The armchair traveller’s hero

Yay, Richard Ayoade’s made it into the New Yorker!

“Travel Man,” Richard Ayoade’s travel show for people who hate travel
His persona is warmly amused, broadly skeptical, and gently astringent—i.e., British. He’s not a joiner. His intros conclude with him saying, in that episode’s particular city and with that episode’s particular guest, “We’re here, but should we have come?” It’s a refreshing tone for a travel series—somewhere between jumping in with both feet and looking askance at everything on earth, including the notion of fun on a weekend getaway. Where Rick Steves adopts an attitude of agreeable derring-do—in Siena, while wearing a Drago contrada neckerchief at a Drago contrada feast before the inter-contrada horse race, Steves says, “Even if I don’t fully understand what’s happening, the excitement is contagious and the wine is delightful!”—Ayoade does things like approach a toboggan on a snowy Norwegian hillside while muttering, “Generally, anything that requires a helmet, I avoid.”

How far have we come?

I loved the nostalgic/futuristic feel of these Wonders of the World Wide Web videos from Jo Luijten. They capture the look and feel of the technology of the time perfectly. Yes, it’s ludicrous to imagine these modern-day systems running this way, but if we jump ahead 30 years from now, what will we be laughing at then?

Siri in the ’80s

WhatsApp in the ’80s

Amazon in the ’80s

 

Have you heard the one about… ?

So today was national Tell A Joke Day, apparently.

I’m Sorry I’ve Written A Joke
What’s the difference between USA and USB? One has a white lead and never seems to be the correct way round, the other is an industry standard for cables.

What do you call a big reptile that gets someone else to bite you? A deligator.

Although a transvestite friend of mine lives in Greater Manchester, he also has a Wigan address.

My scouse uncle does greengrocery deliveries in Shoreditch. He doesn’t have a van. He does avocado.

Groan!

Life’s ups and downs

Going to any amusement parks this summer? Maybe give this one a miss.

An amusement park-themed animated short by Fernando Livschitz goes off the rails
The fate of riders on roller coasters and ferris wheels takes an unexpected turn in “Beautiful Chaos”, a new short from Fernando Livschitz of Black Sheep Films.

Beautiful Chaos
Chaos it said to be the opposite of order, and order, the basis for beauty. But that doesn’t mean that chaos can’t be beautiful too.

It reminds me of one of my favourite videos, the award-winning Centrifuge Brain Project, from the Institute for Centrifugal Research, by Till Nowak.

The Centrifuge Brain Project
Written/produced/directed by Till Nowak, starring Leslie Barany.

It’s from 2011, but clips from this are still making the rounds on social media, fooling people into thinking these nightmarish constructions are real.

Till Nowak makes impossible possible
“There are actually still people, especially if they see it on the internet, that really think everything is real. To me that is super interesting because the film is also about our reception of media, how we believe everything, how media can manipulate us. I had never expected that a lot of people would believe the whole film. I thought okay, maybe the first half, but then… For me as a filmmaker and my filmmaker friends, it is very obvious. But people who are not working with the media, it is very surprising for me, how much they believe. Sometimes it is a bit shocking – but also an honor and a compliment because it means that the film was convincing,” Nowak comments.

Happy minimalism

I mentioned earlier how metal has the power to make us happy. Whilst I enjoyed riffing down memory lane, the music that lifts my spirits now is more orchestral.

Here, composer David Bruce introduces us to minimalism and the work of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and, in particular, John Adams. I remember being completely blown away when I first heard this type of music, on a CD just called Minimalist, and it’s great to understand a little more about some of the orchestral decisions that goes into such work.

How John Adams writes for orchestra (The Chairman Dances & influence of minimalism)
The early minimalists choice of instruments and ways of composing influenced a whole generation of composers, myself included. In this video I look at how the style they developed went on to influence later orchestral compositions, in particular looking at the orchestral technique in John Adam’s piece ‘The Chairman Dances’.

And here’s that performance in full.

The Chairman Dances by John Adams – BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Now for something completely different. I’ve been vaguely aware of the name Victor Borge for a while, but never really knew anything about him or his stage routines. Consider this one of the YouTube recommendation algorithm’s big successes.

Victor Borge – Piano jokes

Les Dawson, anyone?

Wonky world

Let’s start in Germany.

A partially submerged train car provides a dramatic entrance to Frankfurt’s Bockenheimer Warte subway station
Subway stations are typically just a means to an end, simple structures that allow a large overflow of commuters to enter and exit at will. It is less common for the design to be a destination in itself, like the popular Bockenheimer Warte subway entrance in Frankfurt, Germany. The station, erected in 1986, was built to look as if an old tram car had crash landed into the sidewalk that surrounds the station.

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Then up to Norway.

The world’s largest undersea restaurant
Located 5m below the sea off the coast of Lindesnes, Norway, Europe’s first underwater restaurant serves fresh seafood with a one-of-a-kind view.

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The world’s largest underwater restaurant in Norway

Then across to Scotland.

Mach 1: Arts & event venue made from a tangle of shipping containers
The shape of the new building takes inspiration from piles of rocks on the Fife coastline, the color of nearby Forth Bridge and the industrial heritage of the area. Once completed, Mach 1 will stand 15 meters (about 49 feet) high and stretch 50 meters (about 164 feet) at its longest point. Inside, visitors will find a coffee bar and double-height exhibition space used to showcase the Edinburgh Park masterplan through drawings, information boards and scale models.

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“Shipping containers are really interesting to me architecturally. They are really honest and are also really familiar to people. They also go all over the world. But this will be different to anything else that has been built of them before, which is what you really want as an artist.”

Don’t leave your computer unattended

Or this might happen.

Update faker
Update Faker allows you to “fake a system update”, it’s the perfect way to prank your friends, family members or colleagues. Especially when they’re working on something rather important.

Yes, it’s just a silly prank (reminds me a little of Hacker Typer), but you could see it as an important security/GDPR lesson.

Ever since the launch of updatefaker.com we’ve been flooded with positive feedback both online and in real life. And everyone who’s ever fallen victim to update faker will never leave their PC unattended again, which certainly is a good thing. You never know what bad things people are up to. This website is literally one of the least bad things that can happen to an unattended PC.

Melancholic comics

In style, very different from Edward Gorey, but perhaps not in tone.

Woshibai’s hilariously clever comics explore themes of mundanity and reverie
Born and raised in Shanghai, where he currently resides, artist Woshibai illustrates amusing scenes that, though clearly imaginary and surreal, are often relatable in their tone. Featuring a host of simply drawn figures, his characters frequently find themselves in frustrating, confusing or ridiculous situations that play on notions of mundanity and reverie.

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Having fun, Dave?

As Brexit continues to mess things up…

The fragmentation of the big parties
One reason Brexit has proved tricky is that the party divide does not map onto views about Europe. This week 11 moderate mps, eight Labour and three Conservative, decided that they had had enough—and more may join them. Given that Parliament seats 650 mps, their resignation to create a new Independent Group might seem a minor tremor. But it matters: as a verdict on Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn; as another complication in resolving Brexit; and as a warning of an earthquake that could yet reshape Britain’s two-party system.

… let’s not forget who got us into this hole.

David Cameron checks in from Nice

So what do you think, is Brexit making things better?

Is Britain great again?

“The most wonderful time of the year”

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The competitive business of recruiting pro Santas
“It’s incredibly demanding work,” says Ferrell. “If you’re at a big mall, you might see upwards of 3k kids per day. And with each one, you get 3-5 pictures. You’re looking at 10k bright flashes per day. When you get off, you can hardly see.” […]

In the line of duty, Ferrell has been sneezed on, vomited on, peed on — “everything that can come out” of a child has ended up in his lap. One Christmas, a 6-year-old headbutted him and split his eyebrow open, speckling his white fur lapel with blood. He now carries 3 extra suits for back-up.

Noerr Programs Santa University

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Merry Christmas cards give wrong message about alcohol, experts warn
Henry Cole is widely credited with creating the first commercial Christmas card, depicting a scene showing people drinking, in 1843. In 1980, an analysis of greetings cards revealed themes that suggested getting drunk is a natural and desirable element of celebrations and that drunkenness is humorous, enjoyable and harmless.

Instabrag humbug: why I’m giving up social media for Christmas
We went there just before Christmas last year. A great place to tweet #Christmasmagic from, without doubt, but unfortunately when we arrived, it rained so much it made Brexit look like a spa day. We were surrounded by cold, damp, bored kids. For three solid, awful days. Thing is, you’d never know that if you’re a Facebook fan/friend of mine. I lied, OK? I just wanted my life to look good, all right? I was only ever after the dopamine hit of the Likes. I’m only in this for the Likes. In the digital age, the only place we ever go on family holidays now is the Like District.

12-year-old’s Christmas list demonstrates heartbreaking awareness of family’s financial predicament
“A new controller would be great too, but honestly, the one I have isn’t that bad.”

Word on the street

Street art, but we’re not talking Banksy this time.

Fake News: Miniature signs around the city convey confusing messages
If all the official signage that can be found around an average city bores you, you might not even notice the ones that are a little bit off, warning you of dangerous pigeons and tiny sinkholes or explaining the history of awkward silences in the area. Some are so small, they’re easy to just pass right by – like the one situated next to some velvet ropes and a mouse hole that reads “please wait here until called.” Your loss, really, because in this case, sharp observational skills really pay off.

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ATTENTION: Public warning signs by April Soetarman engage the emotions of unsuspecting pedestrians
Designer and artist April Soetarman has been producing and anonymously hanging custom street signs around her hometown of Seattle since 2016. The practice started as a way for her to diversify her art-making, which had previously been more architecture-based, in addition to working through some feelings she was processing at the time. After her original “NOTICE: I Never Stopped Loving You. Hope You’re Well” sign became viral, she began producing other rewrites of classic street and warning signs and adding them to her website Weird Side Projects.

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How to fix* broken Brexit

With humour.

Instead of this …

Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, as agreed at negotiators’ level on 14 November 2018 (pdf)

… and this …

Brexit analysis: Why Theresa May’s deal may be doomed
Somehow, all this would be bought at no cost. British citizens would continue to enjoy frictionless travel to the E.U; goods and services would still cross borders with hyperloop-y speed and ease. But immigrants would find that Britain’s international entry points had become a veritable eye of the needle. Above all, we were told that all our E.U. contributions would now get fed straight into the National Health Service […] It’s not just that these assertions were unfounded. They showed a fundamental overestimation of Britain’s power and prestige, of its ability to bend other states to its will. The E.U. has not as yet capitulated to a single meaningful demand from a British government that has frequently looked weak and confused.

… read this.

And instead of this …

Brexit deal resignations are more bad news for the British pound
Today’s resignations have been far worse for the pound. About an hour after Raab, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey resigned, too. There have been four more junior-level resignations on top of that, all before lunch.

… read this.

(* Ok, not so much ‘fix’ as ‘get through’.)

Bon voyage

My son flies to Japan next week, on a school science trip, via Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Here are a couple of links to send him on his way.

Schiphol Clock
Time is important at an airport, with thousands of people running back and forth trying to get their plane on time. This is why most airports are full of clocks everywhere, helping to guide harried travelers. Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands is no exception, but it offers a twist: a giant clock that appears as if a man is busy painting it real time, minute by minute.

The painter is actually a 12-hour-long recording, that gives a convincing illusion that a human is standing inside the translucent clock, busy at work as the hands go around. This creative timepiece is the latest work of Maarten Baas, a well-known Dutch artist and designer that has a series of similar live clock recordings.

Schipol Clock

A 12 hour long recording! There’s more on this remarkable clock on Maarten Baas’s website. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s still there.

And then, when my boy gets to Japan:

Four weird unexpected things to love about Japan
Washlets are one of the unexpected delights of going to Japan. The Japanese washlet is a technological marvel in that it cleans and dries your flanks, underside and phalanges after you’ve taken a shit, without you having to step foot in a shower.

What happens after your experience with the washlet is a feeling of unparalleled freshness, cleanliness and wellness unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced before. In the West we have toilets that flush but that’s about it. It’s a toilet made for a Jurassic reptile not a highly evolved human being.

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Strange moves

A couple of music videos that have caught my eye recently.

Little Big – Skibidi

No idea. Psy meets Begbie?

Loyle Carner – Ottolenghi

Here’s some more on the making of that.

Oscar Hudson reveals (some) of the secrets behind his video for Loyle Carner
Set on a train, which looks like a classic (unreliable) Southern or South Eastern network model from the seat pattern, Ottolenghi switches from VHS footage filmed by Ben (Loyle Carner) on a real train before switching to a set built in a studio. The beginnings of the video developed from a “super simple” idea of Ben’s: he would fall asleep on a real train journey, and then “start to dream a train journey,” Oscar explains. “I wanted to do something that ‘woozed’ back and forth between dream and reality where details from real life get amplified and warped in the dream.”

Perfect pairings

Buffalo Bill Gates makes celebrity portraits like you’ve never seen
Buffalo Bill Gates, aka Swedish artist Kalle Mattsson, a creator whose work is very much perfect for the part of the web made up of memes, idol irreverence and anarchic art. His weirdo celebrity portraits mash up famous faces with other celebrity identities or even fictional entities to create offbeat hybrid personalities like Putintin featured here.

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As well as being really funny, I love how perfectly these faces line up. It must have taken ages to find photos with just the right angle.

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Back to school

If you work in schools I’m sure it feels like September comes round quicker every year. We were just starting to finally relax and unwind and before you know it we’re back, reading things like this.

Dozens of secondary schools exclude at least 20% of pupils
A spokesman for the trust said it had taken over “some of the toughest schools in England” and repeatedly turned around their performance. He said that in many cases, the schools it had taken over had previously been excluding high numbers of children informally, meaning the increase in the number of official exclusions was misleading.

The Guardian view on education: some things money should not buy
These figures point up a general hollowing out of trust in the state system, which the introduction of competition both reflected and greatly exacerbated. Catchment areas operate as a kind of pre-exclusion mechanism, which keeps poorer children out of good schools just as surely as later exclusions can expel them. In all this, both schools and parents are responding to the logic, and the incentives, of a system predicated on competition as a zero-sum game. We are all poorer as a result.

But cheer up, we’re not the only ones feeling this way. Some of the great artists have identified the same issues.

An art history of back to school
Ever since I published ‘An art history of school inspections’ a few years ago, studying the way that art has portrayed schools has been somewhat of a hobby of mine. In this post, I’ll take you through the ways that artists throughout time have interpreted that key moment in a teacher’s year: going back to school.

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The first day back has finally arrived in Benjamin West’s ‘These Are the New Guys’ (1776), which depicts the moment when the school’s new staff members are introduced in the first staff meeting, and the entire faculty stare back at them. The new staff members hang their heads and blush as every current member of staff looks at them, some with a sense of envy at their youth, and some with a sense of pity at what these new guys have let themselves in for.

So how do you combat the end of holiday blues and keep that vibe of novelty and freedom going? Suggestions here include joining a club, starting a new hobby, changing your commute. I liked number 7.

Sad summer’s over? 18 ways to keep the health, humour and happiness of your holiday alive
7 Buy a carafe. No, seriously. The best €3 I ever spent went on a little glass carafe that says “quarto litro” at its neck, just like the ones in which the cheapest wine is served in my favourite holiday trattoria. Back home, it encourages restraint on the wine front, while adding ceremony.

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