Can we not have web 1.0 back?

I do miss the early web, sometimes. Amateurish, in a good way—spontaneous, care-free, lighthearted.

The early internet, explained by one weird Celine Dion fan siteThe Atlantic
Celine Dreams was a bit of a sensation. Toroptsov never lacked for dream submissions, and at the turn of the century—before the internet was a corporatized monoculture repeated across only a handful of giant web properties—a scrappy, DIY fan site could easily build an audience by climbing up search rankings and encouraging active participation. For years, Celine Dreams appeared in the first page of Google and Yahoo search results for Celine Dion—a distinction now reserved for Celine Dion’s official website, Celine Dion’s Wikipedia page, Celine Dion’s Twitter page, Celine Dion on Spotify, and Celine Dion on YouTube.

And then it shut down, blinkering out at the same time as thousands of other fan sites. The whole ecosystem slid into the digital ocean slowly, but pretty much all at once, like a famous ship.

Nothing lasts forever. Especially nowadays.

More of these fan sites disappear all the time, and the Wayback Machine isn’t able to keep even a near-perfect record. Toroptsov’s project, and the work of his “competitors,” are vanishing in what information scientists have long been referring to as the “digital dark age.” “However widely the myth of the automatically archival Internet has spread over the past 70 years, the fact is that the system of networked computing utterly fails as a memory machine,” the UC Berkeley media researcher Abigail De Kosnik writes in her 2016 book, Rogue Archives. “The internet and computers do not constitute the greatest archive in human history, but rather the reverse.”

This applies to iconic software, too.

The last vestige of Internet Explorer dies todayGizmodo
When Microsoft decided to use EdgeHTML, it made sense. Internet Explorer had once been the biggest web browser around and consequently, lots of web page designers focused their energies on making their sites work for IE. But Chrome had a foothold when Edge launched and Microsoft’s new browser just never gained the popularity it needed. Instead, more and more web page designers focused on making the best looking sites the could—for Chrome.

Chrome uses the Blink engine and the source code originates with the open-source Chromium project. The Edge that launches today will rely on Blink and Chromium too.

Some people are clinging on, though. I’ve been reading Joanne McNeils’s newsletter for a while, now, and her website is joyously web 1.0.

joannemcneil.com
Hi, my name is Joanne McNeil and this is my Home Page on the World Wide Web. My book Lurking is out on February 25, 2020 with MCD.

underconstruction

And do you remember Noah Everyday from the 2000s? He’s back again, and doesn’t look a day older. Ok, that’s a lie. He looks older, we all do.

Man takes picture of himself every day for 20 yearsFlowingData
In 2007, Noah Kalina posted a time-lapse video showing a picture of himself every day for six years. Pop culture swallowed it up. There was even a Simpsons parody with Homer. After another six years, it was a video for twelve years’ worth of photos. Kalina has kept his everyday project going, and the above is the new time-lapse for two decades.

Noah takes a photo of himself every day for 20 yearsYouTube

Flying machines, large and small

Drones are a popular Christmas gift, but I don’t know if budgets will stretch far enough for many of us to recreate these incredible drone effects.

800 LED drones create giant 3D airplanes in the skyThe Kid Should See This
The three-dimensional ‘sky sculptures’ created by these 800 LED-equipped drones are stunning. Airplanes, jets, helicopters, and words hovered as points of light over Nanchang, China for the 2019 Nanchang Flight Convention’s closing ceremonies.

A little more polished than TIME magazine’s efforts last year, I think, which were still pretty impressive.

Thanks!

This video struck a chord recently. It was shown to us as part of a Wellbeing Day at work a few weeks ago and—as well as being quite funny—I thought its practical, down-to-earth steps to a more positive mindset made a lot of sense.

The happy secret to better work | Shawn AchorYouTube
We believe that we should work to be happy, but could that be backwards? In this fast-moving and entertaining talk from TEDxBloomington, psychologist Shawn Achor argues that actually happiness inspires productivity.

One of his slides summarises the ways you can train your brain to become more positive.

thanks

I’ve been following these steps for a few weeks now, and writing down three new things I’m grateful for and a positive experience I’ve had that day does help me focus on looking for the positives.

That video was published in 2012, but one that contained a very similar message coincidentally appeared just a few days ago, from Kurzgesagt.

An antidote to dissatisfactionYouTube
Everybody is familiar with the feeling that things are not as they should be. That you are not successful enough, your relationships not satisfying enough. That you don’t have the things you crave. In this video we want to talk about one of the strongest predictors of how happy people are, how easily they make friends and how good they are at dealing with hardship. An antidote against dissatisfaction so to speak: Gratitude.

This video, too, discussed the benefits of a simple gratitude journal, “sitting down for a few minutes, one to three times a week, and writing down five to ten things you’re grateful for.”

thanks-2

In the end, how you experience life is a representation of what you believe about it. If you attack your core beliefs about your self and your life, you can change your thoughts and feelings, which automatically changes your behaviour. It’s pretty mind-blowing that something as simple as self-reflection can hack the pathways in our brain to fight dissatisfaction. And if this is no reason to be optimistic, what is?

So thanks, Shawn Achor and the folks behind Kurzgesagt, for highlighting the importance of gratitude!

A welcome video art refresher

I enjoyed this trip down memory lane, care of the BBC and Vic Reeves.

Kill Your TV: Jim Moir’s Weird World of Video ArtBBC iPlayer
With contributions from leading British artists such as Isaac Julien and Rachel Maclean, Jim shows how the arrival of the portable video camera in the 1960s allowed artists to create work that set out to take on the power of corporate media. New York-based artist Nam June Paik, credited as video art’s inventor, once declared, ‘television has been attacking us all our lives – now we can attack it back.’

It took me back to my student days, messing around with sound and video in an attempt to forge a new ‘interactive’ art. The work of Brian Eno featured quite heavily in those days (he was an ex-student of our Head of Programme, as our Head of Programme was always keen to point out), and I see he was in the news again the other day.

Brian Eno’s latest composition: A giant Christmas card with Julian Assange on itThe Register
Acclaimed lift music composer Brian Eno is orchestrating a mass mail-in to Brit home secretary Priti Patel so the great unwashed can tell her: “Don’t Extradite Assange.”

At 3pm on 3 December, the background muzak technician will pull the sheets off an oversized digital Christmas card (pictured) outside the Home Office’s Westminster premises, featuring a snap of white-haired WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and emblazoned with the cheery message: “This Christmas journalism is on trial.”

Faking a moon landing disaster

This July saw the 50th annivesary of the moon landing, and I shared a number of landing related links, including one about a speech for President Nixon in case the worst should happen, titled “In the Event of Moon Disaster.”

Well, it’s been given the deepfake treatment.

A deepfake Nixon delivers eulogy for the Apollo 11 astronautsKottke
Fifty years ago, not even Stanley Kubrick could have faked the Moon landing. But today, visual effects and techniques driven by machine learning are so good that it might be relatively simple, at least the television broadcast part of it. In a short demonstration of that technical supremacy, a group from MIT has created a deepfake version of Nixon delivering that disaster speech. …

The implications of being able to so convincingly fake the televised appearance of a former US President are left as an exercise to the reader.

In event of moon disaster – Nixon deepfake clipsYouTube

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.

A disastrous message

Here’s an interesting follow-on to yesterday’s post about Chernobyl. Rather than an accidental nuclear catastrophe, how would we react to a planned attack?

A secret UK committee drafts a message to be played in case of nuclear attack
In 1973, fearing a Soviet nuclear strike, a UK government committee was formed to write a message to be played from the British Broadcasting Corporation’s secret bunker in Scotland during a worst-case-scenario attack. Irreverently constructed using declassified documents and scenes from the BBC’s drama-documentary The War Game (1965), Final Draft: Scripting the Apocalypse is a darkly comic, Kubrickian examination of the deep weirdness of modern warfare.

Final Draft: Scripting the Apocalypse

Happy days

Last week I mentioned that it was Optimistic October and Stoic Week 2019. Well, today is World Mental Health Day. Here, my favourite philosopher teams up with Jessica Kellgren-Fozard to explore what makes us happy.

YouTuber Jessica Kellgren-Fozard: ‘It’s OK not to be OK’
For some it meant money, for others it was dream holidays, and in one instance a Chanel handbag (other handbags are available). But in her seven secrets of happiness, the presenter went for more modest and noble targets – such as acceptance, appreciation and personal growth.

In the pursuit of this happiness, she thinks it’s time we cut ourselves, and each other, some slack.

What is the secret of happiness | The School of Jessica Kellgren-Fozard

They’re not the only ones attempting to answer this question for us, of course. Here’s another.

Dalai Lama’s guide to happiness

Flying with Dalí and Laurie

More from that Dalí museum in Florida. This time, an interactive 360° video that you can click-and-drag your way around, as you fly through one of his paintings.

Silence your lobster phone and melt into a Dalí-inspired dreamscape
Salvador Dalí’s painting Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s Angelus (1935) is a surreal reimagining of Jean-François Millet’s painting The Angelus (1859). Dalí’s work recasts the peasant couple of the original as towering stone figures, with the woman looming over the man in a show of female sexual dominance. Created as part of a virtual reality exhibition at the Dalí Museum in St Petersburg in Florida, this video allows viewers to step inside the work’s dreamy, uncanny landscape, as they fly through a tour of a world inspired by the painting – one that’s rife with additional Dalí Easter eggs. Beyond a simply entrancing immersive experience, Dreams of Dalí hints at even more sophisticated VR art experimentation to come in the near future.

Dreams of Dali: 360º Video

Here’s some more artistic VR, this time of a more literary nature.

Laurie Anderson introduces her virtual reality installation that lets you fly magically through stories
The piece allows viewers the opportunity to travel not only into the space of imagination a story creates, but into the very architecture of story itself—to walk, or rather float, through its passageways as words and letters drift by like tufts of dandelion, stars, or, as Anderson puts it, like snow. “They’re there to define the space and to show you a little bit about what it is,” says the artist in the interview above, “But they’re actually fractured languages, so it’s kind of exploded things.” She explains the “chalkroom” concept as resisting the “perfect, slick and shiny” aesthetic that characterizes most computer-generated images. “It has a certain tactility and made-by-hand kind of thing… this is gritty and drippy and filled with dust and dirt.”

Laurie Anderson interview: a virtual reality of stories
In this exclusive video, Laurie Anderson presents her prizewinning virtual reality work from 2017: “I wanted to see what it would be like to travel through stories, to make the viewer feel free,” the legendary multimedia artist says.

Close encounters with a comet

In keeping with the harsh aesthetic of that Black Rain video from earlier, here’s another look at what’s above us.

The Comet
In 2016 an exciting mission was ended. The Rosetta spacecraft made its final manoeuvre. A controlled hard-landing on the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67p). Before that Rosetta accompanied the Comet for more than 2 years. It researched valuable scientific data, brought a lander on to the comet’s surface and took a vast number of pictures.

2017 Esa released over 400,000 images from Rosetta’s comet mission. Based on these material Motion Designer Christian Stangl and Composer Wolfgang Stangl worked together to create this short film. The sequences are digitally enhanced real-footage from the probe.

Here’s more footage from the same comet.

A stunning animation created from photos of a heavy snowstorm falling on Comet 67P in 2016
“As the spacecraft moves around the comet we see the landscape change, but you can also see stars moving in the background, and flakes of ice and dust much closer to the spacecraft flying around! It’s like something from an old movie, *but it’s real*.”

More musical glass

Not that one, but something much jazzier — men, machines, music, all combined perfectly.

Glas, Bert Haanstra‘s Oscar-winning documentary short film (1959)
A jazzy score, handmade craftsmanship, factories, machines, the 1950s, and glass; director Bert Haanstra‘s 1959 Oscar winning documentary short, Glas, is the perfect combination of so many fascinating subjects. Watch artisans at Royal Leerdam Glass Factory back-to-back with machines used in automated bottle making.

Bert Haanstra – Glas

And if you like that, you must check out his earlier film, the equally meditative though more meandering Spiegel Van Holland, or Mirror of Holland.

How far have we come?

I loved the nostalgic/futuristic feel of these Wonders of the World Wide Web videos from Jo Luijten. They capture the look and feel of the technology of the time perfectly. Yes, it’s ludicrous to imagine these modern-day systems running this way, but if we jump ahead 30 years from now, what will we be laughing at then?

Siri in the ’80s

WhatsApp in the ’80s

Amazon in the ’80s

 

A history of urban futures

How about this for an unsettling glimpse into the future?

Hyper-reality
Hyper-Reality presents a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media.

It serves as the introduction to this fantastic overview of augmented reality in urban environments.

City Skins: Scenes from an augmented urban reality
In one scene, the film’s protagonist-user (“Juliana”), becomes confused, even anxious, by a technical glitch which forces a reboot of her device while shopping for food, showing the viewer a brief glimpse of a un-augmented and totally featureless supermarket, clearly designed for the express purpose of accommodating a digital overlay. Matsuda’s film ultimately suggests that augmented reality may become so commonplace as to be essential to making sense of the world.

However futuristic it may seem, location-based augmented reality (virtual reality’s more successful but less hyped cousin) has been around for a while.

Growing interest in location-based AR projects, beginning in the late 1990s, can be in part attributed to the confluence of art and networking technologies which emerged out of the gradual popularization of the Internet and the influence of “net art.” Net art, according to critic Josephine Bosma, has often concerned itself with “the public domain as a virtual, mediated space consisting of both material and immaterial matter,” indicating a conceptual and ethical foundation for augmented reality’s radical leap from the space of the screen to a “hybrid space” mixing real and virtual elements.

Near the tail end of the 20th century, pseudonymous author and technologist Ben Russell released The Headmap Manifesto — a utopian vision of augmented reality referencing Australian aboriginal songlines and occult tomes, while pulling heavily from cybernetic theory and the Temporary Autonomous Zones of Hakim Bey. At turns both wildly hypothetical and eerily prescient, Headmap explores in-depth the implications of “location-aware” augmented reality as a kind of “parasitic architecture” affording ordinary people the chance to annotate and re-interpret their environment.

That might sound too abstract and theoretical, but here’s an example of a very real-world, poignant use of AR.

Following the release of the first iPhone and advancements in mobile phone cameras and processing power, AR began to move toward the more visually-dominant experiences we are familiar with today — in the process also opening up possibilities for more explicitly political projects. The group 4 Gentlemen, for instance, embraced AR as a tool for criticizing oppressive government policies in China. A collective of exiled Chinese artists and one American artist, 4 Gentlemen (taking their name from a group of intellectual dissidents central to the Tiananmen Student Protest in 1989) developed a series of works that digitally recreated in situ both the famous “Tank Man” image and the “Goddess of Democracy” statue — two symbols of the Tiananmen protest which have defined the struggle for democracy and human rights in China since.

urban-futures

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 dazzling early-morning commute

Certainly more vibrant and kaleidoscopic than my sleepy 98 bus.

D A Pennebaker transformed documentary filmmaking. This is his first film
With its frenetic pace, early morning hues, avant-garde touches, and playful use of shapes and patterns, Pennebaker’s first short, Daybreak Express (1953), made for a precocious debut. The sounds of an eponymous Duke Ellington composition form the film’s clattering backbone, as Pennebaker crafts an urban mosaic from Manhattan’s soon-to-be demolished Third Avenue elevated train line. While more experimental than much of the work he would be celebrated for later, Pennebaker’s career-long knack for kinetic editing, adventurous storytelling and skilfully marrying music and images still permeates nearly every frame.

Daybreak Express

Waiting in the rain

Here’s a little video I made a while ago. I can’t remember who or what I was waiting for, now, but I remember being mesmerised by the way the wind and rain worked together to create these patterns through the windscreen onto the dashboard. An audible visualisation of the weather outside.

Relaxing ASMR rain on a car at night

Life’s ups and downs

Going to any amusement parks this summer? Maybe give this one a miss.

An amusement park-themed animated short by Fernando Livschitz goes off the rails
The fate of riders on roller coasters and ferris wheels takes an unexpected turn in “Beautiful Chaos”, a new short from Fernando Livschitz of Black Sheep Films.

Beautiful Chaos
Chaos it said to be the opposite of order, and order, the basis for beauty. But that doesn’t mean that chaos can’t be beautiful too.

It reminds me of one of my favourite videos, the award-winning Centrifuge Brain Project, from the Institute for Centrifugal Research, by Till Nowak.

The Centrifuge Brain Project
Written/produced/directed by Till Nowak, starring Leslie Barany.

It’s from 2011, but clips from this are still making the rounds on social media, fooling people into thinking these nightmarish constructions are real.

Till Nowak makes impossible possible
“There are actually still people, especially if they see it on the internet, that really think everything is real. To me that is super interesting because the film is also about our reception of media, how we believe everything, how media can manipulate us. I had never expected that a lot of people would believe the whole film. I thought okay, maybe the first half, but then… For me as a filmmaker and my filmmaker friends, it is very obvious. But people who are not working with the media, it is very surprising for me, how much they believe. Sometimes it is a bit shocking – but also an honor and a compliment because it means that the film was convincing,” Nowak comments.

Happy minimalism

I mentioned earlier how metal has the power to make us happy. Whilst I enjoyed riffing down memory lane, the music that lifts my spirits now is more orchestral.

Here, composer David Bruce introduces us to minimalism and the work of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and, in particular, John Adams. I remember being completely blown away when I first heard this type of music, on a CD just called Minimalist, and it’s great to understand a little more about some of the orchestral decisions that goes into such work.

How John Adams writes for orchestra (The Chairman Dances & influence of minimalism)
The early minimalists choice of instruments and ways of composing influenced a whole generation of composers, myself included. In this video I look at how the style they developed went on to influence later orchestral compositions, in particular looking at the orchestral technique in John Adam’s piece ‘The Chairman Dances’.

And here’s that performance in full.

The Chairman Dances by John Adams – BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Now for something completely different. I’ve been vaguely aware of the name Victor Borge for a while, but never really knew anything about him or his stage routines. Consider this one of the YouTube recommendation algorithm’s big successes.

Victor Borge – Piano jokes

Les Dawson, anyone?

Seeing sounds

It was the one on how quartz watches work that first caught my eye, but I’ve been enjoying working my way through the rest of Steve Mould’s science videos.

These two are my favourites so far, though I’ve yet to see them all.

Laser + mirror + sound
A laser shining on a mirror driven by a speaker creates cool patterns.

Interaural time difference and how to find your phone instantly
The science of sound localization is really interesting. This video is specifically about interaural time difference and how mobile phone ringtones are badly designed for the way our brains detect sound direction. You can make you phone easier to find by changing the ringtone to white noise. Also, emergency vehicle sirens like ambulances are badly designed for the same reason.

And another thing #2

How often have you thought about your Shift + 7 key?

Ampersands: A beloved character
It began life as a shortcut for scribes and proved just as useful for early typesetters, eventually working its way into the English alphabet as the 27th letter. We collectively dropped it from the ABCs, and the decline of handwriting and manual typesetting made it less useful. But its flexibility and grace have kept it on our business cards and movie posters.

These Quartz Obsession e-mails are typically full of wonderful rabbit holes, and this one’s no exception. Let’s start with a quick introduction.

Where did the ampersand originate?
Developed from the Latin et (“and”), the ampersand, formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet, is a character with a cult following among students of typography.

And not just students of typography — the lowly ampersand can count lawyers, entrepreneurs, movie producers and restaurant owners as fans, if these links are anything to go by.

For law firms, the ampersand is a character worth saving
Paul Hastings, Norton Rose Fulbright, Hogan Lovells, Proskauer Rose, Baker Botts: the list of new BigLaw titles built on the corpses of ampersands is almost endless. All these firms discarded their ampersands as if they were ashamed of them.

There are practical reasons so many hipster businesses follow the exact same naming structure
There’s also a nostalgic feel to this construction. “At some point in its early history, I’d guess the germ of that trend was an allusion to the common practice in 17th/18th/19th centuries of naming your company after its principals (e.g. Gieves & Hawkes, Dege & Skinner, Marks & Spencer, etc.),” says Simon. “Could be some of your fashion brands want to allude to handcraft, to pre-industrial or non-industrial processes.”

Stereotypography
So far, critical appraisal of the ampersand in Pride & Prejudice has been mixed. On Slate, David Edelstein calls the ampersand one of the “ominous first impressions” that he had to get over in order to like the movie. The Toronto Globe and Mail (or is it “Globe & Mail”?) says the ampersand signals a “contracted, contemporary approach” to the novel. The San Francisco Chronicle finds the typographical choice to be indicative of the movie’s “jaunty approach.” And the Detroit Free Press says “the only thing really new” in the film is “the hip ampersand of the title.”

Contemporary! Jaunty! Hip! That’s a lot of stereotypical baggage to put on a modest piece of punctuation that has been kicking around in one form or another for about two thousand years.

Petition · Restore the ampersand as the 27th letter of the alphabet
This isn’t just for us. Think of all the uses of the ampersand out there, and all the people and organizations that could benefit from allowing the ampersand back into our alphabet.

We’re not asking for much. And to be completely honest, we’re not exactly sure who calls the shots on these sorts of things, but having Merriam-Webster on our side seems like a good start.

Bring back the Ampersand

It’s fair to say that graphic designers and typesetters are this character’s biggest admirers, though.

Font Aid IV: Coming Together
The Society of Typographic Aficionados is proud to announce the release of “Coming Together”, a font created exclusively for Font Aid IV to benefit the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The font consists entirely of ampersands, to represent the idea of people coming together to help one another. Type designers, graphic designers, and other artists from around the world contributed artwork to the font.

and-another-thing-3

Design by: Herb Lubalin
Herb Lubalin is best known for his logotypes, or as he called them ‘expressive typography’. One of his most famous works is the Mother & Child masthead he designed for a Curtis magazine, where the ‘O’ in the word mother is a womb for the word child. The use of the ampersand in this design is pure genius.

and-another-thing-2

Attitudes toward hyphenation and rag settings
In fact, Gill was even more willing to challenge convention than Dowding. Not only did he liberally use ampersands for “and” but he also used contractions (e.g., “tho’”), and superscript letters (e.g., “production”) to achieve even spacing. But most importantly, he advocated that text be set flush left, rag right (though he did not use that phrase) as not only more natural than justified setting, but as the best way to guarantee consistent word spacing. He considered the insistence on justified text to be nothing more than a superstition, remarking that “even spacing is more important typographically than equal length.” In his view justified text existed to satisfy man’s desire for neatness.

and-another-thing-1

That last link is my favourite, I think. I could read about typography and book design all day. There’s something very calming and comforting in a well set page of text like the one above. Those margins!

So it was a wonderful coincidence to see that today’s Aeon newsletter contained this link about book printing.

What’s as satisfying as a good book? Seeing one made the old-fashioned way, by hand
The director Glen Milner charts each step in the process as bookbinders piece together a new hardbound edition of the memoir Mango and Mimosa (1974) by the British writer and painter Suzanne St Albans. From folding pages to sewing and gluing paper to the leather spine, skilful human hands are front and centre throughout. Milner documents this melding of mechanics and craft with an almost musical rhythm, conveying skills and methods born of centuries of refinements.

Birth of a Book

And would you believe it, that printing and bookbinding company is in Leeds, just 5 miles away from me!