Pics in space #2

More space doughnuts.

Astronomers reveal first image of the black hole at the heart of our galaxyEvent Horizon Telescope
This result provides overwhelming evidence that the object is indeed a black hole and yields valuable clues about the workings of such giants, which are thought to reside at the centre of most galaxies. The image was produced by a global research team called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration, using observations from a worldwide network of radio telescopes.

When I first read about this new image of a black hole, I thought I’d best wait till that guy from Veritasium explained it, as he did such a clear job of the previous one.

A Picture of the Milky Way’s Supermassive Black HoleVeritasium: YouTube

How astronomers captured images of the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky WayLaughing Squid
Derek Muller of Veritasium explains how astronomers working with the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration were able to capture such amazing shots of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole that sits at the center of the Milky Way.

The amount of work that’s gone into that image is incredible.

Supermassive black hole seen at the center of our galaxyThe Washington Post
The achievement, supported by the National Science Foundation, relied on contributions from more than 300 scientists at 80 institutions, including eight telescopes. One of the telescopes is at the South Pole. The data collected took years to process and analyze.

Observations of the central region of the galaxy are hampered by intervening dust and ionized particles. The Earth’s turbulent atmosphere further blurs the picture. The black hole itself is not visible by definition, but it is encircled by a swirl of photons that can be detected by the huge radio dishes. The black hole is not a static entity: It is “gurgling,” Ozel said. The appearance changes regularly, challenging the scientists to produce a singular image that fit what their telescopes had observed.

It’s not all glamour, though.

How we captured first image of the supermassive black hole at centre of the Milky WayThe Conversation
My role was to help write two of the six papers that have been released in the Astrophysical Journal Letters: the first one, introducing the observation; and the third one, in which we discuss how we made a picture out of the observations, and how reliable that image is. In addition, I was a “contributing author” for all six papers. This is an administrative role, in which I handled all correspondence between our team of over 300 astronomers and the academic journal that published our findings. This had its challenges, as I had to deal with every typo and every mistake in the typesetting.

But wait, there’s more.

NASA visualization rounds up the best-known black hole systemsNASA
This visualization shows 22 X-ray binaries in our Milky Way galaxy and its nearest neighbor, the Large Magellanic Cloud, that host confirmed stellar-mass black holes. The systems appear at the same physical scale, demonstrating their diversity. Their orbital motion is sped up by nearly 22,000 times, and the viewing angles replicate how we see them from Earth.

Overlooked gravitational wave signals point to ‘exotic’ black hole scenariosSpace
Over the past seven years, the researchers have observed 90 gravitational wave signals — ripples in the space-time continuum that indicate “cataclysmic events” such as black hole mergers, the research team said in a statement. They originally detected 44 such mergers during a six-month observational period in 2019, but a second look at the data using a different methodology revealed 10 additional ones.

And here’s a question I never thought to ask.

What do black holes sound like? Like a vision of heaven or hellIndependent
The trick for Nasa and the Chandra X-ray center was learning to shift the pitch of the Perseus black hole’s sounds into the range of human hearing. The black hole’s sounds naturally vibrate 57 octaves below middle C on the piano, and so they had to be scaled up by 57 to 58 octaves — an astonishing 288 quadrillion times higher than their original pitch.

The results are wildly different from the Messier 84 sonification. Where Messier 84 was sonorous and celestial, the Perseus signification is at times discordant, dark, and dirgeful, a sound perhaps more expected from a perfectly dark maw of an all-consuming abyss than the dulcet tones of Messier 84.

An email from a vampire

I’m coming to the end of a book, haven’t decided what to read next, unsure I’ve got the stamina to start that big one. But perhaps, rather than that classic work of literature, I should give this other classic a go, albeit via – email?

Get the classic novel Dracula delivered to your email inbox, as it happensDracula Daily
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an epistolary novel – it’s made up of letters, diaries, telegrams, newspaper clippings – and every part of it has a date. The whole story happens between May 3 and November 10. So: Dracula Daily will post a newsletter each day that something happens to the characters, in the same timeline that it happens to them.

Now you can read the book via email, in small digestible chunks – as it happens to the characters.

I’ve got a few emails to quickly catch up on, but I’ve just found something else I think I should read first, perhaps the original.

The poet, the physician and the birth of the modern vampireThe Public Domain Review
From that famed night of ghost-stories in a Lake Geneva villa in 1816, as well as Frankenstein’s monster, there arose that other great figure of 19th-century gothic fiction – the vampire – a creation of Lord Byron’s personal physician John Polidori. Andrew McConnell Stott explores how a fractious relationship between Polidori and his poet employer lies behind the tale, with Byron himself providing a model for the blood-sucking aristocratic figure of the legend we are familiar with today.

Swoop on over to the ever-reliable Project Gutenberg to read it yourself.

In search of lost links

Well, this is disappointing: by way of a response to a request on Twitter for “maximalist novel” reading suggestions, I thought it would be useful to share here the small collection of links I had gathered over the years about Proust and his epic (it has long since occurred to me that, rather than reading Proust, I’d much rather read about reading Proust), but of those five links, I’ve already shared one before, two are now behind paywalls and the other two are returning 404 errors: a setback, yes, but luckily, when I first copied those links to Pinboard I also saved an interesting paragraph or two from them as well, as is my wont — so here they are, then, for posterity (Prousterity?); a few crumbs from lost, link-rotten madeleines.

Proust’s PanmnemoniconJustin E. H. Smith’s Hinternet
There is no denying that the narrator of In Search of Lost Time is one weird little mama’s boy, ever inventing ruses to summon his mother up to his room for another kiss goodnight, over the disappointed protestations of a father who would wish to see him “man up”. There is something delightful (if cherry-picked) in the thought that while the greatest monument of Russian literature broods over whether or not to murder someone just because you can, and the greatest of German novels explores the metaphors of illness in an Alpine sanatorium, France gives us instead, as its contender for the champion’s title, the neverending autofiction of a boy so entranced by the ‘bouquet’ of his own asparagus pee that he longs to call Maman upstairs to whiff it alongside him.

How Proust’s ‘madeleine moment’ changed the world foreverThe Telegraph
The novels were hugely influential on writers all over the world, in that they introduced the idea of writing about “streams of consciousness”. Through Proust’s ubiquitous narrator, they relay in great detail not just what is perceived, but also what is remembered, and the repeated and constant links between perception and memory. Even those who have not read the novels are aware of the journey of memory on which the narrator goes when he tastes a madeleine dipped in tea; it has become “the Proustian moment”.

Reading Proust on my cellphoneThe Atlantic
Knowing where you are, physically, in a bound book keeps you from feeling this oceanic feeling quite so much. It keeps you grounded. But reading the book on your cellphone emphasizes your own smallness, your at-sea-ness, in relation to the vast ocean. There you are, moving along without any compass. How brave you are in your little dinghy, adrift and amazed.

My friends are amused: “But how many times do you have to swipe through those tiny pages on your cellphone to get through a single Proust sentence?” they ask. Sometimes many. Sometimes not even once. Even that record-breaking sentence, which stretches over two and a half pages in my old paperback, takes fewer than a dozen swipes. And turning the page, strange to say, is one of the nautical joys. Each finger drag is like an oar drawn through the water to keep the little glass-bottomed boat moving. After a while you’re not even aware of rowing. You’re simply looking through the glass into an endless ocean, moving silently, blindly forward.

The odd pleasures of reading Proust on a mobile phoneClive Thompson
It occurred to me once, while nose-close with a painting, that novels (and other forms of longform writing) have a bit of the same dual-focus aspect: The writer composes word by word, sentence by sentence — but also has the entire text in mind. We readers experience the whole book both as a single bolus of culture and a collection of individual thrilling sentences or passages.

French writer Marcel Proust’s personal archives headed to auction in ParisEconomic Times
Proust fans will have an opportunity to get their hands on a set of proofs of “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”, the second part of Remembrance, that includes crossed out passages and corrections. The book, which was supposed to be published in 1914, was delayed by the outbreak of World War I and left the author with time to make changes to the manuscript. An original edition of “Swann’s Way”, the first volume of Remembrance and which was published in 1913, will also go up for sale.

The last of its kind, the first of many

The Guardian have started their new Extinction Obituaries series with a memorial to a tiny songbird from Hawaii.

Extinction obituary: why experts weep for the quiet and beautiful Hawaiian po’ouliThe Guardian
In 2004, the po’ouli got one last chance. It took six people 18 months and $300,000 to catch a bird. It was, remarkably, the same individual that Baker had snared seven years previously, when he became the first person to hold a live po’ouli. In that time, the bird had lost an eye. He was old – at least nine – and found captivity stressful. He died in Maui 11 weeks later, between 10pm and 11.30pm, on 26 November, of multiple (tiny) organ failure. He was the last po’ouli ever seen.

How many more of these articles are there going to be? Too many.

Ukraine’s surprise defenders

Perhaps simply by not losing, they’re kind of winning.

Ukraine’s Digital Ministry is a formidable war machineWIRED
The department, staffed by tech-savvy millennials and led by Mykhailo Fedorov, a 31-year-old founder of a digital marketing startup, was established to digitize government services and boost Ukraine’s tech industry. Now it had to figure out what digital bureaucrats can offer in wartime.

The projects the ministry came up with have made it a linchpin of Ukraine’s fight against Russia—and the country’s broad support among world leaders and tech CEOs. Within three days of the first missiles falling on Kyiv, Federov and his staff launched a public campaign to pressure US tech giants to cut off Russia, began accepting cryptocurrency donations to support Ukraine’s military, secured access to Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service, and began recruiting a volunteer “IT Army” to hack Russian targets. More recent projects include a chatbot for citizens to submit images or videos of Russian troop movements. “We have restructured the Ministry of Digital Transformation into a clear military organization,” says Anton Melnyk, an adviser to the department.

‘It’s the right thing to do’: the 300,000 volunteer hackers coming together to fight RussiaThe Guardian
The sprawling hacker army has been successful in disrupting Russian web services, according to NetBlocks, a company that monitors global internet connectivity. It says the availability of the websites of the Kremlin and the Duma – Russia’s lower house of parliament – has been “intermittent” since the invasion started. The sites for state-owned media services, several banks and the energy giant Gazprom have also been targeted. […]

Like many of his peers, Kali was directed to the Telegram group, which has Ukrainian- and English-language versions, by Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice prime minister and minister for digital transformation. Fedorov, 31, has been using his vastly expanded Twitter profile to plead with executives at the world’s biggest tech firms to cut ties with Russia. On 26 February, he posted a link to the Telegram group, which was set up by his ministerial department. “We need digital talents,” he said. “There will be tasks for everyone.”

The workaday life of the world’s most dangerous ransomware gangWIRED UK
The Conti ransomware gang was on top of the world. The sprawling network of cybercriminals extorted $180 million from its victims last year, eclipsing the earnings of all other ransomware gangs. Then it backed Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And it all started falling apart. […]

On February 28, a newly created Twitter account called @ContiLeaks released more than 60,000 chat messages sent among members of the gang, its source code, and scores of internal Conti documents. The scope and scale of the leak is unprecedented; never before have the daily inner workings of a ransomware group been laid so bare. “Glory to Ukraine,” @ContiLeaks tweeted.

Perfect logo redesigns for companies leaving RussiaDesign You Trust
Big brands are boycotting/leaving the Russian market to express opposition to Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. Art director Václav Kudělka has created a series of brand redesigns to show what company logos would say if they could speak.

People are booking Airbnbs in Ukraine — not to stay, but to lend their supportNPR
Speaking to NPR from Kyiv, Martiusheva says the bookings mean a lot: “These days we do not have any income. We do not have any right to ask our country to help us, because all the country’s resources are for the war and for the victory.” Airbnb hosts are paid 24 hours after a guest checks in, so people abroad are booking stays and letting hosts know that it’s a gesture of solidarity, and they don’t plan to appear.

It’s great to see so many people coming together in this crisis, but let’s not feel too pleased with ourselves, though.

Two refugees, both on Poland’s border. But worlds apart.The New York Times
Over the next two weeks, what would happen to these two refugees crossing into the same country at the same time, both about the same age, could not stand in starker contrast. Albagir was punched in the face, called racial slurs and left in the hands of a border guard who, Albagir said, brutally beat him and seemed to enjoy doing it. Katya wakes up every day to a stocked fridge and fresh bread on the table, thanks to a man she calls a saint.

Their disparate experiences underscore the inequalities of Europe’s refugee crisis. They are victims of two very different geopolitical events, but are pursuing the same mission — escape from the ravages of war. As Ukraine presents Europe with its greatest surge of refugees in decades, many conflicts continue to burn in the Middle East and Africa. Depending on which war a person is fleeing, the welcome will be very different.

Shelved

Remember those Amazon Bookstores I mentioned a while back, with their odd shelving arrangements? They started off full of promise.

Amazon begins a new chapter with opening of first physical bookstoreThe Guardian
Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said the surprise initiative showed the strength of demand for hardback and paperback books. “This is a vote of confidence in the physical book and the physical book store,” he said. “Book stores have been imperilled in recent years, but even Amazon has seen the benefit of a physical browsing experience.”

That initial enthusiasm didn’t last …

Amazon charges non-Prime members more at physical bookstores, hinting at new retail strategyGeekWire
When the Amazon bookstore in Seattle opened almost exactly a year ago — the company’s first full-fledged retail location — book prices were identical to those on Amazon.com, whether you were a Prime member or not. But now the discounted prices are only available to Prime members. If you’re not, you’ll pay sticker price. The message: If you’re not a Prime member, you can’t get discounts.

Amazon’s bookstores are generating almost no revenue — and there’s an obvious reason whyInsider
More likely the real reason is that the bookstores aren’t really a place for browsing and discovering books like a local independent bookstore — they’re actually just a place for Prime members. There’s no compelling reason for a non-Prime member to visit an Amazon Books store, except maybe to check out devices like the Amazon Echo or Kindle.

Is Amazon’s brick-and-mortar store a facade for e-commerce?Fortune
The ideas brought forth in Amazon Books are novel—such as review cards for each title that feature an aggregate of Amazon.com user ratings and a critic’s review—but industry experts believe the store is more interesting in what it’s attempting to achieve: to drive online sales through a brick-and-mortar presence.

… and they’ve finally shut up shop for good.

Amazon to shut its bookstores and other shops as its grocery chain expandsReuters
Amazon had aimed to reach shoppers in more places and bring its online touch into the real world. Its bookstores would pull from its vast data trove and showcase what people were reading, even the reviews they left on Amazon’s website. But the company’s innovations were not enough to counter the march toward online shopping that Amazon itself had set off. Its “physical stores” revenue – a mere 3% of Amazon’s $137 billion in sales last quarter, largely reflective of consumer spending at its Whole Foods subsidiary – has often failed to keep pace with growth in the retailer’s other businesses.

Amazon to close all BookstoresPublishers Weekly
The opening of its first store and subsequent national rollout gave rise to widespread speculation about what Amazon’s goals and motives were in opening the outlets, as well as a guessing game about where Amazon Books would next appear. Despite rumors that the company planned to open hundreds of bookstores, the chain’s impact on the overall bookstore business has been negligible.

Amazon is closing its terrible brick-and-mortar BookstoresCurbed
“Spending time browsing here was among my most dismal shopping experiences in recent memory: joyless, arbitrary, spiritually empty. And that was before a 20-something guy bounded into the store and started screaming: ‘Alexa! Alexa! Alexa!’” read a New York Times review of the 4-Star store in Soho. “Antiseptic and bewildering,” said The New Republic, which pointed out that readers generally didn’t care if books were on a lot of other people’s wish lists, had 4.8 versus 4.7 stars or were “hot on Amazon.” Many people noted that the bookstore’s selection was incredibly sparse, much more so than a normal bookstore, in part because the books were all displayed facing out to attract maximal attention and showcase their data points.

What a mess #2

The war in Ukraine is horrendous, doesn’t bear thinking about. But if you do want to think about it, here are a few interesting links. Let’s start with something positive from the art world.

A selection of resources in support of the people of UkraineIt’s Nice That
We stand in solidarity and support of the Ukrainian people and everyone affected by this war, and wish to use our platform to help. So, here, we’re sharing a growing list of resources put together with our sister company Creative Lives in Progress, shared by our team and community. They include places to donate and volunteer; creative responses to the crisis including projects, campaigns and fundraising sales; key information for those who need it; and other useful links, such as a free photo bank to tackle Russian government propaganda, a list of Ukrainian illustrators to commission, and a callout for help with Ukrainian artist visas.

STOP WAR: A new series of works by Sho Shibuya in support of UkraineDesign You Trust
In the peak of the coronavirus epidemic, he decided to recycle each of the New York Times front pages to turn them into works of art. The designer dedicates his new series of works to the war in Ukraine, a senseless and fratricidal war. A war that became a tragedy for millions of people. A war that cannot be justified.

Ukraine-based content platform launches a free resource of images of Russia’s war in Ukraine for anyone to useIt’s Nice That
Vista’s Depositphotos, a Ukraine-based content platform, has launched a free image collection, Say No to War, detailing the “brutal truth of what’s happening in Ukraine, as well as images of protests from around the world and inside of Russia”, says the Depositphotos team.

Rich with imaginative detail, Maria Prymachenko’s colorful folk art speaks to life in UkraineColossal
Expressive and consistently advocating for peace, Prymachenko’s paintings are widely known throughout Ukraine and internationally: she received a gold medal at the Paris World Fair in 1937, when Pablo Picasso is said to have dubbed her “an artistic miracle.”

Earlier this week, Russian attacks northwest of Kyiv destroyed the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, where about 25 of her works were housed. According to the Ukrainian Institute, though, local residents were able to retrieve the pieces from the burning museum before they were lost entirely. The aggression subsequently prompted calls for Russia to be removed from UNESCO, which declared 2009 the year of Prymachenko.

Ukraine accuses Russia of burning down a museumHyperallergic
About 25 paintings by Ukrainian artist Maria Pryimachenko were destroyed in a fire incited by an attack as part of the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said today, February 28, on Twitter. The works were housed at the Ivankiv Local History Museum in the Kyiv province. A video circulating on Twitter shows what appears to be the museum’s building in flames. The destruction of the museum was also reported by the Kyiv Independent. Hyperallergic could not independently verify these reports.

Some big names from the world of music aren’t faring too well.

Anna Netrebko withdraws from upcoming Met Opera engagementsOpera Wire
The company noted that in “not complying with the Met’s condition that she repudiate her public support for Vladimir Putin while he wages war on Ukraine, soprano Anna Netrebko has withdrawn from her upcoming Met performances in Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ this April and May, as well as the run of Verdi’s Don Carlo next season.”

Putin’s Maestro, and the limits of cultural exchange in wartimeThe New York Times
How will we think of Valery Gergiev a century from now? One of the world’s leading conductors, he has in just the last week lost a series of engagements and positions, including as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, for not disavowing the war in Ukraine being waged by his longtime friend and ally, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

How would those cancellations be spun in Russia, I wonder.

Outside Russia, Putin’s propaganda machine is swiftly crashing downVanity Fair
Under pressure from the Ukrainian government and other foreign leaders, tech giants and cable providers are issuing a flurry of measures to curb the reach of Russian state media in Europe as Russia wages war on Ukraine. Google on Tuesday blocked the YouTube channels of RT and Sputnik, two Kremlin-owned outlets that serve as mouthpieces for Vladimir Putin’s propagandistic agenda across the continent. The move came a day after Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and TikTok both said they would block RT and Sputnik content on their platforms in the E.U. Nick Clegg, Meta’s head of global affairs, cited “requests from a number of governments and the E.U.” and “the exceptional nature of the current situation” as he announced the restrictions, which prevent users across E.U. countries from accessing pages or content posted by the two state-backed outlets. Microsoft likewise took action against “state-sponsored disinformation campaigns” Monday as it blocked RT and Sputnik content from appearing on its platform in Europe and banned advertising from Russian state media. In doing so, the company joined Google, YouTube (which is owned by Google), Twitter, and Facebook, all of which have either restricted or banned state-backed media outlets from selling ads.

Russian state TV is covering the war very differentlyCNN
Russian media coverage looks very different than how CNN and other western news outlets are covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine war: ‘My city’s being shelled, but mum won’t believe me’BBC News
“I didn’t want to scare my parents, but I started telling them directly that civilians and children are dying,” she says. “But even though they worry about me, they still say it probably happens only by accident, that the Russian army would never target civilians. That it’s Ukrainians who’re killing their own people.” […] Oleksandra says her mother just repeats the narratives of what she hears on Russian state TV channels. “It really scared me when my mum exactly quoted Russian TV. They are just brainwashing people. And people trust them,” says Oleksandra.

Some Russians are breaking through and trying to make a different, though.

How Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova is using crypto to fight for equalityTime
[I]n the days following the late-February invasion of Ukraine, she helped launch UkraineDAO, a fundraising campaign that racked up almost $7 million in cryptocurrency donations in less than a week, with funds channeled towards Ukrainian aid organizations. “It’s really important for me to be a good activist and be an influential artist to be able to maintain my anti-Putin voice. In that way, it’s all inherently connected,” she says.

Here’s another example of new technology being used for good.

When war struck, Ukraine turned to TelegramWIRED UK
“How to distinguish our equipment from the enemy?” UkraineNOW posted on Friday, sharing pictures of Ukrainian and Russian tanks. On Saturday, three separate posts in the space of just six minutes warned of imminent airstrikes across Ukraine (“air alarm: Lviv, Rivne ❗️❗️❗️”); maps showing air raid shelter locations were shared. On Sunday the channel advised on ways to safely pass military checkpoints (“turn on the hazard warning light, no video recording”) and what to do if there are attacks on chemical processing plants (“close the windows and do not open them unnecessarily”).

With nearly 500,000 members before Russia’s invasion, UkraineNOW was already one of the country’s biggest Telegram channels. Now a million people depend on it for updates about the war.

And it’s nice to see the Second Life community playing its part too.

Linden Lab statement on UkraineSecond Life Community
Effective Monday, we will be further supporting our eligible Ukrainian-based community members by granting them a temporary 30-day moratorium on recurring account fees such as Premium Membership and Land Maintenance fees. We will review this again after 30 days and assess what we can do as next steps where necessary. We invite any of our Ukraine-based community members to contact support with any specific questions they may have.

Second Life community rallies to help Ukraine-based creators on platformNew World Notes
This is a Google Spreadsheet of Second Life stores and website Marketplace shops owned by Ukraine-based creators on the virtual world platform. It was quickly created by SL community members within the first 24 hours of the Putin regime’s invasion of that country, with a goal of supporting these merchants with L$ purchases — which they can subsequently convert into their local currency. (Whenever, that is, they are able to find a stable Internet connection in the now-embattled region.)

Slava Ukraini! Ways to show your support for Ukraine in Second Life (and in real life, too!)Ryan Schultz
You might be surprised to learn that current events in the real world are often quickly reflected in the virtual world! The war in Ukraine is no exception, and in almost no time at all, Second Life content creators have responded! This blogpost will showcase FREE clothing and home/yard decor to allow you to express your feelings about this unwanted, unnecessary, heartbreaking war.

Sadly, not everything online is a positive influence.

Scammy Instagram ‘war pages’ are capitalizing on Ukraine conflictInput
Hayden, who claims to be a 21-year-old from Kentucky, says that after learning about the war breaking out through the hip-hop Instagram page @Rap, he saw an opportunity. He had already run a popular war page called @liveinafghanistan. More recently, he had renamed it @newstruths and pivoted to posting viral, vaguely conservative-leaning videos featuring people shoplifting and clips of President Biden. But on Wednesday night, it was wartime again, and so the page became @livefromukraine.

Seven ways to spot fake photographs of the war in UkraineThe Art Newspaper
As it turns out, this piece of video was produced in DCS, a popular flight simulator game, and was originally posted to YouTube as a tribute to the Ghost, before being repurposed and circulated online as genuine footage. The footage is purposely miscaptioned and therefore fabricated.

Russia using TikTok to spread anti-Ukraine disinformation, experts sayUSA Today
Cyabra’s analysts tracked thousands of Facebook and Twitter accounts that had recently posted about Ukraine. Researchers saw a sudden and dramatic increase in anti-Ukrainian content in the days immediately before the invasion. On Valentine’s Day, for instance, the number of anti-Ukrainian posts created by the sample of Twitter accounts jumped by 11,000% when compared with just days earlier. Analysts believe a significant portion of the accounts are inauthentic and controlled by groups linked to the Russian government. […]

Russia tailors its propaganda message for specific audiences. For Russians and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, the message is that Russia is trying to defend its own people against Western-fueled aggression and persecution in Ukraine. Similar tactics have been used, including by Nazi Germany when it invaded Czechoslovakia under the guise of protecting ethnic Germans living there, Ludes noted.

But let’s not forget Western media is not without its flaws.

‘They seem so like us’: In depicting Ukraine’s plight, some in media use offensive comparisonsThe Washington Post
Such coverage resorts to “Orientalist concepts of ‘civilization’ that have long been present in European colonial discourse,” said Denijal Jegic, a postdoctoral researcher in communication and multimedia journalism at Lebanese American University in Beirut, in an interview. “This implicitly suggests that war is a natural phenomenon in places outside of the Euro-American sphere, and the Middle East in particular, and that war would take place because of a lack of civilization, rather than due to unjust geopolitical power distribution or foreign intervention.”

Recalling that Western media cares more about people Western countriesThe Morning News
In light of a round-up in the Washington Post of offensive descriptions in the media of the Ukraine invasion—ironic considering a headline the Post used for a George F. Will column as recently as July: “Civilized nations’ efforts to deter Russia and China are starting to add up”—an old graphic feels pertinent:

The Fox News journalist fact-checking channel’s pundits on air over UkraineThe Guardian
Last week Griffin had already corrected Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy and lectured the Fox News host Harris Faulkner about how Joe Biden stationing troops at Ukraine’s border would have given Putin “a pretext to go into Ukraine”, but the veteran journalist stepped it up in recent days as she apparently lost patience with the opinions of some of the Fox News punditocracy.

It’s hard to know what to say.

Help for teachers and families to talk to pupils about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how to help them avoid misinformationDfE Education Hub
Establish the facts by pointing pupils towards “trusted, reputable sources that explain the what, where, when, why and who”. It encourages teachers to challenge incorrect information when they see it and to present evidence for facts and get pupils to do the same.

How to talk to children about what’s happening in UkraineMetro News
As parents and carers we can feel like what we should be doing is giving them all of the facts and keeping them informed. But this approach can sometimes leave children feeling overwhelmed, Tania explains. ‘Children tend to be really good at spontaneous questioning. If they want to know something, they’ll ask,’ she says. But if they do ask, or you feel that they need some explanation or reassurance, it’s important to think about how you’re feeling first.

Let’s take a step back.

Ukraine Recap: the origins of Putin’s war – and why it’s not gone to planThe Conversation
Putin has also expressed his concern the Nato has reneged on a pledge after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 that it would not expand into the former Soviet republics. Whether there was indeed a formal pledge along these lines is doubtful, writes Gavin Hall of the University of Strathclyde. But what is not in doubt, writes Aldo Zammit Borda of City, University of London, is that Russia, Ukraine, the UK and US sat down and agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be respected. In return, Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal, at the time the third-largest in the world.

Beyond the fog of war: books to help us understand the invasion of UkraineThe Guardian
A crucial weapon that Putin’s Kremlin deployed in defanging the – albeit rickety and imperfect – democracy that grew up in Russia in the 1990s was his control of the press. No one has written about this better than Kyiv-born Peter Pomerantsev in Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, a hilarious but terrifying account of his own career in the Russian media. Joshua Yaffa did a fantastic job of exploring how ordinary people navigated the system Putin built in Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition and Compromise in Putin’s Russia.

But the west is very much not guiltless in supporting the corrupt systems that have bedevilled both Russia and Ukraine (anger at which drove Kyiv’s 2014 revolution). To understand how kleptocracy is enabled out of western capitals, and, above all, out of London, read Kleptopia by Tom Burgis. The oligarchs from both sides employ western lawyers, accountants and wealth managers to hide the money they stole, then spend it on property, luxury goods, fine art and more.

The best books on Ukraine and RussiaFive Books
The Soviet Union fell apart on the issue of Ukraine. The first to raise the banner of independence were the Baltic states, but they’re small countries and they’re not Slavic. The Ukrainian referendum of December 1991 didn’t ask the question of what one wanted to do with the Soviet Union, the referendum was about Ukraine only: ‘Do you want Ukraine to be independent?’ But once more than 90% of Ukrainians responded in the affirmative, the USSR was gone within a week. The Central Asian republics were really pushed out of the Soviet Union because Russia was not interested in a union with them without Ukraine. That’s the beginning of the most recent part of the story: the Soviet Union fell on the issue of Ukraine and now, if there are to be effective Russian economic, military and other spheres of influence, Ukraine is essential, like it was back in 1991.

UK universities brace for impact of sanctions against RussiaThe Guardian
Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, said most academics would support a research boycott with heavy hearts and concerns for Russian colleagues. “All the Russian academics I know oppose the war. The internal situation in Russia will get nastier and they will need solidarity, so there is a case for maintaining ties,” he said.

What a mess. Let’s leave the last word to the Ukrainians themselves.

Thoughts, hopes and disappointments in Kyiv: a street photographer’s photos of Ukraine – 2001-2021Flashbak
Everyday moments in Kyiv before the tanks rolled in.

In the nation’s darkest hours, Ukrainians look out for each otherKyiv Independent
Civilians all across the country do whatever it takes to help each other: They deliver medicine and food for those hiding in bomb shelters. Both regular citizens and restaurant chefs prepare meals for the military, refugees, and civilians. People adopt abandoned animals and offer shelters and rides to fellow Ukrainians.

Liutyk is no exception: The girl, together with her mother and best friend, has been offering warm food and drinks for free to fleeing Ukrainians who are spending exhausting hours in lines on the border with Poland in Lviv Oblast, where she lives. “Such difficult times either break the nation or, just like in our case, unite it entirely,” Liutyk says.

Happy Twosday

So today is 20/02/2022. Time for some facts, before we get carried away.

22/02/2022 meaning: How rare a palindrome (or ambigram) date like ‘Twosday’ is and what people say it means iNews
Twosday has no real special meaning or significance, other than the date is palindromic. … There will never be a 33.03.3033 as there is not month with 33 days in it. … 22.02.2022 will never happen again.

Today also happens to be my father-in-law’s birthday. I wonder if his mother, way back in 1943, realised his 79th birthday would fall on such an unusual day. Any date in 2022 would be almost unimaginably futuristic. Have any of us given the year 2101 a thought?

When it comes to stress, we’re all birdbrains?

Another stressful Monday in the office? Let the birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology put things into perspective for us.

What can we learn about stress from birdsCornell Lab of Ornithology: YouTube
Stress is a common part of modern life, and everyone has experienced its negative effects. Many people even suffer health impacts from chronic stress. So why do we stress out when facing challenges? Research in birds is helping us to discover when natural selection favors a strong stress response, and when it is better to stay calm.

Heavenly maps, henges and hats

Whenever I hear news of artefacts being returned home, I immediately assume they’re leaving these shores, not coming back.

British Museum hails ‘homecoming’ of world’s oldest map of the starsEvening Standard
The British Museum has welcomed the “homecoming” of the Nebra Sky Disc which features Cornish gold to their Stonehenge exhibition. The piece is 3,600 years old and is said to be the world’s oldest surviving map of the stars. The 30cm bronze disc with a blue-green patina is decorated with inlaid gold symbols thought to represent the sun, moon, stars, the solstices and the Pleiades constellation.

That ‘homecoming’ word is doing a lot of work in this case, as it’s just the gold that is thought to come from Britain, not the disc itself. Still, it’s a beautiful Bronze Age (Iron Age?) map (clock?) and part of what looks to be a fascinating exhibition.

The World of Stonehenge slated for exhibition in 2022Fine Books & Collections
The world of Stonehenge (17 February – 17 July 2022) is the UK’s first ever major exhibition on the story of Stonehenge. Key loans coming to the British Museum and announced for the first time today include: Britain’s most spectacular grave goods which were unearthed in the shadow of Stonehenge; elaborate ancient gold hats depicting the cosmos; and the astonishing wooden monument – dubbed Seahenge – that recently emerged after millennia from the sands of a Norfolk beach.

Seahenge? What’s that?

SeahengeExplore Norfolk
Seahenge was so called by the media as it resembled Stonehenge in Wiltshire. It’s a huge tree stump that was buried upside down with its roots upper most, and surrounding this tree stump were 55 timber posts, which had been cut from smaller oaks in the surrounding area. It must be remembered, of course, that 4000 years ago Holme beach was a salt marsh, not a sandy beach. Some say the upturned tree stump was put there so dead bodies could be laid on top and birds and animals could then pick away at the flesh and bones. Gradually, over 3000-4000 years (!) the sea has encroached the land and covered the peat beds which were naturally preserving the timbers. The exact purpose of the timber circle has never quite been determined.

There are some clearer images of it from within Assassin’s Creed, bizarrely.

But going back to that article from Fine Books & Collections, what was it saying about those gold hats?

Newly revealed today as going on show in the exhibition are two rare and remarkable gold cone-shaped hats – the Schifferstadt gold hat from Germany and the Avanton gold cone from France. This is the very first time either will have been seen in Britain. These are decorated with elaborate solar motifs that reflect the religious importance of the sun during this era. Only two other examples of these hats are known to have survived. Serving as headgear during ceremonies or rituals, they perhaps imbued the wearer with divine or otherworldly status. Carefully buried alone or accompanied by axes, rather than interred with the deceased, it seems they were held in trust for the community. Similar motifs are to be found on a belt plate on loan from the National Museum of Denmark. This example, and others like it, was found on the stomach of a woman buried in Scandinavia. It’s conical central point might represent the same concept as the sun hat, but in miniature form.

Colour blind

OK I’m not colour blind — I see colours, I just don’t understand them. Here’s a video from the American Museum of Natural History, via The Kid Should See This, that ought to help.

Seeing colorYouTube
Learn how our color vision works as we follow a beam of sunlight bouncing off a beach ball. In this visual journey, we’ll explore the physics of visible light, the structure of our eyes, and how our brain processes visual information.

So white light — the colour white — includes all the other colours? I knew that on a theoretical level, but what does that actually look like? Here’s another video. Let’s get up really close to the screen.

How a TV works in slow motionYouTube
If you are reading this, you’ve seen a screen with your eyes. But have you REALLY seen it though? Like real proper seen it? Don’t worry, Gav is here to help you out. This is How a TV works in Slow Motion.

As always with the Slow Mo Guys, it’s a fascinating video in its own right (check out the speed Mario grows his moustache, for instance), but at 5:48 Gavin sets out to show us the illusion of colour.

This is (fake) white, up close
This is (fake) white, closer

Maybe this colour separation experiment from Tomohiro Okazaki will help.

Perhaps I should worry less about colour. Sometimes, it’s barely noticeable.

Sacré bleu: French flag changes colour – but no one noticesThe Guardian
Emmanuel Macron’s office has darkened the blue in the French flags flying around the Élysée Palace to bring the tricolore in line with how it looked after the French revolution. Presidential aides said the change happened in July last year, but nobody appears to have noticed until now.

Anybody there?

A pleasing philosophical coincidence I came across recently.

I’m happily devouring Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life and was at the section on presence and afk, when one of my favourite blogs posted this:

While you were outFutility Closet
A pleasing little philosophy puzzle: If there’s a sentence that’s guaranteed to be false in any context, surely it’s this:

“I am not here now.”

But this very phrase is played on millions of answering machines and voicemail systems every day, and we all understand it to be true. I, here, and now are indexicals, words whose meanings change with the circumstances of their utterance. Here each seems to make a rather uncertain reference, and the resulting sentence on its face cannot be true, yet we all understand it readily. How?

You don’t need to be lost in Second Life to puzzle over the virtuality of time and place.

Better late than never

50 years after they were posted, a family in Florida receive a couple of parcels.

2 packages with 1971 postmark delivered to Lake Worth Beach homeWPTV
“We found two parcels on the outside of our door,” Stephanie Russo said Wednesday. “At first, I didn’t pay much attention because we’ve had plenty of packages delivered in the last month.” When the family opened the packages, they found two psychedelic posters inside.

After some searching she found the family that occupied the house at the time.

Feigert said he was 13 years old when he lived in the house. He said his father was known to randomly write companies and request stuff. … Russo received two posters. She has decided to give one to Feigert and keep one for herself.

She kept one? But they weren’t hers. Anyway, here’s a more heart-warming version on the same theme.

WWII soldier’s letter from Germany finally delivered 76 years after sendingBoston 25 News
A letter penned by a young Army sergeant in Germany to his mother in Woburn was lost in the mail for 76 years until finally being delivered last month. On Dec. 6, 1945, 22-year-old Sgt. John Gonsalves wrote to his mother, sending his well wishes and hopes of returning home soon. … That letter wouldn’t make it to its destination, sitting unopened for more than three quarters of a century, until suddenly and inexplicably, late last month, it showed up in a United States Postal Service facility for processing and distribution in Pittsburgh.

World War II soldier’s long-lost letter delivered to his widow 76 years laterUPI.com
Gonsalves said receiving the 76-year-old letter and reading her late husband’s words from a time before they had even met was emotional. “I love it. I love it. When I think it’s all his words, I can’t believe it. It’s wonderful. And I feel like I have him here with me, you know?”

In praise of pessimism #3

Happy new year and so on. Any New Year’s resolutions? Quite a while ago I shared an article warning us about the rash of ‘new year, new you’ fluff we face each January. Here’s another critique of the wellness industry.

The art of negativity: On rejecting positive thinkingPrzekrój Magazine
Modern society enforces a bias towards positivity and forward-thinking attitudes; one of the many curses of late capitalism. Workplace presenteeism in the name of corporate productivity is one symptom of this, but so too are the vapid platitudes peddled by tabloid media and the subtle determinism of ‘Like’ buttons on social media. In any case, this prevailing upbeat wind can often blow us out to sea, leaving those with negative emotions like castaways clad in counterfeit joy. The demand for constant optimism leaves many trying to hide the shame or resentment of experiencing negative thoughts and feelings. Human experience runs the full gamut of sentiment, and sometimes we have no choice but to roll with the punches and accept the negative side of life. […]

In fact, it could be argued that so-called ‘toxic positivity’ is more hazardous a phenomenon than the matter-of-fact attitude of negativity. In vogue as a psychological phenomenon, toxic positivity is essentially the idea that negative emotions are inherently ‘bad’ and that the most suitable response to emotional turmoil or pain is always a positive mindset (however inappropriate that may be.) Indeed, toxic positivity at large has become so ubiquitous as to represent something of an inculcated attitude in some people’s everyday interactions with one another. It is the (often unintentional) gaslighting platitudes desperately rendered in response to negativity. “Everything happens for a reason,” the terminally ill patient hears; “It could be worse,” someone bleats as another loses their job; or, “At least you have your health,” says the friend to a fresh divorcée. […]

As Oliver Burkeman described earlier, those wonderfully transformative and giddily affirmative self-help books don’t keep on selling despite the fact that they don’t work, but rather because they don’t work. This article continues with another take on that.

The so-called ‘wellness’ industry swindles consumers by selling the idea of positive wellbeing to a vulnerable customer base desperately sinking money into spa retreats, dieting, juice cleanses and holistic therapies. Wellness capitalism is the symptom of a much more corrosive condition; as if more consumption were the answer to healing the wounds of capitalism. In reality, the promises of ‘mindfulness’, ‘positive mental attitude’ and ‘healthy living’ pledged by the industrial wellness complex are exposed as just one more arrow in the quiver of exploitation. There is nothing revolutionary about paying for a product. Under late capitalism, we are always alienated, cheated and ripped-off: why should this business model of idealized versions of the salubrious self be any different?

Nothing like a little positivity to start the year, eh?

Ho ho– oh!

Merry Christmas everyone. Did Santa creep into your room last night? Did you stay asleep?

Self, elfDeep Dark Fears

What a guy!

Photos of 40 scariest Santas of all timeVintage Everyday
Nowadays, everyone knows well the Christmas Santa in his red suit with a kind smile and his sack full of gifts. However, more than 50 years, the old bearded paunchy did not have the same nice look that we see today. For the proof, we let you discover these Santa Claus with absolutely creepy looks and clothes.

These are just a selection of the Christmas-themed Awkward Family Photo submissions. Follow the link for the cringey details behind each one.

But enough of Santa. We all know the real spirit of Christmas is best embodied in — traumatic Christmas movies!

Trauma surgeon breaks down every Home Alone injuryWIRED: YouTube
Trauma surgeon Annie Onishi … breaks down every injury from the first two films, explaining what would happen if Harry and Marv actually experienced the physical trauma that they sustain in the films.

Caution: contents hot

So it was Parker, not Icarus, who managed to touch the sun.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe becomes first spacecraft to ‘touch’ the sunCNN
Sixty years after NASA set the goal, and three years after its Parker Solar Probe launched, the spacecraft has become the first to “touch the sun.” The Parker Solar Probe has successfully flown through the sun’s corona, or upper atmosphere, to sample particles and our star’s magnetic fields.

NASA enters the solar atmosphere for the first timeNASA
The new milestone marks one major step for Parker Solar Probe and one giant leap for solar science. Just as landing on the Moon allowed scientists to understand how it was formed, touching the very stuff the Sun is made of will help scientists uncover critical information about our closest star and its influence on the solar system.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe touches the Sun for the first timeNASA Goddard: YouTube
For the first time in history, a spacecraft has touched the Sun. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has now flown through the Sun’s upper atmosphere – the corona – and sampled particles and magnetic fields there.

Some interesting simulations, but what does it actually look like when you’re that close? This might help.

This footage from the first-ever probe to touch the sun will leave you speechlessScience Alert
The footage is made up of individual images captured between August 8 and 12 this year, during the probe’s ninth perihelion, or closest approach to the Sun. And, let’s be honest, it looks like something straight out of a sci-fi film.

Parker Solar Probe flying through plasma jets in the Sun’s coronaScience Alert: YouTube
The Parker Solar Probe flies through structures in the Sun’s corona called streamers. This footage shows data from the WISPR instrument on Parker Solar Probe.

Incredible, eerie footage. Reminds me of Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt’s experimental video, Black Rain.

But let’s zoom back out a little, to see a fuller picture.

A massive composite of 150,000 images reveals the swirling, feather-like details of the sunColossal
From dark spots and wispy flares to coronal loops that burst upward in brilliant arches, a giant new composite by Andrew McCarthy exposes the intricate, swirling patterns that cloak the sun’s surface. “Fire and Fusion” is a 300-megapixel image captured at 2 p.m. on November 29 and the Arizona-based photographer’s most detailed shot of the celestial matter yet.

And in case you were wondering