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.

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.

Musical meanderings

One of the pieces of classical music on YouTube I keep replaying is this performance of Dvořák’s String Quartet No 12, played by the wonderful Pražák Quartet. It’s such a lyrical piece, played with passion and vigour.

It’s fun to compare that early video of the four of them with this performance of Schubert’s String Quartet No 15 several years later.

Time marches on for all of us, though sadly it didn’t march for very long for Schubert himself.

A lost paradise of purityStandpoint
Of all the premature deaths among the ranks of the creative, none is more painful to contemplate than Franz Schubert’s. His cutting off in November 1828 at the age of 31 was not as brutal in strictly chronological terms as Keats’s at the age of 25 in 1821, but there is with Schubert a yearning to know the music which he never composed that is even greater than the regret for Keats’s unwritten poems. All Schubert’s works are in a sense early works, and it is striking to think that by the time Haydn reached the age at which Schubert died, he had written none of the music for which we now revere him.

Let’s move from Schubert to Bach, and from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Boomwhacker Bach: Prélude n°1 aux tubes musicauxThe Kid Should See This
This performance by Les Objets Volants is a wonderful mix of work and play… an exercise in “juggling” that requires an immense amount of concentration and teamwork. Boomwhacker Bach! In front of an audience in Luxeuil les Bains, France, this is Prélude n°1 aux tubes musicaux, or Johann Sebastian Bach’s first prelude played with boomwhackers.

All good stuff, but perhaps this musical post has been too male-dominated so far? Let’s address that.

New documentary Sisters with Transistors tells the story of electronic music’s female pioneersOpen Culture
“Technology is a tremendous liberator,” says Laurie Anderson in her voiceover narration for the new documentary Sisters with Transistors, a look at the women who have pioneered electronic music since its beginnings and been integral to inventing new sounds and ways of making them. “Women were naturally drawn to electronic music. You didn’t have to be accepted by any of the male-dominated resources. You could make something with electronics, and you could present music directly to an audience.”

“The history of women has been a history of silence,” Rovner writes. “Music is no exception.” Or as Oliveros put it in a 1970 New York Times Op-Ed:

Why have there been no “great” women composers? The question is often asked. The answer is no mystery. In the past, talent, education, ability, interests, motivation were irrelevant because being female was a unique qualification for domestic work and for continual obedience to and dependence upon men.

All good stuff, but perhaps this musical post has been too human-dominated so far? Let’s address that.

Composer transcribes animal sounds to sheet musicBoing Boing
Alexander Liebermann, an accomplished composer living in Berlin, has been challenging himself to transcribe the sounds of penguins, whales, and other animals as an exercise for ear training.

Ear training challenge – Emperor PenguinYouTube
During courtship, the male and female penguins trumpet loudly to each other, thus learning each other’s call (They recognize each other amidst breeding colonies that consist of up to 40,000 penguins because of their calls). Emperor penguins typically use both sides of their syrinx simultaneously, producing vocalizations using ‘two-voices’. In the videos I have seen, calls of adult penguins mostly consisted of two-voice vocalizations using three different intervals: M2, m3, M3. In contrast, those of the chicks consisted of single voices outlining numerous intervals: m3, M3, P4, TT, P5, m6.

Let’s go shopping down Memory Lane

You wouldn’t think the humble carrier bag would be such an evocative thing.

Plastic fantastic: Vintage carrier bagsThe Guardian
Hull-based artist Aaron Thompson’s Instagram project Carry a Bag Man is a trip down memory lane. … So far, he’s photographed more than 250 for Instagram, from shops such as WH Smith, Topshop and HMV.

Many of them are likely to bring back fond memories of the shopping sprees in January sales from years gone by. “The effort put into advertising back then was so much more creative and out-there,” he says. “It’s great to look at a bag and get that burst of nostalgia as soon as you see a design you’ve totally forgotten about.”

But what shall we buy with our hundreds of carrier bags? Thousands of beer cans, of course!

The archaeologist who collected 4,500 beer cansGastro Obscura
Maxwell’s work blurs the line between rubbish and relic, raising the question of when beer cans become valuable artifacts worthy of study and preservation. But in many parts of the country, any object on public land that is at least 50 years old is considered historic and therefore eligible for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966—as long as they meet certain criteria. This makes the ability to date beer cans a useful skill for archaeologists.

For Maxwell, this trash was a treasure trove. “The cans were weird and old and mysterious looking,” he says. “They had punches to open them instead of pull rings, and all I knew was that they predated me.” Maxwell learned to decipher their stories by pouring over collectors’ guides and trade magazines, and summers spent hunting along the highway developed into a lifelong passion for collecting and studying beer cans. Over the decades, Maxwell amassed 4,500 cans, which he recently cut down to 1,700 due to a lack of storage space.

2021 off to a flying start

Trump and his followers aren’t going out quietly, are they?

Pro-Trump mob storms US CapitolThe Guardian
A mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol after mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital. They breached security, took over the rotunda and House chamber, and disrupted the vote certification for Joe Biden.

Riot, insurrection or social media performance?

The pro-Trump mob was doing it for the ‘GramBuzzfeed News
For Trump supporters who occupy those extreme-right universes, anyone who believes that Trump lost the election is the delusional one. What’s more: they experience this narrative entirely online, safe from facts, where stars of this alternate universe emerge to cement it for them. And there is a reward to be found in that stardom: After all, why would anyone don a costume like the QAnon Shaman, if not as a play for the cameras?

But if the stardom is the reward, what of their revolution? Don’t they have work to do, a vote to stop? For many in the mob that showed up in DC, the posing is the work.

Twitter has been such a huge part of this presidency, it’s hard to imagine one without the other. Up to now, at least.

Twitter permanently suspends President Donald Trump’s accountTime
In a series of tweets on its @TwitterSafety account, the social media giant said that Trump’s account had continued to violate the rules even after being warned by temporarily locking Trump’s account on Wednesday evening after the insurrection that caused the death of at least six people, either at the Capitol or from injuries sustained there.

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter said in its announcement. “In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action.”

Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrumpTwitter Blog
Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open. However, we made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things.

Well, that’s one less password for him to remember, at least.

Trump goes “ballistic” after Twitter ban, says he’s looking at creating own platformSlate
Trump seemed to be engulfed by a burning desire to tweet and so he grabbed hold of the official @POTUS Twitter account and published a statement that the White House also issued separately. Trump lashed out at Twitter, saying it had “coordinated with the Democrats and the Radical Left” to remove his account. Trump also said he had been “negotiating with various other sites” and that he and his allies are looking “at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future.” Twitter quickly took down the messages from the @POTUS account. Donald Trump Jr. characterized the ban as “absolute insanity,” adding that it showed how “we are living Orwell’s 1984.”

Trump Jr’s reference to 1984 is interesting. He’s not the first to spot similarities.

One alternative to Twitter, favoured by his supporters is (was?) Parler.

Apple suspends Parler from App StoreTechCrunch
Apple confirmed that it has suspended the conservative social media app Parler from the App Store, shortly after Google banned it from Google Play. The app, which became a home to Trump supporters and several high-profile conservatives in the days leading up to the Capitol riots, had been operating in violation of Apple’s rules.

Amazon will suspend hosting for pro-Trump social network ParlerBuzzfeed News
“Recently, we’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms,” the email reads. “It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.” […] On Parler, reaction to the impending ban was swift and outraged, with some discussing violence against Amazon. “It would be a pity if someone with explosives training were to pay a visit to some AWS data centers,” one person wrote.

It seems to me that these people aren’t contesting their 2020 loss, but the one from 1865.

Things are looking up #5

I don’t remember adding this to my YouTube ‘Watch Later’ playlist, but I’m glad I did. A charming documentary on a bizarre, elegant, yet absolutely enormous cloud.

Secrets of a Strange CloudYouTube
This is about the Morning Glory Cloud in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, Australia. It is an amazing atmospheric phenomenon. It is a shockwave which can be over a thousand kilometres long. Other meteorological terms for this type of formation is a shelf cloud, roll cloud or soliton. They can happen unpredictably in other places in the world but the Gulf of Carpentaria is the only location place where they happen with some degree of regularity around September and October.

Whilst we still have our heads in the clouds, ponder this strange notion — that we didn’t always know where birds went in the winter. They seemed to just vanish each year. Perhaps, rather than flying to different countries, they flew a little further.

When birds migrated to the MoonThe MIT Press Reader
Morton rejected Aristotle’s widely accepted hibernation theory, and pointed out a major flaw in the theory that the birds simply migrated to another place on Earth: No one in Europe knew where they went. They literally disappeared. He argued that returning birds, like woodcocks, appeared to drop suddenly from the sky over ships at sea.

Their round trip to the moon took one month each way, taking the distance to the moon and the length of their absence into account. There was no atmospheric resistance to impede their flight (so he had taken on board that much of Pascal’s conclusions) and the journey between the worlds was aided by lack of gravity. They slept for much of it, living off their body fat. It was all logical enough, in its own way.

You must read that article for its charming account of Domingo Gonsales flying to the Moon on his swan engine.

It’s a good job he didn’t try that trip a few hundred years earlier.

In 1110, the Moon vanished from the sky. We may finally know whyScience Alert
“On the fifth night in the month of May appeared the Moon shining bright in the evening, and afterwards by little and little its light diminished, so that, as soon as night came, it was so completely extinguished withal, that neither light, nor orb, nor anything at all of it was seen,” an observer wrote in the Peterborough Chronicle.

It was bright enough a week ago, spookily peering through the clouds, though this shot using my binoculars doesn’t do it justice.

Perhaps I need to take some pointers from the experts.

Taking good photos in bad lightPhotography Life
When the sky is gray or the sun is directly overhead, it can be tough to find inspiration for high-quality photography. My hope with this article is to share some tips that have worked for me when I photograph in bad lighting conditions – something which every photographer experiences at some point.

So much to read, so little time #2

Get any good books for Christmas? I got the obligatory gift voucher, just trying to decide what to spend it on now.

The best books of 2020Kottke
Let’s start with the NY Times. Their 10 Best Books of 2020 includes Deacon King Kong by James McBride while their larger list of 100 Notable Books of 2020 has both Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff and The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack on it. The Times’ critics have their own list for some reason; one of the books they featured is Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley.

I came across that last one back in February, still not got around to it. I’m in good company, at least.

Building an antilibrary: the power of unread booksNess Labs
For Umberto Eco, a private library is a research tool. The goal of an antilibrary is not to collect books you have read so you can proudly display them on your shelf; instead, it is to curate a highly personal collection of resources around themes you are curious about. Instead of a celebration of everything you know, an antilibrary is an ode to everything you want to explore.

But that doesn’t help me pick what to get with my voucher, does it?

Help us pick the best book cover of 2020Electric Literature
This hasn’t been an easy year for sustained, careful reading. But you know what doesn’t take any attention at all? Judging a book by its cover! That’s why we’re doing our first ever “best book cover of the year” tournament—and we want you to weigh in.

These were their finalists. Which one do you think won? I think they made a good choice.

Jigsaw’s “Jigsaw” jigsaw

What used to be seen as quite a dull, old-fashioned way to pass the time has swung back round again and become very Instagrammable.

Everyone wants a puzzleVox
Puzzles have become increasingly popular — especially for millennials — in a way that outweighs what I thought might be the white noise of my personal preference for them. On Instagram, hashtags like #jigsawpuzzles and #puzzlesofinstagram yield tens of thousands of posts. TikTokers and YouTubers often post time lapses of themselves assembling beautiful, difficult jigsaws.

You don’t have to limit yourself to completing just one jigsaw at a time, though.

Surreal jigsaw puzzle montagesThe Guardian
“A jigsaw puzzle manufacturer typically uses the same cut pattern for different puzzles,” Klein explains. “This makes the pieces of their puzzles interchangeable and I find that I can combine two or more to make a surreal image that the manufacturer never imagined.” … For his work, Klein uses vintage puzzles from the 1970s-90s, the selection of which can take years: “It’s an obsessive but enjoyable treasure hunt,” he says.

Jigsaws are certainly no longer what they used to be.

Someone creates a transparent jigsaw puzzle and it’s evilDeMilked
Jigsaw puzzles are a great way to pass time while you’re stuck in quarantine. However, someone came up with a way to make this fun and relaxing activity into a nightmare. We present to you – transparent jigsaw puzzles.

Assemble the jagged pieces of this shattered puzzle and fix ‘The Accident’Colossal
While most shattered glass heads straight to the trash, Yelldesign’s panes actually can be reassembled into a single sheet, turning a groan-inducing mistake into a delightfully tedious activity. Comically titled “The Accident,” the acrylic puzzle is comprised of 215 jagged and cracked pieces resembling a broken window. Yelldesign warns, though, that although you don’t have to worry about getting cut or scratched by the pointed edges, assembly isn’t an easy feat.

A 224 piece jigsaw puzzle featuring 43 different cat shaped pieces that need to be herded togetherLaughing Squid
The Herding Cats Puzzle by Nervous System (previously) is an aptly named wooden jigsaw puzzle made up of 224 pieces in 43 different feline shapes. When all the cats are herded together, the result is a brilliantly colored giant blue-eyed fluffy kitty designed by Anne Sullivan.

An ‘infinite’ galaxy puzzle that can be built in any directionColossal
The team over at Nervous System recently designed this fun Infinite Galaxy Puzzle that tiles continuously in any direction. Pieces from the top can be removed and added to the bottom, and likewise from side to side. So regardless of where you start the puzzle can continue in a seemingly infinite series of patterns.

I love the idea of a seemingly infinite jigsaw. Here’s another, and my favourite. From Darren Cullen, whose Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives project is more used to producing hard-edged, satirical advertising campaigns than dizzying Christmas gifts.

Descend into the endlessly repetitive loop of ‘Jigsaw Jigsaw’Colossal
If 2020 were packaged in a box, it would be Darren Cullen’s “Jigsaw Jigsaw.” Just like our repetitive days and seemingly endless fascination with simple pastimes, the 1,000-piece game relies on the Droste effect and features a recursive image that spirals into the same black-and-white puzzle over and over.

I was happy to help crowdfund this when plans were first announced to make this a real puzzle. It arrived earlier this month, but I gotta say, it’s not easy. This is as far as we got.

A Christmas singalong like no other

Missing live music? Make some yourself, with another interactive musical thing from Google.

Google’s Blob Opera lets you conduct a quartet of singing blobs for instant festive joyIt’s Nice That
Whatever you’re doing right now, it can wait – because Blob Opera is probably the most fun you’ll have today. A new machine learning experiment by David Li for Google Arts & Culture, the online interactive instrument features four animated blob characters which you can conduct to create your own music.

Try it for yourself!

Blob OperaGoogle Arts & Culture
Create your own opera inspired song with Blob Opera – no music skills required! A machine learning experiment by David Li in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture.

it’s all very silly, but you have to admit, they do make a wonderful sound. That’s due, no doubt, to some clever coding, but also to the skills of the real humans behind these machine-learned voices.

You can now create your own 4-part ‘Blob Opera‘ with this addictive Google appClassic FM
The voices are those of real-life opera singers, tenor Christian Joel, bass Frederick Tong, mezzo-soprano Joanna Gamble and soprano Olivia Doutney, who recorded many hours of singing for the experiment. You don’t hear their actual voices in the tool, but rather the machine learning model’s understanding of what opera singing sounds like, based on what it learned from the four vocalists.

It’s all great fun. And I hadn’t realised how extensive the Google Arts & Culture site is. Lots to play with, whilst we wait for all the real galleries and museums to get back to normal.

Will it Stand up?

Stephen King, author of 70+ novels and short story collections, is almost as famous for the 30+ adaptations of his stories as for the books themselves.

America’s dark Disney: How Stephen King conquered the screenThe Independent
“There are conventions and stylistic choices that he makes in his work that tap into a very core sense of the human psyche,” Apicella explains. “You’re willing to go into this crazy paranormal stuff, because at the heart of it is something we’ve all experienced, whether it’s coming of age, or financial hardship. He’s brave enough to unpack what frightens us in the most extensive and imaginative way.”

Back in 2017, I set myself the task of reading Stephen King’s It again, after a 30 year gap, before I saw the latest version with Bill Skarsgård and co. In fact, the original driver was to re-read the book before I read this wonderfully cutting/draining book review/reading journal, before I saw the film.

Reading Stephen King’s It is an exhausting way to spend a summerThe Verge
Now is probably a good time to point out that Stephen King is out of control. There is no way an editor even glanced at this book before it was published. It took 350 pages for the seven main characters (too many!) to individually meet the central monster and then collectively acknowledge its existence, and we frequently took extended breaks to talk about architecture.

But by the time I finished the book, I had had my fill of it and didn’t bother watching the film. And still haven’t. I might get round to it.

Anyway, I only mention this now as it’s just happened again.

Wanting something hefty to read during the first coronavirus lockdown this summer I turned to King’s The Stand, that cheery tale of survival in a post-pandemic world that I first waded through in the late 80s. It seemed to be the right thing to do.

Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: what we can learn from literary historyThe Conversation
Literature has a vital role to play in framing our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is worth turning to some of these texts to better understand our reactions and how we might mitigate racism, xenophobia and ableism (discrimination against anyone with disabilities) in the narratives that surround the spread of this coronavirus. Ranging from the classics to contemporary novels, this reading list of pandemic literature offers something in the way of an uncertain comfort, and a guide for what happens next.

I’ve finally got to the end of its 1,152 pages and have learnt that, after having had my fill of it all, a new adaptation is on its way, one that I’m — yet again — in no rush to see.

The 5 most challenging parts of adapting The StandPolygon
In a case of what could be considered great or terrible timing, depending on how you look at it, CBS All Access’ The Stand will arrive smack dab in the middle of an actual global pandemic. Will people flock to a show dramatizing a similar (albeit far more deadly) pandemic story when a real one has kept them locked in their homes for nine months?

‘The Stand’ doesn’t play by the bookRolling Stone
This new version has its inspired moments, like the way Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” somehow turns out to be the perfect theme song for Flagg, but the structure keeps sucking the life out of things, from major characters to more minor ones. The unhinged pyromaniac who calls himself Trashcan Man appears in a parallel narrative throughout the book before playing a huge role in its climax; here (played in suitably off-kilter fashion by Ezra Miller), he doesn’t turn up until the season is more than halfway done. Without the connective tissue, presented in the proper order, little of what we see feels like it matters.

Will this be something to watch if/when it works its way onto a channel I can access? Perhaps I need to wait 30 years again.

So, farewell then, IKEA catalogue

First Argos, now IKEA.

The IKEA Catalog is dead. Long live the IKEA CatalogPrint
The company has announced that after seven decades—following an “emotional but rational decision”—the publication is coming to an end. As for the Swedish furniture purveyor’s corporate reasoning, the lines are familiar—IKEA has become increasingly digital, and the catalog has less and less of a place in the modern world. Interestingly, IKEA is also nixing the digital version of the catalog, as well.

But don’t worry. Here, via another Print post, is a full, browsable archive.

Premiere for the IKEA catalogues online!IKEA Museum
For over 70 years, the IKEA catalogue has been produced in Älmhult, growing in number, scope and distribution. From the 1950s when Ingvar Kamprad wrote most of the texts himself, via the poppy, somewhat radical 1970s, all the way to the scaled-down 1990s and the present day – the IKEA catalogue has always captured the spirit of the time.

OK, don’t mind me, I’m just going to sit here for a while and work my way through all the catalogues from the 90s; Billy bookcases, Poang chairs, prehistoric laptops…

Happy shopper #2

The shops need customers, but do the customers need to be in the shops?

Black Friday’s just round the corner, or is it?

When is Black Friday 2020? The deals aren’t canceled, but shopping will look differentGood Housekeeping
Black Friday is going to look a little different this year. Even if you’re used to going in person to a certain store every year for its Black Friday sales, this year you’re going to want to call ahead and confirm that they’re going to be open on the big day. If you are going out, you can assume most stores will have COVID-19 safety protocols in place and limits on how many people will be allowed in the building at once, so endless lines and door-buster stampedes are going to be a thing of the past.

Holiday shopping will certainly be different this year — less crowds, more clicks.

Reinventing online shopping on Microsoft EdgeMicrosoft Design
As new shopping behaviours emerge and retailers revamp their selling strategies, we investigated how the browser can play a more active role to help navigate online shopping instead of being the traditionally dormant gateway to websites. Our vision is to empower people to make confident purchase decisions by saving time and money. By automatically applying coupons and surfacing price comparisons in the browser, we are taking our first step towards realizing this vision.

So it’s safer online, but safer for who?

Amazon says more than 19,000 workers got Covid-19CNBC
The information comes months after labor groups, politicians and regulators repeatedly pressed Amazon to disclose how many of its workers were infected by Covid-19. Early on in the pandemic, warehouse workers raised concerns that Amazon wasn’t doing enough to protect them from getting sick and called for facilities with confirmed cases to be shut down. Lacking data from Amazon, warehouse workers compiled a crowdsourced database of infections based on notifications of new cases at facilities across the U.S.

Almost 20,000 Amazon workers in US test positive for Covid-19The Guardian
Athena, a coalition of US activist groups campaigning for greater regulatory oversight over Amazon, called for immediate investigations into the company by public health officials as well as regular reporting on the number of employees with Covid-19. Athena’s director, Dania Rajendra, said in a statement: “Amazon allowed Covid-19 to spread like wildfire in its facilities, risking the health of tens of thousands of people who work at Amazon – as well as their family members, neighbours and friends. “Amazon is, in no uncertain terms, a threat to public health.”

Inside an Amazon fulfillment center, masked up and spaced apart during COVID-19GeekWire
Not far from where hundreds of robots were buzzing about the floor of Amazon’s sprawling BFI4 fulfillment center south of Seattle this week, a human stood in her own wheeled contraption. The innovation-in-progress, intended to allow a supervisor to roll up to various work stations and provide support behind a protective barrier, is one of the more striking ways the tech giant is addressing employee safety in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But we just can’t get enough of it, can we?

How Amazon became a pandemic giant – and why that could be a threat to us allThe Guardian
A few weeks ago, Amazon announced results from the following quarter, and yet another boost to sales and profits. Now Christmas looms, while lockdowns have returned across the world, sending even more customers its way. Every time “nonessential” bricks-and-mortar shops are told to close, you can sense the company once again seizing its chances, and a great social and economic transformation gaining pace. […]

“You’ll never get a major retailer boasting about opportunity in the middle of a pandemic,” [says Natalie Berg]. “But it’s clear that the timing and very nature of Covid has been fortunate for Amazon. I think they’ll be the only retailer in the UK, possibly the world, to come out stronger on the other side. If there are winners and losers of the pandemic, Amazon is hands-down the winner.”

The Truth About AmazonAll 4
As the high street goes into lockdown, Amazon is booming. This Supershoppers special reveals how to buy smart off the online retail giant, from the best bargains to avoiding scams.

A Presidential memoir and library without precedent

I’ve been reading about two things that seem to happen to each US President once they’ve left office. They write a memoir, and get a library. Here’s something to set the mood.

In ‘A Promised Land,’ Barack Obama thinks — and thinks some more — over his first termThe New York Times
Nearly every president since Theodore Roosevelt has written a memoir that covers his years in office; this one contains some inevitable moments of reputation-burnishing and legacy-shaping, though the narrative hews so closely to Obama’s own discursive habits of thought that any victories he depicts feel both hard-won and tenuous. An adverb he likes to use is “still” — placed at the beginning of a sentence, to qualify and counter whatever he said just before. Another favorite is “maybe,” as he reflects on alternatives to what happened, offering frank confessions of his own uncertainties and doubts. At a time of grandiose mythologizing, he marshals his considerable storytelling skills to demythologize himself.

Can you imagine Trump being so reflective? Me neither.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama review – memoir of a presidentThe Guardian
To read Barack Obama’s autobiography in the last, snarling days of Donald Trump is to stare into an abyss between two opposite ends of humanity, and wonder once again at how the same country came to choose two such disparate men.

Who knows what he’d write about. Certainly not the truth.

A Trump memoir would sell. Will publishers buy it?The New York Times
“I would take a meeting,” said Dana Canedy, the senior vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster’s namesake imprint. “But there’s a huge gap between taking a meeting and publishing a book.” … “I’d have to be satisfied that he met Simon & Schuster’s overall standards for publishing a book, which is that book be honest, fair and balanced,” Ms. Canedy said. “We’d want to know that he would be willing to be edited and submit to a rigorous fact-checking process.”

The Office of Presidential Libraries, within the National Archives and Records Administration agency, oversees the 14 libraries established so far, from Hoover’s to Obama’s (possibly), via JFK’s, Nixon’s and all the others in between. These are repositories for preserving and making accessible the papers, records, and other historical materials of the US Presidents. Many aspects of Trump’s presidency are without precedent, so who knows if he’ll get one. Not that there will be much to archive.

Will Trump burn the evidence?The New Yorker
Donald Trump is not much of a note-taker, and he does not like his staff to take notes. He has a habit of tearing up documents at the close of meetings. (Records analysts, armed with Scotch Tape, have tried to put the pieces back together.) No real record exists for five meetings Trump had with Vladimir Putin during the first two years of his Presidency. Members of his staff have routinely used apps that automatically erase text messages, and Trump often deletes his own tweets, notwithstanding a warning from the National Archives and Records Administration that doing so contravenes the Presidential Records Act.

Trump’s library hasn’t been built yet, but as we’re used to wandering around libraries and museums virtually these days, let’s take a stroll round this online version. With its Autocrats Gallery, Alt-Right Auditorium, Felon’s Lounge and Wall of Criminality, there’s something for everyone.

Donald J. Trump Presidential Library
We are still grappling with what it means to have endured Donald J. Trump’s presidency while still repairing the historic carnage of this tumultuous period in American history. This Presidential Library is an attempt to provide the American and International communities a place to reflect on what the rise of White Nationalism has meant to our country and try to eradicate it from our political discourse.

What an accurate presidential library for Donald Trump would look likeFast Company
It’s clearly a parody. But the design also highlights a major question facing the post-Trump era, whenever that may be: How might such a presidential library attempt an accurate historical representation of a president and administration so prone to disinformation and falsehood?

Twitter Gallery
Alt-Right Auditorium
Covid Memorial
Drumpf’s Diner

Update 26/11/2020

The Library now has a Gift Grift Shop.

And it’s fun to see others joining in with the pranks.

President pranked as comedians snap up Trump 2024 domainThe Guardian
“We got the domain DonaldJTrump2024.com,” comics Jason Selvig and Davram Stiefler, AKA The Good Liars, wrote on Twitter. … Selvig and Stiefler offered to give the president the domain name “if you tweet ‘My name is Donald Trump and I lost the 2020 election by A LOT. I am a loser. SAD!’” As of Wednesday lunchtime Trump had not done so, despite having plenty of phone time on a day officially free of public engagements.

Had enough?

Covid-19 had a kind of birthday yesterday.

Today marks a year of Covid-19Kottke
According to an unpublicized report by the Chinese government, the first documented case of Covid-19 was a 55-year-old person living in Hubei province on November 17, 2019. That makes today the first anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A year later, and 1,340,000 people have died. That might not be enough for some, though.

Solve suffering by blowing up the universe? The dubious philosophy of human extinctionThe Conversation
At a time when humans are threatening the extinction of so many other species, it might not seem so surprising that some people think that the extinction of our own species would be a good thing. Take, for example, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, whose founder believes that our extinction would put an end to the damage we inflict on each other and ecosystems more generally.

Why stop there?

Hartmann was convinced this was the purpose of creation: that our universe exists in order to evolve beings compassionate and clever enough to decide to abolish existence itself. He imagined this final moment as a shockwave of deadly euthanasia rippling outwards from Earth, blotting out the “existence of this cosmos” until “all its world-lenses and nebulae have been abolished”.

Pardon?

Glad it wasn’t just me and Hugh struggling with this.

Tenet up: listen, Christopher Nolan, we just can’t hear a word you’re sayingThe Guardian
It’s hard to be anything other than completely perplexed by Tenet’s sound mix, where almost every scrap of dialogue that isn’t being screamed by Kenneth Branagh is smothered under a thick blanket of soupy noise. Don’t get me wrong, it might still be a good film – I’m looking forward to watching it at home with the subtitles on to find out – but a movie where you have to try to lip-read several complicated theories about the nature of time isn’t exactly accessible to a mass audience.

Stuck

I’m trying to cut down on the Trump posts, as the whole situation is so depressing, but I enjoyed this look at other crazy characters, historical and fictional, who have had trouble moving on — from ambassadors and governors to King Lear and Bartleby the Scrivener, amongst others.

When a leader just won’t goThe New York Times
Timothy Naftali, a history professor at New York University, said that one way to view Mr. Trump would be as a version of Miss Havisham, the jilted bride from “Great Expectations” who lives forever in the past, never taking off her tattered wedding gown even as her house decays around her.

“He’s wearing the cloak of the presidency and he’s stuck in his room, getting dusty, while everyone else has moved on,” Mr. Naftali said.

Gift ideas for book lovers

Christmas is just round the corner. Have you started buying presents yet?

The new COVID trend? Apparently, it’s buying rare books.Literary Hub
“We’ve seen an uptick in participation and enthusiasm,” James Gannon, director of rare books at Heritage Auctions, told Bloomberg. Heritage’s third auction of books from the library of Otto Penzler doubled its estimate; similarly, all online sales at Christie’s during COVID have surpassed their low estimates. This trend actually makes sense: the extremely wealthy have remained wealthy during COVID, and are left at home searching for things that bring them joy, like gazing at a letter written by Ludwig Wittgenstein and knowing you paid the most anyone in the world has ever paid for a letter written by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

if $137,575 for an author’s letter is a little steep, don’t worry, here’s another idea for the book lover in your life.

Portland’s iconic Powell’s Books is selling a book-scented unisex fragranceCNN
With hints of violet, wood and biblichor, the $24.99 perfume aims to replicate the smell of old paper that “creates an atmosphere ripe with mood and possibility, invoking a labyrinth of books; secret libraries; ancient scrolls; and cognac swilled by philosopher-kings,” according to the product description on Powell’s website.

Powell’s Books is releasing a fragrance that smells like a bookstoreKottke
If you can’t get your hands on Powell’s scent, you have other options. Demeter makes a fragrance called Paperback that’s available in a variety of formats (cologne, shower gel, diffuser oil) and Christopher Brosius offers a scent called In The Library in his shop.

I love the smell of books, but I don’t know I’d want to smell like “a warm blend of English Novel, Russian and Moroccan Leather Bindings, Worn Cloth and a hint of Wood Polish.”

Gorbachev > Yelstin > Putin. Obama > Trump > ?

America’s next authoritarian will be much more competentThe Atlantic
The situation is a perfect setup, in other words, for a talented politician to run on Trumpism in 2024. A person without the eager Twitter fingers and greedy hotel chains, someone with a penchant for governing rather than golf. An individual who does not irritate everyone who doesn’t already like him, and someone whose wife looks at him adoringly instead of slapping his hand away too many times in public. Someone who isn’t on tape boasting about assaulting women, and who says the right things about military veterans. Someone who can send appropriate condolences about senators who die, instead of angering their state’s voters, as Trump did, perhaps to his detriment, in Arizona. A norm-subverting strongman who can create a durable majority and keep his coalition together to win more elections.