Another mysterious Da Vinci

Is it a real Da Vinci? And who really owns it? Not questions about the Salvator Mundi, this time.

Family claims quarter share of disputed Isleworth Mona Lisa
The attribution of a painting known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa has been a matter of dispute for more than a century. Its owners say it was an earlier portrait by Leonardo da Vinci of the same woman, Lisa Gherardini, whose likeness hangs in the Louvre. Other experts believe it is a later copy of the world’s most famous painting.

This week it has emerged that the painting’s ownership is also bitterly contested. Giovanni Battista Protti, a lawyer based in Padua, represents a family who he says owns 25% of the portrait. A civil court in Florence, where the painting has been on show for the past six weeks, has now set a hearing for the ownership dispute for 9 September.

Happy minimalism

I mentioned earlier how metal has the power to make us happy. Whilst I enjoyed riffing down memory lane, the music that lifts my spirits now is more orchestral.

Here, composer David Bruce introduces us to minimalism and the work of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and, in particular, John Adams. I remember being completely blown away when I first heard this type of music, on a CD just called Minimalist, and it’s great to understand a little more about some of the orchestral decisions that goes into such work.

How John Adams writes for orchestra (The Chairman Dances & influence of minimalism)
The early minimalists choice of instruments and ways of composing influenced a whole generation of composers, myself included. In this video I look at how the style they developed went on to influence later orchestral compositions, in particular looking at the orchestral technique in John Adam’s piece ‘The Chairman Dances’.

And here’s that performance in full.

The Chairman Dances by John Adams – BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Now for something completely different. I’ve been vaguely aware of the name Victor Borge for a while, but never really knew anything about him or his stage routines. Consider this one of the YouTube recommendation algorithm’s big successes.

Victor Borge – Piano jokes

Les Dawson, anyone?

New from the DfE

The GOV.UK website is enormous, and with new publications and announcements being released every day, it’s easy to miss something important. Thankfully, most topics, departments and even ministers have a ‘get e-mail alerts’ link that’s really helpful. I’ve signed up for e-mail alerts from the Department of Education. Here are a few recent publications that caught my eye.

Advice for schools on how to prepare for Brexit
Including: Informing pupils and staff from the EU about the EU Settlement Scheme; EU pupils and staff arriving after Brexit; School places for EU nationals and UK pupils returning to England from the EU after Brexit; Data Protection; Food supplies; Medical supplies.

Teacher workload advisory group report and government response
This report from the Teacher workload advisory group sets out recommendations and principles to reduce the unnecessary workload associated with data and evidence collection. The government has accepted all the recommendations in full.

Understanding child and adolescent wellbeing: a system map
A report on the factors that influence children and young people’s (CYP) wellbeing from the perspective of CYP practitioners. This research used system mapping to capture the perceptions of the 21 children and young people’s (CYP) practitioners who participated in the study.

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Gathering moondust

NASA went to extraordinary lengths to show that what was brought back from the moon that time was safe.

NASA fed some of its precious Apollo 11 lunar samples to cockroaches
“We had to prove that we weren’t going to contaminate not only human beings, but we weren’t going to contaminate fish and birds and animals and plants and you name it,” said Charles Berry, head of medical operations during Apollo, in an oral history. “Any of the Earth’s biosphere, we had to prove we weren’t going to affect it. So we had to develop an amazing program that was carried off really for three flights’ worth. A lot of trouble.”

50 years later, those samples are still studied.

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How NASA has preserved Apollo moon rocks for 50 years
“May I hold it?” I ask Krysher. No dice. I had to ask, even though Zeigler had warned me in an e-mail before I arrived: “We have pretty strict rules about people putting their (gloved) hands in the cabinets to touch samples. Basically, it’s an only-if-you-walked-on-the-moon rule.”

Keeping pristine samples away from curious fingers allowed scientists to make one of the most surprising lunar discoveries of the last 50 years: The moon is wet. Over the last decade, scientists have found hundreds of times more water in lunar samples than researchers in the Apollo era realized existed.

A visit to NASA’s moon rock central
Science News astronomy writer Lisa Grossman went behind the scenes at NASA’s pristine sample lab at Johnson Space Center in Houston this spring and saw moon rocks up close — or as close as non-astronauts can get.

Down the rabbit hole

I read another great Quartz Obsession e-mail the other day, this time on Wikipedia.

Earlier, I shared some articles on two celebrated Wikipedia editors, Steven Pruitt and Jess Wade. This one is about the project more generally, its history and controversies, as well as some fascinating lists.

Wikipedia
“The wiki rabbit hole is the learning pathway which a reader travels by navigating from topic to topic while browsing Wikipedia and other wikis,” says Wikipedia. Intrinsic learning—to learn something for its own sake—is the number one reason people use the site. And truly, there is so much weird stuff to discover.

In 2011, Wales told Esquire that one of his favorites is the entry on the Metal Umlaut. Quartz editors nominated the following as their favorite Wikipedia pages: BloopList of largest cosmic structuresGardiner’s IslandThe humList of common misperceptionsObservable universeSodor’s legend of the lost treasureAnimals with fraudulent diplomasLongest flightsEmperor NortonInventors killed by their own inventionsImpossible color, and What Wikipedia is not. And you could spend a day following every link in Unusual articles and List of lists, two Wikipedia metaguides to eclectic content.

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Here are some other Quartz Obsessions I’ve enjoyed. You should sign up too, if you haven’t already.

Museum and art gallery cafés

An interesting take on places I often find myself in.

In praise of museum cafes and little restaurants in botanical gardens
Man, I don’t know exactly what it is about the kind of cafe/restaurant that one encounters attached to museums and botanical gardens that brings out the most refined, Edwardian-style lady-of-leisure-who-lunches in me, but I can’t walk past one without being completely overwhelmed by the urge to order an $18 egg sandwich from a cold case, then pick at it for the next two hours at a small, circular table.

From the oldest …

Victoria & Albert Museum Dining Rooms
Walking into the Victoria and Albert Museum’s café feels a bit like entering the inside of a Fabergé egg: No space is left untouched by the grandeur of gilded domes, ornate tiles, and ceramic wall reliefs.

The first museum café in the world, the V&A’s original “refreshment room” opened in 1856, but was subsequently demolished and reopened in 1868 as three separate refreshment rooms, which still exist for visitors’ enjoyment.

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… to the nearest (to me, anyway) and best.

Tiled Hall Café at Leeds Art Gallery
The Tiled Hall was originally the main library reading room, and from 1888-1941 it functioned as a sculpture court. The magnificent Victorian hall was renovated extensively in 2007 with the help of English Heritage, to reveal the original fabric of the room. The space is now one of the most popular and iconic eateries in the city of Leeds.

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In the 50s, that was all covered up.

Leeds Central Library Tiled Hall – Leeds Libraries heritage blog
The ceiling and walls of the Tiled Hall were then hidden for nearly fifty years behind a false ceiling, bookcases and panelling. A gallery for staff use was also created in the Tiled Hall where further book stock was shelved, office space for cataloguing services and a staff room created.

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Certainly, growing up in Leeds and visiting the library and art gallery often, I had no idea what was behind all that panelling. When it was finally revealed, it came as quite a shock.

Tiled Hall Cafe – Breadsticklers, Leeds food blog
Thankfully in 2007 the room was restored when a £1.5 million refurbishment took place and the beautiful tiles, marble columns, gold detailed ceilings were brought back to life again. You will now find here a contemporary cafe and great place to eat from breakfast through to late lunch.

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Cool clothes (literally)

I could have done with one of these yesterday.

Sony’s new Reon Pocket is an in-shirt air conditioner
Called Reon Pocket, the small, lightweight gadget slides into the upper back pocket of a specially designed t-shirt. Controlled with a smartphone app, it’s capable of heating or cooling the wearer via the Peltier effect, a thermodynamic principle widely used in refrigeration.

Yes, it’s been quite warm.

And not just here.

Europe’s heat wave shatters temperature records and cities are struggling to cope
Meteorologists say that Europe is on track for the hottest July on record, following the warmest June since records began in 1880.

Scientists warn that the world should expect more scorching heat waves due to climate change and that current temperature highs are in line with predictions made over a decade ago.

Just a taste of things to come, then?

Re-thinking supposedly anonymous data

This is a little alarming.

Anonymised data isn’t nearly anonymous enough – here’s how we fix it
We developed a machine learning model to assess the likelihood of reidentifying the right person. We took datasets and we showed that in the US fifteen characteristics, including age, gender, marital status and others, are sufficient to reidentify 99.98 per cent of Americans in virtually any anonymised data set.

Some more examples.

The simple process of re-identifying patients in public health records
In late 2016, doctors’ identities were decrypted in an open dataset of Australian medical billing records. Now patients’ records have also been re-identified – and we should be talking about it.

‘Anonymous’ browsing data can be easily exposed, researchers reveal
A journalist and a data scientist secured data from three million users easily by creating a fake marketing company, and were able to de-anonymise many users.

[…]

“What would you think,” asked Svea Eckert, “if somebody showed up at your door saying: ‘Hey, I have your complete browsing history – every day, every hour, every minute, every click you did on the web for the last month’? How would you think we got it: some shady hacker? No. It was much easier: you can just buy it.”

Lancaster University’s student data stolen

University application processes are in full swing, but here is some reputationally damaging news from Lancaster University.

Lancaster University hit by cyber attack, hundreds of students’ personal data stolen
The full scale of the cyber attack was revealed yesterday (July 22), when university chiefs confirmed that hackers had breached IT systems and accessed student records. […] It said it regretted that the breach has led to fraudulent invoices being sent to some undergraduate applicants demanding large sums of money.

Two days later, and the police have arrested someone for it.

Man arrested over UK’s Lancaster University data breach hack allegations
Names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers were among the categories of data visible to the hackers. Fraudulent invoices were sent to some, the university admitted. With overseas applicants (of which Lancaster had 575 last year from non-EU countries and 375 from other EU countries) paying fees measured in the tens of thousands of pounds per year, the potential for high returns is great.

Our sources added that around half a dozen students had paid these fraudulent invoices. The highest undergraduate fees for overseas (non-EU) students is Lancaster’s Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) course at £31,540.

It’s more than a little embarrassing, as Lancaster University is one of a number of universities offering degrees in cyber security

Cyber Security MSc – Lancaster University
In addition to the taught modules, you will also work on an individual research project, supervised by two academics from two of the four departments. Through this project, you will obtain an in-depth understanding of the theoretical and practical aspects of cyber security and technology. You will put the skills and knowledge you have developed throughout the year into practice and gain experience of tackling real-world cyber security issues.

Well, there’s a ‘real-world cyber security issue’ for you.

Falling short

I think I need to make a bigger effort to find more positive stories. Everything I read convinces me more and more that we’re a planet of idiots.

Scarecrow’ statue of Melania Trump unveiled in Slovenia to mixed reviews
“I can understand why people might think that this falls short as a description of her physical appearance,” Downey told AFP, but insisted that he found the end result “absolutely beautiful”.

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If he’s saying this isn’t a good description of her ‘physical’ appearance, does he mean he was trying to represent her — what? Intellect?

Has humanity reached ‘peak intelligence’?
Whatever the cause of the Flynn effect, there is evidence that we may have already reached the end of this era – with the rise in IQs stalling and even reversing. If you look at Finland, Norway and Denmark, for instance, the turning point appears to have occurred in the mid-90s, after which average IQs dropped by around 0.2 points a year. That would amount to a seven-point difference between generations.

Great, now look what you’ve done

Who gave this clown the keys?

Artists fearful about the future under new UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
“When Boris Johnson campaigned to become mayor of London first time, one of his pledges involved cutting budgets for art projects like the Fourth Plinth; that was until he realised that culture for London was actually a good [thing]. Typically, he had strong opinions about subject matters he didn’t have any clue about, and then later he had to change his mind when he was finally confronted with the facts. However, that didn’t really make him interested in the arts,” Elmgreen adds.

Lost your wallet? Don’t worry

An article to show that honesty might not be as rare in people as the media would have us believe.

Majority of people return lost wallets – here’s the psychology and which countries are the most honest
Overall, 51% of those who were handed a wallet with smaller amounts of money reported it, compared with 72% for a larger sum. The most honest countries were Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands whereas the least honest were Peru, Morocco and China.

So why is this and what does it tell us about the psychology of honesty? To get an idea, I ran a very informal focus group to find out what kinds of things people may ask themselves when making a decision to return a found wallet. A common view was that no one wanted to appear to act in a socially unacceptable way, and nobody wanted to appear to be a thief. And, of course, the more money in the wallet, the greater the crime.

Is there anything you can do to increase the changes of your wallet being returned? Try this.

In 2009, a researcher carelessly “dropped” a number of wallets all over Edinburgh to see what would happen. He got 42% of the wallets back, but wasn’t not the most interesting finding. It wasn’t only the money in the wallet that influenced whether it would be returned. Where a family photo, an image of a cute puppy, a baby or an elderly couple were included, the chances of the wallet being returned significantly improved.

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You may want to cut this out and put it in your wallet.

Thefts do happen, of course, but some have happy endings.

Found: 15 wallets from the 1940s, stolen and stashed behind a bathroom wall
The pastor took to Facebook to wage a longshot campaign to return the wallets to their owners. His post—which featured a photo of the find along with eight names from the discovered student identification cards—has since picked up more than 3,000 shares, and has so far helped facilitate one reunion. Betty Sissom, 89, currently living more than an hour away from Centralia in Chesterfield, Missouri, is now back in possession of treasures once lost, such as her old social security card, a photo of herself with her childhood crush, and a picture of her brother, who had been fighting in World War II at the time and has since passed away. “I was just so glad to get that,” CNN quoted Sissom as saying, “because I don’t have a picture of him.”

And let’s not forget this from NBC News, under its ‘Criminal weirdness’ heading:

Man’s two ‘page one’ photos lead to arrest
Michael Millhouse, wearing a blue and black checkered coat, is painting decorative Christmas greetings on storefront windows in one photo published Dec. 13 in the Lewiston Tribune. The other image was taken from surveillance video footage that reportedly showed a then-unidentified man slipping a women’s wallet in the pocket of that same coat and walking away.

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Don’t sweat the details

Two artists, one approach.

Palette knife smudges and heavy brushstrokes form colorful abstract portraits by Joseph Lee
Lee began painting as a way to channel his creativity after a failed acting audition. “After working on a long project, I needed to protect my energy and be selfish with my time,” he told Shape/Shift Report. “I don’t have any formal artistic training and coming from a theater background, human behavior and emotions were the closest references I had to paint.” Describing his process as “a bit of a blur,” Lee says that he shuts off mentally and fully engages with the work. No two days are the same, and that’s the way he prefers it. “I am not conscious of what I am doing much of this time,” he explained.

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Thick brushstrokes form plump songbirds in oil paintings by Angela Moulton
Chickadees, barn swallows, and goldcrest kinglets emerge from impasto oil paintings by Angela Moulton. The artist works in the aesthetic space between realistic and stylized, using natural tones that are slightly keyed up, and following the body and beak shapes of each bird while giving them just a bit of extra plumpness. Thick brush strokes form the birds’ bodies in just a couple of deft swipes.

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It seems HE can be free

It need not always be about the money.

A debate is under way about the cost of higher education
But the most powerful arguments for free university are about values rather than economic efficiency. To politicians like Mr Sanders, a post-secondary education is a part of the basic package of services society owes its members. There are broad social benefits to a well-educated citizenry, because new ideas allow society as a whole to prosper and cultivating an informed population in an increasingly complex world probably takes more than 12 or so years of schooling. Amid constant technological change, a standing offer of free higher education may represent an important component of the social safety-net. Universality reinforces the idea that free education is not an expedient form of redistribution, but part of a system of collective insurance undergirding an egalitarian society. To progressive politicians, means-tested services send the message that government programmes are for those who cannot help themselves, whereas universal programmes are a means by which society co-operates to help everyone.

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Happy metal

Did you know that music has the power to affect us physiologically, as well as just emotionally?

Here’s what happens in your brain when you listen to music, according to science
Music can also have a strong effect on your emotions by, in a sense, manipulating your body. For example, a 2009 study published in the scientific journal Circulation found that autonomic responses, such as your heart rate, can synchronize with the music you’re listening to, especially if it includes a number of crescendos.

But how about something more two-way?

Our brain-computer interfacing technology uses music to make people happy
For instance, imagine a device that can detect when you are falling into a state of depression (as evidenced by, for example, an unusual spiking activity in the EEG), and use this information to trigger an algorithm that generates bespoke music to make you feel happier. This approach is likely to be effective. Indeed, recent research has shown, in a large meta-analysis of 1,810 music therapy patients, that music can reduce depression levels.

You wouldn’t think something as aggressive-sounding as metal could help here, but you’d be surprised.

Heavy metal
When fans of metal listen to the music, they don’t feel rage, anger, or despair, but “power, joy, peace, and wonder,” according to research published last year. In fact, a huge survey in 2010 sought to categorize people by their musical tastes, and found a significant overlap between metal and opera fans, who shared “similarly creative and gentle personalities.”

Heavy metal music can have health benefits for fans
Despite the often violent lyrical content in some heavy metal songs, recently published research has shown that fans do not become sensitized to violence, which casts doubt on the previously assumed negative effects of long-term exposure to such music. Indeed, studies have shown long-terms fans were happier in their youth and better adjusted in middle age compared to their non-fan counterparts. Another finding that fans who were made angry and then listened to heavy metal music did not increase their anger but increased their positive emotions suggests that listening to extreme music represents a healthy and functional way of processing anger.

I used to listen to a lot of metal when I was younger. This quick summary of the genre brought all the good vibes back.

20 iconic metal riffs

Want to learn more? You can get a PhD in it now (kind of).

University offers PhD scholarship in heavy metal
The University of Newcastle in Australia is offering a scholarship of $27,596 per annum (assumedly that’s AUS dollars, meaning $19,232 USD or £15,139) to two domestic students and one International student, to study social geographies across a series of cultures. The subjects being studied are Homelessness and Mutual Aid, Vegan Geographies, Unschooling and The Possibilities of Childhood, and of course, Heavy Metal Geographies.

Any study of heavy metal geography is bound to look at Finland…

Finland’s Heavy Metal knitting championship is the real purl jam
While combining heavy metal music with knitting might not seem an obvious match, the organizers say it’s similar to other unusual events in Finland, such as world championships in air guitar, swamp soccer, and wife carrying — Finnish ways of goofing around and making the most of the long summer nights in these northern latitudes.

“We have such dark and long winters,” said Mari Karjalainen, one of the founders of the event. “This really gives us lots of time to plan for our short summers and come up with silly ideas.”

Purl jam: Finland hosts heavy metal knitting championship

Well that’s not something I remember seeing Lemmy do!

Hong Kong paper power

The protests in Hong Kong continue. Quartz has some dramatic photos from a recent clash. It began peacefully but then deteriorated after the police started using pepper spray.

Hong Kong police clash with protesters in shopping mall
Following a standoff that lasted several hours on the street, police attempted to clear crowds off the roads by sending in riot police, eventually pursuing protesters who hadn’t dispersed from the scene into the shopping mall, New Town Plaza. There, protesters hurled objects including umbrellas, helmets, and bottles at the police, who were at one point vastly outnumbered. After reinforcements arrived, officers in riot gear charged up escalators to the various floors of the mall, using batons and pepper spray as they beat their way toward protesters. People were also seen throwing objects at police officers from upper levels of the mall.

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The scale of these protests is quite incredible.

A bird’s-eye view of how protesters have flooded Hong Kong streets
Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, June 16, and marched almost two miles (three kilometers), protesting a proposed extradition bill and calling for the city’s leader to step down.

It was the largest of three major protests against the bill that were held over eight days. More demonstrations are scheduled for Wednesday, ahead of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Osaka, Japan. The composite images below help show the enormous scale of the June 16 demonstrations.

This is just one of those images.

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But it’s just not about the people, it’s about how they’re getting their messages across, and how those messages are being defended.

Post-it notes are the new weapon of choice for Hong Kong’s protesters
All across the city’s districts—from its financial hub to the suburbs neighboring mainland China and outlying islands—walls big and small covered with colorful pieces of paper with the thoughts and wishes of Hong Kong people are sprouting up. Their inscriptions range from inspiring quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. to expletive-laden calls for death to police. It’s the latest in a strategy protesters are calling “flowers blossoming everywhere,” a Chinese saying appropriated to signify that the recent protest movement in Hong Kong has now spread far from its downtown epicenter to neighborhoods everywhere.

They’re called Lennon Walls, named for the original section of a concrete staircase near Hong Kong’s government complex that was covered with Post-its during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. The name itself was adopted from the John Lennon Wall in Prague, a place where Czech youth expressed their political thoughts through graffiti and Beatles lyrics.

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(I just hope it all ends well this time.)

Glass in Manchester

Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre have a new Philip Glass work, Tao of Glass, “an exploration of life, loss and a single question: Where does true inspiration come from?” It’s a collaboration with Phelim McDermott, who has worked with his music before.

Tao of Glass review – golden odyssey through Philip Glass’s music
Tao of Glass, co-directed with Kirsty Housley and with a score by Glass himself, is – on one level – the story of McDermott’s long-held dream of creating a piece to his music. Aided by three puppeteers and a small band of musicians, he acts out his story not as a narrative, but as a collage of fragments. His initial idea, he tells us, had been to stage Maurice Sendak’s children’s book In the Night Kitchen, about a boy falling into a surreal underworld. But Sendak died before work could begin, and the project came to nothing. Yet what do we have here? A falling puppet boy, a model piano that ingeniously transforms into a toy theatre of kitchen cupboards and utensils, a fantasy flight inside a milk bottle, all to a specially composed score.

It all sounds extraordinary.

Meditating in Manchester: Tao of Glass – in pictures
This world premiere at Manchester international festival combines Philip Glass’s mesmerising music and performer-director Phelim McDermott’s theatricality.

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Philip Glass: from Einstein on the Beach to a superfan in Manchester
As a young Glass fan, McDermott saw ENO’s European premiere of Akhnaten in London in 1985. After picking up his ticket, he says, he spotted the composer in the street and followed him around Covent Garden until Glass disappeared into a sushi restaurant. “I guess there was a fantasy – if I stopped him, what would I say? A little bit like when I saw Quentin Tarantino at a crime writers’ festival in Nottingham. On some level, Tao of Glass is me finally daring to stop Philip and ask him a question.”

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I love how he has a matching anecdote.

Philip Glass: I once had Salvador Dali in the back of my cab
An element of this show is Phelim McDermott’s love of your music. He says in 1985 he followed you down the street and was too shy to say hello. Have you ever had a moment where you were starstruck?

Oh yes. In my early days as a composer, I had day jobs as most people do. For a period of time I was driving taxis and Salvador Dali got in my cab. Can you believe that? With the moustaches and everything. And I was dying to talk to him.

But it was a very short ride. I took him from a restaurant back to his hotel, only about six blocks. And I was thinking, I’ve gotta say something. I never could think of anything to say to him. Better that, because I’m afraid that if I said something, whatever it was, it would have been probably very stupid. In the end I can say I missed meeting him by very little.

Reminds me of the time as a student when I almost met Peter Greenaway. We were both on a train to Cardiff, for a showing and Q&A of The Baby of Mâcon at the Chapter arts centre. Yep, just too shy to meet a hero. Good to know I’m not the only one.

Lighter school bags?

Textbook publisher Pearson is moving to “digital first model, effectively killing future print editions of its college textbooks,” according to Publishers Weekly.

Pearson puts print books to bed
“Students are demanding easier access and more affordable higher education materials, with nearly 90% of learners using some kind of digital education tool,” Pearson CEO John Fallon said in a statement. “We’ve changed our business model to deliver affordable, convenient, and personalized digital materials to students. Our digital first model lowers prices for students and, over time, increases our revenues. By providing better value to students, they have less reason to turn to the secondary market. This will create a more predictable, visible revenue stream with a better quality of earnings that enables us to serve the needs of learners and customers more effectively. Our digital courseware makes learning more active, engaging and immersive, improving outcomes for students and their teachers, and helping college leaders meet the growing demand for lifelong learning.”