Could be worse

As we come to terms with the latest numbers and updates about everyone’s favourite virus, we can be thankful, at least, that we don’t have this to worry about:

Wasp-76b: The exotic inferno planet where it ‘rains iron’BBC News
Wasp-76b, as it’s known, orbits so close in to its host star, its dayside temperatures exceed 2,400C – hot enough to vaporise metals. The planet’s nightside, on the other hand, is 1,000 degrees cooler, allowing those metals to condense and rain out. It’s a bizarre environment, according to Dr David Ehrenreich from the University of Geneva. “Imagine instead of a drizzle of water droplets, you have iron droplets splashing down,” he told BBC News.

ESO telescope observes exoplanet where it rains ironESO
This strange phenomenon happens because the ‘iron rain’ planet only ever shows one face, its day side, to its parent star, its cooler night side remaining in perpetual darkness. Like the Moon on its orbit around the Earth, WASP-76b is ‘tidally locked’: it takes as long to rotate around its axis as it does to go around the star.

Greater problems are ahead, however.

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Behold our dazzling night sky when the Milky Way collides with Andromeda in 4 billion yearsKottke
Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers at NASA have predicted that our own Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Andromeda galaxy (M31) will collide about 4 billion years from now. As part of the announcement from 2012, they produced a video of what the collision would look like and a series of illustrations of what our sky will look like during the collision process.

Meanwhile.

BetelgeuseQuartz
What’s going on with Betelgeuse? There are two possibilities: Betelgeuse will brighten again and continue its pattern, or it will explode.

Plenty to fill the time

Having to stay at home, with a lot of time on your hands?

The 33 best movies over 3 hours longVulture
Some of these long movies inflate the familiar three-act structure to epic proportions, while others use their expanded lengths to stretch out and wander into unexpected places. We wouldn’t necessarily suggest marathoning these films back-to-back, but watching them one at a time is an experience worth clearing your schedule for.

Pandemics: An essential reading listVulture
Just as the film Contagion has found a second life with news of the coronavirus outbreak, so too are novels about epidemics popping up on reading lists around the country. With stakes so high, it’s easy to see why novelists find outbreaks of disease so compelling. Here are 20 great fictional takes, ranging from the historical to the futuristic.

The 40 best horror movies on ShudderVulture
If you’re new to the service and wondering where to start, don’t fret: We’ve dug into Shudder’s increasingly impressive catalogue to find the best films worth your time, from classics like Halloween to newer entries like Mandy. Watch them all.

Or perhaps something more culturally uplifting.

On coronavirus lockdown? The top online museum and art tours to enjoy from homeThe Art Newspaper
As coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to spread and disrupt the daily lives of people across the globe, forcing many to self-quarantine, we are compiling the best online offerings from artists, museums and galleries. Whether you are staying at home or your local museums and galleries have closed, here are some of the best digital initiatives to satisfy your creative cravings.

No audiences, but concerts streamed to the world. This is a moment in classical music historyClassic FM
Last night, Bach Collegium Japan performed Bach’s St. John Passion at the Cologne Philharmonic. The performance was full of passion and the highest artistry. At the end of the final chorale, orchestra, choir, soloists and conductor turned and bowed, but very poignantly, there was no sound or ovation to be heard.

That’s because in the Spring of 2020, the world’s musicians are not playing to audiences, they are not showcasing their craft for the applause, or even rapt silence. They are simply playing to share music with a world that needs to hear it.

Met to launch “Nightly Met Opera Streams,” a free series of encore Live in HD presentations streamed on the company website during the coronavirus closureMetropolitan Opera
“We’d like to provide some grand opera solace to opera lovers in these extraordinarily difficult times,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. “Every night, we’ll be offering a different complete operatic gem from our collection of HD presentations from the past 14 years.”

I wish wish wish they’d show this one.

How an opera gets madeYouTube

Get your point across by flattening it

As an example of the power of effective data visualisation, it’s hard to beat. Here’s a little background on the diagram that’s all over the internet.

The story behind the coronavirus ‘flatten the curve’ chartFast Company
The first instance of Flatten the Curve can be found in a paper called Interim pre-pandemic planning guidance: community strategy for pandemic influenza mitigation in the United States: early, targeted, layered use of nonpharmaceutical interventions, and no, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Published in 2007 by the CDC, the paper was a preview to a pandemic like COVID-19, and it suggested simple interventions like social distancing and keeping kids home from school in order to slow the spread of a disease so that the healthcare system could keep up. […]

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Pearce breathed new life into the CDC graphic. Then Harris added an anchor, a single line, that articulated its significance. But it was Dr. Siouxsie Wiles who took the final step: She demonstrated the possibility that everyday people really could make a meaningful difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19. To do this, she transformed the graphic into two futures, each caused by a mentality: ignore it or take precautions. Wiles transformed the graphic into the perfect response to the polarized nature of COVID-19 across social media, in which people were either in full prep mode or far too skeptical that the pandemic was even real.

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It’s not the first of its kind, though.

This chart of the 1918 Spanish flu shows why social distancing worksQuartz
The extreme measures—now known as social distancing, which is being called for by global health agencies to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus—kept per capita flu-related deaths in St. Louis to less than half of those in Philadelphia, according to a 2007 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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An appreciation of trees

Let’s have a break from all that, with news of an exhibition in London I’d love to see, Among the Trees: “By turns poetic, adventurous and thought-provoking, this group exhibition explores our relationship with trees and forests.” As we saw earlier, they can be remarkably eloquent.

Five things to know about Among the TreesSouthbank Centre
There are artworks that push at the very limits of the building, and celebrate the soaring scale of trees. Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s huge, cinematic portrait of a 30-metre spruce, for example, takes over almost the entirety of one of the lower galleries, while Guiseppe Penone’s Tree of 12 Metres (1980–82), a sapling painstakingly excavated from an industrially planed piece of timber, stops just short of the ceiling.

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Among the Trees review – a knotty problemThe Guardian
Running the entire width of one floor at London’s Hayward gallery is a six-screen video which depicts, at about life size, a spruce tree swaying in the breeze in Finland. To accommodate its scale, the tree is projected horizontally, and at its foot stands the artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila, in a blue parka, dwarfed by the spreading conifer. The six projected sections of the tree tremble and sway out of sync with one another, adding to a growing sense of majestic befuddlement. You can’t take it in all at once, any more than you could if you stood before the real thing. Distantly, I hear the branches soughing and faint birdsong. Titled Horizontal – Vaakasuora, it makes you look and look some more.

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Here’s some more artistic woodwork.

Trees at night: stunning Rorschach silhouettes from the 1920sBrain Pickings
In his fifties, Young’s imagination fell upon a subject both wholly natural and wholly original — the expressive humanlike shapes, states, and emotions emanating from the silhouettes of trees at night. He began rendering what he half-saw and half-imagined in pen and ink — haunting black-and-white drawings full of feeling, straddling the playful and the poignant. These visual poems, replete with the strangeness and splendor of nature and human nature, become the kind of Rorschach test one intuitively performs while looking at the sky, but drawn from the canopy rather than the clouds.

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Dancing twigsKottke
Artist Chris Kenny uses bits of twig from tree branches to make these interesting found art pieces that exploit the human tendency for pareidolia.

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Wonderfully hypnotic wooden kinetic wall sculpturesLaughing Squid
A self-taught artist with a background in physics, David C. Roy has been creating mesmerizing wooden kinetic sculptures for nearly 40 years. Powered solely through mechanical wind-up mechanisms, pieces can run up to 48 hours on a single wind.

And finally, here’s a request for us to reconsider our view of trees within cities, and to appreciate the many benefits mature trees can bring to society. (via Sentiers)

Trees as infrastructureDark Matter Laboratories
[T]he ecological benefits of trees substantially start after 50 years of existence; we are currently building a deficient urban forest. Shifting our view to perceive public trees as assets rather than liabilities is an important aspect of maintaining and enhancing the benefits that trees provide in an urban setting.

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A vaccine for the infodemic?

The pandemic continues its roll around the globe.

Apple reopens all 42 China stores after virus closuresBloomberg
Since shutting the stores, Apple gradually reopened them and 38 of the 42 stores were operating as of last week. The final four will open their doors on Friday local time, according to Apple’s website.

Amazon asks all employees to work from home, if they canTechCrunch
Amazon employs some 798,000 employees. While some Amazon office workers will be able to work from home, the vast majority of its workforce have jobs that require them to be on site. The company is reliant on tens of thousands of delivery drivers and employees who work at the more than 100 order fulfillment centers.

This morning’s Next Draft newsletter had a raft of scary headlines on the subject. Here are just two. They’re behind paywalls so I can’t go any further, but it’s not a pretty way to start the day.

‘Italy has abandoned us’: People are being trapped at home with their loved ones’ bodies amid coronavirus lockdownThe Washington Post

Coronavirus burial pits so vast they’re visible from spaceThe Washington Post

It’s tempting to switch off from it all, but that would be a mistake—we need to know what’s going on, but not all news reports are created equal.

Coronavirus: why we should keep our eyes and ears open as well as our hands cleanThe Conversation
Instead of the top-down information flow of years past, governments and other figures of authority today find themselves having to react to situations created by non-professional media outlets in a bottom-up fashion. The issue with non-professional reporting versus the traditional media is that the motivations of the content creators are not always obvious: biases are unclear and quality control is largely absent.

With dire consequences.

[C]ookies and social media algorithms help to intensify the echo chamber of fear by showing online readers more of what they’ve already clicked on. The online world suddenly becomes entirely coloured by COVID-19 coverage, and the sheer amount of reporting overshadows the fact that people have a very low chance of catching the virus and if they do, they have a very high chance of a complete recovery.

Yet many people are living in fear for their lives. Entire industries, including tourism, transportation and education are suffering huge losses, companies are going bankrupt, and people are losing their jobs. Fear is being perpetuated by the wearing of masks in public, despite health authorities pleading with people not to do so.

Racism is rearing its ugly head as people begin to judge others’ likely degree of contagion by their appearance. Supermarkets are being stripped of toilet paper, pharmacies of antibacterial liquid. In many places, panic has set in.

So pack it in—you’re probably not using enough of that stuff anyway—and don’t believe everything you read.

Amazon flooded with self-published coronavirus booksThe Guardian
The retailing giant has already been removing “tens of thousands” of listings from “bad actors” attempting to artificially raise prices on items such as face masks and hand sanitiser. Now it is fighting a losing battle against the writers rushing out self-published books to profit from coronavirus fears. Generally shorter than 100 pages, dozens have been published in the last few weeks, promising worried readers ways to prevent or avoid the virus.

We need to stick to the official advice, however weird it looks.

Coronavirus fears have led to a golden age of hand-washing PSAsNPR
The rapid spread of the new coronavirus has health officials scrambling to educate the public on good hygiene and best practices. And the need to communicate those messages has resurrected a classic art form: the public service announcement, or PSA. Because the coronavirus is a global concern, video PSAs are emerging from all corners of the globe, all at once.

Let’s end with a golden oldie.

Coughs, sneezes, and jet-propelled germs: Two public service films by Richard Massingham (1945)The Public Domain Review
The first film featured here, Coughs and Sneezes from 1945, begins with a comic montage of practical jokes. “You may have met a few people who like doing this sort of thing,” the narrator says, as we watch a series of people be bonked on the head, tripped, or knocked head over heels; “they’re a nuisance, I agree — but pretty harmless.” The scene then turns to another kind of nuisance, which isn’t harmless at all: a man who sneezes without covering his mouth. This danger to society is promptly hauled into a room for instruction in proper use of his handkerchief and, in a follow-up film, Don’t Spread Germs (Jet-Propelled Germs) from 1948, further instructed in how to properly clean his handkerchief — in a bowl of disinfectant separate from the family wash.

The long goodbye

Such a simple yet poignant photo series.

A photographer’s parents wave farewellThe New Yorker
At the end of their daughter’s visits, like countless other mothers and fathers in the suburbs, Dikeman’s parents would stand outside the house to send her off while she got in her car and drove away. One day in 1991, she thought to photograph them in this pose, moved by a mounting awareness that the peaceful years would not last forever. […] For more than twenty years, during every departure thereafter, Dikeman photographed her parents at the same moment, rolling down her car window and aiming her lens toward their home. Dikeman’s mother was known to scold her daughter for her incessant photography. “Oh, Deanna, put that thing away,” she’d say. Both parents followed her outdoors anyway.

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It ends as you would expect, sadly.

Hieronymus boats

Here’s something you don’t see every day, a floating theatrical and musical festival, dedicated to the work and spirit of Hieronymus Bosch.

A Parade of Earthly Delights: Floating Bosch Parade celebrates painter Hieronymus Bosch in spectacular aquatic eventColossal
A floating parade dedicated to painter Hieronymus Bosch honors the artist’s fascination with the fantastical and absurd in an annual event that embodies his philosophy and aesthetic. The 2019 occurrence of the Bosch Parade included a musical performance played on a partially submerged piano and a scene with two people straddling enormous horns, just two of fourteen vignettes devoted to an evolving story about “power and counterforce, battle and rapprochement, chaos and hope.”

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Stunning photos from the Bosch Parade, the sailing parade in the spirit of Jheronimus BoschDesign You Trust
This floating, poetic parade of art works portrays a universal tale of power and counterforce, battle and rapprochement, chaos and hope. From the chaos after the battle a new order has to emerge. Eventually, old opposites will form the foundation for a new hope in this storyline filled with symbolism and fantasy – as it is in Jheronimus Bosch’s works.

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Cooking through adversity

Amid the news of Italy’s massive quarantine, here’s comicbook artist Krish Raghav’s poignant look at an aspect of China’s.

Quarantine Cooking: Finding Relief from Coronavirus Anxiety in the KitchenThe New Yorker
The question “What and how do you cook under quarantine” is being answered from millions of isolated dorm rooms, apartments, and houses across the country, and a new cuisine, with its own rules, norms, and tastes, is emerging. Call it quarantine cooking.

The post-nineties generation that uses sites like Xiachufang is not one that usually cooks. Their lives are defined by an arduous work culture and precarious careers. They rely on cheap and convenient food-delivery apps for most meals, making only occasional trips to the kitchen. Yet eating with friends and family is central to their idea of a “good life”. When restrictions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak take that away, quarantine cooking is the response, rebuilding that lost social connection with what’s at hand and what’s possible. […]

Sharing its preparation online is as important as the food itself. They are transmissions sent from isolation, like radio diaries from a stranded spacecraft. It’s about re-creating the conviviality of sharing a meal. It’s a response to boredom and a salve for the constant anxiety of following updates on the outbreak. […]

The act of looking for a recipe and reading others’ quarantine diaries has become like a trip to the supermarket. We tend to think of the Chinese internet as just a battleground—activists and censors locked in an endless conflict. But, to many, it is also homey and comforting, parts of it as familiar as a cozy kitchen.

The link seems broken currently, but here’s another, and here’s a screenshot that Joanne McNeil shared in her recent newsletter, when she noticed that Krish had mentioned her work in relation to this.

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Meanwhile.

How Facebook turned into a coronavirus conspiracy hellholeWired UK
The posts, which are filling innocuous Facebook groups normally dedicated to political discussions and flight deals, are a strange evolution of conspiracy theories that have been knocking around the internet for years. One much-mooted theory, for example, is that the coronavirus has been caused by radiation from 5G masts. […] These posts incorporate political conspiracies – for instance, one post on the “We Support Jeremy Corbyn Facebook” group, states that “people have bugs like this all the time, the media are basically covering up the economic global crash which is coming and also the Brexit shit show.”

Might a conspiracy theory be behind all this bizarre panic-buying of toilet paper?

‘It isn’t Mad Max’: women charged after fight over toilet paper in SydneyThe Guardian
A video of the incident was shared on social media and showed a small group of women pushing, yelling and fighting over a shopping cart filled with toilet paper. “We just ask that people don’t panic like this when they go out shopping,” the New South Wales police acting inspector Andrew New said. “There is no need for it. It isn’t the Thunderdome, it isn’t Mad Max, we don’t need to do that.

What is going on?

Coronavirus: why people are panic buying loo roll and how to stop itThe Conversation
In research I conducted with marketing professors Charlene Chen and Leonard Lee, we found that consumers compensate for a perceived loss of control by buying products designed to fill a basic need, solve a problem or accomplish a task. This is what we’re seeing as people rush to buy rice, cleaning products and paper goods in illogically large proportions.

Well here’s one possible solution.

Coronavirus: Australian newspaper prints extra pages to help out in toilet paper shortageThe Guardian
On Thursday the NT News, the Darwin-based newspaper with a national reputation for its headlines and antics, printed a special eight-page insert that can be cut into toilet paper. Its editor, Matt Williams, told Guardian Australia the paper was selling well and was “certainly not a crappy edition”. “We are a newspaper known around the world who understands the needs of our readers,” he said. “Territorians … are in great need of toilet paper right now so we had to deliver what they needed.”

More AI art

I’ll just leave these here.

This Artwork Does Not Exist
Imagined by a GAN (generative adversarial network) StyleGAN2 (Dec 2019) – Karras et al. and Nvidia. Trained by Michael Friesen on images of Modern Art.

∞ stream of AI generated art
Explore the infinite creativity of this AI artist that was trained on a carefully selected set of cubist art pieces.

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They’re all much-of-a-muchness, as they say around here. I think robot Rembrandt is still some way off.

Who’s a good dog?

TLS reviews a number of recent books on our best friends.

The ways of dog to Mann: Various responses to canine companionsTLS
For several of the contributors, the most prominent thread that runs through the book is love – both the love dogs have for people and the love that people return. Our love of dogs is in part a response to their happiness but also, as the legendary French actor and animal welfare activist Brigitte Bardot observes, to their wanting us to be happy. Our love, in effect, responds to their love. “Response”, perhaps, is not the ideal word. Certainly, love for a dog need not be an unconsidered, mechanical reaction to their affection. As Monty Don pointed out in his book on his golden retriever Nigel, a dog is an “opportunity” for a person to develop, shape and manifest love for a being that is not going to reject or betray this love. […]

Powerful stuff.

For other contributors, admiration stems less from canine virtue than canine wisdom – what, in other words, do dogs teach us? Alice Walker learns from the ease with which Marley bounces back after a telling-off that, when we behave badly, it is “because we are temporarily not ourselves”. Several other writers express admiration for the dog’s ability to “live in the moment”.

That reminded me of that line by Iris Murdoch about paying attention, to watch “as a dog watches”. The review continues:

This is an element perhaps in the wisdom that Mark Alizart attributes to dogs in Dogs: A philosophical guide to our best friends. It is an ability, identified by Stoics, Buddhists and Spinozans alike, of “accommodating oneself, with simplicity and gratitude, to what life has to offer”. “The dog is joyous because it made man”, he concludes, and since “the human descends from the dog”, its joy is like that which parents take in their offspring. Alizart makes no attempt to elaborate, or even to state in less paradoxical terms, what I take to be the familiar truth behind this rhetoric: namely, that dogs played a significant role in the origins and development of human society. Indeed, the book is certainly not the guide to understanding our best friend that its sub-title promises.

Here’s a look at a new photography book from Martin Usborne, The Silence of Dogs in Cars. They’re not the only ones who can feel a little sad and dejected sometimes.

Martin Usborne’s heartbreaking photos of dogs in cars speak to humans’ fear of abandonmentIt’s Nice That
Featuring rejected, lonely and expectant pups, often meeting the lens of the camera with unbearable sadness, the series extrapolates from his very personal experience while commenting on the way humans treat voiceless animals more widely. “The dog in the car is a metaphor, I suppose, not just for the way that animals (domestic and wild) are so often silenced and controlled by humans but for the way that we so often silence and control the darker parts of ourselves: the fear, the loneliness that we all feel at times,” Martin explains.

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It’s described as a new book, but this 2013 article from The Independent suggests otherwise. Not that it matters. Perhaps just a new edition.

The silence of dogs in carsThe Independent
Usborne didn’t frequent supermarket car parks in order to photograph dogs left in cars. He set everything up in a studio with careful planning. He says he even chose cars which “matched the dog”, for maximum impact.

“The camera is the perfect tool for capturing a sense of silence and longing,” Usborne says. “The silence freezes the shutter forever and two layers of glass are placed between the viewer and the viewed: the glass of the lens, the glass of the picture frame and, in this instance, the glass of the car window further isolates the animal. The dog is truly trapped.”

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Walking the dog

Trailer From The Loop

Two years after I first saw his work, it’s finally hitting our screens.

‘Tales From the Loop’, a wondrous Amazon Prime series based upon the artwork of Simon StålenhagLaughing Squid
The series takes its title from a pair of books written by Stålenhag about “paintings from a childhood that never was and a future that could have been.” The series focuses on a machine that unlocks such a future for those who enter.

Tales From the Loop enlivens the gravity-defying dystopia of Simon Stålenhag’s illustrationsColossal
Launching April 3, the television series is based on the understanding that “not everything in life makes sense” as it chronicles the lives of those residing in the Loop, a machine built to uncover answers to the world’s mysteries. It features a gravity-defying universe that sees floating objects, snow ascending from a pile on the floor, and pieces of a house ripped upward. Retro robots even foster relationships with the families and children immersed in the explorative environment.

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Next month, then, for Amazon Prime customers. Let’s hope it’ll spill out wider for those of us who aren’t primers. Meanwhile, here’s an interview with the man behind those melancholic images.

Simon Stålenhag: meet the artist behind Amazon Prime’s mysterious new TV showDigital Arts
Tales from the Loop is based on the books and artworks of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, so to coincide we’ve looked backed to when we interviewed him about how he conceives and paints his sci-fi worlds – and what the hell is really going on.

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Oops, they did it again

So it seems they’re going to pick the wrong one again.

Hillary Clinton: “Incredible” Elizabeth Warren lost because she’s a womanVanity Fair
“I think we made some progress, but there still was a lot of the unconscious bias and the gendered language that has been used around the women candidates,” Clinton said. “I think it affected all of the women that ran.”

Elizabeth Warren and her supporters now have tremendous power to shape the rest of the primaryTime
Warren is personally beloved by her team, and as the news sunk in, staffers described a “sense of sadness,” “crying,” and an overwhelming feeling that that the best candidate for President had been let down. One staffer describes it this way: “You’ve got a 78-year old heart attack survivor and a 77-year old who’s clearly sundowning. And hey, you’ve got someone who might be broadly acceptable to both factions, but.. what? She’s a woman? Oops, never mind.”

I was surprised to read, however, that Warren’s in her 70s too. I thought part of her appeal, apart from being the most competent, was that she was of a more normal age for such a job—that is, below retirement age, whatever that is nowadays.

But what is normal? I was curious to find out the ages of other such people. It makes for interesting reading.

  • Bernie Sanders is 78
  • Joe Biden is 77
  • Donald Trump is 73
  • Bill Clinton is 73
  • Hillary Clinton is 72
  • Elizabeth Warren is 70
  • Gordon Brown is 69
  • Vladimir Putin is 67
  • Tony Blair is 66
  • Angela Merkel is 65
  • Theresa May is 63
  • Barack Obama is 58
  • Boris Johnson is 55
  • Justin Trudeau is 48
  • Emmanuel Macron is 42
  • Leo Varadkar is 41
  • Jacinda Arden is 39

The language of Utopia can be yours for just $81,000

I’m not sure if Duolingo will be turning this into a new language course any time soon.

For Sale: Sir Thomas More’s Utopian alphabetAtlas Obscura
The characters in the Utopian language walk the line between Greek and geometric runes. There is no casing, just large circles, squares, triangles and lines, with various accents attached. It would be gobbledygook if not for its accompanying Latin translation, which speaks to the creation of Utopia and its singularity as a philosophical—and aspirational—place.

As I was reading that, I was getting Thomas More mixed up with Thomas Cromwell, something that has happened to the Wolf Hall actors playing those roles, too. But anyway.

Thomas More is the villain of Wolf Hall. But is he getting a raw deal?The Guardian
The other piece of influential writing that has helped emphasise More’s superior character is his own book, Utopia. A philosophical argument couched in the tale of a traveller who returns from an unknown land, it has furnished English literature with many enduring ideas – not least that of a Utopia itself; a perfect, unattainable society. Published in Latin in 1516, Utopia still intrigues and amuses readers despite having been around for half a millennium. In More’s imagined Utopia, property, goods and food are all shared among the households in each city and there is a heavy emphasis on agriculture, although some weight is given to academic learning as well. When it comes to government: “Anyone who campaigns for public office becomes disqualified for holding any office at all,” he suggests.

That last line reminds me of that Groucho quote about not wanting to belong to a club that would have him as a member.

But perhaps $81,000 is a little steep for just one book. Maybe you’re just after something to fill your shelves.

Books sold by the linear footBoing Boing
So it turns out there’s an entire industry of books hand-picked and organized to look good, sold in bulk according to a variety of visual or conceptual themes. Color gradients is a hot trend in the world of books sold by the linear foot.

Just a few stores I found: Books by the FootZubal BooksThe Book BundlerDecades of Vintage and Booth & Williams all specialize in books sold for their aesthetic appeal rather than their contents.

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Never mind the quality, feel the width.

It’s the simple things really

Bloom: A touching animated short film about depression and what it takes to recover the light of beingBrain Pickings
During a recent dark season of the spirit, a dear friend buoyed me with the most wonderful, hope-giving, rehumanizing story: Some years earlier, when a colleague of hers — another physicist — was going through such a season of his own, she gave him an amaryllis bulb in a small pot; the effect it had on him was unexpected and profound, as the effect of uncalculated kindnesses always is — profound and far-reaching, the way a pebble of kindness ripples out widening circles of radiance.

BloomVimeo

Deleting the micro-plastics of the mind

I know that most of the articles about social media that I share are more negative than positive these days. But is this confirmation bias in action? To find out, I’m giving Twitter another go, and will actively look for the positives this time.

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Perhaps I should run all my tweets through Botnet first, to see how well they’ll do?

Welcome to Botnet, where everyone’s an influencerWired
Botnet looks like a stripped-down Facebook Newsfeed, where the only posts you can see are your own. It’s just you and the bots, who like and comment on your posts with reckless abandon. Botnet is designed to simulate the experience of mega-fame on the internet, Chasen told me—not just a microcelebrity or nano-influencer, but someone on the order of Kylie Jenner or Cristiano Ronaldo. Every post on Botnet receives hundreds of thousands of likes, no matter how banal the subject matter.

Or maybe not. Anyway, we’ll see how long it lasts; I’ve lost track of how many accounts I’ve set up and deleted over the years. But is that such a bad thing? We don’t keep transcripts of our phone calls normally, so why not be as relaxed with other forms of communication? I never realised I was in such good company.

Deleting all your tweetsRoden Explorers Archive
I am a full-blown born-again Tweet Deleter. I delete most everything older than seven days. I have a cron job running on a server that deletes for me, it’s called langoliers.rb and was written by Robin Sloan. He’s also a tweet deleter. There are many of us. And I think, having now deleted tweets regularly — and this is a bold claim, backed up only by gut feelings and zero data — that the world would be a better place if tweet deleting was on by default, and if, generally, we deleted more of our social media bloviations.

Twitter can be seen as a generator of micro-plastics of the mind. And the entirety of it as a sea of these largely nutrition-free bits. That doesn’t mean a tweet can’t be valuable for a second, but it’s unlikely they’re valuable for, say, years (or hours or even minutes). Applying a tweet-delete mindset to Twitter (that is: a mindset of ephemerality, what you could perversely call Buddhist Twitter) makes it lighter, a little more fun, and a lot less serious. You can ask a question, get some responses, and then just delete your question.

Isn’t that ephemerality implied in the name, even, to simply twitter on, saying very little of importance or interest, “short bursts of inconsequential information.”

Speaking of witch, here’s Callie Beusman sharing her thoughts online on how to avoid getting distracted by all the crap out there that it’s not worth thinking about.

My mind is a palace stuffed with exquisite garbageThe Cut
A few months ago, I came up with a metaphoric framework that felt uniquely suited to my problem, one that has brought me some degree of serenity: the mind palace. Simply put, a mind palace is a repository for all the thoughts, memories, and observations that bring you joy, fortified against whatever you deem needlessly irritating, depressingly banal, or just a waste of your time.

Is #mindfulbrowsing a thing?

This is not to urge non-engagement with issues that are genuinely pressing and compelling, if unpleasant; it’s more about determining which things you truly need and want to devote your time to, and recognizing that not everything warrants your attention.

We’re all under no obligation to read everything on the web. Some things just aren’t worth the time. And that’s OK, just raise your drawbridge.

Fending off the Jackpot

I’m about halfway through William Gibson’s latest novel, Agency, and was very happy to read somewhere that it’s part two of a trilogy. Here’s hoping we’ll all be around to enjoy the third…

William Gibson on the apocalypse: “it’s been happening for at least 100 years”New Statesman
His characters call it “the Jackpot”. “It’s multi-causal, and it’s of extremely long duration,” he explains. Over many decades, climate change, pollution, drug-resistant diseases and other factors – “I’ve never really had the heart to make up a full list, else I’ll depress myself” – deplete the human race by 80 per cent. The Jackpot is the mundane cataclysm of modernity itself. It is hundreds of millions of people driving to the supermarket in their SUVs, flying six times a year, and eating medicated animals for dinner. “If the Jackpot is going to happen,” Gibson says, “it’s already happening. It’s been happening for at least 100 years.”

As well as bringing to life an all-too-plausible future, he has a keen grasp on the present. (All science fiction is really about the present, I guess. As he has said earlier, “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.”)

Putin is the pre-eminent figure in the klept that Gibson sees emerging in the real world. He describes Russia’s reported attempts to influence the 2016 US election as “the most cost-efficient black op in human history. It was a long shot, but it did work, and every day since then they must have had a good laugh, and gotten ready to enjoy yet another day of watching this endlessly exploding grenade at the heart of American government. I doubt they’ve tried to control him very much. It isn’t necessary.”

This story caught my eye. Another artist inspired by a frustrating political situation to produce something positive.

Artist Whitney Bedford is drawing a portrait of Elizabeth Warren every day until she is elected presidentThe Art Newspaper
“It’s really the only currency I have,” says Bedford, fresh from a powerful paintings show at Susanne Vielmetter’s gallery that explored ideas of landscape and toxic land use. “I felt that if I did something I’m known for in public, it could be an incentive for other people to act.” She calls her project “Elizabeth Warren Wins”.

“There’s never been a candidate I’ve been so excited about. And I’ve never done something so fangirl in my life,” she adds. “I don’t get the whole Bernie tsunami because he sounds angry to me. I like how measured and intelligent she is, and I’m on board with pretty much all of her positions.”

jackpot-1

jackpot-2

The perils of DIY book cover design

Well, at least they’re trying, I guess.

The worst book covers on AmazonDesign You Trust
Who needs a professional designer when you can save money and make a book cover by yourself, right? Wrong.

But are the professionals doing a better job?

Horror books have lost their identityIn Praise of Shadows

Fake bake news!

A video from The Kid Should See This that I’ll definitely be making sure my kids see. They love all these ‘hacks’, but they aren’t all what they seem. #gross

Debunking fake ‘kitchen hacks’ that have billions of viewsThe Kid Should See This
Popular kitchen hack videos rack up millions and billions of views on YouTube and Facebook. They’re surprising! They’re fun to watch! And they look pretty easy to do. But beware: Not all of these ideas, tips, and tricks actually work.

The fake ‘kitchen hacks’ with billions of views – BBCYouTube

Putting Covid-19 into perspective

Here’s another way of visualising the numbers connected with the coronavirus.

Just how contagious is COVID-19? This chart puts it in perspectivePopular Science
One quantity scientists use to measure how a disease spreads through a population is the “basic reproduction number,” otherwise known as R0 (pronounced “R naught,” or, if you hate pirates, “arr not”). This number tells us how many people, on average, each infected person will in turn infect. While it doesn’t tell us how deadly an epidemic is, R0 is a measure of how infectious a new disease is, and helps guide epidemic control strategies implemented by governments and health organizations.

If R0 is less than 1, the disease will typically die out: Each infected person has a low chance of passing the infection along to even one additional individual. An R0 larger than 1 means each sick person infects at least one other person on average, who then could infect others, until the disease spreads through the population. For instance, a typical seasonal flu strain has an R0 of around 1.2, which means for every five infected people, the disease will spread to six new people on average, who pass it along to others.

perspective

Here’s more on that.

What is the coronavirus’s R0 and why does it matter?Life Hacker
R0 is one of the numbers epidemiologists use to describe how an infectious agent spreads through a population. But it’s important to remember that it’s simply a statistic that describes some of the numbers we see. It’s not a rating of how scary a virus is, nor does it dictate how deadly a disease is or how difficult it might be to contain. We need more information for that.

And another way of comparing such things, from 2014.

Visualised: how Ebola compares to other infectious diseasesThe Guardian
Every disease has a basic reproduction number but the numbers are scattered across the literature. We’ve web-crawled and gathered them all here in one graphic, plotting them against the average case fatality rate – the % of infectees who die. This hopefully gives us a data-centric way to understand the most infectious and deadly diseases and contextualise current events.