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Benjamin Sack’s impossible cityscapes

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 07, 2019

Benjamin Sack, Peregrinations

These are absolutely stunning! Piranesi meets Escher meets… reminds me of someone else I can’t put my finger on.

“Over many years my interest in architecture and cityscapes has evolved.” [These pieces have] “become a way and means of expressing the infinite, playing with perspective and exploring a range of histories, cultures, places.”

Benjamin Sack, Canto IV

Benjamin Sack, Samsara

His exhibit in Berlin runs until January 22 2020.

Algorithmic entertainment is bringing dull sameness

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 06, 2019

The troubling age of algorithmic entertainment

Navneet Alang provides a good overview of the many ways in which the ever growing influence of various algorithms is transforming all forms of media, from motion smoothing, to “Spotify-core” music, to TikTok’s influence over length and memorable hooks.

The algorithmic delivery of music thus forms what, for Spotify, is a virtuous circle. But it also suggests that tech platforms don’t just deliver content, but that they shape it too, prioritizing quick hits and short tracks because those are the things that generate the most engagement.

Those platforms and their algorithms change not only the form of the content we consume but the way we consume it, like Netflix’s current test to allow speeding up of video playback, like some of us do when listening to podcasts.

Netflix is aware that people want to rush through content — not just to enjoy it, but also to then participate in the cultural conversation that’s around it. Is everyone at work talking about Succession, Fleabag, and that new true crime podcast, but you’re behind on all of them? Well, rip through them at double speed so you aren’t left out.

Alang argues that while we’ve always played around with how we read, view, or listen to art, we are now in front of something of a different magnitude.

But the sheer ubiquity of the streaming platforms for how we get content now suggests that the dominance of algorithms and their place in the attention economy aren’t entirely neutral or value-free. Disney, for example, is quietly placing classic Fox films into its so-called “vault,” where it hides movies from distribution for a while to drum up hype when they are re-released. One imagines this is so they can put them back on their forthcoming streaming service, to much delight.

Alas, as with so many things around the internet and “digital,” what was originally an opportunity for every little niche and taste to get its place in the sun, is instead being dumbed down into an “algorithmed” and business optimized mass of sameness.

Indiana Bell moved a functioning building in 1930

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 06, 2019

Indiana Bell building

In 1930, Indiana Bell, a subsidiary of AT&T, needed a larger building for their headquarter. The problem? The old building needed to stay in operations at all times, providing an essential service to the city. Instead of tearing it down or simply moving to a new building, they decided to move it to a different part of the lot and build on the existing location. Just that.

The massive undertaking began on October 1930. Over the next four weeks, the massive steel and brick building was shifted inch by inch 16 meters south, rotated 90 degrees, and then shifted again by 30 meters west. The work was done with such precision that the building continued to operate during the entire duration of the move. All utility cables and pipes serving the building, including thousand of telephone cables, electric cables, gas pipes, sewer and water pipes had to be lengthened and made flexible to provide continuous service during the move. A movable wooden sidewalk allowed employees and the public to enter and leave the building at any time while the move was in progress. The company did not lose a single day of work nor interrupt their service during the entire period.

Incredibly most of the power needed to move the building was provided by hand-operated jacks while a steam engine also some support. Each time the jacks were pumped, the house moved 3/8th of an inch.
(Emphasis mine.)

Indiana Bell building

Indiana Bell building
(Via the excellent The Prepared newsletter.)

The Drone Chronicles 2001-2016

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 06, 2019

The Drone Chronicles 2001-2016

Quite an intriguing pair of books by graphic designer Rob van Leijsen have recently come out, documenting the evolution of drones, the changes in the technologies used, and changes in usage and spread.

The set is made up of a catalogue, documenting fifteen years of drones. “The models appearing in chronological order with a small photo and a list of data: their release date, price, speed, flight time, dimension, function(s), colours available, weight, etc.”

As you turn the pages, you see how the different uses of the technology evolve along parallel tracks: the commercial, the consumer and the military; the deadly, the useful and the purely entertaining.

The second is a journal, with a chronological selection of the most utterly striking stories involving drones and published during the same period.

By juxtaposing informative, technological and cultural stories, the Journal paints an ever changing portrait of a society trying to get to grips with drones. From the very mundane (spraying pesticides over crops or delivering parcels) to the techno-solutionism, the humanitarian and the artistic.

The books close in 2016, which lines up relatively well with the end of the major hype around drones.

Drone Chronicles spread one

Drone Chronicles spread two

Something mysterious is going on inside the ice giant Neptune

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 06, 2019

Neptune, taken by Voyager 2 in 1989

When Voyager 2 reached Neptune in 1989 it discovered six new moons, took images of the planet’s rings and noted a particularly violent storm. Astronomers were also surprised to find that, despite being further from the sun than Uranus, Neptune was actually warmer.

“We can only measure temperatures in the outermost layers,” said Michael Wong, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, via email. In doing so we find that Neptune isn’t actually hotter than Uranus in real terms — they’re essentially at the same temperature. But since Neptune receives less solar illumination because it’s farther from the sun, this shouldn’t be the case.

Uranus is the oddball here because it doesn’t emit almost twice as much heat as it absorbs, contrary to Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune. Neptune, even thought it’s further from our star, is finding a way to warm itself up to the level of Uranus, while the latter is unable to generate any extra heat other than that gleaned from the sun.

Yet there is no clear reason why Uranus does not have much of an internal heat source — or any at all. “Something must have stunted this process on Uranus — perhaps due to a collision in its early history that knocked the planet on its side,” said Tollefson. “The question becomes, why does Neptune have an internal heat source but Uranus does not?”

Perhaps it’s because heat is released at varying rates and Uranus is in a quiescent period, perhaps it has to do with the age of each planet.

“On the gas giants there may be significant amounts of helium rain, changing the amount of heat released. For Uranus and Neptune it is possible that they are different ages or, more likely, the event that turned Uranus onto its side may have jumbled its interior structure and/or released heat faster,” said Simon.

Uranus’ winds can blow up to 560 mph and Neptune’s 1,500 mph. “They’re both extremely fast and peak at speeds faster than Jupiter,” said Tollefson. NASA says Jupiter’s Great Red Spot can blow at 384 mph. But he too says internal heat alone cannot explain the speeds, given Uranus does not generate extra heat.

The way the heat from the sun contributes to the winds, how heat exchange works in each planet, and the interaction of those aspects could explain why one generates more heat but it’s still an open question. One thing’s certain though, the fact that planets formed in similar conditions can result in two extremes “helps us constrain models of how these planets form and give clues about the solar system’s overall formation.”

Ok Google, cause some mischief

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 06, 2019

Photo by Dries Augustyns on Unsplash

We already knew voice assistants were problematic and “spying” on their users, sending audio samples that contractors listen to to “validate” speech recognition and associated errors but now some researchers have found a way to speak to the speakers using light. Fascinating phenomenon, potentially a security issue.

They can now use lasers to silently “speak” to any computer that receives voice commands—including smartphones, Amazon Echo speakers, Google Homes, and Facebook’s Portal video chat devices. That spy trick lets them send “light commands” from hundreds of feet away; they can open garages, make online purchases, and cause all manner of mischief or malevolence. The attack can easily pass through a window, when the device’s owner isn’t home to notice a telltale flashing speck of light or the target device’s responses.

“It’s coming from outside the house.”

When they used a 60 milliwatt laser to “speak” commands to 16 different smart speakers, smartphones, and other voice activated devices, they found that almost all of the smart speakers registered the commands from 164 feet away, the maximum distance they tested.

Perhaps the best part in all of this; the researchers don’t really know how it works!

When it comes to the actual physics of a microphone interpreting light as sound, the researchers had a surprising answer: They don’t know. In fact, in the interest of scientific rigor, they refused to even speculate about what photoacoustic mechanics caused their light-as-speech effect.
(Emphasis mine.)

Second trailer for The Mandalorian

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 05, 2019

The “streaming wars” are starting in earnest with the launch of Disney Plus and I’m wondering how things will turn out, who’ll lose out, who’ll get favour swinging on their side. I can’t help but be disappointed that Disney owns so much of what I loved as a kid and teen (and still), and I don’t intend to have multiple subscriptions so there’s a good chance I won’t be seeing The Mandalorian for a while but… damn that looks fun! And that’s even before having Pedro Pascal smirk his way out of things à la Han Solo.

Andrew Liptak for Tor.com has some additional insights and links to visuals and more info about the series.

There’s other staples from the Star Wars universe present: carbon freezing (which seems to become a regular practice since Darth Vader froze Han Solo), speeder chases, giant creatures, and bars full of aliens. What’s also neat to see is that the Mandalorian seems to have two sets of armor: one that looks as though it’s cobbled from bits of armor from other places, and a nice, shiny set.

The Internet Archive is now working to preserve vinyl LPs

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 05, 2019

Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash

The Internet Archive is an absolute treasure with a gigantic task ahead of them. They have now set their sights on vinyl LPs and started the work of digitizing and archiving these recordings.

Earlier this year, the Internet Archive began working with the Boston Public Library (BPL) to digitize more than 100,000 audio recordings from their sound collection. The recordings exist in a variety of historical formats, including wax cylinders, 78 rpms, and LPs. They span musical genres including classical, pop, rock, and jazz, and contain obscure recordings like this album of music for baton twirlers , and this record of radio’s all-time greatest bloopers .

Since all of the information on an LP is printed, the digitization process must begin by cataloging data. High-resolution scans are taken of the cover art, the disc itself and any inserts or accompanying materials. The record label, year recorded, track list and other metadata are supplemented and cross-checked against various external databases.

The Archive is partnering with Innodata Knowledge Services, who digitize the LPs in their facility in Cebu, Philippines. Setting up and turning over every album by hand and recording each side at normal speed.

Once recorded, there is a large FLAC file for each side of the LP, which needs to be segmented so listeners can easily begin at the desired song. There are two different algorithms used for segmenting; the first one looks at images of the vinyl disc to locate gaps in its grooves, which usually line up with gaps between songs. A second algorithm listens to the audio file to find the silent spaces between songs. When these two algorithms align, our engineers have a good measure of confidence that the machine has found the proper tracks.

Heidi Gustafson’s quest for ochre and mankind’s first pigments

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 05, 2019

Heidi Gustafson

It’s fascinating to me how people can focus, specialize in, and love a tiny narrow niche and make it their life’s work. Heidi Gustafson, who’s creating a many-colored library of one of mankind’s first pigments, ochre, is one such person.

[A]t her small cabin near the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, creating an extensive ocher archive to catalog samples she’s gathered along with submissions of the mineral sent in from all over the world. While there has recently been renewed interest in creating paints from natural pigments, Gustafson’s focus is on ocher alone — and it extends beyond the material’s artistic uses to its scientific, symbolic and spiritual properties.

She initially got on the trail for ochre through a dream, a trail, and an old quarry in Oakland, before moving up the coast to continue her quest.

In 2017, a year after relocating to rural Washington, she officially began her ocher archive. While she forages in the Pacific Northwest, a slew of archaeologists, artists, scientists and pigment makers — a number of whom heard about her project through word of mouth — have also contributed to the archive, submitting samples from as far as Zambia, the Brazilian Amazon, New Zealand and Russia. Once each specimen arrives at her studio, it is ground by hand into pigment, labeled and added to her collection, which now includes over 400 different samples.

Mortar and colours, from Heidi Gustafson's Instagram

Be sure to check out her Instagram account for a lot more pictures of her love for ochre and pigments.

Colour palette, from Heidi Gustafson's Instagram

Update: The images in this post were originally from the New York Times article, and were replaced by some from Heidi Gustafson’s Instagram account.

Helsinki has a library to learn about the world, the city, and each other

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 05, 2019

Oodi

The Finns love libraries, and a new fabulous one opened last year in Helsinki. Tommi Laitio, Helsinki’s executive director for culture and leisure was at the CityLab DC conference recently and presented some of the thinking behind Finland’s investments in libraries and culture, and why they are so important to their country.

“This progress from one of the poorest countries of Europe to one of the most prosperous has not been an accident. It’s based on this idea that when there are so few of us—only 5.5 million people—everyone has to live up to their full potential,” he said. “Our society is fundamentally dependent on people being able to trust the kindness of strangers.”

One of the goals of the Oodi library is to make them less afraid of the various contemporary anxieties and from more informed citizens.

Nordic-style social services have not shielded the residents of Finland’s largest city from 21st-century anxieties about climate change, migrants, disruptive technology, and the other forces fueling right-leaning populist movements across Europe. Oodi, which was the product of a 10-year-long public consultation and design process, was conceived in part to resist these fears. “When people are afraid, they focus on short-term selfish solutions,” Laitio said. “They also start looking for scapegoats.”

The central library is built to serve as a kind of citizenship factory, a space for old and new residents to learn about the world, the city, and each other. It’s pointedly sited across from (and at the same level as) the Finnish Parliament House that it shares a public square with.

The library is widely popular and committed to openness.

Oodi just hit 3 million visitors this year—“a lot for a city of 650,000,” Laitio said. In its very first month, 420,000 Helsinki residents—almost two-thirds of the population—went to the library. Some may only have been skateboarders coming in to use the bathroom, but that’s fine: The library has a “commitment to openness and welcoming without judgement,” he said. “It’s probably the most diverse place in our city, in many ways.” (Emphasis mine)

Oodi

Oodi

Oodi

The images are taken from this post on ArchDaily where you can also find a lot more views of the gorgeous spaces.

Nirmal Purja summits all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks in just six months

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 05, 2019

Nepalese climber Nirmal Purja

This is just a bit insane. A few days ago, Nepalese climber Nirmal Purja “reached the summit of 26,335-foot Shishapangmain Tibet, finishing a season that saw him summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks in just six months and seven days.

Previous record? South Korean Kim Chang-Ho back in 2013, finishing in… just under 8 years!! That’s right, he beat the record by seven and a half years! As part of his Project Possible 14/7, he was also the first to reach the summits of Mount Everest, Lhotse and Makalu within 48 hours.

Over the course of those climbs, Purja and his team also took the time to save a few people, climbed K2 when “heavy snowfall forced most of the teams on K2 to abandon their attempts,” and got a special permit from the Chinese authorities to climb Shishapangma.

Project Possible consisted of three phases. During the first, Purja climbed Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Kanchenjunga, Everest, Lhotse, andMakalu over the course of 30 daysin April and May. On Annapurna, he and his team fixed the ropes to the summit. On their descent, they learned that Malaysian climber Wui Kin Chin was in distress and alone above 7,500 meters. Purja organized the rescue and helped get Chin off the mountain (Chin died five days later).

While descending Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak, Purja’s team found three climbers who’d run out of oxygen. The team gave up their own supply and helped the men down. To finish off phase one, Purja climbed Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu in under 48 hours. He tagged Everest and Lhotse in the same day, despite waiting in line for hours en route toEverest’s summit. That delay gave him time to snap the most viral photo of the Everest season.

Harnessing CRISPR to fight against superbugs

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 04, 2019

Yet another potential use for CRISPR, although the gene editing technology is usually considered for macroscopic tasks, like editing mosquitoes, tomatoes, CO2-eating “ideal plants”, or even human babies, new research aims to deploy it against bacteria and viruses. An alarming number of bacteria are now resistant to one or more antibiotics, so this new line of inquiry would certainly be welcomed if it proves effective.

In their recent study, Dr. Edgell and his colleagues successfully used a Crispr-associated enzyme called Cas9 to eliminate a species of Salmonella. By programming the Cas9 to view the bacterium itself as the enemy, Dr. Edgell and his colleagues were able to force Salmonella to make lethal cuts to its own genome.

As we discover more of the benefits of our microbiota, it would also be interesting to have a solution to bacterial infections which doesn’t create problems for our “good bacteria.”

Conventional antibiotics do not distinguish between good and bad bacteria, eradicating everything indiscriminately and occasionally creating problems for people with weakened immune systems.

There’s still a long way to go though.

Now researchers face the challenge of demonstrating that Crispr antibacterial and antiviral drugs are effective in living animals and in humans, not just in the lab, and that they will be cheaper than conventional therapies, Dr. Barrangou said.

Posters as gateways to a more expansive world

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 04, 2019

While we’re on the world building topic, here’s another article on design within games, this one about the posters used in the upcoming Control and the Polish cyberpunk-horror game Observer.

Observer poster by Mateusz Lenart

Alongside various made up advertisements, brands, book covers and propaganda signs, posters are symbolic of a larger universe, helping to broaden and flesh out any fictional world. An incredible amount of effort is put into creating video game settings, and the poster is but one of many tiny details carefully designed to draw you deeper.

The designers for both games were able to research the vast number of posters of different periods and locations to inform their own creations.

“Posters were a great tool for us to build a story and establish the world design. In one way, they show how this future world is organised, the rules of it etc. but they also represent the protagonist’s various dilemmas,” Lenart explains.

Control poster by Jenna Seikkula

“If done right, [the posters] can help convey everything from small trivial details to the broader story arc. These aspects enrich and deepen the lore and the world.”

Observer glitch poster by Mateusz Lenart

Death Stranding’s world building intersects with fashion and design

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 04, 2019

Can’t say I’m much of a gamer but I like when things intersect in interesting ways and the launch of Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding is one of those times. This is a huge launch with lots and lots of coverage, you’ll probably be seeing it everywhere. The GameSport review, which gives a great idea of the look and gameplay, is above and here’s more of what it’s about, from the review at The Verge:

Death Stranding takes place in a distant future, one that has been ravaged by a largely unexplained phenomenon called the death stranding. It wiped out cities and almost all life while opening a gate between the worlds of the living and dead. Those ghostly BTs haunt forests and mountains, and certain humans called repatriates are able to return to life from a strange underwater space known as the Seam. Sam, played by Norman Reedus, is one of these repatriates. He’s also something of a post-apocalyptic delivery man, shuttling supplies from one settlement to the next. Early in the game, he’s given a particularly ambitious task: reunite America (now known as the UCA, or United Cities of America) by traveling across the country, connecting settlements to a sort of internet-like network. At the same time, Sam is trying to reach the west coast of the country to rescue his sister who has been captured by a terrorist organization.

David Erlich at IndieWire is calling it the best video game movie ever made.

Massive, moody, and — as usual for the video game auteur — weird as hell. The open-world experience has enough contemplative moments to make it feel like a “Grand Theft Auto” sequel directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, and it’s the greatest achievement yet from the most eccentric and forward-thinking designer of a medium in which virtually every large-scale project is created by committee.

But what I’d like to draw your attention to is where Kojima’s vision intersects with fashion and design. As Ryan Epps says at TheGamer, Death Stranding Is A Tangled Web Of Designer Collaborations.

Kojima not only intends on reshaping the landscape of conventional open-world gaming (and redefining the meaning of genre itself), but has his eyes set on revolutionizing narrative design and video game cinematography by way of listless immersion.

The motorbike is a collaboration with Norman Reedus’ television show The Ride, glasses are designed by French eyewear brand J.F.Rey, and some of the better looking clothing is designed by Errolson Hugh’s Acronym. While it edges (perhaps goes over for some) into product placement, it goes further, being co-designed for the game and each informing the other. The collaborations span the globe and form a mix to draw in more fans.

As so exemplified by these varied artists, designers, and thinkers, Kojima’s project will boast some of the most interesting forms of immersive insight. Much like how the gameplay itself finds players drawing the world back together in a time of hardship and desolation, the game’s own creation has been a global project that will, in essence, capture the hearts and minds of so many gamers just by the sheer amount of worldwide influence present in its DNA.

For my part, the collaboration with Acronym ( Hypebeast has a few details and pictures about the collaboration ) is especially of interest with Hugh’s design already being so adjacent to near-future fiction and cyberpunk aesthetics. According to GQ, he Sees the Future and he has been having this same kind of bidirectional influence with William Gibson for years.

Please dig through some of the links above if you like this aesthetic and keep an eye on these kinds of collaborations in world building, which are bound to multiply and “attach” more domains of gaming, movies, design, and architecture together.

Revisit the history of the scroll bar

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 04, 2019

Revisit the history of the scroll bar

This is the kind of thing fin to look through while at the same time wondering “you did what now??” Sébastien Matos researched and recreated the scrollbars of various operating systems of the last thirty years. Grayson Blackmon at The Verge goes through all of them and gives his “very serious review of scroll bars through history.”

It’s part of the Information mesh projects by the The ECAL study group, part of the swissnex Salon.

Information Mesh is a web platform celebrating the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web that explores social, technical, cultural and legal facts throughout different interactive timelines. … The timelines present an overview of Web history, starting with the proposal for hypertext by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in 1989, initially under the name “Information Mesh.” From this start date, users can then explore 30 years of evolution.