New for old

iPad looks great in an SE/30 caseBoing Boing
At Reddit, mtietje posted this remarkable photo of their lockdown project: an iPad stand made using an old Macintosh SE/30. The display size is perfect for the 9.7″ iPad, and now that iPadOS can use mice they work much better as “normal” computers.

That looks very stylish. Perhaps I should give something like that a go with my old bits of Apple tech. I’ve got an iMac G3 and an iBook G4 with a dodgy keyboard.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore. But sadly, after languishing in the cellar for more years than I care to remember, they won’t boot up anymore either.

Will we get the future we deserve?

I have to admit this Plandemic conspiracy theory has somewhat passed me by. It sounds bonkers, to say the least.

Fact-checking Judy Mikovits, the controversial virologist attacking Anthony Fauci in a viral conspiracy videoScience
Mikovits: Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions, and if it happens to be SARS-CoV-2, then you’ve got a big problem.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by “coronavirus expressions.” There is no evidence that wearing a mask can activate viruses and make people sick.

Mikovits: Why would you close the beach? You’ve got sequences in the soil, in the sand. You’ve got healing microbes in the ocean in the salt water. That’s insanity.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by sand or soil “sequences.” There is no evidence that microbes in the ocean can heal COVID-19 patients.

It’s worrying how mainstream these ludicrous conspiracies are becoming.

The Plandemic conspiracy has a wild new fan club: Facebook momsWired UK
Across Facebook, the Plandemic video was shared on hundreds of community groups. Its appearance was often incongruous, akin to the conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. turning up uninvited to your village’s summer barbecue and telling everyone that vaccines are going to kill their children. The spread of the conspiracy theory on otherwise banal community groups reveals a perilous new reality: one where the coronavirus pandemic has taken dangerous, fringe views and planted them firmly in the minds of scores of ordinary people. And, as with the anti-vaccination movement, the Plandemic conspiracy theory has resonated particularly strongly amongst women – often young mothers. […]

The unprecedented success of the Plandemic video is part of a growing trend: of conspiracy theorists using the coronavirus pandemic to seek out ever larger audiences. For this to work, they have changed tack. While poorly-produced, hour-long rant videos and clumsy memes still persist, the Plandemic was notable for its higher production values. This added slickness is central to efforts to attract new believers. And it’s working.

The video’s long gone now, taken down in an attempt to stop the spread of misinformation. But even that’s not straightforward.

[T]he messaging around the Plandemic was designed for it to be censored – Mikovits, so the conspiracy theory went, had been silenced, now she was speaking out, but soon the big technology platforms would censor her again. The big technology platforms dutifully obliged, not by limiting the spread of the conspiracy theory but by simply deleting it. This created the perfect storm – a Streisand effect that boosted the conspiracy theory still further.

It may feel like a US-only problem, but that’s far from the case, sadly. Here’s another Wired UK article from earlier this year, before our current lockdown had properly begun. Facebook, again.

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. […]

Other Facebook groups keen on coronavirus conspiracies include “We Support Jeremy Corbyn”, “I’M A BREXITEER” and the “Jacob Rees-Mogg Appreciation Group”, with hundreds of posts and tens of thousands of reactions. 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.”

It’s easy to feel despondent, reading all this — we’re just too stupid to help ourselves, we’re going to get the future we deserve. But it’s important to remember that, however noisy all these scared stupid bigoted idiots people are, and however much attention the media gives them, the vast majority of us are sensible and keeping it together. Right?

Coronavirus, ‘Plandemic’ and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinkingThe Conversation
Understanding and revealing the techniques of conspiracy theorists is key to inoculating yourself and others from being misled, especially when we are most vulnerable: in times of crises and uncertainty.

Playing with themselves

Remember that young guy with four saxophones playing the Wii theme tune? It seems the lockdown has provided an opportunity for others to have a go at similar recordings.

Bassoonist pulls off one-man “Thomas The Tank Engine” quartetInspireMore
Everyone deals with quarantine boredom differently. Maybe you deep cleaned your house, built a swing set for the kids, or finally beat that video game you’ve been working on forever. Michael Elderkin took a more musical approach.

You can join in, if you like, though I think I’d rather play along to this one.

Knight Rider for 8 cellosKottke
You’re either the type of person who can’t wait to click on a link that says “Knight Rider for 8 cellos” or you are not.

Get the facts, before it’s too late

Rather than bringing us together, social media can often pull us apart. We all know this, and it seems the platforms themselves know this too.

Facebook executives shut down efforts to make the site less divisiveWSJ
“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”

But of course the platforms aren’t solely to blame. The users have to take some responsibility for what they write and share. Take this user, for example, just your typical conspiracy theorist.

See those little ‘Get the facts’ warning labels, suggesting he’s spreading fake news making unsubstantiated claims?

Twitter labels Trump’s false claims with warning for first timeThe Guardian
The company’s decision on Tuesday afternoon to affix labels to a series of Trump tweets about California’s election planning is the result of a new policy debuted on 11 May. They were applied – hours after the tweets initially went out – because Trump’s tweets violated Twitter’s “civic integrity policy”, a company spokeswoman confirmed, which bars users from “manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes”, such as by posting misleading information that could dissuade people from participating in an election.

He didn’t like that, as you can imagine, and is trying to retaliate.

Trump to sign executive order on social media on Thursday: White HouseReuters
The officials gave no further details. It was unclear how Trump could follow through on the threat of shutting down privately owned companies including Twitter Inc. The dispute erupted after Twitter on Tuesday for the first time tagged Trump’s tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact check the posts.

But is this just the beginning?

Trump sows doubt on voting. It keeps some people up at night.The New York Times
The anxiety has intensified in recent weeks as the president continues to attack the integrity of mail voting and insinuate that the election system is rigged, while his Republican allies ramp up efforts to control who can vote and how. Just last week, Mr. Trump threatened to withhold funding from states that defy his wishes on expanding mail voting, while also amplifying unfounded claims of voter fraud in battleground states. […]

The task force began with 65 possibilities before narrowing the list early this year to eight potential calamities, including natural disasters, a successful foreign hack of voting machines, a major candidate’s challenging the election and seeking to delegitimize the results, and a president who refuses to participate in a peaceful transfer of power. Among the scenarios they eliminated when making final cuts in January, ironically, was a killer pandemic that ravaged the country and kept people homebound before Election Day.

That election’s going to be interesting, to say the least.

The quick brown fox has retired

Via The Browser, a look into a font design process I hadn’t really considered before. If “typography is about the spaces between the letters as much as it is about the letters”, then a popular way of evaluating how well those letters and spaces work together is through the use of ‘pangrams’, sentences that contain each letter of the alphabet at least once. But perhaps the quick brown fox has had its day.

Text for proofing fontsFonts by Hoefler&Co.
The far more pernicious issue with pangrams, as a means for evaluating typefaces, is how poorly they portray what text actually looks like. Every language has a natural distribution of letters, from most to least common, English famously beginning with the E that accounts for one eighth of what we read, and ending with the Z that appears just once every 1,111 letters. Letter frequencies differ by language and by era — the J is ten times more popular in Dutch than English; biblical English unduly favors the H thanks to archaisms like thou and sayeth — but no language behaves the way pangrams do, with their forced distribution of exotics. Seven of the most visually awkward letters, the W, Y, V, K, X, J, and Z, are among the nine rarest in English, but pangrams force them into every sentence, guaranteeing that every paragraph will be riddled with holes. A typeface designer certainly can’t avoid accounting for these unruly characters, but there’s no reason that they should be disproportionately represented when evaluating how a typeface will perform.

In 2015, I dumped the pangrams we’d accumulated and rewrote our proofs from scratch, trading their wacky and self-satisfied cleverness for lists of words that are actually illustrative.

These lists of words, whilst not being as easy to memorise, are far more useful—to the professional typeface designer, at least. Here’s just a part of them.

[…] Linden linden loads for the ulna monolog of the consul menthol and shallot. Milliner milliner modal for the alumna solomon of the album custom and summon. Number number nodule for the unmade economic of the shotgun bison and tunnel. […]

It reminds me a little of lorem ipsum. I wonder if these new typefaces went through a similar process.

Times New Arial is a new experiment utilising the latest technology of variable fontsIt’s Nice That
With Times New Arial, the collaborators combine the visual extremes of both Times and Arial into one interpolated typeface. With new technological possibilities, the hybrid represents a new era of font usage, challenging the role of variable fonts in the present cultural scape. As well as being poster children for web typography, Times and Arial also represent progress and proxies within digital design. “We wanted to combine this conventional aesthetic with new technical possibility in order to revive and refine them, so in turn, we could experiment with them in our projects,” continues David.

Scunthorpe Sans 🗯🚫 profanity-blocking fontVole.wtf
A s*** font that f***ing censors bad language automatically. It’s able to detect the words f***, s***, p***, t***, w***, c*** and dozens more, but with a special exemption for “Scunthorpe”; that town has suffered enough.

Font Books – Turn your next font into your next read
Font Books is a collection of original typefaces designed to help people read and understand classic literature better.

LogofontsBehance
Often when we see a logo, a question arises: “which font was used?” In this project I did some research on the logos of some of the most famous brands, trying to understand which font they use or which have been modified to get to the final result. Follow Logofonts on Instagram.

Flying high with stolen data

The last post I shared about data theft was back in October (that seems like years ago now), but the subject’s not gone away, of course.

EasyJet says hackers stole data of 9 million customers Bloomberg
Cyber-attacks against businesses and their employees have surged this year as hackers take advantage of the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. While the EasyJet breach was discovered in late January, predating the disease’s flare-up across Europe, the company is alerting those whose exposure was limited to email and travel details to guard against a rising number of so-called phishing attempts, a person familiar with the situation said.

It wasn’t just a few credit cards: Entire travel itineraries were stolen by hackers, Easyjet now tells victimsThe Register
It also warned victims to be on their guard against phishing attacks by miscreants using the stolen records, especially if any “unsolicited communications” arrived appearing to be from Easyjet or its package holidays arm.

You’d think the Information Commissioner’s Office would be busier than ever.

It looks like the UK’s data regulator has given up, blaming coronavirusWired UK
In April, the ICO said it would focus on the most serious cases during the pandemic and consider the impact of the wider situation on companies under investigation, but called for organisations to continue to report breaches as it was still operating. But in reality, observers claim, it has almost completely stopped operating.

But it’s worth noting that that article was subsequently updated to, in effect, completely contradict its own headline.

[F]ollowing the publication of this story, an ICO spokesperson said it “is not true” that the body has stopped work on complaints and investigations. “Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, we have only paused under ten per cent of cases and investigations,” the spokesperson said. “These are specific cases where progressing regulatory activity may not be possible or appropriate during a global public health emergency.” The spokesperson added that it continues to “look into” all complaints and data breach reports it receives. It is “focusing on the information rights issues that are likely to cause the most harm or distress to people and organisations”.

Dining out, at a distance

Bars, cafes and restaurants are still closed here, but other countries are cautiously opening them back up, with some fun responses to the challenges they face.

This restaurant in Bangkok uses cartoon dragon dolls as space keepers for social distancingDesign You Trust
These guests look special! They are green, they have wings and they don’t say a word. The dragons are of course not living beings, but figures. The owner of a restaurant in the country of Thailand in Asia has placed them at the tables in his restaurant.

Restaurant finds a genius way to help their customers feel less lonely while social distancing using pandasBored Panda
Maison Saigon placed plush pandas in the restaurant so that people have to sit at a safe distance. Also, if you come to eat alone, you have some company. The rules and regulations are changing rapidly and most of us are confused about what to do and how to be safe, so this idea is a charming and smart way to make sure everyone is being protected from the virus.

Restaurant to reopen with cardboard customers to make diners comfortableSunrise
Five Dock Dining owner Frank Angeletta has placed cardboard customers in empty seats around the venue. He’s also prepared ambient background noise, including chatter and the sounds of clinking cutlery, to play in the background. “We really wanted to add some atmosphere and give diners that realistic dining experience,” he told Sunrise. “The cut outs and background noise are a bit eerie when you first walk in – but once you’re sitting down it’s a bit of fun.”

Cafe in Germany gives customers hats with pool noodles to keep them apartBored Panda
The owner of “Café Rothe Schwerin”, Jacqueline Rothe, went the extra mile and came up with an ingenious idea to make sure the patrons keep their distance—pool noodles! Yup, you read that right. The business is using pool noodles attached to customers’ hats to help them with social distancing! She also clarified that this was a one-time event only for the reopening of the cafe and the guests don’t wear the hats regularly.

Don’t quite know what to make of this, though.

Mask in a restaurant? This one can gobble like Pac-ManReuters
Israeli inventors have developed a coronavirus mask with a remote control mouth that lets diners eat food without taking it off, a device they say could make a visit to a restaurant less risky.

I think I’ll stick to takeaways for now…

Update 05/06/2020

Spotted another.

Burger King debuts ‘social-distance crowns’ in Germany as restaurants test quirky ways to keep customers apartBusiness Insider
“We wanted to reinforce the rules of high safety and hygiene standards that the BK restaurants are following,” a Burger King representative told Business Insider. “The do-it-yourself social-distance crown was a fun and playful way to remind our guests to practice social distancing while they are enjoying food in the restaurants.”

Not going anywhere

At the start of all this, I hadn’t expected the economic impact to be so great. It was just a health crisis, right?

New analysis of the impact of lockdown on UK jobsISER
Estimates produced by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex suggest the lockdown can take more than 6.5m jobs out of the economy -around a quarter of the total.

We can only hope these losses are recovered in the bounceback (yes/no).

And I was assuming all those who have been furloughed will return to work, business as normal. Seems not.

Rolls-Royce to cut 9,000 jobs as Covid-19 takes toll on airlinesThe Guardian
The jet engine manufacturer said it was targeting £1.3bn in annual cost savings to weather the protracted downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that has grounded much of the world’s airlines. Head count cuts will account for about half the savings target. […]

[Rolls-Royce’s chief executive, Warren] East said the aim was to make “more than half” the job cuts this year. “We need to get on with it because we know it is a harsh reality about our future,” he said. “We hope to make a very good start on this in 2020, more than half at any rate.”

A “very good” start? I think he could have phrased that more sensitively.

These images of rows and rows of parked up planes were first shared a few weeks ago, and are very striking, but the sobering news from Rolls Royce and no doubt many other companies is quite a dampener.

Aerial photos of grounded jets across the USAPetapixel
Usually I’d be thrilled for this opportunity, but not today. The COVID-19 pandemic has functionally destroyed commercial aviation. Almost overnight air passenger demand plummeted 95%.

And what are the knock on effects for exciting projects like this one? Seems even more fanciful now.

Boeing’s colossal 777X is unlike any plane that’s gone beforeWired UK
Regardless of the speed they’re moving, the aviation sector has had a particular goal in mind for decades. According to Lone: “We want to get to a point where aircraft wings are like bird wings. When you look at the research and development projects from Boeing, Airbus, Nasa, all the technologies we are developing now, including this fold, are the initial steps towards what we call a bird-flight model,” he says. “We want a solution that’s similar to nature’s millions of years of evolution.”

Back to basics, perhaps?

Backyard aeronautics: Chinese farmers who also make flying machinesUrbanist
According to photographer Xiaoxiao Xu, the Chinese farmers and other rural hobbyists building flying machines from scratch are not in it for fame or fortune. Mostly working out of their own backyards, these creators are simply trying to find ways to lift themselves up into the air. Some build choppers, others build planes, and others hybrids and experimental aircraft that are tricky to classify.

As for why they do it, the answers vary — one sums the mystery of motivation up well: “I cannot give a reason for why I want to fly. Maybe this is just how human beings evolve: we ride horses, ride bicycles, drive cars, and then fly an airplane. I fly as best I can. It’s my dream, my joy. It’s pretty much my life.”

Teaching, technically speaking

Schools are now thinking about reopening, after being mostly shut since March and cancelling this summer’s GCSE and A-Level exams. As you would imagine, this is far from straightforward.

How will schools be able to reopen?BBC News
In England, ministers say schools should prepare to begin to open for more pupils from 1 June. This would be for those in nursery and pre-school, Reception and Years 1 and 6 at primary school. At secondary school and college, Years 10 and 12 would return first. Only a tiny fraction of the regular school population are likely to attend. Schools in Wales will not reopen on 1 June, while those in Scotland and Northern Ireland may not restart before the summer holidays.

Many teaching unions and councils, including my own, have major reservations.

Ministers under pressure over schools return dateBBC News
The decision to begin reopening schools came after the reproduction, or R number – the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to, on average – came down across every part of the UK. But multiple research groups, including those at the University of Cambridge, show it varies across the country – it has come down most in London but is higher in the north-east of England.

Leeds City Council statement on re-opening primary schoolsLeeds.gov.uk
Due to a variety of factors, it would be impossible for all schools to operate to the Government’s timetable of opening Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from June 1. While some schools will begin to gradually expand their intake from this date, Leeds will not expect all our schools to open to all those pupils from day one.

Only time will tell if this is the right step to take. Italy, which closed its schools at the end of February, initially for just a week, isn’t expecting them to reopen until mid-September, if not later. Teachers, parents and children alike have had mountains to climb, and they’ve still got perhaps four more months to go.

Italian lessons: what we’ve learned from two months of home schoolingThe Guardian
The Digital Economy and Society Index rates Italy 24 out of 28 European countries in its “digitalisation index”, and last year Italy’s national statistics agency, Istat, reported that 23.9% of Italian families have no access to the internet. As one teacher said to me: “We’ve discovered how democratic pencil-and-paper is.” The attempt by many teachers to get less-privileged students the necessary laptops and internet connections is one of the untold stories of this crisis. By 19 March, the ministry of education claimed to have distributed 46,152 tablets throughout the country. Since then, an emergency budget has created a €70m fund for providing computers to those without. Even if the necessary hardware is distributed, one special educational needs teacher told me that online classes just don’t work for children who need bespoke lessons: “Those who are already doing well at school are now doing even better, but those who were struggling are just falling further behind.”

They aren’t the only ones. Here’s the view from China.

The coronavirus exposes education’s digital divideThe New York Times
Students in some places have hiked for hours and braved the cold to listen to online classes on mountaintops, the only places they can get a decent cell signal, according to Chinese news reports. One high schooler in Sichuan Province was found doing homework under a rocky outcropping. Two little girls in Hubei Province set up a makeshift classroom on a wooded hillside.

For children of the millions of migrant laborers who work far from home to keep China’s cities cleaned and fed, another problem is a lack of supervision. These “left-behind children,” as they are called in China, are raised mostly by their grandparents, who are often illiterate and cannot help with homework even when it is not delivered via smartphone app.

I don’t think our position is that much better.

Outdated IT systems pushed to the limit by large-scale remote working, say schoolsThe Independent
Technology in many schools is like the “dark ages” compared with other sectors, the headteachers’ union warned. … One headteacher is desperately trying to raise funds as he says funding cuts have left the school without the cash to carry out critical IT upgrades needed to run a “virtual school” for 1,200 pupils.

Some central support has been made available, from the big players…

UK schools will get tech support from Google and MicrosoftComputer Weekly
The government has also written to organisations overseeing schools and children’s social care, such as local authorities and trusts, to advise them how they can order devices as part of its £100m investment to provide internet access and computers to disadvantaged children.

… as well as from some lesser-known software companies and training providers.

UK education providers are helping teachers, parents and students respond to the impact of COVID-19 worldwideGOV.UK
Century Tech creates personalised learning pathways for students and powerful data for teachers to ensure that every child gets tailored, high quality education. They are offering free maths, English and science resources here.

Personalised learning pathways sounds a little dry. How could we jazz up what Century Tech are offering? What buzzword comes to mind?

‘AI teachers’ to be offered to British students off school due to coronavirusThe Telegraph
“AI teachers” will be offered to every student in the UK that is forced to miss school due to the coronavirus, it has been announced. … Like a human teacher, the virtual tutor tracks how a student learns, adapts to their strengths and weaknesses and constantly adjusts lesson plans.

The educational impact of this pandemic is not restricted to just schools, of course.

Breaking: All University lectures to be online-only in 2020-21Varsity
A leaked email seen by Varsity outlines plans for all lectures in the 2020-21 academic year to be conducted virtually. Head of Education Services, Alice Benton wrote to Senior Tutors today (19/05) to inform them that the ‘General Board’s Education Committee’ has ‘agreed that, since it is highly likely that rigid social distancing will be required throughout the next academic year, there will be no face-to-face lectures next year.’

University of Cambridge shifts lectures online for 2020/2021 academic yearCambridge Independent
The University told the Cambridge Independent: “The University is constantly adapting to changing advice as it emerges during this pandemic. Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the University has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year. Lectures will continue to be made available online and it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person, as long as this conforms to social distancing requirements. This decision has been taken now to facilitate planning, but as ever, will be reviewed should there be changes to official advice on coronavirus.”

Online lectures ‘likely’ to continue at Edinburgh Uni for ‘some time to come’, VC warnsThe Tab
In an interview on Radio 4 Today, Peter Mathieson said having “hundreds of students packed into in lecture theatres” would probably not be “safe or possible” when asked about Cambridge University’s recent decision to move all lectures online until Summer 2021. … “We haven’t talked about a fully online model,” he said. “Lectures may be online and we were doing that anyway – we’re very good at that, but actually small-group teaching will continue.”

That’s just as well. As we saw above with schools, moving online is not without its challenges.

Universities beware: shifting classes online so quickly is a double-edged swordThe Guardian
But can this rapid shift to online teaching and learning actually work in the long term? Several problems have already emerged. Online teaching needs more than just the basics. Lecturers need access to a computer that supports teaching software and a reliable internet connection. Meanwhile, for students, even basic hardware and software are far from guaranteed in many homes, as families share equipment and internet providers struggle with increased traffic.

How is WFH working out for you?

The future has always been uncertain, in an abstract you-never-know-what’s-round-the-corner kind of way. But these days, goodness me — the very near future has never been so completely uncertain, unknown, and unsettled. For instance, what will our workplaces be like, after all this?

The office is deadMarker
“It’s not something I was even thinking about six weeks ago, but it’s definitely something I’ve been talking about now with my investors,” Haynie says. “Overall it’s a win-win.” This is just the tip of the iceberg. From startups and tech giants to more old-school Wall Street firms, businesses are rethinking the role of office space and whether they even need it. If, in the old world, an office was a form of corporate peacocking — a flashy location in some iconic building with a boutique-hotel level of design for clients, employees, customers, and investors— in the new world, it is becoming a very costly line item that could be reduced to the equivalent of a single flagship store.

Your boss is watching you: Work-from-home boom leads to more surveillanceNPR
Her employer has started using software called Time Doctor. It downloads videos of employees’ screens while they work. It also can enable a computer’s webcam to take a picture of the employee every 10 minutes. “If you’re idle for a few minutes, if you go to the bathroom or whatever, a pop-up will come up and it’ll say, ‘You have 60 seconds to start working again or we’re going to pause your time,’ ” the woman said.

Zoom fatigue is something the deaf community knows very wellQuartz
Posts about “Zoom fatigue” mention struggling with non-verbal cues. This frustration is relatable to how hard of hearing individuals have to accurately lipread, view sign language clearly, or get an unobstructed view of faces and body language. Others point out the stress in understanding what is said with choppy audio, time delays, or pixelated video. The deaf community encounters this difficulty in nearly every setting, like they’re piecing together a jigsaw puzzle.

Things are looking up #3

Find yourself staring blankly into space more often these days? Here’s how to do that properly.

The secrets to stargazing from your backyardThe Guardian
How to search the sky and what to see, from moon and stars to planets and the International Space Station. Go on a journey of billions of miles … from your garden.

This is something you won’t see, though.

New image captures ‘impossible’ view of the moon’s surfaceLive Science
McCarthy trained his camera on the craters closest to the lunar terminator every night for two weeks as the moon waxed toward complete illumination. By the time the moon was full, McCarthy had a series of high-contrast, high-definition photos of every crater on the moon’s Earth-facing side. Blending them into a single composite image was “exhausting,” he wrote, but ultimately resulted in the gorgeously detailed shot seen above — an image that McCarthy calls the “all terminator” moon.

looking-up

Whenever I look at a full moon I find it hard to remember it’s spherical. It’s just a flat white circle an inch or two across that someone’s pinned up there, surely, not a solid ball of rock, the size of the United States, that’s slowly drifting away from us. This image, whilst being incredibly detailed, doesn’t help—for all its deep shadows and highlights, the lack of a ‘proper’ lunar terminator still makes it look more disk-like than globe-like, I think. (I wonder if there’s a Flat Moon Society I could join.)

If the moon is a fundamentally strange and other-worldly object, what to make of black holes? This film, like the composite photograph above, might be bending the truth, but is nevertheless equally impactful.

An unnerving new film by Paul Trillo imagines Earth moments before it’s sucked into a black holeColossal
“Until There Was Nothing” considers how Earth’s natural landscapes and city life would look just moments before being consumed by a black hole. The surreal work shows massive waves suddenly crawling up the left side of the frame, the tops of taxi cabs shooting into the air, and an entire forest of trees ascending in an amorphous mass.

If contemplating our cosmic oblivion is all too much, let’s lighten the mood with this lockdown-inspired blast from the starry past.

Nebula-75, a new puppet lockdown drama from the folks that brought us Thunderbirds, Stingray, Fireball-XL5Boing Boing
Nebula-75 is a new “puppet lockdown drama” being made by some of the folks at Century 21, the Gerry Anderson studio that was responsible for “Supermarionation” programming in the 60s (and beyond), with such shows as Thunderbirds, Stingray, Supercar, and Fireball-XL5. Nebula-75 is also being filmed in “SuperIsolation” and Lo-Budget! […]

Nebula-75 feels so much like the show I wanted to make myself, with cardboard boxes, kitchen implements, and household junk, after watching these programs when I was a wee one. That was one of the things that made them so seductive to a young and over-active imagination — they seemed so doable. And here, lo these many years later, folks associated with the legacy of these shows are doing it. At home. With cardboard boxes and junk. I’m inspired all over again.

Thunderbirds! Captain Scarlet! They don’t make ’em like that anymore. It turns out, they do.

Missing music

Like no doubt many other homes up and down the land, music is always playing here, somewhere—the kitchen radio, the kids’ laptops or Alexas, the piano and tuba even (that damned thing is so loud). But it’s been a long time since we went out to hear live music. For music fans like Rob Sheffield, that’s becoming a problem.

Life without liveRolling Stone
This is the longest I’ve gone between live shows since . . . the Replacements broke up? I go see bands every chance I get, and I live in New York City, where there’s plenty of chances. Live music is how I measure out the next week, month, year of my life. But on a bigger scale, the shows are how we measure history. When you picture the past or the future, you imagine what musicians are doing in a room and who shows up to hear it. You can define any point in the arc of human history by who was in Fleetwood Mac at the time. (And whose hotel bed they were sharing.) So what does music fandom mean at a time when we can’t gather together to celebrate, discover, experiment?

Here’s an interesting take on the future of the kind of concerts I’ve been missing recently.

Coronavirus conditions make us rethink classical music for decade aheadVoice of OC
So far, we’ve been assuming that there will continue to be problems that, at least now and then, require social distancing and home quarantines. It’s definitely something all these groups are going to have to consider over the next decade. Something good could come out of it, though, and that would be the end of subscription seasons as we know them. Subscription seasons, designed to attract a particular kind of listener, older, moneyed, more conservative, able to fork out for a year’s worth of tickets in advance, have long been holding classical music back from its better, more exciting and interesting self.

But for now, we have to make do with streamed performances at home, the equivalent of those art gallery postcards.

Symphonies silenced, sonatas streamed: The state of classical music during COVID-19Los Angeles Review of Books
Notwithstanding the quality of the audio — piped through his iPhone — the music felt exuberant, and also demanding and manic. “The concert halls are empty,” Levit had tweeted earlier. “Listening and experiencing music together is not possible.” It was mid-March — what feels like eons ago — and on both sides of the Atlantic, governments were starting to roll out isolation measures, suddenly putting all of us into suspended animation. With so much uncertainty in the world, his joyous performance provided a half hour of reprieve, disassociating us from the fear of contagion. Three hundred and twenty thousand users on Twitter and Instagram tuned in — more than at any venue he’s ever performed.

The way we experience music is bound to change in unexpected ways, but the strength of our appreciation of music can already be a little peculiar.

The pandemic hasn’t dulled Japan’s special love for QueenAtlas Obscura
“Queen Day is an important occasion for Japanese fans to reaffirm the bond between Queen and Japan,” writes fan Yoko Doi of Tokyo in an email. In 2019, Doi—along with 300 others—marked Queen Day with an outdoor screening of the 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody, featuring band cosplay and plenty of Moet et Chandon, naturally (see the lyrics to “Killer Queen,” if you’re not an initiate).

Tracing Eastern Europe’s obsession with Depeche ModeDazed
Urbanovic, who has been a fan since 1986, runs the DM Bar in Riga, a nightclub completely dedicated to the band. There is another, non-affiliated and older club in Tallinn that has been visited by the band themselves. Both establishments are covered in Depeche Mode merchandise (from cardboard cutouts to tour scarves and lyrics scrawled on the walls in different languages) and both put on regular parties playing the band’s music as well as records by other ‘industrial’ bands. “Depeche Mode gigs in Latvia are very well-attended, especially when you take into account the relatively small population – and we get a lot of fans from other Eastern European countries who make a special trip to the bar,” Urbanovic adds.

Staying safe, then and now

Are things getting better? It doesn’t feel like it.

Paris salons, Shanghai Disney reopen despite global alarm over second coronavirus waveReuters
News that the “reproduction rate” – the number of people each person with the disease goes on to infect – had surged back to 1.1 in Germany cast a shadow over the reopening of businesses ranging from Paris hair salons to Shanghai Disneyland. A rate that stays above 1 means the virus is spreading exponentially.

Look at the numbers, they say. But I’ve seen so many I’m becoming curve-blind.

COVID-19 CoronaVirus infographic datapackInformation is Beautiful
COVID-19 #Coronavirus latest data visualized. Updated 11th May. Created by David McCandless, Omid Kashan, Fabio Bergamaschi, Dr Stephanie Starling, Univers Labs

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Some are saying we’ve been here before, but this time’s different. Thankfully.

Coronavirus is very different from the Spanish Flu of 1918. Here’s how.The New York Times
In 1918, the world was a very different place, even without the disruptive influence of World War I. Doctors knew viruses existed but had never seen one — there were no electron microscopes, and the genetic material of viruses had not yet been discovered. Today, however, researchers not only know how to isolate a virus but can find its genetic sequence, test antiviral drugs and develop a vaccine.

Virus-afflicted 2020 looks like 1918 despite science’s marchAP News
As in 1918, people are again hearing hollow assurances at odds with the reality of hospitals and morgues filling up and bank accounts draining. The ancient common sense of quarantining is back. So is quackery: Rub raw onions on your chest, they said in 1918. How about disinfectant in your veins now? mused President Donald Trump, drawing gasps instead of laughs over what he weakly tried to pass off as a joke.

There are so many coronavirus myths that even Snopes can’t keep upThe Washington Post
“The fact-checking industry is so undervalued and underinvested,” he said, “that even with this traffic boom and the rise in prominence and responsibility at this moment when people are relying so heavily on fact-checkers for credible information, we have no hopes for scaling up our businesses.”

1918 feels too distant now, it’s hard to relate to it. But perhaps we should count ourselves lucky that we find it hard to relate to.

The 1918 flu pandemic killed millions. So why does its cultural memory feel so faint?Slate
Reading letters from survivors of the flu pandemic, one of the things that strikes me over and over again, that’s so moving, is that almost every one of them says, “I never forgot; I never forgot; I never forgot.” [Researching the book], I interviewed one 105-year-old woman who had the flu in Richmond, when she was 8. And in my cheery way, I said something like “Why do you think people forgot the flu?” And she looked at me like I was crazy. “We didn’t forget! We didn’t ignore it! We didn’t forget.” She’s 105, right? And she was like, “It never faded—not for us.”

Meet the 107-year-old woman who survived the coronavirus and Spanish fluThe Jerusalem Post
“It’s remarkable,” Shapiro said. “That’s all I can say. It’s just unbelievable. I think perhaps it’s because of her art that she’s still involved in.”

The numbers are crazy, “6 percent of the Earth’s population in just over a year,” according to this collection of images from the time.

Historical photos of the 1918 Spanish Flu that show what a global pandemic looked like in the 1910sDesign You Trust
The speed of the pandemic was shocking; the numbers of dead bodies overwhelmed hospitals and cemeteries. Quarantine centers, emergency hospitals, public use of gauze masks, and awareness campaigns were all undertaken swiftly to halt the spread. But as World War I was coming to a close, millions of soldiers were still traveling across the globe, aiding the spread of the disease.

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The flu was first observed in Europe, the US and parts of Asia before it quickly spread throughout the world. It was wrongly named the Spanish flu because it was first reported in the Madrid daily newspaper ABC. However, modern scientists now believe the virus could have started in Kansas, US.

Kansas, you say? Hmm.

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Face masks, then. So what are our options (apart from using socks)?

Face Shield: How do we encourage mass adoption of an unwanted necessity?Joe Doucet
To try and create a face shield that people would actually want to wear rather than simply put up with, Joe Doucet has designed a shield with integrated sunglass lenses and arms that make them more practical and feel less alien and intrusive on the wearer than a typical face shield would. It is hoped that improving the basic face shield design will encourage far greater uptake of its usage and help everyone adjust to the “new normal” that awaits us.

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The Micrashell Futuresuit lets you party like it’s 2099Design Milk
Taking design cues from sportswear brands like Yohji Yamamoto and Nike Lab, the Production Club Micrashell wraps an array of speculative environmental technologies within a futuristic athleisure design straight out of the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer. The Micrashell is intended to allow for human-to-human interaction in group settings with a virus-shielded and disinfectable air-tight suit, specifically for attendees of “nightlife and entertainment industries”.

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Plastique Fantastique’s iSphere mask is informed by 1950s sci-fi comicsDezeen
Berlin-based art collective Plastique Fantastique has created an open-source, retro-futuristic face shield shaped like a fish bowl to protect wearers against coronavirus. The helmet-like design, called the iSphere, comprises two transparent, hollow hemispheres that have been secured together and cut to create a hole for the user to fit their head through.

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Canevacci and Young wanted to bring an element of humour to a serious object for non-medical users.

Perfect!

It’s infected our language too

What to ask instead of ‘How are you ?’ during a pandemic – The Atlantic
How are we? People are sick and dying in alarming numbers all around us. Maybe we’re lucky enough not to be sick or dying, but any of us could be soon. Everyone we know is in danger. Our jobs, and really our entire financial futures, are in jeopardy. Are we really going to paper over these grim truths with the usual, compulsorily breezy “I’m good! You?”

(It feels a little stupid and pointless to be carrying on with this blog, with all this anxiety and stress swirling around us. The future is so uncertain—jobs, schools, buses even—and yet the view out of my window, as I type this, looks perfectly normal (the lack of traffic notwithstanding). Nothing has changed, everything has changed. But I’ve started now, so I may as well continue. I guess it’s just the Monday Blursday blues.)

Other questions might work better as a conversational warm-up or quick check-in. Tannen is partial to “What am I interrupting?” as a conversation starter for phone calls. Meanwhile, Butler recommends “Are you still holding up okay?,” which can work as a succinct check-in before moving the discussion to other matters: It tacitly acknowledges the circumstances but nudges the respondent toward a succinct yes-or-no (or “More or less!”) answer.

It’s not just how we speak to each other that’s changing, but the words themselves.

Coronavirus has led to an explosion of new words and phrases – and that helps us copeThe Conversation
Established terms such as “self-isolating”, “pandemic”, “quarantine”, “lockdown” and “key workers” have increased in use, while coronavirus/COVID-19 neologisms are being coined quicker than ever. These include “covidiot” (someone ignoring public health advice), “covideo party”(online parties via Zoom or Skype), and “covexit” (the strategy for exiting lockdown), while coronavirus has acquired new descriptors – including “the ‘rona” and “Miley Cyrus” (Cockney rhyming slang).

‘Iso’, ‘boomer remover’ and ‘quarantini’: how coronavirus is changing our languageThe Conversation
What is interesting about COVID-lingo is the large number of creations that are blended expressions formed by combining two existing words. The new portmanteau then incorporates meaningful characteristics from both. Newly spawned “coronials” (corona + millennials) has the predicted baby boom in late 2020 already covered.

Perhaps language is a virus after all?

It’s a little quieter now

So long then, Dave and Richard.

Stranglers’ Dave Greenfield Dead at 71, After Coronavirus BattleRolling Stone
The Stranglers became a force on the U.K. punk scene in 1977 with the release of their debut LP, Rattus Norvegicus, which featured the singles “Peaches” and “(Get a) Grip (on Yourself),” the latter of which boasted Greenfield’s intricate keyboard lines. The group, which always faired well on the U.K. singles chart, earned their biggest hit in 1982 with “Golden Brown,” a tune that almost exclusively featured Greenfield’s baroque keyboard playing to complement then-guitarist and vocalist Hugh Cornwell’s lyrics. The track won the group an Ivor Novello award.

Little Richard, rock’n’roll pioneer, dies aged 87The Guardian
Richard was known for his outrageous performance style at the piano – eyes lined with mascara, pompadour hair fixed with potato starch, ferocious eyes transfixing audiences – and infectious whoops, a style echoed by dozens of performers, Prince prominent among them.

Golden Brown takes me right back to my childhood, but I think my favourite Stanglers track is Keith Floyd’s theme tune, Waltzinblack. And whilst Little Richard doesn’t feature at all on any of my Spotify playlists, this next guy does.

Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider dead at 73Pitchfork
After meeting as classical music students at the Düsseldorf Conservator, Schneider and Ralf Hütter collaborated in a project called Organisation beginning in 1970. Schneider’s main instrument was flute, which he filtered through various effect pedals. In addition, he played violin, guitar, and a wide array of synthesizers.

The duo soon went on to form Kraftwerk and issued a debut album in 1970. They underwent a series of lineup shifts and, following 1973’s breakthrough Ralf und Florian, went on to release acclaimed and highly influential records like 1974’s Autobahn and 1977’s Trans-Europe Express. At the time, Schneider compared the group’s electronic technique to driving a car: “You have the control, but it’s your decision how much you want to control it. If you let the wheel go, the car will drive somewhere, maybe off the road.”

The case for why Kraftwerk may be the most influential band since The BeatlesOpen Culture
Kraftwerk began as two long-haired students, Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, who met in Dusseldorf in 1969, playing experimental music with electric, acoustic, and electronic instruments and with a variety of musicians, including guitarist Michael Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger. In Dinger’s pounding, repetitive drumming, they found their mekanik sound as early as 1970, but had not yet transitioned into pop, or the clean-cut suit and tie look, until fully absorbing the influence of British artists Gilbert and George and receiving the guidance of superproducer Conny Plank.

Kraftwerk: their 30 greatest songs, ranked!The Guardian
From cycling soundtracks to anti-nuclear protest music, we celebrate the work of the late Florian Schneider and the groundbreaking group he co-founded.

I’ve turned that Guardian article into a Spotify playlist, for three hours of “computerized industrial campiness”.

With fans far and wide, young and old.

Kraftwerk songs performed by string quartetDangerous Minds
In 1992, the international chamber group Balanescu Quartet released a CD called Possessed. It contained three original works by the band’s eponymous leader Alexander Balanescu and a composition by Talking Heads’ artguy-in-chief David Byrne, but that didn’t really matter. Practically all the attention afforded the group was justifiably hogged by the five stunning Kraftwerk covers that led off the album.

Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” performed by German first graders in adorable cardboard robot outfitsOpen Culture
“Teach your children well” sang Crosby, Stills and Nash once upon a long ago, and that adage could be paraphrased as “make sure your students don’t grow up learning substandard pop songs. Give them a real education.” An enterprising elementary school teacher in Mombach, a district of the Rhineland city of Mainz, did so in 2015, dressing up his students from Lemmchen Elementary in their own handmade robot outfits and teaching them to sing the classic 1978 Kraftwerk hit “The Robots”.

Game of life and death

It was sad to learn earlier of the death of John Conway, the mathematician behind the Game of Life.

John Horton Conway, a ‘magical genius’ in math, dies at 82The New York Times
During what Dr. Conway called his “annus mirabilis,” roughly 1969 to 1970, he discovered what’s known as the Conway group, an entity in the realm of mathematical symmetry that inhabits 24-dimensional space. He discovered a new type of number, “surreal numbers.” And he invented the cellular automaton Game of Life, which is among the most beautiful mathematical models of computation. He described it as a “no-player never-ending” game.

I first came across this strange no-player game some time ago, and was struck by how simple its rules were, yet how intricate the patterns could become.

John Conway’s Game of Life
Each cell with one or no neighbors dies, as if by solitude.
Each cell with four or more neighbors dies, as if by overpopulation.
Each cell with two or three neighbors survives.
Each cell with three neighbors becomes populated.

game-of-life-and-death
I knew that these simple rules could create many different kinds of structures…

John Conway, inventor of the Game of Life, has died of COVID-19Ars Technica
This video, for example, shows a gun that consists of several large structures that each generates irregular streams of gliders. A bunch of gliders—37 to be exact—collide with one another in just the right way to produce a complex spaceship called a 6-engine Cordership, which then proceeds in another direction. It takes 784 moves to produce a Cordership before the cycle repeats.

… but I hadn’t appreciated just how complex they could get.

First replicating creature spawned in life simulatorNew Scientist
When Wade posted his self-replicating mathematical organism on a Life community website on 18 May, it sparked a wave of excitement. “This is truly ground-breaking work,” wrote a fellow Life enthusiast, Adam Goucher, on the website Game of Life News. “In fact, this is arguably the single most impressive and important pattern ever devised.”

My understanding of all this stops way before these videos.

I can follow along well enough to make one of those glider guns, but a digital clock? You’re kidding me.

How’s this for meta? The game of life built within the game of life. No clue what’s going on here.

Let’s leave the last word to the man himself.

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Things are looking up #2

A cloud gazer’s guide to every fluffy thing in the skyAtlas Obscura
Cloud-gazing, Pretor-Pinney says, is a way of “being an explorer of the sky, where you don’t have to leave your lockdown space.” The only souvenirs you’ll have will be photos and memories, but in a lonely, uncertain time, it helps to have a little perspective.

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Spy hummingbird captures footage of a Monarch butterfly swarm as they magnificently take to the skyLaughing Squid
In an absolutely breathtaking clip from the PBS series Spy in the Wild, a mechanical hummingbird approaches a swarm of sleeping Monarch butterflies absorbing the warm sun of the Mexican mountains. As they wake from their sun-soaked slumber, they begin investigating their mechanical visitor.

A Dutchman and two Yorkshire men

It was Van Gogh’s birthday the other week. Martin Bailey from The Art Newspaper takes a look at what he was doing on 30 March each year. It ends quite poignantly.

A concise guide to Van Gogh’s adult life: how the artist celebrated his birthday over the yearsThe Art Newspaper
Theo was very worried, writing to him on 29 March: “How pleased I would be to be able to go and see you tomorrow to shake your hand on your birthday. Will it be a celebration for you, or are you still in a state where you find yourself unhappy?” Vincent’s mother posted him a tin of chocolate and sewed him a tobacco pouch. She wrote to Theo: “May the 30th of March not be too unhappy for Vincent. Poor fellow, may he see better days.”

Let’s be more positive and remind ourselves of the joy he took in nature, with this interview with David Hockney from last year at the Van Gogh Museum.

David Hockney on Vincent van Gogh: Full interviewVan Gogh Museum
From 1 March, the colossal works of David Hockney will be on display in the Netherlands. For the first time, this spectacular exhibition offers an extensive and colourful exploration of the common ground between the work of Vincent van Gogh and David Hockney.

Hockney: ‘His paintings are full of movement. What people love about Van Gogh’s paintings is that all the brush marks are visible and you can see how they are painted. When you’re drawing one blade of grass you’re looking and then you see more. And then you see the other blades of grass and you’re always seeing more. Well, that’s exciting to me and it was exciting to Van Gogh. I mean, he saw very clearly’.

That visit to the Netherlands wasn’t without incident, but here’s an interview with another artist from Yorkshire whose latest work goes back to nature in a visually similar way.

Interview: Damien HirstIdler
I’d always made more money the next year than the year before. But it was unsustainable and it bites your arse. They all love you. The bank loves you, and the accountants love you, because they’re taking your money. Every year you get more and more people as well. One guy is taking 10 per cent and then it’s another guy taking 10 per cent and another guy taking 10 per cent and it’s all a big party. But before you know it, suddenly you’ve got an overdraft when before you had loads of cash. The people who give you the overdraft are your best mates as well, smiling at you and telling you that you’re amazing so you keep doing it. […]

You start by thinking you’ll get one assistant and before you know it you’ve got biographers, fire eaters, jugglers, fucking minstrels and lyre players all wandering around. They’re all saying they aren’t being paid enough and they all need assistants. Then one night you ask the lyre player to play for you and they say: “My lyre is all scratched up and I did ask for a lyre technician but you said not yet and if I had one I could come and play for you now.” So you’ve got to have a lyre technician and then you better get him an Uber account too.

How to advertise a phone battery

Ages ago, I shared a post about that incredible movie, The Russian Ark. It was filmed entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum with 2,000 cast members, three orchestras and a single 96-minute steadicam shot.

Well, the folks at Apple have done something similiar, to show off their new mobile, but have considerably upped the runtime. No orchestras this time, though it’s just as mesmerising.

A one-take journey through Russia’s iconic Hermitage museum, shot on iPhone 11 ProApple
Experience a 5 hr 19 min 28 sec cinematic journey through one of the world’s biggest museums in St. Petersburg, Russia. Take in 45 galleries, 588 masterpieces, and live performances, shot in 4K on iPhone 11 Pro in one continuous take.

Here’s the one and a half minute trailer, for those in a hurry.

Raise a glass to sprezzatura

It’s the weekend! I’ll drink to that, though perhaps not with one of these.

During the Renaissance, drinking wine was a fight against physicsGastro Obscura
The difficulty was the point. Courtiers were expected to embody the ideal of “sprezzatura,” a hard-to-translate word that combines the senses of elegance, sophistication, and nonchalance. In other words, you were supposed to be good at everything, without ever seeming to put any effort into it. What could be a better demonstration of sprezzatura than casually raising one of these sloshing, top-heavy goblets and taking a sip?

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You can see some of them being used in this painting from 1563, Paolo Veronese’s “The Wedding at Cana,” amongst some other wonderful details. Click through for a close-up.

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