Saturday, 31 January 2015

geofencing and defenestration

The always splendid and visionary BLDGBLOG presents an excellent survey of the coming electromagnetic moats that are being created to thwart off the remote controlled cat burglars known as drones.
It ought not come as any surprise that constellation of technologies that enable the good guys to keep us safe also comes off the shelf for the potential deployment and home- invasions, casing the joint from a safe distance. The number of black sites for GPS navigation devices is growing as are signal-jamming equipment create permanent and impromptu force fields. I suspect, however, that whatever counter-measures are implemented, new methods for getting around those drawbridges and portcullises won’t be far behind, including navigation by more traditional methods, orientation without being tethered to a human operator and completely autonomous missions (replete with exhaustive demographics) with no need to report back. I wonder how the the physical façade of suburbia and gated communities, exposed and set apart from the concrete jungles that might provide some natural defenses and more barriers to overcome, might change to support this firewall fortress.

ra-ra-rasputin, russia’s greatest love-machine

I am not sure what impression that I had formed of Grigori Rasputin beforehand other than him being some creature of the court of the Romanov’s—maybe a charlatan, and spiritual-healer and advisor to (and perhaps lover of) the Russian queen. Aside from the biography presented in the lyrics of the Boney-M song, I only based my knowledge of the so-called Mad Monk from the passages in The Tin Drum where the little hero’s mother is similarly enchanted by Rasputin’s story and led down the road to ruin.

The truth will assuredly remain elusive and buried in legend and speculation. The first precept that Rasputin’s religious conversion and consequently his supernatural powers for curing the sick and prophesy is tied to his homeland in Western Siberia—an ungoverned province and the cosmopolitan gossips of Petrograd must have surely been susceptible to stereotype and suggestion. Supposedly, there was an orgiastic cult of Christian fanatics, devoted to getting it all our of their system so that they could eventually come to abstinence and salvation honestly. People were convinced that Rasputin had come from this tradition and I am sure greatly magnified any sign of hedonism to a scandal and augmented supposed diabolical powers—including that he was invulnerable to attack, having survived quite a few assassination attempts. Rasputin  may have been wielding soft-power from Petrograd and had the ear of the emperor for his own benefit to an extent.
It really struck me, however—given that the belligerents of the Great War were almost all a part of one big family feud—oh bother, there’s Cousin Willy sounding off again, no member of the royal houses were heard to say a word to stop the fighting, save for Rasputin, who foretold the end of the Empire—though perhaps already obvious to the neutral observer. I had also assumed that Rasputin was executed by the Bolshevik revolutionaries along with the rest of the Romanov family, but—and again, the true reckoning is obscured—His Majesty’s Secret Service, it seems, either pulled the trigger or at least provided the weapon in the assassination of Rasputin in the thick of the war in 1916. Rasputin’s warnings to the Romanov’s maybe were dissuading the Russians from entering the war, and with the tide shifting in favour of Imperial Germany in that year, the British knew that they could not hope to contain them if they were only challenged on their western front.

augury

The Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman presents a rather interesting expository piece, with a segue about an African tribe that submits its most perplexing and unprecedented problems to an oracle—a sort of poor Schrödinger’s Cat of a decision-maker in a chicken fed poison and whether the animal survives or expires is the sought after solution. This method seems to work perfectly well for the chieftain. In parallel, neuroscientists have discovered that when faced with a similar predicament, a new environment where rodent-logic or bias may actually prove detrimental, laboratory rats can switch their brains into a random-mode. I wonder if our brains aren’t similarly wired. Burkeman finds the profundity in these little philosophic barbs and has a whole series of articles in this vein.

Friday, 30 January 2015

link roundup: five-by-five

tiny bubbles: that fizzy sensation is actually the flavour of carbon-dioxide

does not stay in vegas: charter flights for employees of area 51

convoi-exceptionel: polish trucking companies blanch at new german minimum wage laws

hils and tanketorsk plus eight other nifty danish words

new york, new york: gotham perennially threatens to secede from the rest of the state

agit-prop

The Local, the German daily in English, is reporting that the Duma is ruminating on whether to draw a parallel between the annexation of East Germany by West Germany, and declare the reunification an illegal act, as unlike in the Crimea, there was no plebiscite put to the people of the East before the 1990 appropriation and thus had no say in the matter, and Russia’s own behaviour. Mikhail Gorbachev, who has been meanwhile issuing some dire warnings to the West about not escalating matters and courting more polarization, dismissed the proposition—yet to gain any official backing and just under consideration—as preposterous. What do think of this sort of propaganda? Is it merely detached or is it purposely divisive?

paso del norte oder flüchlingslager

In a 2008 publication, historian David Dorado Romo explored a very dark and tragically formative and inspiring episode of in the history of cross-border relations between the US and Mexico and attitudes towards immigration.

These uncomfortable measures taken—ostensibly to ensure public health during the Spanish Influenza pandemic (brought back by returning soldiers from the Great War) that was decimating the population, included screenings to keep out homosexuals, the handicapped and other undesirables, fumigation and disinfection, and were lauded as systematic and scientific—though only in practise only carried out in a targeted, selective manner at checkpoints in El Paso and Juárez and only for Hispanic peoples. While the cruelty and outcome—death and maiming from the disinfectants that included DDT, petrol and Zyklon-B, has gone mostly undocumented and even forgotten—even after the debut of Romo’s book, the influence that America’s model had on the Nazis is recorded explicitly, whom instituted those already horrible and dehumanising methods by dread exponents.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

R-IL (D-SC)

According to Four-and-Six, a web-site documenting forensics and doctoring photographs that spans the history of the technology, that iconic image of the Statesman Abraham Lincoln is actually a pastiche of Lincoln’s head and the posing figure of Senator and former Vice-President John Caldwell Calhoun. This choice of composition is a great irony as the Democrat’s views, fearful of a tyranny of majority-rule and defense of the institution of slavery, and general rabble-rousing was one of the contributing factors that encouraged the Southern Secessionists and started the US Civil War. There are quite a few more interesting examples to be found on the website of creative cropping and air-brushing before the advent of photo-shop.

brekekekéx-koáx-pole-ax

Though German ministers are defiantly now saying that they refuse to hear out the argument of a regime sworn-in only a mere forty-eight hours hence—probably not the most civil or humble reception—the slightest hint of disunity, a chink in the offensive that the US has bumped up (in the membrane of the EU) against Russia, becomes something quite troublesome.
Though this tales has been long in the making and ought to come as no surprise—but not something to dismiss either, like the promises of some prophet of doom or tin-pot dictator, the newly elected Greek government may use this momentum and political capital to depart the European monetary union. It’s a bit of sensationalism that Germany has not already discharged its debts in the economic sense and ought not invoke ethics since that cheapens both, and regardless of whether or not Greece and other less robust economies were brought into the fold under false-pretenses or folly was indulged is really immaterial as the Greeks have been backed into a corner and saddled with insurmountable obligations. And like those other weaker members, Greece at the frontier seriously risks pol-axing (receiving the coup de grâce) itself by quietly playing along, its exports and shipping opportunities having severely been curtailed as a result of incremental sanctions levied by the West against Russia. Greece is contemplating breaking that embargo and negotiating its own deals with Russia, which I believe is a much more profound break than bucking the fiat currency would be. It is really striking how this conflict has escalated—though there are obviously strategic footholds to be found but would not have been quite so self-fulfilling without that initial, ideological meddling in the first place—is not over resources but rather nationalistic pride that’s also known as vain-glory, cushioned from slight and insult all around. Like the chorus of the Frogs croaks, “Old Ways Good, New Ways Bad.”

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

toponym or afternoon map

In celebration of the centennial since the establishment of its own, independent bureau of cartography, National Geographic is presenting a small retrospective of the estimated three thousand meticulously detailed maps of land, sea and space they produced for the magazine and other outlets. One arduous update that struck me as particularly poignant and telling of the politics and impermanence of the trade was the task of rebranding once the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991—when many place names, not just in Ukraine, reverted to their older forms. This past century has seen a lot of those changes but possibly no more than average.

material sciences or teflon don

The ever brilliant Colossal featured a keen and imaginative report on a research project—illustrated with some very fine visual effects, wherein an optics laboratory has imbued metallic surfaces with the quality of hydrophobia to the degree that water droplets roll and bounce away—in a mesmerising fashion, almost water globules floating away in microgravity.
Unlike the conventional ways of creating this effect with chemical coatings—which can be toxic and wear off over time, the scientists etch nanoscopic landscapes into the surface with precision lasers, which apparently resists degradation. A little speculation quickly leads to all sorts of possible applications, from pipes and plumbing—sanitation stations that don’t need extra water to be kept clean—better rust-proofing and airplanes that won’t require being chemically de-iced. I wonder what other special properties that very fine texturising techniques could awaken in ordinary materials. Maybe tiling and quilting a surface, on a scale otherwise undetectable, might make everyday materials rather supernatural: housings and cases and building materials capable of absorbing and retaining heat, an efficient insulator employed instead of conventional refrigeration, better acoustics, germ free surfaces without antibiotics, made too slippery in microscopic dimensions, or even plain old counter tops and banisters that could channel energy like fibre-optics.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

blockchain or turing-complete

Æon Magazine poses a pretty arresting question, siphoned through the spelunking machinery and quarrying activities that underpins the integrity and flow of alternative, shadow currencies: are humans ready to jettison the managers and middle-men for autonomous companies that need minimal human supervision?

Already on the market-place, there are sorts of collaborative commons—and there have been for decades, and while both producers and distributors benefit from these exchanges, there are still hefty franchise-fees. Platforms modelled in the same way as those that handle the transactions of crypto-monies (made sufficiently advanced) could facilitate and decentralise all these sought-after connections. Managers and his or her retainers (bankers, pimps, planters, lawyers, bureaucrats, brokers, auditors, real-estate and travel agents) are generally installed to maintain the integrity of their business—however, what usually results is the exact opposite, consumed with greed and the insecurity of competition, but this hierarchy could be easily flattened out—though I suspect that human nature, being what it is (not content to be a miner forty-niner) might quickly ruffle things again. What do you think? Are we ready for this sort of democracy? It’s not that were facing the prospect of sacrificing our CEOs and COOs to appease machines—it is merely a shift in infrastructure and I doubt we’ll get that choice when the time comes, but abandoning vanities whose time may have past. The article is a very thoughtful one and surely worth investigating.

métal hurlant

Via Neatorama comes the outstanding retro-future visions of Dan McPharlin, which pay a special homage to the science-fiction and fantasy paperback covers, video-game artwork and album covers that he grew up with.
There’s a certain impressionistic grittiness that is somehow more bonding—not just in a nostalgic sense, than the technically refined and regurgitated (so we don’t get too distracted I suppose) with the slap-dash marketing that adorns most things nowadays. The American magazine of fantasy fiction, Heavy Metal whose genre sponsored this particular style, was itself inspired in the mid 1970s by a French publication called Métal Hurlant, howling metal. Be sure to check out the links for an interview with the artist and more sublime studies of the imagination.

bicameral

Wanting to improve my geo-political senses, I put together this map with the legislative chambers represented by the banners, emblems and logos (space permitting) where they are physically placed. There is of course some bi-location in many spots, and it was interesting to find that most national assemblies, from the Alþing to the Duma, do have their own symbols. Where there was a distinction, I chose the lower lower house—the people’s chamber, but for a few countries I could only find the coat-of-arms to use.  Here is a nice peek on the inside of some of these institutions.  A few devolved regional governments are also included, as well as a few peculiars.

Monday, 26 January 2015

adage or open-source

Cunningham’s Law is seemingly one of those pithy, defeatist principles that have been named and carry aloft some sense of proprietorship and savoir, stating that the best way to solicit accurate information (in the Information Age) is by baiting one’s audience with the low-hanging fruit of patently false propositions.
Of course, certain types are better lured by certain honey-pots of howling inaccuracy and I doubt a lot of contentiousness and incivility stem from one wanting to get at an elusive truth and not a sturdy and well-buffeted opinion. Howard Cunningham, however, for whom the law is named is not just some rhetorician but the programmer, computer-scientist and Happy Days father who developed the user-editable platform known as the wiki. This potential for disabusing, edification and promulgation launched thousands of websites including of course Wikipedia, which has proved not only enlightening but also worth protecting. I’m sort of ambivalent about such proverbs—like Murphy’s Law (named for Candice Bergen) or the Sportscasters’ Curse, but I am sure that there’s a grain of truth to be uncovered behind them. Cunningham, at least through his creation that he gave away freely because he could not imagine anybody wanting to pay for something so basic but useful, and his law have become a grand social experiment with plenty of bait and bounty.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

precept, percept

Via the indefatigably interesting Mind-Hacks, I found out that American National Public Radio is launching a new, fresh programme called Invisibilia (Latin for all things that can’t be seen) that aims to investigate human behaviour and motives through narratives, interviews and research into realms that may shy away from direct observation. This is certainly a series that I want to tune in to.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

appellation

Three of the slain cartoonists in Paris were also famed for designing rather bawdy, irreverent labels for a few select wine-makers in a tradition that covered four decades of vintages.

the adventures of strelka & belka

Collectors’ Weekly has a nice recollection of the canine-persuasion’s contributions to space flight. Laika was certainly not without many, many dogged comrades that participated in the Soviet space programme and their lives, careers and celebrity are being compiled in a new book, whose editor is also the subject of this show-and-tell.

like a feather on god’s breath

Though not entirely alone among accomplished and influential women of the Middle Ages in Europe, the fascinating life and career of twelfth century Abbess Hildegarde von Bingen did strike me as a pleasant rediscovery and one that certainly bears further investigation to appreciate her contributions fully.
Born as the tenth child to a family of minor nobility along the Rhine, Hildegarde was basically tithed to the Church and given over to a convent at a very young age. Her early life and traditional formative years were punctuated with visions—which were miraculous enough in itself, which she kept to herself, professing herself to be an unworthy vessel and inadequate messenger, and found her voice, so to speak, in middle age. Outside of this context, Hildegarde’s erudition and research—notably including the composition and scoring of hundreds of pieces of holy music (A Feather on the Breath of God was the title of one of her canticles), extensive studies in medicine, advocating the boiling of water of all things, and taxonomy of flora and fauna (which maybe three hundred years later inspired Dame Juliana Berners to group animals together with the most fanciful and creative collective terms, like a murder of crows or a murmuration of starlings) was brilliant and earned her the eventual recognition as a Doctor of the Church (bestowed by Pope Benedict in 2012), but what I find particularly amazing was that her life really did begin at forty and instead of retiring to quiet contemplation—at a time when people didn’t usually survive that long to begin with, really took ownership of what might be called a mid-life crisis and resolved to share her gifts.
Hildegarde’s resurgence in recent years is doubtlessly a grave oversight in history that needs amending but may be in part due to particularly liberated and thoroughly modern echoes in her life that resound with contemporary movements. Though claiming that all of her learning and works were the products of divine inspiration, as a woman she petitioned the Pope and played a major role in Church politics and even preached herself, her homeopathic practises fit right in today, for being a nun she said quite a lot about sexuality and could be considered the first person to pursue a course in gender-studies, not only developed chants and penned devotional songs but also wrote an elaborate musical in a morality play set to her own compositions. Moreover, she authored an illustrated exegesis of her own visions and invented a language and script that was kind of a coded pastiche of Latin and German that Hildegarde deemed more suited for those enigmatic and perplexing revelations that came to her, which she always felt incapable of fully disclosing. Some partial copies of her codex have been preserved but the complete Scivias (some six-hundred pages) disappeared in the tumult of war in 1945 from a vault in Dresden.

Friday, 23 January 2015

chronostratigraphic units

Mental Floss invites us to explore the planet’s history through this pretty keen time-spiral, produced by a design team working for the United States Geological Survey. This artwork—available also in poster form ends with the age of the Holocene Epoch, beginning about ten thousand years ago and heralds in the beginning of human civilization, but there’s also a proposed name for the current era, Anthropocene, reasoning that the impact that mankind is having on ecology merits a new division—eons, ages and periods all being measures of indeterminate lengths.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

blood simple

Nature features a rather ghoulish study that rather upholds what vampires apparently knew all along: that fresh blood seems to have the potential of revitalising old vessels. Conjoined twins—or in this case, two lab rats spliced together so that share one vascular system, demonstrate what’s called parabiosis and is an experimental arrangement, which despite having provided insights during the 1970s about immunology and endocrinology, fell out of fashion. Now, however, researchers in the field of gerontology believe that they are witnessing a sort of rejuvenation of organs and tissues. Being paragons of caution and not be led by their imagination, they emphasise that they are not reversing the ageing process but rather—merely—“restoring function.” While it is an interesting historical look at these techniques, I suspect whatever distinction is supposed to be there is lost on the closeted undead and traffickers.

parity, parody

For more than a decade, the euro has outpaced the US dollar—consistently rising from a worth of under a dollar to this present inverted affair.

Though some may argue that such baited and contentious policy decisions are already figured into the markets and exchanges, others anticipate a precipitous fall in the worth of the euro against the dollar, perhaps settling at 1:1, should the European Union decide—be sold on—unanimously to introduce what’s called a bond-purchase programme. The plan (EN/DE), according to those in the know, provides for around fifty billion € in debt underwritten by reserve banks per month, and is just a dressed-up (or dressed-down) of the quantitative-easing (printing new money in order to cover old obligations) that’s been the standard-practise of America, Japan and the UK for decades. The EU has been philosophically and constitutionally opposed to resorting to such ends—even when things looked their bleakest for the Eurozone, but I suppose now do not want to be seen as kicking the can down the road, merely deferring future crises by not being bold and robust enough with the recovery. I think it is also a path not to trot down, but what do I know? Some of the same sagacious individuals point to the monetary policies of those countries above as having a net positive effect, since it served to keep the value of those currencies artificially low and thus favourable for foreign trade; Germany and Europe’s other industrial producers would benefit from more attractive exports.
Wage stagnation and inflation also seem to accompany this maneuver, no matter how good it is for trade. Though there are certain expectations and cursory discussions that seem to point to foregone conclusions, all nuance may not yet be exhausted or explored. Germany is rather vituperatively opposed to committing to quantitative-easing in its current form, seen as enabler and co-morbid with inflation and irresponsible governance. So that Germans tax-payers are not seen as liable for the weaker economies that can’t repay their debts under this latest scheme, two ideas are under consideration—either managing the whole programme through the ECB in Frankfurt or making national reserve banks accountable to the disbursement and repayment of those loans—essentially monies owed to themselves. What do you think? Does just spinning gold from straw become eventually too tempting?

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

resolution of dream and reality

Neatorama curates a very fine exhibition of the “magical realism” of Toronto illustrator Rob Gonsalves. The disorienting transitions and liberated use of perspective are a story in themselves and have appeared in children’s books but I believe the imaginations of adults respond to these images just as well, which reflect all the artists attested influences—the surrealism of Salvador Dali and MC Escher. Though I am sure that there are other originals (Max Ernst or René Magritte, for instance) and derivative examples out there, I don’t think I was capable of really latching on to any other representative image for the genre aside from those two above but maybe now I have another touchstone . Check out the links for a whole gallery of Gonsalves’ artwork.

cracker-barrel or bravado

In response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, the farce protection level on military installations, which is I suppose a reliably prudent step to take, have been raised a tick.  Like DEFCOM, this threat-com scale ranges from Normal to Alpha, green and tranquil and I doubt if the American public, fed so long on roughage, could ever again stomach such relaxed protocols, to Bravo, blue but guarded, a more or less perpetual state of vigilance that’s sort of the settled equilibrium struck in the years following 9/11, on the lower end.
Charlie, yellow with enhanced measures to be deployed, is the next step—with Holy Hell Delta to follow. The level, however, was elevated to Bravo-Plus, whatever that is. Nous ne somme pas Charlie… I almost wonder if that weren’t on purpose and what exactly the message is supposed to be. Maybe it is so that all those blatant reminders need not be replaced yet. They’ve breached that level before, of course, after the 07/07 attacks in London or when mobilization was up-tempo again on Iraq (you break it, you buy it) and people still weren’t quite running around with their hair on fire and losing their wits, but then seemed also to have a touch more sympathy and solidarity. Is this sort of colour-coding, dipping the banners just a gauge of how likely we are to escape by the grace of dumb-luck or providence, which have foiled more diabolic plots than intelligence and command-and-control? Moreover, I’d venture that the latter has incited more incidents than its prevented.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

poki-poki or irregular polygons

I did not realise that Japanese has a wealth of onomatopoeic words that not only mimic the sound of things but also the texture and shape of things—sort of like zig-zag in English but I imagine more evocative, and much less did I guess that they could be expressed so intuitively, in chocolate form.
Phenomimes (gitaigo 擬態語) they are technically called, those words that manage to impart this sort of directional, tactile meaning. That, however, is precisely the geometric proof given by the award-winning design studio, nendo, in the Parisian trade show annual competition, Maison et Object. At the link, you can learn more about this textured words and how their meanings ring perfectly in context.

lucas with the lid off or to speak franc

While I cannot say for certain if this studied, lucid article from Quartz transparently lays out absolutely everything one need know about the Swiss decision to untether its currency from the euro, but I believe it is a very good and accessible primer. With economic crises unsettled elsewhere in 2011, the CHF became quite an attractive berth for one’s cash—leading to weakened exports and relative, domestic inflation, and in order to hold the exchange rate at less seductive levels, the Swiss federal bank began printing more money to buy up foreign dollars, euros and roubles to keep matters in check.

That’s really the only way a nation can interview to control exchanges rights—it cannot issue a mandate for price controls but only act indirectly. Arguably, it is the same pyramid scheme that the US Federal Reserve is chancing to shore up the dollar—although America is doing so with the repurchase of its own debts rather than foreign currencies but both vehicles may fail to retain their worth meanwhile. The huge amount of Swiss wealth converted to euros, et al gives the franc grave exposure, meaning more deflation and trade problems, especially with the concession to standard operating procedures elsewhere that the European Union may allow for quantitative easing (printing money) itself in order to prevent an ailing Greece and a fit but scorned Iceland from leaving the Euro-zone.

Monday, 19 January 2015

presto-chango

Slate magazine reports on group of researchers in London that hope to gain insight in how artificial intelligence operates by letting it try its hand at prestidigitation and see how a computer algorithm might optimise a classic card trick. The thought is a little bit arresting, since it seems to allow robots into that human weakness and even yearning for deception.

Since we can be bemused and delighted by sleight-of-hand, maybe, unbeknownst to us as role-models, we’re sending the message that the appearance of sentience is good enough for us the gullible. One of the goals of this exercise, however—aside from any extraneous and unexpected findings it might yield in the fields of the human and machine psyches, is to learn and hopefully teach the difference between deliberate and unwilling deception—to not be too vague, demurring or confusing. What do you think about robotic magicians? Are we already dazzled too easily by the refined and rarefied interfaces of technology that hides the circuitry—or squirrels running in wheels?

tinseltown or economies of scale

Looking through a gallery of creative, outlandish weapons—which were mostly theoretical and not battle-tested, including a massive aircraft-carrier whose landing strip was made of ice, bat-bombs and a so-called gay-bomb that was to pheromonially encourage soldiers to make love, not war, I was reminded how I was admonished that the actress and sex-symbol known as Marilyn Monroe was first discovered in 1945 while working in a drone assembly plant in Van Nuys, California.

This hobbyist factory for radio-controlled planes was purchased by an enterprising British actor and World War I fighting ace to produce re-purposed models for the US War Department. Although these planes were initially limited to target-practise, they did already possess all the modern hallmarks of that we think of as proper to drone warfare, with the ability to deliver a payload and conduct surveillance runs—however, graciously the technology was withheld for seventy years, and at least not made available to hobbyists until recently. Los Angeles was also of course an ideal place to be discovered, with the motion picture business established there since 1912, having gone West originally to escape the jurisdiction (or to at least be as geographically separated as possible) of Thomas A. Edison’s industry-breaking patents held on distribution, film, cameras and projectors—oftentimes independent productions being halted on the East Coast with litigation and thugs. Though a different studio-system took root in Hollywood as well, creativity was allowed to flourish with new ideas and fresh-faces allowed in.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

currency accords

The occupying powers of Germany after the end of World War II certainly came into that mandate with different perspectives and ideologies, the French, Britons, the Americans and the Soviets all having had unique experiences of the horrors of war and differing native political compositions. While it was very challenging to achieve any sort of consensus on how the caretakers ought to govern the different sectors, there was no real outward animosity or the carving of boundaries until the introduction of the new Deutschmark.
With it out of the question that the old Reichsmark should continue to remain in circulation with its old symbols and associations, each sector minted its own occupation money, and indeed monetary reform was prohibited under treaty terms, the governors not allowed to take steps that might strengthen the German financial system, and reconstruction was hindered by this foreign script, not be conducive to neither trade nor investment, with most of the economy gone underground and people resorting to barter. Frustrated, in June of 1948, the Western Allies decided to act alone and began issuing the Deutschmark without consulting the Soviets, and it was this decision that first sparked the Blockade of Berlin that eventually led, in quick succession, to the physical and sociological partition of Germany, with a defensive wall erected at the frontier.
Of course, in the West, the Bonn Republic, the unilateral decision seemed to work out well—inflation staved off and reemergence of the nation as an industrial and economic world-player. The East struggled in relation to its neighbour but also came to prosper with the foil of the Ostmark and command-economy. Meanwhile, the former German parliament building, the Reichtag (long-form Plenarbereich Reichstagsgebäude, the Hall of the Plenary Imperial Diet) sat disused just meters on the wrong side of the most heavily guarded borders of the Cold War—having fallen into ruins since the arson of the Nazis in 1933. The capital of the West was in Bonn and the East Germans razed the old Prussia Berliner Stadtschloss to build their capitol, the Palast der Republik, itself razed in 2008 to rebuild the city’s palace. With Reunification solidified in 1990, due in no small part to the controversial and economically punishing gesture to integrate the Ostmark with an exchange rate parity (eins für eins) to the Deutschmark, the capital of the united Germany would be brought back to Berlin. The neglected, crumbling Reichstag did not even register to the citizens of the city as a part of the skyline and the idea to once again use that building as the seat of the government seemed folly—or at least did not garner much interest or excitement. The clever and ambitious work of two artists, however, captured the public’s imagination and made the new Bundestag an object of affection, pride and hope.

First in 1995, the artist Christo and collaborators draped the old building in a shimmering silver fabric, sort of like a cocoon and people started getting interested in that invisible ruin. After the chrysalis was shed, work began on the restoration and transformation, overseen by famed and prolific British architect Baron Norman Foster, who embellished the original class dome copula as an elevated walk-way for visitors to the observe proceedings below. Scars of the building’s past are also preserved as reminders. The Bundestag (the federal diet) convened there for the first time in 1999, the Eurozone single currency having come into effect also that year—virtually at least, with electronic transactions denominated in the euro, while national banknotes and coins of the founding members remaining in circulation for another three years.

sunday sküle

Via the outstanding Dangerous Minds comes a peek inside the The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities that is being distributed along side biblical pamphlets and fast-food fantasyland characters storybooks in and around the religiously contentious lands of Orange County, Florida. The author investigated further and found the lessons presented were on the whole positive ones, imparting the virtues of inclusion, tolerance and personal responsibility—as well as subtly advocating for the separation of Church and State. I wonder how this outreach effort has gone over and what fire-and-brimstone is being rained down on those satanic values mentioned above. What do you think?  Is this equal-time or indoctrination?

calculated passion

Ada Lovelace is regarded by some in the scientific community as a socialite and sort of Girl Friday to Charles Babbage, whose contributions to the development of computers and programming was minimal. That unfair characterisation is happily on its way out, thanks in part to the championing of another one of history’s discounted, cryptographer Alan Turing who suffered horrid muckraking, who helped to revive Lovelace’s name and reputation because Turing, having rediscovered one of her all but forgotten treatises, was compelled to profoundly disagree with her miraculous stance, formulated eighty years before, holding that machines could do what we were capable of ordering them to do but did not think for themselves. Turing begged to differ and was behind some of the theories that would lead to the study and concept of artificial intelligence. This aside, of course, was just of hint of the scope of Lovelace’s conceptual leap that would elevate the computer above the steam-powered abacus it was designed to be to what we do and how we think about modern, general-purpose computing.
Charles Babbage’s most famous contributions to computing, the Difference Engine and the Analytic Engine, were inestimably important but both were never completed, and I suppose that it could be argued that Babbage invented the computer in the same sense that Leonardo invented the helicopter, but were consigned with the express purpose of correcting errors in mathematical tables, long schedules of logarithmic and exponential functions used for scientific, navigation and engineering applications, like projecting population growth, measuring magnitudes of change, interest rates, and radioactive decay—whose functions were figured by humans and fallible and those errors spread widely enough caused much frustration. Lovelace, though it was probably not well understood at the time since there were no words or concepts for programming, debugging and algorithms back then, was even more a visionary than the mechanically-inclined Babbage. Purposefully estranged from her father, poet Lord Byron, by her jilted and somewhat domineering mother, so Lovelace might not inherit her father’s disturbing temperament, the young Ada’s education had strong emphasis in logic and mathematics, but despite (and because) of her mother’s best efforts, Lovelace seemed to have a keen balance of the arts and sciences—enabling her to see potential beyond mere number-crunching.

With proper instruction (encoding to be done on the same punch-cards, used up until the 1980s, that produced intricate and mass-produced textile patterns from mechanised looms) computers could be made to not merely check the work of human-calculators but to perform complex calculations never before assailed, and with the right interface and parameters could produce aesthetically and mathematically harmonious music and architecture. Lovelace was not only unconventional unladylike to the society of her day in her genius but also in her general deportment as was frowned upon for her scandalous behaviour that was routine for gentlemen with boozing, opium-addiction and gambling. Lovelace even tried to comply an algorithm that would be guaranteed to beat the odds at the hippodrome, but lost quite big. Like her later day champion Turing, she tragically died at young with her brilliance untapped and misunderstood until much later.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

focus-pocus

In passing, I had previously mentioned this new, rather mind-blowing application, not realising how eerily amazing the results would be. Trying out the Google Translate App—which works on any smart phone platform for free and even apparently without an internet connection, however, proved instantly outstanding. I was not able to find any thing that was an indecipherable mystery easily at hand—like some ancient hieroglyphics or Cyrillic printing or Chinese character tattoo that I never really knew what it said, so the demonstration, while illustrative was not exactly illuminating but I am sure that will come. The programme even does its best to match the weight and font of the translated text overlay and I am sure it will only improve exponentially.

a specimen of the cashiers’ receipt

thrust upon my person unconditionally on the occasion of a cash transaction in exchange for a single United States postage stamp, purchased at an outlet post office. I can well imagine that the digital version of this declaration, commemorating this great moment in history, aggregates even more details, anecdotes and accolades.

the yellow nineties or zero shades of grey

 I listened to a delightfully funny and engrossing panel-discussion on the controversial but probably well-understood artist Aubrey Beardsley. Forever twined with the scandals of Oscar Wilde—though professionally, the two always tried to distance themselves, fearing their individual and different flairs might be cancelled out as a talent combined, Beardley’s prints were repulsively erotic and decadent, debauched and corrupting, and despite sensibilities that have grown a bit more tolerant and receptive, I think the black and white illustrations still shock and still nudged underground, despite the brilliance of the artistry, and have no place in polite society. Indeed, looking at them, one does have a sense of having uncovered something supremely smutty and checks to make sure that no one is looking over one’s shoulder. Many times there are surprisingly lurid doodling details hidden in the loops and swirls.
It’s hard to find a modern analogue, I think, because Beardsley was apolitical, though importantly challenging society’s dirty little secrets and however disgusting one might find the pictures everyone intuited exactly what they were about, but maybe John Waters and his troupe of Dreamlanders (Divine, Mink Stole, Patty Hearst and Traci Lords) in transgressive films like Mondo Trasho, Pink Flamingos, Hairspray and A Dirty Shame maybe comes close. Beardsley’s sketches are quintessentially Art Nouveau but I did not realise that his foundry was really the propagating force behind the style, contributing-editor to a quarterly magazine devoted to graphic design (the publication was bound in a yellow cloth cover, hence the name of the decade that vied with the other designation, the Gay Nineties). Moreover the cultural-exchange between Japan and England, whose woodcuts strongly influenced the young artist, and the way that the style that typified the era was reimported and reinterpreted is fascinating to consider.

Friday, 16 January 2015

you deserve a break today

One of my favourite correspondents, Bob Canada, editorializes on one fast food giant’s plan to counter slumping sales with the standard corporate contingency-plan—to introduce a new slogan.
I agree that many people may not understand the mathematical formulation and see the inequality symbol as broken computer code. Perhaps the confused can use this mind- bogglingly clever translation feature for smart phones, as one would for a foreign menu. Who are these Haters anyway? Are they shaming past patrons? The former advertising draughtsman even graciously offers a long list of alternate jingles.

churchillian drift

Mental Floss disabuses us of some of our favourite misattributed or completely made up great quotations with a studied collection of sayings that go rather deeply into the origins of those things we wish our heroes had said. One of the best stories is about how Abraham Lincoln supposedly proclaimed that “When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.”
This wise if not somewhat Pollyanna-ish line comes to us not from the great statesman but rather via the marketing geniuses at Disney studios, producing a film version of the book Pollyanna, whence at the treacly and campy conclusion, the little heroine opens the locket of her dead father to discover this inscription. The Disney Brothers love it and had hundreds of souvenir lockets commissioned and sold at gift shops. When the writer-director who’d made up the quotation discovered this misattribution spread, to his great dismay, the studio had the unsold trinkets recalled. Also Freud never said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” and was doctrinairely against the idea of suggesting otherwise.  What are your favourite supposed pithy quotes that turned out to be fictions?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

jail-break or walled-garden

Though today’s conversation has adopted such colourfully metaphoric language, the same problems of communication dominated by a few industry giants, privacy and consumer-protection have a history, lively and just as shameful and grasping, that goes back at least to the advent of telephony and probably reaches much further back with the implements, tried and true, of blacklisting, censorship and charters. Before the United States recognised and rejected the monopoly that Bell conglomerate had on the public’s telephone lines, people and businesses did not purchase their telephones but rather rented units from Bell with a monthly subscription—pretty much the same situation we have today, being untethered physically but still locked into contracts that are bundled with gadgets and accessories tied to the service.

A pair of cases, first lodged against municipalities that used a central dispatch to communicate with police vehicles, fire truck and ambulances, and more irking to the phone company, to summon taxi cabs, via the Carterphone that allowed radio-messages to be delivered to cars by piggy-backing on existing land-lines, and then against the manufacturers of a mouth piece called the Hush-a-Phone, which actually did improve upon the standard-issue receivers’ design and made the callers’ conversation clear and made calls more private as claimed (presumably as people need not shout at one another to be heard). The courts rule that such innovations were the prerogative of end-users to purchase and enhance their calls, such as they did not interfere with the rest of the traffic. These precedential decisions eventual not only contributed to the statutory break up of Ma Bell (a move that was apparently never forgot and has reformed with a vengeance in the form of closely connected cartels and the same paucity of choice) but also other inventions that were allowed to infringe on that once tightly controlled territory, like fax machines, modems and the internet.

epimetheus/prometheus

Happy Mutant and accomplished author in his own right Cory Doctorow extolls the latest fantasy novel from Jo Walton. Not only does this plot in which a time-traveling Athena, goddess of Wisdom, assembles all the faithful from all ages who yearned to live in the Utopia of Philosopher Kings sound really intriguing, her other works, which include award-winning alternate histories, expositions on ancient lore and future-oriented works of science fiction, are appealing to my curiosity already.

I think I’ll have to check these out. In the Platonic dialogue Protagoras—between Socrates and the famous eponymous sophist, who’s profession is to make the weaker argument the stronger, we are told that the second-generation twin titans were charged with endowing all of creation with their individual excellences, like slyness for the fox, courage for the lion, wisdom for the owl and so on. Thoughtful and generous but of course lacking foresight, however, when Epimetheus (whose name means backward-looking or hindsight) came to endow man with positive attribute, he realised that his bag of gifts was empty. This oversight was what prompted his brother, Prometheus, to steal fire and the civilising arts from the Olympian gods in order to give mankind some redeeming qualities and a skill-set for survival.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

In honour of David Bowie’s birthday and recent release of a new album last week, Tumblratrix Helen Green created this lovely style retrospective spanning five decades. Time may change me but I can’t trace time.

vertreibung oder flüchtlingsthematik

A small village near Weimar, the city that hosted Goethe and Schiller, Bauhaus and the Weimar Republic, is facing some sharp criticism over its suggestion to house refugees in the officers' barracks of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. There unspeakable horrors associated with the memories of this place, and ironically it seems that our memory has become quite a feeble and atrophied thing. The immigration question is a complex one, but so is Germany’s relation to its past—much more so. Do Germans yet have guilt to discharge from the first half of the twentieth century? Surely, as do many of us—but does this make them to feel grudgingly obligated to accept more and more evacuees? That’s harder to answer—as with the Wirtschaftswunder that characterized Germany’s rebuilding and recovery after the wars ended was made possible to a very large extent through its guest worker programme, many also argue that Germany needs an infusion of a young population to sustain its present and retiring work-force and that Germany on balance benefits from immigration. I also feel that we are prone to lose our perspective as well: we’re welcoming in these people who’ve mostly been on the run from poverty and violence.

Mostly—and I think we choose to focus on those exceptions and malingerers. We also forget that while the sites of former concentration camps are sacred places, they were not recognized and consecrated as such right away and were regarded very differently depending on whether one found himself in East or West. Buchenwald was used by the Soviets initially as an internment camp for Nazi prisoners-of-war—although political-dissidents were also held there; Dachau and other locations in West Germany was first used to contain Germany’s own refugee crisis. Some fourteen million ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from territories either ill-gotten and taken back (like Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia), lands that had been historically German, like much of Prussia that went to Poland and the Soviet Union, for centuries and other European cities where they were no longer welcome, like Amsterdam, were resettled in a Germany in ruins. Not only did the expelled Germany have to leave everything behind, they also faced the prospect of starting all over in a homeland that maybe was not at all familiar to them—their families perhaps living abroad for generations, spoke differently, had strange mannerisms, didn’t eat proper German food and were failing to integrate—and try to live among a population that if not outright hostile to the refugees were themselves struggling and barely had enough to provide for themselves, to say nothing for these newcomers. In the 1950s, once these crises had somewhat subsided, the regimes of the two Germanys took different positions on how the past was to be remembered. East Germany was quicker to turn Buchenwald and other sites into memorials and strongly encouraged people to visit, especially school-children, to face the incomprehensible and dread past. Whereas, in the West, the subject remained uncomfortable and while not going ignored or unexplored, talk was taboo for a long time and it really was not until Reunification that the public became more willing to confront their autobiographies.  Perhaps empathy is yet harder to face.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

pastebin or le grand-large

Though I think, especially in the aftermath of America’s latest film critic and the associated retribution even though responsibility was not clear, that it always wise to assume that the world’s security agencies are always ready to pull a wise one on their citizens and propagandise and exploit any crisis or tragedy towards those ends, it is a stance just as specious as having total communication and movement surveillance and stripping naked all vestments of privacy would result in absolute safety and harmony as America and its accomplices wanting to own the all the wires.

I think that the Fugitive has illustrated that they already do—though what they’ve done with their omniscience seems quite pathetic, but of course, we’re not privy to those successes and near-misses. We’re allowed, yes, to continue being unpleasant, insulting, constructive, and indemnifying even if it goes through abstracted censors though not according to the judgments of the newest abstracted critics. These new censors operate, however, not with the compliance of those shuttle-services, both virtual and physical over great distances and right in our faces, but with legislation that prevents cover and mainstreams all thought. Is that too high a price for security? The mathematics of encryption is invulnerable but not back-doors, graciously held open. The Caliphate apparently has the ability to tear down the posters that the States use advertise at-large (though I never knew who might really befriend these sources except for utilitarian purposes and not regard them with skepticism) but not infiltrate their real and incontrovertible minions and mouth-piece. What do you think? Is anyone taking advantage of the latest, sad headlines and incipient fear?

vis viva or élan vital

The director of Sigmund Freud’s out-patient clinic in Vienna, influential and controversial to contemporaries, was called Wilhelm Reich and due to later public shaming by an agency of the US government is nearly unknown except for a few of his kookier traces. Reich authored many respected works on mass-hysteria, including exploring why people were enervated by fascists and suddenly found it acceptable to participate in mob activities like biblioclasm (book-burning) and worse, linked poverty to mental health, hypnosis, developed what became the concepts of bio-feedback, body-language and Gestalt therapy (personal accountability), massage therapy and spoke very frankly about sexuality and inhibitions.
After the violent coup that elevated Hitler to power, Reich and many other Germans fled to Norway—including future Chancellor Willy Brandt—and Reich, continuing his research, solicited volunteers, Brandt among them, to make love whilst attached to an oscilloscope and study what sorts of voltage was measured. As the war engulfed Europe, Reich immigrated to the United States, sponsored by the psychiatry school of Columbia University—which did not turn out like Operation Paperclip. It was in New York that Reich first described his Orgone theory—which was basically the same notion as æther or the all-pervading Force or Chi, and imbalances in orgone (named after the orgasm, and not unlike Freud’s libido ideas) radiation led to all human ailments, disease and mental disorders. Reich met with compatriot Albert Einstein and tried to convince him of the efficacy and truth behind his conclusions—possibly under the pretext that the Allies such harness the power of this mysterious metaphysical element before the Nazis discovered it. Orgones could also be used to control the weather. Though Einstein heard him out and even tried to recreate his unscientific experiments, ultimately debunking them because of sloppy control-conditions, Einstein probably thought Reich was a touch looney and this encounter may have begun the unhinging of his professional reputation. Undeterred, Reich continued his experiments, which seemingly innocently enough, consisted of placing volunteers (although sometimes seriously ill people too that fell for quackery) in what was essentially a Faraday cage, a metal shield from outside interference that kept internal energies inside, called Orgone Accumulators for long periods, naked, to restore their natural equilibrium. Failing to get back into academia, Reich decided to purchase a farm in the state of Maine, naming it Orgonon, which included laboratories, treatment areas, a conference centre and an observatory for UFO sightings.

For all his eccentricities, Reich received little bad press while on the ranch and those in the psychosomatic medical community still though highly of his earlier writings. One magazine interview propelled his theories to national attention, after the war had ended, and Reich became a target of the US Federal Trade CommisSion (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical fraud and possible sex-trafficking. Interstate sales of orgone accumulators and printed materials that espoused Reich’s teachings were banned. A federal officer, posing as a client, asked Reich to ship him an accumulator, thus framing him. One of Reich’s final feats was saving the local blueberry harvest by creating a cloud-bursting device that beamed positive orgone radiation into the sky and ended the drought. Farmers were pleased with the results. The sentence handed down was harsh and provided for prison time and the destruction of Reich’s research facility, all orgone accumulators and his publications. FDA agents were present at Orgonon to supervise the destruction carried out by Reich’s friends and associates with axes and a bonfire, with Reich made to watch. After this unrepentant beastliness, accused of being delusional and paranoid and worse, Reich died while in jail, a cell being no proper accumulator. There was a resurgence in interest in Wilhelm Reich in 2008, fifty years after his death, a vault was opened at a medical library of the campus of Harvard University that held an archive of his unpublished papers.