Links, February 2023


links germany japan history language web money science

Well, we moved to Germany (we know!), so I’ve been correcting some of my gaps in recent German history by reading the lengthy Wikipedia page on German reunification. In terms of online life, that’s the only real giveaway that I’ve moved in the real world. The rest of the anglophone media roar rolls along as before with two notable edits. I’ve completely cut out the very high volume Westminster insider newsletter I used to read first thing every morning (why?) and I’ve generally reduced my intake of UK news to a minimum.

In other non-English news, AI has been used for something good! Researchers are uploading photographs of fragments of ancient Babylonian inscriptions and letting an AI do the work of trying to put them back together to make readable texts. One such text is this poem about spring arriving in Babylon:

The river Arahtu,
– created by Nudimmud, the Lord of Wisdom – Waters
the plain, drenches the reeds,
Pours out its waters into lagoon and sea.
It’s blooming and green on his fields,
The meadows shimmer with fresh grain;
Thanks to him the corn piles up in heaps and heaps,
Grass grows high for pasture for the flocks,
With riches and splendor befitting mankind,
[All is] covered in glorious abundance.

In Japan, an exceedingly lovely-looking Ghibli Park has opened up and it has this charming website with an animated map. The park sets itself apart as a sort of anti-Disneyland. “There are no big attractions or rides in Ghibli Park. Take a stroll, feel the wind, and discover the wonders.”

This Garden of Blogs is another hand-picked web ring in the old fashion. It’s a mixture of magazine articles, experiments, personal websites and experiments. All the links are presented in a deliberately inefficient way, forcing you to stop and explore them one by one by hovering over the emojis in the virtual dirt. In my filter bubble, there’s a general movement away from the aggregate and towards the analog and handmade (ridiculous though those concepts are when talking about digital products). Big data is, after all, dead.

This blogger hypothesises progress bars that sound like birdsong, an ambient audio cue that you only sort of notice when it’s finished.

The idea of making a soundscape of the workings of the machine has been around for a while of course but I’ve found it hard to see a plausible route to get there in this era of notifications. A room of dinging things would be torture.
I would love it if sitting in my home office had the ambient sound of a rainforest. Everything, I would think, listening, is working as it should.
The frogs are reaching a crescendo! (I am about to get a notification that a job has finished, I think to myself.)\

Room tone is the sound a room makes when there’s nothing happening inside of it. Each year, Criterion edit together the moments at the beginning of their interviews from that year, when their subject sat and was recorded doing nothing at all. The subjects' personalities come through in funny ways when they’re forced to just sit still.

This interactive explainer demonstrates why wealth accumulates in the hands of the few unless actively checked. The explanation is really well done. I’m kind of jealous of the combination of skills it takes to produce something like this, to fully use the web to the best of its educative potential. The same goes for this very in depth explainer about how GPS works.

Paul Ford is just good at using words to explain things about the web.