It takes some time

Whilst my watch collection may be sadly lacking, my collection of watch-related blog posts is growing nicely. Here’s a wonderfully interactive tutorial from Bartosz Ciechanowski on what’s going on under the dial. Think of it as an update to Hamilton’s explainer from the 1940s.

Mechanical watchBartosz Ciechanowski
In the world of modern portable devices, it may be hard to believe that merely a few decades ago the most convenient way to keep track of time was a mechanical watch. Unlike their quartz and smart siblings, mechanical watches can run without using any batteries or other electronic components. Over the course of this article I’ll explain the workings of the mechanism seen in the demonstration below.

It starts off simple enough, with springs and levers, but when the mechanisms get gradually more complex and sophisticated, the explanations and colour-coded diagrams remain relatively easy to follow. It’s quite a long, in-depth read that takes some time to get through, but it’s very cleverly done.

And check out the archives for similar breakdowns — from cameras and colours, to tesseracts and GPS.

Fading memories

Hyperallergic have a review of a fascinating and poignant exhibition from Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz, Invisibilia, that “captures the fleeting, fading sensation of trying to recall something that’s already in the past.”

Oscar Muñoz visualizes the invisibleHyperallergic
The artist’s own face appears in a number of works. In “El juego de las probabilidades” (The Game of Probabilities) (2007), 12 color and black-and-white passport photos taken at different points in his life are cut and spliced together into new combinations. Each face represents a disorienting collapse of time, and raises questions about how much of ourselves continues or changes with time. The composite collages are photographed up close, held by the artist’s fingers, suggesting a sense of intimacy but also hinting at the smallness and randomness of our own existence.

Those woven photos reminded me of Karen Navarro a little. I wish there were some photos of this piece, though.

More faces — and conservation challenges — come with the series Pixeles (Pixels) (1999-2000), a set of portraits made with coffee on sugar cubes. This time Muñoz’s subjects are victims killed in the long-running conflict between Colombia’s military forces and insurgent rebels. When seen up close, the faces break down and the country’s key exports — coffee and sugar — come into focus. Still, Muñoz’s portraits are clearly meant to denounce not just the violence, but also our desensitization to these sorts of images that can occur as they are repeatedly shown in the news media.

Happy Twosday

So today is 20/02/2022. Time for some facts, before we get carried away.

22/02/2022 meaning: How rare a palindrome (or ambigram) date like ‘Twosday’ is and what people say it means iNews
Twosday has no real special meaning or significance, other than the date is palindromic. … There will never be a 33.03.3033 as there is not month with 33 days in it. … 22.02.2022 will never happen again.

Today also happens to be my father-in-law’s birthday. I wonder if his mother, way back in 1943, realised his 79th birthday would fall on such an unusual day. Any date in 2022 would be almost unimaginably futuristic. Have any of us given the year 2101 a thought?

My type of calendar

I was going through my old bookmarks and randomly came across one from 2014, a link to a now-forgotten Etsy printable typewriter desk calendar thing. I’m not looking for a 2014 calendar at the moment, but I tried the link anyway. Not only did the link still work, but it redirected to an updated 2022 version.

2022 DIY printable paper desk calendar papercraftEtsy UK
Here’s a quaint little 3D Paper Desk Calendar for your mantelpiece, table-top or shelf… in the form of a typewriter, with 12 month cards with dates for 2022. The body of the calendar is like a miniature vintage typewriter, complete with realistic details.

Comes in yellow, too.

Just goes to show, you can’t keep a good typewriter down.

Anybody there?

A pleasing philosophical coincidence I came across recently.

I’m happily devouring Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life and was at the section on presence and afk, when one of my favourite blogs posted this:

While you were outFutility Closet
A pleasing little philosophy puzzle: If there’s a sentence that’s guaranteed to be false in any context, surely it’s this:

“I am not here now.”

But this very phrase is played on millions of answering machines and voicemail systems every day, and we all understand it to be true. I, here, and now are indexicals, words whose meanings change with the circumstances of their utterance. Here each seems to make a rather uncertain reference, and the resulting sentence on its face cannot be true, yet we all understand it readily. How?

You don’t need to be lost in Second Life to puzzle over the virtuality of time and place.

Better late than never

50 years after they were posted, a family in Florida receive a couple of parcels.

2 packages with 1971 postmark delivered to Lake Worth Beach homeWPTV
“We found two parcels on the outside of our door,” Stephanie Russo said Wednesday. “At first, I didn’t pay much attention because we’ve had plenty of packages delivered in the last month.” When the family opened the packages, they found two psychedelic posters inside.

After some searching she found the family that occupied the house at the time.

Feigert said he was 13 years old when he lived in the house. He said his father was known to randomly write companies and request stuff. … Russo received two posters. She has decided to give one to Feigert and keep one for herself.

She kept one? But they weren’t hers. Anyway, here’s a more heart-warming version on the same theme.

WWII soldier’s letter from Germany finally delivered 76 years after sendingBoston 25 News
A letter penned by a young Army sergeant in Germany to his mother in Woburn was lost in the mail for 76 years until finally being delivered last month. On Dec. 6, 1945, 22-year-old Sgt. John Gonsalves wrote to his mother, sending his well wishes and hopes of returning home soon. … That letter wouldn’t make it to its destination, sitting unopened for more than three quarters of a century, until suddenly and inexplicably, late last month, it showed up in a United States Postal Service facility for processing and distribution in Pittsburgh.

World War II soldier’s long-lost letter delivered to his widow 76 years laterUPI.com
Gonsalves said receiving the 76-year-old letter and reading her late husband’s words from a time before they had even met was emotional. “I love it. I love it. When I think it’s all his words, I can’t believe it. It’s wonderful. And I feel like I have him here with me, you know?”

Another Monday, another coffee

The start of another week. But what is a week, really? Here’s an essay on how we came to depend on the week despite its artificiality.

How we became weeklyAeon
Weeks serve as powerful mnemonic anchors because they are fundamentally artificial. Unlike days, months and years, all of which track, approximate, mimic or at least allude to some natural process (with hours, minutes and seconds representing neat fractions of those larger units), the week finds its foundation entirely in history. To say ‘today is Tuesday’ is to make a claim about the past rather than about the stars or the tides or the weather. We are asserting that a certain number of days, reckoned by uninterrupted counts of seven, separate today from some earlier moment. And because those counts have no prospect of astronomical confirmation or alignment, weeks depend in some sense on meticulous historical recordkeeping. But practically speaking, weekly counts are reinforced by the habits and rituals of other people. When those habits and rituals were radically obscured or altered in 2020, the week itself seemed to unravel.

History professor David Henkin explores the background of this man-made construction and highlights the impact the pandemic has had on our experience of it. Though it’s mainly from a US perspective, they’ve chosen to head up the article with a glorious photo from my own county in the north of England.

A sunny Sunday afternoon above the harbour at Whitby in Yorkshire, England, in 1976

Wherever the week has come from, it starts with coffee for most of us. But how many, that’s the question. Let Judit Bekker and David Lynch answer that for you.

Live-blogging a new projectData muggle
I might sound like a broken record, but this year I got super crazy about Twin Peaks, and I can only viz about the things that interest me. So here it is: I’m gonna count all the damn fine coffees that were drunk in all 3 series. It’s 50+ hours of content, so my mind might just go to the Black Lodge by the time I finish. But there are not that many Twin Peaks data sets lurking around to be downloaded from the internet.

And here’s the final data visualisation of the 258 damn fine coffees she saw being enjoyed in Twin Peaks, which you can also see and interact with on Tableau Public.

Think ahead, but not too far

It’s a good time for spaced-based sci-fi at the moment, with the latest Dune and Foundation adaptations on screens of various sizes. The former seems to be making a bigger impact than the latter, though. This article from the Long Now folks suggests a reason why.

“Dune,” “Foundation,” and the allure of science fiction that thinks long-termBlog of the Long Now
In a moment of broader cultural gloominess, Dune’s perspective may resonate more with the current movie-going public. Its themes of long-term ecological destruction, terraforming, and the specter of religious extremism seem in many ways ripped out of the headlines, while Asimov’s technocratic belief in scholarly wisdom as a shining light may be less in vogue. Ultimately, though, the core appeal of these works is not in how each matches with the fashion of today, but in how they look forward through thousands of years of human futures, keeping our imagination of long-term thinking alive.

Long-term thinking, that can only be a good thing, right? Longtermism, on the other hand…

Against longtermismAeon Essays
Why do I think this ideology is so dangerous? The short answer is that elevating the fulfilment of humanity’s supposed potential above all else could nontrivially increase the probability that actual people – those alive today and in the near future – suffer extreme harms, even death. Consider that, as I noted elsewhere, the longtermist ideology inclines its adherents to take an insouciant attitude towards climate change. Why? Because even if climate change causes island nations to disappear, triggers mass migrations and kills millions of people, it probably isn’t going to compromise our longterm potential over the coming trillions of years. If one takes a cosmic view of the situation, even a climate catastrophe that cuts the human population by 75 per cent for the next two millennia will, in the grand scheme of things, be nothing more than a small blip – the equivalent of a 90-year-old man having stubbed his toe when he was two.

Getting stuck and unstuck

Do you ever get stuck with your blog? I certainly do, as these gaps between posts can testify. Here, Tim Davies shares his obstacles and succinctly reminds us why he — and many of the rest of us — sticks with it.

Overcoming posting-paralysis?Tim’s Blog
The caption of David Eaves’ blog comes to mind: “if writing is a muscle, this is my gym”. And linked: writing is a tool of thought. So, if I want to think properly about the things I’m reading and engaging with, I need to be writing about them. And writing a blog post, or constructing a tweet thread, can be a very effective way to push that writing (and thinking) beyond rough bullet points, to more complete thoughts.

And for inspiration, check out these visualisations of creative processes.

ProcessMelike Turgut
No matter how much we all try to ground our ideas in simplicity, the process of solving a creative problem is often chaotic. With this project, I try to make sense of the chaos by trying to pin-point the stages of my creative process. I use time as my constant [represented as a straight red line] and map my process around it.

Making a very slow splash

There’s slow TV, then there’s really slow TV.

The Slow Mo Guys usually shoot their videos at 1,000 frames a second and play them back at 25 frames a second, in effect stretching one second into 40 seconds. But in this video they’re using a camera that allows them to shoot a mind-boggling 90,000 frames a second. When that footage is played back at 25 frames a second, one second lasts one whole hour.

The Slow Mo Guys: What if every second lasted an hour?YouTube
Gav shows you the tranquil results of stretching every second to be an hour long.

At this speed, a minute would last two and a half days, an hour would last about five months, and a day would come in at just under a decade, at nine years and ten months. Shall we keep going? A month would last around three centuries, and a year would be about 3,597 years.

Interesting visuals, for sure, but that concept of experiencing time at different scales is captivating.

Does anyone else get slightly filled with dread imagining how bad it would be to be stuck at this speed. Even if you were surrounded by people you wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone. It would be so lonely. It would take you so long to move anywhere. You wouldn’t be able to let anyone know what was happening to you. To them you’d be moving at normal speed but acting strangely…

It immediately brought to mind one of my favourite Borges short stories, The Secret Miracle, with the playwright facing a firing squad.

Jorge Luis Borges: The Secret MiracleSCASD [pdf]
The rifles converged upon Hladik, but the men assigned to pull the triggers were immobile. The sergeant’s arm eternalized an inconclusive gesture. Upon a courtyard flag stone a bee cast a stationary shadow. The wind had halted, as in a painted picture. Hladik began a shriek, a syllable, a twist of the hand. He realised he was paralyzed. Not a sound reached him from the frozen world.
He thought: I’m in hell, I’m dead.
He thought: I’ve gone mad.
He thought: Time has come to a halt.

It’s a common enough device, but Borges does it most poetically, I would say. But going back to that video, here’s what falling into a pool for an hour looks like. The action really kicks off at the 26 minute mark.

Reminds me a little of Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Pyscho although that feels like watching a rollercoaster compared to this.

Misunderstanding our past, present and future

It’s obvious, when you think about it. Of course not all Neanderthals were ‘cavemen’ — half were women.

SheanderthalAeon Essays
Archaeology is no exception to biases against women’s interests across science and the humanities. Since the early days, a tendency to conceptualise humanity’s deep origins as populated literally by ‘cavemen’ has led to presumed male activities being presented as most visible and interesting. … In fact, for most of the subsequent 160 years, female Neanderthals – if featured at all – tend to be fewer in number, peripherally located, and limited to ‘domesticated’ activities including childcare and skin-working. They are essentially scenery, in the words of the anthropologist Diane Gifford-Gonzalez, rather than active providers working on stone knapping or hunting and, in addition, they’re often fearfully lurking, hidden in dark grottos.

The world is a very different place now.

Why eye-catching graphics are vital for getting to grips with climate changeThe Conversation
One misconception about the climate crisis is that warming will be uniform across the world. Deniers cite cold fronts or blizzards as evidence that warming is exaggerated, or hark back to past heatwaves – such as that experienced by the UK in 1976 when temperatures exceeded 35°C – as proof that the scientists have got it wrong. Apart from this misleading conflation of weather (daily conditions) and climate (long-term conditions), this kind of argument misses the complex patchwork of effects that interact to create what gets reported in the headline figures. Maps can be an invaluable weapon against this misunderstanding. … [W]hat is needed are more universally accessible visualisations that are able to show where we’re heading in no uncertain terms.

How on earth would you protect future generations from something with a half-life of over 700 million years? Use your imagination.

The art of pondering Earth’s distant futureScientific American
We do not, of course, live in these imagined worlds. In this sense, they are unreal—merely fictions. However, our capacities to envision potential futures, and to feel empathy for those who may inhabit them, are very real. Depictions of tomorrow can have powerful, concrete effects on the world today. This is why deep time thought experiments are not playful games, but serious acts of intellectual problem-solving. It is why the safety case experts’ models of far future nuclear waste risks are uniquely valuable, even if they are, at the end of the day, mere approximations.

They’ve seen it all

Via Kottke, an alternative to Noah Kalina’s method of photographing the passage of time. It reminds me a little of Nancy Floyd’s work, only more so.

Faces of centuryJan Langer
Photographs show portraits of one hundred years old Czechs. Nowadays, there are over 1200. In fifty years their number will reach 14,000. How these people see their life after such a period? The majority of those I approached agree that with advancing age life is faster; until, at last, the life will pass in a moment. Time is shrinking, as are the faces of the elders. I wondered what changes and what remains on a human face and in a human mind in such a long time, and in such a short while in relative terms. I wondered how much loneliness of the old age weighs, and what memories stay in 100-year-old mind.

The biographies are quite poignant, the last one especially so.

We’ve made it to the weekend — for now

Why remote work may render the 5-day workweek obsoleteFast Company
A mere 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution, there was no such thing as grinding it out for five days in order to run to a Saturday date night or a day of lesiure on Sunday. From the start of when Homo erectus first began roaming the earth, working and living were one and the same. Every day we did our chores. Every day we enjoyed the company of our tribe. The five-day workweek is a sociocultural artifact, not evidence-based framework for maximizing productivity and well-being.

I know several people that enjoy working on weekends (myself included). On weekends there is no steady stream of emails and calls during the day and no scheduled meetings, so all of the time can be allocated to deep-thought tasks, a luxury employees long for but never have the time to get to.

Not for me, thanks. I’ll stick to the status quo.

Time flies

Do you remember Noah Kalina, the photographer who took a picture of himself every day for twenty years? Here’s something similar — less structured, perhaps more melancholic.

The photographer who set out to watch herself ageThe New Yorker
Over nearly four decades, beginning in the early eighties, the photographer Nancy Floyd executed an epic project of self-documentation, the results of which are collected in her new volume, “Weathering Time.” But it is not Floyd’s strict adherence to a plan that makes her project so compelling. It’s that she completed it with a laid-back kind of tenacity—an anti-perfectionistic, unfixed attitude, which lends her book, a curiously organized archive of some twelve hundred black-and-white images, a meandering charm.

Nancy Floyd has been photographing herself every day for almost 40 yearsi-D
The resulting “visual calendar”, as Nancy calls it now, consists of over 2,500 photographs. “Most often I’m by myself in these straightforward images, but sometimes I’m with family and friends. As time passes, births, deaths, celebrations, and bad days happen. Pets come and go, fashions and hairstyles evolve, typewriters, analog clocks, and telephones with cords disappear; film gives way to digital and the computer replaces the darkroom.”[…]

I like the surprises that arise when I pull together photographs to create new categories, such as Trousers or Shirts with Word. … I’ve been waiting for years to be the same age as my parent’s in my pictures. This year I made my first image: Mom and Me at 63. Viewing the pictures side-by-side there is no doubt that I am my mother’s daughter.

I’ve got to try this for myself. There must be some interesting juxtapositions to be found within the thousands of photos I’ve got on Flickr, not to mention all the boxes of old prints squirreled away in various cupboards upstairs…

Not a lot of watch for your money

You can never have too many watches, I say. I used to have a very thin one, a Swatch Skin possibly? It was nothing like this one from Piaget, that’s for sure.

Altiplano Ultimate Concept WatchPiaget
Altiplano watch, 41 mm. Cobalt alloy case. World’s thinnest mechanical hand-wound watch : 2 mm, a total fusion between the case and the Manufacture movement. Manufacture Piaget 900P ultra-thin, hand-wound mechanical movement. Winner of the prestigious “Aiguille d’Or” watch price at the 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG).

It’s only 2mm thick? Yep.

The incredible inner workings of the world’s thinnest watchWired UK
The Piaget Ultimate Concept first launched as a show-stealing proof-of-concept in 2018; now the watch is now in fully commercialised form (confusingly, still with the “Concept” nomination). It’s a mere 2mm-thick whisper of mechanical virtuosity that’s unlikely to be trumped in thinness any time soon […]

Made to order, the watch is described as “price on application”, though WIRED understands it to be well to the north of 300,000 Swiss francs.

So what’s 300,000 Swiss francs in sterling? Perhaps it’s one of those hyperinflated currencies like the Zimbabwe dollar and this amazing watch is within reach after all.

(For instance, did you know that a German 5 Million Mark coin, worth about $700 in January 1923, was only worth about one-thousandth of one cent by October 1923. And in Hungary, their highest banknote value in 1944 was 1,000 pengő, but by the end of 1945, it was 10,000,000 pengő, and the highest value in mid-1946 was 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 pengő.)

OK, maybe not.

Worth the wait?

Well, I’m back in the office for the first time in six months, surrounded by hand sanitisers and risk assessments, one child has returned to school for her final year after in effect six months off, another will be leaving home in a week to start university in a place currently under a local lockdown, so my head’s full of concerns and anxieties I don’t wish to think more about here thank you very much. So let’s put all that to one side and relax with some music.

John Cage, the man behind a much loved piece of nothing, perhaps hadn’t realised how literally some people would take his instruction to play ‘as slow as possible’ when performing one of his compositions. Piano notes eventually fade away, but notes on an organ can be held indefinitely.

A 639-year-long John Cage organ performance has a long-awaited chord change todayClassic FM
Organ2/ASLSP, ‘As Slow as Possible’ is a keyboard work written by John Cage in the mid-1980s. The score consists of eight pages of music, to be played at the piano or organ, well, very, very slowly. […] Up until this time, the most recent note change occurred on 5 October 2013, and the next change will sound on 5 September 2020, with the organ playing a G sharp and an E, until the next scheduled chord change on 5 February 2022.

The concert (installation art performance? sculptural exhibition?) is taking place in Halberstadt, in Germany, thought to be the place where the first modern keyboard organ was built in 1361, 639 years before the turn of the 21st century, hence the duration of this piece.

A 639-year concert, with no intermission for coronavirusThe New York Times
Andreas Henke, the town’s mayor, said that most of Halberstadt’s inhabitants probably didn’t even know about the piece, or, if they did, they referred to it as “that cacophony.” But, he added, “John Cage carries Halberstadt’s name out into the world.”He said the performance raises “philosophical questions about how we confront time.” “We are all so consumed by our daily working lives,” he said. “This forces us to stand back and slow down. It is very special to be a part of an art project that will connect generations and last for generations,” Mr. Henke added. He said that it was “his great hope” that the project would make it to 2640.

Of course it was livestreamed, but see if you can resist the urge not to fast-forward to the chord change moment, three hours and twenty minutes in…

Too subtle a change for me, I think. It’s an interesting idea, though: if you remove the human from the music-making process, you remove the need to constrain time to human scales. But without the human, can we still comprehend it as music? A drone that lasts for years and years just reminds me of my tinnitus.