Friday, 29 June 2012


meta-clockwork or synchronized worlds

The grey eminences of weights and measures in Paris who keep the Meter and the Gram, like the warp and weave of the Fates, are gifting the world with an extra second (Schaltsekunde) to compensate for the drift of the winding down rotation of the Earth in comparison to the their household atomics that keep Universal Coordinated Time, the reference point for most of the planet’s civilian timekeepers. With ever more exacting calipers, it seems that the Earth has drifted a whole second off the mark, since it was last adjusted on the last day of the year in 2008.

Time, though surely an analogue thing and not discrete, is by convention or definition, the parsing of now, and formalized in 1967 as the resonance of Cesium atom: at that moment a day was exactly twenty-four hours long and because of the regularity and precision of the experiment, atomic clocks promised to be accurate within two seconds over a span of 65 million years, from the present all the way through the eons to the extinction of the dinosaurs. The inconstant Earth however proved to be more unpredictable, speeding up or slowing down with shocks big and little, like earthquakes, the Moon and the orbits of artificial satellites, probably by an amount as significant over the decades as the meteor impact that caused the mass-extinction event millions of years prior. The hands of a clock have to pass through every degree of a circle and can’t skip around—but the pendulum can be slowed down or stopped, for a second out-of-time to take a relaxed, deep breath. That the Earth shifts unpredictably does make me a bit uncomfortable, for all the ages of study by geomancers, navigators, physicists and philosophers one would think we wouldn’t have an inelegant solution, and I wonder how closely we are following the passage of the Sun overhead or peering into the vibrations of the elements and what standards and perspectives are most sensible.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

teufels kreis

Among the many woes and aspects bemoaned about our very global economy—and a worry not countermanded by some other positive element but unilaterally punishing—is the potential that no matter how carefully planned, sacrifice and contingencies made flexible and more than yielding, the weakness or strength, decisions or sentiment touching any other markets could undo all the hard work, arrangements and negotiations and exacerbate problems by posing even bigger set-backs. Eurocrats and eurozone functionaries are gathered together for another installment of talks to issue a way forward, which is of course not just a dodgy doddering through, and a road map is something, although a path fraught with obstacles. Approaching a meeting with only the aim of maintaining a system at all costs rather that with convictions and principles only results in empty compromise, escalation and the true vicious circle (Teufels Kreis)—throwing money at problems and amounts to same good as not discussing or ignoring a problem as a surrogate solution. The diplomacy of map-making, no matter how the landmarks may be shifted or toppled by macroeconomic factors or caprice, are still indelible features to be navigated.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

no need to shout


dossier or when hacks attack

Having the ability to wield death-dealing thunderbolts from above under the technology of drones of course supposes that the same capabilities for all are not that far behind. Spying via satellite was a bit more of a challenge until all but the sharpest telemetry was disseminated to everyone; such advances lower the common denominator.

The early and eager adoption quickly slide from the anodyne and helpful, I think, like traffic control and emergency response to clawing to the top to relegate disagreements to aerial slap-fights between UAVs and reduce war to supposedly surgical gaming. It’s all very tit-for-tat. Now, as I suspect is the case for most electronic items of private and public (government) convenience, like cellular phones, RDIF passports and identity cards, automated voting machines, x-ray airport scanners and even QR tagging (I suspect some merry pranksters are already swapping out the 2-dimensional bar-code that one’s phone scans to retain a completely different message and reminder), some in the industry are pointing out that these systems are quite susceptible to hacking and reprogramming. Maybe drones really do keep us safe and the security is impenetrable or maybe suffering such cautious criticism is intentional, providing plausible deniability should an grave accident happen, falling out of the sky, causing a crash or targeting the wrong person and provoking war. Governments could always say their Skynet was hijacked. Having such power at one’s disposal to keep one’s hands clean also demands greater responsibility in the business of propagation, investigation and staying well-informed.

Monday, 25 June 2012

big in japan

Like fondue sets, neighbourhood block parties and the Concorde, I had thought Hibachi grills were relegated to a nostalgic era that is not easily recaptured. Those portable Japanese-inspired braziers were wildly popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s but sort of disappeared, or so I though until telling a friend about our vacation plans, and he told us that we ought to get a Son of Hibachi. Hibachi-san, I call it. It was a really good piece of advice, rather than looking for a small dome grill to take camping, this modernized version folds out and clamps together, eliminating some of the mess and space concerns. I think there are possibilities for all sorts of camper bus cookery. I also thought it was funny, however, that one might not know Hibachi the Elder and only the revamped model.

motör skills or kontrapunkt

With renewed respect and interest for Alan Turing and the long time status of rock legends that Albert Einstein, Werner von Braun and Werner Herzog have enjoyed, I thought it was a terrible omission to have just learned of another scientist and physicist whom ought to enjoy a similar following and be an industry icon: Moshé Pinchas Feldenkrais, a trained physicist, martial artist and Eastern philosopher besides his adventures and experience prompted him to develop the eponymous method to promote health and well-being by heightening the individual’s awareness through motion and movement, a discipline like yoga except that Feldenkrais’ exercises had no specific target and mostly dealt with repetitive, everyday movement, like one’s posture and gait, since laziness and bad habits compounded with inefficiency could led to chronic mental and physiological states. Such occupational therapy is being taken up by many medical professionals as an effective and viable supplement to traditional methods, and in Sweden is considered a treatment (both mentally and physically) of first-resort.

A lot of what makes us ill, I think, becomes manifest through the mind and body second guessing each other—most things need to be repeated ten-thousand times over to become an expert at it, and even though we’re mostly just aspiring specialists, it’s not helpful to try to undo or correct such programming and alignment with a perfunctory reading of a patient’s medical history and an uncommitted handful of pills. An elegant suggestion and meditation are worthy enough on their own but I have to wonder also about this individual’s career and why it did not elevate him to guru and rock-star status, too. A pupil (and later a teacher as a judo master) of the Curie family, he fled the Nazi occupation of Paris with jar of radioactive heavy-water tucked under his coat and fled to England to develop sonar for the Admiralty’s fleet of submarines. It was while bunking on board a submarine for an extended period, Feldenkrais, nursing an old sports injury aggravated by the cramp conditions, formulated his technique and rehabilitated himself. After the war, he continued his pioneering work in electrical engineering and teaching his method. I suppose the message lies in getting to know oneself better (which is structured but not exactly regimented and certainly not irrevocable as intellectual property) rather than in celebrity, even among a sea of contending and complimentary practices.

pilgrims' progress

The juxta-position is at first a bit jarring, the centuries old wayside shrine (Bildstock) that I found wandering along a valley path compared to the electronic and networked cattle-brand-invitation displayed on an equally old church door, and a pilgrimage was never supposed to be a scavenger hunt or a popularity contest. Perhaps curiosity overtook the journey in itself with development of tourism, moving from religious wonder to respect for history and art—still inspired and inspiring, though. Some aspects of the Canterbury Tales did make the events some more like a social hour our cruise ship inmates, rather than a rite, sojourn and expedition (Pilgerweg).
Maybe it’s not so different—although I don’t think that one needs more real world reminders and visual cues especially in a place like Franconia and Germany, crowded with churches and altars of all sorts—from devotional artwork and the way, for instance, these ancient markers not only helped travelers keep to the trail but the way posts were often dedicated and personalized for pilgrims that were not able to reach the goal. I guess it’s fine to import such ornaments and memorials into people’s virtual lives and help with their spiritual vigils. The journey, no matter how many shortcuts are invented or indulged, still retains important elements of discovery and upbuilding.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

endonymy or we call it maize

Watching the soccer (Football, Fußball) match between two countries known outwardly (exonym) by their monikers in the Lingua Franca in the Baltic city of Gdańsk (Danzig), I wondered how they take to being called something completely different and view the lingering imperialism of language. Of course, English is not the only steamroller and all peoples historically developed their own roots and reasons to talk about outsiders, but as the choice of a common tongue above the din and babbling, it’s interesting to consider how labels and aliases are just one persona and taking a deeper look is quite telling.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

high-fidelity or bring me a pineapple that doesn’t sting, a bird that swims, a fish that sings

I have contributed a nominal amount to my private pension fund, an opportunist surely that blurs the limits between brooding a nest-egg and retirement supplement and high-stakes ventures that happens to management the pensions for a good portion of the American federal workforce, and so as not to encourage more reckless behaviour, I’ve kept it at the absolute minimum: one cannot contribute less than one percent and I’ve justified that much since the government matches it. Still, over the years it has amounted to a not insignificant sum that’s not readily reclaimable.
I suspected and it’s been confirmed several times over that this money-manager is gambling with people’s life-savings and that they benefited from their quasi-public status—however I didn’t suspect that they were actively hatching evil schemes for one’s money, apart from the expected trading in legitimized weapons companies, polluters and assassins. Their latest pursuit, I discovered through their advertisements (though little reporting and fact-finding is to be found supporting or otherwise questioning this image and vision) is something called synthetic biology, which is only a re-branding of terms that are waxing scary like cloning, genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms. Their promotion and prospectus implies that such research and development, which will one day triumph over Nature’s numbers and diversity, can produce bacteria to clean up industrial spills and halt disease by disabling its agents. This is a Brave New World with many goodly creatures but I can also easily imagine a genetic dystopia that failed to respect the dependencies and relations of ecology. Business has already been over-eager with introducing new crops that are untested and unsuited and have been less than forthcoming (with mounting resistance) and spent more resources on protecting patents and discrediting critics than on actual scientific research. It is one thing to make mosquitoes that don’t bite or self-cleaning beaches, but I would imagine that Nature would rebel and be less than compliant, mirroring the phenomena of drug-resistant germs created by keeping too clean. I don’t think it’s a good idea to mortgage one’s pension on such a future.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

road trip or avsenkmorthu

When I was little and on a long drive with my family to visit the grandparents—epic cross-country odysseys as I recall, one activity that kept my sister and I occupied, after I-Spy, card games and general irritability, was the challenge to complete the alphabet (in alphabetical order) from billboards, license tags and traffic signs. We would make up all sorts of arbitrary rules about what didn’t count—something seen outside the window while at a filling station, for example, or consecutive letters on the same sign—and some letters were exceedingly rare.
Sometimes on long trips in Germany, I mentally register, play the same game, although it’s a bit tougher to play-through and I usually don’t finish because there are no advertising corridors along the Autobahn to block out the landscape (besides the scenery is almost always too captivating), and unless in Sylt, Quedlinburg or Xanten, one needs to rely exclusively on spotting license plates. In Germany and most European countries, license plates (Kennzeichen) are coded by the community, county where they are registered and so teach a little about geography as well. I know a lot of the German county (Kreis) abbreviations and keep a guide and an index in the car to help identify unusual ones and decipher foreign protocols. What would one find on the roads of Russia or Greece? In France, for instance, Départements are assigned two-digit numbers alphabetically or in Estonia, A is reserved for the district (Tallinn) with the biggest population, B for the second biggest and so on—methods which don’t seem as directly intuitive and recognizable, but Italy and Ireland code by county like Germany. Though one cannot discover a Europe-wide convention for identifying cars’ home (zu Hause), many countries have adopted a German standard as far as the look of license plates go: traffic signage in German first adopted industry standards through uniformity with the labeling of the rolling-stock of the Imperial Railways with the design of DIN 1451 (Das Deutsche Institut für Normung), a typeface (font) refined and distinct for all public works.
DIN 1451, sleek and san-serif as it appears on road signs, was also used for automobiles until the days of campaigns of domestic terror by the Red Army Faction: in response to members or associates alluding capture by changing the markings on their vehicles, a new stylized-serif variety was introduced that made it more difficult to forge one’s license plate (changing a I to an L or an P to an R with electrical tape or mistaking one letter or number for another) called FE-Schrift (that is, fälschungserschwerende Schrift, lettering harder-to-fake). The thought and care that went into these statutes is pretty interesting as well. After the prefix, I am not sure how the last letters on a plate are assigned (if there is any reason to it) but I do always seem to get stuck on J, except when in Jena.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


The ever fascinating BLDGblog has a neat and adventure inspiring review of the 1984 study of the Swiss military by John McPhee.  For a nation whose military is better known culturally for being the Pontiff's bodyguards and steadfast in its neutrality, the defensive forces of Switzerland have basically wired and booby-trapped the entire infrastructure around its natural landscapes to stop any invading forces dead in their tracks. Taking the strategic high-ground, some mountains are as porous as Swiss cheese with secret bunkers and ambush-points, bridges and tunnels are primed with dynamite, overpasses even aligned to collapse onto railroads, and the majority of villages are hiding armaments and soldiers underneath barns.  Some 3,000 defensive features are publicly acknowledged but surely there are more lurking.  It is strange to think about alpine passes readied dramatically for self-destruction in the worst case scenario and a shadowy army that can disappear into the mountains and walk through walls.

RIF-raff or circumlocution office

Infernal engines (Höllen-machine) that are allowed to age gracefully, the surplus stuff of the commissariat, into a complex and convoluted bureaucracy, have a strong sense of self-preservation. This is especially apparent during the once-a-decade exercise of fleecing the US military through what’s called Reduction in Force (RIF), when the community, courtiers and panderers put to test all mandatory trainings and contingencies and the full encumberment of the offices’ arsenal of red-tape. This sort of impossible dragnet, a Gordian knot, is rather clever, since it justifies ones job, sticking to protocol and procedure and knowing how to unlace the mess with proper ceremony.
The cost savings measures, I think, are not the most sincere—even counting backwards from nonsense, too much seems ventured for naught: maintaining a standing army is woefully expensive and discipline is threatened with institutionalization; old fronts and occupations ought to be remembered in perspective, honouring peace and maturing partnerships, but neither by inventing new threats nor propping up an failing network that used to connect all points on the map, a compliment to Church hierarchy and ambassadorial missions; slicing the budget in favour of the defense-contractors (another form of insincerity) and withholding that military mother-love that makes careers but also breeds dependency and the sense of entitlement that’s reflected by the bureaucrats.
A soldier dismissed or a career official made redundant have, in many areas, had their ways paved and might find it difficult to operate outside that framework. I am sure that any and every workplace in environment has the potential for attracting and retaining individuals with certain core-competencies and can be an expensive terror all around—I just find it a little frightening that my laudable organization won’t always be so concentrated and quarantined in an archane little corner of Germany and those particular talents are exploding out into the world. Special powers, I think, and prowess don’t get diluted once dispersed, and instead there’s more than enough personality to share. It would be ashamed, still, to break up the band—the routine and the selectivity, gossip, problems kept hidden and very vocal tattling and the suspension of disbelief (Aussetzen der Zweifel). Most days, work is like an immense Rube Goldberg contraption but the gears hit a snag in the same spots every time, but sometimes it does work, happily, and the chain-reaction comes to its conclusion.

stem cells

The Miracle Sticks (the twisted and knotty willow branches) from Easter lasted a good few days after bursting into colour. Eventually, they did fade and wilt but I noticed that they had developed quite an extensive root system in the vase full of water—funny non-differentiated little roots that came directly out of the stem, like the bristles of an onion. I planted them in a big pot and tried to keep the barest green shoots left to the sticks alive with a lot of water. One germ of a twig looked promising but I thought the rest were dead, and I never expected them to regenerate like they have and grow into proper trees. I guess miraculous things carry on.

Monday, 18 June 2012


Hearing speculation about the polls in Greece ahead of the Sunday evening elections, a dead-heat and a photo-finish most held, I was worried that the EU would have its Bush v. Gore moment. That time was more than a moment, rather an epoch that spanned from days after the disputed election in November 2000 until at least January 2009, and it is yet to determined if it’s really over. The party styled the fiscal conservatives have a slight edge over the liberals, and the victors are positioned to build a coalition among the among parliamentarians from minority parties, committed to retaining the common-currency and remediating the Greek economy by adhering to the conditions and reforms of economic assistance package.
The winning party, however, has no mandate from the people and no basis to strengthen its claim that enduring all the punishment won’t just be in vain but also beneficial. The liberals were no understudy to chaos, and while their round rejection of the austerity and targets twain to keeping the euro in favour of social justice and support has sensible and popular appeal, they are not presently able to offer plans on what the inheritors of the new drachma should do the next morning. Voters’ appeal could still turn and the choices as portrayed do not seem to offer healthy alternatives. It seems that a lot of oaths and deeds have already been sunk and are sinking and buoyed on the not on hopes or politics nor even on the mechanics of peace and prosperity, but the neediness of advanced economies desperate for attention. Greed, I guess, steals away too the care and concern touching on bigger questions and difficulties and holds decision in suspense.

de re coquinaria

I was looking through a cookbook that we found the other day, one that reached all the way back to the kitchen and cuisine of 1898, and noticed that organizationally and instruction-wise, like other older volumes of recipes that we have, there’s a verse-like brevity to them, almost like a haiku and something self-contained, with mostly no measurements, cooking times and temperatures. If you have to ask, then you are obliviously are not a good homemaker and Hausfrau. There are some interesting basic meals and descriptions of sauces that would be interesting to try to recreate, and it was worth noting how one can rate the familiar and the exotic food of the time, given the attention to detail and exacting instructions for preparation: one dish that’s described as italienisch was steamed rice with green peas and was called “Risi-Pisi.” I cannot imagine a good bürgerlichen family of the turn of the century asking for such a thing by name from far away Italy.  It will be fun to experiment and see what other changes in tone and method come up.

Friday, 15 June 2012

happy fathers' day

Here is a candid gathering of famous and infamous dads. Don't forget to tell yours how special he is and Happy Fathers' Day!

panhandlers and paupers

I am not quite sure what to call the growing and morbid fascination with ruin and distress on exhibition, and thankfully no one has tried to apply the label of poverty porn universally because there are significant differences in degree and dialogue. Of course, things can slide into neglect and disrepair quickly and destitution can be an equalizing force, but it does not do to compare the Sword of Damocles hanging over Greece and Europe with the Rustbelt of the United States and explicit profiles of crumbling and de-peopled urban centres. Detroit is a pinup girl.
The so-called poster children of the eurozone, however, are not positioned to relinquish hope, sovereignty, identity or anything else and will continue to engage the union and their people in setting this framework.
The euro is not in danger because of debate or controls more stringent and exacting than were originally agreed to (though perhaps not abided by) but is rather reinforced by vocal and public investigation and scrutiny. Trying to force American-style solutions of throwing money at problems, hollowing out social support programs and allowing the banks and markets to dictate to government and the real economy is obliviously a threat, even though the crisis stems from a uniquely American export, greatly exacerbated by American-style over-exuberance and over-exposure. Budgets and expenditures, though crises can be enlightening for systemic problems, could have continued at a parallel pace if it was not for one costly mistake, and with attention and care can be realigned and made stronger. The peep-show comes in the form of rallies, strikes and street protests and threats to monuments, artefacts and infrastructure rather than the abject desolation, that many like to ogle over but that’s apparently all talked-out.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

as seen on tv

From the creative franchise that offers the daily web comics Toothpaste for Dinner, Married to the Sea, and Natalie Dee, there is a new Sharing Machine blog, The Worst Things for Sale, that is an intelligent and funny commentary on culture through reviews of the craptabulous and derivative ways to part people from the money and good senses.  You should check out them all. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

magic carpet ride

Germany has, it seems, acquired a taste for political scandal and airing dirty laundry, and though taking advantage of one's public office to curry grace and favour is a very serious offense and an abuse of power, German government scandals seem rather tepid and would be in the written instructions elsewhere. Several career-politicians have fallen on their swords, for better or worse, over offenses like over academic dishonesty or for accepting gifts that did not pass the test of party or public scrutiny, and now the Minister for Development is being berated by the media and the parliament over purchasing a rather fancy rug while stationed in Afghanistan, returning home via a German intelligence service flight and neglecting to declare it for import taxes. I am sure that this was an oversight and the attacks unwarranted or even fitted to the business of government ethics, since it was not like the individual was on holiday or that anyone would risk job and reputation for smuggling and has promoted works abroad that confirm his character. The heated words are sometimes too much to bear from the opposition and I fear distractions for more systemic problems, but perhaps because of the hue and cry over these amateurish transgressions, corruption might not be allowed to advance further.


Tuesday, 12 June 2012


Lending tacit support to the infusion of credit to Spanish banks by way of a demurring and quiet concession towards the pooling of debt, Germany bore some chinks in its armour of resistance to the notion of sharing responsibility for broader financial stability. Signaling (again so lightly as to miss this cue) that the machinery of the European Union might be willing to admit a bit of the chaos of democracy (wherein people might not be obliged to choose wisely), Germany advocated a stronger political union for governance of monetary issues, ceding control of budgetary competence to the EU board.

Necessarily such a decision could not be unilateral and only up to the will of EU functionaries but must be submitted to a vote, since radical changes in national sovereignty require amending individual constitutions and a new legal framework. Now, even as the soothing effects of the cash for Spain is evaporating and raising the ire of the public and other earlier aid recipients that are being made to feel categorically different, irresponsible and blameworthy, which I do not think was the reason behind the German compromise but rather fear that became face-saving for Spain’s banks, Germany has shown a willingness to entertain the democratic process before the voting public has wearied of the issue and the ideals behind the EU are sunk. Instead of inheriting a failed coalition, Germany hopes to install a carefully crafted framework that honours Teutonic stoicism and fiscal responsiveness. Agreeing to share the burden of new debt incurred (and no country in the soi-disant core of the EU can manage right now without taking on new debt) comes also at the exclusion of existing obligations, which I fear might make the union, after negotiations that delimit one’s jurisdiction, even harder to leave, should things take a turn for the worse.

agee, agog or proprioception, exteroception, interoception

In I am sure a well-intentioned and intellectually-honest attempt to improve public education, the charitable foundation of a software tycoon is sponsoring research into magnetic bracelets that gauge students’ level of engagement and interest by detecting changes in galvanic responses. This strikes me as funny, like the next generation of mood rings, except that this release is obviously better since it’s in bracelet form, like a cause-bracelet (for boredness awareness), and I assume would be able gossip and pass notes to one another during class. Maybe better methods of holding students’ attention could be developed and perhaps back away from some of the more gimmicky and emotional techniques that has infused the classroom in recent years, but I do fear that instruction, competing for a slice of interest in swelling seas of distraction, might then become more like a focus-group for a marketing campaign than schooling for a liberal and open-ended education. If untutored and afforded no more than a glance, of course, the fights historical and beings animalculous would never stand a chance against celebrity news and the latest gadgets. Learning is a challenge and effective ways of reaching students are being tested and crafted but how theories, subjects and disciplines (no, nor teachers neither) ought to be put to a vote, and one of involuntary reflexes at that.

Monday, 11 June 2012


This year, more than in years past, we have been taking full advantage of the Spargel (asparagus) season—now transitioning from the more familiar white Spargel, which is starting to become woody this long after the harvest, to the green variety. I am not sure why but the green seems a little more versatile, though taking well to the classic way of serving it as well, and we tried it as a pasta dish that was fun and easy to make. For two people, one needs:
  • 500 grams of green asparagus—about 16 spears
  • One medium onion, finely chopped
  • 250 grams of cherry tomatoes
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for topping
  • About 300 grams of egg noodles
  • Olive oil, muscat, salt to taste, dried or finely chopped basil and thyme
Rinse and then chop the asparagus into bite-sized pieces; dice the onion and set aside. Measure out the pasta and cook the noodles according to instructions. Next in a large sauce pan with a liberal amount of olive oil, letting the oil get hot, sauté the asparagus and onion. The vegetables will take about ten minutes, and if one times it right, that will take about as long as the noodles and a good rule-of-thumb with the pasta is to fill one serving bowl to the brim with noodles to determine how many it will take for two. Half the tomatoes and add to the vegetables in the pan just long enough to warm them up a bit. When the noodles are cooked, drain and season with muscat and fold into the vegetable mixture, stirring in the spices and seasoning. Service with a dash of grated Parmesan and enjoy with a refreshing beverage.


Nearly three decades after the tragic industrial disaster in Bhopal, India that took some fifteen thousand lives nearly instantly and whose awful legacy is still causing grave harm, a German developmental and aid organization (GIZ, Gesellschaft für Zusammenarbeit) that executes projects on behalf of the federal government has been awarded the contract to remove three hundred fifty tons of toxic solid waste, five jumbo plane loads, stored in warehouses on site to northern Germany for safe incineration. The toxic waste being removed is not directly related to the gas leak from pesticide production that poisoned people living in nearby slums but rather the cumulative impact of years of manufacturing under atrocious, predatory conditions with no party or successor accepting responsibility for the environmental disaster and toll on human lives. The race to the bottom certainly did not end with this catastrophe nor limit it to developing countries with laxer oversight and stewardship and superfund sites punctuate the map of the United States and there are many other shipwrecks of industry all over the world, but Bhopal is far from the silent memorial that the hushing reproval and blamelessness of chemical concerns portray, and has become, though still a center for factories, a model city for its ecological practices and research.
 For some, Germany’s logistical plan does raise some questions—like why they will fly dangerous materials around the world instead of carrying out the disposal and neutralization in India—and while I believe there are compelling and honest reasons for doing so, one should not be dissuaded from dissecting controversy and mismanagement, and perhaps not only uncover some more dirty little secrets but also challenge the not-in-my-backyard mentality (,,bei-mir-aber-nicht!” Reaktion) that estranges consumers from the consequences of such products.

Sunday, 10 June 2012


Although I fear not enough serious preservation work is being done to stop the erosion of cultural treasures, languages supplanted, traditions encroached upon and withering, worthy songs only existing as a resampled thread, one individual is working to prevent endangered and dated sounds from electronics and gadgets from slipping likewise into obscurity.

Indeed, how many people have no memory of the squelch of a modem, the ker-chunk of a video cassette player, the recoil of a rotary phone, the clacking of a typewriter keyboard, the purr and hum of any number of solid-state appliances, or the triumphal start-up reveries and fanfares of retiring and obsolete computer platforms or classic and bitty ring-tone melodies? Such noises can be quite evocative and are prone to being quickly replaced with something more elite and polished, with no whirring of gears. The collection is a small one and by its nature, based on personal experience, but is soliciting ideas for its archive. Wunderkammern like this, though, I think ought to have a physical address too, in order to anchor them from the whoosh and over-abundance of the curator called the internet. What threatened sounds and jingles would you nominate for conservation?

Friday, 8 June 2012

bas relief or input/output

Some clever researchers in California are working on a prototype for a brilliant enhancement to the touch-sensitive screens of telephones and tablet personal computers. Without compromising on weight or thickness, materials engineers hope to be able to add an invisible layer over the standard glass screens or consoles that would be able to dimple and rise into pseudo-buttons or or guide point and then flatten out again just as if it were never there. I could brainstorm about the possibilities as this other, artificial skin grows smarter and more tactile—not only might their be new challenges for games, the texture of fabrics, topographical maps and ways to build or compensate for dexterity (I struggle with the tinier canvas on my phone sometimes and I think it would be nice if the screen offered a bit of resistance instead of slipping too freely), this advance could also make tablets and other devices for people with vision limitations just as functional, meaningful and sufficient with adaptive Braille texts that rise and fall as quickly as they are read. What a neat idea.


Despite polls showing majority public support for the matter were it put to a referendum, the Berlin plan for the European Union fiscal compact has been struck down again, primarily due to internal strife and international rejection of a financial transaction tax levied on stock trades. Using current market activity, some seventy billion euro annually could be skimmed off the top and shore up emergency funds. Opponents argue that such projections are unrealistic, since without region-wide or even world-wide buy-in, adoption of the tax, places with the tax regime would become islands, cordoned off from the rest of the financial sphere, which becomes in turn more lucrative for not having to worry about this tithe-ling—something very nominal, from a tenth to a hundredth of a percent of the value of the transaction.
Like the Tobin Tax on currency exchange, it would also reduce speculation and short-selling. At the same time, France has announced that it will introduce its own domestic transaction tax, regardless of what the rest of the world does, and given this weak contrary argument, I wonder how big that sphere of participants has to expand, according to the brokers and the bankers, to the make the field level, globally or within the euro-zone only. I am against austerity measures because in general they have been a poorly managed sacrifice (Aufopferung), uneven and without edification, but to corner the market and demand this tribute on any level is not only staving off the inevitable but also perhaps reducing the need to enact those tougher elements of the compact, including member states ceding control of their budgets and social programmes. A toll charge, easily and automatically born, that pushes some responsibility onto the banking houses that enabled this crisis is a better solution, despite any insincere fears of a temporary traders’ egress (to some other haven off-shore), than the lingering deflection of propaganda and stereotype, aggrandizing the status quo, which drains the possibility for real recovery and reform.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


There was a medley of developments in Germany today—again touching on individual sovereignty under fiscal solidarity, although at the end of the day, I suppose anyone should want to be part of a like-minded empire rather than in thrall to business and banking interests, and the reinvigourated failure of moving forward on a financial transaction tariff, however, deftly, I think it was the decoy story that let the others pass, virtually unnoticed:

nothing new, really, but quite relevant and publically digestable was the revelation that the chief German private consumer credit reporting agency (the equivalent of the triune of terror in the States of Equifax, Experion and TransUnion) and a university sociology department are researching the effectiveness of the internet and social networking sites in gauging the creditworthiness (Bonität) of potential clients. The team was a little red-faced about being exposed and assured reporters that the exercise was purely academic and on the up-and-up. I would not think that this sort of behaviour, while unpalatable in the extreme, was so very shocking. Already in American, it seems like fishing and harassment on-line is standard procedure for bill-collectors and underwriters. Just as employers might judge a candidate by his or her avatar and easily-accessible reputation (everyone’s a detective), I would guess that a bank or its minions might do the same thing before extending a line of credit to a stranger. An individual’s life on-line is certainly never complete and probably a caricature of his or her hopes, aspirations, maturity and responsibility, and there should not be an expectation of anything otherwise. Protection against this sort of prying is important but also, I think, tempting bait for the public’s and government’s attention, detracting from bigger and enforceable issues. I also found it funny that for all its covert research, the agency was not able to form an accurate picture of the performance of the same social-networking platform on the open market, which just shows what people will latch on to.

overseas telegram

Here’s a bit of typically nannying that strikes me like those Friday afternoon conscientious bureaucrat emergencies that necessarily wait until just before quitting-time and the weekend because to be unburdened and shared freely because it took the problem-holder all week to perfect it:

in a startling announcement, the culmination of some prancing concern and worse-case-scenario research that began back in 2007, the United States Postal Service, not the most agile and fleet-footed government entity even discounting strictures and operational model, has announced the ban on sending lithium batteries in the mail, extending at least over the holiday season and the beginning of next year, should contingencies and controls be in place. The electronics industry is outraged, although some meekly suggest that the ban is not completely without merit, since cellular phones, computers, navigation devices, watches, and hundreds of other little accessories are powered by such batteries, at times embedded and not so easily removed after manufacturing. Private shipping companies and contract couriers will still be able to post in- and out-going lithium batteries, which with the above, makes the decision seem completely arbitrary and misinformed, like the eager gloom of security theatre, since I imagine as cargo in boats and airplanes or in the bays of post offices, USPS and the packages of other companies are not segregated. Under extreme conditions or when poorly manufactured, there is a small risk of batteries catching fire or exploding in transit—but also I suppose at rest, on the shelf, in use, in Pago Pago or Novosibirsk and could be any hazardous or innocuous, randomly chosen, from substance Businesses and the national postal service will surely lose out over loss of volume and the effort associated with renegotiating carriers, not counting lost sales opportunities in the chaos or the large number of American expatriates living and working overseas. I hope that Royal Mail, Deutsche Post, and other rogue carriers do not mend their wayward ways, but such restrictions could possibly inspire electronics manufactures to invent new accoutrements that are powered by fear or by farce, which would still be hard-pressed to avoid end-of-the-day disasters.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


It is an ennobling project to try to capture the world’s wonders and share them with a public that may not be able to visit in person, and though a virtual tour will probably never be able to match the real experience, one effort, as theLocal reports, is falling perversely short. Using the same techniques that allow viewers to explore the world’s terrain, oceans, highways and byways, virtually drifting along any path, the towering Cathedral of Cologne (Kölner Dom) was inadvertently rendered squatty for this go around. The error will be redressed, I’m sure, but it would be a shock for anyone to see a favourite and important landmark sloppily portrayed. Some people trawl around for such gaffes but quite a few things that went overlooked were found by scouring satellite images and now endless pavement, and possibly this awkwardness will renew interest and pride and prevent the distortion (both through inattention and ignorance) of less familiar cultural and historic sites and allow more people to get to know as they really are.

pokal and fly-wheel

Some time ago, H found this beautiful and stern, smooth and geometric, loving cup or trophy (Pokal). There is no engraving or dedication, only a small plaque in the form of a winged wheel. I suspected that this logo was covering up something else but I’d never risk taking a peek, and is a little mysterious, like an unawarded prize and it is not clear what the symbol refers to: it could be the sign of a watch-making guild in München at the turn of the century or it could be a sign for the old Imperial Railroad (Reichsbahn) that preceded the Deutsche Bahn. Taking a walk around lunch time, I noticed for the first time this ornamental cornice piece of a cherub mounted above that same logo (although there’s a bit of variation with the spokes) cradling a steam engine. H found this treasure at a massive antique flea market (Flohmarkt), rather than in one of the sadly endangered emporia of hordes and cast-offs. It is has gotten increasingly harder to find a traditional antique or junk store, like this one occupying an old brewery building.

As this space and hobby gave the owners a mission to completely fill every available inch with stuff, one used to find a lot of store-fronts hanging on as vanities, something to showcase on the side that never sees much traffic or revenue, like photography or second-hand shops, proprietors got to have relaxed fun. Certainly the weekend markets are wonderful to explore and have traditions and trappings of their own as well, and though there’s a regularity to their season—with frequent and planned routes and tours and always a good excuse to discover some place new, I think towns and villages need this sort of kooky, lazy, sleepy enterprises (rather than ubiquitous telecommunication shops and fast food joints) as potential and permanent repositories of treasures.

beauty mark or parallax view

Our bit of the morning sun has unfortunately been hidden behind steely grey and rainy skies, so we weren’t able to try to see the shadow of Venus crossing the sun ourselves. The intense interest the event has garnered in hobby astronomers everywhere, however, does make me happy and I think expresses continued regard for the sciences and exploration. People flock and cluster around more common lunar eclipses (Sonnenfinsternisse) and meteor showers and though with more heuristic merit than a school science fair project reduplicated without discovery or method, and studying this rare transit will give planet hunters a better understanding of how to spot alien worlds around distant stars, who might disclose their existence by casting a similar tiny shadow and what the roughness of that shadow says about a planet’s atmosphere, size and composition. Historically too Venus has brought together astronomers from different countries and dispatched them to far-flung places, from Tahiti to the Desolation Islands (the French Kerguelen archipelago) by the Antarctic. For really the first time in modern times, scientists cooperated and collaborated on an international level to observe this phenomenon in the 18th century, needing to do so from several different vantage points, irrespective of national or religious convictions: comparing the incidence, size and angle of Venus from different points on the Earth at the same time let scientists extrapolate (from the known distances along the Earth) the distance between the sun and the Earth. That was a pretty nifty trick.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

crystalline entity

With a franchise spanning over four decades, many creative and original story-lines, astute social observation and visionary gaffing and rigging that’s brought us so far the tricorder and synthehol, the talents behind Star Trek could certainly be forgiven for coming up with a few dullards. Topless Robot has gathered trading-cards on the top twenty lamest Star Trek alien encounters in a fun and irreverent way, demonstrating I think there was genius behind missing the mark. The web site also features a lot of other humorous collections of sci-fi superlatives that stirs memories of all sorts of forgotten episodes.