Friday, 31 January 2014

shēngxiào or march of time

In China and various other countries adhering to the same lunar calendar, this day marks the beginning of the Year of the Horse, specifically of the wood horse, one of the five classical elements of the Wŭ Xíng (alchemic) tradition in combination with one of the twelve earthly branches, the animals of the Chinese zodiac, and each iteration occurs every sixty years—plus either a yin or yang year, depending on the reckoning, whether odd or even.  An ancient folk story holds that years and their traits were established when the Jade Emperor called a meeting of the principals of the animal kingdom together and said that the procession of the years, the march of time would be named in honour of the delegates arrival and there are various fables that describe that race. Wood is associated with strength but also flexibility, gregariousness and expansion, and the Horse signals extrovertedness and charisma but perhaps also impatience, superficiality and economic troubles.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

a,e i-o-u (and sometimes y)

As the hyphenated prefixes i- and e- are mostly claimed by private, the US government has grown fond of the old fall-back my for a lot of its self-service applications, mostly cordoned to the vast community of conscientious bureaucrats.



Now the American administration, just as the Affordable Care Act is finding its sea-legs, is introducing the so-called MyRA—for an individual's own individual retirement account (IRA). In other words, the US president wants to afford people the opportunity to supplement their statutory pensions with low- to no-risk investment vehicles for workers who don't have that benefit from their employers, whom are in the majority. I am constantly astounded how the opposition hounds and hobbles best intentions and usually pervert them into something other—like ObamaCare that can sadly now never live up to its expectations, saddled with various riders. I do, however, see rather soberly the outcome of such a surprising and gregarious act. As the very public and autonomic gesture of quantitative easing (read printing money) is rather unpalatable for the trading-houses that would manage these contributions of new and universal investors, it's surely a welcome cover for, I could see this diverting becoming, a mean to absorb US debt outside of such an unsustainable model, and enables business as usual. I do hope hope that the nay-sayers are wrong with this assessment.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

purity of essence or always/never

This day marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick's master-work Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned how to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, which the New Yorker celebrates with due fanfare for its prescience and enduring relevance.

Though dismissed as unimaginable at the time of its premiere, it has since been revealed that a single individual could easily initiate a nuclear launch autonomously. Though the risk and compromise was clear, the consequences of allowing an assault to go unanswered, unrequited seemed far more risky. Beyond fail-safes, the film also of course offered critiques on doom's-day devices kept secret and thus useless as deterrents, which were very real for both superpowers, however guarded. There's no fighting in the War Room, gentlemen.

tipping-point oder sternwarte

Partially over revelations of American industrial spying practises and with a modicum of acknowledgment for the outrage over the preference for business rights at the expense of safety, health, livelihoods and the environment, as the Corporate Europe Observatory reports, the European Commission in Brussels have halted talks for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaty to submit the agreement to what's being called a “public consultation.”

I would not know how to interpret that. Under the current model, American companies (surely in proportion to their investments on European soil) could demand arbitration (although without an arbiter or champion) directly with governments to challenge policies the companies find under favourable to their profits. The proposal is reciprocal, but I imagine that US firms could do more damage than EU firms good in the States in the name of equity and conservation. This terra-forming provision is what's up for debate but sadly does not signal real reform, as the same mechanisms remain in place and corporate interests are far from de-fanged. A tribunal established for European capitals to stare down businesses or vice-versa and the rosy name of the treaty sounds like a good and positive thing. Considering, however, what is all at stake, which CEO covers expertly and at length, from fracking, recidivism among banks, opening the farmlands of Europe to genetically modified crops to the loosening of labour laws, this matter deserves more than a consulting.

angel-investor or miner forty-niner

Such actions, I think, have been on the horizon, waiting in the wings, for some time and authorities with the US Department of Justice (DOJ), championed by investigators—rather character witnesses for the prosecution—with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) arrested Bitcoin money-changers on charges of money-laundering and drug-trafficking charges.

This news is rather chilling, concomitant with reports that in Russia transactions with such coinage have been criminalised outright. I wonder what the competition for this fiat currency portends? Maybe it is a demonstration and affirmation of the real scheming of the financial system. Of course, apparent grey-market dealings suggest that this, like no other money, is not subject to corruption, but broader independence from influence and control from the default mints and established quid pro quo can be a discomforting matter. Those trading in Bitcoin rather than script are fervent and dedicated collectors above all and signal an unaccustomed foil. What do you think? Is Bitcoin only a fad or a back-door diversion or a noxious omen of assault against barter and alternative methods of tendering debts and wealth?

Monday, 27 January 2014

reliquary

Just weeks before the planned canonization of the former pope, a thief has broken into a small church in an alpine village where John Paul II liked to take his skiing vacations (this pope was a very outdoorsy type and admonished his traveling companions to refer to him as Wujek—or uncle—as it was forbidden for a priest to fraternize with junior members of the Church for fear of inculcation and perpetuation of radical ideas and this relationship if not the cover-name itself stuck), which was endowed with a relic with a blood-stained patch of the vestment he was wearing during the failed assassination attempt by a gunman allegedly affiliated with the ultra-nationalist Turkish group the Grey Wolves in 1981. The burglar, the church itself closed for sometime due to bad weather, and pilfered this relic and authorities have launched a massive effort for its recovery. I wonder what would possess someone to take a treasure like this that is best shared. I'd like to hope that someone really needed a miracle and hope that it's answered, even if by ransom.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away

As a very fine interstitial-piece during a Sunday afternoon's theme on myth and legend, a network broadcast a documentary from 2007 on the post-modern fable of the Star Wars saga.

All good and timeless stories draw effectively on the archetypes, the deep- seated stuff of the human-experience told and retold, but the crafting of this franchise—and not only for the purists who reject anything that was not presented in media-res, the original parts three through five—really is a master-work and a cultural touch-stone that references parallels that can be found in all branches of classic mythology and ringing through psychology as a digest of wrath, coming-of-age and redemption. How much can you find of the Iliad or the Odyssey or other epics can you find in the principals, mentors, monsters, and side-kicks of the old Republic as well as the quotations? What struck me perhaps as the most amazing aspect, aside from each single connection that I had never made with the classics, was that although there are influences and footnotes to influences, many of these constructions were unconscious and organic and came to be known with the consensus of academics and fanatics.

all ınclusıve

Never having taken a cruise or booked a full-pension vacation package, I suppose I had a bit of a naïve view of what kind of impact that a resort really has on an local economy, especially in an industry-model where luxury or authentic experiences are displaced by the accustomed bargain and an unwrested competition to preserve that environment. One such example of devastating consequences, driven by catering to a clientele lured by the dialectic of a package deal, lies in the so called Turkish Rivera, where giant hotels with a lot of logistic help, enabled to a large extent by a international hub managed by the same group that run the Frankfurt airport and facilitate the shuttling of millions of German tourists to the region for cheap holidays.

This endless and upward-spiraling throngs of vacation-goers, however, are not boons to the local-economy themselves but rather liabilities that deserve real disabusing—as I am sure that the same Spar-Fuchsen would find their trip otherwise unconscionable, like rejoicing over cheap apparel made with child-labour or discount food-stuffs traveling the world around to save a few cents on at the cash-register. Not only does competition make for revolting working-conditions and penance-wages for the staff, regardless of white-gloved ratings from the guests, the resort-system also destroys those smaller, traditional establishments in the towns and villages, who cannot maintain their customer-base regardless of how good of a service and location that they provide. Local businesses, whether or not devised as souvenir-shops, see their traffic diverted to outlet malls that pay commissions to the giant hotels (who become the only viable places for employment and can dictate their salaries) as do certain locales and attractions—real tourists' traps, for planned mass outings. Those who do venture off their self-contained resorts to explore the local-colour are naturally disinclined to purchase any mementos or dine anywhere else, since they've already paid, in their estimation, for it in kind. We're happy camping.

krafttakt or pilot-project

While German websites in China are going blank over a controversial unmasking concerning Chinese tax-havens and there is some hand-wringing over the decision whether to dub as worthy a connoisseur a share of cultural heritage, Germany is aggressively recruiting nursing assistants to try in a small way to compensate for the shortage of care-givers have imported from China and the first five of an expected 150 nurses have arrived in Frankfurt.

These trained and hopefully linguistically and cultural ready individuals have been brought over to mainly assuage the shortage of qualified personnel to care for an aging demographic, in old folks' homes. Nursing professionals are not quite the same as exported au pairs who come without credentials except by recommendation and reputation. At the same time, the body representing care-givers is bemoaning the labour-conditions and wage for the existing workforce, which is hardly an incentive in itself to recruit and retain capable individuals. Of course, in such vocations, mere money and comfort are not what motivate people. I wonder what the broader implications are of not just furthering the tradition of guest-workers but of native aspirations and ambitions that have out-grown such levels of service.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

flun-dazzler

Collectors' Weekly has a brilliant gallery of Theodore Geisel's early works as an marketing artist enthralled to Big Oil and others. Seeing the shining countenances of his characters shilling for causes that seem counter to Doctor Seuss' message in The Lorax may appear a bit disenchanting at first, until—that is one remembers that everyone has to get their break somewhere, like Shel Silverstein working for Playboy magazine.



autoclave

Though most product-launches in the hygiene industry are just affirmations of ones inner-verminophobia, however now working in a clinical environment whose undefended boundaries are packed with the everyday filth and detritus and contiguous with work-stations, packed lunches, personal affects, etc.

Nothing horrifying or unsanitary but neither a comfort—especially considering the culturing stunts performed recently with swabbing a cell phone and growing the results in a Petri dish. While I am certain that any surface, handled or not, could be conduced to yield similarly repulsive results and believe that taking things to extremes is not a healthy practise either, polio erupting in part because hermetically-sealed children had no natural immunity and that abuse of anti-bacterial compounds and the like have led to truly monstrous pathogens resistant to any treatment and besides the body has its own ecology that's usually a happy, harmonic symbiosis, but I do like the idea of a kiln for ones smart phones, tablets, keyboards and other hard to clean personal peripherals. I only caught a snatch of the piece on the radio describing this product, available only in the States, and I am not sure how it functions—possibly by heat, ultra-sound or inert gas or magic, but I think such a disinfecting box would come in handy.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

bricolage

As a fairly regular occurrence—one can almost expect at least one data breach per week, customers have become rather inured to the compromise of their vital demographics in the States—not that this attitude has made the majority more cautious or defensive by any measure, but this sort of development, unprecedented but probably, unfortunately a record soon to be toppled, in Germany inspires users and government agencies alike to circle their wagons.

Some sixteen million email accounts had their passwords lifted and authorities are particularly concerned, not over spam and spear-fishing but rather because many people recycle passwords, using similar credentials to access shopping sites or on-line banking. Das Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (BSI) in Bonn has even established a help-line. It's not merely the breach of one virtual version of a retailer or networking-group that nearly goes as far as inviting a hack but rather the further-reaching repercussions are realised. One would think that the omnipresence of the American intelligence agencies would have gotten to be really good at prevention or at least persecution of such spillage and pillage, having already exploited system weaknesses, but we probably don't want their help. Those three letter initialisms, however, have become something like the US Secret Service, whose chief charge is not to protect the president but rather to combat counterfeiting of legal-tender, expanded far beyond their original mandate.

Monday, 20 January 2014

uncorrected personality traits

In response to a US congressional investigation launched into the comic-book industry, accusing the publishers as a gateway into delinquency and deviancy, a whole spate of educational and up-building series were started. It sort of sounds like more contemporary witch-hunts and conversions against television and marketing aimed at children. The spin-offs include this bizarre arch-of-story, a patient's progress, with a super-powered psychoanalyst, whose bed-side manner has the approval of the Comics Code Authority, brought to us by Dangerous Minds. Kids, don't try this at home.

zwei plus vier

It's a little bit strange that Germany, modern and advanced with the meta-diplomacy of lobbyists and care-taking, does little to recognize violations of sovereignty on its own soil, real or suspected.

Perhaps it is out of fear of admitting collusion—or ignorance for the past. I learnt that it is far more bureau- cratically difficult to carry out any business as an ombudsman for a foreign government, diplomatic or military, on the soil of the former East German Democratic Republic, as defined by the pre-1990 borders than any largess committed in the West. The reason has to do with the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany (das Vertrag über die abschließende Regelung in bezug auf Deutschland) which codified and accorded the reunification between the East and West and the occupying plus the four occupying powers, France, Great Britain, America and the Soviet Union. The winning powers agreed to relinquish all claims to the occupied lands, except reserving the right-of-return, withdrawing their forces and placing limitations on the militarization of united Germany.
Unlike in the West (where NATO allies seem content to allow the Americans to keep watch), military operations in the lands of East Germany are strictly limited to German activities, without special and rare credentialing. The treaty's drafters argue that there was also the sub-text that the influence of NATO would advance no further east, nor the Warsaw Pact further west, as well—though that condition is placed in a dubious position with the expansion of the alliance to many former Soviet bloc nations (after the union's dissolution, having over-extended its resources in Afghanistan as part of the reason) and hosting multinational training exercises on the Baltic and the build-up of Leipzig airport to handle air-force traffic.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

boundless informant or ham radio

Virtually unsourced as if it's just an accepted precept—some revisionist bit of Orwellian historyclaiming things have always been this way and not otherwise, the New York Times reported that the National Intelligence Agency has devised a way to access closed computer networks essentially via induction.

Rather than unlocking a back-door into a computer network by exploiting software vulnerabilities or honey-pots, a computer's activity can be gleaned and relayed through hidden radio transmitters that only need be near the machine. Evil genius is not to be out-done, but this technique is decades old and been used to snuggle up to computers for many years already and still, to sort it all out later—indefinitely later, is cheaper and more cost-effective than actual intelligence-gathering, like billboard advertising. Some one hundred thousand transceivers or so are said to have been been deployed in foreign lands to aggressively infiltrate systems secured against conventional eavesdropping. I wonder what form these dark minions take.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

just deserts

Mental Floss shares a few interesting occurrences of desserts that have shaped history, citing how routines and sweet-tooths have been employed in assassination attempts to famous flubs, both reviled, like “then let them eat cake,” or revered like “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Such totems become taboo, in some cases, are really pivotal things and say as much about history and culture as other more controversial foodstuffs like tea, coffee,spices and hootch—or non-food import/export like tulips, tobacco and opium. Be sure to check out Mental Floss' other lists of superlatives and curiosities.

betriebsblindheit oder golden hammer

Earlier this week, an independent body of linguists announced the ignoble winner for Un-word of the year for 2013 (Das Unwort des Jahres), ever focussing on the popular euphemisms that the public, politicians and press have adopted that tend to downplay the seriousness behind really heady issues. The jury choose the term Sozialtourismus, referring to the fear of immigrants from eastern European countries newly admitted into the European Union descending on wealthier countries only to receive welfare and not to find jobs.

Such pandering or simplification—intended or perceived, is used to justify discrimination against migrants with Romanian and Bulgarian roots and calls for quotas when the problem, both in their homelands and in there host-lands, very complex and allows policies and attitudes to remain ignorant and insufficient. Sozialtourismus—or Benefits-Tourism, beat out other candidates like Supergrundrechts (inalienable rights—something not to be infringed upon, even in the name of public safety and security), Homo-Ehe (the gay marriage/gay-rights debate) and Ausschließeritis (exclusionism—referring to the break-away tendencies of some members of the EU). Past winners have included the derogatory Döner-Morde, in reference to the series racially motivated killings perpetrated by a neo-Nazi hate group against victims with a Turkish background, who mostly ran small businesses, stereotypically like a döner stand (only one known victim ran such a snack bar—while the others were florists, locksmiths or had small kiosks). Golden hammer is a short way of referring to the tendency to resort to something familiar and convenient to facilitate a solution, a dangerous sort of generalisation, since to the holders of the hammer, everything looks like a nail.

hiobsbotschafter oder i spy

Though the German government and the people of the world had already lower their expectations regarding real reform to the practises of the fledgling police state that America has become—and from those partners duly or unwittingly deputized, the awkward spectacle of defending the indefeasible and saying essentially nothing by anyone in a position of authority was a more than a little revolting.

No stop the spying agreement, as Germany has called for—not instigated by “learning” that vast swaths of its citizens are under surveillance without cause but over the bugging of the Chancellor's cell-phone, which she's relying on even more since she has been out on crutches after a skiing accident, but the fact that the US is carrying on with its role, no longer out of necessity but rather self-appointed, without blush or stint is rather besmirching. Aside from this business as usual, which is ever on the rise, stride never broken, there were empty reassurances that the spying apparatchik was above abuse and has prevented damaged to US interests—neither of which are true, and reform was limited to oversight by committees of confirmed insiders and actual operations will mostly remain in the shadows—until or unless the next slate of unwanton exposures, at least. The term Hiobsbotschaft figuratively means bad news in German—from the string of bad events that happened to the biblical figure Job, but with the reports of the US embassies (auch Botschaften) in Berlin and elsewhere being used as listening posts, the term takes on a double-meaning.

wysiwyg

Collectors' Weekly features an interesting glimpse on vintage examples and the movement to revive the art of artisan sign-makers. In the face of ever-advancing graphics programmes—irrespective of nuance like kerning and other foundry-disciplines—everyone can fancy themselves a professional, and not without some amazing achievements, but also with a lot of lack-lustre, derivative and overly-polished banners. Most modern examples stand in pale contrast to the ghost signage, old privilege marketing preserved on the sides of buildings, either out of indifference or nostalgia, and interesting that graffiti artists kept the art viable and devolving.

schweifstern oder osiris

After a long slumber, the space probe Rosetta is expected to awaken from hibernation of two years next week, signalling the European Space Agency (ESA) with the message “Hello Darmstadt!” and then slowly schlep into the orbital path of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The architects of the mission hope then the probe, first launched a decade ago to coordinate the encounters, will be able to hitch a ride like the Little Prince in the wake of the shooting-star and shadow the comet for some 18 months, studying its composition and decoding the behaviours of these primordial travellers, before ultimately attempting to land on its surface.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

rassgat: a term of endearment

Spiegel's international desk has an interesting and humourous postcard on the character, economic collapse taken in stride and subsequent recovery of Iceland. The nation's attitude and come-back certainly makes amends for the past gambling that lead to the crisis—responding in a model-fashion, allowing its banks to fail and political reforms, plus a return to core-competencies and capitalising on native ingenuity that is worthy of precedence. There are also a lot of bonus items contained in this missive: Icelanders are spoilt with geo-thermal energy (also a promising natural resource for future export) to the extent that they can heat their sidewalks with subterranean pipes to prevent them from freezing and water from the tap needs to be cooled below scalding before it can be used and the saying Petta reddast—the mantra that everything will work out.

pig in a blanket

When I first saw this post on the rare but returning chimera of a woolly pig, I thought it was some lure for the gullible—like the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary or the Jackalope, but the Manglitza breed does in fact exist. Originating as an experimental pedigree in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, husbanders crossed domesticated stock with wild boars—trying to produce an animal that would yield more lard. As food preparation and storage became more sophisticated, the demand for lard plummeted and so did interest in the pig-sheep. I would think people would be interested in their fleece too.  In German, they are called Wollschweine and are apparently raised here as well.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

footsie

A former professional soccer play (Footballer) a few weeks ago decided to come-out as a homosexual, with the support of coaches, and this personal decision to cast aside shame and stereotype in the athletic world has become a very public matter. Several states in Germany have proposed educational reforms to introduce curricula that normalises non-traditional orientations and family compositions—and while it goes without saying that whatever lesson-plan adopted would address healthy commitments among consensual partners and there's no element of indoctrination in tolerance, acceptance, the chasm of debate shows it is not such an easy decision.

Though many of those who voiced their detraction (which of course enjoy the same protections and do those of the proponents and sometimes those insisting on acceptance are the most intolerant of dissenting views) and demand a reclama are projecting their discomfort off-sides, there are extensions of the argument and inculcation that do touch Germany's culture and composition. Though not quite on topic, Germany's influx of immigrants whose culture and upbringing reject alternate lifestyles as much as the reach-back in time with modern and backwards reflections in bullying and intolerance does raise the questions of what expectations one can have for integration and the quid pro quo of other norms, like polygamy, polyandry or open-relationships among constellations of adults who would have it no other way. Some scholars of the subject have proposed that all old time religion proscriptions were spawned not out of prejudice or ostracization but rather as a statement against the insincere practice of the husband of keeping men on the side, which is still prevalent though not discussed among the most conservative elements. What do you think? Is introducing language like preference and domestic partner in schools flirting with disaster or just something long over-due?

Monday, 13 January 2014

consanguinity and so do my sisters and my cousins and my aunts

Mental Floss has gathered an interesting though archaic collection of specific terms for family members. Though not in common-parlance, I really appreciate the fact that ones father's sister is properly known as ones fadu and relations should be honoured with more than generic titles, I think.
Most of the catch-all English words—which do certainly enjoy a greater degree of specificity in other languages and cultures, are derived from French and German words. Some of the peculiarities are interesting to note, as well—like the Germanic Eltern for the English parents (from the Latin parens) is always dual and can never signal a single parent, except when constructed as alleinstehende Mutter, or sister-germane, from the Latin germanus for real and sincere and having nothing to be with the exonym for the country.

zifferblatt

 Some enterprising minds have opened up a new cafe in London, the Presurfer reports, where time is money and patrons pay only based on the time that they are there, clocking in and out with the mug given them at the door. Coffee and light-fare and use of the internet and kitchen are free. Ziferblat (in Russian) and Zifferblatt (in German) is the word for the face of a clock and a similar concept was already debuted here in Wiesbaden in the early summer by another Russian entrepreneur with the same amenities. I think it's a pretty keen idea and I wish both cafes success but I do wonder where people put more a premium on loitering—or are both locales inviting the same, like-minded clientele.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

badge, device or cognizance

The ever inspiring Muse at BibliOdyssey shares her latest discovery of the lettering artwork of designer and bookbinder Albert Angus Turbayne though his big book of turn-of-the-century monograms and ciphers. A cipher in this context refers to the stylistic linking together of letters, as opposed to a typographic ligature, like &, æ and ß. There is a very nice representative gallery at the link above, but one can also find the exhaustive collection of initials and styles at Project Gutenberg should one be searching for his or her initials.

corbels and consoles

Actress and activist Joanne Lumley, Bond Girl and Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, has commissioned architect and civil engineer Thomas Heatherwick to build a pedestrian bridge spanning the Thames.

The lush and living gardens and park will be in memory of Princess Diana, and the concept echoes the elevated promenades of other modern metropolises, like the Sky Line in New York City, and more historic constructions, like how the old London Bridge was outfitted with homes and shops, as well as a means for traversing the river. The article from WIRED! magazine emphasizes the link to another actor, di Caprio, as inspiration, and while such an imaginative structure could be out of the dream-scape of Inception, the architect actually faced an enormous challenge in aesthetically accommodating all the tonnes of soil, and he found his solution with a perimeter to distribute the weight evenly, which left jagged, afford semi-private loggia against the railings, where people could gaze on views of the city and waterway or if so taken, reenact the romantic scene from Titanic.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

and you will know them by their trail of pine-needles

I think it is a little sad to take down Christmas decorations prior to Three Kings' Day, the twelfth day of Christmas—especially considering the preparation and the investment of time to trim ones home and then to have to acknowledge that it's all over and back to normal schedules and especially too when the weather has yet to deliver anything seasonal.
It is, however, a little bit unseemly to have public decorations too far after that date. This year, we waited a little too long to take down the Christmas tree. It looked ok and not overly dry, provided that one did not disturb the boughs. After removing the lights and the ornaments there was a thick halo of needles on the floor, raining down every time you touched the branches like one of those sand-paintings. Even more exploded off once the tree was tossed over the balcony, so it could be drug—with due ceremony, mind you, ritualised like every aspect of the holidays (in Sweden, the ceremony is named Julgransplundring—publicised in part by a Swedish furniture giant—when the family plunders the tree for edible ornaments and launches the tree out the window but takes place on the Feast Day of St. Knut, which roughly corresponded with Epiphany under the Julian calendar), to the composting lot, the Christmas tree grave yard.

coin-op or waxing-nostalgic

Do you remember these?

I can distinctively recall summoning up some aquamarine elephant with a Mold-A-Rama vending machine at the zoo in Oklahoma City as a little kid. One could choose from a whole variety of souvenir animals and even dinosaurs, hot from the extruder. At the link, watch one at work from a recent visit to the animal-park in San Antonio.  Three-dimensional printing is potentially revolutionary but maybe nothing particularly new or novel in application, considering the mania introduced in 1962 and with these free-standing legacy machines still in action at zoos and other venues across America.

romance dies at the touch of dishpan hands

Iris, you need to work on your you-know, your S.A.—stocking-appeal. Marketers are still pretty blatant about appealing to our insecurities, both private and socially-acceptable ones. Just think of think of all the wonderful pharmaceutical advertisements that one is able to enjoy on his-and-hers envy-of-the-neighbourhood 3D, ultra-high-definition big screen television sets.
 Maybe one day such medical, ideological, litigious and consumptive assaults will appear was antiquated as these outrageous vintage ads—really an assault against humanity, especially the feminine variety, brilliantly curated in Collectors' Weekly gallery on selling shame from the 1950s and beyond and the exhibitions of the outstanding artist and collector behind the blog Do I offend? but it's hard to imagine what more well need to outgrow to top these.

odelay or hindsight is 20/20

On the way home, noticing the dramatic contrasts of skies and the still green pastures and lapping brook of the village of Döllbach on the border of Hessen and Bavaria at the foothills of the Rhön, I stopped at the seventeenth century church dedicated to Saint Odile (auch Ottilia oder Odilie). Just opposite there was a spring, the source of the nearly over-flowing stream, also named after the saint traditionally from Alsace (Elsass), and having learnt a bit about her legend and hagiography, wondered if it was not so named with respect to some healing properties of the waters.
The story goes that Odile was born blind to an aristocratic family and her father, rejecting a disabled child, sent her to be raised by peasants. Baptised at the age of twelve (around the year 670), she miraculously had her vision restored, and after her canonisation was popularly venerated in France, Germany and Switzerland as the patroness of eye-sight—especially at the time before the invention of corrective lenses. Now sighted, Odile's brother brought her back to the family estate—which made Odile's father so angry he killed the brother, accidentally, and still rejected his daughter, the duke fearing that the church and monasteries were a threat to his power and embarrassed to disclose to his subjects that he had banished his daughter, whom the faith had made whole.
She restored her brother to life and the two fled across the Rhine to Basel and her father gave up pursuit. Father and daughter were ultimately reconciled years later, after the duke's health started suffering, and he constructed a convent, Hohenburg Abbey, in the Bas Rhin for her to oversee. The duke, Eticho of Alsace who was the founding-father of the Hapsburg family line, is too venerated as a saint for this death-bed conversion, a popular example, especially for the nobility, perhaps with the message that secular powers and piety could be harmonised.

Friday, 10 January 2014

hieroglyph or non verbis, sed rebus

There is a long and well-established history of substituting symbols for words and alphabets are classed as such by linguists. In the fourteenth century, the rebus sentence was introduced first by French word-smiths as a playful and endearing way of sustaining a dialogue, adopted by many following epistolaters.  The related article above from Kottke has many keen images documenting the evolution of the form. How do you think symbols are altering communication? Compare this antique example of dialogue to an exchange using smileys, short-hand and the like.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

ne pas être un vide-poche à l'origine

Via the intrepid and inquiring Nag on the Lake, a single one of Intel's latest batch of innovations introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has captivated the public above others. This so called smart-bowl is basically a vide-poche, a place to deposit the contents of one's pockets at the end of the day, which generates an electric field to transfer energy from the bowl to a cellular phone or some other battery-operated gadget within via induction and without wires. Though inductive charging is not the most efficient method and only works at a very close range, the idea is pretty clever and maybe will led to improvements in the technology, particularly for something like electric cars that could charge passively without plugs and cables.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

currents and gyres

Despite the headlines, Germany, like America has far from a monolithic climate, but nonetheless the weather reports on opposite sides of the Atlantic could not be further apart. While in Germany, we have been spoilt by a series of glorious, balmy days that seems more like an extremely early Spring than a lingering Autumn, in contrast parts of the US have been dealing with unprecedented lows. Birds are confused and flowers are blooming.

The Germans, I think, do not speak much of it, partially to avoid the appearance of Schadenfreude, partially as the weather—especially the traditional and accustomed conditions, is an essential topic of conversation and no one really knows what to do with this spate of bright days at this time of year, and partially out of a jinxing superstition that this too will pass and Winter will arrive with prejudice. Meteorologically speaking, I've heard no discussion whether these opposing phenomena are related—save for a chat between the weather man and the anchor, where the host asked if these two events have anything to do with one another. Yes, indeed, the weather man replied, not with exactly qualifications or explanations, going on to say that the cold front in America was fuelling conditions over Europe. Of course, weather one place always has influence further afield but I didn't exactly follow, and wonder—for something as big as the weather, not just some little black rain cloud, if such an exchange really means that the warming of the oceans or changes in the salinity by degrees is occurring, resulting in the recalibration of the motor of the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift, whose circulation is a key component to the climate we recognise.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

mercator projection

Biologist and television host, Joe Hanson, also hosts a truly splendid blog, featuring discussions—which for instance discuss the practice of flattening out the globe (more ovoid than a sphere) in two dimensions and depending on ones centre of focus makes Greenland seemingly as big as the continent of Africa with a study in phrenology. This vignette also explores other representations that try to depict a more accurate picture. I just wonder what sort of inculcations that these examples instilled in the classroom—either an ever-present awareness of the exaggeration or a smug pride.

simulacra

A skeuomorph (from the Greek for vessel or tool and shape) is a derivative embellishment that cues an operator to a function by invoking some older physical, mechanical element. The icons of graphic interfaces are vast arrays of skeuomorphs—like the symbol of a paper envelope for e-mail, a pad-lock, a waste-bin. None of these representations exist within the computer—like the orientation of PLAY pointing to the right and REWIND to the left, there being no direction but rather an allusion to mechanism of older video and cassette players, but skeoumorphism is not limited to the quiver of familiar icons.
There's quite a range of abstractions that fall into this category—I think, to include gestures and gesticulations like widely recognized pantomime for call me or for what time is it, though the instruments likely to be used are quite other in form, not to mention things like vestigial cross-beams or pockets or Ersatz books in the office or buttons and the rendering of busyness over the hull of a star-ship that's more decorative than functional—like the Borg Cube or the trench of the Death Star. There's also the subtler touches, like having a digital camera click its shutter for a satisfying and familiar sound. There has even been proposed legislation that a such devices retain this feature so people know if they are being photographed at close range—and I suppose, so the photographer is making a more conscience decision to take a picture too. Slight and flimsy gadgets are also routinely weighted down with some added metal purely to give the object a feeling of heft and thus better quality.

Monday, 6 January 2014

priam's daughter or hegemony

The UK Guardian features a rather sobering assessment for what this new year might hold, a refrain of hostilities a hundred years ago hence, which would mean that the season of commemorations assay something surpassingly ironic in their keeping, rather than the chance for honest reflection on the frailty of the human condition and wisdom, as it should be—if the warnings of this Cambridge history professor prove prescient by any degree.

Perhaps not all events, convictions and factors have one-to-one counterparts (the article is introduced with the snowclone that history does not repeat itself but often rhymes), but this Cassandra figure draws some pretty scary and apt parallels. One of the more striking passages vignettes concerns how the shift in world-dominance is ever a time of peril, citing how American quietly drew up contingency plans for an invasion of Canada in the decade after the Great War, assuming that a threatened super-power, the British Empire, would precipitate fighting close to home. There is always the potential for such dire predictions and such things as self-fulfilling prophesies, so what do you think? In any case, I hope that such admonitions are heeded.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

sunday drive: idstein


On the way to Köln for New Year's celebrations, we noticed a Turistic-Tafel, one of those brown and white illustrated signs that offer what historic or cultural attractions one can find at the next exit, and since it was just at the start of our journey and it was another fair and sunny afternoon, I decided to investigate.
The town hosted a palatial Renaissance residence for the counts of Nassau, which is now used as a boarding school—including for one in the line, Adolf, King of Germany, who was once on the short-list to become the Holy and Roman Emperor of the Germans but was unceremoniously displaced by the Hapsburg family. Looking at this finely preserved city-centre, one wonders how history would be changed by the detail of that time-line.
This view is from the steps of Hexenturm, whose turret appears behind the ensemble of the old Rathaus below, which means witches' tower, though no witches ever endured an unfortunate incarceration there, the town did have quite a few victims of a series of witch-hunts in the seventeenth century and a plaque at the base of the tower is dedicated to their memories.
Behind the collection of signature Fachwerk (half-timbered) buildings, one can make out the steeple of the now consecrated Unionskirche, originally a Gothic edifice built on the ruins of an earlier Romanesque—the town lying directly on the Limes with quite a bit of revival and other remnants of the far-reaches of the Roman Empire in Germany. The building does seem a bit plain from the outside, but the interior is very ornate, replete with a ceiling of panels from the Gospels. It was a very nice place for a windshield-tour but certainly worthy of more and I am excited to go back someday soon.

what's the word? thunderbird! what's the price? a dollar twice!

I have recently discovered a new fascinating fount of nostalgic marketing in the web presence of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Here is one exemplary curation of the evolution of US airline advertising logos that's really well composed—and is just one out of a sizable archive of posts on various ephemera. The site is also a great resource for vintage advertising artwork, particularly Americana, and features time-capsules that capture pop-culture superlatives from decades ago. Triangulated with the preservation of disposables and style-movements reflected in packaging and touts that were not meant to be saved and living memories, one gets a really comprehensive glimpse into the past.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

weltgeist

Newsweek has a clever and alluring review of the new work by Timothy Morton, entitled Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, which sounds like a very interesting, if not important and disabusing read. Invoking the apocalypse itself, by hook or crook, is a tautologism, because it is very human-centred and is a good invitation to consider the author's school of metaphysics, called object oriented ontology—which is a way of thinking about the universe that unseats the reigning ideas of an anthropomorphic universe and that things, even the named-nightmares that can be expressed in awful statistics, like traffic-deaths and the loss of rain-forests, have real consequences and existence independent of human perception and opinion.

We can name such things as climate-change and dystopian cults but nomenclature or Ivory Tower philosophizing does not change the impact that what can be abstracted through raw numbers and kept at arms' length have on the well-being of individual conceivers and the continuation of the world as they know it. That's one view, at least—and promises to be a very sobering and interesting exploration into the realm of these hyperobjects, things of doom and gloom—like H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Gods that are unknowable despite be very ripe for opinion and shifting, malleable attitudes. But there's surely still the classic counter-balance, which far from solely justifying our chauvinistic deportment, rather is the capacity to also recognize opportunities in those misunderstood monsters and is most likely the only camp able to remedy our problems of ego and oversight—having contributed to it to a high degree. Though man's beliefs and position are not privileged and are not a divine-right to impinge on others, resigning ones selves to the perspective of chemical valence and accident is not a hopeful nor up-building way approach—by itself—either.

peanut gallery

French artists and pro- fessional food photographers Pierre Javelle and Akiko Ida have an exhibit of macroscopic images of tiny people carrying on against landscapes of food, capturing in funny and inspired ways. Colossal features a series of their work, also to be found on their website MINIMIAM, a play on the French word miam, meaning delicious, and in person later next month at the Paris Agricultural Expo. I especially like the golfers putting the sugar binkies that top doughnuts and the cyclists waiting for a brood of chickens to cross their path over a terrain formed from a clutch of eggs, so be sure to check out more at the links and compose your own dioramas.

bucket list

As we go on together to explore some of the world's wonders this year, the brilliant and intrepid explorers at Atlas Obscura present a thoughtful gallery of some of the world's strange and unique places lost to progress in 2013. The tribute includes the Mid-Century Modern marvel of the Pan Am Worldport terminal at JFK Airport in New York, which was sadly razed this past autumn to make way for an airplane parking-lot.  I bet that there were time-travelers present to witness this unfortunate loss.
This list is by no means exhaustive and a lot of architectural and cultural treasures the world-round are endangered or have been already been paved over without wide-spread outcry—like the East Side Gallery remnants of the Berlin Wall, but it is worthy of note that all these particular monuments were located in America or China. Is there something slated for demolition in your community that you believe is worth preserving? What can you do to fight for it?

vapid or cig-a-like

In the European Union, there is a hat-full of regulations regarding the legal status of electronic-cigarettes, regarding sales, taxation, possession and whether such devices and activity is to be classed with restrictions on tobacco-products or bans on smoking. The activity itself has been dubbed by word-smiths in the United States as vaping—from the vaporising chamber that the cig-a-like devices use to heat up a liquid mixture to deliver the nicotine and produce a little puff of odourless smoke for effect.
There is, I understand, a new e-cigarette lounge at Heathrow Airport, and though I have seen such devices for sale in Germany, I have not yet seen them yet being embraced by bars and clubs, which have seen a down-turn in patronage, supposed, over smoking restrictions. What do you think? Vaping surely is it a wholesome or value-added habit but certainly seems better and safer than other natural methods for satisfying a craving, be it physiological or psychological. I wonder if there will be two-tiered culture of addiction in the future, with vapeurs and synthahol-drinkers unable to abide the company of their traditionalist counterparts.