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Delicate Sketches of the Original Peace Symbol to be Exhibited in London

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Sketch of nuclear disarmament symbol, by Gerald Holtom. © Commonweal Collection.

Stretching back over a half century, one of the most iconic symbols adopted by the international community has been the peace symbol. Utilized by millions of activists, organizations, and artists across the globe, most people are probably unfamiliar with the design’s unique origins and the meaning behind the multi-pronged symbol.

Artist Gerald Holtom created the symbol for the first Aldermaston March in 1958, part of a series of anti-nuclear weapon demonstrations in the 1950s and 1960s. The symbol was next adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and soon peace groups around the world displayed it in a variety of configurations. But what exactly does it mean?

Holtom designed the peace symbol around the visual language of flag semaphores, a telegraphy method for communicating with flags at a distance, combining the letters “N” and “D” standing for “nuclear” and “disarmament.”

Flag semaphores for the letters “N” and “D” and an overlay. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Holtom’s original 1958 sketches are now in extremely fragile condition and are rarely seen in public. However, a few of them, along with 300 objects from a century of anti-war activist campaigns in the UK, will be on view as part of People Power: Fighting for Peace at the Imperial War Museum in London from March 23 through August 28, 2017. You can read more about the peace symbol’s history over on Hyperallergic.

Hey art and design teachers, here’s a fun project idea: have students create new symbols of ideas important to them using flag semaphores or some other symbolic alphabet as a starting point. Send the results to tips@thisiscolossal.com by March 20, 2017 with the subject ‘Peace Project‘ and we’ll share our favorites here on Colossal.

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gevil
3 days ago
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São Paulo -- Brazil
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Fat Zebras

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When presenting data tables, we recommend stripping away backgrounds and grids and using alignment, formatting, and whitespace to guide the eye along the rows and columns of the data. 

But what if you have lots of rows with many columns that stretch across a screen or page? Or perhaps you have large gaps between fields because of varying text lengths. In both these cases, tracking across rows can be difficult.

To combat this, Stephen Few recommends zebra striping, where a light shaded colour is used on alternating rows to aid scanning across.

Problem solved, right?  

Maybe not. They’re almost always poorly done.  If your fill colour is too dark, it overemphasizes rows that shouldn’t be and hampers vertical scrolling. Even with subtle shading, it’s like looking through a pair of those horrible shutter sunglasses from the eighties. Worst of all, they might not even help. A List Apart ran a study that suggests zebra stripes don’t actually increase accuracy or speed.

For both aesthetic and performance reasons, I suggest we find an alternative. I propose fat zebras.

Fat zebras have less visual noise because they switch back and forth less frequently. As for tracking, I find them even easier, simply following the top, middle, or bottom row of the filled section across. (We will have to wait for a follow-up study to see if they actually help - it seems people don’t prefer the look of them on smaller tables, but there is no indication on their performance.)

One potential drawback to consider when using fat zebras is ‘implied grouping’. Depending on your data set, people may think the fill colours indicate that data share some specific quality. For this reason, it is vitally important, as with regular stripes, that the background fill be as subtle as possible. I would also recommend avoiding it when there are only a few rows of data visible as it’s even more likely to appear as data grouping.

Edward Tufte claims that “good typography can always organize a table, no stripes needed.” When working with large tables, however, I prefer to show my stripes, even if they are fat.
 



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gevil
5 days ago
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São Paulo -- Brazil
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Emma Lazarus data science

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closeup of an ngram of the emma lazarus poem "the new colossus"

In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus”, one of the most famous American poems ever. In it, she imagines the Statue of Liberty overlooking the New York harbor and welcoming immigrants who are fleeing oppression.

You have, without doubt, heard this part:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”

They’re genuinely stirring lines! American politicians and businesspeople love to quote them, because they beautifully evoke the image of America as a worldwide beacon of liberty. Listen to any speech about immigration, and you’ll hear this passage.

But the poem doesn’t end there. The Statue of Liberty goes on to describe, in more depth, the type of immigrants she’s talking about. Let’s extend the quote a bit further:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

“The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Now, that is a gut-punch of a line. (Purely as a matter of verse, the way those iambs land on the rhyming syllables of the first two words — the WRE-tched RE-fuse — is like a pneumatic naildriver. WHAM WHAM WHAM! I love it.)

But the point is, this additional line complicates the political picture a bit, doesn’t it?

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in the 19th century

Lazarus is talking about people who have been immiserated, mistreated and impoverished. She’s talking about those who’ve been through so much suffering it that can make them hard for comfortable folks to behold: Refuse. And Lazarus isn’t using that word with contempt. She knew many refugees personally. But she understood how serious misery can render a migrant paradoxically unsympathetic to others. And she wrote the poem to turn that psychology on its head: Lady Liberty is specifically urging the despots of other countries to keep their fancy, gilded palaces — and instead, to send the absolutely desperate.

Now, US politicians and business leaders often ululate over the benefits of immigration. But often it feels like they focus on the immigrants who self-evidently would “benefit” the country: The scrappy entrepreneurs who’ll come and start firms! The doctors and architects! The best and the brightest, the ones who understandably crave greater liberties! These politicians and businessfolk seldom seem as eager to embrace the truly desperate — the terrified, beaten-down ones that Lazarus wrote about in her poem: Those who today are fleeing the horrors of Syria, South Sudan, or the conflicts of sub-Saharan Africa.

And you can hear it, I think, in how politicians quote that poem. They’ll very often piously cite the first part of that passage — but only rarely utter the second.

At least, that’s how it seemed to me, as I read the daily news. Then I realized I could test my hypothesis … using Google’s ngram. That’s the tool that lets you input short strings of text and see how their usage has risen or fallen in books over the last hundred-odd years.

Now, you’re only allowed to use phrases up to five words. So I took representative chunks of those lines — “masses yearning to breathe” vs. “wretched refuse of your” — and compared them. Voila:

Screenshot of google ngram comparing two lines from Emma Lazarus' poem The New Colossus

Sure enough, you can see that the lines are quoted at nearly the same rate — until just after WWII, when they begin to diverge. The “huddled masses” become more and more memorable and quoted; the “wretched refuse” fall back. In this divergence we can spy a subtle shift in how America talks to itself about immigration. (You can see and tweak the actual chart itself.)

Granted, there are tons of caveats here, including: i) Google ngram itself. Word-incidence in books isn’t necessarily a super meaningful metric of cultural change. (The books in ngram are global, not just American, of course.) Plus, ii) there might be other ways to chunk the lines that disproves or inverts these results. And more fatally yet, iii) some of the divergence may be a feedback loop. Once the “yearning to breathe free” line got a small early advantage in being-quoted-more-often, it could easily produce a cascade of success, because it would quickly become the only line anyone has ever heard from the poem at all. Latter-day quoters will thus be not so much ignoring the second line as simply unaware it even exists.

Still, I think it’s a fun way to think about the changing meaning of this quintessentially American poem.

Oh, and: Other trivia about “The New Colossus”! One fun fact is that Lazarus wrote it to help raise money for building the base for the Statue of Liberty. And, man, did it need fundraising. People love the statue now, but back then it wasn’t very popular; Congress was unhappy at having to pay for the upkeep of the this gift from France, and many thought it was super ugly. (When the raised hand of liberty, holding the torch, was put on display in Madison Square Park — months before the full statue was complete — it was widely mocked. Montague Marks, an art-magazine editor, wrote that “The torch in the hand of the absent goddess suggests the idea of an immense double tooth which has just been extracted from some unfortunate mastodon, and is held aloft in triumph by the successful operator”).

statue of liberty

Picture by iquinhosilva, via Flickr and CC.

Some people thought the poem was better than the statue. As Esther Schor notes in her biography Emma Lazarus

In “The New Colossus,” as James Russell Lowell wrote, she had invented her own “noble” pedestal for the statue, “saying admirably just the right word to be said, an achievement more arduous than that of the sculptor.” Her sonnet, he noted, provided the statue at last with a “raison d’être”; in fact, he liked it “much better than I like the Statue itself.”

Or to put it another way — the poem was the first thing to explain what the heck the statue meant.

It gave the Statue of Liberty a particular purpose: To be a totem not merely of freedom, but of immigration. Lazarus knew a fair bit about immigration, because she’d been spending time visiting Russian-Jewish refugees who were housed in shelters on Ward’s Island. That’s where her line about “wretched refuse” comes from. She’d seen it firsthand, and could imagine the coming day when the Statue, installed at last, would be the first thing those wretches would see as their boat approached New York’s shore.

So the poem was microfamous when the Statue first went up, but pretty soon people forgot about it. It didn’t come back into the public consciousness until the horrors of WWII loomed. As Schor writes:

In 1935, as the Statue of Liberty approached her fiftieth birthday, a writer for the New York Times Magazine wrote: “If she had a tongue what she could tell!” That Liberty had been given a tongue by Emma Lazarus was noted in a letter to the editor, which quoted all fourteen lines of an obscure sonnet, “The New Colossus.” By the end of the decade, a Slovenian-American immigrant named Louis Adamic had seized upon the sonnet to celebrate the nation’s immigrants and their ethnicities. In Adamic’s hands, the sonnet’s fortunes were transformed and the Statue of Liberty became, for a generation poised to receive thousands of refugees from Hitler’s Europe, once again a “Mother of Exiles.” [snip]

Alfred Hitchcock ended his wartime Saboteur (1942) the crown of the statue, with his heroine quoting the sonnet to an enemy agent. By the end of the war, the plaque bearing the poem had been given a more prominent place at the entrance. With the 1949 Broadway debut of Miss Liberty, composed by the Russian-Jewish immigrant Israel Baline, who went by the name of Irving Berlin, the famous final lines of “The New Colossus” acquired a schmaltzy musical setting, by no means their only one.

Check the ngram chart again: You can see how the poem’s promotion by Adamic — a translator and author himself — helped. It’s precisely around the late 1930s that those famous lines shoot upward together, before diverging.

And by the way, if you haven’t read the poem in its entirety, here you go:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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gevil
5 days ago
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São Paulo -- Brazil
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A Stop Motion Examination of Endless Loading Screens

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Director Rafael Vangelis transforms the unbearable task of watching an endlessly spinning wheel or loading bar into an entertaining and analogue study of self-produced loading mechanisms in his latest short film Analogue Loaders. Using stop motion techniques and traditional animation he turns clay, wood, 3D-printed objects, and even eggs into 3D loaders, dazzling the eye rather than enraging the mind.

Vangelis considers the short film an animated autobiography, as he spends a great chunk of his own life watching projects slowly load and computers crash. “The result,” says Vangelis, “is an homage to all the lost time we collectively spend in digital limbo in the hopes of sudden development on our screen.”

The video was just selected as a Staff Pick on Vimeo. You can see behind-the-scenes video of Analogue Loaders on Vangelis’s website.

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gevil
5 days ago
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Team Chat

8 Comments and 28 Shares
2078: He announces that he's finally making the jump from screen+irssi to tmux+weechat.
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gevil
47 days ago
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São Paulo -- Brazil
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7 public comments
stsquad
46 days ago
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Truth
Cambridge, UK
hooges
49 days ago
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IRC, never die!
Topeka, KS
encolpe
50 days ago
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Si true
Lyon, France
emdeesee
50 days ago
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OK, fine. When the galactic singularity becomes an option, I'll consider switching from IRC.
Lincoln, NE
beowuff
50 days ago
Don't worry. It'll still run irc as it's back end, so you can still connect.
Fidtz
50 days ago
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2051, solid 1960's style future prediction there!
Covarr
50 days ago
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What if I'm only still on IRC because the rest of my groups are?
Moses Lake, WA
alt_text_bot
50 days ago
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2078: He announces that he's finally making the jump from screen+irssi to tmux+weechat.

Prismatic Sketches of Hands and Faces by Lui Ferreyra

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Artist Lui Ferreyra draws colorful portraits of hands and faces, works that use discrete shapes of color as highlights and shadows. These geometric fragments are blended by the viewer’s eye rather than the artist’s hand, producing color fields that Ferreyra intends to call attention to the connection between seeing and language.

“There’s a double move at play here,” explains Ferreyra’s website about his work. “The first move is substantiated by a geometric matrix which functions as surface: it embraces and emphasizes the aspect of flatness within a complex network of geometric shapes, each unique unto itself. The second move is fulfilled by the cumulative effect of all the shapes functioning together as a color-field in which each shape contextualizes every other shape, thereby providing all the necessary visual cueing to manifest a kind of window one can look through. Surface and window, at and through, like language which points both at the world and back at itself.”

You can see more of Ferreyra’s colorful drawings, in addition to oil paintings, on InstagramFacebook, or William Havu Gallery where he is represented. (via This Isn’t Happiness)

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gevil
65 days ago
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