Wednesday, 31 October 2012

a new hope

There has been an explosion of rash and petulant criticism of the news announcement that the Disney Corporation will acquire Skywalker Ranch, and proposes to carry on the saga through to its conclusion, as was the original vision, and beginning production of Episode VII in the coming year. While I was disappointed with the prequels and am wary of certain eddies in production, I do feel that there is little cause to worry over spoiling the memories of a classic.

plus ça change

Declarations by a few historians regarding their declaration of the Wikipedia project to be nearly complete proved quite provoking to many dedicated editors and chroniclers, but this pronouncement—certainly not of demise and redundancy but quite the opposite in terms of utility and comprehensiveness—does pose an interesting point of departure for the open encyclopedia.
Wikipedia, despite what the critics and academics say and inherent imperfections, is a storehouse of human knowledge in all disciplines as well as a virtual gloss of that which only exists in human imagination, describing in great detail fantastic universes that would make our small, contradictory and poorly understood one envious for attention.
 Historians argue that there only is so much that one can distill in the form of an article before passing out of the bounds of the project—Wikipedia is not meant to reflect the whole of its platform, the internet, and has standards of notoriety, endurance and significance as well as a duty to scholarship, and with over four million articles in English and over a million auf Deutsch (stubs excepted) one begins to tax his creativity and resources looking for something fresh to write about.
 Of course, Wikipedia is expanding through translation into other languages and complimenting translated outlines, sister-projects and speciality portals, as well as encapsulating current events in an archival fashion, but, aside from the high quantity of topics covered, it seems that this assertion of approaching conclusion is based on the lack of emendations and counter-edits of established and heady historical articles and many other broad subjects. 
While no one is saying that fewer changes equates to a lack of engagement or new authors going away having found that everything’s already been written, I don’t think it signifies anything more (nor less) than a level of maturity in style and presentation and execution that was crafted and molded by the forum itself, and curiosity, whether with or without a vehicle for immediate expansion or expression, and the sense of discovery and re-discovery are inexhaustible and will probably never become moribund or again seek out the protection of the slant of the victorious and influential.

gazetteer or atmospheric transients

The toll and scope of disaster, whether from the projections of actuaries and the hand-wringing of emergency-services or surveying the aftermath through the most empathetic lens, is never really compartmentalized, never fully reckoned and consigned to the past. Reconnaissance that brings tragedy and all its frightfulness cinematically close and is filled with superlatives, historic records to be broken, can make it seem like we are hurdling one closed catastrophe after another—with a process of rebuilding and recovery allowed but discussed little.
 The stupendous damage done from the Caribbean up the eastern flanks of the US and Canada also, I think, is something we are tempted to contain but is as resistant to that as any other hardship survived and then forgotten, only reminded by almanacs and dizzyingly unreal heights of high water marks, not only because every stern warning of calamity has come to pass (mostly heeded to and fatalities were mitigated) but also due to the chilling effects of preceding wreck and ruin: the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, the chaos of Fukushima and most recently the incarceration of Italian geologists for underestimating the severity of the last earthquake to strike the north of the country. For all the closeness and willingness to share, live and as it happens as well as thoughtfully remembered and recorded, society as a whole, I think, tends to permit the coping and the healing of a natural disaster, as opposed to something wholly prosecuted by man, to bleed into the present, after a seemly period of silence, for comparative purposes and to set new benchmarks. I hope that episodes with this sort of destructive power and worse do not become so commonplace and frequent as to force commiseration, but I fear that pollution and imbalanced has made the weather unpredictable and balky and any of us could come up against such challenges at any time. Reclaiming one’s lives and livelihood is a private matter—again, something that society would rather leave buried, perhaps because of an inarticulate fear that should such experiences become too ubiquitous, recovery for anyone becomes a prospect too far gone, the tipping point breached. Regardless of how we try to move on, the people affected by this disaster, however, should know that they don’t suffer alone and that their plight is not merely a rehearsal.


A comprehensive study commissioned by Greenpeace Germany of sports- and outdoor wear articles has determined that virtually all coats, jackets and clothing treated to be weather-proof retain those harmful chemicals.

It is not quite like the formaldehyde that leeches from furniture and carpets over its lifetime and exacerbates chemical sensitivities in people who live with it, but rather poses little risk of harm to those who wear the items—though the news, I suppose, could have been spun to incite a riot. The cumulative run-off of the manufacturing process, however, does present a hazard, with the polyfluorinated compounds (PFCs) that don’t degrade naturally and have the potential to build up in the environment, detrimental effects finding their way back to these outdoorsy types—really all and any consumer since it’s hard to find a new piece of clothing without such enhancements, like trying to find a telephone without a camera or a light bulb or a Quittung that is not a poisoned dart. The argument Greenpeace offered was a rather reasoned one: considering that some adventurers and professionals really do need to keep warm and dry even in the most violent weather, governments should not be harnessed with the responsibility of fully detoxing our jackets but consumers should instead take on the social conscience of asking retailers what went into making this or that coat and what traces are left behind and make a choice, since we all don’t need to be fully buffered from the elements at all times. Besides, so girded, one usually just stays dry for the first volley or so and a sustained downpour usually leaves everyone drenched.

Monday, 29 October 2012

we won't be pwn'd again

Via the ever splendiferous watchers at Boing Boing, Electronic Frontier Foundation reports on what struck me as a new tact on the part of the entertainment industry and intellectual property chieftains but is just I suppose the latest assault in the bullying-desperate attempts to alienate ownership, entrepreneurship and fair-use. Essentially, an international textbook publishing house has placed an injunction against a student from selling his used learning materials, because, they argue, the content was manufactured, compiled overseas and therefore not subject to the legal principle of first sale, a doctrine that makes venues like eBay and flea-markets and charitable giving possible because one is selling one’s ownership of the thing and not the copyrighted content of it. The US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments, for what seems like a sophisticated and possibly pervasive loophole, since there’s little that is created without non-domestic contributions, and is expected to strike the publisher’s case down as clawing.

For companies to be able to dictate what can be resold or given away after they’ve made their initial profit seems absurd and specious, if not blatant overstepping.  Industry, however, has been codifying and campaigning against the idea of right to property or some time, through various avenues and with unbalanced successes, attempting to extend the lifetime of copyrights and franchises and introducing a little estranging thing called an end-users’ licensing agreement (EULA), which is not a bill-of-sale but rather a permit to use and enjoy their goods and services within strictly defined parameters. While I do not think that the American high-court would open up a legal framework to criminalize garage sales and that there’s no way to argue stealing and counterfeiting out of piracy, there is a creeping and seemingly relentless offensive in favour of large-holders that is in the interest of everyone watching carefully.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

in season: butternut-salmon lasagna

There was a bit of confusion, mincing terms, when it came to identifying a Butternut squash (Birnenkürbis, “pear-squash”) distinct from a pumpkin (Kürbis) and the gourds (Winterkürbis) and the weirder varieties of bumpy and pie-faced squashes used to decorate stoops and storefronts for Autumn. Kürbisse are more generic (and diverse) than I thought, referring to any member of the Cucurbita family, native to Central America and separate from their European analogues of beets and turnips, including zucchinis and cucumbers, but once that was cleared up, we were ready to try something new.
For this dish to serve 3 to 4, one will need:

  • A medium casserole dish
  • A large Butternut squash, enough to get 1½ pounds from (600 – 750 grams), minus the skin and seeds (a slender squash, as compared to a dumpy one with wider squash hips tends to have less seeds) 
  • A bit of butter, flour (about 4 tablespoons each) and salt and pepper and fresh dill (chopped) and nutmeg (Muskat) for seasoning
  • 1 cup (250 ml) of cream
  • 2 cups (500 ml) of vegetable stock or bullion 
  • A 9 oz (250 g) package of smoked salmon (fresh or from the refrigerated section)
  • About 7 oz (200 g) of grated cheese (gouda or mozzarella) 
  • A 4 oz (about 100 g) package of lasagna pasta 
  • A large onion

Begin by shelling the squash and removing the seeds, and then slice the squash into small cubes and set aside.
Pre-heat the oven to 400° F (200°C). Peel and dice up the onion, frying it in a large pan until glassy in some butter over medium heat. Add a few pinches of flour to the pan (about a tablespoon in all) then pour in the broth and the cream, reducing the heat, and add the graded cheese, seasonings and garnish with the bundle of dill. Mix and leave on low heat for around five minutes. Take the uncooked lasagna noodles and arrange in layers in a casserole dish (grease with a bit of butter) apportioning slices of the salmon, squash and a dousing of the sauce, three layers deep. Pour the remaining sauce over the top, spinkling a bit more cheese over it, and allow to bake for about 45 minutes. Enjoy with a fine Moscato white wine.

trick or treat, money or eats

Saturday, 27 October 2012

in sextus novembris

Reflecting on the upcoming and rather secularized celebrations of Guy Fawkes Night, commemorating the foiled Gunpowder Plot of the Fifth of November where the triggerman Guy Fawkes is burned in effigy, it is curious how in some four centuries of historical memory documenting revelry, sentiment and celebration, we witness perhaps the process of transposition and myth-making. The many hypotheses regarding Christianity supplanting pagan feasts with their own holidays in order to ease the tradition, like All Saints’ Day and Halloween for Nordic and Celtic Samhain or Christmas for Roman Saturnalia, cannot be tested and accounts are only implicit and worked backwards.

From the evolution of children making and parading straw men (guys—the word entered the English language because of Guy Fawkes) to burn, the excuses for partying, the waxing and waning of traditions to the modern day trappings and personae of anonymity and disestablish- mentarianism. A roundly reviled character has been elevated and romanced as a folk-hero, but as a charitable abstract of their original motives, to return the monarchy to a Catholic throne and stop the persecution and punitive taxation of recalcitrant Catholics. Such movements, I think, would not like to swap one dominating authority for another, nor order for chaos neither. The celebratory mood may have been co-opted or evolved convergent with the close lying customs of Halloween and poses a strange puzzle to unravel, despite being faithfully recorded. This year there is quite a bit of healthy competition, with the election, as to what day might be the scariest. The choice of symbols is often a bit ironic, I think, like the Alamo where the Texan freedom fighters lost and their ranks decimated or the sign of the Cross. This year, on the eve of the presidential elections of the United States, there are some vague and unclaimed threats to kidnap and ransom the executive and legislative branches until the government is returned to the people. I only fear that the plotters’ ambitions will be forgot and the aftermath celebrated as another reason to brag and to continue girding ourselves against all threats--real, imagined and opportunely rebuffed.

ölkur oder open sesame

Since sharing my crooked smileand knowing that others have scrolled past it, I have become more aware of what I can do to improve my dental state—or at least feel better about it whether any measurable change happens. Let me preface what might turn out to be a cautionary tale with medical professionals are much better suited to dispense sound advice than any non-sequitir blog sought out or found at random on the internet and one should seek consultation before trying to stave anything off with home-remedies that could become a serious and costly problem. With due warning, I took to heart my aggressive tooth-brushing habits and wondered if my gums weren’t receding. I was not exactly sure, since as with the dulling of the enamel, it’s a gradual process to look long-in-the-tooth. Aside from smoking and genetic-predisposition, however, brushing too hard is the top culprit for gum damage.

I researched a bit to become more conscientious about being gentler yet effective and kept running across the term “oil pulling,” which sounded likewise aggressive or complicated so I didn’t investigate at first. In German, it’s called Ölsaugen or Ölkur and is a technique based on the hygiene practices of Ayurveda and only calls for an undemanding and passive regiment of swishing a spoonful of vegetable oil around one’s mouth. There is some commitment that can’t be shorted: the session ought to last between fifteen and twenty minutes (that basic level of dedication to any task, I think, would make a difference) and preferably should be performed in the morning, after brushing (maybe reverse the order from time to time or see which way works better for you) but before breakfast and coffee and swishing, channelling and pulling the oil over and through one’s teeth in a purposeful way. The choice of cooking oil should be circumspect as well—maybe not Wesson but any quality oil will do. Many practitioners use a cold-pressed sesame oil or sunflower oil, which probably are also beneficial due to their high vitamin E content—I chose thistle oil (Distelöl), half recalling another recommendation from Ayurveda that one’s diet ought to be native to where one was born and plain old corn oil did not seem to be advisable. Some use coconut oil, too, but that seems a little exotic for me. The idea is that the swishing and churning action “pulls” toxins from one’s mouth and they are absorbed into the oil, spit out afterwards, since it’s full of poisons. I guess it is the exercise, rather than the details, that’s important and though I was a bit sceptical and reasoned that I could not make any judgments on the effectiveness until at least two weeks of keeping up the routine, after the first few times trying it, I was really impressed with how clean my mouth felt, like it had been to a mouth-spa, a bit sore in a good way from the motion and detoxed, not jarringly but in a way hard to describe, like a feeling of curious disorientation. At minimum, oil pulling is supposed to be good for overall dental health, whiter teeth, stronger gums and fresher breath. There is only a paucity of scientific evidence or study, but on balance, there sure are a lot of positive testimonials, and I think I will see for myself if this simple routine helps.

Friday, 26 October 2012


Campaigning sets off a dissonance that I think goes hidden, unexamined too quickly for both the presenter and for the audience. It is not the art of oration, in my opinion, to suggest and convince segments of the public that what they want to hear untangles half-truths and heated promises, nor does anything more than mask the compromise and confusion. Though we’d like to look away and turn inwards, sometimes it is necessary to try to reconcile what does not quite correspond with reality.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

bunnicula, count duckula

Lore and superstition regarding vampirism, even preceding the imaginations of the writers they’ve inspired, sanction standard horror and a well-developed, though flexible, codex of rules governing the undead, but can also be keenly abstract in their beliefs.
Folklore of some populations in the Balkans, but surely anchored to a place, a patch of land as much as a particular people, created the overall apparition of the traditional vampire but also held the nightmare that inanimate objects, left out in the pall of the full moon, could become vampires. Certain fruits and vegetables were especially prone to being turned, especially melons, squashes and pumpkins still on the vine during this witching phase of the Moon. It is not clear if the vampire produce took on a changed appearance—nor caused much of a bother, other than rolling about and maybe lurching and bumping into things, but they were no longer fit to eat and needed to be ritually destroyed. The notion that gourds could harbour a malevolent, though paralyzed, force is pretty spooky, and there have been some creative and slightly goofy modern retellings. The idea of possession, a curse settling into a plant also made me think of that troupe of evangelizing vegetables from that children’s Christian television show. The practice of making a jack-o’-lantern out of a pumpkin comes from a completely separate string of traditions and folklore from the British Isles—originally, probably from a hollowed out turnip with the practical objective of making a torch whose flame was protected from the winds.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

consider yourself part of the furniture

Before living in Germany, I had never heard the word Stammtisch, although the phenomenon and culture of a table for regulars, a salon-society, and a designated meeting point, a reserved spot, for networking and politicking, like the word, had been long since an established fixture of many societies. That term sounded very formal, like holding court, and maybe that made me seek out a less down-to-earth translation or equivalent. It comes under other names, too, of course, including the cracker-barrel or Coffee-Klatch, which surely has German origins too, and all the different words with differing connotations of hierarchical sophistication. Cafes, guesthouses, inns (Gaststätte) and pubs usually distinguished the gathering point for their regulars with a special ceremonial ashtray or a table flag (Wimpel). Mostly the get-together has been sublimated in the form of a virtual presence, but in some places the tradition continues unbroken.

ingot audit or treu ounce

While the merest suggestion that all the gold reserves in Fort Knox might not be fully accounted for is dismissed as the anarchistic and rambling speculations of a Sanka drinking mountain woman, the same question posed by the German Schatzkammer, the competent authority for auditing such things as the nation’s some 3 400 tonnes of gold, seems to have drawn some serious, if not careful and apologetic attention.

Germany and other countries have some of their supplies held in case of emergencies at central banks and depositories around the world, in order to be able to more quickly liquidate their stocks in a foreign currency, should a crisis break out. Given advances in electronic commerce, the common currency of Europe and the shaky state of the economy in general, this arrangement does seem a little outmoded. Although assurances are issued annually, Germany also worries that its treasure might not be inventoried and guarded properly, if not loaned out from time to time, used as door stops or treated to a tea-party rather than quietly resting inert in the vaults. Unlike Fort Knox, with little trouble, the public can arrange tours and get a glimpse of the horde (it’s Germany’s that they get a peek of) in the deep cellars of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City, some fifteen levels below the street and beneath the waters Hudson Bay. I am sure it’s a safe place but perhaps the gold should be repatriated and not on permanent-loan.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

for you, vor ort, vorbei

While I believe these events were unrelated, it is of note that the push to institute a quota scheme for women in top management in German businesses came on the wake of the collapse of a drug store chain (Drogerie-Kette)that served as a pedestrian anchor in many neighbourhoods and smaller communities. The loss of this retailer not only means that residences need to go further for staples but the chain was also an important local employer in these host communities.
German public radio aired profiles of the so-called Schlecker-Frauen (mostly women worked there) and how they are managing after suddenly finding themselves unemployed, and it was an interesting portrayal of rippling insolvency that has not been the norm for German companies, just evaporating and leaving vacant units with no successor. Triangulating between these two matters, there was also a study sponsored by the Finance Ministry recently, perhaps to inject support for the arguments in favour of introducing quotas, that clearly showed that companies with female management and influence go under less often than their masculine counterparts. The research cited the more balanced and cautious leadership traits that women decision-makers tend to exhibit more than men, organic and holistic approaches that incorporate multiple elements into business factors and not an unwavering focus on returns. Under-represented as they are in the largest concerns (which the quota law is hoping to remedy), the Ministry does own that a risk-averse approach (riskioscheu Vorgehen) and may be attributed to the fact that women managers tend to mind smaller businesses in general and thus have less cash and resources to take gambles with. Conservative practices, however, are not the antithesis to striking a balance between personal and work life, no matter how a wager is underwritten. I am not such of the makeup of the decision-makers for the chain gone bankrupt but I wonder if it would have fared better, more discriminate expansion and focus on its original purpose, if management was a better reflection of its employees.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

prince of prussia

Over the weekend, taking advantage of the Indian Summer conditions and the full- spectrum of colours and hues, we had a chance to visit the town of Sigmaringen, situated between the city of Stuttgart and Lake Constance. The dominating palace was impressive of course in its own right and well worth the visit down to the finest details. Usually, despite a wealth of exceptions, I do not think of such a place as lording over a living community—present and mushrooming from the landscape, to keep the subjects in check. Exquisitely curated by the equally extant dynasty of the hereditary princes, the location has been through the ages an exclave of Prussian rule and a city-state as well as the headquarters of the Vichy government of France during the closing months of World War II, when Allied forces pushed collaborators into exile.

Friday, 19 October 2012

rigel seven or B-612

I walked outside this morning before daybreak and was reminded I haven’t taken the time to look up at the stars enough lately and be in awe and wonder. It was truly arresting to see the constellation of Orion splayed out with icy clarity bigger than the whole sky.
Though possible not the most hospitable of places by according to initial telemetry, this moment got me excited about the exoplanet discovered orbiting our neighbouring star. With some seven hundred far away planets found with many more candidates, I guess it is not such a rare or extraordinary find, but to think that that companion has always been there, even before the age of myths and the connect-the-dots construction of the constellations and their stories, and from modern times when humans became sophisticated enough to think that the Centauri system (and, depending on what naming convention is decided on and if other planets are discovered, it could be potentially called Rigel 7, from the designation that Arabic astronomers gave it, Rigel Kentaurus, the hoof of the Centaur) wouldn’t host planets, is pretty astounding. What the planet, mineralogical oddities and treasure or even more surprises since, like our moon, it probably has a dark side, always facing away from its broiling sun and might have a whole hemisphere of temperate of night, might host itself is exciting but immaterial, I think, because in that big catalogue of alien worlds, it is incredibly close and technically within our reach, relatively. Under impulse-power, we already could be there within decades, certainly within a human time-frame, and it’s comforting to think, whatever else is there, there is at least a place to land.


Although they are minor worries not to be agonized over, I am as yet undecided how to complete my work-week tenement. For a temporary arrangement, first I wonder if I ought to go to the trouble of a television set. TV certainly seems like something I could easily forego, though we do enjoy watching the news and documentaries from time to time, but, despite arguments that radio, broadcast television and print is outmoded and alien to the younger generation, no one really (especially, it seems, the most adamant disinters) do without staring off at rectangles in one way or another.
 I suppose I am preoccupied with this choice and alternatives because the room came fully and rather lovingly furnished, excluding the television and phone/internet, so those are in my house- keeping domain. Of course, I’ll be bringing a few familiar objects to keep me company (and it is nice and practical not to have to outfit and equip a second apartment and then end up with duplicate items, like we have before) and I’ll get to come home every weekend. Limiting one’s decorating palette to the impersonal glow of entertainment is not depressing or an unfavourable arrangement, but rather, I think, makes returning home and planning a new one all the more dear and exciting.

native mark-up language or cadence and marshalling

I have mused before on the exacting, formal language and grammar of heraldry (Heraldik), wonderfully medieval words and painstakingly florid descriptions in a tradition frozen and not liable to relaxing in rules and terminology due to the fact that such detailed and consistent instructions were necessary since there was no other way of transmitting an image, a coat-of-arms, short of recreating in full, with at least a sketch if not wholly with expensive tinctures and gilt. It is strange to think of pictures and impressions exclusively conjured up by the imagination and not communicated directly and I suppose it would be strange for our ancestors to experience anything otherwise. The economy of heraldry reminds me of a passage from A Canticle for Leibowitz when a monk depletes the cloister’s supply of blue tint faithfully reproducing a blue-print (Grundriss) and regrets later the waste, not realizing what was the cogent matter being conveyed with the floor-plan. All elements and attributes in blazons, on the other hand, have symbolic meanings. In adding a caption, however, even when not confined to a limited amount of characters, it’s always a choice about what details, style, emotion, likeness to focus on. I wonder if input and interface will progress to the point where one can summon up a picture with the imperfections of memory or the faulty conception of a non-artist. How many images have that same fimbriation in the dark clouds being pushed aside, and when inarticulate demands are materialized, how many chances for finding something new, different or tangential would be missed? Focusing on certain criteria, would we then miss the bigger picture and how style, likeness, nostalgia and influence hang together?

Thursday, 18 October 2012

time in a bottle or pluperfect and future-tense

Bottles of wine are a bit like little secondary time-capsules, necessarily so as part of the manufacturing process, hermetically sealed and stored up, sometimes for years and years—although it’s a misconception that all wines improve with age and many times will sour or become corked. This unintentional archive, however, does resemble some of the criticisms of time-capsules in general, those walled into cornerstones or buried under pyramids and parking lots, of being unreliable narrators (unzuverlässiges Erzähler).

Those who act as curators of the past and assemble artefacts of the present for inclusion generally are not futurists and professional thinkers condemn them for not stocking their treasure chests with items that would give archeologists a useful and complete picture of their lives, etc. The critics strike me as a little bit unfair and matriculating kindergarteners should not be discouraged from hiding away something as a class and as individuals. Picking up the gravel drive way, I hesitate a bit over tossing an old screw, bit of glass, cigarette butt in the kip to eventual become the strata of a landfill and usually just knock it aside into the tall grass—for the benefit of future explorers. I wonder if any more historical elements are accidentally transmitted with the bottle under seal, other than the craft of wine-making and the quality of the growing season, the chemical signature of the terroir. While those characteristics are certainly sufficient, I do wonder if there’s not some other wayfarer (Anhalter) that’s been overlooked with the vintage, some snap-shot of a quality or quantity that isn’t recognized until later, like the growth rings of trees or ancient insects captured in amber (Bernstein).

stranger danger

Not that a day passes in the office without some sort of productivity disruption, which are mostly generated from within, conflicts and incom- patibilities among systems and safeguards, like some great, counter-adaptive lupus, but I’ve never prodded around enough to see this message and illustration before. The empty park bench symbol conveys something shady and sinister, like the perch for an electronic eavesdropper or a meeting point for something off-the-record. I wouldn’t necessarily think that the platform felt that way about public internet, but I do think that it fits to the attitude in the IT department that would go into conniptions over the idea of anything unregulated or anonymous—otherwise unsecure but not optimal for functionality either.

a series of tubes or recursive doodle

Via Colossal, photographer Connie Zhou brilliantly documents her privileged and exclusive visit to one of Google’s data centres. The organization and complexity of this wondrous information factory seems unreal, like a bonus level from Super Mario world manifest in reality. Getting this glimpse of where the internet lives reminded me of another fantastic piece of plumbing, one of the buildings of the National Library system in Paris (Bibliothéque nationale de France), which also has hot and cold running knowledge.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


It becomes strange what one doesn’t give a second glance after a bit of indoctrination. There is not exactly an aggressive giant chair advertising offensive making this too commonplace to notice, but one does find such structures fairly regularly in the parking lots of bigger cities—at least in southern Germany—sort of, I suppose, like Bob’s Big Boy but these examples are I think much more arresting, eye-catching landmarks, even if they’re just for marketing too.

Perusing the phenomenal adventure guide for curious destinations, Atlas Obscura, for something neat to see not too far away that we might have overlooked a few weeks ago, I learnt that the largest office chair in America is located not far from where my sister lives. From the vignette, I couldn’t really tell if it was in fact something to write home about, which she never did, or if it was something too that one stopped seeing with time and familiarity—driving with a newcomer down main street and when they ask ‘oh, what’s that?’ just replying without glancing away that’s just the largest office chair in America, sort of like Guy de Maupassant who took lunch daily directly underneath the Eifel Tower, which he thought an eye-sore, since from that vantage point, he was guaranteed not to have to look at it.  There is our regular again, Monsieur de Maupssant—he hates it here. It sounds like a distinction, nonetheless, and I will have to ask my sister to investigate.


I feel somewhat like a pariah, having been bounced around from one closing American military installation in Germany to another, like some foster child and it seems that I have been bad luck in terms of longevity. And as this place is winding down operations and the tempo of deployments is letting up, we’re witnessing the same mad rush to close out contracts and accounts with a flurry of new construction, both cosmetic and structural improvements.
The properties and housing units can be re-purposed for civilian use easily enough and brought up to code, streets straightened and the American ghettoes Deutsche-formed (like terraforming), but there seems to have been a lot of procrastination, denial and uncertainty about how to proceed, abandon that lets commitments and de-logistics go forward with controls or a plan. This closure cycle is different, and not just for the break of a decades’ old tradition and a cultural institution that was an integral part of the post-war era, but also because the military presence is too rarified and no parent organization is thereto assume command. All the activity, I think, overshadows chaos and the fact that no one really has designs on this substantial block of property, and is carried out to the end, since the government is honour-bound to host-nation contracts and it is cheaper to return buildings up to standards rather than raze them. Of course there is the historic character of the buildings to preserve, as well, and it would have been a loss to plaster over history and this place’s former incarnations, like one sees sometimes with faux half-timbering and friezes dappled with painted shadows, though I don’t think they’d replace this after-image. It just struck me as a little ridiculous (but typical, emblematic) that work was being carefully done around that architectural element. It’s a frustrating feeling to be always coming into things as they are changing and in transition, but I suppose that experience is neither uncommon nor unlucky.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

botany bay

Boing Boing, the directory of wonderment and righteous transparency, reports on a leaked letter of instruction from the American cabal of internet service providers to their subscribers, customer-base, which makes clear in no uncertain terms that habitual copyright infringers will have the array of popular, possibly with stultifying results, social networks disconnected until the offenders (determined by the companies themselves, I am sure, who are, for the most part, subsidiaries of the film and recording industry) complete a reeducation regiment to teach people to respect intellectual property. Apparently, this new policy will come into effect during the height of the holiday season in the States, with other providers sure to follow suit quickly with litigious brinksmanship, when people are not at all distracted and have a laser-like focus on the small-print. Incorrigibles, I’m sure will be marched to their local penal colony after shopping on Black Friday.

Monday, 15 October 2012

mortising or between spaces, no one can hear you kern

Perhaps I am a bit behind the curb in noticing but I haven’t visited the auction site in a few weeks and mostly prefer my old fall-back local flea-markets—not that I only visit like a desperate madman on his way to a Secret-Santa holiday office party and we do regularly find some incredible pieces there—but I am really displeased with the choice the eBay made with its new typeface.

 It looks like something that I could manage in PowerPoint (not to disparage what one can create with that platform either). The redesign conveys nothing, and I find it a little remarkable that the typesetting of the clothing retailer GAP (which I have no connection with) made its way to the headlines here, among others, with protests in the streets that forced the company to redact those changes, condemned to have never happened and no one is allowed to speak of, fleet-footed but there’s nothing about the decision of a multinational’s altered appearance.  Marketers ought to be careful about messing with an established look.


 A US politician, not a contending mouth-piece fortunately but despicable all the same, made the hateful comment some months ago that the Palestinians were a made-up people and proposed to exclude them with prejudice from all future negotiations. While this was not the words of a gadfly and hopefully the statement’s reverberations went no further than a few pandering sound-bites, the conferring of the Nobel Peace Prize on the European Union, and a lunch-time quiz to name the twenty-seven member states of the EU, a tricky task sometimes with some distinctions lying in semantics and treaties and not just geography, made me wonder if the same arrogance and dismissiveness are not also at work in the halls of this organization. I want to say this carefully, and I hope that I am not so naïve as to gloss over real—though cryptic—bigotries or the rules and reforms contingent on ascension, but I was not fit for the challenge and could not name two members on the periphery of the glaring hole at the nexus of the Balkans.  The region that gives its name to allegorical device was created by the successive collapse of empires, first the Ottoman, then Austro-Hungarian and the Russian Imperia and the finally the Soviet Union, and the fast breaks with feudalism revived sectarian fighting, parallel to the wars and de-colonization of the European powers in Africa and Asia that redrew the lines in the sand, creating new national entities with borders that did not necessarily match historical and culture contexts.
The region has made a lot of progress since being defeoffed and may not be looking to reinstate being lorded over in any measure nor want to join, necessarily, at this juncture—quite a few of the current members I think are grumbling over their association and it is not as if all the current upstanding, founding membership was completely forthcoming and honest about their own conditions and by-laws in the first place. While I am sure there are good reasons for doing so, there is even one country there named, in English, anyway with the unspeakably sad moniker of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and I could not guess what the endonym might be and it seems to make it seem more like a place where Europeans do not live.  The EU is not Europe and forced, coerced inclusion is never a good thing, but it is a distressing thought that accomplishment and self-determination would be belittled for the sake of making the disparager’s case look more secure.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

household atomics

Although it is a matter for debate and speculation through the rather myopic lens of the Cold War and the policy of deterrence what the grounding motivations for the speech and the project were, US president Eisenhower’s 1953 address to the United Nations’ General Assembly on “Atoms for Peace” was a bold and defining departure.
This message, most likely worded to bring the antiseptic of daylight, more transparency and less secrecy that characterized how research and maintenance of stockpiles was conducted prior, to that “bucket of sunshine,” as Khrushchev called the bomb, aimed to promulgate nuclear power for peaceful purposes—energy, medical research, etc., and to assuage public fear that such destruction would not be visited on the Earth again, with the irreconcilable horrors of Japan still very raw and tensions escalating between the two superpowers. No longer state secrets because of this move for peaceful proliferation, the US knew better that state of players on the periphery and developing and nascent powers, with newly-acquired know-how under special tutelage, were able to develop generators, reactors and laboratories.
Until recently, this openness has helped mean that the founding members of the nuclear club have kept their munitions but very few have applied for membership, perhaps content with pursuing their own goals in regard to transitional power supplies and perhaps with the assurance that, in a pinch, they too could weaponize their stocks. Some argue that the underlying stratagem was to persuade NATO allies to shift their focus to developing and maintaining a nuclear arsenal, rather than more costly traditional armaments and standing armies and regard the policy of sharing technologies as having gravely backfired. I believe, rather, that this approach figuratively built in fail-safes and backdoors that was a greater instrument of restraint than mutually assured destruction. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle but well-crafted diplomacy and confidence seem much more enduring than dictates and fighting wars by proxy.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

verðlaun, iad duais, the prize, o prémio, el premio, el premi, ar priz, le prix, de prijs, den präis, der prisen, premija, den prisen, i priset, palkinto, auhind, der preis, il premio, præmium, il premju, lu premiu, w nagroda, a díj, cena, çmimi, premiul, τα βραβεία, прэмія

It is a great honour to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, along with 502 million fellow Europeans, and I believe in the congratulatory and admonishing spirit of the committee’s unanimous decision. Individuals surely take on the burden and potential of promoting harmony, too, and there are worthy and magnanimous individuals out there working in the public and struggling in the shadows to those ends, but awards en masse, neither slights for the other nominees nor anodyne and over-cautious, are not without precedent, like when the prize was given to Doctors without Borders (Médecins sans Frontièrs, Ärzte ohne Grenzen) or Great Britain conferring the George Cross collectively to the people of Malta for gallantry during World War II.

Cumulatively, the people of Europe and not just their ombudsmen and institutions have realized peace, progress and understanding while preserving and even sharpening individual culture and heritage in just scant decades from a landscape of conflict and autocracy. Conspicuous heroism is sometimes hard to see in the glare of everyday daylight. This is a feat that should not go unrecognized and the prize is not diluted by bureaucracy as an instrument of reconciliation and cooperation that goes by an institutional name, but rather, I believe, serves as an important nudge that everyone, regulators and citizens and those associates and cadets branches and those waiting in the wings alike, should try to live up to what’s been bestowed on and inherited and be not distracted from the course by threats that divide and diminish.

Friday, 12 October 2012

logograph or measuring box and hollyhocks

I don’t pretend to know anything about the subject, the distinct traditions of the Japanese ideas of heraldry and vexology are quite something to survey. Here is a collection of family crests, akin to coats-of-arms, which fall into geometric categories, like variations on hawks’ feathers, oaks, measuring boxes, plums, peonies, cranes, etc. Mouse over the image for a description. One can see that a few of these arms have found their way into the blazoning of the Western corporate world, used as logos by a certain banking enterprise, political party brands and monograms, a hardware manufacturer, and a few other as yet undiscovered ones. I like to think that the necessarily large and diverse marketing department that spearheaded these advertizing campaigns had some insight into their inspirations and there’s some allegory and symbolism behind the decisions. I’d like to think so anyway, although I often run up against a curiosity barrier when the matter of things gets too dense.
One ought to at least try to learn the provenance of one’s emblems. It really gets me, nonetheless, how unabashedly the new logo of our office copier samples from the flag of Kyrgyzstan. Admittedly, their old design was not very inspired and the one before that seemed to suggest fading and copy-degradation, but the banner of the former Soviet Republic seems to have little to do with xerography.

t9 or sui generis

Although not quite in contention as laureate material for its sometimes frustrating poetry, the chain of developments—from Pennsylvania 6-5000 to telephony for the hearing impaired to text-messaging—that led to predictive text, T9 technology, I think, deserves acknowledgement.
At first, I didn’t care to have my lines stepped on or my sentences completed when tapping out a little telegram, plus the fact that nimbleness of digits come with practice on any keyboard, but once I got more accustomed to the interface and being able to switch languages, I started to enjoy it, even appreciate it. Another interesting aspect is the strange word puzzles, poems by substitution that come out of the sequence of numbers, at first as broad suggestions and then narrowed down, like from gone, hone, home, hoof, goof, hood, to good. This transforming vocabulary do not quite make anagrams (Anagramme) but have a similar feel and I think the hidden relationships of neighbouring words that pop up are surprising and probably reveals something about the spacing and arrangement of the alphabet and the dimensions of language, as both disambiguations adapt.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

powerhouse or conundrum

There is political and business consensus that the Energie-Wende, Germany’s planned transition away from nuclear dependency and towards more ecologically sustainable energy sources, will demand sacrifice and see a dearer cost placed on utilities, probably a truer reflection of the impact our accustomed lifestyles have on the environment. The recently passed bundle of regulations championing renewables, das Erneuerbare Energie Gesetz (EEG), is expected to propagate an increase in electricity costs of up to two fold in the coming year, which will of course having ripples through out the marketplace, and not ending with the average 50 € annual increase per household. That does not seem like too great of a price to pay but it may continue to climb by the same percent or higher in the following years, and does not take into account other fuels and knock-on prices.

Consumers are not bearing all the costs associated with the greening of the of the energy sector, but a significant contributing factor to the rate hikes households will see is the subsidizing of energy intensive industrial activities with reduced rates and tax exemptions. In some cases, the breaks have probably overreached their intent, places like golf courses beneficiaries of the same savings as factories, but however one feels about this reserved advantage to manufacturing, the lower rates help keep jobs and production in Germany and keep costs for finished goods competitive. Discounts for businesses means that the public have to pay higher rates to keep on track with targets, but should these cuts go away, there will be a certain threshold beyond which it is more economically sensible to relocate production and/or have domestic consumption and exports suffer by higher end-costs. Perhaps a two-tiered, public and corporate standard for carbon-swaps and emissions controls is not far behind, to ensure reforms are not damaging to important businesses.  Germany’s stewardship and aims are admirable, though in this economic environment, such behaviours do not seem to be courting many imitators, and while consumers aren’t exactly footing the entire bill for corporate influentials, but I do feel that a better equilibrium should be struck between commerce and ecology to keep all sides viable and not dishonour those ambitions by merely propping an artificial and hollow sense of affordability, competitiveness and real, overall progress on protecting the environment.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

tabula rasa oder pen and ink

With her stylus and ink-pot at the ready, this lady from classical antiquity seems to enjoy drawerering quite a bit. I can’t decide, however, if she would be a graffiti artist herself. Nonetheless, what could go on this blank canvas seems like an open invitation to construct one’s own meme.


I wonder if a flowchart ever really simplified a human decision-making process, or whether such diagrams always instigated a little aversion and defeat at first glance, regardless of content. Such a tool may be fit for representing, in terms of a more natural language, the input/output of computer programming but I think the collection of conditions and operators presented is just another layer shrouding instinct or bias in many cases. Flow diagrams provide a framework for solving algorithms, which computers can become very good at, but are not exhaustive or predictive of every contingency and are probably best at making snarls, choke-points more apparent.
Humans, I believe, are more apt to respond to a proof or a concrete and universal rule, rather than a passably effective way to work something out. While we are not always afforded the luxury of hard and fast laws for guidance and improvisation is called upon, but I do not think that the absence of established rules calls for the creation of provisional systems that either beggar our worse judgment or second-guess real leadership and such a method is not a substitute for an authentic imperative or thorough reasoning.
Once a system or method gets complicated enough, and I believe such code sketched out in long hand would quickly become too complex for human navigators, it becomes fairly convincing.
The people who design such charts are also fairly keen on the credibility of their work-product, and it can become problematic when inventors get too proud over their schemes and throughput. It’s scary to think that such guidelines (the branching off of process charts is called a swimlane), which is the deft guesswork and approximation of machines and field manuals, might be held not to the same rigour and standards as something inviolate and accepted without question.

grammar of ornament

The online consortium of partner museums, Europeana, citing the original artefacts, gives one the means to curate his own special exhibits—like this astounding collection from Black County History in the English Midlands of the conscientious renderings of regional and historic patterns distilled by an astute Victorian observer named Owen Jones in a sampler called The Grammar of Ornament.
There are several colour plates of patchwork patterns typifying Turkish, Egyptian, Far Eastern and Mediterranean designs, as well as European work from different periods, all collected and projected through the lens of that era. Both the European site and its contributing resources are definitely worth a visit, and are sure to leave one inspired and searching for more.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

halltree and hutch

We were passing through the town of Kelkheim, in the midst of the conurbations of Wiesbaden and Frankfurt/Main yet still buffered by farmland and with a detectable difference in character that is not always preserved in suburbia. I thought that this modernist water element in the market square was intriguing—water erupting out of and cascading down a verdigris chest of drawers.
It was not until later did I realize that this public fountain was a connect to the town’s living traditions of carpentry and furniture-making. For unbroken generations, I understand, the community’s talent was a nexus for the furniture business, bringing together quality materials, craftsmanship and shrewd entrepreneurship, having the foresight to equip a population on the transition from rural to city living with affordable furnishings, together. The characteristic pieces of the town’s workshops reflect the equally sensible and canny coming together that mark the era of industrialization, Gründerzeit, the Founding Epoch, that created the need for such a profusion in homes and homewares for workers and their families that flocked to the factories seeking work. The furniture is massive and monumental but with an elegance like the architecture of the time, functional and adorned with elements and embellishments of historic movements. The styles prefixed with “neo-,” like Neo-Gothic, Neo-Classic, Neo-Baroque were developed then. It is interesting to appreciate how trends and traditions contribute to one another.

station house rock oder kalendarblatt

Though I’ve passed by this information board in front of our local police station dozens of time, in all seasons and through all sorts of reminders, like this one admonishing drivers to practice extra caution with the resumption of the school year, I never had my camera with me before to capturing these charming, vintage bulletins. I am sure the force has been faithfully cycling through the same almanac of annual events, warnings and advice campaigns for decades. It reminds me of how they used to decorate elementary school classrooms for the seasons and the holidays, tacking up to the walls a succession of presidential busts, leprechauns, tall ships, skeletons, turkeys, etc. Schools and office lobbies are still decorated but I guess dealing out such calendar pages does not happen so much any longer—at least at some places.

Monday, 8 October 2012

gianni cakes or crespelle alla fiorentina

We have made this delicious meal, which is by turns, either like crepes or quesadillas, a few times but did not bother to document it before. It is more labour intensive but very tasty and worth the effort and concentration. This is the only dish of detail I know that conspicuously calls for a hard and a soft cheese.

To make approximately 5 generous-sized crespelle, one will need:
  • 300+ grams (11 ounces) of frozen spinach 
  • 200+ (7 ounces) grams of Ricotta cheese 
  • 6+ tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan cheese 
  • 4 large eggs 
  • Salt, pepper, fresh Muscat (grated) 
  • 500 ml (2 cups) of milk
  • 150 grams (1¼ cup) of flour
  • Cooking oil and extra butter to fry the crespelle and line the casserole dish 
  • 250 ml (to make about one cup) of vegetable stock or bouillon for the Béchamel sauce

Begin making the spinach and ricotta filling by ensuring the spinach is thawed and malleable. Combine this with the ricotta, 2 eggs, 3 tablespoons of the Parmesan and seasonings to taste. Mix until thoroughly blended and no longer lumpy.

Next, prepare the batter and one’s work space for the crespelle. Melt about 50 grams (2 ounces) of the butter in a pan. Meanwhile, combine the other two eggs, about half of the milk, some cooking oil, a pinch of salt and about 100 grams (2/3 cup) of flour into a large mixing bowl and beat with a whisk. Adding a ladle’s worth of batter to the pan on medium heat, make the crepes, frying them about two minutes on each side, and allow the stack to sit for a few minutes to cool.

In the meantime, one can prepared the Béchamel sauce, first melting the remaining butter in a small pot and adding the rest (about 50 grams, about half a cup) of flour to it. Once melted, pour the mixture of flour and butter into the frying pan used for the crespelle. Slowly introduce the remaining milk and stock to the pan and stir gently on low heat, seasoning with the muscat, salt and pepper to taste.
Watch it to make sure the milk is not scalded. Scoop about four table spoons of the spinach filling onto each crepe and roll loosely and place in a greased casserole dish. Pour the Béchamel sauce over the crespelle and top with the remaining three tablespoons of Parmesan. Bake the casserole in an oven preheated to 175°C (350°F) for approximately 30 minutes. Then serve and enjoy with a light Riesling.