A life in print

Last year, Facebook gave us the option to download all our data. Katie Day Good, an avid Facebook user since the early days, took them up on the offer and, perhaps because of her former interest in scrapbooking, decided to print it all out…

Why I printed my Facebook
Other files were less amusing. “Advertisers Who Uploaded a Contact List With Your Information” was a 116-page roster of companies, most of which I had never heard of, that have used my data to try to sell me things. The document called “Facial Recognition Code” was disturbingly brief and indecipherable, translating my face into a solid block of jumbled text—a code that only Facebook’s proprietary technology can unlock—about 15 rows deep. Some documents held secrets, too. “Search History” revealed an embarrassingly detailed record of my personal obsessions and preoccupations over the years. Crushes, phobias, people I have argued with and envied―this was the information I never wanted to post on Facebook, but instead had asked Facebook to help me find. This information, along with the facial recognition codes of my children (which were not included in the .zip file, but which I assume Facebook owns), is the data I most wish I could scrub from the servers of the world.

All told, my Facebook archive was 10,057 pages long.

Hong Kong paper power

The protests in Hong Kong continue. Quartz has some dramatic photos from a recent clash. It began peacefully but then deteriorated after the police started using pepper spray.

Hong Kong police clash with protesters in shopping mall
Following a standoff that lasted several hours on the street, police attempted to clear crowds off the roads by sending in riot police, eventually pursuing protesters who hadn’t dispersed from the scene into the shopping mall, New Town Plaza. There, protesters hurled objects including umbrellas, helmets, and bottles at the police, who were at one point vastly outnumbered. After reinforcements arrived, officers in riot gear charged up escalators to the various floors of the mall, using batons and pepper spray as they beat their way toward protesters. People were also seen throwing objects at police officers from upper levels of the mall.

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The scale of these protests is quite incredible.

A bird’s-eye view of how protesters have flooded Hong Kong streets
Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, June 16, and marched almost two miles (three kilometers), protesting a proposed extradition bill and calling for the city’s leader to step down.

It was the largest of three major protests against the bill that were held over eight days. More demonstrations are scheduled for Wednesday, ahead of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Osaka, Japan. The composite images below help show the enormous scale of the June 16 demonstrations.

This is just one of those images.

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But it’s just not about the people, it’s about how they’re getting their messages across, and how those messages are being defended.

Post-it notes are the new weapon of choice for Hong Kong’s protesters
All across the city’s districts—from its financial hub to the suburbs neighboring mainland China and outlying islands—walls big and small covered with colorful pieces of paper with the thoughts and wishes of Hong Kong people are sprouting up. Their inscriptions range from inspiring quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. to expletive-laden calls for death to police. It’s the latest in a strategy protesters are calling “flowers blossoming everywhere,” a Chinese saying appropriated to signify that the recent protest movement in Hong Kong has now spread far from its downtown epicenter to neighborhoods everywhere.

They’re called Lennon Walls, named for the original section of a concrete staircase near Hong Kong’s government complex that was covered with Post-its during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. The name itself was adopted from the John Lennon Wall in Prague, a place where Czech youth expressed their political thoughts through graffiti and Beatles lyrics.

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(I just hope it all ends well this time.)

Don’t move!

So today marks the start of National Stationery Week.

National Stationery Week
People of the world rejoice and wave your favourite pen in the air! National Stationery Week is the perfect time to celebrate your stationery pot, a colourful pencil case or your favourite pen.

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Yes, it could be seen as a glorified advert for office supplies, but it raises some interesting questions too about the changing nature of communication and expression.

Does writing by hand still matter in the digital age?
The decline of writing by hand – particularly among young people and children – has been in the news. Last month, paediatric doctors warned that children were finding it difficult to hold pencils due to excessive use of technology. Letters to Santa are increasingly sent by email, and Cambridge University is piloting the use of laptops instead of pen and paper for selected exams after requests from students. Some academics have noted the “downward trend” in students’ handwriting.

But what of the role that handwriting plays in learning and development? And with technology changing how we live and work, what place does handwriting have in the modern classroom? These were the questions put to the teachers, academics and specialists in education and technology at the Guardian’s roundtable event on 27 February.

I sit opposite computer screens all day at work, but am happy to stick with my pen and scraps of paper when making notes.

Art and biology

Exploring ways of representing the human body has been a mainstay of art for millennia. Here are two examples — one hard as iron, the other soft as paper.

The body as machine: first imagined in 1927, now brought to new, animated life
Originally an interactive installation, this short video from the German animator Henning M Lederer breathes new life into Kahn’s illustration, augmenting the original image with mechanical movements and sounds. Lederer’s update offers a visually and conceptually rich melding of technology, biology and design, echoing a time when machinery permeated the collective consciousness in a manner quite similar to computing technology today.

There are many more videos (including some wonderfully animated book covers) on Henning Lederer‘s website, but for a different take on what goes on inside us, check out the work of Eiko Ojala.

Paper illustrations and GIFs explore the body and mind in new work by Eiko Ojala
New Zealand and Estonia-based illustrator Eiko Ojala creates cut paper illustrations that present shadow and depth through creative layering of colorful pieces of paper. Recently, his editorial illustrations have been focused on the mind and body, like a cut paper GIF he created for a story on heart attacks in the New York Times. Others, like two Washington Post illustrations, attempt to uncover the thoughts and feelings sequestered in children’s minds by layering images inside the shape of a boy’s profile.

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Locking words in

After reading recent articles about the state of the web, you could be forgiven for wanting to turn back to a more reliable and trustworthy method of communication, like letter writing. But have you heard of letterlocking?

Before envelopes, people protected messages with letterlocking
Around 2 A.M. on February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots penned a letter to her brother-in-law, King Henri III of France. It would be her last. Six hours later, she was beheaded for treason by order of her cousin, Elizabeth I of England. The letter has since become one of Scotland’s most beloved artifacts, the handwritten pages offering a poignant glimpse of a monarch grappling with her impending execution.

But it’s not the words that fascinate Jana Dambrogio, the Thomas F. Peterson conservator at MIT Libraries. For more than a decade, Dambrogio has been studying “letterlocking,” the various systems of folds, slits, and wax seals that protected written communication before the invention of the mass-produced envelope. To guard her final missive from prying eyes, the queen used a “butterfly lock”—one of hundreds of techniques catalogued by Dambrogio, collaborator Daniel Starza Smith, and their research team in a fast-growing dictionary of letterlocking.

And here’s a demonstration of that locking method.

Letterlocking: Mary Queen of Scots last letter, a butterfly lock, England (1587)
Modelled after images of Mary Queen of Scots’ letter to her brother-in-law Henri III, King of France in the National Library of Scotland.

It looks very fiddly. I wonder if, the night before her execution, her hands would have been steady enough to do this herself. It’s a remarkable document, though.

The last letter of Mary Queen of Scots
Sire, my brother-in-law, having by God’s will, for my sins I think, thrown myself into the power of the Queen my cousin, at whose hands I have suffered much for almost twenty years, I have finally been condemned to death by her and her Estates. I have asked for my papers, which they have taken away, in order that I might make my will, but I have been unable to recover anything of use to me, or even get leave either to make my will freely or to have my body conveyed after my death, as I would wish, to your kingdom where I had the honour to be queen, your sister and old ally.

Goats, DVDs and other formats

Here’s an interesting look at Netflix’s ARRM robot, or ‘Automated Rental Return Machine’, built to squeeze out as much profit margin as possible from its shrinking DVDs-by-post business. It’s an ingenious response to this latest shift in format.

Automating the end of movies on physical discs
The real shame will happen when movies stop coming out on DVDs and Blu-Rays altogether. That’s not because they were such a lovable way to package films (they have their pluses and minuses); it’s because with the loss of each media format, we also lose some titles forever.

Speaking of changes with storage and archive processes, I was looking back at this post from 2014, about how the printing of the new High Speed Two bill will require several thousand goats to create the necessary amount of vellum.

It turns out the following year, the Commons Select Committee agreed to a move away from vellum to high quality archive paper, a much cheaper option.

Report: The use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament
The Committee was convinced by the arguments put to it by the Chairman of Committees and has therefore agreed this short report recommending to the House of Commons that, in future, high quality archive paper should be used and not vellum to record Acts of Parliament.

But then in 2016 they changed their mind again, with the Cabinet Office deciding to “provide the money from its own budget for the thousand-year-old tradition to continue.”

Why is the UK still printing its laws on vellum?
After a reprieve, the UK is to continue printing and storing its laws on vellum, made from calf or goat-skin. But shouldn’t these traditions give way to digital storage, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

That’s such a tricky question, though. It’s tempting to think digital is always best with these matters, but I wonder. Storage formats come and go so quickly, just look at Netflix’s DVDs.

“In many circles there’s still a real discomfort around digital archiving, and a lack of belief that digital can survive into the future,” explains Jenny Mitcham, digital archivist at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.

The whole concept of digital storage is a relatively new innovation, and the path by which it could survive through the years is not clear.

(And has anyone compared vellum rot with link rot, I wonder?)

Trump’s version of a paperless office?

This shouldn’t surprise us, I suppose.

Meet the guys who tape Trump’s papers back together
Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”

Makes me wonder if that Trump Kim document is worth the paper it’s written on.

Inside the paper torture chambers

Why paper jams persist
There are many loose ends in high-tech life. Like unbreachable blister packs or awkward sticky tape, paper jams suggest that imperfection will persist, despite our best efforts. They’re also a quintessential modern problem—a trivial consequence of an otherwise efficient technology that’s been made monumentally annoying by the scale on which that technology has been adopted. Every year, printers get faster, smarter, and cheaper. All the same, jams endure.

A fascinating glimpse into the strange world of printers and jambusting, involving physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, computer programming, and interface design.

“The smooth functioning of the world depends on invisible tribological improvements.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Parliament’s goat problem

New UK high-speed rail to require 6,000 sacrificial goats
Enter HS2, the proposed high-speed rail line connecting London to Birmingham. At 49,814 pages, its bill is the longest bill ever to come before the U.K. Parliament. And once it’s signed into law, printing all those pages (twice!) is going to take a lot of goats.

Poignant paper sculptures

People Too create striking paper sculptures for Amnesty’s brutality campaign
Their deceptively delicate and very intricate creations for Amnesty International’s Fan the Flame campaign, which are fashioned entirely from white paper. Depicting acts of violence and brutality with a quiet poignancy that is hard to match is any other medium, the detailed sculptures all the more impressive for their impermanence.

Peter Callesen’s A4 papercuts

Peter Callesen’s A4 papercuts

papercuts“The paper cut sculptures explore the probable and magical transformation of the flat sheet of paper into figures that expand into the space surrounding them. The negative and absent 2 dimensional space left by the cut, points out the contrast to the 3 dimensional reality it creates, even though the figures still stick to their origin without the possibility of escaping. In that sense there is also an aspect of something tragic in many of the cuts.”

Quitting paper and e-mail

  • Chris Smith at Lifehack.org starts his paperless new year
    The idea of ‘the paperless office’ has turned into a joke, an aspiration for the future on a par with hoverboards, jet packs and little robots that do your housework (oh, wait a minute). I believe, though, that we really should give this a go – it can’t be beyond us, surely? Here, Chris starts his year the right way, though you can’t help but think it’s all a bit small potatoes.
  • Thoughts from a TechCrunch columnist on quitting e-mail for a month last year
    He admits to having cheated a little, but still, an interesting exercise and one I’d love to have a go at. I hate e-mail. Some really interesting ideas on the failings of e-mail, and what a more Twitter DM-ish, Facebook Message-ish e-mail system might look like, “Gmail Lite”.

Outdated admin, new networks

DC Deficit Fixer: Print on Both Sides of Paper – $102M in painfully obvious cuts shows how outdated gov’t is
A short while ago, President Obama called on his Cabinet to make budget cuts in their departments totaling $100 million. They came up with $102 million, but some of the cuts were so obvious one wonders why it took a presidential edict to elicit them, the Wall Street Journal notes.

Keeping cyberspace open to the public
The argument over the public space of the network has not gone away, however, although it now relates to a different level of the network. Instead of the internet itself as a collection of linked computers it concerns the social network and the various sites, tools and services that many of us now rely on.

Paperless meetings, urban meditation

Paperless Committee project
The “Paperless Committee,” is an electronic meeting system that was designed to increase the efficiency of the Committee on NGOs. It allows the delegates to view the documentation in all six languages of the UN; to have continuous document updates from the Chair and the Secretariat, wireless connectivity, and electronic vote counting. In the last stage of the “Paperless Committee,” the documents were also accessible for the delegates to view via the Internet days before the Committee on NGOs started.

From 2003.

Urban meditation designed for you – The Hear and Now Project
Many of us could do with the benefits that come with regularly practising meditation – as it can help develop qualities such as calm, focus and compassion. And perhaps nowhere are these qualities needed more than in the hustle and bustle of modern city life.