And then, floating over over a park in Japan, an image seemingly straight out of the pages of a Junji Ito horror story.
A giant head hot air balloon floats over a Tokyo park – Laughing Squid Japanese photographer Disc Yuri On used a Panasonic video camera from 1999 to capture the rather startling sight of a giant hot air balloon in the shape of a head that was trying to float high above Yoyogi Park in Tokyo but was hampered by the wind. When a siren sounded, however, the balloon spun around and faced the camera directly. The stuff of nightmares.
I think I’ve incorrectly conflated two separate topics when I think about cars of the future; electric cars and self-driving cars. The former doesn’t have to rely on the latter, right? Perhaps that’s just as well.
Now the pursuit of autonomous cars is undergoing a reset. Companies like Uber and Lyft, worried about blowing through their cash in pursuit of autonomous technology, have tapped out. Only the deepest-pocketed outfits like Waymo, which is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet; auto giants; and a handful of start-ups are managing to stay in the game.
Electric cars can sound like anything. That’s a huge opportunity to craft the soundscape of the future – Time Then there’s whatever BMW is doing with its i4 electric-sedan concept. At low speeds, the i4 sounds like an electrified orchestra warming up for a performance. But as it accelerates, the tone becomes deeper and lower. Then comes a high-pitched skittering effect, as if some kind of reality-bending reaction were taking place under the hood. “We conceived a sound to celebrate the car, intended as a highly complex performative art installation,” says BMW sound designer Renzo Vitale. Vitale, who worked alongside famed film-score composer Hans Zimmer on the i4, says it was his counterintuitive idea to make the noise deepen as the car gains speed. “It was a metaphoric way to say, ‘We are looking at the past,’” he says.
Perhaps, by the time all this is resolved, there’ll be less need for these crazy machines.
Commuting is psychological torture – Welcome to Hell World I can’t even calculate the savings in gas, wear on my car, etc. But I can tell you that with nearly two hours back in each of my days, plus the extra 40 minutes or so of making myself presentable to be in close proximity to others, I have been able to reinvest that time in myself. I have been eating better, I have time for the gym, I have time to give my dogs the exercise they need. I know this year has been mentally taxing on so many, but I’ve found these changes work so much better for me.
Do you remember the hype about Vantablack, the blackest black that absorbs 99.96% of light shone on it? I mentioned it a while back when BMW used it for one of their cars, though I could have sworn that I had shared these links too:
Can an artist ever really ‘own’ a colour? – The Guardian Painters are outraged that Anish Kapoor, the British sculptor who designed the blood-red Orbit tower for the London Olympics, has exclusive rights to the artistic use of this revolutionary new colour. NanoSystems has confirmed that he alone can paint it Vantablack.
Museum visitor injured after stepping into pit he thought was a painting on the floor – Boing Boing British artist Anish Kapoor licensed the worldwide exclusive rights to use Vantablack in art, which makes him kind of an asshole, but we’ve already complained about him on Boing Boing and that’s not the point of this post. The point is that Kapoor has a work of art at the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal called Descent Into Limbo. It’s an eight-foot deep pit and because Kapoor painted the interior of the pit with Vantablack, it looks like a two-dimensional black circle painted on the floor of the museum. You can guess what happened next.
Anyway, this was the link I wanted to share this time.
Whitest-ever paint could help cool heating Earth, study shows – The Guardian The new paint reflects 98% of sunlight as well as radiating infrared heat through the atmosphere into space. In tests, it cooled surfaces by 4.5C below the ambient temperature, even in strong sunlight. The researchers said the paint could be on the market in one or two years. White-painted roofs have been used to cool buildings for centuries. As global heating pushes temperatures up, the technique is also being used on modern city buildings, such as in Ahmedabad in India and New York City in the US. […]
Andrew Parnell, who works on sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, UK, said: “The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial. How many million tonnes [of barium sulphate] would you need?” Parnell said a comparison of the carbon dioxide emitted by the mining of barium sulphate with the emissions saved from lower air conditioning use would be needed to fully assess the new paint. He also said green roofs, on which plants grow, could be more sustainable where practical.
The sunglasses are a nice touch, but Parnell’s point high-lighted above definitely needs addressing, I think.
Carla Rhodes takes beautiful photos of strange-looking birds in an ugly situation.
A biologist, an outlandish stork and the army of women trying to save it – The New York Times After returning from India, I realized that my encounter with the greater adjutants had irrevocably changed me. Until then, I’d doggedly chased a career in New York City as a comedic ventriloquist while juggling mundane day jobs. Wildlife photography was relatively new to me; I had only considered it an enjoyable hobby. But suddenly I wanted to pursue conservation photography with every fiber of my being.
More Skeksis than stork, I think. But how they look is only half the story.
I quickly discovered the work of Dr. Purnima Devi Barman, a wildlife biologist who has dedicated her life to protecting greater adjutants. The founder of the Hargila Army, a local all-female, grass-roots volunteer conservation effort, Dr. Barman led her corps of women in protecting nesting sites, saving fallen baby birds and educating the Assamese community on the importance of these rare and endangered scavengers.
Needless to say, I’ve never seen anything like that round my way. Maybe I just need to keep looking.
I don’t remember adding this to my YouTube ‘Watch Later’ playlist, but I’m glad I did. A charming documentary on a bizarre, elegant, yet absolutely enormous cloud.
Secrets of a Strange Cloud – YouTube This is about the Morning Glory Cloud in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, Australia. It is an amazing atmospheric phenomenon. It is a shockwave which can be over a thousand kilometres long. Other meteorological terms for this type of formation is a shelf cloud, roll cloud or soliton. They can happen unpredictably in other places in the world but the Gulf of Carpentaria is the only location place where they happen with some degree of regularity around September and October.
Whilst we still have our heads in the clouds, ponder this strange notion — that we didn’t always know where birds went in the winter. They seemed to just vanish each year. Perhaps, rather than flying to different countries, they flew a little further.
When birds migrated to the Moon – The MIT Press Reader Morton rejected Aristotle’s widely accepted hibernation theory, and pointed out a major flaw in the theory that the birds simply migrated to another place on Earth: No one in Europe knew where they went. They literally disappeared. He argued that returning birds, like woodcocks, appeared to drop suddenly from the sky over ships at sea.
Their round trip to the moon took one month each way, taking the distance to the moon and the length of their absence into account. There was no atmospheric resistance to impede their flight (so he had taken on board that much of Pascal’s conclusions) and the journey between the worlds was aided by lack of gravity. They slept for much of it, living off their body fat. It was all logical enough, in its own way.
You must read that article for its charming account of Domingo Gonsales flying to the Moon on his swan engine.
It’s a good job he didn’t try that trip a few hundred years earlier.
In 1110, the Moon vanished from the sky. We may finally know why – Science Alert “On the fifth night in the month of May appeared the Moon shining bright in the evening, and afterwards by little and little its light diminished, so that, as soon as night came, it was so completely extinguished withal, that neither light, nor orb, nor anything at all of it was seen,” an observer wrote in the Peterborough Chronicle.
It was bright enough a week ago, spookily peering through the clouds, though this shot using my binoculars doesn’t do it justice.
Perhaps I need to take some pointers from the experts.
Taking good photos in bad light – Photography Life When the sky is gray or the sun is directly overhead, it can be tough to find inspiration for high-quality photography. My hope with this article is to share some tips that have worked for me when I photograph in bad lighting conditions – something which every photographer experiences at some point.
The of the year articles seem a little early this year. I wonder why we’re so keen to get 2020 behind us.
2020’s weather photography of the year doesn’t disappoint – Moss and Fog The Royal Meteorological Society Weather Photographer of the Year contest is now in its 5th year, and has some amazing entrants that show us 2020 wasn’t just about a raging global pandemic. Indeed, Mother Nature, combined with a rapidly warming planet has resulted in record storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires this year.
There are many more beautiful images on those pages, do check them out. And here are some more wonderful things of a different kind.
100 best inventions of 2020 – TIME Every year, TIME highlights inventions that are making the world better, smarter and even a bit more fun. … 100 groundbreaking inventions—including a smarter beehive, a greener tube of toothpaste, and technology that could catalyze a COVID-19 vaccine—that are changing the way we live, work, play and think about what’s possible.
Featured image White Pocket, Arizona — Felix Röser
Today marks a year of Covid-19 – Kottke According to an unpublicized report by the Chinese government, the first documented case of Covid-19 was a 55-year-old person living in Hubei province on November 17, 2019. That makes today the first anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A year later, and 1,340,000 people have died. That might not be enough for some, though.
Hartmann was convinced this was the purpose of creation: that our universe exists in order to evolve beings compassionate and clever enough to decide to abolish existence itself. He imagined this final moment as a shockwave of deadly euthanasia rippling outwards from Earth, blotting out the “existence of this cosmos” until “all its world-lenses and nebulae have been abolished”.
‘Adani is at pains to stress it is not rebranding due to the Stop Adani campaign or because the brand is now globally toxic. This is despite the fact over 85 insurers, contractors and financiers have ruled out working with Adani on the destructive Carmichael coal project,’ said a Stop Adani spokesperson in a press release this morning.
Boshoff told the Australian Financial Review it was a good fit because the company “took a lot of courage to get where we are and we will stand up for what we believe in”. However, multiple Latin experts have pointed out that “bravus” does not mean “brave” and is more accurately translated as “crooked” or “mercenary”.
Here’s an interesting question to ponder after watching that.
How much does a cloud weigh? – The Conversation Summer cumulus clouds vary in size, but a typical one would be about one kilometre across and about the same tall. This means we can consider it to be a cube, with each side measuring 1km across. That means our cloud is 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 cubic metres in size – and this makes 1 billion cubic metres. Our cloud had only a quarter of a gram of water per cubic metre, but that’s going to work out as rather a lot now there’s a billion of them. The weight of the water in the cumulus cloud is 250,000,000 grams – 250 tonnes. This is about the same as two adult blue whales.
Looking for the next cloudburst? Perhaps start here.
Those maps (especially the vector map version) make you realise just how tumultuous and highly charged this globe of ours is — which isn’t the impression you get when looking down on Google Earth. “In prioritizing clarity and smoothness in its representation, Google Earth supports how we are consuming the planet.”
Springtime everywhere – Real Life As Covid-19 lockdowns were shuttering citizens indoors in April, for instance, Google Earth seized on the opportunity to launch a slew of themed virtual tours (e.g. the National Parks of the United States tour). It made Google Earth accessible in all browsers and added 2,500 new images to Earth View, a spinoff showcasing surreal and awe-inspiring landscapes from above. For all the feeling that Google Earth’s could be a helpful resource for learning about the climate crisis, its interface of zooming in and out and around the globe seamlessly in high-definition undermines its potential. The form comes to contradict the content: We may revel in the beauty and awesomeness of seeing the earth from the sky — and our ability to freely manipulate this view — despite the crises the imagery may depict. Deforestation on a devastating scale can take on the same aesthetic as any other “virtual holiday” on Google Earth.
Let’s have a break from all that, with news of an exhibition in London I’d love to see, Among the Trees: “By turns poetic, adventurous and thought-provoking, this group exhibition explores our relationship with trees and forests.” As we saw earlier, they can be remarkably eloquent.
Five things to know about Among the Trees – Southbank Centre
There are artworks that push at the very limits of the building, and celebrate the soaring scale of trees. Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s huge, cinematic portrait of a 30-metre spruce, for example, takes over almost the entirety of one of the lower galleries, while Guiseppe Penone’s Tree of 12 Metres (1980–82), a sapling painstakingly excavated from an industrially planed piece of timber, stops just short of the ceiling.
Among the Trees review – a knotty problem – The Guardian
Running the entire width of one floor at London’s Hayward gallery is a six-screen video which depicts, at about life size, a spruce tree swaying in the breeze in Finland. To accommodate its scale, the tree is projected horizontally, and at its foot stands the artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila, in a blue parka, dwarfed by the spreading conifer. The six projected sections of the tree tremble and sway out of sync with one another, adding to a growing sense of majestic befuddlement. You can’t take it in all at once, any more than you could if you stood before the real thing. Distantly, I hear the branches soughing and faint birdsong. Titled Horizontal – Vaakasuora, it makes you look and look some more.
Here’s some more artistic woodwork.
Trees at night: stunning Rorschach silhouettes from the 1920s – Brain Pickings
In his fifties, Young’s imagination fell upon a subject both wholly natural and wholly original — the expressive humanlike shapes, states, and emotions emanating from the silhouettes of trees at night. He began rendering what he half-saw and half-imagined in pen and ink — haunting black-and-white drawings full of feeling, straddling the playful and the poignant. These visual poems, replete with the strangeness and splendor of nature and human nature, become the kind of Rorschach test one intuitively performs while looking at the sky, but drawn from the canopy rather than the clouds.
Dancing twigs – Kottke
Artist Chris Kenny uses bits of twig from tree branches to make these interesting found art pieces that exploit the human tendency for pareidolia.
And finally, here’s a request for us to reconsider our view of trees within cities, and to appreciate the many benefits mature trees can bring to society. (via Sentiers)
Trees as infrastructure – Dark Matter Laboratories
[T]he ecological benefits of trees substantially start after 50 years of existence; we are currently building a deficient urban forest. Shifting our view to perceive public trees as assets rather than liabilities is an important aspect of maintaining and enhancing the benefits that trees provide in an urban setting.
I’m about halfway through William Gibson’s latest novel, Agency, and was very happy to read somewhere that it’s part two of a trilogy. Here’s hoping we’ll all be around to enjoy the third…
William Gibson on the apocalypse: “it’s been happening for at least 100 years” – New Statesman His characters call it “the Jackpot”. “It’s multi-causal, and it’s of extremely long duration,” he explains. Over many decades, climate change, pollution, drug-resistant diseases and other factors – “I’ve never really had the heart to make up a full list, else I’ll depress myself” – deplete the human race by 80 per cent. The Jackpot is the mundane cataclysm of modernity itself. It is hundreds of millions of people driving to the supermarket in their SUVs, flying six times a year, and eating medicated animals for dinner. “If the Jackpot is going to happen,” Gibson says, “it’s already happening. It’s been happening for at least 100 years.”
As well as bringing to life an all-too-plausible future, he has a keen grasp on the present. (All science fiction is really about the present, I guess. As he has said earlier, “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.”)
Putin is the pre-eminent figure in the klept that Gibson sees emerging in the real world. He describes Russia’s reported attempts to influence the 2016 US election as “the most cost-efficient black op in human history. It was a long shot, but it did work, and every day since then they must have had a good laugh, and gotten ready to enjoy yet another day of watching this endlessly exploding grenade at the heart of American government. I doubt they’ve tried to control him very much. It isn’t necessary.”
This story caught my eye. Another artist inspired by a frustrating political situation to produce something positive.
“There’s never been a candidate I’ve been so excited about. And I’ve never done something so fangirl in my life,” she adds. “I don’t get the whole Bernie tsunami because he sounds angry to me. I like how measured and intelligent she is, and I’m on board with pretty much all of her positions.”
Using trees to make paper to write on, I get that. But writing with trees? Katie Holten, an artist-in-residency with NYC Parks, has developed a typeface to allow us to do just that. (via Futility Closet)
NYC is planting secret messages in parks using this typeface for trees – Fast Company
It would be fair to say that Holten is at least a little obsessed with turning trees into typefaces. Back in 2015, she developed her first so-called Tree Alphabet, made up of sketches of 26 different trees that each stood for its own letter. The project led her to publish a book, About Trees, typed in forests rather than paragraphs. “I’m interested in creating something that lets us translate our words into something beyond us,” writes Holten over email. “It forces us to slow down and think about what we’re writing, or reading.”
To see the typeface in action, head over to nyctrees.org and try it for yourself.
New York City Trees
The New York City Tree Alphabet is an alphabetical planting palette, allowing us to rewrite the urban landscape by planting messages around the city with real trees. What messages would you like to see planted?
These messages aside, it seems the trees are busy communicating by themselves.
The fascinating science of how trees communicate, animated – Brain Pickings
But trees are much more than what they are to us, or for us, or in relation to us. They are relational miracles all their own, entangled in complex, symbiotic webs of interbeing, constantly communicating with one another through chemical signals dispatched along the fungal networks that live in their roots — an invisible, astonishing underworld only recently discovered, thanks to the work of Canadian forest ecologist Suzanne Simard.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has difficulty visualising large numbers. It can make the significance of some news stories hard to grasp, especially environmental ones.
By comparing the number of plastic bottles sold around the world to such things as a rubbish truck, the Eiffel Tower, and even Manhattan, Reuters have published a very effective way of getting across ridiculous statistics like 54,900,000 bottles sold every hour, 1,300,000,000 sold every day, and 481,600,000,000 sold every year. (via Cool Infographics)
Yet to solve the major environmental problems the world now faces, we actually need to do both – to change the world and ourselves. In fact, it is even more nuanced than that – because changing ourselves is a prerequisite for changing the world. Realising the true nature of our human connectedness actually engenders more ethical and environmentally responsible behaviours.
But it is actually artist Anthony Hearsey’s visualisation of one month of data of locations where fire was detected, collected by Nasa’s Fire Information for Resource Management System.
“The scale is a little exaggerated due to the render’s glow, but it is generally true to the info from the Nasa website. Also note that not all the areas are still burning, and this is a compilation,” Mr Hearsey wrote on Instagram in response to criticism by viewers that the image was misleading.
All the studies found that climate change increases the frequency or severity of fire-favourable weather conditions.
The review found that fire weather seasons have lengthened globally between 1979 and 2013. Fire weather generally involves hot temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall in the preceding days and weeks, and windy conditions.
So what can be done? We’re hearing more and more about carbon offsetting, with not-even-slightly-green companies like Shell and JetBlue getting in on the act.
When a company buys offsets, it helps fund projects elsewhere to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as planting trees in Indonesia or installing giant machines inside California dairies that suck up the methane produced by burping and farting cows and turn it into a usable biofuel. What offsets don’t do is force their buyer to change any of its operations. […]
“What would JetBlue have done if they couldn’t buy offsets?” Haya says. “Would they have put money into efficiency of the planes, or invested in future biofuels to create a long-term alternative to fossil fuels? That’s the fundamental question we have to ask for voluntary offsets: How much is it taking the place of real long-term solutions?”
That really faint noise? For me, it’s a quiet, high-frequency tone that seems to be coming from the centre of my head. For that guy in Arizona, it was a low-pitched drone coming from a neighbouring data centre. But these other unexplained low-frequency rumbles, heard around the world, could be much more elemental.
Ear-pleasing new report confirms volcanic source of mysterious global hum – Syfy Wire
Now a German scientific team has apparently solved the mystery of a strange seismic humming experienced around the globe since it was first detected in late 2018. And despite many believing it was some alien doomsday device warming up to unleash its planet-killing spores, it appears to be caused by a massive underwater volcano forming just off the coast of Madagascar.
2019 has been an … interesting year for political news reporting and current affairs.
What we learned about the media this election – The Guardian The British public were more than capable of creating their own disinformation. Ahead of the election there were concerns about foreign manipulation of the electoral process. Although there were some issues – the prime minister refused to let a report into Russian money be released pre-election, and Reddit suggested a Russian-linked account may have helped distribute leaked US-UK trade papers – ordinary, politicised Britons proved more than capable of creating their own fake posts.
Looking forward to 2020, here are 10 themes for news – New York Times People crave transparency. Similar to the shift we’ve seen in the farm-to-table movement around food sourcing and production, people want to know what goes into news production. In dozens of conversations with people around the world, we heard that people want more than just the story: they want to know why it’s being told, who is telling it and how it came together. News consumers want to pull back the curtain to understand why a headline was written a certain way, or why a particular story was featured over another on a home page. They want to know that specific information was verified by multiple sources, or that reporters pored over thousands of pages of documents for a particular story.
The public hears claims of “fake news” just as often as people who work in media. When people understand the process and people involved in telling a story, they are more likely to trust it.
The year in good news 2019 (and the bad news about good news) – Kottke But at this point I feel obligated to remind myself (and perhaps you as well) that focusing mostly on positive news isn’t great either. A number of thinkers — including Bill Gates, Steven Pinker, Nicholas Kristof, Max Roser — are eager to point out that the world’s citizens have never been safer, healthier, and wealthier than they are now. And in some ways that is true! But in this long piece for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman addresses some of the reasons to be skeptical of these claims.
From Madrid and Miami, art that asks us to reflect on the ongoing climate crisis in a visually striking way.
Paintings from Prado Museum Collection given climate change makeovers – Colossal
Museo del Prado (Prado Museum) recently collaborated on a project with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) designed to coincide with the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid. Paintings from the museum’s collection were digitally modified to reflect a future world destroyed by inaction. Rising sea levels, barren rivers, and refugee camps transform works by European painters into a campaign to save the environment.
A traffic jam of sand cars by Leandro Erlich is blocking Miami Beach – Colossal
Erlich’s installation, titled “Order of Importance,” is an effort to put conversations surrounding climate change front and center. Commissioned by the city of Miami Beach and curated by Ximena Caminos and Brandi Reddick, the installation features 66 life-sized cars and trucks erected on the beach at Lincoln Road. Made of sand, the vehicles blend in with the surrounding beach and highlight the temporary nature of their construction.