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!

The sounds of up north

Made as part of BBC4’s ‘Listen to Britain’, this glimpse into a typical day and night round here shows that it’s not all green Dales and romantic moors.

That Yorkshire sound
A hand drawn animated documentary, following the rhythms of a day in Yorkshire. It captures the sound of Yorkshire, from it’s multicultural and bustling cities like Bradford and Sheffield, to the delicate sounds of birds in the country side and the hypnotic rhythm of the motorways and train tracks.

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.

Satire or harmful deception?

Fake videos — they’re just a bit of fun that we’re happy to spread around on social media, right? Whilst they play a part in the BBC dystopian future drama, Years and Years, helping to sway a general election, we’re not really fooled by them, are we?

Well, perhaps not yet, but they’ve got US politicians worried enough about their upcoming presidential election in 2020 to officially look into it all.

Congress grapples with how to regulate deepfakes
“Now is the time for social media companies to put in place policies to protect users from this kind of misinformation not in 2021 after viral deepfakes have polluted the 2020 elections,” Schiff said. “By then it will be too late.”

At the outset of the hearing, Schiff came out challenging the “immunity” given to platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, asking panelists if Congress should make changes to the law that doesn’t currently hold social media companies liable for the content on their platforms.

Another example.

Deepfakes: Imagine All the People
Of course this isn’t real. The video was done by a company called Canny AI, which offers services like “replace the dialogue in any footage” and “lip-sync your dubbed content in any language”. That’s cool and all — picture episodes of Game of Thrones or Fleabag where the actors automagically lip-sync along to dubbed French or Chinese — but this technique can also be used to easily create what are referred to as deepfakes, videos made using AI techniques in which people convincingly say and do things they actually did not do or say.

A ‘fake’ arms race, for real

This essay from Cailin O’Connor, co-author of The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread, frames the issue of online misinformation as an arms race.

The information arms race can’t be won, but we have to keep fighting
What makes this problem particularly thorny is that internet media changes at dizzying speed. When the radio was first invented, as a new form of media, it was subject to misinformation. But regulators quickly adapted, managing, for the most part, to subdue such attempts. Today, even as Facebook fights Russian meddling, WhatsApp has become host to rampant misinformation in India, leading to the deaths of 31 people in rumour-fuelled mob attacks over two years.

Participating in an informational arms race is exhausting, but sometimes there are no good alternatives. Public misinformation has serious consequences. For this reason, we should be devoting the same level of resources to fighting misinformation that interest groups are devoting to producing it. All social-media sites need dedicated teams of researchers whose full-time jobs are to hunt down and combat new kinds of misinformation attempts.

I know I’m a pretty pessimistic person generally, but this all sounds quite hopeless. Here’s how one group of people is responding to the challenge of misuse of information and fake videos — by producing their own.

This deepfake of Mark Zuckerberg tests Facebook’s fake video policies
The video, created by artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe in partnership with advertising company Canny, shows Mark Zuckerberg sitting at a desk, seemingly giving a sinister speech about Facebook’s power. The video is framed with broadcast chyrons that say “We’re increasing transparency on ads,” to make it look like it’s part of a news segment.

“We will treat this content the same way we treat all misinformation on Instagram,” a spokesperson for Instagram told Motherboard. “If third-party fact-checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram’s recommendation surfaces like Explore and hashtag pages.”

Eating lunch at your desk again?

Some fun videos from YouTuber omozoc, in the style of PES.

Stop motion cooking tutorials by Omozoc transform sporting goods and electronics into unconventional meals
A baseball glove becomes the bun of a strangely enticing hot dog, while a cracked-open computer mouse makes an unusual batch of scrambled eggs on the top of an open copy machine.

Keyboard crasher’s lunch

More fun with fakes

More videos — from the sublime to the ridiculous.

There’s a scarily good ‘deepfakes’ YouTube channel that’s quietly growing – and it’s freaking everyone out
Russian researchers hit the headlines last week by reanimating oil-painted portraits and photos into talking heads using AI. Now, here’s another reminder that the tools to craft deepfakes are widely available for just about anyone with the right skills to use: the manipulated videos posted on YouTuber Ctrl Shift Face are particularly creepy.

Club Fight – Episode 2 [DeepFake]

The transitions are especially smooth in another clip, with a comedian dipping in and out of impressions of Al Pacino and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and there are now clips from Terminator with Stallone which look very peculiar.

Here’s that earlier article and video mentioned above, about reanimating oil paintings.

AI can now animate the Mona Lisa’s face or any other portrait you give it. We’re not sure we’re happy with this reality
There have been lots of similar projects so the idea isn’t particularly novel. But what’s intriguing in this paper, hosted by arXiv, is that the system doesn’t require tons of training examples and seems to work after seeing an image just once. That’s why it works with paintings like the Mona Lisa.

Few-Shot Adversarial Learning of Realistic Neural Talking Head Models

Jump to 4:18 to see their work with famous faces such as Marilyn Monroe and Salvador Dalí (who’s already no stranger to AI), and to 5:08 to see the Mona Lisa as you’ve never seen her before.