Notre-Dame Cathedral, an iconic structure built for the ages, survives.

Before the fire: Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

No matter how busy people may have been in their daily activities this past Monday, it’s likely that many took a few minutes to read or watch – and then talk about — the devastating fire at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris.

Along with the Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame may well be the most iconic structure in the city. Personally, I know many friends and relatives who have made it a point to visit the cathedral during their trips to Paris.  So it isn’t surprising that so many people all over the world would feel the tragedy in a personal way.

One of them is my brother, Nelson Nones, who has had a lifelong interest in Gothic architecture. Because he is someone who studied architecture and who has also visited Notre-Dame, I reached out to him for his assessment of the fire damage and what may be the future of the cathedral.

Here is what Nelson wrote in reply:

Watching the fiery collapse of Notre-Dame Cathedral’s central spire on TV yesterday was a truly sickening sight. As a student of Gothic architecture, and having visited most of France’s noteworthy cathedrals, I have many fond memories of Notre-Dame. 

The best of those memories was a Sunday evening pipe organ recital held more than 30 years ago, in 1988, which drew such a large audience that my three oldest children and I had to sit on the floor. Nowhere in the United States, I thought, would a classical pipe organ performance – free or not – attract such a large crowd. I didn’t expect my kids, then between the ages of 10 and 14, to be very impressed, but all of us were deeply moved. 

Nave and choir of Notre-Dame Cathedral during the fire on April 15, 2019. (Photo: Filippe Wojazer, Associated Press)

It’s way too early to know the full extent of fire damage, but the first pictures of the cathedral’s interior to be published as the fire subsided provide some vital clues. The stone vaults above the choir and crossing seem largely intact. (The circular opening at the apex of the vault at the crossing, still glowing with fire in the photos, is original construction.)  

However, in the nave, the vault webbing spanning the two pairs of diagonal ribs nearest the crossing has completely collapsed, as has the cross rib between those diagonals. Because the cathedral’s central spire appeared to topple toward the nave before it crashed, it seems this section bore the brunt of the impact. 

It doesn’t appear that any other vaulting collapsed in the nave. The condition of the vaults above the transepts isn’t visible from available photographs, nor is the state of the priceless stained glass rose windows in the transepts and nave.  

The latest reports indicate that the great organ, begun in 1733 and rebuilt by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1864-67, remains intact. Both the great organ and its console, replaced in 2012, are situated in the grandstand beneath the West rose window, between the cathedral’s iconic towers. It doesn’t appear that the organ was damaged by falling debris, nor did it sustain significant water damage as firefighters struggled to prevent the fire from spreading upward to the belfries. 

The fire completely consumed the cathedral’s wooden roof and central spire, which was undergoing renovation at the time. Thankfully, from an architectural perspective the most important parts of the structure are built of limestone. Stones can crack from high heat, but only the stone vaults and perhaps the inner facade of the North tower appear to have received direct exposure to the fire. The integrity of the cathedral’s pointed arches, flying buttresses and piers, which are its primary structural components and are all made of stone, would have been imperiled to a far greater degree had the fire broken out at the base of the building and spread upward towards the roof. 

Cross-section of Notre-Dame Cathedral. (Timothy Adekunle, after B. Fletcher, A History of Architecture, New York, 1931)

In the Gothic style, the purpose of those arches, buttresses and piers is to transmit the considerable weight of stone vaulting vertically toward the ground. This technique replaced thick outer walls with glass windows in order to fill interiors with light and allow vaults to rise toward imposing heights. Notre-Dame de Paris, begun in 1160, was one of the Early Gothic cathedrals. Its vault rises up to 108 feet but was surpassed during the High Gothic period (c. 1200-1250) by Chartres (117 feet), Reims (125 feet), Amiens (139 feet) and Beauvais (159 feet). The builders of Beauvais, in fact, aimed so high (and reduced the thickness of the flying buttresses so much) that part of the vault collapsed in 1284, and the nave was never built.  

We’ll soon know whether Notre-Dame’s rose windows and other artifacts survived, or not. Reckoning the extent of structural damage to the cathedral, and the time it will take to rebuild, will take longer. It’s clear, though, that much of the stone vaulting that the bulk of this magnificent structure was built to support survived, averting an even greater catastrophe by catching burning lumber which would otherwise have fallen and ignited the wooden screens, pews and paintings below.

Nelson’s note, acknowledging that this was a terrible event, suggests that the damage to Notre-Dame could have been even worse, and it is gratifying to know that the structure wasn’t a total loss. Many of us will be interested to hear updates in the coming days about the structural integrity of the building, and the plans to rebuild what has been lost.

If you have any particular thoughts on the aftermath of the fire – or just memories to share of when you may have visited Notre-Dame – please share your comments with other readers here.

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Update (4/16/19):  Subsequent to reports on the condition of Notre-Dame Cathedral the day after the fire, my brother submitted this second set of comments:

Photos taken and published on Tuesday, April 16th, after I wrote to you, provide further insight into the extent of fire damage at Notre-Dame de Paris.

The first (second still photo at https://nationalpost.com/opinion/john-robson-what-the-notre-dame-coverage-kept-missing) shows the nave, crossing and choir. This photo reveals that the entire vault over the crossing collapsed, including the diagonal ribs. Those ribs were still standing in the photo [pictured above] taken during the fire, as was at least half the vault which no longer remains. A closer inspection of the photo leads me to think that much of the eastern half of the vault webbing over the crossing may have already collapsed when the photo was taken, but it’s hard to tell for sure. In any event, whatever remained standing appears to have collapsed later that night. This is not at all surprising considering that the fire originally started above the crossing.

The newer photo also shows a circular hole in the high vault over the South side of the nave, in the third bay from the crossing, which was also visible in the earlier photo but which I didn’t describe in my earlier comments.  I’m quite sure this damage was also inflicted when the spire collapsed.

The second photo (https://nypost.com/2019/04/16/new-photos-show-heartbreaking-damage-inside-notre-dame-cathedral/) shows the north transept as well as the crossing. It reveals that half of the high vault above the second bay from the crossing collapsed.

I have found only one photo of the south transept taken after the fire but it doesn’t show the high vault. However, from news reports, I don’t think any of the high vaulting over the south transept collapsed.

At first I thought that only about 25% of the high vaulting was gone. A more precise figure would be 32% of the high vaulting. Specifically, the total floor area (not surface area) of the high vaults was about 19,830 square feet of which approximately 6,260 square feet (31.6%) no longer exists, based on the plan shown below. The red areas depict the high vaults which fell.

I should add that none of the lower vaults, flying buttresses, pointed arches or piers appear to have sustained any damage from the fire. Structural inspections are still being carried out on the two western towers.

There’s little doubt that additional sections of the high vault sustained so much exposure to high heat that they are no longer structurally sound. The greatest risk is the collapse of more diagonal and cross ribs, which would take down the stone webbing they support, too. It would not surprise me at all if it’s decided to replace nearly all the high vault when the cathedral is rebuilt, if only to allay future public safety concerns. Such a restoration could remain very true to the original masonry and would hardly be noticeable when completed – far less noticeable, I think, than if only part of the high vault is replaced.

The roof above the high vault, and the attic it encloses, will of course need to be completely rebuilt. Here I think the restorers will design and build a replacement that’s similar in appearance, but structurally very different from the one that burned. For example I should think they would want to use structural steel instead of oak framing, for fireproofing (not to mention the difficulty of finding enough virgin oak trees to duplicate the original timber). The original tile cladding was lead which is quite toxic, so I suspect the new cladding will be made of a completely different material such as copper. These changes won’t really affect the cathedral’s architectural integrity, because the old attic was visited very rarely, and cladding material such as copper eventually weathers to about the same color as lead.

A new central spire will rise above the roof, and here is where I think politics will rear its ugly head. The spire which collapsed wasn’t part of the original cathedral; it was built between 1844-64 to replace the original which was taken down in 1786. A Rolling Stone article published on April 16th (https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/notre-dame-cathedral-paris-fire-whats-next-822743/) states, “Any rebuilding should be a reflection not of an old France, or the France that never was — a non-secular, white European France — but a reflection of the France of today, a France that is currently in the making.” It attributes this idea to John Harwood, an architectural historian and associate professor at the University of Toronto, but also quotes Jeffrey Hamburger, an art history professor at Harvard, who dismisses Harwood’s idea as “preposterous.”

My prediction? In the end, the restorers will bow to the secularists when it comes to rebuilding the spire, and put something there as grotesquely ugly (and quintessentially French) as the Centre Pompidou, Louvre Pyramid or Charles de Gaulle Terminal 1. But just like the spire which collapsed on Monday, this decision will be fraught with controversy and will stretch completion of the restoration well beyond the 5 years President Macron promised on April 16th.

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Update (4/18/19): Here are additional observations from Nelson based on new developments at the Cathedral:

I found an aerial view of Notre-Dame Cathedral taken by a drone and published on Wednesday, 17th April. The aerial view confirms the red areas shown in the plan [see above]. Specifically, it is now clear that none of the high vaults collapsed in the south transept, or in the choir.

Aerial photo of Notre-Dame Cathedral, April 17, 2019.

It’s also very clear why the grand organ survived. It is located in the grandstand at the far left of the photo (and the plan), between the two towers. The roof above that area did not burn at all. Apparently the fire began spreading upward from the roof on the east side of the north tower, but the Paris fire brigade managed to contain the blaze there with water guns. The fire (and the water poured onto it) never got any closer to the organ.

Using enlargements of this and other published drone photos, I have also concluded that the black areas which I haven’t identified as gaps in the vaulting are charred debris from the wooden roof, which came to rest at the top of the vaults.  

As an interesting sidebar story, I learned this morning that the parish of Saint-Sulpice caught fire also, on 17th March. See the article here: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-church/paris-historic-saint-sulpice-church-briefly-catches-fire-nobody-hurt-idUSKCN1QY0P1. As best I can tell, the fire occurred at the entrance to the south transept, and damage was minor. The pipe organ, which (like Notre-Dame) is located in the grandstand at the west end of the nave, was nowhere near the fire.

According to the “Great Book of Wikipedia” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_Saint-Sulpice,_Paris#Notable_events), this was an arson attack. RT reported (https://www.rt.com/news/456629-french-catholic-churches-attacks/):

“The fire that hit Saint-Sulpice reportedly started in a pile of clothes left outside the cathedral, before climbing up the door and to the stained glass. The clothes are believed to have been left there by a homeless person. Police said the fire was ‘not accidental,’ but the pastor of Saint-Sulpice argued it was not an anti-religious attack.”

[When I visited Saint-Sulpice in July 2012 during the main Sunday Mass, I saw several “homeless” people hanging around outside the main entrance, begging for money.]

Saint-Sulpice will temporarily serve as the cathedral church for the Diocese of Paris until Notre-Dame is re-opened. Makes sense, because it is the second-largest church in Paris.

 

Delayed interaction with email: It’s a triage thing.

It happens all the time because it’s part of human nature.

In the business world as in any other realm, it can be frustrating when emails that need a reply languish in a state of suspended animation.

And it happens a lot. A workplace study conducted recently by Dr. Bahareh Sarrafzadeh of the Cheriton School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo in Canada, in concert with several Microsoft co-researchers, has found that putting off responding to incoming emails that need a reply happens in more than a third of the cases.

Titled Characterizing and Predicting Email Deferral Behavior, the research was compiled from interviews with Microsoft employees involved in product development, product management, software development and administrative management.  All participants in the research used the Microsoft Outlook platform on a daily basis.

Dubbing it “email triage,” the study defines the phenomenon as “the process of going through unhandled email and deciding what to do with it.”

Email deferral (as opposed to moving an email message to the trash folder), occurs because “people have insufficient time to take an immediate action, or they need to gather information before they can act on a message,” the study states.

Among the factors typically weighed during triage include these questions that people ask themselves:

  • Do I know the answer?
  • Does it require any task to be done?
  • What is the level of complexity involved?
  • Can I handle it independently?

So, the reasons for putting off a reply are perfectly reasonable ones. The problem comes after the fact, because delaying an immediate reply can sometimes turn into complete inaction.

The reasons for this are understandable as well — even if they are inconsiderate to the person who sent the original e-communique:

  • If other people are copied on the incoming email, the recipient may assume that someone else is handling the issues raised.
  • Emails that contain attachments – particularly larger documents – are often put off for scrutiny at a later time, thereby delaying a response.
  • Emails that don’t specify a deadline for receiving a response can easily get pushed to the bottom of the pile.

Thus, a delayed response often means procrastination — or simply “out of sight/out of mind” forgetfulness as other business tasks intervene.

The published research paper can be viewed in its entirety here.  Bear in mind that the University of Waterloo research studied email triage behaviors in a business- and project-management environment. It’s even more dicey when we think of sales- and marketing-oriented communications.  If more than one-third of business management emails aren’t getting timely attention, we can be pretty certain that the engagement with other e-communications is lower still.

But there’s a cost to all of this delayed action (or inaction).  In the “business of business,” putting off providing a response contributes to a loss of project or organizational momentum. Sometimes all it takes is inaction on the part of one or two pivotal players to make an important project initiative grind to a complete halt.

That doesn’t work well for anyone.

Sitting on my desk now, I have no fewer than five projects that have limped along for the better part of two years, simply because at too many points along the way, email responses that should have taken days (or mere hours) to be received have taken weeks or even months instead.  Recurring queries to see if the projects are still active or relevant are answered in the affirmative … but then the waiting game continues.

What about your experiences? Does email triage hurt your own personal productivity or that of your office?  What have you done to get around the hurdles?

Twitter, in Four Sentences

Terry Teachout

Back in 2015, Wall Street Journal columnist, author and arts critic Terry Teachout had a few choice comments to make about Twitter — then as now one of the more controversial of the social media platforms.

With the passage of time — as well as significant elections, referenda and other socio-political developments intervening — it’s interesting to go back and read Mr. Teachout’s comments again.

From his perspective, in 2015 Teachout had postulated that the essence of Twitter could be boiled down to four statements, as follows:

  • How dare you talk about A, when B is infinitely more important?
  • If I disagree with you, you’re almost certainly arguing in bad faith — and are probably evil as well.
  • You are personally responsible, in toto and in perpetuity, for everything that your friends, colleagues, and/or ancestors have ever said, done, or thought.
  • (Statements #2 and #3 do not apply to me.)

Looking at these statements, it’s pretty remarkable how little has changed.

Or has it? What do you think?

[In an interesting side-development, Terry Teachout’s own Twitter account was hacked in 2018 — several years after he published his statements above.  As he recounts here, trying to get all of that sorted out with the social media platform was it’s own special kind of misery, even if ultimately successful.]

Pandora’s Box: Spotify is poised to become the #1 music streaming service in the United States.

This past month, digital marketing research firm eMarketer issued its new forecast on music streaming activities in the United States. What it shows is that Pandora, which has dominated the market ever since the category was created in 2000, will likely fall to the #2 position, overtaken by Spotify.

Based on a calculation of internet users of any age who listen to music streaming on any device at least once per month, Pandora jas occupied a narrow band of between 72 million and 77 million listeners since 2015.

During that same period, Spotify users have increased dramatically, from ~24 million to ~65 million Americans. And eMarketer projects that Spotify will overtake Pandora by 2021.  The chart below shows the trajectory:

Actually, the trend had been building since even before 2015. In 2012, Pandora had ~67 million users compared to Spotify’s paltry ~5 million.  But Pandora has been shedding users in recent years.  As the chart above illustrates, by 2023 Pandora will have lost nearly 10% of its users since 2014.

To be sure, Pandora still holds a robust ~35% of audio listener penetration in the United States as of this year. But Spotify is nipping at its heels with a ~32% share.  Amazon Music (~18%) and Apple Music (~16%) are further back, but with still-significant chunks of the marketing.  (It should be noted that there is overlap, as some listeners may engage with more than one music streaming service during the month.)

What has caused the change in fortunes? Christ Bendtsen, an eMarketer forecasting analyst, says this:

“Pandora lost users last year because of tough competition from other services attracting people to switch. Apple Music has been successful in converting its iPhone user base.  Amazon Music has grown with smart speaker adoption, and Spotify’s partnerships have expanded its presence across all devices.”

Speaking in particular about Spotify’s rapid surge, Bendtsen notes:

“Spotify’s initial growth was driven by its unique combination of music discovery, playlists and on-demand features. But now that all music streaming services [possess] the same features, Spotify’s future success will rely on partnerships with other companies.  It has teamed up with Samsung, Amazon, Google and Hulu to be on all devices and provide bundled offerings.  We expect more partnerships to come, leveraging multiple brands, devices and services to drive user growth.”

As for Apple Music, there’s a reason it lags behind other music streaming services in the rankings. That service operates on a subscription-only model and doesn’t offer any form of advertiser-supported free usage.  Forecasters expect it to remain in the #4 position with its “premium-only” business model.

More information about the eMarketer music streaming forecast is available here.

What are your own music streaming listening habits? Have they changed in recent years, and if so, how and why?  Please share your thoughts with other readers.

“Wake me when it’s over”: Corporate podcasting goes over like a zinc zeppelin with employee audiences.

Just because podcasts have become a popular means of communication in a broader sense doesn’t mean that they’re the slam-dunk tactic to successfully achieve every kind of communications objective. Still, that’s what an increasing number of large corporations have decided to do.

And yet … an article by writers Austen Hufford and Patrick McGroarty that appeared last week in The Wall Street Journal paints a picture of what many of us have suspected all along about podcasts that are produced by corporations for their employees and other “stakeholders.”

These self-important testaments to “corporate whatever” have as much impact as the printed memos of yore – you know, the ones with sky-high BS-meter ratings – had.

Which is to say … not much.

Invariably, podcast topics are ones which next to no one in the employee trenches cares anything about. As a result, corporate podcast open stats are abysmal – running between 10% and 15% if they’re lucky.

And the paltry open rates alone don’t tell the entire story. How many people are tuning them out after just a minute or two of listening, once it becomes clear that it’s yet another yawner of a topic that senior leadership deems “important” and that corporate communications departments try mightily but unsuccessfully to bring alive.

More often than not, the production values of these corporate podcasts have all the pizzazz of a cold mashed potato sandwich. Consider this breathless declaration by PR director Lindsay Colker in a December 18th Netflix podcast:

“I think that Netflix has taught me so much more than information about a job. The person that I was, coming into Netflix, is an entirely different person than the person I am now.”

This response, posted by a Netflix employee on the Apple iTunes store site, is all-too-predictable:

“Hard to follow, boring and dry hosts, and tooooo long.”

Or this recent American Airlines podcast that covered the company’s three major strategic objectives for 2019. After company president Robert Isom described the strategies for the podcast audience, host Ron DeFeo, an American Airlines communications vice president exclaimed, “That’s awesome!”

Employee reaction was far different. Here’s one response from an American Airlines pilot:

“How about you tell me why I should listen to this? A healthy employee doesn’t live and breathe their job 24/7, and the last thing they’re going to do after being on a plane for 12 hours is listen to a podcast.”

Ouch.

Perhaps because of this kind employee pushback, one company, Huntington Ingalls Industries, permits its workers to count the time they spend listening to the company’s podcast on their time sheets.

One suspects that absolutely every HII employee is posting 15 minutes on their timesheets each time a podcast is released – whether or not they’re actually listening to it. (That may also explain why each HII podcast is strictly limited to just 15 minutes in length …)

Every company interviewed by the writers of The Wall Street Journal story admitted that engagement levels with their corporate podcasts are disappointing.  PPG Industries’ response is illustrative.  With only a few hundred listeners tuning in each month out of a total employee base of more than 47,000 workers, “We have a ways to go,” admits Mark Silvey, PPG’s director of corporate communications.

What do you think? Will corporations find themselves riding a wave of success with their podcasting?  Or are they swimming upstream against the triple currents of apathy, ennui, and snark? Will corporate podcasting become tomorrow’s “obvious tactic” or end up being yesterday’s “glorious failure”? Feel free to share your perspectives with other readers.

What are the most stressful jobs in America?

Soldier, firefighter and police officer positions are obvious, but jobs in media are right up there, too.

It’s human nature to complain about workplace stress. But which jobs are the ones that actually carry the most stress?

If you ask most people, they’d probably cite jobs in the military, police and firefighting as particularly stressful ones because of the inherent dangers of working on the job. Airline pilots would be up there as well.

And yes, those jobs do rank the highest among the many jobs surveyed about by employment portal CareerCast in its newest research on the topic. But of the other jobs that make the “Top 10 most stressful” list, several of them might surprise you:

Most Stressful: CareerCast Stress Scores by Profession (2019)

#1. Enlisted military personnel (E3, 4 years experience): 73

#2. Firefighter:  72

#3. Airline pilot:  61

#4. Police officer:  52

#5. Broadcaster:  51

#6. Event coordinator:  51

#7. News reporter:  50

#8. PR executive:  49

#9. Senior corporate executive:  49

#10. Taxi driver:  48

According to the CareerCast research findings, based on an evaluation of 11 potential stress factors including meeting deadlines, job hazards, physical demands and public interaction requirements, more than three-fourths of respondents in the 2019 survey rated their job stress at 7 or higher on a 10-point scale.

The most common stress contributors cited were “meeting deadlines’ (~38% of respondents) and “interacting with the public” (~14%).

Upon reflection, it’s perhaps understandable why workers in media positions feel like they are under particular stress – what with “fake news” claims and a constant barrage of criticism from both the left and the right which can go beyond being simply irritants into some much more stress-inducing.

What if someone wanted to make a career change and switch to a job that’s at the opposite end of the stress scale? CareerCast has identified those positions, too.  Here are the “least stressful” jobs as found in its 2019 research results:

Least Stressful: CareerCast 2019 Stress Score by Profession

#1. Diagnostic medical sonographer:  5

#2. Compliance officer:  6

#3: Hair stylist:  7

#4. Audiologist:  7

#5. University professor:  8

#6. Medical records technician:  9

#7. Jeweler:  9

#8: Operations research analyst:  9

#9. Pharmacy technician:  9

#10. Massage therapist:  10

Interestingly, one might assume that the most stressful jobs in America would carry a commensurate salary premium, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case.  The average median salary for the Top 10 “most stressful” jobs in America is hardly distinguishable from those of the Top 10 “least stressful” jobs – differing by only around 4%.  It seems like those latter workers are onto something!

More information about the CareerCast findings can be viewed here.

Music industry mashup: Streaming audio sets the pace.

… while digital downloads fade and physical music media sales hold steady.

The music industry revenue reports issued annually by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are always interesting to look at, because they chronicle the big trends in how people are consuming their music.

The 2018 RIAA report is particularly enlightening, as it finds that streaming audio now accounts for three-fourths of all U.S. music industry revenue. With more than 50 million Americans subscribing to at least one streaming service, those revenue stats certainly make sense.

Moreover, the RIAA report states that 2018 revenues from streaming music platforms amounted to nearly $7.5 billion. That compares to just $1.1 billion (~11%) for digital downloads and $1.2 billion (~12%) for physical media sales.

Equally significant, streaming revenues account for nearly all of the revenue growth experienced across the entire industry – and the growth is dramatic. Streaming revenues jumped ~30% between 2017 and 2018, whereas growth in the other segments was essentially flat.

Within the streaming segment, all three major sectors – premium subscriptions, ad-supported on-demand streaming, and streaming radio – experienced revenue growth.  But paid subscriptions continue to comprise the biggest chunk of revenue; they make up ~73% of all streaming revenues, or $5.4 million.

Ad-supported on-demand streaming is also proving to be quite popular with users, but while revenues grew by some 15% in 2018 to reach $760 million, it’s pretty clear that ad-supported streaming audio services lag behind in terms of generating revenues. Ad-supported streaming may account for more than one-third of all streaming activity … but only ~8% of streaming revenues.

The third segment — radio streaming services – looks to be a particularly bright spot. These services are evolving nicely, passing the $1 billion mare in revenues in 2018 for the first time.

But the main takeaway is this:  Streaming audio now represents the “mainstream” while digital downloads are going the way of the cassette tape in an earlier era. And physical media (CDs, vinyl) have stabilized to a degree that many observers might not have anticipated happening just a few years ago.

More information from the 2018 RIAA report can be viewed here.

What are your own personal music consumption preferences? Feel free to share your thoughts with other readers here.