Saturday, 31 October 2015

trial trench and taphonomy

Via the always interesting and never boring The Browser, comes an announcement of an Indiana Jones-style hunt for the tomb and (looted treasure) of Alaric I under the waters of the river Busento flowing through the town of Cosenza (an army of mourners apparently dammed and diverted the river in order to give Alaric a proper burial) in southern Italy, where the victorious Alaric suddenly and unexpectedly died.

This king of the Visigoths, once enlisted as a mercenary fighter for the Roman cause, famously and fateful sacked the city of Rome in 410 AD, although the Western capital had already been strategically removed to the more easily defensible Milan, which Alaric had attacked as well—prompting an even more shameful retreat to the inaccessible swamps of Ravenna where the court could circle its wagons. The legend of the lost tomb with its funeral goods—or hidden horde of plunder and ransom monies paid for the barbarians to go off and attack someone else, after the mythos of the Nibelungen and the Rheingold (Himmler’s Ahnenerbe programme investigated here as well)—has been firmly ensconced in local lore since the last siege of ancient Rome (which was not as wantonly destructive nor as violent as portrayed in the popular imagination), but now the government and institutions of higher education have thrown their support behind a serious and concerted excavation—previously, Rome had misgivings about celebrating the figure that oversaw its downfall, though historically, this region was one of the last, loyal holdouts for the successor Byzantium Empire in the West. Sceptical reactions are probably merited in the face of promoting the tourist industry, but it will interesting nonetheless to see if this venture unearths any artefacts and contributes to the heritage of Calabria.

pale blue dot

In 1990 after the space probe Voyager 1 had accomplished her primary mission of exploration of the outer planets, famed astronomer and project architect Carl Sagan requested that the emissary turn its lens back once more and capture an image of the Earth in all its humbleness from such a great distance.
It did not matter much that the photograph with two weeks’ delay was not quite as dramatic as Sagan had envisioned as his poetic reflections on this invisible parting-shot managed to inspire multitudes. Seizing on a similar opportunity twenty-three years later, Sagan’s students sought to make his pale blue dot as envisioned a reality by directing the Cassini to take a break from exploring Saturn and focusing back on its place of origin. Still not awash among a field of stars, the Earth’s latest selfie was produced, with the planet’s inhabitants being urged in advance—perhaps without sufficient publicity—to take a moment to appreciate the uniqueness of the world outside as they smiled for the camera. Maybe such a moment was not as well promoted as it could have been, as I hope I wasn’t on the wrong side of the globe or doing something tedious and inside as all of this transpired—paradoxically, I think we were at that moment experimenting with our own aerial photography. Of course, we were all present for 19. July 2013 when robot photographed its makers from the orbit of Saturn, awash in the erupting jets of the Moon Enceladus whose mysterious geysers might be spouting off the most accessible hints of life elsewhere in the solar system. It’s an inspiring, sacred look back and more in the spirit of Sagan’s vision than the original.

Friday, 30 October 2015


genealogy room: via Boing Boing, a service that maps the prevalence and distribution of one’s family name

the plot thickens: a 1919 screenwriters’ resource of ten million photoplay expositional combinations

die roboter: elementary school class in Mainz perform Kraftwerk

your brain on drugs: testing the web-spinning capabilities of spiders under the influence was an abortive forensics ploy for drug-testing

lowered-expectations: due to a profound lack of same-species mates, the coywolf is emerging

extracurricular or rolling-stock

Via the ever interesting Presurfer comes a look at a yet extant relic of the planned economy in the Soviet Union and its satellite states in the form of heritage railways created as training platforms for apprentice students (die so genannt Pionieresienbahnen, but also present in Uzbekistan, Belarus, Hungary, China, Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland and Cuba) and aspiring engineers, complete with all the scaled down but functional equipment to learn all aspects of running a train-service to include switching-stations and actual routes that attend to recreational spots. Going to school during East German times, H told me that there was one period a week reserved for what was termed practical education but as his class was brought to a lamp factory, it really couldn’t be considered anything but child-labour and was a rather dreary, dangerous hour. It is all the more depressing to think that there was such a Pioneer Railway located right in Leipzig, where H grew up, for the luckier kids.  I think it would have been fun to be a conductor and get to wear a spiffy uniform, like those pictured at the link.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

smรฅl, smol

Swedish furniture and lifestyle emporium solicited plush toy drawings from children and have transformed ten winning visions into to stuffed animals for sale in their stores worldwide. Part of the their Toys for Education campaign, which has been active for over a decade but never before asked kids for their creative input, proceeds will also help benefit charitable organisations that help young people and their families.

persistence of vision

The splendiferous Nag on the Lake directs our attention to a lovingly curated gallery of mesmerizing phenakistoscope animations, whose looping effect (and themes, perhaps) are not much different than what’s produced by GIFs (which I have been kind of obsessed with lately).
Debuting in the early 1830s, the invention of Belgian Joseph Plateau but with several other independent animateurs promoting their own spectacles, the phenakistoscope spread quickly across Europe, the engaged audiences viewing a spinning disk through a series of tiny slits to achieve the illusion of motion. Until opticians devised techniques of projection—which saw an explosion in phantasmagoria with similarly prefixed motion picture devices—spectators had the Greek root ฯ•ฮตฮฝฮฑฮบฮนฮถฮตฮนฮฝ, which meant deceptive. I hadn’t thought about it beforehand but the German term for an animated feature is “Trickfilm.”

ulysses or hocus-porcus

By its nature, mythology does not admit to definitive versions, although the fables and folklore of the Greeks, once committed to paper by Homer and Hesiod and countless others took on an air authority that was not a uniting theme in the tradition of story-telling. Although different accounts circulated long afterwards and inheritor traditions continue to build on that unstaid corpus still, lore, variation and invention is sourced to the Heroic Age—those who fought in the Trojan War, and abruptly ended with that diasporic, lost generation afterwards.
Maybe it was because those stories were written down and the winningest narratives became the prevailing ones—competition continued among poets, championing their own character-analyses, morals and retribution and it’s now hard to imagine as the readership that there were opposing legends presented to audiences, amok-time scenarios where Electra and ล’dipus had normal families and lost their place in the popular imagination to the racier, received versions. One of the very last myths constructed, a lost epic that seems groundless morose but somewhat reconstituted, by the Greeks is called the Telegony and dealt again with re-deploying veterans and the homecoming of Odysseus, but told from the perspective of the seductress and enchantress Circe. During Odysseus’ captivity on the exile-island of Aeaea—Loลกinj, Croatia—(Circe was banished to this remote location to keep her out of trouble), Circe became pregnant and bore Odysseus a son after his departure, the eponymous Telegonus, whose name meant born far away due to his father’s distant home. Athena urges Circe to reveal to her young adult son—juxtaposed with the massacre and funeral service for opportunist suitors of his wife, Penelope, whose advances she solemnly rebuffed for the two decades’ absence of her husband that open the story—who his father is. Telegonus resolves journey to Ithaca to find Odyssey.
Why Athena, as Odysseus’ constant champion and protector, encouraged this reunion seems impenetrable and without the entire story—that’s just been teased out of a few lines and other myths referencing the Telegony—the goddess’ motivation will remain a mystery, I suppose. Before going on this long and dangerous voyage, Circe asks the blacksmith of the gods to craft her son a supernatural spear with the poison tip of a string-ray to defend himself. Just as Telegonus arrives in the Ionian Sea, he is visited by a terrible storm and disoriented, does not realise that he has already arrived at his destination. Though the trope seems rather predictable to us thanks to the tragedies of Sophocles, Telegonus poached one of his father’s cows and was ambushed by Odysseus and his men. As he deftly defends himself, Telegonus strikes down Odysseus, fulfilling a prophesy that the wily hero who satisfied his charge with burying an oar in a land where they never had heard of the ocean that stated he would meet his demise from the sea, and recognizes, too late, that he is his father. Beside himself with remorse, Telegonus takes Odysseus’ body, widow and half-brother, Telemachus (meaning “far from the battle-field” also unborn when Odysseus went off to war) back to Aeaea in the Adriatic. Circe’s magic was unable to restore Odysseus to life but is able to make the landing party immortal. Telegonus marries his step-mother, Penelope, and Circe, Odysseus’ lover, marries Telemachus. I wish we had the whole story in order to make this outcome seem plausible—the classic myths were hinged together in such a way where one could always suspend ones disbelief and accept that a character was fated to be transformed into a tree or flower or would be forced to experiment with the lesser-evils and impossible choices. I wonder if this outline could be expanded.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015


memory-hole: the estate of George Orwell, ironically, attempts to suppress unsanctioned mention of “1984”

peabody’s improbable history: the archived internet, the Wayback Machine, is getting a search engine

isambard kingdom brunel slept here: a look at the makers of London’s historical markers, the Blue Plaques

monstrous memorabilia: gallery of vintage horror film lobby cards

stellar hosts: an overview of how astronomers went from zero to five thousand plus potential exoplanets in two decades via Kottke’s Quick Links

rutherfords and risk-assessments

Immediately for me invoking recollections of that endless film franchise Final Destination, wherein some hapless teenagers have premonitions of freak accidents that are perpetuated by some Rube Goldberg chain of events and shoddy craftsmanship, the notion of the micromort, conceived by ethicist and information-scientist Ronald Howard of Stanford University, modestly and eloquently has further reaching meaning in terms of public literacy in probability and statistics, risky undertakings, and deflecting media bias.

As a unit or scale, the micromort roughly measures a one-in-a-million chance of dismem- berment or death from exposure to various activities—both bidden and unsolicited, like base-jumping, shark-attacks, skiing, drug use, quick-sand, terrorism, diet—allowing one to weigh the peril though in the end the odds seem to say on our side. I don’t think that this a model that insurance companies use, per se. Facts and figures can be easily turned into anecdotal evidence in support of any argument or newly-fashioned threat. Not to disparage the better intentions of keeping healthy, wealthy and wise, but the burden bore by saying that sitting is deadly and is ratcheting up one’s individual risk by—say a fifth, does not factor in prevalence and can be misrepresented as something huge and something that we’re morally obligated to counter. History is punctuated by moral panics and distortion, but even more so now, as we’re already couched in safety and leisure, and the idea of security and hygiene has supplanted superstition. Like the dread millisievert, the rutherford is also a doseage of radiation exposure and can also be easily taken out of context. What do you think? Does being informed carry with it a healthy degree of skepticism?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

stretch of sands or jack sprat

The dicey encounter between the US and Chinese navies in the rarefied archipelagos of the South China Sea represents of course modern points of contention but the history, the anchorage of the Spratly Islands (known by several other, disputed monikers) reaches into the distant past and under tenser auspices. Though just outside of major shipping-lanes, the disperse islands, some eight hundred shoals and reefs that constitute a mere four square kilometers of land combined, did not garner much attention, regarded as treacherous waters to be avoided—outside of a few micronation claimants—until the end of the nineteenth century, seeing the chance to expand their sphere of influence and control of the channels of commerce, Britain made the first petition.
This territorial extension did not yield a secure title as the newly independent Philippines first needed gentle reminders by their former minder, the USA, that their lands did not extend that far out (though the lesson did not really penetrate with these squabbles extending through the people’s revolution in China, the Republic in exile in Formosa, another try for a micronation utopia, and finally the intentional wrecking of a Filipino submarine on one of the islands and a permanent military detachment around that wreckage) and then was overcome by the outcome of the Sino-French War that erupted over Qing China’s incursions into Tonkin (the northern part of French-Indochina, now Vietnam). Japan occupied most of the archipelago during World War II, with the Republic of China (now confined to Taiwan) re-establishing garrisons after the Japanese surrender. Lending more support to Chiang Kai-shek than to the communist, mainland government, America preferences rather inflamed the dispute and helped foment the notion of a one-China policy—insofar as the stance translates to Western ears. Post-war, the stakes grew with natural resources to exploit and Malaysia and the Sultanate of Brunei joining in.


a lad insane: a gallery dedicated to iconic David Bowie persona artwork

kit and caboodle: impassioned curators’ collection of miniature folk-art buildings

blue birds over (dead link): Churchill’s war-time tunnels under the White Cliffs of Dover are open to the public

ewok village: civil engineers design a sustainable city out of bamboo

move along, move along: wookie arrested while escourting Lord Vader to the polls in Ukraine


My furnished workweek apartment has scattered shelves of mostly decorative books lining the room—some visually striking vintage paperbacks, the 1937 definitive edition of a German encyclopedia that’s an interesting snapshot but the selection is mostly of the harlequin and coffee-table (perhaps also the load-bearing) variety.
Dusting the shelves, however, I was surprised to see a title that I hadn’t noticed beforehand, Graf Luckner’s Seeteufel erobert Amerika (the Sea-Devil raids America) published in 1955. A few weeks ago, I first heard of the amazing but mostly forgotten adventures and exploits of gentleman-raider Felix Graf von Luckner. After the wars, the gracious and big-spirited Luckner was reunited was many of his hostages and toured America to great acclaim, recounting his conquests and even ripping telephone books asunder with his bare hands. I will read through the book and suppose that finding a copy just under my nose is testimony to the fame and celebrity that deserves further inspection—happily revived by the curious story-tellers at Futility Closet.

Monday, 26 October 2015

paramour or family planning

Jewish traditions were first exposed to the tale of Lilith, the “Night Hag,” during their Babylonian Captivity from ancient Sumerian sources, and conflating demonology (daimลnion) with fairies, which are liminal beings capable of both beneficence (like a fairy godmother) and wickedness (mischievousness mostly) and from a psychological stance infinitely more fascinating, decided to wed her to Adam. Whether also chthonic or baked in fire, Lilith was understood to be also elemental and thus not derivative, unlike Adam’s second wife Eve, and thus not very keen on the idea of being subservient or second-class.
After having had liaisons with multiple archangels, God decreed this strident, toxic woman to be no suitable mate and surgically excised Eve as Lilith’s under-study. Apparently, with sentiments more in line with those of fairyfolk, however, Lilith did pine for Adam and for her squandered chances of having children—being that she had become too venomous to nurse any child, no matter how immortal its parentage, having garnered the reputation of being a succubus, which is an awful sounding name for a seductress but is usually just rendered as paramour with no paranormal connotations. The different biological-clocks and this asynchronicity remains a theme in folklore throughout the ages, with Lilith’s curse representing fussy babies that have difficulty breast-feeding and her minions intent on kidnapping human-children, replacing them with an identical-looking changeling. It was taken as a near impossibility for fairies to breed naturally, they replenished their ranks by substituting a wizened, geriatric fairy for a new soul—and in disguise, generally the human foster-parents would care for and for the retired fairy in its old age, though sometimes the changeling could be tricked into betraying its true nature as an old, experienced soul by confronting the infant in question with baby-talk or something equally nonsensical, whereupon the old fairy would protest or attempt to correct the illogical behaviour. If this enchantment is not drawn out in a timely-fashion, the supernumerary child would later show a penchant for developmental disorders and neurological abnormalities—at least that’s how maladjusted offspring were explained through the nineteenth century. Only when fairies were pushed back into the woodwork, supplanted by medicine and machinery, did they begin to take on a diminutive stature and the diaphanous wings, and not uncannily human, characteristics that most associate with fairies today.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

bolwoningen or apostrophe-s, it shows the things that we possess

In the Brabant capital of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (the Duke’s Forest)—in the suburb of Maaspoort, the Dutch government awarded funds in 1968 to the architectural firm of Dries Kreijkamp to commission a experimental housing project.
These so-called bubble (Bolwoningen) units were constructed from the early 1970s through to 1984, and being modular, efficient, easy to transport and requiring little in the way of a foundation were among the first environmentally-friendly mass-produced shelters created. The bubble houses are still occupied today and quite popular among the residents. Check out the link above for more images of the unique, retro-future apartments.

kleine wiedervereinigung

The Local (Germany’s daily in English) nicely marked the six decades that have transpired since the “little reunification” when the Protectorate of the Saar voted in a public referendum to reject economic annexation by neighbouring and occupying France as a dependency six decades ago in order to join the reconstituted West Germany, fully implemented some two years later. This decision, couched in the complex history and politics of the small territory, is often forgotten and overshadowed by the reunion of West and East in 1990, represents an important previsioning of sorts of the integration and cooperation that anticipates the spirit of the European Union

not too big to jail

In what’s just an opening salvo to demonstrate (and actually far from the first prosecution of this kind)that no behaviour, no matter how consequential and unconscionable, is above the law, Iceland is sentencing two dozen bankers and financial managers whose greed and collusion resulted in the devastating 2008 economic meltdown of the country. This meting out of punishment is a necessary but bold step, especially compared to the inaction and forgiveness on the part of the US government who allowed its bankers, Masters of the Universe, to precipitate the global Recession in the first place—and of many other countries where immunity has been extended rather magnanimously. Managing other people’s money is just the same as overseeing any other utility, and probably less skilled, and such plumbers and locksmiths (not to insult those professions by comparison, who are much better champions in our hour of need) should not be compensated nor protected differently.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

i find your lack of faith disturbing

In response to a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament, Quartz magazine reports, back in April that prohibits the public display of Communist propaganda, a statue of Vladimir Lenin outside of a factory complex in Odessa slated to be destroyed has instead been redesigned as a homage to Darth Vader. The figure even emits free WiFi for the residents.


brightest london is best reached by underground: glorious, vintage gallery of Tube posters

einstein-bose condensate: new, preliminary research suggests quantum-entanglement can be harnessed

not your typical disney princess: Leia Organa is a force to be reckoned with

she doesn’t even realise she’s a replicant: Liartown, USA variations on the Voight-Kampff test for humanity, more sophisticated than CAPTCHA

frogmorton: JRR Tolkien’s annotated map of Middle-Earth

sentimental journey

Once Protestantism took hold in large swathes of northern Europe, particularly in England, the pilgrimage undertaken to exotic lands fell out of fashion, people of means needed to articulate another rite of passage that would fulfil this lost outlet. Almost immediately, the notion of the Grand Tour was invented as an authoritative substitute, since one could claim instant superiority in matters of taste and worldliness over one’s neighbours for having seen the masterpieces of the continent first-hand and having even brought back some art as souvenirs.

Though such deportment would have been non- permissible beforehand on the Camino de Santiago, such gap year trips were also seen as not only edifying but also the chance to discretely work whatever hot-blooded passions (associated already with Mediterranean climes) that might need to be exorcised to avoid any scenes at home. The odd and singular aspect of these sojourns was that the itinerary was squarely planted in Catholic lands, which were considered the subversive enemy for the reformed countries of the north—almost as if the most popular tourist-destination for Americans during the Cold War was Stalingrad, immersed in the culture of an ideological nemesis. Many Britons and others felt it was unpatriotic to indulge the sights of the south, but a domestic tourism industry was not developed until the French Revolution made travel impossible, and the Low Countries as well as Scotland and the fjords of Norway were discovered by people who had not previous ventured outside the capitals. After matters had settled down a bit and travel to Southern Europe was again possible, people complained of the changed character of tourism—there were just too many of them and one could hardly be enraptured by art and architecture in a pulsing, pushing crowd of sight-seers. The elite among the holiday-makers began turning away from these cultural enlightening itineraries in response and began to focus on natural destinations, like the beaches and mountains, leaving the cities and museums for the masses.

Friday, 23 October 2015

king-biscuit flour-hour

One of my all-time favourite blogs, the always inspiring Nag on the Lake, directs us to an interesting chapter in American history told through the flour-sack dress.
What I found really striking and unexpected was how the manufacturers wanted to extend a sense of dignity to their resourceful models and included instructions for removing the inked on company logos and provisioning information, so one was not an unwilling, walking advertisement. Further, anticipating this need for thrift to remain for the foreseeable future, having spanned from the time of the Great Depression through the rationing of World War II, the manufacturers introduced an array of fabric patterns (at considerable expense, I am sure) that were really dazzling and on-par with the most spectacular store-bought textiles and clothing. That’s pretty keen and it would really be something if modern businesses could be as considerate for their loyal customer-base and if the modern consumer was as driven to make-do.

being there or eaches teaches

In celebration of ninth year of publication, the Maria Popova of the gorgeous and insightful Brain Pickings is marking the occasion by reflecting on nine important lessons learned distilled in her thousands of hours of reading, writing, synthesizing and sharing.

All of these teachings are important touchstones of the fulfilled and examined life but I think number six, presence is far more rewarding an art than productivity, is especially resonant as it’s become acceptably fashionable to talk of growth and becoming as some abstraction that’s somehow out-of-time and contained, couched in delay, deferment and distraction that’s producing something for the sake of production. This message is punctuated with the memorable quotation from essayist Annie Dillard, “how we spend our days is, of course, how spend our lives.”

Thursday, 22 October 2015


pachyderm: Icelandic cliff-face looks like an elephant

hello – you have found my shop of rare and wonderful things: Super Mario style map of Twin Peaks

glyph-list: latest issue of emojis to supplement your vocabulary, via Kottke’s quicklinks 

det var helt texas: in Norwegian vernacular, the state’s name signifies being unbalanced

hot or not: Canadian prime-ministers ranked

temporal excursions

Though perhaps not presented in the most rigorous format, Neatoramanaut Rob Manuel does offer a rather compelling and intuitive argument regarding the strictures of time-travel—wherein a back- to-the-future scenario plays out more like being visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past with one being unable to interact or change history in any way.

Scientific minds, worried about paradox and the space-time continuum collapsing due to an essential violation, believe that the fabric of the Universe already enforces a sort of chronological censorship in so far as travelling backwards in time would only admit of self-consistent ventures. In other words, time-travelers could not take a trip to the past and attempt to change any outcome without the Universe conspiring to preserve the time-line, likelihoods going out the window as probability bends to favour more and more improbable events in order to stop an impossible one for occurring. Actually succeeding with the assassination attempt or any number of interventions, despite all the inherent good behind it, would after all have negated the motivation to create a time-machine in the first place.  What do you think?  Are there ways to get around clumsy paradoxes? 

5x5: halloween edition

monster parade: ghoulish GIFs for thirty-one days of horror

tidings: collection of vintage Hallowe’en postcards

psychopomp: high-fidelity hardware that aided mediums during sรฉances

a costume, not a culture: just because one can append the word sexy does not mean it’s a good idea for dress-up

revue: from Atlas Obscura’s crypt, an archived celebration of the season

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

the hunting of the snark

First sighted and described through second- or third-hand accounts in the third century BC, the unicorn—or monoceros was for centuries embellished with the rich lore of mythology, though this legendary creature had no truck with myths and heroes as it was believed to be very much part of the animal kingdom, though cryptic and elusive. The creature even figured, in its classic form, in the ancient iconography of India, whence the original came. Being unable to observe the shy creature in its natural habitat and unable to produce a specimen, big-fish stories circulated of the fierce and violent steed, who might only be tamed in the presence of a virgin—apparently also a a rare beast that couldn’t just be left in some forest as bait, what with dragons to be appeased.

Received Arabic advanced pharmacology further articulated the healing, anti-venom potency of its horn—the ivory and medicine derived from it is called alicorn, but most medieval had to settle for the horn in powdered form—for which they’d pay handsomely. The possibility of being drugged while wined and dined by potential rivals was a very real fear for the nobility—which such murderous intent not relegated to the underclasses until modern times. And up until the time artist Albrech Dรผrer was able to issue thousands of copies of his prints, people in Europe seemed willing to accept the traditional accounts of encounters with what to modern ears becomes instantly a rhinoceros and not some lithesome horse with a horn. Whether the public grew sceptical, especially with the increasing conflation with Christianity as an excuse for the inability to deliver evidence of an actual unicorn, or whether it had already been poached to extinction, I cannot say, but some enterprising Dane saw an opportunity and went whaling off the coasts of distant Greenland, hunting an even more unlikely creature, the narwal, and passing of its spiral tusk as the genuine article. Those with means paid even greater amounts for prized exemplars of horn. Eventually this ruse was revealed by a Danish physician after having been allowed to continue for decades, however, the public fascination was not diminished but rather encouraged by this confirmation. There was a strong belief among natural scientists that all terrestrial and aquatic animals had counterparts, like the behemoth and the leviathan or landlubbing people and merfolk. Acknowledging that there was such an incredible fish to be found only made people more convinced that the unicorn was still out there to be found.

bug bounty

Boing Boing, via Ars Technicia, has an interesting primer for the zero-day market, which the industry and regime-appointed czars are reluctant to address or even acknowledge.
A “zero-day” is a software vulnerability, identified by hackers but not publicly disclosed nor yet exploited, which is sold to the highest bidder—which is often a competitor but increasing includes zealous or repressive governments hoping to shore up a munitions’ dump that’s basically a kill-switch (or back-door) for the internet—on the tenuous promise that the discoverers won’t reveal the security weakness or act on it for their own benefit, and hence the name because communications platforms and companies that manage the underlying architecture of the internet would have no time to react or patch the fault, the bugs once it comes to light. This brisk, underground market represents a huge, welling threat with more than speculation becoming a commodity but the actual means of offense and defense. In their naรฏvety, governments are fueling this trafficking by hoping to preserve a systemic integrity but end up diluting everything in the process.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

mathmagicland or word-problem

Could the oral tradition of story-telling and the development of maths be related expressions of one and the same human need? Stories of course can be formulaic and numbers can be characters in an archetypal tale themselves, but I wonder if the divergence and convergence is something more fundamental.

There are rich mnemonic and coded traditions that are substrates that pass from anecdote, to generational lore, to a body of literature that engineer the structure of a story, and of course mathematical remains a very rarefied thing until couched in a real application (however unpalatable, two passengers on trains travelling in opposite directions...)—and even the discovery of a new idea in complex, higher level arithmetic has a narrative that reads like an author’s arc, not to mention the conventions of poetry. Literacy is a strange thing indeed. Wittgenstein, whom said nothing that I can pretend to comprehend, remained hot and bothered about the imprecision of language but was forever equally enthralled how the lexicon of maths—uncovered by the same frail organ—proved itself independent and reliable again and again. One cannot force the rigour of logic on creative writing but I wonder if reporting (and the themes of the oldest stories circulated that are re-told in contemporary ways) might have not become more and more elaborate with the sophistication of counting, substitution, extension, geometry and probability. Those articles that are perennially dusted off, citing statistics to scare seem to reinforce, negatively, the connection, taking advance of the functional illiterate and the break between figures and what they say. What do you think? Does a bit of lore, no matter what the format and presentation, have the same underlying progression as something quantifiable, a roll-call, a marshaling, a parcelling-out or a likelihood?

Monday, 19 October 2015

guerre civil

Indulging the counter-factual (supposing an alternate history) risks belittling suffering as it happened and building up for oneself a grasping sort of fantasy world, but in that split one also calls to account the calculated omissions and permissions of other powers. The Spanish Civil War that simmered to its critical point in 1936 is something incomprehensible, with long chains of causation reaching back generations and projected forward four decades and more with only drives attributed to make sense of the terrible and theatrical violence. I cannot claim to understand what each faction represented, but to the victor goes the spoils, like Qaddafi, who only reigned a slightly shorter period of time.
The unlearnt lessons of this war that was not contained to a domestic dispute are cemented with Picasso’s mural Guernica that distil the horrors of war that appears at the entrance to the United Nations’ Security Council chambers—at least, that is, from 1985 to 2009 with a notable veiling in 2003 during the Iraq War (when the American defence minister Colin Powell did not want to speak with backdrop of a mutilated horse’s ass) and afterwards the tapestry was sent on tour pending renovations. One is invited to imagine viscerally what befell the victims of this one arbitrary episode among many, but I think too that one is remembered as to how this conflict was also what we’d now call a proxy-war (though certainly not the first, nor the last). The struggle to take region, town by town, did not remain an internal affair for long, with Hitler and Mussolini almost immediately siding with the Nationalists, sending materiel that included the planes that bombed the quiet village of Guernica. British Gibraltar, through the UN’s predecessor that was supposed to prevent such escalations among members, placed an embargo, but with anti-Communist sentiments, did little to quell hostilities. Mexico and the USSR supported the Republicans but garnered a paucity of outside support. Whether the members of the future Axis Powers acted only out of ideology or wanted to destabilise the UK and France is unclear, but it seems as if other stances were assumed, with less entanglement and partisanship, the future might have played out very differently.


poll of inaccessibility: eschewing the big cities and iconic sites, photographer Gert Verbelen travels to the geographic-centre of eighteen euro-zone countries

case-mod: a look at what happens when one begins designing phones for people and not companies

stencil: animal cut-outs with stunning, natural backdrops

tater-tot: vintage Russian potato toy ideas

yodel-ay-ee-oooo: ladies and gentlemen, the Chicken Yodeling of Mister Takeo Ishii

Sunday, 18 October 2015

pocket full of posey

I was under the macabre but rather straightforward assumption that the Renaissance and subsequent Enlightenment movement came as a direct result of Italian merchant introducing the Plague, the Black Death to Europe (with some eighty percent morality for its first iterations but later waning before consuming itself). Easing a populace that was struggling to sustain itself, massive depopulation created opportunities not normally afforded to the peasant class and people suddenly became creative and inventive. Never mind the trauma and the reduced labour force—but there you go. The chain of causation, of course, is not that linear—if anything more than tenuous at all. As the pestilence raged, irrespective of rank, most countries in Europe (notably, the Low Countries did not impose such controls to their wages and really excelled for it in terms of trade and exploration) immediately began to impose economic safeguards in order to preserve the status of the aristocracy as the farm and field fell to neglect as whole villages died off.
Amidst the chaos, specie was devalued and although some rural labourers and sailors did find more coin in their purses, it’s purchasing-power had been rolled-back to below levels experienced under a recession. Upward-mobility was discouraged and the peasants did not have the wherewithal to stage a rebellion for generations—and there was a baby-boom following each visitation. Religious art and expression flourished in the aftermath, but with a focus specifically to remember the dead. Aside from funerary adornments, the university of Cambridge and innumerable foundations and charity hospitals were founded—parallel to the social safety-net that the Church was providing, and these institutions remain to this day—to honour the departed. These enduring memorials represent a wedge of sorts that cleaves the Plague years away from the way the ages of history unfolds later. The notion that dread disease might have an original other than volcanic gasses in Hyperborrea, comets, eclipses was not revealed for nearly eight centuries later, and whatever leechcraft or superstition that the successful physicians applied were very much against the received wisdom from the Ancients. Smugly, these practitioners dismissed the writings of Galen and Hypocrates for being ill-prepared to handle an epidemic, and ushered in another age of charm and scepticism, diametrically opposed to the hallmarks of the Renaissance which sought to thoroughly inspect and embrace the Classics. Although proximity in time may not be a sufficient cause, the Renaissance began in earnest in Florence, most agree with the ancient texts and lost sources being brought by Greek refugees fleeing from the Ottoman conflict, not far from where the Plague first made land-fall.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

up periscope or dead men tell no tales

Regardless how the US refrains from using assassination (targeted killings) in the same way it refuses to “negotiate” with terrorists, the drone-wars have exhausted—unintentionally but with the lulling effect of new technologies and the easier path—whatever intelligence capital and standing that America had in the world. Not only does the incomplete picture obtained by intercepting communications (SIGINT) yield grave inaccuracies including a lot of collateral deaths (though they’re never referred to as by-standers), these tenuous links can no longer be explored or exploited once the person of interest has been obliterated.

Repeat missions based on the same models eventually dispose of all potential known-associates but do not solve the underlying problems nor create channels of access, like traditional espionage might have accomplished, and one’s understanding of connections and associations become diluted and unpredictable. Reliance on telephonic communication and the telemetry that’s a backformation that tends to put blinders on the drones’ human minders whose lightening bolts are already handicapped with tunnel-vision—the soda-straw effect, as only a very small part of the surroundings comes into focus, instead of some wide-angle cinematic panning that the audience expects to document the drama. Such a keyhole perspective, buffeted by the same dragnet snooping that the US has applied roundly to the entire world’s populace without discrimination, collapses leads, true or false, and has resulted in incalculable civilian loss and distrust. Despite that this way of warfighting is portrayed as safer and more surgical, it seems quite otherwise and has earned more than a modicum of scepticism, especially since the same intelligence-gathering, dossier-compiling unleashed on the general public is being used to vaporise terrorists and their associates, begging that invoking that justice from on-high is just a few clicks away.

giraffe, erdmรคnnchen & co.

Parallel to the much celebrated and intensely competitive Wildlife Photograph of the Year run through the auspices of the BBC and the London Natural History museum, nature-photographer Paul Joynson-Hicks had the idea to capture the more candid side of the business with his “Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.” Spiegel features a funny slide-show of some of the best entries, and the contenders are sure to ratchet it up for next year’s competition.

Friday, 16 October 2015


Just following a significant operational disclosure revealing the structure and extent of the US admin- istration’s military drone program, Transparency International Germany awards its Whistleblower prize to a former drone jockey stationed at the secretive base in Ramstein for exposing how deeply the installation is mired in the controversial drone war. Germany has been given to question whether hosting the such operations is not a violation of its own laws and principles, despite a regular litany of denial on both sides that’s by now twice-spent any credence. A French chemist is also being honoured in the ceremony in Kaiserslautern for demonstrating the grave toxicity of a popular herbicide.


twilight of the gods: Nina Hagen, Grace Jones and others feature in a Biblical Rock Opera, Gutterdรคmmerung, who strive to return the Earth to a state of vice

dyson’s sphere: luminous fluctuations in a distant star’s brightness could be signs of ancient alien technology

marylebone: BLDGBlog ponders the supposed funerary teleportation grid of Greater-London

scrumptious: venerable art foundation raises funds for galleries and museums with edible masterpieces, via the splendid Nag on the Lake

babel: a few odd, nuanced (but expeditious) terms found in EU English

Thursday, 15 October 2015


To illustrate for us how that intimate, intense engagement with our Handys, tablets and other devices comes across as kind of estranging and lonely, photographer Eric Pickersgill captured subjects so disposed—with the offending gadget removed. Check out the rather hauntingly and sad gallery here, via Quartz—and remember, putting our phones away is about more than etiquette.  It is an odd phenomenon that we repair to our own little world with accessories that do not even challenge the imagination but nonetheless seem preferable to the great here-and-now.

chancel, chancellery

The predominant theme of German news and discussion panels has been refugees and immigration for weeks now and is demanding an increased sense of urgency due to its unrelenting stream of asylum-seekers and families fleeing war and institutional poverty and the change in weather that assuredly guaranteeing no happy-campers, sheltered in to a large part in tent-cities or cavernous warehouses. The rational that buoys compassion is that Germany’s ageing population needs an injection of young, able-bodied adults to supplement their workforce (and retirement scheme) in order to maintain the competitive economic edge that they’ve enjoyed for the past couple of generations.
Germany’s young breeders apparently are not working hard enough to replenish the labour-pool. Employment-models suggest that the influx of refugees (many of who purportedly will not stay in Germany but be resettled elsewhere in Europe) has not yet reached that threshold of sustainment and whatever money and resources spent are a good investment, but I wonder if that welcoming reception might change once the requirement is met—or when the demographers realise that their constructions and projections are not valid gauges of future job-markets, what with robots threatening to take-over vast parts of certain jobs-sectors. Aside from worries over the effect on housing-market (and the question of adequate, affordable accommodations), there are significant challenges ahead with integration and assimilation that are only just now being broached—although wholly unaddressed by one particular group, those migrants—not necessarily from those same regions but grouped together as such I’m sure. I wonder what this silence means—whether or not the more established immigrant population is reaching out to newcomers and being forthcoming with assistance and sponsorship, or whether there’s a widen rift, agonising whether these late arrivals might upset whatever social-acceptance that they’ve gained, feeling their benefits under-threat. Maybe that’s an aspect just not being reported but I don’t know. This image, first discovered by the fabulous Nag on the Lake some time ago, is a public-service announcement from the Scarfolk Council, which is unfortunately caught in a Doctor Who-style time-loop and forever condemned to relive the decade of the 1970s and importantly makes us confront our own selective humanity.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

fliegerhorst wasserkuppe

Over the weekend, H and I took a little stroll on the leveled summit of the highest peak of Hessen—the Wasserkuppe outside of Gersfeld and just in the Rhรถn mountain range over the state border.

We’ve spend quite a few afternoons watching the gliders towed aloft by small aeroplanes crisscross the horizons and come in gentle on the grass runway, and though a lot of others had the same idea as us on this bright October, everything looked somewhat transfixed under that day’s sun and it turned out to be a pleasant little walk around—through a lot more urchins were climbing over the Fliegerdenkmal than five years ago. I knew that there was some provision to getting a pilot’s license for a glider, which could be accomplished at a younger age than the usual minimum age to obtain a driver’s license, that ended up making the end process of the later license to drive somewhat easier, which drove some adolescents’ interest, but the idea—though possibly a little bit scary, is enervating besides. There are quite a few fly-clubs of this sort in our area. The Wasserkuppe, aside from its ideal local, has a long and innovative history, going back to the first decade of the twentieth century with university students experimenting with kites and short flights.
The first sustained, hang-gliding sessions happened here, about two decades after the first mechanical fixed-wing flight—as the properties of aerodynamics were not very well understood until this feat. Interest in the air-sail grew considerably with the end of World War I, whose conditions of surrender forbade German research or use into powered flight, and competitions in glider design were launched centred around the Wasserkuppe and in a few years, test-flights of all sorts of flying-machines, including the Messerschmitt and early rocket-jets, were conducted there. After the war, elements of the American and the French air forces occupied the summit, especially prized for its commanding view into the Iron Curtain, and the radom in the background is a remnant of those days. The recreational use of the mountain, however, was not restricted for too many years.


miss cellany: eccentric, vintage beauty titles

cross-over: bizarro universe celebrity guest stars

high-tension: creative engineers turn Iceland’s pylons into colossal works of art

letterbox format: French museum displays tiny, detailed recreations of movie sets

blue-light special: retail sound-track circa 1989-1993 preserved for posterity

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

fun fact

Though in its original meaning, the trivia signified the foundational triad of the liberal arts—that being grammar, rhetoric and logic, needed to be mastered before graduating to the more stimulating disciplines of music, geometry, arithmetic and astronomy, its Latin adjectival form (triviฤlis, a word which has surely been claimed by some pharmaceutical or disputed game-show outcome arbitrage service by now) already denoted something akin to the English form trivial—trifling and fit for the street corner, being where three paths met. One ought to be proud of one’s accumulated knowledge and share it magnanimously and without stint, but this etymology and association makes me think of some pusher standing at an intersection bellowing to passers-by, “The mad professor intoning ‘Science!’ in She Blinded me with Science is show-master Magnus Pyke, cousin of Geoffrey Pyke eccentric, well-meaning boffin who proposed building aircraft carriers out of ice and saw-dust during World War II. The first one’s free! Spermology is the study of trivia!” This literal deconstruction makes me also think of how pornography means, innocently, the writing of prostitutes: “Dear Diary, What a day – but it’s better than waitressing…”

acculturation and ascendency

Just recently I learnt that there is a yet unfolding what to frame the inquiry as to why—given that the Chinese invented the most uncontestably useful and revolutionary innovations in world history, the compass, the stirrup, weirs and dams and locks to allow for inland navigation, porcelain, the spinning wheel, the printed word and gunpowder—China did not continue on the same trajectory in scientific and technological achievement and was overtaken culturally and demographically (by most estimates) by Western Europe with their Age of Exploration, Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, fueled in large part by the introduction of such ancient Chinese secrets to the West. The so called “Needham Question” was posed first in the early 1950s by biochemist and China-scholar Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham and sought answers to this conundrum at a time when many Westerners believed the above modern hallmarks were Western inventions, and whose extensive research into the question is yet being unpacked. Given that I was under the impression that China was only interested in gunpowder for dazzling pyrotechnic displays and religious ceremonies (something facetious to believe really, like saying after inventing democracy, philosophy and the fine arts, the Greeks decided to call it a day) and it was Europeans who weaponised it, I suppose it would be wise to explore how such misconceptions come about and perhaps why such advances were not entirely seismic—at least seen through the lens of the occident and the focal point of centuries on.

Though not entirely a monolithic geopolitical landscape at any point in its history, China was a highly bureaucratic meritocracy that spanned a land-mass the size of Europe, which was then a fractious space filled with hundreds of petty kingdoms that would like nothing better than to blow one another to smithereens. Paper and the printing-press were certainly drastic and sweeping when introduced to Europeans, but in China an entire book-culture had already been cultivated for nearly a thousand years (by the time it had reached Europe) and every household had at least a small library. Not that reading was just a sedate pastime but cultural alignment under the Emperor with regimented social order and the lack of subversive elements (depending of course on one’s perspective) printing pamphlets and broadsides shone the presses in a quite different light. It remains very much an open question, ripe for thought, with some arguing that the state fostered a climate in which conscientious bureaucrats were rewarded above all else—discouraging scientific and engineering ambitions beyond what maintained hierarchical cohesion. Others believe that the nature of Chinese religion, which was non-exclusive whereas Christendom was violently so, was not conducive of competition nor of scientific inquiry over metaphysical thought—though holding those precepts hardly sound true for Taoism or Buddhism. Yet others believe—which may be tending in the right direction but makes China out to be a frail place, that the forced-opening of markets, prizing into a self-sufficient economy, and colonisation threw the Empire into social chaos, for which it could not adapt native resourcefulness. Maybe, however, we view China and Asia as a whole like all “faded glory” vis-ร -vis its present presentiments—a threatening dynamo that’s subsumed all the things we’ve declared ourselves inefficient for, another level of faded glory—which seems a dangerous standard to grade things by. What do you think? It is not as if China is no longer inventing things and ought to make the Western world wonder about its privileged position.  Did China not have its enlightenment because it neglected to harness the power of steam, which incidentally was another Greek discovery (the รฆolipile), some two thousand years old?

Monday, 12 October 2015


tiki-chic: fascinating story of Harry’s Habour Bazaar of Hamburg, floating curio-cabinet packed full with idols, voodoo dolls, fetishes and shrunken-heads

post-script: gallery documenting America’s disappearing rural post-offices

last starfighter: awkward, kind of lame platform from UK government to identify and train cyber-security savants

thrones and dominions: John Paul II nominated Saint Isidore, a seventh century monk who tried to capture the whole of human knowledge, as the patron of the internet—with an invocation against trolls

china syndrome: incredible photographic essay of Fukushima almost five years after the disaster and its local and global legacy, via Messy Nessy Chic 

pronoun, dative-singular

“What new entertainment have you, Jester?” “Beholde o Lord! ‘Tis mine inventio, what that I clepe the Selfum-Sticke.” The king is unimpressed.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

tail-pipe oder abgazskandale

I think that the manufactured mock rage over one iconic German auto maker has lost its traction but is failing to be brought out of the public-eye. During the past weeks, a normally interesting and academic program block of documentaries has sunk to sensationalism, with titles like “Krank dank VW” (Sick thanks to VW, about smog and urban pollution) and it seems that members of the American House of Representatives are calling for these “unsafe” vehicles to removed immediately from the road.

There is of course no safety or performance issues from a consumer standpoint, environmental damage aside and the lost tax-liability for carbon-producers—and though it is hardly an excuse for bad-behaviour, all car companies fib a little (or a lot) on their emissions-standards and less hue and cry has been expended over models with fatal flaws and those whose electronic brains can be easily commandeered. One might think that this episode was a final argument in favour of TTP, showing that American quality-controls can keep the world secure—except that the in-house guidelines broken were much more stringent than the common-denominator that passing such a treaty threatens to impose on all of us. What do you think? Lady is affected and we do wish our adventures had left a smaller-footprint, but the company will remedy this situation, and hopefully soon.

inter gravissimas

Due to the calendar reform of 1582, most of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland and Lithuania did not have these past few days in that year—the date jumping from the fourth to the fifteenth of October.
Pope Gregory XIII issued his papal bull, Inter gravissimas, in order to correct for the drift in the Julian calendar but certainly did not considered it a name sake or legacy item, and it was only later historians that sought to reconcile earlier dates on civil calendars, prolepsis, applying the new conventions backwards (which also marked the beginning of the new year with different dates, city by city), that came up with the designation. Confusingly, France implemented this change around two months later, leaping from the ninth to the twentieth of December. Great Britain, Tuscany and the Protestant Kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire waited until the 1700s to make the change. I think all these people had the good sense to stay in bed and wait for tomorrow.

Saturday, 10 October 2015


Japan has premiered, what’s touted as the first of it’s kind but does remind me of those retro-futuristic demonstrations of the push-button home of the past, an automated system that will dispense with the onerous human chore of doing the laundry—from sorting, washing and drying, folding and putting it away.

That’s pretty keen, I think, and might allow one more avenues to redirect one’s laziness and aversion—or more hopefully, not detract from more creative pursuits. Focusing on housekeeping, however, does seem to quiet the mind and let the imagination gain purchase, wishing one were done with turning wet socks outside-in. Still, I suppose I much favour the dishy-washy over doing them by hand (or beating my dirty clothes on rocks down on the river)—I only wonder when we invite the laundroid into our homes, what other time-saving helpers are to follow that might have more input on how we use those extra hours of leisure. What do you think? I suppose household chores are destined to become more and more convenient and involve less manual labour and time.

castaway cay

The Mapuche people of Patagonia have a very extensive and ancient system of myth and legend that includes the inspiration for the Flying Dutchman and ghost-ships in general. Fathomed up during a time of chaos and confusion and culture-shock as a way of reconciling their new and novel experiences with European exploration and conquest—transmitted decades later to that man-of-war from Holland that could never make port and was destined to sail the oceans forever, the Mapuche had a tale of a triple-masted sailing ship, which—however, owing to its sentience—was not seemingly in need of a captain, called the Caleuche.
I learnt of this strange bit of folklore via When On Earth’s rather morbid bucket-list of twenty places one must see after one dies. Check out some of the other destinations, for research-ideas, but certainly not as that undiscovered coountry. The crew consists of drowned sailors rescued by Chilean versions of mermaids and mermen, who can continue their existence as though still living when the ship appears, which is always a bright and racous affair but then disappearing again as suddenly, descending beneath the waves and plying the seas underwater. The festivities of the drowned are occasionally darkened by the party-crasher, the Sorcerer of Chiloรฉ (the name of the island around which the Caleuche is most often sighted) who breaches the hull on a stampede of kelpies (caballo marino—water-horses, locally) with a retinue of enchanted supplemental, relief-crew, fisherman and deck-staff not honourably drowned but rather cursed to do their eternal tasks as part of the ship itself—perhaps part of its collective consciousness.