Time for another post about trees, I think. Here are a couple of links that have been languishing in my drafts folder for a while.
Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich plants ‘future tree’ in Swiss courtyard – designboom This structure — known as the ‘future tree’ — combines state-of-the-art design techniques, material science, and robotic fabrication to create an eye-catching architectural object. Demonstrating the latest research of Gramazio Kohler Research at ETH Zurich, the ‘future tree’ consists of a funnel-shaped, lightweight timber frame structure built by a robot, and a bespoke concrete column created using an ultra-thin 3D printed formwork. The entire design and fabrication were developed as inseparable and fully digital processes.
The photographs documenting its construction are extraordinary.
Ai Weiwei: Iron Tree – Yorkshire Sculpture Park Iron Tree is the largest and most complex sculpture to date in the artist’s tree series, which he began in 2009. Inspired by the wood sold by street vendors in Jingdezhen, southern China, Iron Tree comprise of 97 tree elements cast in iron and interlocked using a classic – and here exaggerated – Chinese method of joining. Iron Tree expresses Ai’s interest in fragments and the importance of the individual, without which the whole would not exist.
Artificial trees of a different kind, now. OK, so the trees are real, but their glitch-art shapes certainly aren’t natural.
Hiroshima – The 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 Hiroshima – New 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.”
Japan PM sparks anger with near-identical speeches in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – The 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 change – CBS 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 today – Open 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.
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 Dakota – Atlas 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.”
Since the 1960s, British motorways have been deliberately designed by computer as series of long curves, rather than straight lines. This is done for both safety (less hypnotic) and aesthetic (“sculpture on an exciting, grand scale”) reasons. [Joe Moran]
Gravitricity is a Scottish startup planning to store energy by lifting huge weights up a disused mine shaft when electricity is cheap, dropping them down to generate power when it is expensive. Using a 12,000 tonne weight (roughly the weight of the Eiffel tower), it should be half as expensive as equivalent lithium ion battery. [Jillian Ambrose]
Such a simple idea, though something about it reminds me of those perpetual motion contraptions.
CD sales still make up 78% of music revenue in Japan (compared with less than 30% in the UK). Japanese pop fans have been encouraged to buy multiple copies of their favourite releases to win rewards (buy 2,000 copies, win a night at a hot spring with your favourite star). One 32 year-old fan was charged with illegally dumping 585 copies of a CD on the side of a mountain. [Mark Mulligan]
You really must follow the link to that one and read more about the incredibly bizarre and manipulative marketing practices going on there. It beggars belief.
This next one reminds me of that xkcd comic about Bobby Tables.
A man who bought the personalised number plate NULL has received over $12,000 of parking fines, because the system records ‘NULL’ when no numberplate has been recorded. [Jack Morse]
SDAM (Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory) is a rare syndrome where otherwise healthy, high-functioning people are unable to remember events from their own life. There is also an exhausting syndrome called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, where people can remember precise details about every single day of their life. [Palumbo & Alain]
And I’m sure this one applies this side of the Atlantic too, as we head into the last few days of general election polling.
“Polling by phone has become very expensive, as the number of Americans willing to respond to unexpected or unknown callers has dropped. In the mid-to-late-20th century response rates were as high as 70%… [falling to] a mere 6% of the people it tried to survey in 2018.” [The Economist]
Check out the work of Shuetsu Sato, a Japanese security guard who’s accidentally become a graphic designer and typographer.
Tokyo subway’s humble duct-tape typographer
Walk the bowels of these stations long enough and you may come across Shuetsu Sato 佐藤修悦. Sixty-five year old Sato san wears a crisp canary yellow uniform, reflective vest and polished white helmet. His job is to guide rush hour commuters through confusing and hazardous construction areas. When Sato san realised he needed more than his megaphone to perform this duty, he took it upon himself to make some temporary signage. With a few rolls of of duct tape and a craft knife, he has elevated the humble worksite sign to an art form.
2019 outlook on the shipment by product type concerning cameras and related goods(pdf)
“Fascinating set of charts for the Japanese camera industry. The compact camera is now mostly gone thanks to smartphones, but the higher-end removable-lens cameras have stabilized, and at a much higher revenue than pre-digital, and lens sales are doing great. Also, the customer for these cameras is now younger and less male. Digital has opened up pro/hobbyist cameras even as smartphones killed snapshot cameras.”
Last week, a look at the demise of CDs. Now, a similar curve for compact cameras. Avoid anything with the word ‘compact’, I think.
You’d think they had had their day, but photo booths are still going strong, as this recent Quartz Obsession round-up shows. But first, some highlights from its long history.
Photo booths 1890: The Bosco Automat, an early automated photo machine requiring a human operator, debuts at the First International Exposition of Amateur Photography.
1900: Eastman Kodak debuts the Brownie camera with a price point of just $1.
1925: The first curtain-enclosed booth costs users 25 cents for a strip of 8 photos.
1929: Surrealist René Magritte uses the new technology for his work Je ne vois pas la cachée dans la forêt (“I do not see the woman in the forest”).
1930s: Bluesman Robert Johnson takes a photo booth self-portrait; when he becomes a posthumous legend, it’s made into a US postage stamp.
1953: John and Jackie Kennedy step into a photo booth during their honeymoon.
1963-1966: Andy Warhol manipulates hundreds of photo booth images into silkscreen images.
1993: Photo-Me offers the first digital photo booth.
1995: Video game company Sega introduces a photo machine that prints stickers, launching the purikura selfie trend in Japan.
2015: Photo Booth Expo launches in Las Vegas with 1,200 attendees. In 2019, expo attendance topped 4,000.
It seems smartphones are fully ubiquitous now and Instgram accounts are practically compulsory, but the photo booth is still here, for a new audience.
While the OG photo booth certainly has its charms, we’ve come a long way since the days of black-and-white photography and eight-minute processing times. Purikura is a Japanese photo booth experience that allows users to pick music for their photo shoots, choose lighting, enhance the photo by drawing on it, add digital backgrounds, retouch, and more.
Japanese Photo Sticker Booths: Purikura Adventure Forget the selfie! It’s time to discover the Japanese Purikura Photo Sticker Booths. It’s hard to compete with the almighty smart phone these days, but the purikura “print club” booths have evolved into a US$50M a year industry and a place were one can be beamed into the professional model fantasy world – if only for 10 minutes.
Another piece on Eugenia Kuyda and how Replika came about, following an attempt to create a bot that could discuss restaurant recommendations.
This AI has sparked a budding friendship with 2.5 million people Kuyda had high hopes for the service because chatbots were becoming all the rage in Silicon Valley at the time. But it didn’t take off. Only about 100,000 people downloaded Luka. Kuyda and her team realized that people preferred looking for restaurants on a graphical interface, and seeing lots of options at once.
Then In November 2015, Kuyda’s best friend, a startup founder named Roman Mazurenko, died in a car accident in Russia.
Replika’s growing popularity among young people in particular (its main users are aged between 18 and 25) represents a renaissance in chatbots, which became overhyped a few years ago but are finding favor again as more app developers can use free machine-learning tools like Google’s TensorFlow.
It also marks an intriguing use case for AI in all the worry about job destruction: a way to talk through emotional problems when other human beings aren’t available. In Japan the idea of an artificial girlfriend, like the one voiced by Scarlett Johansson in the movie Her, has already become commonplace among many young men.
You must check out that last link, about those Japanese artificial girlfriends. It’s hard to believe the manufacturers, Gatebox, are suggesting you can have a relationship with an alarm clock.
A holographic virtual girlfriend lives inside Japan’s answer to the Amazon Echo Instead of a simple, cylindrical speaker design, Gatebox has a screen and a projector, which brings Hikari — her name, appropriately, means “light” — to life inside the gadget. On the outside are microphones, cameras, and sensors to detect temperature and motion, so she can interact with you on a more personal level, rather than being a voice on your phone.
The result is a fully interactive virtual girl, who at her most basic can control your smart home equipment. The sensors mean she can recognize your face and your voice, and is designed to be a companion who can wake you up in the morning, fill you in on your day’s activities, remind you of things to remember, and even welcome you back when you return home from work.
Update • 24 Dec 2020
And here’s another take on that virtual girlfriend theme.
The AI girlfriend seducing China’s lonely men – Sixth Tone Others users contacted by Sixth Tone describe themselves in a similar fashion: lonely, introverted, and with low self-esteem. They all appear to feel adrift in China’s fast-changing society. “I don’t know why I fell in love with Xiaoice — it might be because I finally found someone who wanted to talk to me,” says Orbiter, another user from the eastern Jiangxi province who gave only a pseudonym for privacy reasons. “Nobody talks with me except her.”
Li Di, CEO of Xiaoice, embraces the idea that his company provides comfort to marginalized social groups. “If our social environment were perfect, then Xiaoice wouldn’t exist,” he tells Sixth Tone.
The matcha moment: why even KitKats now taste of green tea
The chocolate coating is an Instagrammable – if lurid – lime green, with the promise of a “sweet and fragrant” flavour. Fifteen years after it went on sale in Japan to squeals of acclaim, the matcha green tea KitKat will hit UK supermarket shelves from this month as its manufacturer, Nestlé, brings the cult snack to a wider European audience – albeit with its flavour modified for our less-refined tastebuds.
Nestlé brings green tea-flavored KitKat to Europe
“Nestlé in Japan has taken KitKat to the next level in the last two decades, with innovative flavor combinations and inspiring special editions. We are excited to bring one of the most iconic Japanese KitKat back home to Europe this year,” von Maillot said.
“The launches of KitKat Ruby and KitKat Green Tea Matcha are further proof of our commitment to our leading international confectionery brand,” he added. “We have introduced other innovative flavors and premium products to KitKat, KitKat Chunky and KitKat Senses in recent years, and there is more to come.”
The UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage installation by Mohamad and Ahmed Badr “sculpturally re-creates rooms, homes, buildings and landscapes that have suffered the ravages of war. Each is embedded with the voices and stories of real people — from Afghanistan, Congo, Syria, Iraq and Sudan — who have escaped those same rooms and buildings to build a new life in America.”
Some really important stories being told. Meanwhile, over in Japan, Tanaka Tatsuya is continuing his miniature photography series. It’s been going since 2011.
The new Miniature Calendar by Tastuya Tanaka is the latest in a series of 7, each one featuring 365 snapshots of lives lived small. The figures are often framed by items that are easy to recognize and yet also simple to reimagine in context.
We could all use a little more Chindogu, the Japanese art of useless inventions
A little bit Dada, a little bit “only sold on television,” intentionally useless inventions called Chindogu look like a bunch of plastic junk at first glance, but there’s more to it than that. And they’re not quite altogether useless. In fact, as creator Kenji Kawakami stated when he first revealed Chindogu to the world in 1995, these objects are “un-useless.” They have a purpose, but they take their halfway practical solution to a perceived problem and stretch it to maximum absurdity. It’s all kind of dumb, and that’s the point.
Japan pampers its pets like nowhere else – A dog’s life
It is common for a parent taking a baby for a stroll to exchange a look of solidarity with another pram-pusher, only to glance down and realise the other’s contains a furry friend. Greying Japan is alert to animal ageing, too: there are acupuncture services for elderly pets, and several firms offer funerals.
In Japan, the Kit Kat isn’t just a chocolate. It’s an obsession.
There are also carefully chosen collaborations that capitalize on Japan’s culture of omiyage, which can be loosely defined as returning from travels with gifts for friends, family and colleagues. The Kikyou shingen mochi Kit Kat, which would go on sale in mid-October, would be sold right alongside the real Kikyou shingen mochi at souvenir shops and in service areas along the Chuo Expressway, a major four-lane road more than 200 miles long that passes through the mountainous regions of several prefectures, connecting Tokyo to Nagoya. With any luck, people would associate the Kit Kat with the traditional sweet and snap it up as a souvenir. But for this to be a success, for Kit Kat to expand into the souvenir market, consumers would have to believe that Kit Kat, originally a British product, was Japanese, and that although it was manufactured in a factory far away, it somehow represented the very essence of a region.
Miyu Kojima creates miniature replicas of lonely deaths
Twenty six-year old Miyu Kojima works for a company that cleans up after kodokushi (孤独死) or lonely deaths: a Japanese phenomenon of people dying alone and remaining undiscovered for a long period of time. […] Part art therapy and part public service campaign, Kojima spends a large portion of her free time recreating detailed miniature replicas of the rooms she has cleaned.
The spreadsheet architecture of Emma Stevens
Normally the mere mention of a spreadsheet can bring a distant glaze across the eyes of most creatives – the file format perceived as the antithesis of imagination by those desiring to create rather than tabulate. But Australian landscape architect Emma Stevens imagined the mundane Excel spreadsheet as an opportunity rather than an impediment to exploring art, using a tried and true technique of type as a medium to create a vast skyline out of text and cells.
It’s hard to believe that it’s the same tool, but used in a very different way, as the one this Japanese artist uses.
Meet Tatsuo Horiuchi, the 77-year-old artist who ‘paints’ Japanese landscapes with Excel
For over 15 years, Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi has rendered the subtle details of mountains, cherry blossoms, and dense forests with the most unlikely tool: Microsoft Excel. The 77-year-old illustrator shunned the idea of paying for expensive painting supplies or even a basic drawing program for his computer, saying that he prefers Excel even over Microsoft Paint because it has “more functions and is easier to use.” Using simple vector drawing tools developed primarily for graphs and simple shapes, Horiuchi instead draws panoramic scenes of life in rural Japan.
Sadly, all the spreadsheets I create are far more conventional.
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.
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.
Ten years after it shut down for the rest of us, Yahoo Japan has finally pulled the plug on its GeoCities service.
Yahoo Japan is shutting down its website hosting service GeoCities
The company said in a statement that it was hard to encapsulate in one word the reason for the shut down, but that profitability and technological issues were primary factors. It added that it was full of “regret” for the fate of the immense amount of information that would be lost as a result of the service’s closure. […]
The fact that GeoCities survived in Japan for so long speaks to the country’s idiosyncratic nature online. Despite the fact that Yahoo—which purchased GeoCities in 1999 for almost $4 billion at the peak of the dot.com boom—has fallen into irrelevance in much of the world, the company continues to be the dominant news portal in Japan. It still commands a sizeable market share in search, though it has steadily ceded its position to Google over the years.
An interesting look at some of the behavioural tricks and nudges that have been designed into Japan’s train stations. The millions of commuters that move through them aren’t just helped by things like reliable trains or better signage, but by their own unconscious actions triggered by light and sound.
The amazing psychology of Japanese train stations
Compounding the stressful nature of the commute in years past was the nerve-grating tone—a harsh buzzer used to signal a train’s imminent departure. The departing train buzzer was punctuated by sharp blasts of station attendants’ whistles, as harried salarymen raced down stairs and across platforms to beat the train’s closing doors.
To calm this stressful audio environment, in 1989 the major rail operator JR East commissioned Yamaha and composer Hiroaki Ide to create hassha melodies—short, ear-pleasing jingles to replace the traditional departure buzzer.
Not all of the aural additions are as melodic, though.
To address the Japanese fear of loitering and vandalism by young riders, some train stations deploy ultrasonic deterrents—small, unobtrusive devices that emit a high-frequency tone. The particular frequency used—17 kilohertz—can generally only be heard by those under the age of 25. (Older people can’t detect such frequencies, thanks to the age-related hearing loss known as presbycusis.) These devices—the brainchild of a Welsh inventor and also used to fend off loitering teens in the U.S. and Europe—have been enthusiastically adopted in Japan.
Standing outside one of Tokyo Station’s numerous exits on a recent summer day, it was easy to see the effectiveness of this deterrent in action. Weary salarymen and aged obaachan passed under the sonic deterrent without changing pace. Among uniform-clad students, however, the reactions were evident—a suddenly quickened pace, a look of confusion or discomfort, and often a cry of urusai! (Loud!) None appeared to connect the noise to the deterrents placed almost flush in the ceiling panels above.
Strange to contemplate a sound that I’ll never hear. The article links to a YouTube video of the hassha melodies, but there’s nothing about that 17 kilohertz one, unfortunately. (Or maybe there is and I just can’t hear it.)
But it’s not just the built environment that uses these behavioural tricks. The train conductors, drivers and platform attendants do too.
Why Japan’s rail workers can’t stop pointing at things
Known in Japanese as shisa kanko, pointing-and-calling works on the principle of associating one’s tasks with physical movements and vocalizations to prevent errors by “raising the consciousness levels of workers”—according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Japan. Rather than rely on a worker’s eyes or habit alone, each step in a given task is reinforced physically and audibly to ensure the step is both complete and accurate.
Subtitled ‘What needs to happen for artificial intelligence to make fine art’, this is a fascinating read on current thinking about art and AI. The author, Hideki Nakazawa, one of the curators of the Artificial Intelligence Art and Aesthetics exhibition in Japan, thinks that, whilst we’re not there yet, we’re not too far away.
Waiting For the Robot Rembrandt
True AI fine art will be both painfully boring and highly stimulating, and that will be represent progress. Beauty, after all, cannot be quantified, and the very act of questioning the definition of aesthetics moves all art forward—something we’ve seen over and over again in the history of human-made art. The realization of AI will bring new dimensions to these questions. It will also be a triumph of materialism, further eroding the specialness of the human species and unveiling a world that has neither mystery nor God in which humans are merely machines made of inanimate materials. If we are right, it will also bring a new generation of artists, and with them, new Eiffel towers beyond our wildest imagination.
The pieces within that exhibition are grouped into four categories: human-made art with human aesthetics, human-made art with machine aesthetics, machine-made art with human aesthetics, and finally machine-made art with machine aesthetics. It’s that last category we’re interested in, but frustratingly it contained “no machine-made art, because none exists that also reflects machine aesthetics. The category was a useful placeholder—and, as we’ll learn, it was not entirely empty.”
What a great way to clarify where all these artworks, projects and systems sit. All too often we find AI and other computer systems merely mimicking the creation of art: the final product may look like art, but without the autonomous intention — without the AI wanting to create for its own sake — the AI is just a tool of the artist-behind-the-curtain, the programmer. For example:
Yes, androids do dream of electric sheep
“Google sets up feedback loop in its image recognition neural network – which looks for patterns in pictures – creating hallucinatory images of animals, buildings and landscapes which veer from beautiful to terrifying.”
Don’t know where to place this one, however — art as a symptom of an AI’s mental ill health?
This artificial intelligence is designed to be mentally unstable
“At one end, we see all the characteristic symptoms of mental illness, hallucinations, attention deficit and mania,” Thaler says. “At the other, we have reduced cognitive flow and depression.” This process is illustrated by DABUS’s artistic output, which combines and mutates images in a progressively more surreal stream of consciousness.
Video of a man walking backwards through Tokyo played in reverse
When first thing that strikes you when watching this video of a man walking through Tokyo is that every other person in the entire clip is walking backward. The opposite of which is actually true: the man, Ludovic Zuili, is the one walking backward but the video is being played in reverse.
What you’re watching is just a short preview of a 9-hour movie that was aired in its entirety in France called Tokyo Reverse, part of a bizarre TV programming trend called Slow TV that has been regarded as a “small revolution.”