Smile for the robot

This couple hired a robot photographer for their wedding dayMy Modern Met
For anyone wondering about how the guests felt about having the robot photographer at the wedding, the groom assures that Eva was positively received by the entire wedding party. “This was a fantastic addition to our day and our guests are still talking about it,” Gary told Bride Magazine. “It made a nice change from the normal photo booths.”

But don’t worry, Eva isn’t designed to replace real photographers. Gary and Megan hired a professional photographer, too. “The robot is a great alternative to traditional photobooths, which are slowly going out of fashion,” Service Robots says. “Hiring both a traditional photographer and a photobooth robot like Eva means newlyweds can look back on crisp, professional shots as well as more candid, fun and cheeky photographs taken with the robot’s help.”

Playing around

I know nothing about guitars (or ukuleles, for that matter), but I can tell that playing this “self-playing” guitar would not be as simple as that description suggests.

Self-playing electric ‘circle guitar’ can pick at up to 250 bpmdesignboom
Anthony Dickens has built the circle guitar with the help of a team of brilliant engineers to generate sounds, textures, and rhythms that would be impossible with a conventional electric guitar. What differentiates the new design from other electrics, is the motor-driven spinning disc in its body that rotates at up to 250 bpm under the strings. This innovative feature makes it possible to exceed what the musician’s hand can achieve alone.

OK, so I can’t pretend to understand even half of this—mechanical step sequencer discs? hexaphonic pickups?—but it’s great to see the start of what is in effect a brand new type of instrument, one I reckon Wintergatan’s Martin Molin would love to get his hands on.

If redesigning musical classics is your thing, check out this other designboom post I came across, via Moss and Fog. Looking closer, you can see it’s from 2017, so I’m not sure if this ever took off, but I’m smitten, to say the least.

The Elbow cassette player is a turntable tonearm for tapesdesignboom
In an industry obsessed with nostalgia, the humble cassette seems to have missed out on the craze that turned old school records back into a music must-have. Yet Brainmonk, the design team behind the Elbow clip-on casette player, have other plans to give the traditional tape the attention it deserves. Described as a ‘portable cassette player reduced to the core,’ Elbow gets rid of the heavy plastic casing that’s usually found on a tape players and strips it back to a single clip-on pulley that almost leaves the cassette to play itself.

After looking into this a little more, I can see that it didn’t take off. According to its Facebook page, the project is suspended, and they’ve not bothered renewing their website domain. This Verge write-up perhaps gives us a clue why.

The Elbow cassette player concept is as impractical as a cassette tape – The Verge
I’m curious what kind of battery life you could get out of an object like this. My guess is not much. But, really, this concept is more of a fashion accessory than a 21st century sequel to the Walkman — just like the cassette tapes that it will theoretically play.

To err is — costly

Spreadsheet error led to Edinburgh hospital opening delayBBC News
An NHS Lothian-commissioned review found a “human error” in a 2012 spreadsheet with the specifications for air flow in critical care rooms. The mistake was missed in what auditors describe as a “collective failure”. It was only when the hospital had been handed over to NHS Lothian, and £1.4m monthly repayments had started, that independent checks found the critical care rooms were operating with the wrong air flow. Remedial work worth £16m has since been carried out and the new Sick Kids building started hosting outpatient appointments in July.

It’s not about facts, unfortunately

A couple of years ago, writer and photographer Will Patrick was after a project during a dry spell. An upcoming Flat Earth Conference would be straightforward—we all love a good conspiracy, right? Two years later, he finally writes it up.

Notes from a Flat Earth ConferenceWill Patrick
If you find yourself wondering how they can resolve their belief in a flat earth against such apparently contradictory things like the International Space Station, rocket launches, GPS, pilots who see the curvature of the earth, the moon landings and, at a bare minimum, the collected works of Aristotle, Archimedes and Eratosthenes, then I’ll just cut right to it: they can’t. Of course, they don’t know that, but then they don’t really seem to care, either. […]

It is as if you could have taken the entire attended gathering of the conference, shot them all into a low earth orbit to circle our very, very round planet several times, then landed them back again to find their beliefs even stronger than before. They would emerge, removing their helmets, to kiss the flat earth beneath them and exalt their claims with even greater fervor.

All this is to say that rational questions and arguments miss the point entirely. These are not rational beliefs, nor even really beliefs. They are more like identities, firmly established and fiercely defended. Their existence is not a happy one, either. It seemed to me that they were commonly the product of deep personal and social tragedy.

A unasinous balls-up

From shambles to disaster, the vocabulary of failure has had an unhappy airing this results seasoniNews
Synonyms for “fool” abound in the dictionary, including the “saddle-goose” and “buffard” from the 1400s, “little Witham” from the 1500s (apparently after a village whose inhabitants were well known for their stupidity), and “niddicock”, “noddypeak” and “dizzard” from the 1600s. All of them led up to today’s “nincompoops”, “wallies”, “sapheads”, “chumps” and “plonkers”.

If, hypothetically speaking, all those fools came together and acted in extreme combined idiocy, they could be described as “unasinous”, a word with only a single quotation in the OED, from 1656, but which is surely due a comeback. A riff on “unanimous”, it means “united in stupidity”, and comes from the Latin unus, “one”, and asinus, “ass”. Worth bearing in mind when the buffards begin to bray.

Tactile

As shown in an earlier post about light switches, it’s the little things in life that can make all the difference.

A short history of door handlesApollo Magazine
We have all become suddenly more aware of the moments when we cannot avoid touching elements of public buildings. Architecture is the most physical, most imposing and most present of the arts – you cannot avoid it yet, strangely, we touch buildings at only a very few points – the handrail, perhaps a light switch and, almost unavoidably, the door handle. This modest piece of handheld architecture is our critical interface with the structure and the material of the building. Yet it is often reduced to the most generic, cheaply made piece of bent metal which is, in its way, a potent critique of the value we place on architecture and our acceptance of its reduction to a commodified envelope rather than an expression of culture and craft.

At least someone’s making an effort.

Sekhina designs minimal concrete light switches and plug socketsDezeen
Hungarian design brand Sekhina has made a series of light switches and plug sockets from concrete as an aesthetically pleasing alternative to plastic. Billed as the first of their kind, Sekhina founder Gábor Kasza made the concrete covers for switches and sockets after not being able to find any similar products made from the material.

(between the lines)

Who knew there was so much to say about punctuation, those strange squiggles that sit in between the usual carriers of meaning, the words?

How to punctuate with style: Lewis Thomas’s charming meditation on the subtleties of languageBrain Pickings
Thomas opens the essay, the whole of which is strewn with clever meta-demonstrations of his points about the marks, with a Russian nesting doll of punctuational observations:

There are no precise rules about punctuation (Fowler lays out some general advice (as best he can under the complex circumstances of English prose (he points out, for example, that we possess only four stops (the comma, the semicolon, the colon and the period (the question mark and exclamation point are not, strictly speaking, stops; they are indicators of tone (oddly enough, the Greeks employed the semicolon for their question mark (it produces a strange sensation to read a Greek sentence which is a straightforward question: Why weepest thou; (instead of Why weepest thou? (and, of course, there are parentheses (which are surely a kind of punctuation making this whole matter much more complicated by having to count up the left-handed parentheses in order to be sure of closing with the right number (but if the parentheses were left out, with nothing to work with but the stops, we would have considerably more flexibility in the deploying of layers of meaning than if we tried to separate all the clauses by physical barriers (and in the latter case, while we might have more precision and exactitude for our meaning, we would lose the essential flavor of language, which is its wonderful ambiguity)))))))))))).

As found in Maria Popova’s ever-wonderful Brain Pickings blog. She illustrates that post with images taken from Rathna Ramanathan’s artwork for a modern graphic design edition of Christian Morgenstern’s 1905 poem “In the Land of Punctuation”.

A darkly delightful 1905 poem celebrating punctuation, newly illustrated in silkscreened typographic artBrain Pickings
Morgenstern, a sort of German Lewis Carroll who crafted literary nonsense with an aphoristic quality and a touch of wry wisdom, was in his early thirties when he wrote the poem — a jocular parable of how dividing a common lot into warring subgroups produces only devastation and no winners. That he died mere months before the start of WWI only lends the piece an eerie air of prescient poignancy.

Waterways

It’s nice to see Futility Closet properly up and running again, now that the libraries Greg Ross visits are mostly all open. I thought these two recent entries went well together.

The Moses BridgeFutility Closet
Visitors to the Fort de Roovere in the Netherlands cross a moat using a sunken bridge designed by Ro & AD Architects.

Thinking bigFutility Closet
Parliament considered the plan [to straighten the Thames] but never implemented it. “Revely had rather an awkward way of letting loose his real opinions; and he habituated himself to a sarcastic mode of delivering them,” read his obituary. “It need not be added, that such qualities were not calculated to render him popular.”

There are some more images of Revely’s plans on IanVisits, a London heritage blog.

A more poetic AI

I’ve a number of posts here tagged AI and art, but not so many about its impact on music or poetry. Let’s put that right. But first (via It’s Nice That), a quick recap.

The A-Z of AIWith Google
This beginner’s A-Z guide is a collaboration between the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at the University of Oxford and Google, intended to break a complex area of computer science down into entry-level explanations that will help anyone get their bearings and understand the basics.

Topics include bias and ethics, as well as quantum computing and the Turing test. Nothing about Shakespeare though.

This AI poet mastered rhythm, rhyme, and natural language to write like ShakespeareIEEE Spectrum
Deep-speare’s creation is nonsensical when you read it closely, but it certainly “scans well,” as an English teacher would say—its rhythm, rhyme scheme, and the basic grammar of its individual lines all seem fine at first glance. As our research team discovered when we showed our AI’s poetry to the world, that’s enough to fool quite a lot of people; most readers couldn’t distinguish the AI-generated poetry from human-written works.

I think they’re better off sticking to the visuals.

Beck launches Hyperspace: AI Exploration, a visual album with NASAIt’s Nice That
The project was made possible by AI architects and directors OSK, founded by artists Jon Ray and Isabelle Albuquerque, who began the project by asking, “How would artificial intelligence imagine our universe?” In answering this question it allowed the directors to create “a unique AI utilising computer vision, machine learning and Generative Adversarial neural Networks (GAN) to learn from NASA’s vast archives.” The AI then trained itself through these thousands of images, data and videos, to then begin “creating its own visions of our universe.”

Some of them can really hold a tune, though.

What do machines sing of?Martin Backes
“What do machines sing of?” is a fully automated machine, which endlessly sings number-one ballads from the 1990s. As the computer program performs these emotionally loaded songs, it attempts to apply the appropriate human sentiments. This behavior of the device seems to reflect a desire, on the part of the machine, to become sophisticated enough to have its very own personality.

Lastly, it’s good to see that you can still be silly with technology and music.

Ironic really, the DfE’s failure to learn lessons

School exams and Covid: what could the UK have learned from EU?The Guardian
The French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced in April that the country’s 740,000 final-year students would be awarded an average grade for each subject based on coursework and tests during the first two terms. Local juries assessed and – if necessary – adjusted students’ grades according to national averages and on schools’ past examination records. The pass rate for the 2020 bac was over 95%, more than seven percentage points higher than the previous year, forcing the government last month to create about 10,000 extra university places for September in the most popular subject areas.

Update 17/08/2020

So it seems lessons can be learnt.

A-level and GCSE results in England to be based on teacher assessments in U-turnThe Guardian
The climbdown comes after days of turmoil triggered by the publication of A-level results last Thursday, when almost 40% of predicted results were downgraded, with some students marked down two or even three grades, which resulted in many losing university places.

Update 20/08/2020

What could possibly go wrong?

Students get ‘bizarre’ rises from moderated gradesTes
A headteacher of a West Yorkshire school said that, in one case, a pupil forecast a grade 1 in a subject had been given an 8 after the Ofqual moderating process. He also had 12 students in the same subject where final grades were four grades higher than the centre assessed grades produced by the school.

Getting galleries right — for all of us

It’s been months since I’ve been to a gallery or museum. More of them are reopening, though many are still facing a difficult future. But how they are dealing with their past and present is just as challenging.

Black artists and gallerists on what a more inclusive art world would look likeArtsy
In an interview with Hyperallergic, Brandon explained her comment. “Ever since I started working at SFMOMA, I have watched leadership tokenize their non-white employees all while trying to silence them by implying that their concerns, frustrations, and experiences are not real,” she said. “The events that transpired regarding the Instagram post highlights leadership’s inability to recognize the racism within museums amongst employees and donors.” In recent weeks, five senior leaders have resigned from SFMOMA amid a growing chorus of accusations of institutional racism.

Penn Museum to remove skull collection of enslaved peopleHyperallergic
The objectionable collection belongs to Samuel George Morton, a 19th-century Philadelphia-born, UPenn-educated physician who collected hundreds of skulls, including those of enslaved Africans, Native Americans, and Cubans to try to reinforce his white supremacist, pseudoscientific theory that the brains of some races are larger than others.

Anish Kapoor says art gallery ‘tokenism’ with diversity must endThe Guardian
As he prepared to open the UK’s first large-scale art exhibition since the lockdown began in March, Kapoor delivered blistering criticism of the museum world. “Contemporary museums, they need to stop tokenism. Collect an Iranian artist here, a South African artist there or whatever. They need to really begin to try to properly take on … what is contemporary culture today? How do we represent it in objects in our museums. It is not straightforward. But tokenism can’t happen any longer.”

How recent anti-racism protests have pushed a longstanding debate about colonial looting in EuropeThe Art Newspaper
“All these things are connected,” says George Abungu, an archaeologist and former director of the National Museums of Kenya. “If the museums had dealt with it a long time ago, it wouldn’t have been looked at like this. But now history has caught up. Repatriation is part of this discussion about colonialism and racism.”

The museum where racist and oppressive statues go to dieAtlas Obscura
The museum’s message is clear: A monument is not a descriptive account of history, but instead a historical artifact that tells a story about power. In a setting that invites scrutiny, visitors can study Berlin’s monuments to grasp more clearly who had power and how that power was used. […]

“It is a great mistake to describe the monuments as history or heritage,” Neiman goes on. “We don’t memorialize every piece of our histories. We pick and choose those men and women whose lives embodied values we want our communities to share.”

Please rewind — and stay behind

You can now stay over at the world’s last Blockbuster video storeMoss and Fog
This final store in Bend, Oregon has been operating for years, and has a pretty loyal following. The Coronavirus, however, has put a major dent in their business. Now they’ve opened up the store as a rentable Airbnb, outfitted with a little living room, and all the nostalgia you’d want out of a video store.

And off we go

The US Presidential election is just around the corner, and here, via FlowingData, are a couple of links to get us started.

FiveThirtyEight launches 2020 election forecastFlowingData
The election is coming. FiveThirtyEight just launched their forecast with a look at the numbers from several angles. Maps, histograms, beeswarms, and line charts, oh my.

Who can vote by mailFlowingData
There’s going to be a lot more voting by mail this year. The New York Times shows what each state is doing. It’s a cartogram. So it must be election season.

75 years later, it’s now 100 seconds to midnight

It was the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki earlier this month. This account, from The New Yorker, is from 1946.

HiroshimaThe New Yorker
The children were silent, except for the five-year-old, Myeko, who kept asking questions: “Why is it night already? Why did our house fall down? What happened?” Mrs. Nakamura, who did not know what had happened (had not the all-clear sounded?), looked around and saw through the darkness that all the houses in her neighborhood had collapsed. […]

In a city of two hundred and forty-five thousand, nearly a hundred thousand people had been killed or doomed at one blow; a hundred thousand more were hurt. At least ten thousand of the wounded made their way to the best hospital in town, which was altogether unequal to such a trampling, since it had only six hundred beds, and they had all been occupied. The people in the suffocating crowd inside the hospital wept and cried, for Dr. Sasaki to hear, “Sensei! Doctor!,” and the less seriously wounded came and pulled at his sleeve and begged him to come to the aid of the worse wounded. Tugged here and there in his stockinged feet, bewildered by the numbers, staggered by so much raw flesh, Dr. Sasaki lost all sense of profession and stopped working as a skillful surgeon and a sympathetic man; he became an automaton, mechanically wiping, daubing, winding, wiping, daubing, winding.

A long time ago, but still within people’s lifetimes.

Why we must remember the reality of HiroshimaNew Statesman
That August day, I was told, was colourless. The sky, like the radioactive rain that left my grandfather bedbound for months following the attack, had turned black, and it seemed to stain the city and everyone in it. “It was like someone had smeared ink over Hiroshima,” my grandparents said. When they remembered the bombing, it was in black-and-white images.

The inscription on the cenotaph in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park reads, “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the error.”

A statement on the bombings of Hiroshima and NagasakiBulletin of the Atomic Scientists
[O]n this awful 75th anniversary, the Doomsday Clock stands at 100 seconds to midnight. The Science and Security Board calls on all countries to reject the fantasy that nuclear weapons can provide a permanent basis for global security and to refrain from pursuing new nuclear weapons capabilities that fuel nuclear arms races.

Japan PM sparks anger with near-identical speeches in Hiroshima and NagasakiThe Guardian
The apparent decision not to tailor the statements to each city’s experience angered survivors of the bombings, who are known as hibakusha. “It’s the same every year,” Koichi Kawano, head of a hibakusha liaison council in Nagasaki, told the Mainichi Shimbun. “He talks gibberish and leaves, as if to say, ‘There you go. Goodbye.’ He just changed the word ‘Hiroshima’ to ‘Nagasaki.’ He’s looking down on A-bomb survivors.”

Hiroshima marks 75th anniversary as survivors call for changeCBS News
“Could you please respond to our request to sign the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty?” Tomoyuki Mimaki, a member of a major survivors’ group, Hidankyo, implored Abe. “The milestone 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing is a chance” to change course. Abe insisted on Japan’s policy not to sign the treaty, vaguely citing a “different approach,” though he added that the government shares the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.

And here’s an article about another survivor.

This 392-year-old bonsai tree survived the Hiroshima atomic blast & still flourishes todayOpen Culture
Three decades later, in a rather remarkable act of forgiveness, the Yamaki family gifted the pine (along with 52 other cherished trees) to the United States, during the bicentennial celebration of 1976. Never did they say anything, however, about the traumas the tree survived. Only in 2001, when a younger generation of Yamakis visited Washington, did the caretakers at United States National Arboretum learn the full story about the tree’s resilience. The tree survived the worst mankind could throw at it. And kept its beauty intact.

Not all parts of our natural environment are as resilient, however.

Deep in the ocean’s trenches, the legacy of nuclear testing livesAtlas Obscura
Scientists recently discovered evidence of radioactive carbon, also known as “bomb carbon,” in the tissues of crustaceans—up to seven miles below the surface, in iconic trenches such as the Mariana, Mussau, and New Britain, according to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

How to build a nuclear warning for 10,000 years’ timeBBC Future
“This place is not a place of honor,” reads the text. “No highly esteemed dead is commemorated here… nothing valued is here. What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.”

It sounds like the kind of curse that you half-expect to find at the entrance to an ancient burial mound. But this message is intended to help mark the site of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) that has been built over 2,000 feet (610m) down through stable rocks beneath the desert of New Mexico. The huge complex of tunnels and caverns is designed to contain the US military’s most dangerous nuclear waste.

And if you want your own piece of US military nuclear architecture, something’s come up for auction.

For sale: A Cold War bunker and missile silo in North DakotaAtlas Obscura
Keller says calls have been coming in about the site from all over the country. Some calls have been from history buffs, some from entrepreneurs, and some from doomsday preppers, seeking a solid foundation on which to build their bunkers. “You’ve got Covid-19, you’ve got civil unrest—I got a call from one guy who thought this’d be a great place to have a server farm,” Keller says. “It’s safe, secure, and tornado-proof.”

It’s in Fairdale, North Dakota, just off 111th Avenue, and online bidding is available, if you’re interested.

An anxious wait

It’s A-level results day tomorrow. Now would not be a good time to introduce any last minute changes to the process, you would think, especially given that universities have already had the results since last Friday and have completed many of their admissions decisions. But this government has a reputation to uphold.

Triple lock for students ahead of A level and GCSE resultsGOV.UK
Students could accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive a valid mock result, or sit autumn exams to ensure the achievements of young people are recognised. Ofqual has been asked to determine how and when valid mock results can be used to calculate grades.

That’s no easy question for Ofqual to answer, given how varied the mock exam process can be across our schools.

Replacement A-level grades ‘no lower than mock exams’BBC News
But head teachers’ leader Geoff Barton was highly critical of this late change – and said the marking of mock exams was not consistent enough between schools to be used to decide A-level results. “The idea of introducing at the eleventh hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief,” said the leader of the ASCL heads teachers’ union. “The government doesn’t appear to understand how mock exams work. They aren’t a set of exams which all conform to the same standards. The clue is in the name ‘mock’,” said Mr Barton.

Something is needed, though. I can only imagine how much anguish for the students and extra work for the schools this is going to create.

A-level grade appeals in England will benefit only ‘small group’, says ministerThe Guardian
“Most people can rely on this standardisation model in delivering the right result,” said Gibb, stressing that without the computer-aided moderation, there would have been grade inflation of 12%. … He also confirmed that, as the Guardian reported last week, 40% of grades have been downgraded by the standardisation model.

There are so many articles like this

An actually useful guide to not being on your phone all the timeVice
If you’re struggling to detach yourself from your various devices during this pandemic—or, if you can’t do that out of necessity, but would like strategies for constantly looking at a screen without wanting to crack it into pieces—here are some tips.

Alternatively

A rewriting of history too good to be true?

Olympic-sized hoax? ‘Lost’ Krautrock warm-up tapes mysteriously surfaceSPIN
Neither interview includes photographs of Zeichnete, and he doesn’t appear in a series of promotional videos for the release … And the more you listen to the music, the more it begins to sound both too pristine, given the tapes’ alleged age, and too stylistically perfect in its aping of Neu! and Kraftwerk. The resemblance is almost uncanny.

Sounds good to me #2

Abbeys, acetylene torches, acid blobs, Africa, air conditioning, air raids, aircraft, airports, alarms, America, amplifiers, angels, animals, anti aircraft batteries, applause, aquaria, army, articulated lorries …

BBC Sound Effects
These 16,000 BBC Sound Effects are made available by the BBC in WAV format to download for use under the terms of the RemArc Licence. The Sound Effects are BBC copyright, but they may be used for personal, educational or research purposes, as detailed in the license.

… revolvers, rickshaws, rivers, roadsides, roadworks, rocket ships, rockets, Romania, routers, rubbish tips, rumbles, sanding machines, saws, schools, scratches, screams, scuba diving, seawash, seventy-eight RPM records, sewing machines …