Spring has sprung, don’t forget

Let’s take a break from all the news about job losses, exam cancellations and social distancing failures to remind ourselves of the date. It’s the first day of Spring!

Spring Equinox 2020: 5 weird traditions to celebrate the first day of Spring todayMirror Online
There is an ancient Chinese belief that you can stand an egg on its end on the first day of spring. The theory goes that, due to the sun’s equidistant position between the poles of the earth at the time of the equinox, special gravitational forces apply.

Or was it yesterday?

Today marks the earliest “first day of Spring” in 124 years for CanadaNarcity
March has always marked the beginning of springtime. For the northern hemisphere, that date has fallen on the 20 and 21 for as long as you can probably remember. That’s because, March 19, the first day of spring 2020, is the earliest it’s been in 124 years.

Either way, it gives me a chance to share this, from David Hockney.

spring

A message from David Hockney: ‘Do remember they can’t cancel the spring’The Art Newspaper
David Hockney is currently in complete lockdown in Normandy, where he has been since his last exhibition opening. But he is still producing beautiful things, which he wanted to share with us as something positive.

Oops, they did it again

So it seems they’re going to pick the wrong one again.

Hillary Clinton: “Incredible” Elizabeth Warren lost because she’s a womanVanity Fair
“I think we made some progress, but there still was a lot of the unconscious bias and the gendered language that has been used around the women candidates,” Clinton said. “I think it affected all of the women that ran.”

Elizabeth Warren and her supporters now have tremendous power to shape the rest of the primaryTime
Warren is personally beloved by her team, and as the news sunk in, staffers described a “sense of sadness,” “crying,” and an overwhelming feeling that that the best candidate for President had been let down. One staffer describes it this way: “You’ve got a 78-year old heart attack survivor and a 77-year old who’s clearly sundowning. And hey, you’ve got someone who might be broadly acceptable to both factions, but.. what? She’s a woman? Oops, never mind.”

I was surprised to read, however, that Warren’s in her 70s too. I thought part of her appeal, apart from being the most competent, was that she was of a more normal age for such a job—that is, below retirement age, whatever that is nowadays.

But what is normal? I was curious to find out the ages of other such people. It makes for interesting reading.

  • Bernie Sanders is 78
  • Joe Biden is 77
  • Donald Trump is 73
  • Bill Clinton is 73
  • Hillary Clinton is 72
  • Elizabeth Warren is 70
  • Gordon Brown is 69
  • Vladimir Putin is 67
  • Tony Blair is 66
  • Angela Merkel is 65
  • Theresa May is 63
  • Barack Obama is 58
  • Boris Johnson is 55
  • Justin Trudeau is 48
  • Emmanuel Macron is 42
  • Leo Varadkar is 41
  • Jacinda Arden is 39

Watch out men, it’s a Leap Day!

Vintage Leap Day postcardsPostcrossing
2020 is a Leap Year, so how about a look at some old postcards illustrating one of the best-known Leap Day traditions? If you’ve never heard of this, the tradition is that on Leap Day (and only on Leap Day!) women can propose to men.

And there were some serious consequences for those that refused. Huffington Post has more on this and other marriage superstitions and traditions, and check out this Flickr group for more Leap Day postcards.

watch-out-men-1

watch-out-men-2

watch-out-men-3

Unforeseen Brexit impact #641

This could get interesting.

Brexit could be about to totally mess up the UK’s time zonesWired UK
In March 2019 the European Parliament approved a proposal that spelled the end of clock changes within the EU. From 2021, EU member states will have to choose whether to stick to summer or winter time for good, with no more springing forward or falling back.

London two hours behind Paris? Two different time zones each side of the border in Ireland? Not to worry, though, I’m sure the government has it all under control. Er …

Although the government has made it clear that it doesn’t want to follow the EU’s example, it hasn’t been exactly forthcoming on what will happen if when we fall out of step with the rest of the EU. In an effort to prod them into action, the House of Lords has released a report analysing what will happen if the UK opts to keep the clock change – with the potential for chaos on the Northern Ireland border and trade with Europe.

Happy New Decade

Happy New Year, and all that. At last, we’re in a decade with a normal name.

decades

Decadesxkcd

2020 is such a futuristic-sounding year.

It’s 2020 and you’re in the futureWait But Why
It’s also weird that to us, the 2020s sounds like such a rad futuristic decade—and that’s how the 1920s seemed to people 100 years ago today. They were all used to the 19-teens, and suddenly they were like, “whoa cool we’re in the twenties!” Then they got upset thinking about how much farther along in life their 1910 self thought they’d be by 1920.

To give us a sense of the decade we’ve just left behind, here, via Kottke, is a list of all the best ‘best of’ lists, if that makes sense.

Lists: Best of the 2010s decade
This page, compiled by @fimoculous, aggregates all of the lists related to 2010s decade.

As well as what you’d expect to find (34 lists in the Books category, and 120 lists in the Film category), there are a few more interesting ones.

Here’s an extra one to add to the list, before our futuristic hubris catches up with us.

From Glass to Fire Phone, these were the decade’s top tech flopsWired UK
Facebook Portal: In 2018, though, a scandal-infected Facebook was attempting to put out fire after fire – the Cambridge Analytica breach, Russian troll ads, the UN’s report on its role in Myanmar. With Facebook the absolute worst word in privacy and trust, no-one wanted a Facebook camera and microphone in their homes, especially one which the company admitted would track call data in order to serve ads to users.

Too much of a good thing?

Looking for something to watch when you’ve got too much time on your hands?

The top 10 best 10-hour long videos on YouTubeLifewire
It’s pretty unlikely that most viewers actually sit there to watch one of these excruciatingly long videos in full, but that’s not really the point. The point is that a 10-hour version of a popular video or meme simply exists, and that’s what makes it at least ten times funnier than the original.

I see there’s an epic version of the catchy/creepy Russian Trololo guy, which I think I’ll pass. Though if they made a 10 hour version of any of these old Russian tunes I won’t complain.

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.

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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.

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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