Abstract expressionist music for your walls

I’ve always had a soft spot for it, but it could be said that listening to ambient music is like watching paint dry, so perhaps Brian Eno’s latest collaboration fits quite well.

Graham & Brown launches wallpaper collection with Brian Eno
British wallpaper manufacturer Graham & Brown enlisted one of the most iconic figures in music to lend his creative magic to a collection of wallpaper that recently launched in the US. Brian Eno, a ridiculously prolific founding member of Roxy Music and frequent collaborator of artists like David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads, Coldplay, and more, has always dabbled in other mediums so it’s really no surprise he’s landed in the wallpaper arena.

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“I think of wallpaper as ambient painting – an area of interior design that changes the atmosphere in a room. I really responded to classic floral designs and also those with West African roots from Graham & Brown’s archive, resulting in a dynamic layering of pattern to create the collection – a kind of music to be played on walls.”

How the leopard- I mean football got its spots

That football competition‘s still going on. Here’s a quick look at what they’ve been kicking about.

Turning point: The original goal of soccer’s iconic black-and-white ball design
For decades, each subsequent competition saw an evolution in ball design. Still, most held to a similar format made up of parallel and perpendicular leather strips — that is, until the iconic Telstar ball hit the field during a crucial period of change for at-home sports viewing.

In 1970, the United States was in the middle of transitioning to color televisions. Most households had TVs, but the majority of those were still black-and-white sets. So the new ball design featured a high-contrast array of black pentagons alternating with white hexagons.

What’s in a name?

The difficulties of dealing with the past.

The cost of changing a country’s name
“African countries, on getting independence, reverted to their ancient names before they were colonised,” His Royal Highness, King Mswati III told those gathered there. At that moment he was still king of Swaziland – but Swaziland was to be no more. “So, from now on the country will be officially known as the Kingdom of eSwatini.”

Reminded me of the mountain of work Kazakhstan is undertaking, changing its official alphabet. There’s always a huge cost, as Darren Olivier, a South Africa-based intellectual property lawyer, goes on to explain.

“There’s value in that, there’s intrinsic value in that identity and what it means for the people,” he points out. “Yet at the same time there’s a cost – a physical cost in changing the identity.”

Like many, Olivier has wondered exactly what the price tag for eSwatini will be. Shortly after King Mswati III’s announcement, Olivier published a blog in which he estimated that it will cost the country $6 million to change its name.

Reading room

Another great find from Futility Closet, something you won’t see in Waterstones travel section, for sure.

New lands
Confined to his bedroom for 42 days as a punishment for dueling, Xavier de Maistre wrote A Journey Round My Room (1794), a parody of travel journals in which he heroically explores his surroundings and rhapsodizes on his discoveries.

And there’s a copy of it on the Internet Archive too. All that remains is to find a comfy spot in my room to read it.

Nothing is impossible

A little history of a great line I first heard in a trailer for a new Christopher Robin film.

People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day
In conclusion, this joke was in circulation by 1906 when it was printed in a humor book authored by “Theodor Rosyfelt”. The phraseology changed as it was transmitted across decades. In modern times it has been connected to two iconic figures: Alfred E. Neuman and Winnie-the-Pooh. QI has not found any substantive evidence that A.A. Milne used the expression.

It remains a very Winnie-the-Pooh thing to say, though. Except in East Germany.

Mind your manners

A couple of polite reviews of In Pursuit of Civility by Keith Thomas. I love the first reviewer’s breakdown of the passive-aggressive phrase “Polite Notice”.

In praise of (occasional) bad manners
There are some funny moments here. One involves Keith Thomas’s lunchtime encounter with Norbert Elias, “world authority on the history of table manners,” when Thomas apparently knocked a jug of water all over the table. Elias’s response is not recorded; perhaps it was unprintable. It would have been good to learn more about comparable embarrassments in the early modern period—tales such as that reported by John Aubrey involving the Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), who, “making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travel [for] seven years. On his return the Queen welcomed him home, and said, ‘My Lord, I had forgot the Fart.’”

How manners made man
In his final chapter, Thomas reflects on today’s world, in which civility means the recognition of equality, the right to self-expression, and the tolerance of difference. The new barbarians, in my view, are those who conduct phone conversations on trains and take selfies outside Auschwitz. But these actions are not, insists Thomas, signs of a “decivilising process”, because they do not threaten the internal order. I disagree, but then civility, to quote Barack Obama, is about disagreeing without being disagreeable.

Explaining anxiety

TLS reviews On Edge by Andrea Petersen and Hi, Anxiety by Kat Kinsman; books that document the authors’ battles with anxiety and their attempts to better understand the disorder.

Tunnel of silk: trying to explain the condition of anxiety
Though her writing is sometimes dry compared with Kinsman’s, Petersen poses some pertinent questions about anxiety in society. “Why do the rates of anxiety disorders seem to be rising among young people?” she asks, noting that “Between 2008 and 2016, the number of college students diagnosed with or treated for anxiety problems jumped from 10 to 17 per cent”. There are no firm answers to this question yet. But by balancing research and interviews with personal anecdotes, Petersen manages to fuse the typical memoir’s self-preoccupation with journalism’s broader ambition.

Seeing further, better

It felt right that those first images of and from the moon were so blurred and grainy — it was a quarter of a million miles away, after all. But that wasn’t the full picture.

McMoon: How the earliest images of the moon were so much better than we realised
Fifty years ago, 5 unmanned lunar orbiters circled the moon, taking extremely high resolution photos of the surface. They were trying to find the perfect landing site for the Apollo missions. They would be good enough to blow up to 40 x 54ft images that the astronauts would walk across looking for the great spot. After their use, the images were locked away from the public until after the bulk of the moon landings, as at the time they would have revealed the superior technology of the USA’s spy satellite cameras, which the orbiters cameras were designed from.

If it’s image size you’re after…

365-gigapixel panorama of Mont Blanc becomes the world’s largest photo
Say hello to the new largest photo in the world. An international team led by photographer Filippo Blengini has published a gigantic panoramic photograph of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain. This new record-holding image weighs in at a staggering 365 gigapixels.

Let the violins sing

Research, which I don’t pretend to fully understand, has been undertaken on why the violins made by the Italian masters are so good.

Acoustic evolution of old Italian violins from Amati to Stradivari
The unique formant properties displayed by Stradivari violins may represent the acoustic correlate of their distinctive brilliance perceived by musicians. Our data demonstrate that the pioneering designs of Cremonese violins exhibit voice-like qualities in their acoustic output.

Thankfully, a few websites picked this story up and explained it for the rest of us.

Scientists find secret behind sweet sound of Stradivarius violins
The instruments achieve their sweetness and brilliance by mimicking aspects of the human voice, study says.

The world’s best violins sing like humans
A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that not only do great violins sing like humans, those built by different makers may remind us of different types of human voices.

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“Although we did not perform any psychological experiments in this study, I speculate that the similarity between violins and voices can explain why violins are so popular,” Tai concludes. In other words, we may not yet understand quite how these instruments do what they do. But maybe we like them because when they do it, they sound like us.

It’s not the first time science has tried to understand what makes these instruments so special.

The brilliance of a Stradivari violin might rest within its wood
Why nobody has been able to replicate that sound remains one of the most enduring mysteries of instrument building. A new study, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that answers may lie in the wood: Mineral treatments, followed by centuries of aging and transformation from playing, might give these instruments unique tonal qualities.

Violin-fiddling boffins learn that ‘f-holes’ are secret to Stradivarius’ superior sound
Although each violin maker inarguably possessed a good ear – in order to recognise and replicate the violins that sounded best – whether or not they recognised the particular design elements that contribute to a more powerful sound is still up for debate. In other words, the violinmakers knew what was a better instrument to replicate but they didn’t necessarily know that its slender holes were what made the sound it produced tonally pleasing.

What’s a bird in the hand worth?

This makes for a strange follow-up to that post about the move to a cashless society.

The strange reason owl theft may be on the rise
But as contactless credit cards, mobile phone payments and online transactions grow, the amount of cash being carried by people and kept by retailers is decreasing. For criminals, this creates a problem. Cash is the thieves’ best friend – it has instant value, can be carried easily, is relatively untraceable and can be quickly disposed of.

So with societies around the world becoming increasingly cashless, thieves are having to find alternatives to help them make a quick, illegal profit. Here we look at some of the more unusual things that criminals have had their eye on.