Sunday, 31 May 2015

marienkäfer

An interesting archive article from the brilliant Ark-in-Space engrossingly (and timely for summer) profiles the bizarre life-cycle of the ladybug. This through treatment presents quite a few surprises like who knew of their voraciousness that includes cannibalism (called intraguild predation) and that nightmare, gila monster phase of development that they go through after hatching.

Auf Deutsch they are called Marienkäfer more clearly reflecting the belief that the hungry beetles are a godsend for farmers which summarily consume aphids and other pests that plague crops. Our Lady’s bug or bird also, in her most common variety, has seven black dots on her shell to represent the seven joys and seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Incidentally, the original English meaning of sorry was to be covered in spots—aggrieved with sores, and came closer to the sense of being regretful or feeling woe came out of this connection. Here is a poor little ladybug who might have ventured out too early in the season and managed to press itself between the panes of my window. Having become a graveyard for quite a few insects, I always wonder how it is that they wedge themselves in there in the first place. That is not a pleasant way for anything to end its life-cycle.  I ought to provide better alternative accommodations with one of those bug hotels.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

melmac

Although I had been made aware that the US sitcom ALF (Alien Life Form) had enjoyed considerable popularity in newly unified Germany, which was probably out of proportion to its domestic successive, I certainly did not know beforehand that the extra-terrestrial puppet with an appetite for felines had such a cult following with a series of record albums and even once stood for the chancellery. I think it’s funny how during the holidays, H always finds Alvin and the Chipmunk’s Christmas Song bizarre and grating but I bet he not is only cognizant but maybe was an active participant in this fad. You can listen to a sample track at the link.

curdling

After several decades of speculation—reverting to staple theories of bacteria or nibbling mice in the mix, researchers have determined why what’s classed as Swiss cheese was traditionally riddled with “eyes” but has now more or less become “blind” (in cheese-talk). The lack of the characteristic holes does not affect the flavour of course but their source was an enduring mystery—until, that is, the holes started to disappear. It was not the fermenting agents, however, that carved out these voids but rather other impurities, like splinters of hay, in the customary wooden milking buckets that have been employed for centuries. In fact, it was not really until modern times that the holes were considered desirable at all and cultivated as something of a trademark for foreign markets.  With processes becoming more automated and sanitary, however, large holes are not likely to develop.

Friday, 29 May 2015

hirsute

Via Weird Universe, apparently in the Norwegian navy, male sailors must apply for a special exemption in order to wear a beard (skjegg). The application form (example pictured at the first link) requires a justification and an area to draw a picture of what the proposed facial hair will look like.

five-by-five

imperial units: boss lunch box issued to promote US adoption of the metric system

animatronic: BRETT (Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks) learns to put things together

allusive: visual homages in Tarantino films

subterrania: mysterious, amazing sea-shell grotto discovered accidentally

franking privilege: one man’s daily journal in the form of tiny postage stamps for a make-believe country

alles gute zum geburtstag!

Although it’s notoriously, happily difficult to pin down the founding date of human settlements—happily as it allows residents to celebrate the anniversary multiple times, marking legendary or actuarial mention, I am certainly siding with this warm birthday tribute to Leipzig from Deutsch Welle that honours all the highlights of this fair city. When Leipzig was first documented by a church chronicler a thousand years ago as urbs Libzi—the city among the lime trees—there surely must have already been a sizable population and significant commercial activity there for some time, which archaeological evidence attests to. H and I are well acquainted with this storied city and its surroundings and here (Augusteum, Plagwitz, Monument to the Battle of the Nations, Leipziger Zoological Gardens, Weihnachtsmarkt, Russian Orthodox Church) are just a selection of past impressions.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

high commission or envoy extraordinary

Catching up on some episodes of Radio 4’s Great Lives series of jured biographies, I found myself being acquainted with quite a lot of heroic, indispensable individuals whom I’ve never heard of before.
I do enjoy the interaction of the champions and expert witnesses—especially when they don’t always choose to celebrate celebrity in the same way—and learning more about the character and background of the famed, but I appreciate even more discovering those overshadowed, interstitial contributors to the course of history, who, like something in between two known quantities that must necessarily be there if just for the sake of preserving the rules of periodicity.
One such essential but presently forgotten individual was statesman and diplomat John Gilbert Winant, US ambassador to the United Kingdom during the crucial years of WWII—introduced by the sitting US legate.  After the progressive Republican served consecutive terms as governor of New Hampshire, overseeing recovery programmes on the state-level that paralleled and complimented national efforts to pull America out of the Great Depression, FDR—recognising talent, crossed party-lines and appointed Winant first to the commission that codified the US Social Security System, c.f., having bipartisan support for Obamacare.
Shortly afterwards, in 1941, FDR named Winant to the UK diplomatic mission—replacing Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, who although a fellow Democrat maintained that US should not become entangled in foreign engagements and did not cut a very inspiring figure during the Blitz. Winant, with his outreach and industrial connections, became instrumental behind the scenes in persuading the US to join the war effort in Europe. Although the campaign on the political front ultimately did secure America’s commitment, some say that FDR dispatched Winant across the Atlantic also in order to avoid a potential challenge to his unprecedented fourth term as president. The BBC discussion includes many anecdotes and analysis that are well worth the listen—a chat that really draws one into the discussion.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

surplus city

Thanks to the Presurfer for reintroducing us to the urban-spelunking of explorer Darmon Richter with his adventures to Inner Mongolia to experience the abortive venture that became New Ordos City. Plans to create an “outstanding tourism city of China” did not materialise as expected and now the gilded, ultra-modern metropolis hosts only a few lonely tenants and stands deserted and truly irreconcilably devoid of people or activity. In two instalments, Richter’s reflections, photography and native curiosity really enhances learning about the world’s largest “ghost city” and what haunts this phenomenon.

uAwg oder plus-ones

Preparations for the upcoming G-7 summit are putting undo onus on residents, by-standers and potential antagonists for the selected venue, the alpine retreat of Schloss Elmau. For the sake of security theatre, the compound—which was ironically envisioned at the behest of a local countess back in 1914 as an artistic retreat where an international class of volunteers matriculated annually to cater to and learn from artists in residence and not the exclusive and now fortified hotel that it has become. Campers are disappointed to find many pitches off-limits and other accommodations already claimed by authorities or members of the press that claimed any vacancies months prior.
Traffic is restricted as well as taking one’s cows to pasture. Protesters are unable to vent their frustrations because, ostensibly intimidated by the police, they’ve been afforded no quarter. I hope a few demonstrators do seek through the cordon, disguised as horses or haystacks—not so there’s violence or chaos, but just so the make-believe atmosphere created for the overlords is not so flawless as to allow them to keep their delusions. What do you think? I hope this kind of caravan never comes to town.

five-by-five


ncc-1701: gaming magnate designs headquarters in the likeness of the USS Enterprise

staple good: creative tailoring with flour-sacks

scultpture trail: photo gallery of some of the best and worst public art installations

land of a thousand dances: the Peanut Duck novelty song from circa 1965

playing with your food: edible, functional LEGO bricks from gelatin

paramour or self-fulfilling prophesy

Via the absorbing and infinitely intrepid (check out their regular round-ups on newsworthy oddities) Weird Universe comes this personal appeal from mentalist the Amazing Kreskin, courting the idea of forming a supernatural dating pool of lonely hearts.

Extra-terrestrial abductees, closeted and cloistered werewolves and vampires, those wanting to hold séances in order to commune with the departed will have a better chance of finding kindred spirits. Recalling Kreskin’s performances, I must say that I am a little confused—while never denying people their biases and superstitions, nor claiming the occult did not exist (unlike the Amazing Randi), the artist always claimed to work his spells through the power of suggestion, hypnotism alone and not by any psychic or paranormal means. The possessed, dispossessed, cursed and blessed are a notch different than cos-players and people who frequent Star Trek conventions who are looking for the same—not that any of this behaviour is abnormal and even reformed zombies need love too. I wonder what it means that Kreskin hopes to be a match-maker among this crowd.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

five-by-five

free-hand: reflections on the loss of penmanship and learning cursive

dusk-jacket: book covers by Edward Gorey

acuity: Wolfram Alpha website that can identify any image that’s sent its way

tagged: seniors in Portugal grow wise to street art

escape-pods: Slovakian architects conceptualise self-sufficient ecocapsules that could be deployed any where

innocents abroad oder entlang der neckartal

For the long-weekend, though a bit wary of weather that appeared a little dodgy, we decided to stay relatively close to home and visited a portion of the Neckar river valley, going along portions of the tour that Mark Twain helped to retain their character and inchoate charm in his travelogue of Europe on a steam-powered pilgrimage to the Holy Land called The Innocents Abroad —though I’d argue that the area does so despite this notoriety.
Although H and I quite fancy ourselves sophisticates, we saw and learned quite a lot that we thought—between the two of us, we were familiar with.
The spare pair of days really telescoped themselves well to feel like a fully-fledged vacation just after we left the Autobahn at a curious place called Bad Wimpfen, with its medieval watch tower dominating the one-time imperial city of half-timbered (Fachwerk) buildings.
The market and spa town that grew up on the edge of the Roman world, the Odenwald Limes, was swapped between Frankonia, Hessen, Greater Hesse, Baden, Würrtemberg-Baden and then finally the modern state of Baden-Würrtemberg after it lost its imperial immediacy that meant that Bad Wimpfen was a city-state.
Afterwards, we took a leisurely drive, hugging close to the Neckar, between high cliffs, alternately thickly forested or cultivated as vineyards. For all the scenic beauty of the valley, it was strange that one could only capture it from on high—in sweeping vistas. H and I climbed next to Burg Guttenberg in Haβmersheim (I remember this because quite soon, the names of places veered decidedly less creative—all called Neckar- this or that—and kind of ran together) with its imposing late Middle Ages fortifications. The peasants were preparing for a jousting display but when such festivities weren’t underway, the castle was known as a regional centre for falconry.
Burg Guttenberg was on the opposite bank of the Neckar, facing Burg Horneck, a castle of the Teutonic Knights and just a little further on we came to the impeccably preserved playground called Burg Hornburg above the village of Neckarzimmern. The park consisted of a wine-cellars, hotel (where Twain stayed) and restaurant, naturally—and the estate has been in the same noble family for many generations, the friendly attendant and sommelier addressing another gentleman who stopped by as “Herr Baron”—but also an impressive ruin to explore and climb higher and higher.
We found a campsite in a nearby village of Binau right on the banks of the river.
 It was a nice place to rest for the evening but—and I suppose no one wants this in their backyard, seeing the nuclear power plant (Atomkraftwerk, AKW) Obrigheim just in the distance was a little off-putting. The next day, we cruised further along the river, past Neckargerach and Zwingenburg, and on to the small town of Eberbach with its massive cathedral set against the highest summits of the Odenwald. Another place mentioned in the whistle-stop tour was Burg Hirschhorn, another well-preserved castle with a playground.  Next, H and I visited the village of Neckarsteinach.


 
This heavily fortified and guarded town on one of the most formerly strategic and contested bends of the river is the southern-most projection of Hessen, and today forms quite the picturesque spot.
Four castles (die Vierburgenstadt as its known) cling to the ridges above the river valley and on the promenade, we were able to frame three of them in one shot. We camped between Neckargemünd and the outskirts of Heidelberg—probably Twain’s most celebrated destination but one which we’d both knew quite well and worth a future trip of its own.
The next day we passed through the storied city and quit the path following the Neckar to tour the palatial grounds of the massive gardens of Schwetzingen, nestled between the branches of the river.
The summer residence of the court of the Palatinate Electors, the rococo architecture and landscape is the German kingdom’s version of Versailles.
Even if the weather had held, it was maybe a little too ambitious to hope to cover all of the garden, with its resplendent sculpture, hedge mazes, menageries and architectural follies—including this “mosque,” there was too much to see in one afternoon. We could see the rain clouds advancing and hurried back to Lady. We’ll come back to see more one day soon, and some day perhaps repeat Mark Twain’s whole grand tour, making it our own.

Friday, 22 May 2015

memes, memeplexes and neurath’s boat

Via the dazzlingly peripatetic Nag on the Lake, comes a look at ISOTYPEs—that is International System of Typographic Picture Education, which sounds so much better than the term infographic, which shall be evermore banished.
I am grateful for learning about these brilliant, vintage diagrams as I had previously discovered the sleek and singular icon libraries of Gert Arntz but had not realised that there was a direct link and application in the educational materials of philosopher Otto Neurath of the Vienna Circle. Like the Ship of Theseus, Neurath’s boat is a paradox to compel one to confront his or her foundational beliefs by dissecting so-called viral memes—those tenants we might identify with but which are recursive and self-serving. Members of the Vienna Circle, formed in the aftermath of World War I, encouraged life-long learning and rigorous self-examination.

gilded placemat

Although not a surpassingly great technological achievement nor a particularly indemnifying marketing ploy (and I’ll confess I’d never patronise this establishment no matter what the gimmick or give-away), I could not get this taut out of my head—these paper-thin keyboard dining tray inserts so guests can avoid getting grease and crumbs (from a restaurant that built its reputation in part for being messy and lugubrious) on their smart phones. I suppose there’s a little bit of harmless fun to be had here—like with selfie-sombreros and display-cases for one’s more artfully arranged meals, but it does bother me that we’re so ready to admit that we can’t put down our phones even at the table and cannot fix our attention to what’s right in front of us. What do you think? Do we need to be encouraged or enabled any more than we already are?

dozy doats oder extra-sensory

Going on a stroll in two separate instalments, I explored the nearby borough of Dotzheim. This sizable village nestled in a valley surrounded by the rising slopes of the Taunus mountains probably predates, as a settlement, the migration of the Celtic peoples into Germany and after the dissolution of Roman authority, the Merovingian Franks filled the power-vacuum.
The village just west of Wiesbaden probably got its name (and crest, a “T”) owing to a count of the court of King Dagobert I called Tuzzo, but the designation Dotzheim was to become an important aristocratic line under the rule of the House of Nassau in its own right and the cast-iron mascots, Dotzi, hung on many of the older buildings at the town centre.
A bit further on (which is why I needed to split up my walk—plus it started to rain) one encounters Schloss Freudenberg—which, for being only built in the early 1900s, has a pretty extensive and complex history. It was completed in 1903 but the youngest castle in Germany dates from 1908, and is included in this collection.  The mansion was commissioned by a Scottish post-impressionist painter and his wife but they only lived there a few years—to be later appropriated as a home for expectant mothers and young children of the Lebensborn programme.
During the course of the war, a garrison was built up on the surrounding gardens near this railhead and was afterwards occupied by the US forces. Freudenberg became an officers’ club and casino until 1973 when it abandoned and fell in disrepair.
The castle was saved from ruin by a group of adherents to the philosophy of Hugo Kükelhaus, who turned the estate into playground for the senses. Kükelhaus along with his promoted exercising ones perceptions to the fullest in order to hone ones imagination and understanding of the world and eschewed the sanitary, inhuman architecture and design that confined and exhausts by removing those things we are made to feel.
Several permanent installations, called experience stations (Erfahrungsfelder), are on display.
The ongoing renovation project itself is also an extension of Kükelhaus’ beliefs and is therapeutically defined as the combination of healing and art.  There is the further objective of educating visitors in abstractions that are independent of the powers of perception (by cultivating and refining one’s physical senses as much as possible) so that they might apprehend what’s just beyond—like dignity and equality.
As well as being the home and headquarters of Hugo Kükelhaus’ movement, Schloss Freundenberg hosts regular seminars and events for kindred organisations and schools of thought.  By rushing through I suppose that I was completely missing the point by not playing and discovering fully, but when there is more time, I certainly plan to return and experience all the textures and trapezes. 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

five-by-five

finger lickin’: one casual dining franchise introduces Bluetooth keyboard tray inserts to keep cellular phones less greasy
swissmade 2069: a tribute to the lesser-known work of HR Giger

becomes a flotation device: airline safety video featuring every meme and personality from the internet

crowd-sourced: Swedish Hemnet dream home designed by internet traffic

1up: charity arcade games

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

room 237

Der Spiegel (leiderlich nur auf Deutsch) has a nice photo-album tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of horror, The Shining, on the occasion of its thirty-fifth anniversary. The captions for these iconic stills need no translation but do have some interesting trivia—like that Jack Nicholson axed through sixty doors before the director was satisfied with the shot or the snow from the garden labyrinth ending was recycled from a neighbouring film production going on the same time, Kubrick gladly taking the stage-snow after the rebellion fled Hoth.

five-by-five

bellum omnium contra omnes: sobering graphic that charts percentages of US lives spent under war and peace

take-away: interesting look at the history of 出前一丁—the culture of Japanese food delivery

nocturne: darker sequel to E.T. that was never made

doctor zaias: simian newsletter back-issues

parallax view: China’s space aspirations to reach the far side of the moon

time-lapse or moraines and drumlins

I thought that this demonstration of mining images on the internet for photographic documentation of climate change was rather clever and compelling—and all the more poignant as the time-lapse featured was a place that H and I visited ourselves, back in July of 2012. I wonder if any of the pictures we took on our hike through the Briksdalen towards the Briksdalbreen there icy blue in the distance made the cut.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

fort morgan or unredoubtable

While visiting Gulf Shores during our Spring Break, we drove up the coast to tour the colossal installation that defended the mouth of Mobile Bay.
The pentagon layout of Fort Morgan with its high masonry ramparts was really impressive and surprising, evoking images of the Vauban fortifications we’ve encountered along French beaches.
This megalithic discovery—which although seeming perfectly in place and familiar was still very unexpected for us in its cavernous extent and location, there, in Alabama—was constructed originally to bolster seaboard defences in the aftermath of the War of 1812 (not the striking back of the British Empire as usually portrayed but the North American theatre of the much broader Napoleonic crisis) in about twenty years, making extensive use of slave-labour.
Soon the bastion constituted a hotly contested strategic nexus that guarded the waterways and thus the supply-lines of the Confederate armies and the launching pad for attempts to break the Union sea blockade during the US Civil War.
This project was one of the first major endeavours of the US Army Corps of Engineers, buttressing existing earthen redoubts, temporary forts, along navigable rivers.  The term national redoubt refers to an area, ideally some place providing protection, where retreating or defeated armies can withdraw and regroup.
This notion of For- tress Amer- ica also con- vokes a metaphorical turning-inward and the US only, unlike many other countries, had to take a last-stand and make a temporary capitol under duress once.
The fort suffered extensive damage but was not long neglected before the citadel was reinforced and batteries added for the conflicts of Filipino and Spanish-American Wars.  Fort Morgan was again activated for the twentieth century’s hostilities but did not again experience the tempo of action it saw during the Civil War and is today preserved as a national park.

bypass or great big convoy

Via the ever-excellent Kottke comes this rather profound study and projection of how self-driving vehicles will alter the economy and particularly the gas-food-lodging infrastructure built to support commercial trucking. While it does not take much boldness to imagine a phalanx of safer, more efficient robot guided convoys taking truckers out of the drivers’ seats as it has already come to pass, but the impact does not of course stop with this last lament of middle-class bread-winners.
The article is written from an American perspective and by analogy compares the seismic changes that could occur to those communities that the interstate freeway system passed by and withered for the sake of expedience, but I think the analysis is completely universal. With manufacturing increasingly retreating into yonder tightfistedness, goods are forever being shuttled back and forth. Consuming merchandise created and delivered by machine, vast swathes of the human workforce (and ultimately, all of it) become redundant and without access to meaningful employment. The untenable situation is accelerating to an important junction, wherein either there is no demand to satisfy the production-capacity because no one has the tender to pay for it or money becomes a rather meaningless trifle and in a utopian society, humans are at last allowed to enjoy the fruit of their labour. I suppose that’s precisely the point of progress but it is hard for me to imagine that the robber-barons might herald this event joyfully—especially if they knowing ushered in their own severance. What do you think? Will those automated cars drive us all off a cliff or make our existence better by abolishing capital?