Off their rockers

The latest batch of Public Domain Review postcards arrived the other day. Mad and fab, as always.

PostcardsThe Public Domain Review
Twice a year we send out our special postcard packs — eight postcards, with a textual insert, curated around a different theme each time.

The ‘textual insert’ this time was especially loopy.

The prezent sistem, baist on the prinsipl ov yuezing no nyu caracterz or acsented leterz, iz surtinly not so elegant or so sientific az a sistem bi which sum fifteen nyu caracterz shood be aded tu the egzisting alfabet. But such an alfabet wood meen the scraping ov aul our egzisting founts ov tiep, tiep-rieterz, ets., ets., besiedz being dificult ov acwizishon for the adult jeneraishon. Thairfor such a reform iz unliecly tu cum for meny a dai, if it ever cumz at aul; and we se no reezon whi th children ov the neer fyuetyur shood not, bi a practical mezher ov simplificaishon, be releeved ov the sensles laibor which nou absorbz tu no purpos a hoel yeer ov thair short scuul lief.

From “Tu the Reeder” in the inaugaral issue of The Pioneer ov Simplified Speling (March, 1912) the flagship journal of the Simplified Speling Soesiety.

Goodness me. A bold move to change an alphabet like that (I wonder how Kazakhstan is getting on), they sound off their rocker.

Speaking of which, here’s something else from The Public Domain Review.

Postures of Transport: Sex, God, and Rocking ChairsThe Public Domain Review
What if chairs had the ability to shift our state of consciousness, transporting the imagination into distant landscapes and ecstatic experiences, both religious and erotic? In an essay about the British and American fascination with rocking chairs and upholstery springs in the 19th century, Hunter Dukes discovers how simple furniture technologies allowed armchair travelers to explore worlds beyond their own.

Rocking chairs (and seats that rocked) carried an erotic charge in the nineteenth century. For a certain type of Victorian mind, easy chairs made easy women. Polite society sat erect.

Chairs are weird, though, aren’t they?

Just a little déjà vu?

Hot on the heels of that Second Life/digital identity documentary I shared earlier is news of another documentary exploring virtual themes, but of a very different kind. Have you heard of simulation theory? It’s like Second Life, but instead of being outside looking in, we’re on the inside wanting to look out.

Are we all living in the Matrix? Behind a documentary on simulation theoryThe Guardian
Coincidences we accept as quirks of chance are just imperfections in the system we’ve been plugged in to, whatever shape it might take. We could be brains in a vat, receiving electrical stimuli through wires manipulated by scientists, or perhaps we’re nothing more than bytes of data on some intelligent being’s hard drive. Plato posited that we could be shackled in a cave, mistaking the shadows on the wall for the things casting them. From VR video games to pop culture, any number of metaphors speak to the core concept of a dimension that can be seen through by those who know how to look. In the case of the more adventurous psychonauts accepting these figurative ideas as literal fact, some even attempt to control the illusion.

What is Simulation Theory? Do we live in a simulation?Built In
New York University philosophy professor David Chalmers has described the being responsible for this hyper-realistic simulation we may or may not be in as a “programmer in the next universe up,” perhaps one we mortals might consider a god of some sort — though not necessarily in the traditional sense. “[H]e or she may just be a teenager,” Chalmers said, “hacking on a computer and running five universes in the background… But it might be someone who is nonetheless omniscient, all-knowing and all-powerful about our world.”

Yes, as conspiracy theories go, it’s pretty out there. But think of it as just another whacky creation myth. I mean, do you really understand superstring theory and quantum entanglement? Nah, me neither.

We’ve made it to the weekend — for now

Why remote work may render the 5-day workweek obsoleteFast Company
A mere 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution, there was no such thing as grinding it out for five days in order to run to a Saturday date night or a day of lesiure on Sunday. From the start of when Homo erectus first began roaming the earth, working and living were one and the same. Every day we did our chores. Every day we enjoyed the company of our tribe. The five-day workweek is a sociocultural artifact, not evidence-based framework for maximizing productivity and well-being.

I know several people that enjoy working on weekends (myself included). On weekends there is no steady stream of emails and calls during the day and no scheduled meetings, so all of the time can be allocated to deep-thought tasks, a luxury employees long for but never have the time to get to.

Not for me, thanks. I’ll stick to the status quo.

Coronavirus guidance variants

One of the issues education providers have during this pandemic is keeping up with all the ever-changing guidance.

Higher education providers: coronavirus (COVID-19)GOV.UK
Information on the return of students from January 2021 and NHS Test and Trace channels. Updated ‘Students returning to, and starting higher education in spring term 2021’ with changes to when students can return to campus, updates on testing asymptomatic students and international students, and added information about Erasmus+.

Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreakGOV.UK
What all schools will need to do during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak from the start of the autumn term. Updated with latest changes to: system of controls, attendance, recruitment, free schools meals, estates, wraparound care, physical activity in schools, remote education, catch up, assessment and accountability, and exams.

Providing apprenticeships during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreakGOV.UK
Find out how apprenticeships will continue during the coronavirus (COVD-19) outbreak. Added a new version of ‘Providing apprenticeships during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak’ with updated information on face-to-face training and when to consider a break in an apprenticeship.

Protective measures for holiday or after-school clubs and other out-of-school settings for children during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreakGOV.UK
Protective measures for providers of community activities, holiday or after-school clubs, tuition and other out-of-school settings offering provision to children during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Updated the home education section with further information on vulnerable children who have difficulty engaging in remote education. Also added a section on Test and Trace Support Payments.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for children’s social care servicesGOV.UK
Advice about coronavirus (COVID-19) for local authorities and their partners to help support and protect vulnerable children. Updated sections on ‘Educational settings’ and ‘Alternative provision (AP) schools and providers’ within the main guidance document.

Plenty of time

We should always take the time to appreciate well-designed details. Designer and Apple fan Arun Venkatesan has done a wonderful job here explaining the context behind some of the Apple Watch design cues and references.

The iconic watches that inspired Apple Watch facesArun Venkatesan
[T]he analog faces reveal what Apple does so well — taking the familiar and making it their own. Over the years, they have released quite a few faces with roots in history. Each one started as an iconic watch archetype and was remade to take advantage of the Apple Watch platform. … Let’s dive into five Apple Watch faces — California, Chronograph, Chronograph Pro, Count Up, and GMT.

The intricacy of these old watches is amazing, so sit back and relax to some smooth jazz whilst this rusty old Rolex is repaired.

Restoration of Rusty Rolex – Water damaged 1996 GMT Master IIYouTube
This 1996 Rolex GMT Master II suffered badly. Soaked in water, it spent two years in a drawer. The amount of rust was unbelievable. Actually, apart from the case and bracelet, only 8 of close to 100 internal parts were preserved. But the core challenge was to preserve the mainplate: the very base of the watch that holds all components together.

What’s in a name? #10

I was reading about the changing popularity of boys’ and girls’ names in Minnesota — the rise of Emersyn, Remi, and Saylor, for instance; the decline of Stanley — and within the comments were links to these crazy videos showcasing some of the more unusual names for people in Utah.

Mormon Girls Say: Utah NamesYouTube
100% authentic Utah names. We searched far and wide for the latest and greatest in Utah’s naming trends, and we were not disappointed…

Favourite comments:

But wait, there’s more.

Mormon Girls Say: Utah Names Part 2: Boy NamesYouTube
100% Authentic Utah names. You asked, we delivered.

Perhaps these are the loopy opposites of Deborah Roberts’s artwork.

This is my silence

Tinnitus is a strange thing — invisible and, to everyone else at least, silent. That’s the one thing it takes away from us, though. Today is the first day of Tinnitus Week 2021, and the theme this year is #ThisIsMySilence.

#ThisIsMySilenceBritish Tinnitus Association
As a hidden condition, people without tinnitus do not truly understand the huge impact it can have on someone’s life: on the ability to get a peaceful night’s sleep, to concentrate, or just to enjoy silence. Tinnitus can and does have a huge impact on mental health and we need your help to make more people aware of this. The more we show the real impact tinnitus has, the more likely we are to be successful in making tinnitus research funding an urgent priority.

Yes, it’s horrible and there’s no cure, but help and support are available, from AI chatbots and white noise generators, to the BTA’s phone lines and web chats.

British Tinnitus Association presents #ThisIsMySilenceYouTube
For people living with tinnitus, there is no silence. As a hidden condition, people without tinnitus do not truly understand the huge impact it can have on someone’s life: on the ability to get a peaceful night’s sleep, to concentrate, or to just enjoy silence.

If you need support with your tinnitus, contact us for information, advice and an understanding ear. Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm: Freephone: 0800 018 0527, Web chat: tinnitus.org.uk, Email: helpline@tinnitus.org.uk, Text/SMS: 07537 416841

Their latest report, looking into the patient journey and how referrals are managed (or not), makes for interesting reading.

This is my silence: Please listen – Three steps that must be taken to improve the tinnitus patient journeyBritish Tinnitus Association
It was identified in the report that there has been a 22% drop in the number of tinnitus patients offered a referral to specialist care by their GP since March 2020 – despite a climb in cases, links with anxiety and depression, and new National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance emphasising the importance of referrals.

I don’t know what you’re talking about

Most consonants, fewest vowelsThe Generalist Academy
In contrast to this paucity of vowels [two], Ubykh has a lot of consonants. Eighty-four, in fact, including common stalwarts like /p/ and /g/, trills, twenty different sounds made with the uvula (that dangly thing at the back of your throat), a class of sound called ejectives that we don’t have in English, and a delightfully obscure sound called an unvoiced labialized pharyngealized back dorsal uvular ejective stop – /qˤʷʼ/.

All gone, no regrets

There was that guy who accidentally deleted his entire company, but do you remember Michael Landy? He’s one of the Young British Artists, the one who methodically catalogued, disassembled and then shredded all of his possessions — all of them, including clothes, family photos, passport, artwork, car — over a two week period in a performance art piece called Break Down.

Michael Landy on Break DownArtangel
Certain people criticised Break Down as a spectacle, but a spectacle is passive, and this wasn’t. Shoppers wanted to know what was going on; you could divide them into two groups. People who had heard about the project (knowing faces) and people who walked in from the street (quizzical faces). Certain shoppers thought this was a new way of selling things – they would offer me money for parts of my car, little old ladies would bring back clothes, which they had bought at the C&A closing down sale. […]

One day a young woman approached me whilst I was on the platform. She asked would I consider swapping my dad’s sheepskin coat for what she had in her duffel bag. I told her I couldn’t swap it, but she was more than welcome to try and steal it. Eight months later I was with Gillian in Tesco’s in Bethnal Green and I saw exactly the same sheepskin coat, worn by a man, maybe one size smaller than my dad’s. I wondered whether she did steal it in the end and it was having a second life.

So where does one go after something like that? Back to the drawing board.

Break Down – Michael LandyGoogle Arts & Culture
Like a phoenix from the ashes, this drawing was part of the process of recapitulating an experience that left Landy with nothing. It amounts to an existential anti-shopping list. ‘Having nothing was a kind of regression, so I was interested in going back to being a child, to just having a drawing pencil and paper.’ Retrospectively, he traces the stages of the disassembly process in pen and ink, employing a line-by-line precision with the pedantry of a military re-enactment. He anatomises his life in terms of the humdrum, a vision of wheelie bins, goggles, odd socks and camera crews, scrutinising the idea that ‘somehow at some point we begin to create our own biographies from the things we own or possess’.

That was twenty years ago. How does he feel about it all now?

‘Like witnessing my own funeral’: Michael Landy on destroying everything he ownedThe Guardian
The minimal aesthetic suggests that Landy’s lifestyle tends towards the ascetic, rather than the accumulative. But still: regrets? “I don’t miss anything,” he says. Then he hesitates. “I’ve never owned up to it, so I can’t own up to it now. I’ve always stuck to that. No, I literally can’t think of anything that I miss.” That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. […]

What was it like when it was all over? In the pub on the last night, he says: “I got very paranoid. I have talked about it as the happiest two weeks of my life, but it was also like witnessing my own funeral. People would come along who I hadn’t seen for years, and then I worked it out: I was only seeing them because I’d in a sense died.”

His work certainly struck a chord, and is as relevant today as it was then (sadly).

The man who destroyed all his belongingsBBC Culture
Break Down – which remains Landy’s best-known work – is considered a provocative masterpiece of recent British art. Moreover, because consumerism in the West has only accelerated since 2001 – witness, for instance, the rise of YouTube vloggers such as Zoella who devote entire videos to rummaging through shopping bags in order to celebrate high-street ‘hauls’ – it has also come to seem remarkably prescient.

Uplifted by Break Down: Breaking down consumerismArt Breath
In your artwork, were you also referencing that we possess more than what we own? In a sense, even with nothing we have a lot we have our integrity

Yes we do, I think we are more than the sum of our parts.

Actually that cropped up afterwards with the artwork Acts of Kindness on the London underground. It refers to when we don’t have the economic means to offer material things, we have our kindness and humanity to offer, which actually gets overlooked a lot. People don’t even notice they have those elements but they are being kind and humane to others without even realising they are doing so.

I think that is what came out of Break Down too. People were really kind to me and really open and when I literally had nothing I started to think, what makes us human, and basically that was humanity and a connection between a person and a complete stranger, that kind of emotional bridge between the self and other.

He received a CBE recently. I can’t see him throwing that away.

My new favourite word

How to be indistractablePsyche Guides
Once you understand the depth of distraction, you can start to manage it and improve. After years of experiments, I found myself less distracted – a quality that improved nearly every aspect of my life. It turns out that being able to focus on the subjects and people in my life who matter improved everything from my health to my happiness to my productivity. That can seem obvious, but I couldn’t have fully appreciated the joys of living an indistractable life if I hadn’t gotten there on my own after a five-year journey. Being indistractable can lead you to not just change your life for the better, but also experience life fully.

Mirrored

I liked the way that my posture, whilst reading this article on how to sit correctly when working from home, was exactly the same as the photo they use to show how not to do it. We must both have heavy chins?

How to avoid neck, shoulder and back pain while working from homePatient
Have you found it hard to set up a comfortable workspace during the coronavirus lockdown? Started missing your standing desk or office chair whilst working from home? Our workspace can cause our muscles considerable pain if not set up properly, so we asked two experts to explain how best to do it.

Nothing that we don’t already know, really — screen at correct height, proper back support etc etc. We know the guidelines, we just need to follow them. Perhaps one of these would help?

Slouching too much? Can’t sleep comfortably at work? Get yourself a helping hand!Sora News 24
Thanko, Japan’s premiere producer of bizarre products, is back with the “Chin Rest Arm.” … This multipurpose, posable, movable, slightly sexy plastic hand will help keep your head up when times are tough. Literally! You can also use it in place of a neck pillow when you’re trying to escape the slow march into death by catching a few winks at work.

Things are looking up #6

I’m sure President Biden has enough on his to-do list at the moment to be giving Space Force and the politics of space much thought, but this new book from Benedict Redgrove might spark some enthusiasm.

Benedict Redgrove’s intimate photography book lands us inside the world of NASAIGNANT
Redgrove has been fascinated by space suits and shuttles since he was a young man. “The image of the astronaut or spaceman has been with me ever since, as a sort of talisman to all that is great and good,” he shares. “They symbolize the explorer, the hero, the good character, the leader. The spacesuit takes on that character, the suit and the human become one entity, more powerful than either on their own.” Combining his fascination with space technology with his interest in photography, the British creative took on the challenge to document America’s home of space-based research and development in intimate detail. Redgrove spent almost a decade working on the project, negotiating access and forming relationships with NASA, researching, investigating, and producing over 200 images of NASA’s facilities and the many objects that made their space travel imaginable and possible.

The engineering involved in landing on the moon was incredible. To fully appreciate that, I think I need to add this epic piece of journalism to my reading list.

Of a Fire on the Moon by Norman MailerPenguin Random House
For many, the moon landing was the defining event of the twentieth century. So it seems only fitting that Norman Mailer—the literary provocateur who altered the landscape of American nonfiction—wrote the most wide-ranging, far-seeing chronicle of the Apollo 11 mission. A classic chronicle of America’s reach for greatness in the midst of the Cold War, Of a Fire on the Moon compiles the reportage Mailer published between 1969 and 1970 in Life magazine: gripping firsthand dispatches from inside NASA’s clandestine operations in Houston and Cape Kennedy; technical insights into the magnitude of their awe-inspiring feat; and prescient meditations that place the event in human context as only Mailer could.

Norman Mailer’s A Fire on the Moon: a giant leap for reportageThe Guardian
In the age of Gravity, of simulated cinematic immersion in space, it is more striking than ever that footage of the greatest technological feat of all time looked no better “than a print of the earliest silent movies … Ghost beckoned to ghosts and the surface of the moon looked like a ski slope at night.”

That line about the poor quality visuals (deliberately poor, apparently) not matching the scale of the achievement reminded me of Brian Eno’s dissatisfaction with the audio, the chatter of the experts obscuring the event’s grandeur and strangeness.

Of a Fire on the Moon was first published across three issues of Life magazine (much like John Hersey’s Hiroshima, published in its entirety in The New Yorker in 1946), and is yours in book form for a tenner or so. Or, if you want to spend a little more…

Of a Fire on the Moon; $112,500 coffee table editionWikipedia
The 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing was marked in 2009 by the release of an abridged, limited edition of the text, re-packaged with images from NASA and Life magazine. This production retitled the work, MoonFire, and was presented in an aluminium box with a lid shaped like the crater-pocked surface of the Moon; the object was mounted on four legs resembling the Apollo Lunar Module’s struts. Thus, the coffee table book came inside its own lunar-themed “coffee table”, with an uneven surface (see photograph). The package included a numbered print of the famous portrait of Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon, framed in plexiglass and signed by the astronaut himself—and enclosed a lunar meteorite. Only 12 were created and the price was $112,500.

Good riddance

So long, and thanks for all the insults.

The complete list of Trump’s Twitter insults (2015-2021)The New York Times
As a political figure, Donald J. Trump used Twitter to praise, to cajole, to entertain, to lobby, to establish his version of events — and, perhaps most notably, to amplify his scorn. This list documents the verbal attacks Mr. Trump posted on Twitter, from when he declared his candidacy in June 2015 to Jan. 8, when Twitter permanently barred him.

Let’s see how the new guy’s account gets used.

How Biden becomes @POTUS: A Twitter transition breakdownHollywood Reporter
The multi-step process will begin with the archiving of official tweets sent during the Trump administration.

When Joe Biden takes the White House, he’ll also take @WhiteHouseThe New York Times
The tweets on each current account will be archived under different names. The Trump administration’s tweets under @POTUS, for example, will be transferred to @POTUS45.

Biden Twitter account ‘starts from zero’ with no Trump followersBBC News
Donald Trump inherited the Potus account’s 13 million or so followers when it moved to him from Mr Obama – but that will not happen this time.

Update – 24/01/2021

Here’s an angle on this I hadn’t considered before.

‘I am not sad. I am really not sad’: Trump’s Twitter reply-guys reckon with a post-Trump eraOneZero
Many of Trump’s early reply-guys eventually burned out or changed tactics; others have long since been booted from Twitter themselves. But dozens of otherwise ordinary anti-Trumpers, like Guterman, still draw hundreds of thousands of followers to their online tilts, and they’re facing an unclear future without their archnemesis. “I guess I’ll go read a book,” tweeted Jeff Tiedrich, perhaps the king of the reply-guys and the publisher of a leftist politics blog, in the hours after Trump’s suspension.

“It’s a new era for Twitter now,” Guterman said. “I don’t think there’s any need anymore for me to do this.”

Unreal art around town

At a time when indoor art galleries and museums are closed because of you know what, it’s good to see some alternative initiatives. Here, an augmented reality app allowed you to explore 36 digital sculptures from artists around the world, arranged as a riverside walking tour.

How an augmented reality app transformed London into an immersive art galleryAeon Videos
If you ever hopped on the Pokémon GO craze, you’ll have an inkling of how digital technology is increasingly capable of adding rich new slices to everyday life. The public exhibition ‘Unreal City’, which ran from 8 December 2020 to 5 January 2021 on the River Thames in London – and is, until 9 February 2021, available for at-home viewing – similarly superimposed digital layers on to reality, but with an aim to transform the city into an immersive augmented reality (AR) art gallery.

Have a go at curating your own exhibition at home.

Unreal City at HomeAcute Art
Acute Art and Dazed Media are excited to announce that Unreal City, London’s biggest public festival of AR art will now be available to view and interact with from inside your home for one-month only. Responding to new lockdown measures and the popularity of the exhibition in London and across the United Kingdom, Acute Art and Dazed Media will make these site-specific artworks available for audiences all around the world to discover from the safety of their homes via the free Acute Art app.

Here’s Johnny!

William Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic first appeared in Omni magazine in 1981, before being published in his Burning Chrome collection in 1986. It takes place in the same world of Gibson’s cyberpunk novels, Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive and, in the 1995 movie at least, starts on 17 January 2021.

Johnny MnemonicMuseum of Arts and Design
Artist Robert Longo’s directorial debut, Johnny Mnemonic adapts for the big screen William Gibson’s story of the same name. Set in a dystopian 2021, when megacorporations rule the world, the movie features Keanu Reeves as Johnny, a “mnemonic courier” who discreetly transports information too sensitive to carry over the Net via a special device implanted into his brain—a career that’s cost him his childhood memories. Hoping to recover them through an expensive surgery, Johnny agrees to one last job, which requires him to download more information than his implant can handle.

2021 and the conspiracies of Johnny MnemonicWIRED
Johnny is a digital-era delivery guy. If you need some data transported hypersecurely, simply load it into his head and off he goes: your very own walking—more often running, from bad guys—USB air-gapped meatstick. So what if the gig comes with memory lacunae and the risk, in the event of information overload, of brain-burst, to say nothing of the Yakuza at your back, who are more than happy to carry out a file transfer by way of decapitation? It pays well, and you look cyber-cool doing it.

Gibson’s cyberspace was always bound up with the body. Data can be wet-wired; manipulating files requires Power Gloves and an “Eyephone.” When Johnny jacks in, it kind of hurts. Such meat-meets-metal has, in the quarter-century since Johnny Mnemonic came out, been called a failure of prediction. Our internet ended up disembodied, virtualized, socially distanced, our iPhones more of a figurative prosthesis. Yet, this last year, we sat slack at our desks, muscles atrophying, nerves attenuating, as we doomscrolled our way to new aches, new anxieties, new ailments. Some wild-eyes went so far as to claim that 5G triggered the pandemic, which is the most Gibson-sounding conspiracy of all. In Johnny’s world, the black shakes are caused not by a virus but by a signal. Epidemic through technic. There’s something in the air, no matter what you do. You’re already sick, you’re already dying. Connectivity is killing you.

Looking back at Johnny MnemonicDen of Geek
Really, it’s pretty difficult to figure out exactly why this film doesn’t live up to the brilliance of Gibson’s material, and why it didn’t find a wider audience. It may be down to the studio’s interference – allegedly, the film was re-cut shortly before its release, to be more mainstream; Gibson himself attests that the rough cut was funnier and more alternative. It may also be that the general cinema-going audience may not have known what to make of it – it was science-fiction, yes, but without the usual tropes they might expect of the genre. Virtual reality had also been done before, and Johnny Mnemonic’s cyberspace sequences are similar to those seen in 1992’s The Lawnmower Man, and 1995’s Virtuosity also played around with the concept a few months later – really, audiences were promised nothing new. And, of course, nobody knew The Matrix was only four years away, which would redefine the way in which simulated realities had been presented in films forever.

Can technology make you sick, like ‘NAS’ does in Johnny Mnemonic?Syfy Wire
The real risk of exposure to technology might exist not in the technology itself, but in our relationship to it. It’s true that excessive internet usage is linked to depression. What’s unclear is which factor is the instigator. One interpretation of the data suggests that excessive internet usage causes depression. This makes intuitive sense as the information most readily available online is overwhelmingly negative. Another interpretation is that those predisposed to depression exhibit higher internet usage. […]

NAS or the Black Shakes, the physiological disease showcased in Johnny Mnemonic, has yet to rear its head, but the psychological impact of constant information demanding attention can have real consequences. And we all need to be aware of where we devote our attention, what society is demanding from us, and how we navigate an ever-changing and increasingly digital landscape.