Discover more from That Space Cadet Glow
That Space Cadet Glow #117
Issue 117 - 30th March 2021
In this edition, I try to get my head around NFTs, and work out why it's bad to walk with your 'phone. Plus some nostalgic reminiscences about cassette tapes, and some amazing drone footage whizzing around a bowling alley. The masthead is another from a series called Lost Astronaut by Alicia Framis. I only found the source of last months photo whilst searching for an image for this month, so it gives me the chance to properly credit her.
Taking the Fun out of Non-Fungible
Something strange always happens when the worlds of technology and art come together. You will remember the AI-created artworks that have sold for tens of thousands of dollars, but with Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) things get weirder still. As their name suggests, NFTs establish the non-reproducible ownership of an original version of a digital piece of art. Digital art is, of course, infinitely fungible, and owning an NFT does not stop everyone from copying that piece, all it does is provide the bragging rights of having the very first one. The tokens live on the blockchain and can be sold and resold just as with other pieces of art. Although they have been around for a little while, NFTs have been making the news in the past few weeks because of a few big headline sales; a digital artist called Beeple sold 'Everydays: The First 5000 Days' at Christies for $69 million. The sale positions him “among the top three most valuable living artists,” according to the auction house. Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, sold his first ever tweet for $2.9 million. And, in the crossover-of-all-crossovers, an AI-enabled robot called Sophia created a painting which was sold along with a video of the event, for $700,000. Behind the headlines though is a hive of activity of NFT buying and selling, mainly in marketplaces such as OpenSea. Cryptopunks, for example, are a collection of 10,000 low-resolution images of faces (like the one shown here), but each one sells for an average of 15 Ethereum ($26,000) and the total value of all Cryptopunk sales now stands at over $200 million. There is a bit of a self-fullfilling market going on here as most of the buyers are bloackchain entrepreneurs - the uncertainty of the NFT market (including the fact that they can in practice be separated from the digital good to which they are tied, and the large energy demand from the blockchain) is explained well in this article from The Economist. One of the good things about the technology is that anyone can sell their digital creations as NFTs, and Opensea does have a long tail of 'artworks' with zero bids, but Quartz Magazine managed to sell an NFT of an article they wrote about NFTs for $1,800. Wait...perhaps I should be selling original versions of this newsletter?
The technology that slows us down
In the olden days (2019), when we used to walk through underground stations, there was always that irritation of the people looking at their 'phone whilst walking along, blissfully unaware that they were slowing everyone else down. But exactly how much of an impact can a few people looking on their 'phones make on a big crowd? The answer, according to some researchers from Japan, is a lot. Their experiment, which has been published in the Science Advances journal, had two groups walking towards each other, initially with everyone paying attention. As expected, lanes of people naturally developed as those at the front anticipated the moves of the oncoming pedestrians. But with some of the group doing tasks on their phones, the change was dramatic. The lanes took much longer to form, and those on their 'phones made much more pronounced manoeuvres, making it even more difficult to predict their moves. Just 3 distracted people could change the behaviour of the whole crowd of more than 50 people. Of course, no one is going to ban people from looking at their 'phones whilst they walk along, so we may just have to get used to a much more inefficient way of navigating our cities. What technology gives, technology can take away.
"I can't express my emotions so I made this mixtape for you..."
Everyone is talking about the revival of vinyl records, but what about the humble cassette tape? For those of you under a certain age, cassette tapes were the Spotify playlists of the 70s and 80s, and they had a huge impact on the way that we consumed and thought about music during that period. As well as the pre-recorded ones you could buy in Our Price Records, you could also buy blank tapes and record your own mixtapes, usually expounding your latest teenage angst or love (in my case these were the same things). The Guardian has a lovely list of their readers' favourite mixtapes which perfectly sums up their appeal. I tell you all this because the Dutch inventor of the cassette tape, Lou Ottens, died recently. His motivation was to make music accessible to all by significantly reducing the size of the reel-to-reel recorders that existed at the time. He made a block of wood that would fit in his pocket and used that as his target dimensions. Not only did it become the worldwide standard, but also spawned the Walkman and the world of music on the move that we all take for granted today. Ottens even had a hand in inventing the Compact Disc which took over from both vinyl and tapes. And I'm sure he would be pleased to know that in the last few years cassette tapes are having their own little revival, proof that his 1963 design was pretty much spot on. RIP Lou Ottens.
Bowling Alley fly-through
Not a music selection this month, but a really cool video of a drone fly-through of a Bowling Alley. You just need to watch it.
AI is great at manipulating and enhancing photographs, but not when it accidentally inserts Ryan Gosling's face...