Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain.

A while back, Rick asked me about Bitcoin. Along with the rather alarmed look on my face, I shook my head and said “stay the fuck away from it.” That said, I wasn’t in a position to explain all the reasons why, or the history of it and all that. I just muttered “stay the fuck away” again. Conveniently, David Gerard has a book all about that! Many of you are familiar with Mr. Gerard from Rational Wiki. I got this for Rick, but of course, I had to read it too, because book.

It’s excellent, covers what you need to know, and is informative, entertaining, and sometimes, horrifying. So if you’ve been curious, or thinking maybe you ought to “get in on that”, read first. You can read select excerpts from the book here.

The Intertwining of Trees and Crime.

Screencapture.

There’s been some very interesting research happening in Chicago, and it turns out that trees reduce crime. I don’t find this surprising at all, but I’m a “must be attached to the land” person. When your environment is bleak and desolate, you end up with bleak, desolate, desperate people. We need to be aware of our earth, we need to be connected to our planet. In urban environments, the best way to restore that connection is with trees. Yes, they are a long-term investment, but that’s good, because it means people are thinking the right way, generations ahead of themselves.

In June, the Chicago Regional Tree Initiative and Morton Arboretum released what they say is the most comprehensive tree canopy data set of any region in the U.S., covering 284 municipalities in the Chicago area. Now, that data is helping neighborhoods improve their environments and assist their communities.

“When we go to talk to communities,” says Lydia Scott, director of the CRTI, “We say ‘trees reduce crime.’ And then they go, ‘Explain to me how that could possibly be, because that’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard.’”

In Chicago, where more than 2,000 people have been shot this year, scientists are looking at physical features of neighborhoods for solutions. “We started to look at where we have heavy crime, and whether there was a correlation with tree canopy, and often, there is,” says Scott. “Communities that have higher tree population have lower crime. Areas where trees are prevalent, people tend to be outside, mingling, enjoying their community.”

The map revealed that poorer neighborhoods are often “tree deserts,” areas with little or no tree canopy. Trees reduce flooding, improve property values, prevent heat islands, promote feelings of safety, reduce mortality, and provide other significant social and health benefits. This means that when you live in, for example, the South Side, where trees are scarcer, you lose more than just green leaves overhead.

Never before have researchers been able to look so widely and deeply at this sort of data. The map is huge—it covers seven counties—and extremely detailed. That has allowed Scott and her colleagues to notice some startling patterns. For example, in the North Shore community—an affluent, lakeside, suburban area—canopy cover tends to be 40 percent or higher. On the economically depressed South Side, canopy can be as low as 7 percent.

That last is no surprise, either. As it goes with people, the poorer you are, the less of everything you get, including trees. There’s much more to the article, all the research, how it was conducted, and information about Blacks in Green, who are doing stellar work. Click on over to Atlas Obscura for the full story. Then see if you could help plant a tree. Or just hug one.

The First Photographs of a Solar Eclipse.

William and Frederick Langenheim, “Eclipse of the Sun” (1854), daguerreotype (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art).

On this August 21, a total solar eclipse will be viewable across North America, a rare occurrence that will likely be greeted by a wave of iPhones and digital cameras raised to the sky. Although photographing an eclipse relies a bit on luck, timing, and preparation, our ability to document the celestial event is more accessible than ever. In the 19th century, it took years of experimentation with the newly invented photographic medium to successfully capture a fleeting eclipse.

Attempts at solar eclipse photography are recorded going back to 1842, including Gian Alessandro Majocchi’s photograph of a partial eclipse taken on July 8 in Milan (an image which has not survived). Stefan Hughes, author of Catchers of the Light on the history of astrophotography, writes on his blog that Majocchi’s daguerreotypes only caught the before and after of the totality (or total obscuring of the sun), with the ultimate eclipse just a big blank. It wasn’t until the eclipse of July 28, 1851 that the moment of eclipse was successfully photographed. At the Royal Prussian Observatory in Königsberg (today’s Kaliningrad in Russia), a daguerreotypist named Johann Julius Friedrich Berkowski carefully exposed a plate through a small refracting telescope attached to a heliometer. The daguerreotype revealed the moon perfectly positioned over the sun, exposing the solar corona for the first time in photography, hovering like a halo around the darkness.

You can read and see more about these fascinating ventures in astrophotography at Hyperallergic.

Amazon Doesn’t Care About Your Eyes, So…

A total solar eclipse in Norway in 2015. Nesvold, Jon Olav / Reuters.

Eclipse fever has hit, hard, and a whole lot of areas are bracing themselves, hoping for the best. It’s all well and good to want to see an eclipse, it’s exciting, lots to ooh and aaah over, but it’s not worth permanently damaging your eyes, and there’s been an unprecedented demand for eclipse glasses, and a great many people are heading straight to Amazon for them, and Amazon has no oversight when it comes to properly rated specs. There’s a wealth of counterfeit specs on the market.

[…] APO itself has done the same. Jason Lewin, the company’s director of marketing, says APO started to notice the counterfeits showing up on Amazon about a month ago. Since then, they’ve ordered some of the products, tested them, and sent Amazon photos and documentation of the counterfeits. Both Lewin and APO president John Jerit have been frustrated by the lack of response. They’re late to the game with this,” says Jerit. “Some of the legitimate resellers we’ve got, they’ve been complaining and complaining about this.

“[Counterfeiting] isn’t new to Amazon but this isn’t fidget spinners,” adds Lewin. “These are supposed to be things to keep you safe.”

All this has made me suspicious about my own glasses. The ones I bought have all the right words printed on them: “meets the Transmission Requirements of ISO 12312-2” they say, before going on to list a slew of other standards allegedly met. Then at the end: “Mfg. by: American Paper Optics.”

But the Amazon listing didn’t actually say American Paper Optics manufactured the lenses; it just showed up with the Tennessee-based company’s stamp on it. I ask Lunt how I could tell if what I had was the real deal or a knock-off, and he tells me to look at the earpieces. There’s a design element that’s been generic among all of cardboard glasses for years (remember those red-and-blue lensed 3D glasses?): the part of the cardboard frame that hooks over the ears has a rounded end. APO recently changed their design to have a more squared-off earpiece.

No surprise, my 10-pack all have rounded ears, the scarlet letter of phoniness.

Top: the real American Paper Optics glasses; Bottom: a photo of counterfeit glasses sold as “American Paper Optics” on Amazon.

As you can see, a bit of care is needed to make sure you aren’t endangering your eyes if you’re going to be an eclipse hunter this month. Quartz has an in-depth article about this, and NASA has guidelines available, too.

Be sure you’re safe, check and doublecheck those specs!

The Cultural Force of Science Fiction.

“L’an 2000” (“The year 2000,” 1901), print on cardboard; a collection of uncut sheets for confectionery cards showing life imagined in the future (photo by the author for Hyperallergic). Click for full size.

LONDON — The 1982 film Blade Runner imagined 2019 Los Angeles as a dystopia of noirish neon and replicants, robots sent to do hard labor on off-world colonies. It’s a future in which engineered beings are so close to humans as to make the characters question the very nature of life. We’re now just a couple of years from this movie’s timeline, and although our robots are still far from mirroring humanity, our science fiction continues to envision giant leaps in technology that are often rooted in contemporary concerns of where our innovations are taking us.

Patrick Gyger, curator of Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction at the Barbican Centre, told Hyperallergic that, for him, science fiction “allows creators to look beyond the horizon of knowledge and play with concepts and situations.” The exhibition is a sprawling examination of the genre of science fiction going back to the 19th century, with over 800 works. These include film memorabilia, vintage books, original art, and even a kinetic sculpture in a lower-level space by Conrad Shawcross. “In Light of The Machine” has a huge, robotic arm twisting within a henge-like circle of perforated walls, so visitors can only glimpse its strange dance at first, before moving to the center and seeing that it holds one bright light at the end of its body.

[…]

The exhibition shows, but does not dwell on, who has been left out of a history mostly shaped by white men (there are rare exceptions on view, like the “Astro Black” video installation by Soda_Jerk that muses on Sun Ra’s theories of Afrofuturism). It would be worthwhile to spend more time on figures who broke through these barriers, such as author Octavia Butler. As discussed on a recent podcast from Imaginary Worlds, her black characters were sometimes portrayed as white on her book covers to make them more appealing to science fiction readers. The exhibition could also have a deeper context for why certain veins of science fiction are prominent in particular eras, and perhaps question why we don’t have a lot of science fiction narratives on current crises like climate change. For instance, the much smaller 2016 exhibition Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780–1910 from the Smithsonian Libraries compared milestones like Mary Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus with physician Luigi Galvani’s “animal electricity” experiments on animating dead frog legs, and highlighted how Jules Verne channeled the doomed Franklin expedition in his 1864 book The Adventures of Captain Hatteras.

Nevertheless, having an exhibition like Into the Unknown at a mainstream space like the Barbican is significant, showing the art world appreciates science fiction beyond kitsch. And science fiction continues to be one of our important portals for thinking about the ramifications of our technological choices, and where they might take us.

You can read and see much, much more at Hyperallergic. Fascinating!

Adobe Researches Digital Colour Mixing.

Researchers at software brand Adobe have developed a prototype tool that allows users to mix colours on screen as if they were working in real paint.

Playful Palette offers artists and illustrators an alternative to the standard colour picker that most graphics software, such as Adobe Photoshop, relies on. Users would be able to blend colours more easily and compare different shades.

The tool is based on research into the ways artists work in traditional media – and the shortcomings they experience with digital counterparts.

The Adobe Research team set out to create a user interface that could replicate the variations of a physical palette, with the ability to mix colours and compare combinations of shades.

“Choosing and composing colours is a critical part of any painting process,” the Adobe Research team of Maria Shugrina, Jingwan Lu and Stephen Diverdi wrote in a paper on the subject.

“We conducted a pilot study that found artists interact with their palette several times a minute, and many of the interactions, such as exploring harmonising colours, are not well supported by digital colour pickers.”

Playful Palette is designed in contrast to the usual sliders or swatches that many apps rely on. Instead, it allows dabs of colour to be added, moved, blended with other colours or completely deleted. Blobs are moved by touching and dragging, to recall the tangibility of real paint and paper.

A ring surrounds the palette and records a history of shades used – allowing the user to easily return to them. Entire colours can also be selected and swapped out for new ones, allowing the details of an image to be updated all at once. Playful Palette can also record an infinite number of “dishes”.

Dezeen has the full story.  One of the commenters linked a petition to Adobe to place a reasonable price on their products for students. I’d say how about a reasonable price for everyone? There’s a reason I still run pshop 6. The amount of money adobe wants for pshop is piracy, especially when you consider how many people buy at least one or more programs from them. I would love a current edition of pshop, but there are a lot of people who are not walking around with a spare $400 to $800 bucks in their pocket. It’s not like Adobe really cuts the price all that much for upgrades, either. I think they have enough money that they could easily pull the price into a much more reasonable range for all people. That said, playful palette sounds great!

Tour The International Space Station.

Float in space w/ new @Google Street View of @Space_Station! See Where crew exercise, conduct @ISS_Research + more: bit.ly/2uMmTif

Very cool!

Via Raw Story.

Romancing The Gibbet.

For those who prefer their tourism a bit on the grisly side of history, There’s Romancing The Gibbet, a new app.

Academics from Bristol in southwest England have developed a mobile phone app that alerts walkers when they pass some of the goriest sites from the region’s history.

As part of a project called “Romancing the Gibbet”, the University of the West of England has funded a series of audioguides that play excerpts of 250-year-old ballads and court proceedings as listeners pass the scenes of notorious crimes.

“The extraordinary 18th century practice of hanging and sometimes gibbeting selected felons – exhibiting their bodies to public view in iron cages – at the scene of their crime was intended to leave an indelible and exemplary impression on disorderly villages and small towns,” the university said.

There’s more at Reuters, including some of the specific murders and murderers who are part of the touring app.

Net Neutrality: A Foreshadowing.

Screencap via GIPHY.

Sites across the web today devote their digital real estate to protecting net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission regulations that ensure every website can be accessed at equal speed and convenience. If you’ve visited Reddit, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Google, or Netflix, you may have read that these Obama-era regulations preventing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from charging extra for faster web connections are in danger, thanks, in part, to FCC chief Ajit Pai. The principle behind these regulations is that the internet, like water and electricity, is a utility that everyone should have equal access to. Without the internet, it’s nearly impossible to participate in modern society.

So, for a glimpse into the future of a net without neutrality, we’ve gathered 10 infuriating loading screen GIFs from artists like Alex Apostolides and Nikita Liskov. Spoiler: they never end. For more details on how net neutrality works and the specific threat facing it today, click here. But to feel the pain of a future without it, simply scroll on down.

And it is painful, believe me. I get enough of this painful already with Verizon, it does not need to be worse, but that’s what we all have to look forward to, unfortunately.

To learn how you can help protect net neutrality, click here.

There’s more at The Creators Project.

Cool Stuff Friday.

Alexey Kondakov.

Ukranian multimedia artist Alexey Kondakov flexes his Photoshop prowess to take characters from classical paintings and transport them into everyday  scenes in his series “Art History in Contemporary Life”. The ongoing project sees the artist take banal photographs of contemporary urban life — from subway cars to waiting rooms and trash-filled alleyways, and inserting figures from paintings by the likes of Bouguereau and Holbein. In doing so, Kondakov creates a playful meditation on the nature of time, overlapping époques and cultural contexts. See more of his work on his Facebook page.

You can see more at iGNANT.

File this under Want. As a whole house full of want. It’s a chair which is also a bookshelf, which is in turn, part of the larger bookshelf. This is brilliance. You can see much more and read all about it at iGNANT.

Danli Hu.

A thought-provoking project by interactive designer Danli Hu reminds us that reality has never been concrete. Made for Hu’s graduate program in Design and Technology at New York’s Parson’s the New School, Touching the Void allows users to feel objects that aren’t really there.

“Humans are visual animals; we rely on our eyes and believe the world is exactly like what we see. We think an object physically exists in our real world because we can perceive it with our eyes and feel it with our hands. Creating a virtual object, which is unseeable but provides physical sensations despite its invisibility, challenges people’s definition about virtual and reality,” explains Hu on her website.

You can see and read more at The Creators Project.