Feeling isolated? You’ll be fine

Going a little crazy stuck indoors? Get some advice from the experts.

How Mandela stayed fit: from his ‘matchbox’ Soweto home to a prison cell – The Conversation
He’d begin with running on the spot for 45 minutes, followed by 100 fingertip push-ups, 200 sit-ups, 50 deep knee-bends and calisthenic exercises learnt from his gym training (in those days, and even today, this would include star jumps and ‘burpees’ – where you start upright, move down into a squat position, kick your feet back, return to squat and stand up). Mandela would do this Mondays to Thursdays, and then rest for three days. This continued even during his several spells in solitary confinement.

Jacob Solome survived the Holocaust by hiding in a small basement for two years with up to 15 others.

My cousin Jack survived the unimaginable. Here’s his advice for right now.The Cut
This is my philosophy, and so far it has helped. Because I compare myself to other people who worry all the time, and always when you see them, they are telling you about their tsuris and their problems. Some people are optimistic, but some people are more pessimistic. I am in the first category. Really, that’s the nature of a person. I’m always thinking how worse it was when we were under the German occupation, where every minute, our lives were at risk; literally, being in the ghetto and being in hiding. So if I was able to live through that, what the heck is coronavirus?

For some, it’s a calling.

I’m a nun and I’ve been social distancing for 29 years. Here are tips for staying home amid coronavirus fears.nj.com
People say they want peace and quiet. Then when it is thrown in their lap, they panic. They don’t know how to be alone. They are afraid to confront their “shadow side,” the hard truths about themselves that they don’t like. They fill their lives with noise to run away from their emotions. Life isn’t meant to be rushed. Use this time to get to know yourself.

And from The Economist, advice from a former hostage, a writer with chronic fatigue and an astronaut.

Stories of an extraordinary world – Notes on isolation, from those who know it wellThe Economist
When I was in space, Mission Control scheduled my days to the minute. Every evening the information they sent would come out like a fax machine, a long thin bit of paper telling me exactly what time I should get up, when I should eat, what experiments I should do and when. I didn’t mind – it was efficient – but I did get comfort from the small things that I could control, like what juice I drank and the time after dinner when I really could do whatever I wanted. Now my days are restricted like everyone else – my speaking engagements have been cancelled and my work for Imperial College London is moving online – but I still take pleasure in the small things; deciding my morning run and what path I take. I remember that lesson from space, letting go of what you can’t control and focusing on what you can. We have all been told to stay at home – but we can still decide how we use our time.

Less TGI Friday, more WFH Monday

WFH = working from home. An abbreviation I hadn’t heard of until recently. It seems we’re all at it. Well, not all of us.

The great Zoom divide: How working from home is a privilegeNew Statesman
Supporting the WFH and self-isolating economy is an army of factory and warehouse workers who are now busier than ever. There is much awareness and respect, rightfully, for medical staff who are at the frontlines of fighting Covid-19 – but what about those on the industrial frontlines? Who is protecting them? How can we keep essential supplies and functions running without exposing these workers to health risks? Is that even possible?

Avoiding Coronavirus may be a luxury some workers can’t affordNew York Times
For many workers, being sick means choosing between staying home and getting paid. One-quarter of workers have no access to paid sick days, according to Labor Department data: two-thirds of the lowest earners but just 6 percent of the highest earners. Just a handful of states and local governments have passed sick leave laws. Only 60 percent of workers in service occupations can take paid time off when they are ill — and they are also more likely than white-collar workers to come in contact with other people’s bodies or food.

But for those of us who are, there’s no end of advice out there, from kit to clothes.

Stykka designs a temporary workstation so you’ll stay the f*** homeDesign Milk
When Denmark ordered people to stay home, Stykka got creative knowing many people had to share workspaces at home with their families or had to use the dining table. They challenged themselves to use only cardboard, zip ties, and a laser cutter, and in less than 24 hours, they not only had a prototype but they were ready to ship the desks out. Once received, the desk takes less than 10 minutes to assemble.

Don’t mute, get a better headsetMatt Mullenweg
When you’re speaking to a muted room, it’s eerie and unnatural — you feel alone even if you can see other people’s faces. You lose all of those spontaneous reactions that keep a conversation flowing. If you ask someone a question, or they want to jump in, they have to wait to unmute. I also don’t love the “unmute to raise your hand” behavior, as it lends itself to meetings where people are just waiting their turn to speak instead of truly listening.

As population works from home, Walmart reports increased sales for tops but not pantsCBS News
Men’s fashion brand Suitsupply is getting in on both sides of the trend. The company recently posted a photo on Instagram of a model wearing a button-down, tie and blazer on top — and nothing but underwear on the bottom. “Working from home doesn’t mean compromising on style. Keep your look professional—from the waist up at least,” the brand wrote. Scrolling through the Instagram post leads to a picture that says, “Off-camera?” before featuring the same model, this time wearing a sweatshirt.

Careful though.

Zoom announces 90-day feature freeze to fix privacy and security issuesThe Verge
Zoom has never shared user numbers before, but Yuan reveals that back in December the company had a maximum of 10 million daily users. “In March this year, we reached more than 200 million daily meeting participants, both free and paid,” says Yuan. That’s a huge increase that has seen people use Zoom for reasons nobody expected before the coronavirus pandemic.

Security and privacy implications of ZoomSchneier on Security
In general, Zoom’s problems fall into three broad buckets: (1) bad privacy practices, (2) bad security practices, and (3) bad user configurations. […] Zoom is a security and privacy disaster, but until now had managed to avoid public accountability because it was relatively obscure. Now that it’s in the spotlight, it’s all coming out.

Automated tool can find 100 Zoom meeting IDs per hourThe Verge
In addition to being able to find around 100 meetings per hour, one instance of zWarDial can successfully determine a legitimate meeting ID 14 percent of the time, Lo told Krebs on Security. And as part of the nearly 2,400 upcoming or recurring Zoom meetings zWarDial found in a single day of scanning, the program extracted a meeting’s Zoom link, date and time, meeting organizer, and meeting topic, according to data Lo shared with Krebs on Security.

Meanwhile.

Dark rainbows

Night photography can often be very colourful, crowded cities full of noisy neon, but this new series from Lucas Zimmerman uses colour in a much darker, desolate way. (via Kottke)

Traffic Lights 2.0Behance
I have been waiting for two long years to finally go out again and progress on my traffic lights series. It was worth the wait.

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Directing traffic that isn’t there—seems appropriate at the moment. As does another one of Lucas’s series of photos, highlighting our desire for connection.

Solitude PalaceBehance
Dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the smarthpone. A magical device that connects and divides us. Lets see what the future holds.

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Getting the students in order

Ofqual have set out how GCSEs and A levels will be awarded this summer, following the cancellation of this year’s exams. It’s not just about the students’ mock exam results, but nor is it just a grade they’re after.

How GCSEs, AS & A levels will be awarded in summer 2020GOV.UK
Exam boards will be contacting schools, colleges and other exam centres after Easter asking them to submit, by a deadline that will be no earlier than 29 May 2020, the following:

  • a centre assessment grade for every student in each of their subjects: that is, the grade they would be most likely to have achieved if they had sat their exams and completed any non-exam assessment. Judgements should balance different sources of evidence such as: classwork; bookwork; any participation in performances in subjects such as music, drama or PE; any non-exam assessment […]
  • the rank order of students within each grade for each subject – for example, for all those students with a centre assessment grade of 5 in GCSE maths, a rank order where 1 is the most secure/highest attaining student, and so on. This information will be used in the statistical standardisation of centres’ judgements – allowing fine tuning of the standard applied across all schools and colleges

That last point could be a non-trivial matter, to say the least, though you can see why they’re asking for it.

Coronavirus: Schools will rank GCSE and A-level pupils within gradesSchools Week
The rank order will help determine which pupils move between grades during the standardisation process, which will be run by the exam boards in order to ensure that pupils are not disadvantaged by generous or severe assessment.

But what about the other qualifications?

Exam regulator unveils GCSE and A-level plans for coronavirus crisisThe Guardian
The new system will affect around 1.5 million pupils studying for this year’s GCSEs, A-levels and AS-levels in England, as well as many in Wales. Details are still unclear for those taking BTec and vocational or technical qualifications at schools and colleges.

More to follow, then.

No easy answers

How bad will this get? It’s a simple enough question…

Why it’s so freaking hard to make a good COVID-19 modelFiveThirtyEight
The number of people who will die is a function of how many people could become infected, how the virus spreads and how many people the virus is capable of killing.

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Straightforward enough, but the trouble begins when you try to fill in the numbers. Look at the factors and assumptions within just the fatality rate, for instance.

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Think of it like making a pie. If you have a normal recipe, you can do it pretty easily and expect a predictable result that makes sense. But if the recipe contains instructions like “add three to 15 chopped apples, or steaks, or brussels sprouts, depending on what you have on hand” … well, that’s going to affect how tasty this pie is, isn’t it? You can make assumptions about the correct ingredients and their quantity. But those are assumptions — not absolute facts. And if you make too many assumptions in your pie-baking process, you might very well end up with something entirely different than what you were meant to be making. And you wouldn’t necessarily know you got it wrong.

There are so many factors as play here. This is the model they end up with. It’s one version, at least.

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Over the next few months, you are going to see many different predictions about COVID-19 outcomes. They won’t all agree. But just because they’re based on assumptions doesn’t mean they’re worthless.

“All models are wrong, it’s striving to make them less wrong and useful in the moment,” Weir said.

See also.

Six unknown factors in coronavirus models and how they could affect predictionsThe Conversation
Since the global outbreak of COVID-19, researchers have scrambled to develop and share models which can predict how the virus will spread. This is inherently tricky, as we know so little about the disease, and a model is only ever as good as the information you put into it.

Fun with colour

I thought these two went together well.

colors.lol – Overly descriptive color palettes
Created as a fun way to discover interesting color combinations. Palettes are hand-selected from the Twitter bot @colorschemez. The feed randomly generates color combinations as well as their descriptions, with each color being matched with an adjective from a list of over 20,000 words.

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A painting and photography duo poking fun at fine artIt’s Nice That
The idea behind the project is for the pair to travel to locations any arts aficionado may recognise. Environments painted by Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet or Vincent Van Gogh are all visited, but rather than replicating their celebrated works, Hank chooses to paint the pattern of his shirt instead.

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Hockney to the rescue

It’s lovely to see some more of his stuff.

David Hockney shares exclusive art from Normandy, as ‘a respite from the news’BBC News
“Why are my iPad drawings seen as a respite from the news? Well, they are obviously made by the hand depicting the renewal that is the spring in this part of the world.”

The point being that his images are the product of him looking directly at nature and depicting or representing what he sees by transmitting his sensory reaction through his fingers onto paper via a pencil, rather than mediating the process through a photograph.

His pictures are a record of how he, uniquely, is experiencing reality of his subject and the space in which it exists. The one-eyed mechanical camera flattens out all this individual nuance.

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“The only real things in life are food and love in that order, just like our little dog Ruby. I really believe this and the source of art is love.”

I was blown away when I first saw his ipad paintings up close in Saltaire. These look just as charming.

David Hockney’s iPad artwork goes on displayBBC News
An exhibition of artwork drawn on a tablet computer by artist David Hockney has opened in Saltaire, West Yorkshire. The 33 images depict the arrival of spring in the Yorkshire Wolds in 2011.

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Art world problems #2

I’m currently re-reading this coffee table book about the guy and enjoyed Brain Pickings’ recent tweets about him, so it was sad to read that one of his paintings has just been stolen.

Van Gogh painting stolen from Dutch museum closed by virusABC News
“I’m shocked and unbelievably annoyed that this has happened,” said Singer Laren museum director Jan Rudolph de Lorm. “This beautiful and moving painting by one of our greatest artists stolen – removed from the community,” he added. “It is very bad for the Groninger Museum, it is very bad for the Singer, but it is terrible for us all because art exists to be seen and shared by us, the community, to enjoy to draw inspiration from and to draw comfort from, especially in these difficult times.”

Problems for museums over here, too.

Anish Kapoor fan gets stuck in virtual exhibitionThe Art Newspaper
A man had to be rescued by the London Fire Brigade after getting lost while taking part in a virtual museum tour. As museums worldwide have had to shut their doors to help fight the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), many institutions have instead put their creative efforts into online engagement with the public, including providing a plethora of virtual tours of their collections and exhibitions. Unfortunately, in some cases, not enough attention has been paid to the visitor experience.

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Marginal

An interesting read about the little notes we add to our interesting reads.

At the marginsNational Review
That what I’m describing is a tension inherent in the marginalia business will be obvious to anyone who’s ever read with pen in hand. Writing in a book today, I record some portion of my thinking for tomorrow. Though I trust that it will be readable, I can’t pretend that it will all make sense. Among my favorite margin notes, for instance, is the lone exclamation point, with which I frequently signal both agreement and furious dissent. Will those who come behind me know one from the other? Will I? Perhaps not. But we’ll know what moved me.

Two things strike me about this. Firstly, are our Kindle notes too impersonal and clinical, compared to those left by our fading pencils and scratchy pens? And secondly, is this entire blog—my collection of notes about things I’ve read—just one huge margin?

A concert, nonetheless

The Sinfonia of Leeds, the orchestra my wife ordinarily plays in, were supposed to be playing a concert this weekend. That didn’t happen, obviously, but they invited us to enjoy their programme anyway.

Their Facebook page directed us to live recordings of other orchestras performing the pieces they were going to play, and we watched along from the comfort of our sofa, starting at 7:30pm and with ice cream at the interval, as is only proper.

We had a wonderful evening (you can’t really go wrong with a Sibelius symphony), so much so that we’ve promised ourselves to create another YouTube concert evening next weekend. And it’s my turn to pick the programme.

Viral responses

I’m happy to discover that plenty of people are meeting these “tests of severe circumstances” with humour.

Empty toilet paper rolls and a ‘closed’ sign: Emoji get redesigned for COVID-19Fast Company
“I believe what the world is going through right now is a big moment in history which will have a profound impact on the way people behave, communicate, and perceive their reality,” Lee says. “With this in mind, I thought we needed a new set of emojis which reflected our new reality.” The work is funny in some instances, though also quietly sad.

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Human figures removed from classic paintings by artist José Manuel BallesterColossal
Despite being a couple of years old, José Manuel Ballester’s artworks feel eerily familiar in the time of COVID-19. The Spanish artist recreates classic paintings like Goya’s “The Third of May 1808,” Vermeer’s “The Allegory of Painting,” and Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” except he leaves out one central aspect: humans.

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See famous logos get reimagined for the coronavirus ageFast Company
“I tried to find something in every brand that communicates perfectly in normal circumstances, but is wrong in these difficult times—mermaid without a mask, Nike telling us to simply do it, Mastercard circles overlapping,” Tovrljan explains over email. “If you turn it completely around, it becomes even more powerful.”

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Trusting the teachers

The schools are closed and GCSEs and A-Levels are to be replaced with teacher assessments (partly). That might not sound very robust, but this research from 2019 (how timely!) suggests otherwise.

Don’t worry about cancelled exams – research shows we should switch to teacher assessment permanently – The Conversation
Teacher assessments during compulsory education are as reliable and stable as standardised exam scores. We can – and should – trust teacher assessments as indicators of pupils’ achievement. This advice is based on a study carried out with a UK-representative sample of more than 10,000 children. We hope that our findings will alleviate some of the concerns of the pupils and parents affected by the exam cancellation. […]

Might the “high financial, pedagogical and psychological costs of standardised exams” suggest that this is another area that’s permanently changed, once things go back to normal?

For these reasons, our results suggest that substituting high-stakes exams for teacher assessments might be a good thing, not just during the current Covid-19 crisis, but on a permanent basis.

We call for you to trust teachers during these difficult times. We should do whatever we can to bring joy back to the classroom – or, as it is now, the virtual classroom. We must trust our teachers to teach the curriculum and to assess students’ progress and abilities. The wellbeing of students, their parents and their teachers would benefit from it.

Rotary club

Remember that new/old rotary phone from a while back? Turns out it’s not the only one.

Rotary dial In today’s world: Artist imagines what if the rotary dial existed to this day?Design You Trust
According to Valerii, a CGI Artist and motion-designer: “What if the rotary dial existed to this day? I’ve thought about it, and I’ve created some visualizations of how it could be recently or today. All math would be terrible! Especially if you remove the number keys from the QWERTY layout.”

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Spots before your eyes

All this news getting too much? Just switch browser fonts.

Color Dot FontAnd Repeat
The Color Dot Font is a font composed entirely of colored circles. In the Color Dot Font, each Latin character is replaced with a circle of a certain color. For example, an “a” character is represented by a blue circle, a “t” by a yellow circle, and so forth. Available as a TTF file, the font can be installed and used on any computer operating system.

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A calmer way of working

It seems we’re all having to get to grips with remote working now, in attempts to flatten that curve. Might these new ways of working stay with us, once all this is over? Why was I going in the office in the first place?

Could remote working be the future of work?TechRadar
Having a flexible lifestyle is clearly the most popular benefit from remote working – named by more than half of our survey – while almost four in ten say the main advantage is not having to commute. Less predictably, perhaps, more than a one third said the best thing about being a remote worker was that they actually saved money – this was a bigger deal for them than either being able to care for their family and elderly relatives, or reducing their overall stress levels.

Covid-19 could cause permanent shift towards home workingThe Guardian
“This is not how I envisioned the distributed work revolution taking hold,” said Matt Mullenweg, chief executive of WordPress and Tumblr owner Automattic. Mullenweg’s company is already “distributed”, and he predicts the changes “might also offer an opportunity for many companies to finally build a culture that allows long-overdue work flexibility. Millions of people will get the chance to experience days without long commutes, or the harsh inflexibility of not being able to stay close to home when a family member is sick… This might be a chance for a great reset in terms of how we work,” he said.

Others are less sure.

Will coronavirus spur a traffic-solving remote-work revolution? Don’t count on itThe Mercury News
But Goodwin cautioned that the notion this crisis will spur some long-lasting, traffic-solving work-from-home revolution is too simplistic. For one thing, it’s based on what is almost certainly a faulty premise: That the Bay Area we will eventually return to whenever and however this crisis subsides will look much like it did before efforts to contain the virus began significantly disrupting public life earlier this month.

Since then, thousands of people have lost their jobs or seen their work hours cut as stay-at-home orders force all but essential businesses to close. The stock market is tanking, and experts warn we’re probably headed into a recession. When the economy is good, more people are driving to jobs and traffic tends to be worse; when it’s bad, fewer people drive to work and highways are clearer.

Might it depend on how comfortable you are with the technology you’re using? Here’s a vision of the future I find quite intriguing, though perhaps not very easily implementable. Calm technology. Another attempt at digital wellness and a more tactile version of Microsoft’s pictures under glass?

Welcome to the new age of calm technologyAdobe XD Ideas
Rolston has spent his career thinking about how to bring Weiser and Brown’s idea of calm technology to life. In 2016, his team showed off a prototype for a project called “Interactive Light,” that reimagined a room as an interactive workspace. A projector cast light onto a desk while a Microsoft Kinect monitored motion. Suddenly you could use gestures to transform the objects in a room into an interface (a salt shaker might become a remote control for your speaker; the countertop could turn into your screen), and the computer would surface whatever tool you needed based on the context of where you were and what you were doing.

The concept, while just a prototype, was a playful example of the ubiquitous computing ideas coming out of PARC two decades ago. It made the interface accessible yet more or less invisible. It explored, rather literally, how once the world is overlaid with computational power that can anticipate our needs, we can finally forget the computer is there.

Happy remote Mother’s Day

Boris Johnson urges people to think twice before Mother’s Day visitsMetro Video
Asked about whether people should visit their mothers on Mother’s Day this Sunday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson urges people to ‘think very carefully and follow the medical advice’.

The correct medical advice.

The UK is scrambling to correct its coronavirus strategyMIT Technology Review
A new report issued by a group of experts advising the UK government offers a blistering assessment of the country’s previous “herd immunity” approach to coronavirus, suggesting that as many as 250,000 people could die as a result—and that it would do little to stop health-care facilities from being overwhelmed.

Or, to put it another way.

The British government is massively fucking up its coronavirus responseThe Outline
They only just realized their first plan to simply let people die had some issues.

We need to do the right thing, and keep doing it until next year’s Mother’s Day, at least.

We’re not going back to normalMIT Technology Review
Social distancing is here to stay for much more than a few weeks. It will upend our way of life, in some ways forever.

School’s out, for summer?

So yesterday, two weeks before the scheduled end of the term, kids across the country had their last school day. An early end to the term. An end to the school year?

Coronavirus: how to help children through isolation and lockdown The Conversation
The UK has become the latest country to close schools in a bid to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus. This is a game changer for families, displacing children from friends, learning and their school community. To help them through what could be months of isolation and potentially lockdown, we need to consider how this new world looks and feels to them. […]

Questions about limiting screen time are a little moot, now.

Accept that they will also need to talk with friends and process what is happening around them, so tune into the value of the technology they are glued to, and actively encourage face time and group chats. It is best to talk with teenagers as the near-adults they are, emphasising the positives – the experts are working round the clock.

But what about GCSE and A-levels?

Fears that cancelling exams will hit BAME and poor pupils worstThe Guardian
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, will give more details about what will replace exams on Friday, but it is likely that GCSE and A-level results will be awarded based on predicted grades. He promised an appeal process for pupils who are unhappy with the results they are given, to ensure that the system is as fair as possible. Experts warned that the changes would disadvantage black and minority ethnic, working-class and other marginalised students, who are already under-represented in top universities.

Mock results and predicted grades won’t be used in isolation, though.

Coronavirus: Teacher assessments for GCSEs and A levelsTes
“Ofqual will develop and set out a process that will provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible, and will work with the exam boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students,” the Department for Education said in a statement.

The DfE have some FAQs, with more detail.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): cancellation of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2020GOV.UK
3. How will you address the fact that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to have their grades under-predicted?
We are not awarding students their predicted grades. Ofqual, the independent qualifications regulator, will develop a fair and robust process that takes into account a broad range of evidence, including teacher assessment and prior attainment. Ofqual will make every effort to ensure that the process agreed does not disadvantage any particular group of students.

Pupils who do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance will have the opportunity to sit an exam, as soon as is reasonably possible after schools and colleges open again.

4. Will all students get their predicted grade?
No, we know that simply using predicted grades would not be fair to all students. The calculated grade will take into account teachers’ assessment of the likely grade as well as other factors such as prior attainment, so students’ final grades will not necessarily reflect their predicted grades.

One of our kids is expecting to start university this September…

18. What will young people with university offers do?
The grades awarded to students will have equal validity to the grades awarded in other years and should be treated in this way by universities, colleges and employers. There is no reason for the usual admissions cycle to be disrupted.

We welcome the constructive approach taken by the main university representative body, Universities UK, who have said that universities will be flexible and do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to university.

We can only wait and see.

Spring has sprung, don’t forget

Let’s take a break from all the news about job losses, exam cancellations and social distancing failures to remind ourselves of the date. It’s the first day of Spring!

Spring Equinox 2020: 5 weird traditions to celebrate the first day of Spring todayMirror Online
There is an ancient Chinese belief that you can stand an egg on its end on the first day of spring. The theory goes that, due to the sun’s equidistant position between the poles of the earth at the time of the equinox, special gravitational forces apply.

Or was it yesterday?

Today marks the earliest “first day of Spring” in 124 years for CanadaNarcity
March has always marked the beginning of springtime. For the northern hemisphere, that date has fallen on the 20 and 21 for as long as you can probably remember. That’s because, March 19, the first day of spring 2020, is the earliest it’s been in 124 years.

Either way, it gives me a chance to share this, from David Hockney.

spring

A message from David Hockney: ‘Do remember they can’t cancel the spring’The Art Newspaper
David Hockney is currently in complete lockdown in Normandy, where he has been since his last exhibition opening. But he is still producing beautiful things, which he wanted to share with us as something positive.