Let’s go shopping down Memory Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things are looking up #5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps I need to take some pointers from the experts.

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

What’s in a name #9

Venice, 1570s, and Paolo Veronese, who had been commissioned by the Dominicans to paint the Last Supper, finds himself up against the Venetian version of the Spanish Inquisition. His depiction of this biblical scene seemed irregular, to say the least. Perhaps even blasphemous?

The Lost Last SupperYale University Press Blog
That dog, what is the dog doing there, a dog in the vicinity of Jesus, this is surely blasphemy? He should have painted Mary Magdalene there, should he not?
Yes, but he did not think she would look right in that spot.
And that bloody nose? That’s not fitting, is it?
Yes, but it was intended as a servant who had had an accident.
And what about that man there, the one who looks so German, armed with a halberd? That would take some time to explain. Please answer!
You see, we painters are accustomed to taking the same liberties as poets and madmen, and so I painted those two halberdiers, one eating and the other drinking at the foot of the stairs, yes, but so that they can immediately be of service, because I believe that a man as wealthy as the host would have had such servants.
And that fellow who looks like a court jester, with a parrot on his fist, what is he doing there?
He is there for decoration, as is customary.
And who is sitting at the Lord’s table?
The twelve Apostles.
What is Saint Peter doing, the first one sitting there?
He is carving the lamb into portions for the whole table.
And the man beside him?
He is holding up his plate.
And the next one?
He is picking his teeth with a fork.
Who do you think was actually present?
I believe there was only Christ and his apostles, but if there is any space remaining in a painting then I fill it with figures of my own invention.
So did someone commission you to include Germans and jesters and people of that sort?
No, Sirs, but I saw that I had lots of space, so I could add a great deal.

The Holy Tribunal determines that this rabble is not worthy to accompany such a sacred event, and orders the dog, the bloody nose, the tooth-picker, the Germans, all of it, to be painted over. But the artist, with the permission of the Dominicans, has a better idea.

He barely changes the painting at all, he just gives it a different name, and that is what it is still called today in the Accademia: Feast in the House of Levi, and if paintings were allowed to have a subtitle, in this case it might be: or, Hoodwinking the Inquisition.

Old style emoji

I may have been familiar with this type of word puzzle, though I was unaware of its name or history.

Emoji 🐝4 EmojiI love Typography
Rebus writing substitutes pictures or symbols for words, but not in the same way that pictograms do. With pictograms, a picture of, for example, a bee simply represents the insect. But in rebus writing, a picture of a bee is used to substitute for the letter b or its sound — as in the title of this article. Likewise, a picture of an eye represents the letter i, and so on. The use of rebuses turns what is otherwise an unremarkable broadside advertisement into something much more engaging, fun, and valuable.

Although emoji started out as a limited number of symbols, they were eventually expanded into a dizzying number of pictograms and ideograms, many of which can be used in rebus writing. The ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, and Chinese, to name just a few, used rebuses thousands of years before emoji appeared on our screens. And it would appear that our fascination with symbols, of all kinds, and our willingness to experiment and use them in reshaping how we communicate is motivated by the very same thing that inspired our very distant ancestors — a desire to communicate better.

Everything, all at once #2

You could say that Matan Stauber’s final year project at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design took millions and millions of years to create.

Histography – Timeline of History
“Histography” is interactive timeline that spans across 14 billion years of history, from the Big Bang to 2015. The site draws historical events from Wikipedia and self-updates daily with new recorded events. The interface allows for users to view between decades to millions of years.

A unasinous balls-up

From shambles to disaster, the vocabulary of failure has had an unhappy airing this results seasoniNews
Synonyms for “fool” abound in the dictionary, including the “saddle-goose” and “buffard” from the 1400s, “little Witham” from the 1500s (apparently after a village whose inhabitants were well known for their stupidity), and “niddicock”, “noddypeak” and “dizzard” from the 1600s. All of them led up to today’s “nincompoops”, “wallies”, “sapheads”, “chumps” and “plonkers”.

If, hypothetically speaking, all those fools came together and acted in extreme combined idiocy, they could be described as “unasinous”, a word with only a single quotation in the OED, from 1656, but which is surely due a comeback. A riff on “unanimous”, it means “united in stupidity”, and comes from the Latin unus, “one”, and asinus, “ass”. Worth bearing in mind when the buffards begin to bray.

Please rewind — and stay behind

You can now stay over at the world’s last Blockbuster video storeMoss and Fog
This final store in Bend, Oregon has been operating for years, and has a pretty loyal following. The Coronavirus, however, has put a major dent in their business. Now they’ve opened up the store as a rentable Airbnb, outfitted with a little living room, and all the nostalgia you’d want out of a video store.

75 years later, it’s now 100 seconds to midnight

It was the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki earlier this month. This account, from The New Yorker, is from 1946.

HiroshimaThe New Yorker
The children were silent, except for the five-year-old, Myeko, who kept asking questions: “Why is it night already? Why did our house fall down? What happened?” Mrs. Nakamura, who did not know what had happened (had not the all-clear sounded?), looked around and saw through the darkness that all the houses in her neighborhood had collapsed. […]

In a city of two hundred and forty-five thousand, nearly a hundred thousand people had been killed or doomed at one blow; a hundred thousand more were hurt. At least ten thousand of the wounded made their way to the best hospital in town, which was altogether unequal to such a trampling, since it had only six hundred beds, and they had all been occupied. The people in the suffocating crowd inside the hospital wept and cried, for Dr. Sasaki to hear, “Sensei! Doctor!,” and the less seriously wounded came and pulled at his sleeve and begged him to come to the aid of the worse wounded. Tugged here and there in his stockinged feet, bewildered by the numbers, staggered by so much raw flesh, Dr. Sasaki lost all sense of profession and stopped working as a skillful surgeon and a sympathetic man; he became an automaton, mechanically wiping, daubing, winding, wiping, daubing, winding.

A long time ago, but still within people’s lifetimes.

Why we must remember the reality of HiroshimaNew Statesman
That August day, I was told, was colourless. The sky, like the radioactive rain that left my grandfather bedbound for months following the attack, had turned black, and it seemed to stain the city and everyone in it. “It was like someone had smeared ink over Hiroshima,” my grandparents said. When they remembered the bombing, it was in black-and-white images.

The inscription on the cenotaph in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park reads, “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the error.”

A statement on the bombings of Hiroshima and NagasakiBulletin of the Atomic Scientists
[O]n this awful 75th anniversary, the Doomsday Clock stands at 100 seconds to midnight. The Science and Security Board calls on all countries to reject the fantasy that nuclear weapons can provide a permanent basis for global security and to refrain from pursuing new nuclear weapons capabilities that fuel nuclear arms races.

Japan PM sparks anger with near-identical speeches in Hiroshima and NagasakiThe Guardian
The apparent decision not to tailor the statements to each city’s experience angered survivors of the bombings, who are known as hibakusha. “It’s the same every year,” Koichi Kawano, head of a hibakusha liaison council in Nagasaki, told the Mainichi Shimbun. “He talks gibberish and leaves, as if to say, ‘There you go. Goodbye.’ He just changed the word ‘Hiroshima’ to ‘Nagasaki.’ He’s looking down on A-bomb survivors.”

Hiroshima marks 75th anniversary as survivors call for changeCBS News
“Could you please respond to our request to sign the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty?” Tomoyuki Mimaki, a member of a major survivors’ group, Hidankyo, implored Abe. “The milestone 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing is a chance” to change course. Abe insisted on Japan’s policy not to sign the treaty, vaguely citing a “different approach,” though he added that the government shares the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.

And here’s an article about another survivor.

This 392-year-old bonsai tree survived the Hiroshima atomic blast & still flourishes todayOpen Culture
Three decades later, in a rather remarkable act of forgiveness, the Yamaki family gifted the pine (along with 52 other cherished trees) to the United States, during the bicentennial celebration of 1976. Never did they say anything, however, about the traumas the tree survived. Only in 2001, when a younger generation of Yamakis visited Washington, did the caretakers at United States National Arboretum learn the full story about the tree’s resilience. The tree survived the worst mankind could throw at it. And kept its beauty intact.

Not all parts of our natural environment are as resilient, however.

Deep in the ocean’s trenches, the legacy of nuclear testing livesAtlas Obscura
Scientists recently discovered evidence of radioactive carbon, also known as “bomb carbon,” in the tissues of crustaceans—up to seven miles below the surface, in iconic trenches such as the Mariana, Mussau, and New Britain, according to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

How to build a nuclear warning for 10,000 years’ timeBBC Future
“This place is not a place of honor,” reads the text. “No highly esteemed dead is commemorated here… nothing valued is here. What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.”

It sounds like the kind of curse that you half-expect to find at the entrance to an ancient burial mound. But this message is intended to help mark the site of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) that has been built over 2,000 feet (610m) down through stable rocks beneath the desert of New Mexico. The huge complex of tunnels and caverns is designed to contain the US military’s most dangerous nuclear waste.

And if you want your own piece of US military nuclear architecture, something’s come up for auction.

For sale: A Cold War bunker and missile silo in North DakotaAtlas Obscura
Keller says calls have been coming in about the site from all over the country. Some calls have been from history buffs, some from entrepreneurs, and some from doomsday preppers, seeking a solid foundation on which to build their bunkers. “You’ve got Covid-19, you’ve got civil unrest—I got a call from one guy who thought this’d be a great place to have a server farm,” Keller says. “It’s safe, secure, and tornado-proof.”

It’s in Fairdale, North Dakota, just off 111th Avenue, and online bidding is available, if you’re interested.

On the shelf

I’ve a number of posts here about libraries, but I’ve never seen one with such substantial shelving.

The Old Cincinnati Library before being demolished, 1874-1955Rare Historical Photos
Built in 1874 on the site reserved for an opera house, the Old Cincinnati Library was a thing of wonder. With five levels of cast iron shelving, a fabulous foyer, checker board marble floors and an atrium lit by a skylight ceiling, the place was breathtaking. Unfortunately that magnificent maze of books is now lost forever.

Some rather more genteel shelving on display here.

One of the world’s oldest reading rooms at the University of OxfordThe Mind Circle
This collection of images of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, while not of the most impressive library interior, are actually extremely rare, and most likely the best images of the interior available anywhere online. Photography of this library, which dates as far back as 1487 during the Medieval period, is usually completely prohibited as it contains many priceless original books, including manuscripts of the gospels of the Bible from the 3rd century, a Shakespeare First Folio and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (one of 42 left in the world).

Black lives, history, respect, status matters

From across the USA …

These pictures show just how large the protests against police brutality really areBuzzfeed News
Across major cities and small towns, people turned out en masse to demonstrate against the police killing of George Floyd and to call for change in the US.

… and across the decades …

This is what 100 years of racial protest looks like in AmericaBuzzfeed News
From the 1917 silent protests in the streets of Manhattan to the recent national unrest following the killing of George Floyd, these pictures capture the long and tumultuous struggle for racial justice in the US.

… to cities all around the world, right now.

Images from a worldwide protest movementThe Atlantic
Over the weekend, demonstrations took place around the world, with thousands of people outside the United States marching to show solidarity with American protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. In many places, marchers also voiced their anger about systemic racism and police brutality within their own countries.

From our streets, to our museums …

‘Time to give back the swag, guys!’ British Museum unleashes Twitter storm with statement on Black Lives MatterThe Art Newspaper
“Look, I love you guys, but maybe you ought to sit this one out,” said one Twitter user, Jeff Pearce, a novelist and historian. “Unless you plan to return the looted Ethiopian treasures, the stolen Elgin Marbles and permanently return the Benin Bronzes.”

… and living rooms.

Little Britain pulled from iPlayer and Netflix because ‘times have changed’BBC News
In 2017, Lucas said: “If I could go back and do Little Britain again, I wouldn’t make those jokes about transvestites. I wouldn’t play black characters. Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now.” Walliams has also said he would “definitely do it differently” in today’s cultural landscape.

Times may have changed for some, but change is moving too slowly for others.

Windrush scandal: only 60 victims given compensation so farThe Guardian
Only 60 people have received Windrush compensation payments during the first year of the scheme’s operation, with just £360,000 distributed from a fund officials expected might be required to pay out between £200m and £500m.

Tracking mortality, 350 years ago

I know a number of people are keeping diaries at the moment, to set down our thoughts and experiences of these strange days. We’re not the first to do that, of course.

Diary of Samuel Pepys shows how life under the bubonic plague mirrored today’s pandemicThe Conversation
For Pepys and the inhabitants of London, there was no way of knowing whether an outbreak of the plague that occurred in the parish of St. Giles, a poor area outside the city walls, in late 1664 and early 1665 would become an epidemic.

The plague first entered Pepys’ consciousness enough to warrant a diary entry on April 30, 1665: “Great fears of the Sickenesse here in the City,” he wrote, “it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.”

Just a few months later …

In London, the Company of Parish Clerks printed “bills of mortality,” the weekly tallies of burials. Because these lists noted London’s burials – not deaths – they undoubtedly undercounted the dead. Just as we follow these numbers closely today, Pepys documented the growing number of plague victims in his diary.

At the end of August, he cited the bill of mortality as having recorded 6,102 victims of the plague, but feared “that the true number of the dead this week is near 10,000,” mostly because the victims among the urban poor weren’t counted. A week later, he noted the official number of 6,978 in one week, “a most dreadfull Number.”

Samuel Pepys wasn’t the only one keeping a record of events.

Coronavirus: Defoe’s account of the Great Plague of 1665 has startling parallels with todayThe Conversation
HF [the narrator] becomes obsessed with the weekly mortality figures. They charted deaths by parish, giving a picture of how the plague was moving around the city. Still, it was impossible to be sure who had died directly of the disease, just as in the BBC news today we hear people have died “with” rather than “of” COVID-19. Reporting was difficult, partly because people were reluctant to admit there was an infection in the family. After all, they might be locked in their homes to catch the disease and die.

HF is appalled by those who opened up taverns and spent their days and nights drinking, mocking anyone who objected. At one point he confronts a group of rowdies and gets a torrent of abuse in return. Later, exhibiting one of his less appealing traits, he is gratified to hear that they all caught the plague and died.

Here’s a look at those Bills of Mortality in greater detail.

London’s dreadful visitation: A year of weekly death statistics during the Great Plague (1665)The Public Domain Review
As early as 1592, London parish officials had instituted a system for keeping track of deaths in the city, trying to curb the spread of the plague by tracking it and quarantining victims and those who lived with them. Since it was not then legally required to report deaths to a central authority, the officials hired “searchers of the dead”, whose job it was to locate corpses, examine them, and determine cause of death. These “searchers” were not trained in any kind of medicine. Typically they were poor, illiterate, older women whose contact with the infected isolated them socially and often brought their lives to an early end. They were also, in one of the more gruesome examples of gig work offered by history, paid per body. […]

In addition to the alarming number of plague deaths, Londoners, of course, continued to die by other means, both familiar and strange.

Many familiar maladies hide behind the enigmatic naming. “Rising of the Lights”, dreamy though it sounds, was a seventeenth-century term for any death associated with respiratory trouble (“lights” being a word for lungs). “Griping in the guts” and “Stopping of the stomach” were similarly used for deaths accompanied by gastrointestinal complaints. “Spotted feaver” was most likely typhus or meningitis.

Many labels — such as “suddenly”, “frighted”, and “grief” — speak of the often approximate nature of assigning a cause (not carried out by medical professionals but rather the “searchers”). “Planet” referred to any illness thought to have been caused by the negative influence/position of one of the planets at the time (a similar astrological source lies behind the name Influenza, literally influence).

Meanwhile.

This guy used an old Samsung monitor to make a legendary plague doctor maskDesign You Trust
Employees of the IT industry sometimes have to communicate with users. And they also need protection – like the legendary mask of the plague doctor, but with nuances. User of Pikabu social network used an old Samsung SyncMaster monitor to make this mask by himself. The result is amazing!

Staying safe, then and now

Are things getting better? It doesn’t feel like it.

Paris salons, Shanghai Disney reopen despite global alarm over second coronavirus waveReuters
News that the “reproduction rate” – the number of people each person with the disease goes on to infect – had surged back to 1.1 in Germany cast a shadow over the reopening of businesses ranging from Paris hair salons to Shanghai Disneyland. A rate that stays above 1 means the virus is spreading exponentially.

Look at the numbers, they say. But I’ve seen so many I’m becoming curve-blind.

COVID-19 CoronaVirus infographic datapackInformation is Beautiful
COVID-19 #Coronavirus latest data visualized. Updated 11th May. Created by David McCandless, Omid Kashan, Fabio Bergamaschi, Dr Stephanie Starling, Univers Labs

staying-safe

Some are saying we’ve been here before, but this time’s different. Thankfully.

Coronavirus is very different from the Spanish Flu of 1918. Here’s how.The New York Times
In 1918, the world was a very different place, even without the disruptive influence of World War I. Doctors knew viruses existed but had never seen one — there were no electron microscopes, and the genetic material of viruses had not yet been discovered. Today, however, researchers not only know how to isolate a virus but can find its genetic sequence, test antiviral drugs and develop a vaccine.

Virus-afflicted 2020 looks like 1918 despite science’s marchAP News
As in 1918, people are again hearing hollow assurances at odds with the reality of hospitals and morgues filling up and bank accounts draining. The ancient common sense of quarantining is back. So is quackery: Rub raw onions on your chest, they said in 1918. How about disinfectant in your veins now? mused President Donald Trump, drawing gasps instead of laughs over what he weakly tried to pass off as a joke.

There are so many coronavirus myths that even Snopes can’t keep upThe Washington Post
“The fact-checking industry is so undervalued and underinvested,” he said, “that even with this traffic boom and the rise in prominence and responsibility at this moment when people are relying so heavily on fact-checkers for credible information, we have no hopes for scaling up our businesses.”

1918 feels too distant now, it’s hard to relate to it. But perhaps we should count ourselves lucky that we find it hard to relate to.

The 1918 flu pandemic killed millions. So why does its cultural memory feel so faint?Slate
Reading letters from survivors of the flu pandemic, one of the things that strikes me over and over again, that’s so moving, is that almost every one of them says, “I never forgot; I never forgot; I never forgot.” [Researching the book], I interviewed one 105-year-old woman who had the flu in Richmond, when she was 8. And in my cheery way, I said something like “Why do you think people forgot the flu?” And she looked at me like I was crazy. “We didn’t forget! We didn’t ignore it! We didn’t forget.” She’s 105, right? And she was like, “It never faded—not for us.”

Meet the 107-year-old woman who survived the coronavirus and Spanish fluThe Jerusalem Post
“It’s remarkable,” Shapiro said. “That’s all I can say. It’s just unbelievable. I think perhaps it’s because of her art that she’s still involved in.”

The numbers are crazy, “6 percent of the Earth’s population in just over a year,” according to this collection of images from the time.

Historical photos of the 1918 Spanish Flu that show what a global pandemic looked like in the 1910sDesign You Trust
The speed of the pandemic was shocking; the numbers of dead bodies overwhelmed hospitals and cemeteries. Quarantine centers, emergency hospitals, public use of gauze masks, and awareness campaigns were all undertaken swiftly to halt the spread. But as World War I was coming to a close, millions of soldiers were still traveling across the globe, aiding the spread of the disease.

staying-safe-2b

The flu was first observed in Europe, the US and parts of Asia before it quickly spread throughout the world. It was wrongly named the Spanish flu because it was first reported in the Madrid daily newspaper ABC. However, modern scientists now believe the virus could have started in Kansas, US.

Kansas, you say? Hmm.

staying-safe-5a

staying-safe-3a

Face masks, then. So what are our options (apart from using socks)?

Face Shield: How do we encourage mass adoption of an unwanted necessity?Joe Doucet
To try and create a face shield that people would actually want to wear rather than simply put up with, Joe Doucet has designed a shield with integrated sunglass lenses and arms that make them more practical and feel less alien and intrusive on the wearer than a typical face shield would. It is hoped that improving the basic face shield design will encourage far greater uptake of its usage and help everyone adjust to the “new normal” that awaits us.

staying-safe-4

The Micrashell Futuresuit lets you party like it’s 2099Design Milk
Taking design cues from sportswear brands like Yohji Yamamoto and Nike Lab, the Production Club Micrashell wraps an array of speculative environmental technologies within a futuristic athleisure design straight out of the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer. The Micrashell is intended to allow for human-to-human interaction in group settings with a virus-shielded and disinfectable air-tight suit, specifically for attendees of “nightlife and entertainment industries”.

staying-safe-6

Plastique Fantastique’s iSphere mask is informed by 1950s sci-fi comicsDezeen
Berlin-based art collective Plastique Fantastique has created an open-source, retro-futuristic face shield shaped like a fish bowl to protect wearers against coronavirus. The helmet-like design, called the iSphere, comprises two transparent, hollow hemispheres that have been secured together and cut to create a hole for the user to fit their head through.

staying-safe-7

Canevacci and Young wanted to bring an element of humour to a serious object for non-medical users.

Perfect!

Raise a glass to sprezzatura

It’s the weekend! I’ll drink to that, though perhaps not with one of these.

During the Renaissance, drinking wine was a fight against physicsGastro Obscura
The difficulty was the point. Courtiers were expected to embody the ideal of “sprezzatura,” a hard-to-translate word that combines the senses of elegance, sophistication, and nonchalance. In other words, you were supposed to be good at everything, without ever seeming to put any effort into it. What could be a better demonstration of sprezzatura than casually raising one of these sloshing, top-heavy goblets and taking a sip?

sprezzatura

You can see some of them being used in this painting from 1563, Paolo Veronese’s “The Wedding at Cana,” amongst some other wonderful details. Click through for a close-up.

sprezzatura-2

Curiouser and curiouser

Have you had a chance to promenade around any of the virtual galleries and museums I mentioned last week? Here’s another one to add to your list, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. It’s definitely my favourite so far.

Virtually wander & weave through an enchanting odditorium of curiositiesMessy Nessy
It almost feels like you’ve clicked on something you shouldn’t have and suddenly, a door to internet Narnia has opened and you find yourself roaming the aisles of a huge maze of glass cabinets, overflowing with an insane amount of objects. You’ve stumbled into the cabinet of wonder that is the Pitt Rivers Museum. Indefinitely closed, like thousands of other cultural institutions around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, this 136 year-old Victorian museum hiding within another museum in Oxford, England, is free to roam at the click of your mouse – every glass cabinet, every last aisle, all to yourself. And what a beautiful sight it is to discover, even if only from behind your screen for now.

curiouser-1

curiouser-2

curiouser-3

The language of Utopia can be yours for just $81,000

I’m not sure if Duolingo will be turning this into a new language course any time soon.

For Sale: Sir Thomas More’s Utopian alphabetAtlas Obscura
The characters in the Utopian language walk the line between Greek and geometric runes. There is no casing, just large circles, squares, triangles and lines, with various accents attached. It would be gobbledygook if not for its accompanying Latin translation, which speaks to the creation of Utopia and its singularity as a philosophical—and aspirational—place.

As I was reading that, I was getting Thomas More mixed up with Thomas Cromwell, something that has happened to the Wolf Hall actors playing those roles, too. But anyway.

Thomas More is the villain of Wolf Hall. But is he getting a raw deal?The Guardian
The other piece of influential writing that has helped emphasise More’s superior character is his own book, Utopia. A philosophical argument couched in the tale of a traveller who returns from an unknown land, it has furnished English literature with many enduring ideas – not least that of a Utopia itself; a perfect, unattainable society. Published in Latin in 1516, Utopia still intrigues and amuses readers despite having been around for half a millennium. In More’s imagined Utopia, property, goods and food are all shared among the households in each city and there is a heavy emphasis on agriculture, although some weight is given to academic learning as well. When it comes to government: “Anyone who campaigns for public office becomes disqualified for holding any office at all,” he suggests.

That last line reminds me of that Groucho quote about not wanting to belong to a club that would have him as a member.

But perhaps $81,000 is a little steep for just one book. Maybe you’re just after something to fill your shelves.

Books sold by the linear footBoing Boing
So it turns out there’s an entire industry of books hand-picked and organized to look good, sold in bulk according to a variety of visual or conceptual themes. Color gradients is a hot trend in the world of books sold by the linear foot.

Just a few stores I found: Books by the FootZubal BooksThe Book BundlerDecades of Vintage and Booth & Williams all specialize in books sold for their aesthetic appeal rather than their contents.

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Never mind the quality, feel the width.

Valentines cards, but with added acetic acid

Happy Valentine’s Day! Did you get any cards this year? Let’s hope you didn’t receive one of these.

The rude, cruel, and insulting ‘Vinegar Valentines’ of the Victorian eraAtlas Obscura
In the 1840s, hopeful American and British lovers sent lacy valentines with cursive flourishes and lofty poems by the thousands. But what to do if you didn’t love the person who had set their eyes on you?

In the Victorian era, there was no better way to let someone know they were unwanted than with the ultimate insult: the vinegar valentine. Also called “comic valentines,” these unwelcome notes were sometimes crass and always a bit emotionally damaging in the anti-spirit of Valentine’s Day.

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OK, so let’s assume your Valentine shares your feelings and agrees to go on a date. What could possibly go wrong?

Stupid Cupid: Valentine’s Day disasters, as seen by waitersThe Guardian
While some of us make too much effort on Valentine’s Day, others haven’t even mastered the first rule of dating: don’t perv on someone who is not your partner. Stephenson-Roberts observes that “wandering eyes” are a common feature of the evening. Digital flirting isn’t unheard of, either. Peppe Corallo, bar manager at London’s Kitchen at Holmes, remembers one woman who suddenly started screaming at her boyfriend during dinner. Why? He had been checking Tinder at the table. She hurled her champagne in his face before storming out. Unsurprisingly, her sodden lover soon paid up and left too. “I felt bad for him in some ways, but at the same time, don’t put your phone on the table where your girlfriend can see,” Corallo advises.

Photography pioneer with a modern eye

Let’s take a step back from that self-congratulatory, sycophantic ceremony, and look at the cinematic imagery of Heinrich Kühn, regarded as one of the forefathers of fine art photography.

The astonishing cinematic autochrome photography of Heinrich KühnFlashbak
As cameras slowly changed during the 1890s, becoming lighter, more manoeuvrable, there grew a desire among photographs to create more artistic images. pictures that rivalled painting for their impressionistic beauty. One pioneer of this trend was Heinrich Kühn, a German-born amateur photographer. […]

From 1890 onwards, Kühn started working on creating his “total art” photographs. His pictures were described as “painterly” and “impressionistic” but to our modern eye look more like movie stills from some great, unreleased film.

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And talking of cinematic, here’s a fresh look at what would have been 1896’s nominee for best picture.

Neural networks upscale film from 1896 to 4K, make it look like it was shot on a modern smartphoneGizmodo
L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat doesn’t have the same effect on modern audiences, but Denis Shiryaev wondered if it could be made more compelling by using neural network powered algorithms (including Topaz Labs’ Gigapixel AI and DAIN) to not only upscale the footage to 4K, but also increase the frame rate to 60 frames per second. You might yell at your parents for using the motion smoothing setting on their fancy new TV, but here the increased frame rate has a dramatic effect on drawing you into the action.

[4k, 60 fps] Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (The Lumière Brothers, 1896)YouTube

What would Louis Lumière have made of that, I wonder. As a reminder, here’s his original. The place looks a little different now. I wonder if they do requests to update other old film.

Don’t keep it to yourself

I read quite a lot, as most of us do—from books and newspapers, screens and  phones. But when was the last time you read aloud? Or had something read aloud to you?

As Meghan Cox Gurdon explains, in this extract from her book The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud In the Age of Distraction, reading aloud is something that goes way back.

Rediscovering the lost power of reading aloudLiterary Hub
So far as we can tell, starting in Paleolithic times, in every place where there are or have been people, there has been narrative. Here is Gilgamesh, the Sumerian epic recorded on clay tablets in cuneiform script 1,500 years before Homer. Here are the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, vast Sanskrit poems dating from the 9th and 8th centuries BC. Here too is the thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon legend Beowulf, the Icelandic Völsunga saga, the Malian epic Sundiata, the Welsh Mabinogion, the Persian, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian ferment of The Thousand and One Nights, and the 19th-century Finnish and Karelian epic the Kalevala. This list is necessarily partial.

Once upon a time, none of these stories had yet been fixed on a page (or a clay tablet), but were carried in the physical bodies of the people who committed them to memory. Long before Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press, and 1,000 years before cloistered monks and their illuminated manuscripts, the principal storage facility for history, poetry, and folktales was the human head. And the chief means of transmitting that cultural wealth, from generation to generation, was the human voice.