Monthly Archives: January 2018

Really noticing the world around us

A pair of photographers whose work makes me question whether I live in the same world as them, as nothing looks like that round here. But maybe that’s the thing – it does, but I’m just not noticing.

Metropolis: Bauhaus-inspired urban photography
In his series Metropolis, photographer Alan Schaller interprets the disconnection between people in the digital age. The series examines the way in which we are dwarfed by the world around us, and how that feels. Schaller was born in London, where Metropolis also began. The majority of the photographs were taken on the streets candidly, because Schaller wanted them to convey a true sense of urban life in its many facets.

Photographer Jonathan Higbee discovers a world of coincidence on the streets of New York
For over a decade, photographer Jonathan Higbee has walked the streets of New York with a camera in-hand, spotting extraordinary juxtapositions and unusual moments when the world aligns for a split second in front of his lens. At times he manages to completely erase the boundaries between manufactured imagery found in billboards or signage that pollute the city streets and captures anonymous passersby who seem to live in an alternate reality.

Capita? As in SIMS Capita?

Here’s one of several articles about Capita’s profit warning announced today:

Capita shares plunge 35% after outsourcing giant announces shock profit warning and rights issue
New chief executive Jonathan Lewis, who took up the role on 1 December, said “significant change” was needed to get Capita back on track. He said an “immediate priority” was to strengthen the group’s balance sheet, with plans to raise as much as £700m in a rights issue, as well as slashing costs after finding “significant scope” for savings and aims to sell off unprofitable businesses.

Some have the shares dropping by as much as 45%, but this headline caught my eye:

Capita collapse could create bigger headache than Carillion’s demise
A potential collapse of Capita could create an even more of a headache for the public sector than Carillion since it is the biggest supplier of local government services in the UK, according to Tussell data. “If Capita were to fail the ensuing political fallout would make Carillion look like a tea party,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

Too big to fail, surely?

Getting lost trying to follow the money

I tried to explain to my better half what Bitcoin and the blockchain were all about. My explanation was muddled, to say the least. Here are some articles that I need to re-read, if any of it’s going to sink in.

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies – what digital money really means for our future
[T]his speculative bubble could end with a crash so severe that it destroys faith in the entire sector, driving the investors out, bankrupting the miners who’ve spent thousands or millions on single-purpose hardware that requires a high bitcoin price to turn a profit, and leaving cryptocurrencies as a technological dead-end alongside cold fusion and jetpacks. But maybe things will continue as they have done for the past five years. Cryptocurrencies’ actual use stays stable, mostly illegal, largely underground, and completely disconnected from a market price that fluctuates wildly based on the whims of a class of financial speculators with little link to the ground truth. Instability, it turns out, is an oddly stable and predictable state of affairs.

Kodak, the blockchain and cryptocurrency: how Kodak is tapping into technology
Kodak’s platform takes the whole photography and imaging industry to a new level with the features of distributed ledger technology like encryption, decentralization, immutability, transparency, and security being utilized to create a digital ledger of ‘ownership rights’ for photographers. The digital ledger will secure the work of photographers by registering work and then allowing them to license the same for use (buy/sell) within the platform. KODAKCoin will be the currency to operate on the platform and will allow participating photographers, both professional and amateur, to receive payment for licensed work almost instantly via Smart Contracts.
economics technology photography

Bitcoin’s energy usage is huge – we can’t afford to ignore it
The economic outcome of all of this is laid bare in a Credit Suisse briefing note published on Tuesday: the network as a whole will reinvest almost all the bitcoin paid out as mining rewards back into its electricity consumption. (Credit Suisse’s ballpark figure assumes that 80% of the expenses of bitcoin miners are spent on electricity).

Blockchain’s broken promises
Boosters of blockchain technology compare its early days to the early days of the Internet. But whereas the Internet quickly gave rise to email, the World Wide Web, and millions of commercial ventures, blockchain’s only application – cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – does not even fulfill its stated purpose.

Pernicious Facebook

There’s a Pernicious Anaemia page on Facebook, but not an actual Pernicious Facebook page. Perhaps I should start one. I’m sure George Soros would give me a like.

George Soros: Facebook and Google a menace to society
“Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment,” said the Hungarian-American businessman, according to a transcript of his speech. “This is particularly nefarious because social media companies influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This has far-reaching adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy, particularly on the integrity of elections.”

There’s more from him on his webpage. (I’m guessing he doesn’t have a Facebook page.)

George Soros: Remarks delivered at the World Economic Forum
Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age. Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy. The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies. It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called “the freedom of mind.” There is a possibility that once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it. This may have far-reaching political consequences. People without the freedom of mind can be easily manipulated.

You wouldn’t think those in charge of these social media companies would agree, but perhaps they do?

‘Never get high on your own supply’ – why social media bosses don’t use social media
“It’s possible that in 20 years we’ll look back at the current generation of children and say: ‘Look, they are socially different from every other generation of humans that came before and as a result this is a huge problem and maybe we need to regulate these behaviours.’ Or perhaps we’ll look back and say: ‘I don’t know what the fuss was – I’m not sure why we were so concerned.’ Until we have some evidence, until there’s something that seems tangible, I think it’s going to be very hard to get people en masse to change how they behave.”

Ambivalent, to say the least.

I’ve heard of ‘gutter’ politics…

Trump asked to borrow a Van Gogh, and the Guggenheim offered him a gold toilet
“We are pleased that they are interested in demonstrating their support for the arts… I am sorry, however, to inform you that we are unable to participate in this loan,” it begins. “Fortuitously, a marvellous work by the celebrated contemporary Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan, is coming off view today after a year’s installation at the Guggenheim, and he would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan…. The work beautifully channels the history of 20th-century avant-garde art by referencing Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal of 1917.”

Indeed. And speaking of Duchamp’s Fountain, here’s a great story from Brian Eno.

When Brian Eno and other artists peed in Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal
I thought, how ridiculous that this particular … pisspot gets carried around the world at—it costs about thirty or forty thousand dollars to insure it every time it travels. I thought, How absolutely stupid, the whole message of this work is, “You can take any object and put it in a gallery.” It doesn’t have to be that one, that’s losing the point completely. And this seemed to me an example of the art world once again covering itself by drawing a fence around that thing, saying, “This isn’t just any ordinary piss pot, this is THE one, the special one, the one that is worth all this money.” So I thought, somebody should piss in that thing, to sort of bring it back to where it belonged. So I decided it had to be me.

And for more Trump-inspired art, check out Edel Rodriguez’s magazine cover artworks for Der Spiegel and Time.

Truth with a small t but a capital Trump

This book about Trump seems to be less biography and more gossip column. But I guess that’s appropriate?

Fire and Fury is a perfectly postmodern White House book
If Michael Wolff is writing fiction in Fire and Fury, this is the kind of fiction he is writing. Indeed, at the very beginning of the book, in an author’s note, Wolff declares himself an unreliable narrator: “Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book,” he writes. The traditional promise of the journalist is to find the single, fundamental truth obscured by all the partial, biased accounts he elicits. But Wolff explicitly declines to make that promise; he offers not the story but a whole chorus of stories.

Dry January, by the book

Don’t know why we make such a fuss over Dry January, it’s not as if there’s a problem, right?

From mother’s ruin to modern tipple: how the UK rediscovered gin
There are 315 distilleries in Britain – more than double the number operating five years ago. According to figures collected by HM Revenue & Customs, which hands out licences to produce spirits, nearly 50 opened last year, while just a handful shut up shop. Demand for interesting gins, made by small scale craft and artisan producers has driven a near-20% rise in the total amount of the juniper-flavoured spirit sold.

Not content to just drink it, there is now “the UK’s first gin spa, where visitors can indulge in a juniper foot soak and a gin tasting menu.”

But anything that’s good enough for Orwell is good enough for me.

The place of gin in Orwell’s 1984
One of the few permitted vices in Nineteen Eighty-Four is Victory Gin, which oils the outer party and offers suggestions of Englishness and party power: it’s always served with clove bitters, implying that Oceania’s boots are on the ground in Asia. Chemistry professor Shirley Lin wrote an interesting post about gin’s place in Orwell’s dystopia.

Oily gin: a chemist’s perspective on 1984
Can one shed tears of gin? Orwell describes one of Winston’s childhood memories involving an old man who “reeked of gin” to such a degree that one could imagine “[tears] welling from his eyes were pure gin” (page 33). In the last paragraph of the book, Winston’s tears at the end of the book are also “gin-scented” (page 297). While I was unable to find any studies examining the presence of alcohol in human tears, ethanol in the sweat of continuous drinkers has been detected and quantified.

Roll on February. I think.

Tackling loneliness

Steps from the government, as well as research from the Co-op Group.

May appoints minister to tackle loneliness issues raised by Jo Cox
“I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones – people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.” May paid tribute to Cox’s work, saying she hoped the initiative would aim “to see that, in Jo’s memory, we bring an end to the acceptance of loneliness for good”.

Loneliness is harming our society. Your kindness is the best cure
The commission will be outlining its thinking at the end of the year with requests for government and business. But we’ll also be explaining how we all have a role to play. Jo knew this. She said that tackling loneliness is “something many of us could easily help with – whether looking in on a neighbour, visiting an elderly relative or making that call or visit we’ve been promising to a friend”.

What loneliness costs UK employers
Our latest research shows 4 key ways that loneliness is a financial cost to employers. 1. Sickness absence associated with ill health effects of loneliness costs £20 million. 2. Lost working days caring for someone suffering from the ill health effects of loneliness costs £220 million. 3. Reduced productivity costs related to lower wellbeing from loneliness are £665 million. 4. Costs associated with increased voluntary staff ‘turnover’ are £1.62 billion.

 

 

Taking your mind for a stroll

I’ve been lucky enough to have jobs that have allowed me to take a stroll most lunchtimes, to get my eyes away from my monitor for a while. Here’s a great article on the rejuvenating powers of walking.

Walking as creative fuel: a splendid 1913 celebration of how solitary walks enliven “the country of the mind”
In a sentiment which, today, radiates a gentle admonition against the self-defeating impulse to evacuate the moment in order to capture it — in a status update, in an Instagram photo — Grahame observes: “Not a fiftieth part of all your happy imaginings will you ever, later, recapture, note down, reduce to dull inadequate words; but meantime the mind has stretched itself and had its holiday.”

A time before Excel?

An article from 1984 about these crazy new electronic ledger sheets, or “spreadsheets”.

A spreadsheet way of knowledge
There is no doubt that the electronic spreadsheet saves time and provides insight; there is no doubt that even greater benefits will one day be derived from these grids. Yet all these benefits will be meaningless if the spreadsheet metaphor is taken too much to heart. After all, it is only a metaphor. Fortunately, few would argue that all relations between people can be quantified and manipulated by formulas. Of human behaviour, no faultless assumptions – and so no perfect model — can be made.

I wonder what the author would have made of the Quantified Self movement, that attempts to incorporate data from a person’s daily life into various formulas and models. Spreadsheets are everywhere now, not just in the office of accountants from Cincinnati.