some kind of reality-bending reaction were taking place under the hood. “We conceived a sound to celebrate the car, intended as a highly complex performative art installation,” says BMW sound designer Renzo Vitale. Vitale, who worked alongside famed film-score composer Hans Zimmer on the i4, says it was his counterintuitive idea to make the noise deepen as the car gains speed. “It was a metaphoric way to say, ‘We are looking at the past,’” he says.

Perhaps, by the time all this is resolved, there’ll be less need for these crazy machines.

Commuting is psychological tortureWelcome to Hell World
I can’t even calculate the savings in gas, wear on my car, etc. But I can tell you that with nearly two hours back in each of my days, plus the extra 40 minutes or so of making myself presentable to be in close proximity to others, I have been able to reinvest that time in myself. I have been eating better, I have time for the gym, I have time to give my dogs the exercise they need. I know this year has been mentally taxing on so many, but I’ve found these changes work so much better for me.

Reading: the how, what and why

Across three essays for Literary Hub, one of my favourite authors, Will Self, ponders big, bookish questions.

Will Self: How should we read? In praise of literary promiscuity in the digital ageLiterary Hub
To read promiscuously is to comprehend the caresses of one work in the arms of another—and the promiscuous reader is a pedagogue par excellence. How should we read? We would read as gourmands eat, gobbling down huge gobbets of text. No one told me not to pivot abruptly from Valley of the Dolls to The Brothers Karamazov—so I did; anymore than they warned me not to intersperse passages of Fanny Hill with those written by Frantz Fanon—so I did that, too. By reading indiscriminately, I learned to discriminate—and learned also to comprehend: for it’s only with the acquisition of large data sets that we also develop schemas supple enough to interpret new material.

So many books, so little time — so just keep going!

Will Self on what to read: Canons to the left, canons to the right, and everything in betweenLiterary Hub
All of which is by way of saying: read what the hell you like. In a literary culture in which a Booker Prize winner (Bernadine Evaristo) can give an interview to the Guardian newspaper in which she states that “life’s too short” for her to read Ulysses, clearly the old idols have fallen. But then, they haven’t been the old idols for very long. No, read what you want—but be conscious that in this area of life as so many others; you are what you eat, and if your diet is solely pulp, you’ll very likely become rather… pulpy. And if you read books that almost certainly won’t last, you’ll power on through life with a view of cultural history as radically foreshortened as the bonnet of a bubble car.

And here, he compares the move from social reading to private, silent reading with the shift from the hefty codex to the hand-sized screen.

Why should you read? Will Self wonders what the hell we think we’re doingLiterary Hub
In the current era the dispute between those who view the technological assemblage of the internet and the web as some sort of panacea for our ills, and those who worry it might herald the end of everything from independent thought (whatever that might be), to literacy itself, has a slightly muted feel. I suspect the reason for this is also to be found in Understanding Media: as McLuhan pointed out, the supplanting of one medium by another can take a long time—and just as the practice of copying manuscripts by hand continued for centuries after the invention of printing, so solitary reading—conceived of importantly as an individual and private absorption in a unitary text of some length—persists, and will continue to endure long after the vast majority of copy being ingested is in the form of tiny digitized gobbets.

David and Alexandre-Gustave

David Hockney, national (and local) treasure. Even just silently flipping through his sketchbook is a calming joy.

David Hockney shows us his sketch book, page by pageOpen Culture
Though filled up the previous year, the artist’s sketchbook depicts a quiet world of domestic spaces and unpeopled outdoor scenes that will look oddly familiar to many viewing it after 2020.

He’s not without his share of critics, though.

‘Brilliant’ or totally phoned in? David Hockney’s new design for the London Tube is sparking merciless mockery onlineArtnet News
To be fair, Hockney reportedly made the illustration for free. And no one actually thinks he forgot to leave room for the “s.” In reality, he probably made the piece on his iPad, perhaps between rounds of Fruit Ninja, one hand on the tablet, the other pinching a lit cigarette. He was likely trying to instill in the design the same sense of childlike hope that has underscored much of his recent work, such as his 116 new spring-themed iPad paintings opening this month at London’s Royal Academy of Arts.

Eddy Frankel, Time Out’s art and culture editor, has the correct response, I think.

Mind the Gap: why Hockney’s Piccadilly Line roundel uproar signifies a deepening disconnect between art and the publicIt’s Nice that
So how did an 80-year-old with an iPad manage to cause uproar? Because the government is cutting 50 per cent of funding to higher level arts education in the UK. Because kids aren’t taken around museums, because they’re not taught about why cubism matters, or why a urinal can be art.

The temptation is to blame everyday people for not getting Hockney, when the truth is that this is the result of years and years of arts education being shoved into the background and decimated through an endless, attritional cultural war. The education secretary Gavin Williamson just said: “The record number of people taking up science and engineering demonstrates that many are already starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt.”

He’s genuinely gleeful about people not studying art. That’s what it means to the people in power, and that heinous attitude trickles down through every facet of society.

Someone makes a thing for the public, some like it, others really don’t — same old story.

PleaFutility Closet
Are we going to allow all this beauty and tradition to be profaned? Is Paris now to be associated with the grotesque and mercantile imagination of a machine builder, to be defaced and disgraced? Even the commercial Americans would not want this Eiffel Tower which is, without any doubt, a dishonor to Paris. We all know this, everyone says it, everyone is deeply troubled by it. We, the Committee, are but a faint echo of universal sentiment, which is so legitimately outraged. When foreign visitors come to our universal exposition, they will cry out in astonishment, ‘What!? Is this the atrocity that the French present to us as the representative of their vaunted national taste?’

Just give it back, it’s not yours

The events of a year ago prompted some people to question the legitimacy of various colonial-era museum collections. This debate is far from new.

What the “Nefertiti Hack” tells us about digital colonialismHyperallergic
The story of the Nefertiti bust provides a window into the European domination of excavations in Egypt and other Mediterranean archaeological sites in the late 19th and early 20th century. French, German, and British excavators were often supercilious in their defense of looting cultural heritage from classical sites in the Eastern Mediterranean in order to be “protected” within European museums. They also developed cunning methods for carrying out their work. In the Nefertiti bust’s case, overwhelming evidence suggests its removal to Germany in 1913 was not legal then and remains both illicit and unethical today — a wrong yet to be rectified. […]

Although the artists originally stated that they had gone into the museum and guerrilla scanned the Nefertiti bust using a hidden Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect Sensor, in reality they were likely involved in a double-blind hack. As Geismar concludes, it appears that an inside (wo)man with access to the museum’s 3D data released the scan to the artists. Subsequently, Al-Badri and Nelles released the files under a Creative Commons open license (CC0) for anyone to use. Geismar remarks that the hack drew “attention to museum hoarding [practices] not just of ancient collections but of their digital doubles.” The hack used the tools of “data collection and presentation to undo the regimes of authority and property over which the museum still asserts sovereignty.” Such museum interventions also underscore that the “digital repatriation” of objects by museums can never replace physical repatriation.

The discovery of the famous bust of Nefertiti in EgyptThe Yucatan Times
Egypt has not waived its demand. The archaeologist Zahi Hawass, who requested his loan in vain during his time as Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, continues to demand the return of the piece. And the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, owner of the bust, continues to insist on the legality of the acquisition.

Trusting the teachers #2

Over a year ago, we were encouraged to think that teacher assessment should be the way forward, even after we’ve returned to normal. But now, after a dreadful summer and ahead of another cancelled exam season, the experts are less sure.

A-level and GCSE grade inflation ‘inevitable in English system’The Guardian
“The system is fraught with problems,” added Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former head of Ofsted. “We know teachers err on the side of generosity. They will always give youngsters the benefit of the doubt and there will be grade inflation. It’s a question of how much. I think we will see roughly what we saw last year which was 10-12% grade inflation, somewhere in that region.”

It’s good to see the beginnings of normality on the horizon, but another year of inflated results is going to prove awkward next year, when school performance slides back down to what it was before all this.

Working – and living – within screens

Surely, once everything’s back to normal, we can stop bothering with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets and so on. But, as the first of these two Guardian articles explain, there are plenty of other companies out there — Mozilla Hubs, Gather, Wonder for instance — who are hoping that, not only will we continue to meet online, but we’d do so even more deeply. Needless to say, not everyone agrees.

Can virtual meeting spaces save us all from Zoom fatigue?The Guardian
These platforms are meant to improve remote work, but is a virtual experience that fills the entire day better or worse than spending a couple of hours on video calls but being otherwise generally invisible? “Employers probably want to help people gel, but they risk trying to do too much,” says Dr Linda Kaye, who studies the psychology of gaming and online behaviour. “I’m not saying it’s not useful in a work context, but when you force it on people it becomes inauthentic.” Her research reflects the fact that valuable social connections can be forged online. But just because we can create virtual worlds to work in, should we? […]

Much depends on the type of workplace you’re in – its culture and the sector in which it operates. While Hubs, the platform used by the engineers at the University of Nottingham, could work brilliantly for design, technology or architectural businesses, I’m not sure I can see social workers holding a case conference in a virtual world. Would it feel appropriate for a legal firm dealing with serious crimes to hold their meetings as avatar versions of themselves on Gather? Similarly, it’s hard to imagine holding a disciplinary session as a cartoon version of yourself.

As much as I’m enjoying my weekly book club on Second Life, I’m not sure about swapping the office for it. But it’s not just at work where we feel like we live in a screen. As this fascinating study from UCL shows, thanks to our smartphones we’re living in screens all the time.

Smartphone is now ‘the place where we live’, anthropologists sayThe Guardian
A team of anthropologists from UCL spent more than a year documenting smartphone use in nine countries around the world, from Ireland to Cameroon, and found that far from being trivial toys, people felt the same way about their devices as they did about their homes.

“The smartphone is no longer just a device that we use, it’s become the place where we live,” said Prof Daniel Miller, who led the study. “The flip side of that for human relationships is that at any point, whether over a meal, a meeting or other shared activity, a person we’re with can just disappear, having ‘gone home’ to their smartphone. … This behaviour, and the frustration, disappointment or even offence it can cause, is what we’re calling the ‘death of proximity’. We are learning to live with the jeopardy that even when we are physically together, we can be socially, emotionally or professionally alone.” […]

“The smartphone is perhaps the first object to challenge the house itself (and possibly also the workplace) in terms of the amount of time we dwell in it while awake,” they conclude, coining the term “transportal home” to describe the effect. “We are always ‘at home’ in our smartphone. We have become human snails carrying our home in our pockets.”

Things are looking up #7

Oh dear.

In a NASA simulation of an asteroid impact, scientists concluded they couldn’t stop a space rock from decimating EuropeBusiness Insider
A group of experts from US and European space agencies attended a weeklong exercise led by NASA in which they faced a hypothetical scenario: An asteroid 35 million miles away was approaching the planet and could hit within six months. With each passing day of the exercise, the participants learned more about the asteroid’s size, trajectory, and chance of impact. Then they had to cooperate and use their technical knowledge to see if anything could be done to stop the space rock.

The experts fell short. The group determined that none of Earth’s existing technologies could stop the asteroid from striking given the six-month time frame of the simulation. In this alternate reality, the asteroid crashed into eastern Europe.

US military has ‘no plan’ to shoot down debris from falling Chinese rocketThe Guardian
Speaking with reporters, the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said the hope was the rocket would land in the ocean and that the latest estimate was that it would come down between Saturday and Sunday. … The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, characterized reports that the rocket is “out of control” and could cause damage as “Western hype”. The situation is “not worth panicking about”, it said, citing industry insiders.

Let’s hope those things whizzing above our heads are just satellites and nothing scarier.

SpaceX Starlink satellites, not UFOs, spotted in night sky over Washington stateFox News
“What we actually saw was the 60 Starlink satellites that had just been deployed this afternoon and they were still in low orbit, and they were still clustered together so we call this, like, the Starlink train,’” Davenport told KING. “You see, like, a little chain of satellites all close together, reflecting sunlight back at us.”

For more UFO debunking, you must check out Metabunk.

Cigar shaped UFO over Angels Landing, Utah [Probably Starlink]Metabunk
That doesn’t look like a plane to me at all but I’m pretty certain that you got video of the initial satellite train of the Starlink 22 deployment. A Falcon 9 had launched from Cape Canaveral about three hours earlier. The sats are still clustered together fairly closely since they had only recently been released.

Utah Drone video of UFO [Probably an insect]Metabunk
A few days ago, a youtube video was posted on Reddit r/UFO’s showing an object flying by a drone … With these clear videos is I think we could do some calculations, or other advanced analysis? I am tending towards cgi myself. … Here’s an animation I quickly did of a bug sized object (1cm across) moving at a bug like speed (about 7km/h) towards an approaching camera moving at drone like speed (30km/h). For the FOV I used that of the DJI Phantom Pro 4, the forward camera of which is listed as 50 degrees.

Mick West, the man behind Metabunk, is incredibly thorough in his work, as can be seen by this thread investigating UFOs over Loch Ness. But perhaps there are some satellites overhead right now?

See a satellite tonightJames Darpinian
No telescope required. Click to search for viewing times at your location.

But even on a clear night you might have a problem with light pollution.

Light pollution map
A mapping application that displays light pollution related content over Microsoft Bing base layers (road and hybrid Bing maps). The primary use was to show VIIRS/DMSP data in a friendly manner, but over the many years it received also some other interesting light pollution related content like SQM/SQC measurements, World Atlas 2015 zenith brigtness, almost realtime clouds , aurora prediction and IAU observatories features.

England’s quite bright everywhere, especially where I live, though I can see just how well positioned the Kielder Observatory is now. And I’m guessing those islands in the North Sea are oil rigs? Look how so well defined Belgium’s borders are, much like the line between North and South Korea further round the globe.

Reminds me of when I tried looking for Street Views across Europe once. Are there no streets in Germany?

A horrendous failure

Imagine finally summoning up the courage to start therapy, to disclose your scariest thoughts and feelings, and then this happens.

They told their therapists everything. Hackers leaked it allWIRED
“If we receive €200 worth of Bitcoin within 24 hours, your information will be permanently deleted from our servers,” the email said in Finnish. If Jere missed the first deadline, he’d have another 48 hours to fork over €500, or about $600. After that, “your information will be published for all to see.”

It’s a story that WIRED’s UK version had covered in a very similar way back in December.

A dying man, a therapist and the ransom raid that shook the worldWIRED UK
After a handful of sessions, Puro’s therapist moved on to find new work, supposedly saying he couldn’t do anything more to help. Puro has managed alone since then, but his story has taken another dark twist – one that has shaken him to the core. A data breach at Vastaamo led to Puro and thousands of other vulnerable people being extorted by criminals who threatened to expose their highly sensitive data.

Here’s The Guardian’s report from October.

‘Shocking’ hack of psychotherapy records in Finland affects thousandsThe Guardian
Distressed patients flooded victim support services over the weekend as Finnish police revealed that hackers had accessed records belonging to the private company Vastaamo, which runs 25 therapy centres across Finland. Thousands have reportedly filed police complaints over the breach. Many patients reported receiving emails with a demand for €200 (£181) in bitcoin to prevent the contents of their discussions with therapists being made public.

Devastating for the patients affected as well as the therapy company itself, Vastaamo.

Vastaamo fires CEO, saying he knew about hacking for 18 monthsHelsinki Times
The psychotherapy centre has determined that its database was hacked in November 2018. Nixu, a Finnish cybersecurity company, found later in its investigation that the centre was targeted also in another hacking, in March 2019. “It’s very likely that the chief executive has known about the issue at that point,” Kahri stated to Ilta-Sanomat.

Hacked Finnish therapy business collapsesComputer Weekly
Vastaamo, the Finland-based private psychotherapy practice that covered up a cyber attack on its patient record system in 2018 and then saw its patients directly extorted by cyber criminals, has collapsed into bankruptcy with its services to be acquired by medical services firm Verve.

Hacked psychotherapy centre Vastaamo files for bankruptcyYle Uutiset
The firm was placed under liquidation in late January. Lassi Nyyssönen from Fenno Attorneys at Law was appointed as liquidator, but after assessing the situation decided that it was not feasible to carry out liquidation proceedings. “It very quickly became clear that the company’s clear, undisputed debts exceed the amount of its assets. That does not of course include possible damages that it may have to pay due to the data breach,” Nyyssönen told Yle.

A sign of the times?

Vastaamo breach, bankruptcy indicate troubling trendSearchSecurity
Prior to learning of the Vastaamo hack, Hypponen said he believed that most attackers are motivated by financial information. “If you’re trying to make money with your criminal attacks, medical information is not a very good target for you. Well turns out, I might have been wrong,” he said during the webinar. “It might be now the case that we are seeing the beginning of the next trend — a trend where medical information is becoming a prime target for financially motivated criminals. They might not just be blackmailing the organization with the encryption of data, but the patients themselves.”

A need for Meades

A review in The Guardian of a collection of Jonathan Meades’ writing reminded me just how much I enjoyed his television work over the years.

Pedro and Ricky Come Again by Jonathan Meades review – dandyish Hulk rampageThe Guardian
Nationalism, for one thing. “Like all causes, all denominations, all churches, all movements, nationalism shouts about its muscle and potency yet reveals its frailty by demanding statutory protection against alleged libels,” Meades wrote in 2006. The coming of Brexit did not moderate this view. “The nationalist urge to leave was a form of faith,” he observed in 2019. “A faith is autonomous. A faith requires no empirical proof … Taking Back Control was a euphemism for the Balkanisation of Britain, for atomisation, for communitarianism based in ethnicity, class, place, faith. A willing apartheid where the other is to be mistrusted – just like in the Golden Age when we drowned the folk in the next valley because their word for haystack was different from ours.” […]

Probably we don’t deserve Meades, a man who apparently has never composed a dull paragraph. What other living writer has a YouTube channel devoted to low-res digitisations of his TV documentaries that the bootlegging uploaders have literally called a place of worship: the Meades Shrine?

That YouTube channel mentioned above is here, but it in turn wants us to go instead to meadesshrine.blogspot.com​, “All Meades’ films can be found there, in one piece, and no copyright takedowns.”

MeadesShrine

It’s great to see his programmes about brutalist architecture are there. I missed them when they were first shown on BBC Four, and the iPlayer doesn’t want to help out, annoyingly. I wonder if my favourite example will feature.

Concrete jungle: the brutalist buildings of northern EnglandThe Guardian
A new book captures the most aspirational and enlightened architecture of the north’s postwar years – featuring competitive church building and an endless supply of reinforced concrete. […]

Roger Stevens Building, University of Leeds, Woodhouse, LS2.
Designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Built 1968–71, listed Grade II*. The building was erected to house multiple lecture theatres, and acts as a focal point of Leeds University’s expanding campus. An initial design was abandoned in 1963, its cantilevered theatres deemed too expensive. A simpler proposal for ramped circulation eliminated the need for cantilevers. Simplified thus, the building went ahead. Constructed of reinforced concrete, since painted, its character is derived from the ventilation pipes and recessed balconies.

I know their documentary styles couldn’t be more different, but there’s something about the work of both Adam Curtis and Jonathan Meades that I find enthralling, commanding and utterly necessary — binge-worthy material to be sure.

Happy 200th birthday, Grauniad

The first edition of The Guardian came out on this day in 1821.

The Guardian celebrates 200 extraordinary yearsThe Guardian
To highlight its legacy of bringing facts to light and championing progressive ideas, the Guardian is launching a special 200th birthday brand campaign based around the central idea ‘A work in progress since 1821’.

It goes without saying that it looked very different back then, and was only 7p, but I didn’t realise the front page would just be ads until as late as 1952.

The Guardian’s first ever edition – annotatedThe Guardian
Ads on the front page, news on the back, and a frankly unbelievable story about a ghost: the Manchester Guardian’s first edition on 5 May 1821 is full of gems.

Update 14/05/2021

Couldn’t help adding this here.

Typo negative: the best and worst of Grauniad mistakes over 200 yearsThe Guardian
Sometimes the red pen must take itself to task. In 2007 it blushed: “We misspelled the word misspelled twice, as mispelled, in the Corrections and clarifications column on September 26.”

Could be worse, though.

The most expensive typing error ever?The Spectator
Nasa’s missing hyphen; the extra ‘s’ that could cost £8.8 million; and recipes for disaster.

Black and white thinking

Do you remember the hype about Vantablack, the blackest black that absorbs 99.96% of light shone on it? I mentioned it a while back when BMW used it for one of their cars, though I could have sworn that I had shared these links too:

Can an artist ever really ‘own’ a colour?The Guardian
Painters are outraged that Anish Kapoor, the British sculptor who designed the blood-red Orbit tower for the London Olympics, has exclusive rights to the artistic use of this revolutionary new colour. NanoSystems has confirmed that he alone can paint it Vantablack.

Absurdism: Artists fight over use of world’s “blackest black” & “pinkest pink”WebUrbanist
Recently, as a sort of satirical retaliation, British artist Stuart Semple created a flourescent pink pigment, designed to be the “pinkest pink” in the world. To drive the point home, the shade is available for purchase (just a few dollars per pot) to anyone on the planet except Kapoor, who is legally banned from buying the stuff.

Museum visitor injured after stepping into pit he thought was a painting on the floorBoing Boing
British artist Anish Kapoor licensed the worldwide exclusive rights to use Vantablack in art, which makes him kind of an asshole, but we’ve already complained about him on Boing Boing and that’s not the point of this post. The point is that Kapoor has a work of art at the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal called Descent Into Limbo. It’s an eight-foot deep pit and because Kapoor painted the interior of the pit with Vantablack, it looks like a two-dimensional black circle painted on the floor of the museum. You can guess what happened next.

Anyway, this was the link I wanted to share this time.

Whitest-ever paint could help cool heating Earth, study showsThe Guardian
The new paint reflects 98% of sunlight as well as radiating infrared heat through the atmosphere into space. In tests, it cooled surfaces by 4.5C below the ambient temperature, even in strong sunlight. The researchers said the paint could be on the market in one or two years. White-painted roofs have been used to cool buildings for centuries. As global heating pushes temperatures up, the technique is also being used on modern city buildings, such as in Ahmedabad in India and New York City in the US. […]

Andrew Parnell, who works on sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, UK, said: “The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial. How many million tonnes [of barium sulphate] would you need?” Parnell said a comparison of the carbon dioxide emitted by the mining of barium sulphate with the emissions saved from lower air conditioning use would be needed to fully assess the new paint. He also said green roofs, on which plants grow, could be more sustainable where practical.

The sunglasses are a nice touch, but Parnell’s point high-lighted above definitely needs addressing, I think.

It’s books all the way down

Here’s another bookish sculpture to go with the others I found a while back.

Idiom installationAtlas Obscura
For bibliophiles, an infinite tower of books is a nightmare disguised as a dream—a huge collection of literature that you can’t get at because pulling a book or two out will cause the collapse of the tower. But it does make for a wonderful sight.

A real-life iteration of this dream-nightmare is on display at the Prague Municipal Library. Artist Matej Kren’s “Idiom” is a long-term art installation where hundreds of books are stacked in a cylindrical tower. Mirrors placed at the bottom and the top give the exhibit the illusion of being infinite. A tear-shaped opening on one side of the tower allows visitors to peek in and experience what it would be like to drown in a book well.

You should definitely pop into the Prague Municipal Library if you’re passing by.

Matej Kren’s ‘Idiom’Awayn
Located quite centrally, it’s a fun five minute stop to get some fresh photos and look at the book tower. Though it’s a lovely way for people to step into the building, you don’t have to go too far into it, so you don’t disturb anyone who goes for the actual library. As you come in the main entrance, it is literally in front of you; need to walk upstairs.

Here are some more photos of this little/infinitely large landmark. (via)

Notion commotion

In an effort to avoid work/procrastinate/improve my workflow, I thought I’d take a look at Notion, the online productivity/life admin/project-management app/workspace/system. I’d spotted it a while ago, but took no real notice. Time for a revisit?

The productivity app that won the pandemicDebugger
In April 2020, as many businesses were shutting down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Notion was booming. Although the expansive note-taking app had been around since 2013, the company’s founders and investors apparently understood that the way we work would suddenly see a drastic change as the coronavirus spread across the country. Notion founder and CEO Ivan Zhao raised $50 million, pushing the company’s value to $2 billion. The gamble on the part of Zhao and his investors was a good one. Notion’s user base has more than quadrupled since 2019. In August, Zhao told Protocol that each week was its biggest ever in terms of growth.

As well as supporting teams grappling with remote working during our various lockdowns, it’s helping us manage our wellbeing, as Angela Lashbrook goes on to explain.

I’m one of these anxious, depressed, low-control people, which would help explain why I’m always looking for the next solution for transforming my thoughts from a frantic pile of garbage into something resembling coherence. A 2017 dissertation by Charlotte Massey, then a graduate student in cognitive psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, found that when people felt sad, they created more computer folders when organizing their files than those who were in a good mood. According to Massey, research shows that a negative mood can lead people to be more analytical and systematic in their behavior, such as becoming more intently organized and oriented toward problem-solving. Because when we feel bad, we naturally look for ways to identify and fix the problem.

I think this is why productivity apps, in particular Notion, have become so popular in the past year. (Even watching other people use productivity apps has become a popular pastime for some.) A lot of us are not doing great. We are in negative mood states because we are lonely, anxious, and depressed — for obvious reasons. A spreadsheet or a to-do list or a Notion page are not going to solve the pandemic, but if we use them correctly, they can help us feel more in control of our lives.

Their website has a ton of guides, support and customer stories, but you can spend hours and hours trawling through the million Notion tutorials on YouTube. It seems especially popular with university students.

Not just students, though.

And don’t think this is just for your studies or your business — like its analogue predecessor, the Bullet Journal, this is for your whole life!

There’s no such thing as the perfect solution, though.

And so on and so on, round and round. Let’s leave the last word to Angela again, in this piece about a more familiar tool.

The next wellness trend should be Google SpreadsheetsOneZero
What a green cell communicates to Hannah, and anyone who uses a similar method of spreadsheet design, is that she kicked ass that day. She got her word count. A red cell, conversely, shows that she didn’t fulfill her end of the bargain, didn’t complete her goal, and now that long beautiful row of green will be marred by a stressful little red box. And while list-making can be beneficial on its own, utilizing a grid that can be visually marred by empty space or the wrong color is a surprisingly effective motivator.

Couldn’t agree more.

NFT could almost stand for Not The Future

Most artists are not making money off NFTs and here are some graphs to prove itKimberly Parker
These numbers do not show the democratization of wealth thanks to a technological revolution. They show an acutely minuscule number of artists making a vast amount of wealth off a small number of sales while the majority of artists are being sold a dream of immense profit that is horrifically exaggerated. Hiding this information is manipulative, predatory, and harmful, and these NFT sites have a responsibility to surface all this information transparently. Not a single one has. […]

Truly the most shocking thing about these numbers is that they look ordinary. They look just like every other market. Everything about this is run-of-the-mill, banal, predictable capitalism. That is exactly the point. Despite the promises of revolution, equality, and “lifting artists up” this technology has changed nothing: the few people at the top continue to have the greatest amount of wealth.

The cost of a single tulip bulb surged to the same price as a mansion 400 years ago: are NFTs the ‘tulipmania’ of the 21st century?The Art Newspaper
The value of an NFT work, having no physical existence, is umbilically dependent on the price of Ethereum. If Ether is on a high, then Ether art is on a high. It’s all about the digital money. “Christie’s auction wouldn’t have been a success if it hadn’t accepted Ether,” Bourron says. “That was the key.” For the moment at least, with the price of Ether having more than doubled since the beginning of the year, it is onwards and upwards for NFT art. […]

To be sure, new technology has brought us enormous benefits, but certain aspects, such as speculation in cryptocurrencies, also bring risk. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, has called Bitcoin “a bubble wrapped in techno-mysticism inside a cocoon of libertarian ideology”.