Reading: the how, what and why

Across three essays for Literary Hub, one of my favourite authors, Will Self, ponders big, bookish questions.

Will Self: How should we read? In praise of literary promiscuity in the digital ageLiterary Hub
To read promiscuously is to comprehend the caresses of one work in the arms of another—and the promiscuous reader is a pedagogue par excellence. How should we read? We would read as gourmands eat, gobbling down huge gobbets of text. No one told me not to pivot abruptly from Valley of the Dolls to The Brothers Karamazov—so I did; anymore than they warned me not to intersperse passages of Fanny Hill with those written by Frantz Fanon—so I did that, too. By reading indiscriminately, I learned to discriminate—and learned also to comprehend: for it’s only with the acquisition of large data sets that we also develop schemas supple enough to interpret new material.

So many books, so little time — so just keep going!

Will Self on what to read: Canons to the left, canons to the right, and everything in betweenLiterary Hub
All of which is by way of saying: read what the hell you like. In a literary culture in which a Booker Prize winner (Bernadine Evaristo) can give an interview to the Guardian newspaper in which she states that “life’s too short” for her to read Ulysses, clearly the old idols have fallen. But then, they haven’t been the old idols for very long. No, read what you want—but be conscious that in this area of life as so many others; you are what you eat, and if your diet is solely pulp, you’ll very likely become rather… pulpy. And if you read books that almost certainly won’t last, you’ll power on through life with a view of cultural history as radically foreshortened as the bonnet of a bubble car.

And here, he compares the move from social reading to private, silent reading with the shift from the hefty codex to the hand-sized screen.

Why should you read? Will Self wonders what the hell we think we’re doingLiterary Hub
In the current era the dispute between those who view the technological assemblage of the internet and the web as some sort of panacea for our ills, and those who worry it might herald the end of everything from independent thought (whatever that might be), to literacy itself, has a slightly muted feel. I suspect the reason for this is also to be found in Understanding Media: as McLuhan pointed out, the supplanting of one medium by another can take a long time—and just as the practice of copying manuscripts by hand continued for centuries after the invention of printing, so solitary reading—conceived of importantly as an individual and private absorption in a unitary text of some length—persists, and will continue to endure long after the vast majority of copy being ingested is in the form of tiny digitized gobbets.

Just give it back, it’s not yours

The events of a year ago prompted some people to question the legitimacy of various colonial-era museum collections. This debate is far from new.

What the “Nefertiti Hack” tells us about digital colonialismHyperallergic
The story of the Nefertiti bust provides a window into the European domination of excavations in Egypt and other Mediterranean archaeological sites in the late 19th and early 20th century. French, German, and British excavators were often supercilious in their defense of looting cultural heritage from classical sites in the Eastern Mediterranean in order to be “protected” within European museums. They also developed cunning methods for carrying out their work. In the Nefertiti bust’s case, overwhelming evidence suggests its removal to Germany in 1913 was not legal then and remains both illicit and unethical today — a wrong yet to be rectified. […]

Although the artists originally stated that they had gone into the museum and guerrilla scanned the Nefertiti bust using a hidden Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect Sensor, in reality they were likely involved in a double-blind hack. As Geismar concludes, it appears that an inside (wo)man with access to the museum’s 3D data released the scan to the artists. Subsequently, Al-Badri and Nelles released the files under a Creative Commons open license (CC0) for anyone to use. Geismar remarks that the hack drew “attention to museum hoarding [practices] not just of ancient collections but of their digital doubles.” The hack used the tools of “data collection and presentation to undo the regimes of authority and property over which the museum still asserts sovereignty.” Such museum interventions also underscore that the “digital repatriation” of objects by museums can never replace physical repatriation.

The discovery of the famous bust of Nefertiti in EgyptThe Yucatan Times
Egypt has not waived its demand. The archaeologist Zahi Hawass, who requested his loan in vain during his time as Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, continues to demand the return of the piece. And the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, owner of the bust, continues to insist on the legality of the acquisition.

Things are looking up #7

Oh dear.

In a NASA simulation of an asteroid impact, scientists concluded they couldn’t stop a space rock from decimating EuropeBusiness Insider
A group of experts from US and European space agencies attended a weeklong exercise led by NASA in which they faced a hypothetical scenario: An asteroid 35 million miles away was approaching the planet and could hit within six months. With each passing day of the exercise, the participants learned more about the asteroid’s size, trajectory, and chance of impact. Then they had to cooperate and use their technical knowledge to see if anything could be done to stop the space rock.

The experts fell short. The group determined that none of Earth’s existing technologies could stop the asteroid from striking given the six-month time frame of the simulation. In this alternate reality, the asteroid crashed into eastern Europe.

US military has ‘no plan’ to shoot down debris from falling Chinese rocketThe Guardian
Speaking with reporters, the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said the hope was the rocket would land in the ocean and that the latest estimate was that it would come down between Saturday and Sunday. … The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, characterized reports that the rocket is “out of control” and could cause damage as “Western hype”. The situation is “not worth panicking about”, it said, citing industry insiders.

Let’s hope those things whizzing above our heads are just satellites and nothing scarier.

SpaceX Starlink satellites, not UFOs, spotted in night sky over Washington stateFox News
“What we actually saw was the 60 Starlink satellites that had just been deployed this afternoon and they were still in low orbit, and they were still clustered together so we call this, like, the Starlink train,’” Davenport told KING. “You see, like, a little chain of satellites all close together, reflecting sunlight back at us.”

For more UFO debunking, you must check out Metabunk.

Cigar shaped UFO over Angels Landing, Utah [Probably Starlink]Metabunk
That doesn’t look like a plane to me at all but I’m pretty certain that you got video of the initial satellite train of the Starlink 22 deployment. A Falcon 9 had launched from Cape Canaveral about three hours earlier. The sats are still clustered together fairly closely since they had only recently been released.

Utah Drone video of UFO [Probably an insect]Metabunk
A few days ago, a youtube video was posted on Reddit r/UFO’s showing an object flying by a drone … With these clear videos is I think we could do some calculations, or other advanced analysis? I am tending towards cgi myself. … Here’s an animation I quickly did of a bug sized object (1cm across) moving at a bug like speed (about 7km/h) towards an approaching camera moving at drone like speed (30km/h). For the FOV I used that of the DJI Phantom Pro 4, the forward camera of which is listed as 50 degrees.

Mick West, the man behind Metabunk, is incredibly thorough in his work, as can be seen by this thread investigating UFOs over Loch Ness. But perhaps there are some satellites overhead right now?

See a satellite tonightJames Darpinian
No telescope required. Click to search for viewing times at your location.

But even on a clear night you might have a problem with light pollution.

Light pollution map
A mapping application that displays light pollution related content over Microsoft Bing base layers (road and hybrid Bing maps). The primary use was to show VIIRS/DMSP data in a friendly manner, but over the many years it received also some other interesting light pollution related content like SQM/SQC measurements, World Atlas 2015 zenith brigtness, almost realtime clouds , aurora prediction and IAU observatories features.

England’s quite bright everywhere, especially where I live, though I can see just how well positioned the Kielder Observatory is now. And I’m guessing those islands in the North Sea are oil rigs? Look how so well defined Belgium’s borders are, much like the line between North and South Korea further round the globe.

Reminds me of when I tried looking for Street Views across Europe once. Are there no streets in Germany?

A need for Meades

A review in The Guardian of a collection of Jonathan Meades’ writing reminded me just how much I enjoyed his television work over the years.

Pedro and Ricky Come Again by Jonathan Meades review – dandyish Hulk rampageThe Guardian
Nationalism, for one thing. “Like all causes, all denominations, all churches, all movements, nationalism shouts about its muscle and potency yet reveals its frailty by demanding statutory protection against alleged libels,” Meades wrote in 2006. The coming of Brexit did not moderate this view. “The nationalist urge to leave was a form of faith,” he observed in 2019. “A faith is autonomous. A faith requires no empirical proof … Taking Back Control was a euphemism for the Balkanisation of Britain, for atomisation, for communitarianism based in ethnicity, class, place, faith. A willing apartheid where the other is to be mistrusted – just like in the Golden Age when we drowned the folk in the next valley because their word for haystack was different from ours.” […]

Probably we don’t deserve Meades, a man who apparently has never composed a dull paragraph. What other living writer has a YouTube channel devoted to low-res digitisations of his TV documentaries that the bootlegging uploaders have literally called a place of worship: the Meades Shrine?

That YouTube channel mentioned above is here, but it in turn wants us to go instead to meadesshrine.blogspot.com​, “All Meades’ films can be found there, in one piece, and no copyright takedowns.”

MeadesShrine

It’s great to see his programmes about brutalist architecture are there. I missed them when they were first shown on BBC Four, and the iPlayer doesn’t want to help out, annoyingly. I wonder if my favourite example will feature.

Concrete jungle: the brutalist buildings of northern EnglandThe Guardian
A new book captures the most aspirational and enlightened architecture of the north’s postwar years – featuring competitive church building and an endless supply of reinforced concrete. […]

Roger Stevens Building, University of Leeds, Woodhouse, LS2.
Designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Built 1968–71, listed Grade II*. The building was erected to house multiple lecture theatres, and acts as a focal point of Leeds University’s expanding campus. An initial design was abandoned in 1963, its cantilevered theatres deemed too expensive. A simpler proposal for ramped circulation eliminated the need for cantilevers. Simplified thus, the building went ahead. Constructed of reinforced concrete, since painted, its character is derived from the ventilation pipes and recessed balconies.

I know their documentary styles couldn’t be more different, but there’s something about the work of both Adam Curtis and Jonathan Meades that I find enthralling, commanding and utterly necessary — binge-worthy material to be sure.

Happy 200th birthday, Grauniad

The first edition of The Guardian came out on this day in 1821.

The Guardian celebrates 200 extraordinary yearsThe Guardian
To highlight its legacy of bringing facts to light and championing progressive ideas, the Guardian is launching a special 200th birthday brand campaign based around the central idea ‘A work in progress since 1821’.

It goes without saying that it looked very different back then, and was only 7p, but I didn’t realise the front page would just be ads until as late as 1952.

The Guardian’s first ever edition – annotatedThe Guardian
Ads on the front page, news on the back, and a frankly unbelievable story about a ghost: the Manchester Guardian’s first edition on 5 May 1821 is full of gems.

Update 14/05/2021

Couldn’t help adding this here.

Typo negative: the best and worst of Grauniad mistakes over 200 yearsThe Guardian
Sometimes the red pen must take itself to task. In 2007 it blushed: “We misspelled the word misspelled twice, as mispelled, in the Corrections and clarifications column on September 26.”

Could be worse, though.

The most expensive typing error ever?The Spectator
Nasa’s missing hyphen; the extra ‘s’ that could cost £8.8 million; and recipes for disaster.

Is there a vaccine for ‘meh’?

This article from The New York Times has been pointed out to me several times now, it must have resonated with a large number of people. It’s certainly captured a mood I’ve been in recently, as you can probably tell by the increasingly large intervals between posts here…

There’s a name for the blah you’re feeling: it’s called languishingThe New York Times
Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

It’s not just down to you-know-what, though this feeling of life being held on pause for everyone is obviously a huge part of it.

Neither depressed nor flourishing? How languishing defines modern lifeThe Guardian
Sounds to me as if there’s nothing wrong with these languishing types that isn’t wrong with the rest of us. That’s the problem – languishing may well be a great undiagnosed epidemic. Long before Covid, Keyes’s studies suggested as much as 12% of the researched population fit the criteria for languishing.

Is it a mental illness, then? No, but while the symptoms may not be clinically significant, languishing is a potential risk factor for future mental illness.

I really don’t feel that bad – just the usual sort of, you know, not good. Languishing may itself cause you to overlook the symptoms of languishing.

Don’t be misinformed

A worrying essay from Aeon on the dangers of misinformation. As we’ve seen before, it’s not just a case of finding and presenting the facts of the matter.

The misinformation virusAeon
Misinformation isn’t new, of course. … What’s different today is the speed, scope and scale of misinformation, enabled by technology. Online media has given voice to previously marginalised groups, including peddlers of untruth, and has supercharged the tools of deception at their disposal. The transmission of falsehoods now spans a viral cycle in which AI, professional trolls and our own content-sharing activities help to proliferate and amplify misleading claims. These new developments have come on the heels of rising inequality, falling civic engagement and fraying social cohesion – trends that render us more susceptible to demagoguery. Just as alarming, a growing body of research over the past decade is casting doubt on our ability – even our willingness – to resist misinformation in the face of corrective evidence. […]

I’ve wondered recently if, like school violence, misinformation is becoming part of the culture, if it persists because some of us actively partake in it, and some merely stand by and allow it to continue. If that’s the case, then perhaps we ought to worry less about fixing people’s false beliefs and focus more on shifting those social norms that make it OK to create, spread, share and tolerate misinformation.

How about this for a mad theory? Can you even imagine asking this question?

Is it true? Can COVID-19 vaccines connect me to the internet?Australian Government Department of Health
COVID-19 vaccines do not – and cannot – connect you to the internet. Some of the mRNA vaccines being developed include the use of a material called a hydrogel, which might help disperse the vaccine slowly into our cells. Bioengineers have used similar hydrogels for many years in different ways. For instance, they’ve used them to help stem cells survive after being put inside our bodies. Because of this, some people believe that hydrogels are needed for electronic implants, which can connect to the internet.

What’s in a name? #11

I was trying to find out His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh’s real surname, the one he presumably had before he got married.

Prince Philip, Duke of EdinburghWikipedia
Prince Philip (Greek: Φίλιππος, romanized: Fílippos) of Greece and Denmark was born on the dining room table in Mon Repos, a villa on the Greek island of Corfu on 10 June 1921, the only son and fifth and final child of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. A member of the House of Glücksburg, the ruling house of Denmark, he was a prince of both Greece and Denmark by virtue of his patrilineal descent from George I of Greece and Christian IX of Denmark, and he was from birth in the line of succession to both thrones.

So he never had one, unless we call ‘of Greece and Denmark’ a surname?

But what if?

The world seems to be full of fakes – from film stars and presidents, to academic sources and recipes. Here’s a fascinating essay from The New York Times about some manuscript pieces found near the Dead Sea in 1883, written in ancient Hebrew, that might or might not be an alternative version of the Book of Deuteronomy. They might even have belonged to Moses himself. More fakes, surely?

Is a long-dismissed forgery actually the oldest known biblical manuscript?The New York Times
“I felt like it couldn’t be a forgery,” he said. “It’s hard to put my finger on it. It just didn’t match with something I thought could be possible” for the 19th century. For starters, there were too many features that eerily lined up with discoveries and hypotheses about the Bible’s evolution that scholars would only arrive at decades later, after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” […]

Still, claiming that a notorious forgery was the only known surviving source text for the Bible is not the kind of thing a young (and, at the time, untenured) scholar stakes his career on. When Dershowitz outlined his theory to Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School and chairman of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, where he was about to begin a fellowship, the older scholar warned him off. “I said, ‘You’re crazy, I don’t want to hear it, you’re going to destroy your career, go away,’” Feldman recalled. “He would keep emailing me details, and I would reply TGTBT — too good to be true.” […]

Knowledge of the past, especially the ancient past, always rests on fragments, shaped powerfully by contingency. We are dependent not just on what happened to survive, but on who finds those traces, and when, and what happens next. The Shapira story is trailed by a tantalizing swirl of what-ifs. What if someone with a less checkered reputation had found the fragments? What if Shapira hadn’t committed suicide? What if they hadn’t been lost — or had first surfaced 80 years later, after the Dead Sea Scrolls, when scholars might have viewed them differently?

Here’s a little more background on this remarkable tale.

A biblical mystery and reporting odysseyThe New York Times
While reporting the story, I talked with a number of scholars who had previewed Mr. Dershowitz’s research at a confidential seminar two years ago, including some who were intensely skeptical (to put it mildly). But I also became intrigued by another layer of the tale. As it turned out, the mysterious Shapira had made a number of fleeting appearances in The Times over the years, starting even before the Deuteronomy affair.

I need to remind myself to revisit this when they know more — could something that claims to be so old really be genuine? I hope so.

Pattern recognition

I enjoyed the serendipity of hearing about Adam Curtis’s new documentary series on (amongst many other things) our fascination with conspiracy theories at the same time as being sent a Kindle discount voucher for Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. I haven’t re-read that in years, perhaps now would be a perfect time.

Can’t get Adam Curtis out of my head

Heads up! A new documentary series from the BBC by the often parodied but never bettered Adam Curtis. Here’s the synopsis and creepy teaser trailer.

New six-film series from Adam CurtisBBC Media Centre
We are living through strange days. Across Britain, Europe and America societies have become split and polarised not just in politics but across the whole culture. There is anger at the inequality and the ever growing corruption – and a widespread distrust of the elites. And into this has come the pandemic that has brutally dramatised those divisions. But despite the chaos there is a paralysis – a sense that no one knows how to escape from this. This new series of films by Adam Curtis tell the story of how we got to this place. And why both those in power – and we – find it so difficult to move on.

Can’t Get You Out of My Head review – Adam Curtis’s ‘emotional history’ is dazzlingThe Guardian
Carefully curated and obliquely but impeccably soundtracked archive footage is attended by a narrative that stops every few minutes to probe further an idea, a moment, a movement or perhaps a figure who habitually flies slightly under the radar of History-with-a-capital-H. Curtis swiftly anatomises the effects of said thing or person, before returning to the main thrust – the warp across which these many many wefts are skilfully woven – so we end up with a full, rich tapestry.

The reverse Marxism of Adam Curtis’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ArtReview
Adam Curtis, the poet of the Wikipedia binge: skimming over the surface of the superstructure, sparking sudden, otherwise hidden connections into perfect, blinding clarity. Sculpting the detritus of every news cycle he’s ever been subjected to, the whole of his adult life, into a sprawling rhizomatic narrative, endlessly exploding everywhere, of how and why It’s All Gone Wrong. […]

The narrative that Curtis presents spans the whole of the globe – although it is especially focused on America, the UK, China, and Russia. Its structure often feels like that of an epic postmodern novel: to tell his story, Curtis picks out certain strange, conflicted (anti-)heroes – individuals whose successes, failures, contradictions and ambiguities mirror the more general, global forces they exist within. Among the most prominent of these, whose stories run over several episodes, are Michael de Freitas, aka Michael X – slum landlord, gangster, radical black rights activist, and murderer; Jiang Qing – wife of Chairman Mao, architect of the Cultural Revolution, and fiercely ambitious radical individualist; and Eduard Limonov – trendy Soviet émigré novelist, punkish enemy of global financial capitalism, and fascist. Along the way, Curtis introduces us to a whole host of other histories and individuals – taking in everything from the rise of conspiratorialism, the collapse of the coal mining industry, the life story of Tupac Shakur’s mother Afeni, the West German student movement, the Voynich Manuscript, and trans rights.

The poet of the Wikipedia binge, indeed.

Can’t Get You Out of My Head (TV series)Wikipedia
Like many of Curtis’s previous documentaries, it explores and links together various topics such as individualism, collectivism, conspiracy theories, national myths, American imperialism, the history of China, artificial intelligence, and the failure of technology to liberate society in the way that technological utopians once hoped it might.

Adam Curtis knows why we all keep falling for conspiracy theoriesWIRED UK
“There’s a way of thinking that the internet has pushed in people’s minds,” Curtis says. “If you notice how people now think and behave, and you could also argue, how people like me make films, it’s through a great collage of patterns of images and stories, which is very much like the way what machine learning works. You’re not looking for meaning for logical meaning any longer. You’re looking for patterns, connections, which is how conspiracy theories work.” […]

While researching the film, Curtis interviewed conspiracy theorists in Birmingham, people who believed in “one of the great dream worlds of our time,” the idea that the CIA, Walt Disney and the Illuminati brainwash and control all the major stars. He soon learned that, when pressed, these people didn’t really believe the story. They just loved its epic magical dimensions – an alternative to this “dull, desiccated, grim, utilitarian world.”

Adam Curtis interviewed by Simon Mayo and Mark KermodeYouTube
Simon Mayo & Mark Kermode talk to director Adam Curtis about his new series of documentary films, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World.

As well as being on BBC iPlayer, this new series is also on YouTube, together with many of his other films, if you want to jump further down this rabbit hole.

Musical meanderings #2

Here’s a simple idea perfectly executed. Tracklib’s Sample Breakdown video series visualises for us the art of sampling — where they’re from, and how they’re combined.

Sample Breakdowns of Kanye West, DJ Premier, Nujabes, J.Dilla, 9th Wonder & moreTracklib Blog
For his biggest hit to date, Moby reversed the order of four chords of the epic battle cry “Fight For Survival” from the 1960 film Exodus. At first, the producer/singer didn’t really think the outcome of ‘Porcelain’ was quite, well, epic, at all… “I actually had to be talked into including it,” he told Rolling Stone 10 years after its release. “When I first recorded it, I thought it was average. I didn’t like the way I produced it, I thought it sounded mushy, I thought my vocals sounded really weak. I couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to listen to it. When the tour for Play started, ‘Porcelain’ was the song during the set where most people would get a drink.”

Years ago (ten?!) I found an online recreation of an iPod, complete with click wheel. But let’s go back further with this, an interactive turntable interface for playing music on YouTube. A Radiohead album is cued up initially, but use the link to point it wherever you like.

Needledrop: A turntable interface for music playbackThomas Park
With Needledrop, I went for the Dieter Rams school of design. It’s inspired by unapologetically skeuomorphic interfaces like Apple’s original Podcasts app, which featured a reel-to-reel tape machine. While I preferred the digitally native approach of Overcast for day-to-day use, Apple’s approach was visually striking. Podcast’s interface wasn’t just veneer; the reels would progress as the podcast did, providing a subtle visual cue alongside the progress bar. Likewise in Needledrop, the tone arm travels across the record. But Needledrop takes the interactivity one step further. Drop the needle and find your favorite track, more or less. It’s fuzzy and inexact, and emphasizes the continuous listening experience an album can be.

Here’s another way of visualising music, reminiscent of those synchronised Line Rider videos.

That’s pretty cool. But do you know what’s cooler? This.

Playing it cool: these artists make music with iceNational Geographic
Brittle bursts that mimic cymbals. Deep hollowed notes reminiscent of metal drums. These are some of the surprising sounds that Siberian percussion group Ethnobeat created from Russia’s frozen Lake Baikal in a 2012 viral video that introduced millions around the globe to ice music.

But similarly haunting melodies had been filling dark Arctic nights across Norway and Sweden for several years. In 2000 Norwegian composer and percussionist Terje Isungset performed the world’s first ice music concert inside a frozen waterfall in Lillehammer.

Six years later Isungset founded the annual Ice Music Festival Norway, drawing curious adventurers willing to brave subzero temperatures in order to experience this unique way of bonding with nature through music.

Speaking of cool …

Take five

I think I’ve mentioned the Morning Briefing (Europe edition) newsletters from The New York Times before, but they’re a great way to start the day, I think — a wider, less inward-looking summary of current affairs. As well as the usual news roundup, a recent email included links to this marvellous series.

Hooking readers on classical music, five minutes at a timeThe New York Times
Now two and a half years and a dozen segments into the project, Mr. Woolfe said he had been surprised at readers’ appetite for the series, regardless of the theme. “It’s like, ‘OK, ‘5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Mozart’ is super appealing,’” he said. “But ‘5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Baroque Music’? Or ‘5 Minutes That Will Make You Love 21st-Century Composers’? But those both did terrifically as well.”

The name for the series came to him in the shower in 2018 as he was pondering ways he could make The Times’s classical music coverage accessible to a broader audience. “I was thinking about being at a concert or listening to a recording, and being like, ‘OMG, that note she hit!’” Mr. Woolfe said. “Then I had the idea of asking different people to pick their favorite little five-minute nuggets and presenting them like a playlist.” […]

Mr. Woolfe also credited the appeal to the series’s vibrant, eye-catching animations, like pulsating cello strings or a silhouette of Mozart caught in a colorful confetti storm. “They enhance the playfulness and accessibility of the series,” he said. Angie Wang, the freelance illustrator who creates them, said she watched videos of the musicians and noted their characteristic movements, paying particularly close attention to wrist and elbow articulation. “I wanted to render them with delicacy,” she said. “The animations are a kind of visualization for the music.”

5 minutes that will make you love MozartThe New York Times
Mark Hamill, actor I was in the first national tour of “Amadeus,” then I finished my run on Broadway. I did it for 11 months, the longest run I’ve ever had in a play. Beforehand, my wife and I went to Salzburg. You can tour Mozart’s house, and they even had a lock of his hair; it was a sort of reddish brown. That was chilling, hundreds of years later, to be so physically close to him. So much of the play is underscored with his music, which is more common to do in film. I never got tired of the sound; I could use it to inform my performance. And to underplay, because the music was doing a lot of the work. Particularly at the end, when he’s on his knees, wondering whether he’s really been so wicked. He’s so vulnerable, and his Requiem is playing.

5 minutes that will make you love the celloThe New York Times
Yo-Yo Ma, cellist Dvorak’s Cello Concerto is perhaps the most beloved work for cello and orchestra. It is an astounding piece. But as a performer, I am always looking for the preconditions of a composer’s creativity, the genealogy of a work. A very short story: In March 1894, Dvorak heard the New York Philharmonic perform his friend Victor Herbert’s new E-minor cello concerto. Afterward, Dvorak is said to have rushed backstage, telling Herbert it was “splendid, absolutely splendid.” Almost exactly a year later, Dvorak finished writing the concerto that we know so well. […]

Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer I love the cello. My brother was a concert cellist, and I wrote my “Paganini Variations” for him. Although my favorite work for the instrument is Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, the most moving musical experience I have ever had was at the BBC Proms. It was the night Mstislav Rostropovich played the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Soviet State Symphony Orchestra on the day Russia invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968. While demonstrators chanted outside the hall, Rostropovich’s tears poured down as he played this most deeply nationalistic of Dvorak’s works. The closing minutes will forever remain with me.

Off their rockers

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

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

The ‘textual insert’ this time was especially loopy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chairs are weird, though, aren’t they?

We’ve made it to the weekend — for now

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

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

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

What’s in a name? #10

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

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

Favourite comments:

But wait, there’s more.

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

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

This is my silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know what you’re talking about

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