Fixing space and time

Here’s a wonderfully poetic extract on time and impermanence from Maria Popova’s new book, Figuring.

The first surviving photograph of the Moon: John Adams Whipple and how the birth of astrophotography married immortality and impermanence
Four years into it, the thirty-year-old Whipple would awe the world with his stunning photographs of celestial objects — particularly his photographs of the Moon. Louis Daguerre himself had taken the first lunar photograph on January 2, 1839 — five days before announcing his invention, which marked the birth of photography — but his studio and his entire archive were destroyed by a fire two months later. Whipple’s remains the earliest known surviving photograph of the Moon — an image that continues to stun with its simple visual poetics even as technology has far eclipsed the primitive equipment of its photographer.

fixing-time-and-space

Yes, it’s an incredible photograph (here’s my own version), but this is about more than just astronomy.

We say that photographs “immortalize,” and yet they do the very opposite. Every photograph razes us on our ephemeral temporality by forcing us to contemplate a moment — an unrepeatable fragment of existence — that once was and never again will be. To look at a daguerreotype is to confront the fact of your own mortality in the countenance of a person long dead, a person who once inhabited a fleeting moment — alive with dreams and desperations — just as you now inhabit this one. Rather than bringing us closer to immortality, photography humbled us before our mortal finitude. Florence Nightingale resisted it. “I wish to be forgotten,” she wrote, and consented to being photographed only when Queen Victoria insisted.

I wonder about this as I stand amid the stacks of the Harvard College Observatory surrounded by half a million glass plates meticulously annotated by the hands of women long returned to stardust. I imagine the flesh of steady fingers, atoms spun into molecules throbbing with life, carefully slipping a glass plate from its paper sleeve to examine it. In a museum jar across the Atlantic, Galileo’s finger, which once pointed to the Moon with flesh just as alive, shrivels like all of our certitudes.

Pinned above the main desk area at the observatory is an archival photograph of Annie Jump Cannon — the deaf computer who catalogued more than 20,000 variable stars in a short period after joining the observatory — examining one of the photographic plates with a magnifying glass. I take out my smartphone — a disembodied computer of Venus, mundane proof of Einstein’s relativity, instant access to more knowledge than Newton ever knew — and take a photograph of a photograph of a photograph.

 

Collapsing time, increasing order

What do you get if you cross the patient fastidiousness of Pelle Cass with the diligent meticulousness of Ursus Wehrli? This guy.

Cy Kuckenbaker’s time collapse videos let you see daily life as you’ve never seen it before
His “time collapse” videos stemmed from a desire to get to know the city in which he lives with the same vigor he brought to bear as a Peace Corps volunteer in his 20s, exploring Iraq, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

This impulse might lead others to join a club, take a class, or check out restaurants in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

For Kuckenbaker, it means setting up his camera for a fixed shot, uncertain if his experiment will even work, then spending hours and hours in the editing room, removing the time between events without altering the speed of his subjects.

Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Color: San Diego Study #3

A timely refresher

Following on from that post about watchmakers, here are a couple of videos explaining how mechanical and quartz watches work. In this opaque and bewildering hi-tech world of ours, it’s refreshing to find something complex yet still understandable.

First, this 1940s explainer from Hamilton. (I love the narrator’s accent!) Ironically, the pacing for this short documentary is a little slow by today’s standards, but I found that quite helpful.

How a watch works (1949)
A simple demonstration of the basic design and operation of a watch, including stop-motion animation showing a watch being assembled from many parts.

Science YouTuber Steve Mould brings us up-to-date with this look at quartz watches. I didn’t realise how similar they are to mechanical watches, in a way. 

How a quartz watch works – its heart beats 32,768 times a second
Quartz watches have a tiny crystal tuning fork inside that vibrates at 2^15 Hz and there’s a really clever reason for that. This video also talks a bit about how mechanical watches work.

Did you lose your baggage today?

So, today was Let It Go Day, apparently.

Today (23rd June, 2019) is… Let It Go Day
Let It Go Day is another one of the bevy of holidays created by Thomas and Ruth Roy of Wellcat Holidays & Herbs. They knew the difficulty of living with a pocketful of regrets that haunts you during every quiet hour, and knew that letting them go was the only way to find peace and contentment in their lives. So it was that Let It Go Day was created, with the intent of encouraging others throughout the world to let go of their regrets and forgive themselves for actions taken in the past.

Perhaps file this under ‘Whatever will they think of next?’

It’s national Let It Go Day, so here are 8 things you should definitely… well, let go of
6. Regret. I believe in learning from mistakes but not getting mad at yourself for making them. We do what seems like the best decision in the present, and we can’t always know that our future perspective will look like. We also can’t know how the future would have turned out if we’d acted differently. The results of our “mistakes” are often blessings in disguise.

Keep an eye on the time

A mesmerising, meditative film introducing us to Faramarz, a London-based Iranian watchmaker. The world may seem chaotic, but “everything is in exactly the right place.”

The Watchmaker: A philosohy of craft and life
Filled with the pulses of numerous ticking watch hands, this short documentary from the UK filmmaker Marie-Cécile Embleton profiles a London-based Iranian watchmaker as he muses on the delicate and temporal nature of his work. As Faramarz meticulously polishes wood, shapes metal and positions springs, his personal philosophy emerges – one that values the minutiae of moment-to-moment experiences, and finds craft in all things.

Mitka Engebretsen is another watchmaker working in the UK. Here’s his set-up, somewhat shinier, though no less hypnotic.

Mitka’s vintage watch service

He lets us follow along on his blog when he’s servicing his clients’ vintage watches. The intricacy and precision is wonderful to see, however out of my reach they may be. Not that there’s anything wrong with my current watch — I love it!

What would he make of this video from Watchfinder & Co on the level of expertise that goes into producing fake watches these days, fakes that will still set you back £1,000.

This fake Rolex is the most accurate yet
Two years ago, we investigated just how far fake watches have come when we compared a real Rolex Submariner with a fake one. For anyone thinking that fake watches were the easy-to-spot domain of the seaside tat shop, we demonstrated that it’s harder to spot a fake than you might think. Two years on, and it’s got even harder.

One way round that, of course, is to not have a watch at all.

A Norwegian city wants to abolish time
“You have to go to work, and even after work, the clock takes up your time,” Hveding told Gizmodo. “I have to do this, I have to do that. My experience is that [people] have forgotten how to be impulsive, to decide that the weather is good, the Sun is shining, I can just live.” Even if it’s 3 a.m.

Historical time-keeping

An essay from Paul J Kosmin, a humanities professor at Harvard, on an aspect of time that I hadn’t thought about at all— it wasn’t always just a number, regular and universal.

A revolution in time
Each of these systems was geographically localised. There was no transcendent or translocal system for locating oneself in the flow of history. How could one synchronise events at geographical distance, or between states? Take the example of the Peloponnesian War, fought between Athens and Sparta in the last third of the 5th century BCE. This is how the great Athenian historian Thucydides attempted to date its outbreak:

The ‘Thirty Years’ Peace’, which was entered into after the conquest of Euboea, lasted 14 years; in the 15th year, in the 48th year of the priesthood of Chrysis at Argos, and when Aenesias was magistrate at Sparta, and there still being two months left of the magistracy of Pythodorus at Athens, six months after the battle of Potidaea, and at the beginning of spring, a Theban force a little over 300 strong … at about the first watch of the night made an armed entry into Plataea, a Boeotian town in alliance with Athens.

Where we would write, simply, ‘431 BCE’, Thucydides was obliged to synchronise the first shot of war to non-overlapping diplomatic, religious, civic, military, seasonal and hourly data points.

And for some context, there’s this.

The lifespans of ancient civilizations
The average lifespan of those surveyed was 336 years, but some of the longest-lived civilizations were the Vedics, Olmecs, Kushites, and the Aksumites…they each lasted about 1000 years or more.

A typical day, comically speaking

Via FlowingData, here’s a witty visualisation of how we spend our days, on average. It’s just a stacked bar chart, but turning it into a comic “can allow the audience to identify with the story, sparking self-reflection: “Is this how I live my life? How am I different?””

A day in the life of Americans: a data comic
There are three settings in this comic (a bedroom, an office, and a bar), each serving as a metonym for an activity (sleep, work, and leisure). I have also included colors and positions as redundant, but clarifying, codes of classification. Such scenes allow for a novel method of highlighting data; a setting inside a panel is “lit up” by a light source if the activity for which it stands occupied those two hours of Americans the most.

a-typical-day

Explaining the Brexit endgame

Another Brexit vote, another significant defeat. Here are a couple of useful charts outlining what might happen next.

The Brexit state of play: a guide to this week’s crucial votes

explaining-the-brexit-endgame-3

Here’s a version from Quartz, set on a calendar. An interesting note on 18 April…

Every possible remaining Brexit outcome

explaining-the-brexit-endgame-2

It’s enough to drive you mad.

Brexit has become a mental health issue
Hamira Riaz, a clinical psychologist based in the UK, says it’s not surprising that the uncertainty over Brexit is weighing on mental health. If “you suddenly find that decisions that are made on a national level are impacting your material security, that is definitely going to be a significant negative life event,” she explains. “And we know that people facing significant negative life events can tip over into mental health issues—such as depression and anxiety.” …

The UK’s National Health Service could find itself less able to address mental health issues in the near future. An NHS briefing (pdf) last year said Brexit’s impact on mental health services would be “far reaching,” in part because of the risks it poses to the supply of workers. About 165,000 NHS employees are EU nationals, and while those that are already in the UK can apply to stay, domestic recruitment alone won’t be able to meet future staffing needs.

And how about this for a summary of the key issues here?

🇬🇧🔥 Brexit, Briefly: REVISITED! 🔥🇪🇺

Wake up! Time for school!

As a parent of teens, this news story caught my eye.

Sleepless no more in Seattle — later school start time pays off for teens
“This study shows a significant improvement in the sleep duration of students, all by delaying school start times so they’re more in line with the natural wake-up times of adolescents,” says senior author Horacio de la Iglesia, a University of Washington researcher and professor of biology. The study also found an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness* and absences.

It’s a topic that’s been doing the rounds for years, though, as these articles from just the Guardian show. There are no doubt others.

Major study of teenage sleep patterns aims to assess impact on learning
Pupils to start lessons at 10am in effort to see how neuroscience might improve school performance and exam results [October 2014]

Start school day at 11am to let students sleep in, says expert
Paul Kelley says young people are losing 10 hours’ sleep a week, and calls for 8.30am starts for primary pupils and 10 or 11am for teenagers [September 2015]

Children struggling to concentrate at school due to lack of sleep, MPs told
Sleep deprivation highlighted in inquiry into role of education in preventing mental health problems in children [March 2017]

Sleep-deprived pupils need extra hour in bed, schools warned
Shift school day back by an hour to tackle poor results, anxiety and obesity, say experts [January 2019]

The regularity of these articles suggests a lack of motivation to actuality change the system, with the later start time remaining a ‘nice-to-have’, rather than the ‘must-have’.  But, as that NPR article says,

while only a handful of school districts nationwide have switched to later start times, that is changing “as counties and cities like Seattle make changes and see positive benefit.”

(* ‘Tardiness’ is such a great word. I remember, when I was a university Deputy Registrar, feeling very pleased with myself that I could use that and the term ‘laggards’ in our procedures around coursework submission and so on.)

What’s the rush?

Pinch and a punch for the first of the month, and all that. But doesn’t Christmas seem to start earlier and earlier each year?

How long before we see Santa in July? Consult Quartz’s Christmas Creep Calculator™
Quartz has fed the latest data into its Christmas Creep Calculator™, which for years has harnessed cutting-edge artificial intelligence, sophisticated machine learning, and the “Add Trendline” function in Microsoft Excel to project the path of the Christmas shopping season creeping ever earlier in the calendar. Behold:

whats-the-rush-2

In short, 2130. And they have a Mariah Carey calculator now, too.

Is this headlong rush into the festive season symptomatic of our culture speeding up more generally? This piece from the Verge thinks so.

Time is different now
There was an Olympics this year. Black Panther, too. If that surprises you to remember — as it surprises me — that’s because so much else has happened since. (“Everything happens so much,” wrote the Twitter account @horse_ebooks in the summer of 2012, which is as good a motto for these days as any.) Things are speeding up, or at least they seem to be.

I wonder, though. Maybe we’re just getting bored quicker, and more keen to move on to the next thing on the conveyor belt, and the next, and the next.

 

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.

homer-washlet

The times are a-changing … or not

Don’t forget to turn the clocks, er… wait a minuteback this weekend.

Europeans could be turning clock back for the last time
The commission has decided to act after a public survey, which drew a record 4.6 million respondents, showed overwhelming support among voters for ditching daylight saving time. European officials said the reaction from citizens was on a “massive, unprecedented scale” and that the consultation had sparked “the highest number of responses ever received.” …

However, a report published this week from the UK’s House of Lords European Union Committee revealed that 84.6 percent of replies to the poll came from just three countries, with an overwhelming 70 percent from Germany alone, prompting accusations that the poll isn’t representative.

Politicians from northern countries, including Lithuania, Finland, Poland, and Sweden, among others, have voiced support for reform and want the clock change dropped, due to their long, dark winters. They point to evidence that altering the time can cause short-term sleeping disorders, reduced performance at work, and even serious health problems such as heart attacks.

Well, if it changes over there, it’s not likely to over here, post-Brexit and all that.

When do the clocks go back and could 2018 be the last time they change?
Changing the clocks seems set to stay in the UK. It is just over 100 years since the concept of changing the clocks was introduced by the 1916 Summer Time Act, and there doesn’t appear to be any great groundswell of opinion among British politicians about changing domestic arrangements for British summer time.

Time for a drink?

We’re used to the idea of pairing the right wine with the right meal. But with the right watch?

Analog Watch Co. designs a watch with wine-dyed cork bands
When you think of wristwatches, your mind probably doesn’t go to wine, but that will change after taking a look at The Somm Collection. Designed by Analog Watch Co., the same brand that created watches out of wood, marble, and plants, the collection of watches feature real cork bands that were dyed with actual wine – cabernet and blueberry wine to be exact.

time-for-a-drink-2

Wanting something even more unique?

The Sony FES Watch U’s main function is fashion
Although Apple and Android watches permit a degree of customization, the Sony FES Watch U raises the stakes to a notable degree by allowing wearers to upload and convert nearly any image from their smartphone via a compatible Sony Closet App to crop and position into a monochromatic design that stretches from watch face all the way across the length of the straps. This bit of customization magic is all made possible thanks to the same display technology found inside the Amazon Kindle e-reader.

time-for-a-drink-3

Check out the accompanying video. We’re used to ridiculous watch faces, but it’s so strange seeing the strap change too.

Vision of Fashion Entertainments

Watching the time go by, together

I’m embarrassed to admit this is the first I’ve heard of this remarkable piece of video art. Christian Marclay’s The Clock, from 2010, is at Tate Modern till January.

The Clock review – ‘The longer you watch it, the more addictive it becomes’
When the screen says 8.23, I check my phone and find it’s telling the same time. A gaggle of clips from the 1950s and 60s signals that it’s time for the first cigarette of the day. Ashtrays full from the previous night are getting fresh ash tapped into them. Meanwhile, in a clip from the 1993 film Falling Down, Michael Douglas is in his car in a traffic jam, face tense and twitchy as he heads for a crazed rampage. And Richard Burton as a cockney gangster serves his mum breakfast in bed in a clip from – I think – the 1971 film Villain.

All these moments contain clocks – digital clocks, grandfather clocks, watches, alarm clocks or just the time on a TV newsflash – and that time is the same as the time your watch says. The Clock is a highly reliable clock. I am sure there is an art collector somewhere who owns a copy and projects it in the kitchen on a permanent loop to tell the time.

That last line reminded me of Raymond Dufayel from Amelie, aiming his video camera at the clock on the street outside, so that he doesn’t have to wind his own clocks. I’m sure that clip will be in there somewhere.

watching-time-2

I wonder how many people have watched the whole of Marclay’s video. Is it really 24 hours long? Does it really not have any repeated clips in it? Quite remarkable.

‘It’s impossible!’ – Christian Marclay and the 24-hour clock made of movie clips
It is a staggering, almost superhuman feat of research that has gained a cult following ever since it was unveiled at the White Cube gallery in London in 2010. The Clock’s easy-to-grasp governing principle coexists with the almost ungraspable fact that its creator, Christian Marclay, really has pulled it off, beguilingly combining the utter randomness of each individual clip with the strict form of his overarching idea, allowing everyone to meditate on time, how we’re obsessed with it, how there’s never enough of it.

There are quite a few clips on YouTube of snatches of The Clock (start watching this one at 10:15, or this one at 12:04, or this one at 2:18), but here’s a segment on it from the BBC’s Culture Show, with Alain de Botton.

Christian Marclay – The Clock

Wanting a copy of the full video? Don’t hold your breath for a DVD release, it might be a little… costly.

The Clock (2010 film): Release
Marclay made six editions of The Clock, plus two artist’s proofs. Five copies were designated to be sold to institutions for US$467,500 each under the condition that The Clock can’t be playyed in more than one location at the same time. The last copy was sold to hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen for an undisclosed amount. Within a day of premiering The Clock, White Cube received a host of offers from museums, some of which purchased copies jointly. The sale became one of the largest purchases of video art and one of the highest purchases to happen on the primary market.

The fabulous future of work awaits

Following on from that article about what it might be like to work until we’re 100, here’s another example of over-optimistic, blue-sky, work-based astrology, this time from Liselotte Lyngsø, a futurist from the Copenhagen-based consultancy Future Navigator.

This is what work will look like in 2100
Human potential, according to Lyngsø, is not best cultivated in today’s workplace structure, and many of the changes she predicts revolve around the ongoing effort to maximize the abilities of individuals. To that end, many of today’s workplace structures, such as the 9-to-5 workday, traditional offices, rigid hierarchies, and the very concept of retirement will change dramatically.

“I don’t think we’ll have work hours like we used to. Likewise I think we’ll replace retirement with breaks where we reorient and retrain, where the borders [of work] are blurred,” she says. “It’s also about creating a sustainable lifestyle so you don’t burn out, and you can keep working for longer.”

Oh great, thanks.

Can’t stop, won’t stop

I’ve mentioned before that, when it comes to our time here, we don’t get long. But perhaps our lives — and our working lives, especially — will be longer than we think.

What if we have to work until we’re 100?
Retirement is becoming more and more expensive – and future generations may have to abandon the idea altogether. So what kinds of jobs will we do when we’re old and grey? Will we be well enough to work? And will anyone want to employ us?

Will you still love me when I’m physiologically 64?

Is the end nigh? New blood tests can reveal your life expectancy
“We showed that even among people who have no diseases, who are presumably healthy, we can still pick up differences in life expectancy. It’s capturing something preclinical, before any diseases present themselves,” she said.

“It’s picking up how old you look physiologically. Maybe you’re 65 years old but physiologically you look more like a 70 year old, so your mortality risk is more like that of a 70 year old.”

This is either going to end up as the next must-have app which we’ll all happily throw our medical data at, or a compulsory part of arranging life insurance that we won’t have any choice over.

Weeks, years, aeons

I have a birthday coming up in a few days and I was going back over this post that links to a Wait But Why article on how to see all the weeks in your life in one go.

Your life in weeks
Sometimes life seems really short, and other times it seems impossibly long. But this chart helps to emphasize that it’s most certainly finite. Those are your weeks and they’re all you’ve got.

I’ve found it very useful to go back to my own version of this, to remind myself of where I’ve been and how fleeting situations are sometimes. But I hadn’t realised there was another article there that gives you a much broader — but still very relatable — perspective on time.

Putting time in perspective
Humans are good at a lot of things, but putting time in perspective is not one of them. It’s not our fault—the spans of time in human history, and even more so in natural history, are so vast compared to the span of our life and recent history that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on it. …

To try to grasp some perspective, I mapped out the history of time as a series of growing timelines—each timeline contains all the previous timelines.

You move quickly through the last day, week and year, through timelines of a 30 year old and a 90 year old, all the way back to when humans diverged from apes, and the ages of the Earth and Sun.

weeks-years-2

History is much closer than you think.

Time to send in the drones

It’s a photo for a magazine taken with a drone. Or rather, it’s a photo of a magazine made with nearly a thousand drones.

TIME’s latest cover photo is a drone photo of 958 drones
TIME magazine’s latest issue is a special report on the rapid explosion of drones in our culture. For the cover photo, TIME recreated its iconic logo and red border using 958 illuminated drones hovering in the sky. It’s the first-ever TIME cover captured with a camera drone.

time-to-send-in-the-drones-2

“I’ve always been amazed at how different an image looks when you put it inside the red border of TIME. And what’s interesting about this, is that the image is actually the border of TIME.”   — D.W. Pine, Creative Director, TIME Magazine

Behind The Scenes Of TIME’s Drones Cover
Find out how TIME’s drones cover was shot, using 958 of Intel’s Shooting Star drones.