Saturday, 30 November 2013

les cigales or call for submissions

For the past two years, a mysterious and tantalizing puzzle has been intriguing internet users and the next installment of the scavenger-hunt is expected to appear within a few weeks. A computer analyst from Sweden stumbled upon an irresistible invitation from an organisation calling itself Cicada 3301. The call to find the others and to R.S.V.P. (regrets only) by teasing the hidden message out of the invite.
The clues led across a daisy-chain of increasingly challenging riddles, requiring novel and creative minds to resolve. Interest quickly spread with thousands participating and Cicada 3301 responded in kind with more and more esoteric subjects (involving obscure poetry, alchemy, rare music and even detours into the physical world) and rabbit-holes—that has brought many of the new initiates to the uncharted territories of the world-wide web, called the Darknet, that are not normally accessible to the public via search engines, the massive mantle under the surface of unindexed data that's multitudes bigger by volume that the visible internet world. Despite the great scrutiny and speculation of the hive-mind, no one has fully solved the puzzle or identified who is behind Cicada 3301. What do you think? Could it really be a recruitment tool, a push to gather the world's prodigies like in This Island Earth or The Last Starfighter? Could it be an experimental sandbox for the world's colluding intelligence networks to cull the best and brightest among cryptographers or to arrest their development? Is it just a game? Or worse, is it some publicity stunt that will lead up to the announcement of some new crap cyborg gadget? I personally think it might be a sentient internet's attempt at reaching out to its creators. Watch for the next clue to appear on 4. January 2014.


There was a very poignant and unexpected collection of memories narrated over the radio in commemoration of the upcoming seventy-fifth anniversary of the rescue mission Kindertransport, organsied by British Jewish and Quaker leadership in the days following die Kristallnacht (the Night of the Broken Glass) until the outbreak of World War II.

Some ten thousand children in Nazi Germany and in occupied lands were placed with foster families in England, Scotland and Wales. The first trains departed Germany to arrive in Harwich on 1. December 1938. The war orphaned many of these saved children but bonds were strong with their adoptive families. Though the story of this exodus is retold from time to time through the lens of historical drama and has been the subject of theatre and movies and fate of these refugees is not unknown or forgotten, involving many famous personalities, it does seem that the dread decision to split families apart, parents hoping to find sanctuary that many times was not a temporary arrangement, and the acts of kindness maybe have been so well attended. The remembrance is especially pointed with the current climate on immigration and welling refugee crises. Just a few from a multitude of stories, the radio montage was mostly recounted through the experiences of Sir David Attenborough, whose family, a headmaster at a boys' school in Leicester responded to the urgent call for volunteers to take in displaced children.
One day, not long after the project started, Attenborough's mother brought home two young girls that became they boys' foster-sisters. An avid fossil- and rock-hound from an early age, it was piece of amber (Bernstein) from the beaches of the Baltic (Ostsee) filled with preserved prehistoric insects. This frozen terrarium, microcosm, was a source of fascination and inspired the nature documentary The Amber Time Machine decades later and included one of the first rigourous scientific attempts to extract ancient DNA. There was also the powerful story of Kurt Beckhardt, the son WWI Luftwaffe ace aviator, Felix Beckhardt, from Wiesbaden whose achievements were later discounted by the Nazis and supplanted by more palatable heroes because of his Jewish heritage. As his father's record and activities became more of a nuisance, the young Beckhardt was sent to England while his parents were held at Buchenwald. His parents eventually escaped and fled to Portugal—the family reunited years later but very much shaped by these separate odysseys.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

the man with the midas touch, a spider's touch

I tend to keep the news in German on the t.v. On in the background and usually I can play-along at home with divided attention but there has been a lot of talk and debate recently over tax reform and much mention of the Goldfinger Steuermodell—“Goldfinger nichts mit James Bond zu tun.” The German tax code is something impenetrable, I image even for a native, so I decided to investigate: Goldfingern, as a gerund, refers to the practise of taking advantage of a certain tax-shelter, a loophole (indeed named after the Bond villain Auric Goldfinger), which the Bundestag is moving to close.
Essentially businesses and individuals with the means buy enormous amounts of gold (or some other asset that's going to increase in value and easily convertible) through an agent, a front-company, in some other country and declare the purchase a loss in order to zero out their tax liability. Given the geometric progression on the increase of the price of the commodity, they stand to make a profit whenever they choose to sell—the next day or next year. Under existing treaties that aim to mitigate double-taxation, avoiding having to pay taxes to one's country of allegiance and to where the profit was made, money made from such transactions are not subject to tax. The agreements state that the rate will be adjusted to reflect the profits but as those engaging in this practise are already in the top bracket, there is no additional tax collected. It does not only happen in Germany, of course, and uncounted billions are estimated to be lost. When one hears about giant corporations paying nothing into the tax-coffers despite record profits, goldfingern is one of the tricks they employ—and it is not that they have particularly clever or ruthless tax-preparers.

cinematic titanic or play MSTIE for me

The name PfRC is a nod to the series Mystery Science Theater 3000—the 1998 episode lampooning the 1958 Jack Arnold feature, The Space Children. Just ahead of the abduction—encounter, the children gleefully announce the discovery of an ominous cave—to which one of the Bots quip, “It will be perfect for our delicious Roquefort cheese. MST3K premiered 25 years ago on Thanksgiving Day on a UHF broadcast station in the Minneapolis area. Mental Floss has more on the show's history, legacy and some trivia. The Mads are calling.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

till by turning, we come around 'right

Writing for the ever surprising and peripatetic Neatorama, Miss Cellania turns our attention to the avatars of Thankgivings past. Of course, originally, the feast was a communal celebration—an aspect that continues to the orphaned. I have enjoyed quite a few good and grateful meals in the company of strangers in the mess-hall. With gentrification, however, it became a chance for being seen and ostentation, by dining among peers in the swankest, most exclusive restaurants. I like the idea of community though the idea of privilege over noblisse-oblige and flaunting of ones means not so much. Thanksgiving dinner retreated to a private affair, prepared at home and an inviting rather than insular affair, with the signals from the economic downturn that followed this gilded age.


The Christmas season is a bit on the advance but is generally, neatly bookmarked by Advent. I notice that some stores slowly introduce seasonal items—chocolates and such, earlier and earlier but refrain from decking out the rest of the festoonery until some else, usually sponsored by the community, dares and then all the shops go really all-out, pharmacies, kiosks, hotel and restaurants very house-proud of their show-window displays.

I'm a little bit embarrassed by my little string of coloured lights laid along the window sill that I don't think are even visible from the outside, whereas I can see little twinkling displays across the street. My apartment building, however, is completely blacked-out—to the last flat and I think I'd be insensitive to do otherwise. I had the chance to visit the “Shooting Star” market of the city in the early afternoon. It had a nice atmosphere, but I found I was missing the crowd and bustle and not knowing what ornaments and crafts that one is missing before being compelled to move along—plus the illumination, which was meek under the overcast skies. I was having fun but decided to visit another Schaufenster, show-window, in the city museum's new exhibition, Germany for Anfänger—Deutschland for Beginners. A few galleries illustrated German identities and cultures, I sort of a tongue-in-cheek, self-critical manner, in twenty-six letters, no umlauts.
It addressed stereotypes and what's true about German mannerisms, D for Dialects—which are a source of pride through also of ridicule, or B for Brauchtum—customs, which can be tacky, tawdry traditions as well, and so on with a lot of deference to the Grundgesetz (the Basic, Constitutional Law) interspersed. Importantly, there was also Y (Upsilon) for Yabancı işçi (guest-workers in English and Ausländische Arbeitskräfte auf Deutsch) for integration, change and the Multikulti. Significantly, the etiquette for each letter was rendered in German, English and Turkish. My favourite display was O für Ordnung—order, with a collection of officious-looking stamps and traffic-signs and a lengthy narrative about rules for patches of gardens, children at play to include taxation of the rain-water that runs off ones roof, met both with disdain and comfort.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


Der Spiegel's international desk has a interesting feature on attempts in the Rheingau and surrounding regions to preserve traditional viniculture with robotic aid. Engineers at the University of Geisenheim have developed a rover-prototype that can scale the steep hills at times approaching a right-angle.

For decades, many vintners have chosen to retire their harvest to flat land as the geometry of steeper slopes has proven unprofitable and presents a risk to life and limb. Hillsides are preferable because the grapes here tend to be exposed to more sun and enjoy better drainage, thus preventing rot on the vine. Along the Rhein, however, I know that there are growers who perennially open up grape picking to volunteers of the public and feast them after a hard day's work. With some modification to the rows of vines yet minimal supervision, the robots can accomplish routine tasks like watering and pruning and have even produced their own vintage, taste-tested by vineyards in doubt. Reception is positive and apparently the units are on pre-order, but there's no word if they will be assigned additional duties.

Monday, 25 November 2013

paying peter to rob paul

Just scant weeks after the European Union floated the proposal to set negative interest rates for its institutions, there are reports that some American banks threatening to impose the same for depositor accounts should the US Federal Reserve step back on its programme of buying assets—that massive lienholder effort on the part of the US government that has been keeping up appearances for months.

Unlike the thinking-out-loud on the part of the EU, which hoped that making hoarding money less attractive by degrees and encourage people to park otherwise idle money in other vehicles, or what the central bank of Japan has already implemented, US policy is rather being ransomed by banks poor-mouthing about the costs that they'll have to pass along to the small-holders to offset losses elsewhere. Encouraging savers to sacrifice to the markets, toss their money into the ring, however, is not a good plan either—since that system is too propped up by the same shaky scaffolding. What dictates that certain balance-sheets can only trend upwards at the expense of everyone else? There are administrative costs of course with keeping open a de minimis account, but this seems to me like a bluff, since any holdings a bank can claim grows exponentially with the amount it is allowed to lend at a premium, but I guess also that's the point of this concurrent stimulus, urging people—though in a back-handed way, to put their money to good use rather than keeping it in their coffers.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

tv tray

I really do enjoy cooking and trying new things—as well as tried-and-true recipes that require more effort than the old stand-bys of frozen pizza, boil-in-bag Indian dinners and fry-ups (though all carefully selected), despite that sometimes my offers to help are deferred to setting the table. I insist that it's not laziness that overcomes continuing overtures to prepare something more elaborate than processed foods and ready meals but I question what's in season and has a shelf-life—since I always am a bit put-off by the idea of tidying up afterwards and making such a fuss just for myself.

We barely use the embodiment kitchen-witchery, the microwave oven: plenty of compatible items, which is what processed meals really are, still go with this appliance, but the strange redoubts of speed, faster than boiling water or pre-heating did not seem to delivery something revolutionary. In fact, despite the promulgation of fast- and convenience-foods, however presented with a conscious, there is something quite counter-revolutionary to the notion that all meals in the future will be in re-constituted pill-form. I am a bit skeptical, however, that the claims of food brands are anything more than marketing, pandering to a guilty public who believe that one can undo laziness with a healthier choice—like dry cake-batter calling for a egg to make one believe that one is actually baking something or including nebulous urban-legends concerning burnt or ill-prepared foods, not followed to the letter causing cancer. I load my pizzas with all sorts of unsanctioned and incompatible fresh toppings and spices and probably satisfy myself with the same mechanism.


Via the Presurfer comes a rather frightening look at the gaping size of the blind-spot (Totenwinkel, deadly corner)--especially for lorries and bigger vehicles on roadways in the UK, which take on a very dangerous through the looking-glass aspect when one is needing to change driving orientation. This phenomenon presents a very serious risk, particularly for cyclists sharing the road, and the article also presents some very simple and life-saving design- and behavioural-fixes.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

zwölf zu eins

This Sunday, the citizens of Switzerland are set to vote for an unprecedented measure that would limit the exorbitant pay of company executives to a maximum of twelve times what the lowest paid employee of the same company earns. Opinion is split and early polls show that there is no clear winning margin with some economists championing the idea in hopes that such a cap at the high end will cause low end wages to rise and importantly calls attention to gross wage disparity and golden-parachutes often handed out for bad behaviour and poor performance in a society that values egalitarian qualities.
On the other hand, an equal amount argue that enforcing such a rule would handicap the ability of Swiss businesses to attract or retain talented leadership. It's comforting to believe that a clerk in the company mail room or a janitor might bring home a salary that's a direct and not too immodest ratio, not earning less in a year than what the highest compensated bring home in a month of the CEOs pay, but I suppose such functions are already contracted out to the lowest-bidder. What do you think about Switzerland's opportunity to make a statement? Whatever the outcome, I don't think the debate will stop when the ballots are counted.

whether and neither

Since the decision in Germany and several other countries to allow records of birth a third option for sexual identity as indefinite, as opposed to male or female, there has been much discussion among linguists on how to frame this new category—with tact and sensitivity. There have been quite a few proposals put forward, which mostly support removing gender distinction from language, culling nuance in other ways too, or reforming the word neuter and its equivalents so as to make it have no negative connotations.

Speech reflects realities, however, and not the other way around. Going back to Latin roots, neutral from neutralis simply means neither and the unrelated word neuter comes from ne-uter—not whether, not either (unweder auf Deutsch) and suggests impartiality, which probably captures the meaning conveyed the best. It is a distinct challenge, however, to introduce or re-introduce a new designation without controversy or stigma. Despite past social aversion, this is a condition that exists for not just a clinical minority, and depending on the jurisdiction, it is a matter for self-determination or a decision left to fretful parents with physician-recommendation. What do you think? Whether or not a particular language assigns gender along conventional and sometimes arbitrary lines or has any grammar of emasculation or misogyny, there is a lot of unspoken vocabulary having to do conventional roles and ready assignment.

Friday, 22 November 2013

a noun's a very special word – it's any name you ever heard

BoingBoing directs our attention to a clever little interview by Mother Jones magazine with the graphic designers behind the brilliant and massive Noun Project, which has—out of necessity—created icons to visually communicate some 17, 000 concepts. The artists go on to reveal that their motivation was kept up by educators reaching out to them for a larger set of symbols to equip autistic learners with as cues to see a task through.
Of course, these signs have broad appeal in their exhaustive and humourous coverage. Individual icons are available for fair-use purchase on the project's website.  Decades ago, there was a similiar prodigy, called Stefan Kanchev from Bulgaria who worked on the commercial advertizing side of the house, renowned for his endless business and industry logo designs.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

macbeth effect

Here is an interesting vignette demonstrating how washing one's hands turns ones self-assessment towards the optimistic and provides a sense of closure. In clinical trials at least, in what could be named after Lady Macbeth or Pontius Pilate, subjects felt better after failing to accomplish an impossible task when encouraged to wash up afterwards. Egos from the hand-washers recovered significantly faster than those who did not, the study shows. I wonder, however, if the therapeutic results have to do with the body exorcizing defeat in the the mind symbolically or rather the low-hanging fruit effect, being assigned a very easy job after presented with one that was very hard.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

yearbook, jahrgang

The exquisite BibliOdyssey delivers another brilliantly curated gallery with historical background with the annals of the Matriculation Register of the Basel Rectorate, documenting in three volumes enrollment and stewardship for the university continuously from 1460 to the year 2000, illustrated with beautiful paintings in miniature to bookend the reign of successive registrars and classes.  Be sure to linger a bit at this book to discover an amazing compendium of picture-books with stories about their origins sure to please any bibliophile.


Website io9 has an interesting book review of a new work by geographer Chris Lavers on the natural history of the unicorn and how this legendary creature has become somewhat of an obsession and a symbol pregnant with associations, connotations of all sorts, employed by many different agencies.

It turns out that the earliest reports of an illusive and ferocious beast in the wilds of distant India, which probably referred to a third-hand sighting of a rhinoceros, propagated by ancient Greek naturalists, is completely unrelated to the unicorn as it appears in the Bible. Early translators were at a loss as to what animal Hebrew word re'em ( רֶאֵם ), often used metaphorically, could refer to. Literally the word stood for the extinct aurochs, the European bison—and other animals like goats and cattle and camels were recognisable, but re'em was used in the text, with license, for any beast of burden and symbol of strength and, alternately, for submission—which makes more sense when read in context. The authorities substituted the Greek and Latin words for unicorn, however, sanctifying and popularizing the pensive creature.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

déclasse ou GEOLOC

I'd like to believe that I have left carefully placed footprints, conducted myself in a circumspect manner, when it comes to on-line activity or any form of communication, ever reserved—at times to my detriment in private discussion—with the knowledge that a stalker, one of those loony and obsessed celebrity-stalker types, was fervently documenting every my every move and utterance.
Not that necessarily anything was immediately incriminating or otherwise embarrassing or not tailored to a larger audience, I try to be mindful that all of this goes down on your permanent record, though not absolutely something that Saint Peter would not overlook nor give much weight. And even though I did not imagine that my secret-admirer, as Der Spiegel reports, would be the US government (or a member of the coalition of the willing), I am surprised by the latest revelation, made by the administration under statue, declassifying intelligence agency salivating plans, especially by the fourth wall (Vierte Wand) convention of being within the scope of the law. I'm not even sure what that phrase means any longer except as something to be subject to exploit and abuse.

Monday, 18 November 2013

swalk—sealed with a loving kiss

Mental Floss has a delightful review of a book just published called To the Letters by historian and linguist Simon Garfield that lists some romantic and racy shorthand employed by soldiers in the 1930s to navigate around the censors and their superiors—showing that texting and sexting is not such a new phenomenon. In fact, there are examples from epistles from the ancient Romans: SVBEEQV for the Latin si vales bene est, ego quidem meaning that I am happy when you are or I hope this letter finds you well. I'd really like to incorporate some of these abbreviations into my vocabulary and would like to learn more about what we find lamentable about communication, and at any distance being something magical, and form that's not necessarily warranted moving from sonnets to spam.

Sunday, 17 November 2013


Though not previsioning what was to come nor a admission to a separate history, in 2012 when plans were being finalised to consolidate the operations of the Bundes- nachrichten- dienst (the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence agency) in Berlin and to uproot establishments created in the former West German Republic, a small suburban community of München called Pullach im Isartal, making preparations for closure and realignment, revealed how secrets can cause forgetfulness. What lie on the BND's broad campus was no secret itself, but cordoned off from the public since shortly after the conclusion of Word War II, few voices were raised regarding what it contained. The ensemble of residential and office buildings occupied by the intelligence service were original designated as a model suburban settlement, named after Rudolf Heß, for the families of Nazi party members who were not conferred special recognition or had humbler roots. Many German children orphaned by the war also found adoptive parents here. Later, the community also became the headquarters for Organisation Todt, the party's engineering corps who build the built the Atlantic Wall. This covert history was hidden for years, villas as time-capsules and the stories of former residents going untold, incident only to its new management.

outsourcing oder linkin park

Süddeutsche Zeitung presents another angle by which German reconnaissance may be becoming more and more mired in American control through indirect means and the decision to contract out some of its own intellect functions. The relatively innocuous-looking office building, located in Abraham-Lincoln-Park just outside one of the US Army installations here and just across from the Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) and just opposite the cemetery where I was seeking out another link to the the past the other other, is the headquarters of the German branch of the company. The Germany government has awarded CSC numerous, lucrative contracts to carry out spying and security related missions, usually executed with far less public scrutiny and government oversight than through ministry channels.
As if using mercenaries does not create big enough ethical problems on its own, the US-based company also performs extensive information-technology and logistics support for American intelligence services, much like the infamous Blackwater Corporation. By choosing to downwardly delegate some of its functions to a company whose loyalties and discretion are by definition already compromised, Germany has surely exposed itself to more mingling of data and lowered expectations of privacy without even the challenge of what it attempted to keep close-hold.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

key-f.o.b. or check-point, checkmate

The latest reports (EN/DE) that transmogrify espionage into all-out basing forward the prosecution of shadowy wars and unconventional diplomacy seemed at first only nuance to activities already being established as taking place on German territory. The outrage and response—considering that usually silence prevails and if an answer is deigned, it is a carefully measured and delayed one, which was rather instant and uncensored, much like the unfiltered distrust aired by the German public over the whole developing situation or more through official channels, the recent, unmediated reaction to US accusations that German export policy was destabilsing the euro zone, however, suggests that the criticism may have been a little to close to home. Though maybe with no more or no less officious cooperation or ignorance—innocence on the part of the Germany than when it came to snooping, prosecuting unsanctioned campaigns under the cover of a host nation, off-shoring aut dedere aut judicare.
Investigative journalism with contributions from more than twenty reporters that American legionnaires are not only using its diplomatic missions as listening posts, siphoning internet traffic off of the major hub in Frankfurt and keeping handy insider read-aheads on European political and trade affairs, but are also using Germany as a launch-pad for its dirty and secretive drone-wars in Africa, helping to craft a post-revolutionary region more sympathetic to American interests and with methods and friendships not fit for open debate or public knowledge, even targeting newly arrived refugees for debriefing and plotting coordinates for the next attack.

a-list or he knows when you've been sleeping, he knows when you're awake

Though it's maybe too early for the decorations and music, it is the right time to think about ones greeting card list. The Retro Christmas Card Company allows one to personalise and automate—after a fashion, since carefully nicking open an envelop to a honest-to-goodness card is the still best part, even if it was handled by a third-party.

The middle-man was not the NSA this time, but another good reason for sending out cards now is that it allows the intelligence services to know who in advance of the holidays constitutes a frequent and sustained contact in ones life. The service, custom-printing and mailing, offers lots of swank retro designs—plus a selection of motifs from the Mid-Century movement of 1950s and 1960s Americana.


Nominated for official accolades for civilly brilliant ideas and already beloved by its residence, a community foundation has constructed and nurtured an old library building in Nürnberg into an educational centre for a neighbouring home for asylum-seekers with name of the Asylothek (although I had a high-school with a the cafetorium, I think Germans are very partial to inventing designations for facilities and the like, there's the unfortunately named Blitz Döneria by work that just does not sound like words and suffixes that ought to be associated with food and this trend is especially true for institutions like hospitals and specialty clinics—there's the Heboteum (actually right across from the döner [the Turkish version of a gyro, sort of] stand), a child-birthing school that sounds in German like a museum of mid-wifery.
The Asylothek is really clever institution, though true to its original purpose as a library (Bibliothek), offering a space for reading and reach with literature in immigrants' native languages, as well as a job-centre with courses on the German language and after-school activities for children. I think we take libraries for granted and such a place would really be a welcome comfort, having fled in the night to a strange land. Not that refugees need to be minded and treated like inmates, but a home has been established in Bad Karma, our fair city, in one of those abandoned—though not dilapidated, just given up as the business environment and demand changed—old villas that became resort hotels, with no apparent supervision to help ease the transition.  It is not due to some ancient native skill but rather a therapeutic introduction to interacting with people again after traumas that caused the proliferation of nail-salons run by people of Asian descent, when social-workers arranged for them to give each other manicures as a way of trusting and connecting, having survived the awful experiences of wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  Care-taking is as important to perception, helping to mitigate local xenophobia and unwelcoming behaviour on the part of host communities, as it is for preparing those who sought sanctuary for success.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

necropolis or flying circus

Having learnt that Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen—better known as the Red Baron, the accomplished dog-fighting ace of World War I, has his final resting-place just around the corner here in Wiesbaden, I took the afternoon to investigate and explored the peaceful and expansive grounds of the Southern Cemetery (Südfriedhof).

Walking down the pathways, not rushing and wanting to properly pay my respects to the graves less famous—to me, at least, I noticed that quite a few tombstones bore a pasted on, rather tasteless notice, which read something to the effect, “The lease has expired – please see the cemetery administration.” Later H confirmed to me that indeed plots in Germany are generally rented for a period of twenty years, with the option of extending. What happens to the remains, I asked, and was told that they are usually gone by then. Embalming and chemical preservatives are not used here, nor expensive time-capsule coffins, so everything has decomposed a few a couple decades. I wondered what became of the headstones, beautiful and austere markers meant to last an eternity, but did not ask.
I didn't think people took them home (though the Roman practise was genuine parlour culture, burying their dead in their houses) or stored them somewhere off-site, like winter-tyres. It seems irreverent but I suppose space is at a premium and very soon there would not be room for anything else besides the grave. I noticed that the more modern epitaphs usually bore ones profession also. The architects had the most inspired grave-sites—I wondered what it meant to carry ones job into the here-after (jenseits) and hoped that all really had been proud enough of their careers to make that sort of statement. Other beautiful monuments abounded, like this bas-relief tombstone of a cavalry unit from 1914 that depicts some of the sad and terrible equipage of the war, gas-masks and bayonets. I was unsuccessful in locating the von Richthofen plot, noting that such infamy is usually something buried itself, and wondered how the aeronaut and son of the Prussian elite ended up in far western Hessen. It turns out that the Red Baron was disinterred several times since his final battle: von Richthofen was first put to rest with a military funeral not far from where he was shoot down, near Amiens, France in 1918.
During the interbellum years, his brother attempted to bring the body back to be buried in the family crypt, but as the ancestral home now lay in Poland and convinced by Nazi authorities just then coming into power who hoped to exploit the rockstar status von Richthofen had attained through real and attributed victories, re-interred him in Berlin, with fanfare courtesy of the new government. During divided Germany, as the graveyard straddled the border, the headstone was often victim to a stray bullet fired at people as they tried to escape into West-Berlin, and in the mid-1970s a decision was made to transport the body to Wiesbaden and reunite him with the rest of his departed family. I don't want to regularly wander the necropoleis of the city as that's morbid but was glad I took the time to search it out and now that I know it literally is just around the corner, I will look around another day.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

news at seven or genie in the bottle

Do you remember when everything was a matter of timing? Nostalgia aside, certainly it still is though without the help-meets of expert and extended knowledge that someone, somewhere is willing to share and amend recall.

Before this breed of miscellany turned trivia into something less than esoteric and studied but more of a lifestyle, one could not be tardy or absent from a broadcast—however well carefully curated in the afterwards. I gave an impromptu film review once upon a time on a cable television call-in show hosted by a younger Bill Macy, and where is that archived—closed-circuit and not even dispatched weakly beyond the star Sirius at this point? Cable was another kind of memory-hole, replace mostly by the well-aimed reception of satellite dishes. Somewhat earlier, the part-time network, Nick-at-Nite, had some pretty special and swank interstitial pieces—including a self-parody, an homage from Suzanne Vega of Tom's Diner (herself the godmother of digital music congress) for I Dream of Jeannie in reruns. What does that mean that that act is not documented (while so many others are) and someone could handily demonstrate this factoid as wrong?

information-action ratio

Via the ever-resonate Kottke, maker of fine hypertext products, blog comes the documentary adaptation of the engrossing Tom Standage work on technology and innovation, The Victorian Internet. The curious tale of the development, peopled with many colourful characters, visionaries and opportunists with not unfamiliar foresight of the telegraph provides an fascinating and disarming reflection on contemporary achievements, which has created far fewer connections and shrunk the world less than our 18th century forebears.

as high as an elephant's eye

While the staple crop, one of the more domineering and hardy among agriculture, perfected by millennia of stewardship, presents nothing objectionable in itself—and quite the opposite if tended responsibly, corn management and corn policy (native to America but an invasive species) has grown into something untenable and potentially disastrous.
Without even addressing the myopic decision to tinker with the genetics of our food, the way corn is grown, the harvest almost exclusively diverted into feeding animals and automobiles and producing food additives and fillers, like the dreaded corn-syrup. Not counting acres and acres destined to become ethanol, biodegradable plastics or base ingredients for something more chemical and refined than flour or meal, this second-hand nutrition, feeding livestock rather than eating what we've reaped ourselves, reduces the efficiency of the land by some eighty-percent and more. Of course, through subsidies at the expense of the tax-payer and at the expense of the environment, creating vast tracks of monocultures and demanding more and more resources and land be used to satisfy exponential appetites with nascent returns, are eventually articulated as something more profitable to some, which is also something not valued-added for all.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

billy goat's gruff

The Pre-Surfer offers an interesting glimpse at a very nimble population of domestic goats in Morocco that have mastered the skills of tree-climbing in order to reach berries and other delicacies. It is the argan berries though that have driven them up a tree: afterwards, the indigestible kernels of the berry are pressed into oil for a variety of health and cosmetic applications—for humans, sort of like civet coffee. There is a certain unexpected grace to see these determined creatures posed and poised.  I wonder whom has whom trained to perform.

Monday, 11 November 2013

footlights or starry, starry night

From Der Spiegel's international desk comes an important piece not only about only about about the grandeur of being able to see the stars and constellations and the muzzling scourge of light-pollution but, I think, even more to its credit waxes philosophical about the great electrification experiment and what it means that our nighttime is something aggressively alienated with some awful municipal flash light tag.

To divide day from night, even in a nominal way, has been something formative—the source of myths, wonder and a star to sail by since time immemorial until not so long ago, and to lose that dichotomy of time for the sake of productivity or for a sense of security means quite a lot. Along with initiatives to preserve dark patches of sky, a multidisciplinary body is meeting to discuss the meta-effects on human health and ecology. Many communities in Germany are doing quite a bit to stave off the glare, and efforts in France are quite impressive, mandating that store-fronts, office buildings and even street lamps are switched off. What do you think? Can you see the spine of the Milky Way from your backyard or is there too much ambient competition to appreciate the night?

day-trip: oppenheim or down in the underground

The sun was out today as as part of disjointed reprieve in the weather and golden autumn before winter begins to set in.
I took a drive to the near- by town of Oppenheim around noon, marveling at the turning leaves of the vineyards racing past on one side and on opposite at the narrowing Rhine river and pleasure boots moored to hibernate for the season.
This town between Mainz and Speyer was along the road of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV's penitential Walk to Canossa (the source of the saying, “nach Canossa gehen,” meaning an act of humility or submission—taking ones lumps) a fortress in northern Italy, in hopes that the Pope might reverse the decision to excommunicate Henry for insisting that he was his sacral right to nominate bishops. The Emperor crossed the Alps barefoot and in a hair-shirt, the account goes, and was made to kneel outside in a blizzard for three days before being admitted into the fortress.
The town's history, however, extends back to Roman times and is nowadays renowned for its wine production, vines winding and cascading any place a foothold is available, and is anchored with a quite romantic little Altstadt surrounded by turreted-walls and the beautiful Gothic church of Saint Katherine, absolutely brilliant with a kaleidoscope of fine stained-glass windows.
This outstanding church is most significant work of the era between the cathedrals of Köln and Strasbourg, and having seen many additions and rebuilding since its dedication in 1225, has a small exhibit on stone-cutting and glass-liming as well as having a few extra puzzle pieces stored away. Behind the church is a small chapel with a Charnel House below, an ossuary with the bones of some 20 000 residents, pilgrims passing through and soldiers from the many battles that occurred here.

And just beyond, on the Weinburg, are the impressive ruins of castle Landskron, channelling the sunlight and offering a sweeping view of the region. These royal walls, the shell of an imperial palace, are testament to events the saw the town's complete destruction in the late 1600s, when burnt during the Nine Years' War when France took control of the Rhine valley, and the only other evidence is found in a suburban labyrinth of medieval passages that connect the vaulted cellars in a network that spans the entire town centre.
Guided tours can be arranged that lead one through these tunnels, though only an estimated three percent of mysterious maze has been rediscovered, corresponding to the town as it was before the fire and not necessarily as it was rebuilt, on the weekends, so this will be an adventure for another day.
Many houses and offices, however, are linked together by these passageways that rise and fall on several levels below the streets. This storied town also featured an elementary school with a wonderfully grand Art Deco (Bauhaus) doorway and façade from 1926.  There is too the former Franciscan Cloister of St. Bartholomäus (St. Bartholomew, now a parish church) with this really great modern, abstract mural on its walls makes it look like the shrine of the Autobots.

andromeda strain

A research laboratory in Braunschweig, working with ESA, the European Space Agency, has been culturing samples of extremely hardy bacteria that have been isolated in samples collected on parts of space-probes after being sterilised for assembly and deployment.

The biological significance in these studies is of course terrifying and exciting at the same time: like the super-bugs that have survived and thrived in hospital environments, scientists expected no living organism to be able to withstand these conditions, yet there they are and such bacteria have probably already been inadvertently sent out as terrestrial emissaries into space.