Monday, 30 November 2015

viennese sandbox: gasometer city

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the creative ways that municipalities have repurposed gasholders and other industrial behemoths.
Dreamily, I had mentioned the apartment blocks of Vienna as one innovative measure and was surprised to be able to see the site in person. The panoramic installation of four former storage tanks were in operation for eight decades up until 1984 when the city made the transition to natural gas for heating. Bauwerk des Dekonstruktivismus is the designation for architectural ensembles like this. The historic outer-shells were preserved—in part owing to the environmental contamination and the potential difficulties to be faced by new tenants without the support of the government and the city, once the landmark was retired extensive renovations and redesign took place, culminating in 2001.


The complex, joined by sky-bridges, comprises over eight hundred apartments, student dormitories, cinemas, a lecture hall and a shopping centre, and has subsequently fostered a unique sense of community within the four blocks, causing academics, ethnographers and urban-planners to take note with this phenomenon. I think it would be pretty keen to live in such a place, almost like living on an orbiting space station.

viennese sandbox: hofburg and treasury

H and I wandered through the gardens and the courtyards of the massive campus of the Hofburg of central Vienna—the wintering residence of the Hapsburg dynasty. Built up since 1279 and with a dizzying array of attractions vying for attention, we knew unfortunately we needed to be selective and could only see so much in a limited amount of time, ever a precious commodity. We passed several wings and chose one of the ten museums housed in the sprawling complex, the Imperial Treasury, Der Kaiserliche Schatzkammer. Though depleted notably over the centuries to finance wars with Prussia, the collection of secular and ecclesiastical treasures comprised some astounding rarities and the trappings of empire and ceremony. There were many other iconic and bizarre items in a maze of galleries, like this bassinette for the infant heir-apparent, a key cabinet for the sarcophagi of the emperor’s entombed in the city (there’s a certainly a tangible fascination with remembrance, death and the macabre associated with Vienna, and a jewelled hat that is metonymy for the Kingdom of Hungary.  The artefacts and wardrobe of state was expansive and dazzling but the core of the consignment is the imperial regalia (die Reichskleinodien). These manifestations of spiritual and temporal power were kept in Nuremburg until around 1800 when the Napoleonic Wars saw the dissolution of the Holy and Roman Empire of the Germans when they were sent to Vienna for safe-keeping.




The Hapsburgs never returned the treasure, however—which includes what is purportedly the Spear of Destiny (das Heilige Lanze) of centurion Longinus, who witnessed the Crucifixion and confirmed the Messiah was dead, and used in enthronement rites at least since the time of the Merovingians and was probably among the souvenirs that Constantine’s mother picked up in the Holy Land.
With the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler did not plunder Vienna’s treasury but did specifically repatriate those symbols of state, believing the relic to be a powerful talisman and rightfully belonged back in Nuremburg, which Hitler styled as the spiritual centre of Germany. During the bombing campaign of Nuremburg, the regalia was found by the US Army and expatriated by General Patton once again to Vienna where they have remained since. Legendary matters of course have a tendency to snowball but there are some strange coincidences associated with that historical vestige.
Late in the afternoon, we returned to the Hofburg by way of the Opera to see it fully illuminated and the Christmas Village (Weihnachtsdorf) bustling on the grounds.
It was a cheerful atmosphere and put us in a right proper mood—what with the fear-mongering against public gatherings enunciated in Germany and the Pope’s comment (while they were erecting the tree in Saint Peter’s square) that Christmas is a charade in a world of hate and violence. There was no snow or carolling yet but plenty of festive feelings to go around.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

viennese sandbox: the third man

For a long weekend, PfRC took a trip to Vienna (Wien) and we are just full of impressions of the beautiful and storied city to sort out and can’t wait to return again soon. The next few instalments will share just a few episodes of a protracted but very inundating and rewarding visit. On a fine forenoon, we went to the the expansive amusement park, known as the Wurstelprater on the banks of the Danube—the divertissements for the public enjoyment going all the way back to 1766 when Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph II declared the former royal hunting grounds now a preserve of family entertainment.

In 1897, to celebrate the diamond jubilee of the ascent of Emperor Franz Joseph I to the throne, the construction of the world’s largest and most venerable Ferris wheel (Riesenrad ) was commissioned, and we took a turn on of the fancy carriages, thankfully sheltered from the gale. The Riesenrad is one the Viennese landmarks featured in the 1949 noir thriller, The Third Man, where a pulp-fiction writer finds himself caught up in international intrigue in an Allied-occupied capital—the city having been split into sectors, like Berlin after World War II, but not partitioned (due to the gentlemen’s agreement that NATO eastern most reach was to be West Germany).
A package ticket afforded us amazing, encompassing views of the Vienna from above—later travelling to the signals tower on one of the silt islands of the picturesque river. The Donauturm had a more commanding vantage but not nearly as fun as being gently rotated, though the high-speed elevator and the enticement of bungee-jumping platform were exciting. In the carnival grounds, we discovered another oddity of sovereignty just in the shadow of the Riesenrad in the form of the spherical Kugelmugel house. This micronation was transported later to its present address on Anti-Fascism Square after authorities refused to allow the architect and founder’s, Edwin Lipburger, design to remain on his own grounds.
Proclaiming independence in 1984, Kugelmugel claims thousands of non-resident citizens and issues its own stamps and passports—these franking privileges having gotten the founder in trouble but now tolerated by the Austrian government, but not going so far as to give them legitimacy. Though behind barbed-wire, I think that this is the first, extant micronation that we’ve had the pleasure to visit, and we have to wonder about its definition.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

tintin and milou


During the height of the hunt for suspected accomplices to the latest wave of terror attacks, officials in capital of Brussels implored nervous residents and citizen-journalist not to sound-off about the ongoing investigation, lest they inadvertently tip off those they sought after. It’s a little amazing to think that commentary and the its meta-narrative can unfold in real time and there’s no single abiding and authoritative version, but some jump to make that claim. The people of Belgium obliged and there were no calls of a media blackout during the lock-down nor suspicions that the government was trying to conceal something and they obliged in kind by inundating the channels with feline missives—of the memetic variety to convey support for discretion. Many took the extended opportunity to remain calm and not cowering indoors but rather to defiantly dress up and remix their pets.

5x5

analemma: a team of American meteorologists is delivering a nation-wide sunset quality forecast


: A chess set whose pieces cue the way they are the be moved 

pillbox: profile of one courageous icon of a dark and tragic day, Jackie O’s pink Chanel suit fifty-two years on

easter eggs: trying googling “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”

profile pic: animated portraiture by Romain Laurent that highlights isolated movements

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

unter den linden

A century ago tomorrow, Albert Einstein first presented his equations that dealt with two macroscopic fundamental forces of Nature—gravity and electromagnetism—to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin in an attempt to generalise his previous fete—no mean achievement, in asserting E=mc²—that binds together mass and energy and applies a universal speed limit.
Already paring back non-objective that tended to compartmentalise and create illusions based on the beholder, Einstein sought to incorporate the theory of gravitation and yield something more satisfying than the classical idea that gravity was like an elastic band that was infinite and instantaneous, but rather masses sinking and rising due to their warping of spacetime. Experiment and observation confirm the framework again and again, but just as normalcy appears to abandon us at the scale of very tiny things, Einstein’s physics also seem to buckle under highly energetic conditions. When things are small enough or hot enough to invoke the other fundamental forces, the Strong (holds atomic nuclei together) and the Weak (responsible for radioactive decay), General Relativity suffers the same fate as Sir Isaac Newton’s mechanics. Science and knowledge of the Cosmos is always going to be something provisional, and I wonder if it’s not just the bias of our size and frame-of-reference to think everything ought to applicable at every level. Is that a reasonable expectation or the exactly the opposite?  Einstein himself is quoted (though perhaps one ought to be cautious of citations next to photographs on the internet, the intent remains) as saying, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one.” Eulogizing the loss of a life-long friend, Einstein really reflected, “this distinction between the past, present and future, is only an illusion, however tenacious.” What do you think?

publish or perish and the girl with kaleidoscope eyes

After quite a few years of being rather coy about his research and conclusions, Charles Darwin was finally persuaded to publish his seminal work on 24 November 1859—On the Origin of Species—when fellow naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, whom had independently arrived at the theory of evolution through the study of geographical dispersion of creatures great and small, released his paper on the “introduction” of species.
Wallace’s brilliance and impetus lies tarnished due to Darwin receiving the credit for the theory—or rather by modern estimates as for contemporaries, he was quite magnanimous and didn’t stint sharing and deference, and even ensured the penniless Wallace was awarded a proper pension in his later years—and for rather incongruous beliefs that he held, estranging the scientific community to a large degree. Though the sort of morbid curiosity with mediums and psychics was wide-spread at the time and surely a lot of people were at least closeted conjurers, Wallace approached charlatans as assiduously as he conducted his biological observations, quite taken by trickery and sleight of hand and also was a victim of trolling, baiting by the Flat-Earth association and vocal anti-vaxxer. Quite apropos—also on this date, as celebrated by the Google Doodle, in 1974, the fossilized assemblage that her discoverers called Lucy—after the Beatles’ song, was found in the Afar lowlands of Ethiopia, marking an important and accessible milestone in the way we understand evolution.

emporia

Here is a select list of singular gift-shops and boutiques that are for the most part just behind the box office of some fabulous websites—awaiting your perusal after you’ve taken the tour and seen the exhibit There’s some thing there for everyone sure to inspire an idea or two—especially for those difficult to find gifts for:

the boing boing store: full of creative and educational ideas for happy mutants

the grommet: brimming with special crafts and powered by citizen commerce

kikkerland: thoughtful little gifts, perfect for Secret Santa gift exchanges or stocking stuffers

wireless: I loved getting this as a spare but interesting to leaf-through catalogue in the mail, thinking these are things to own, or at least borrow

threadless: a huge selection of artisanal, unique shirts, pull-overs and posters that I have always had a soft spot for

Sunday, 22 November 2015

5x5

spectropia: this Victorian séance guide promises to deliver ghosts everywhere, and of any colour

the bitten word: fantastic recipes from a couple resolved to put their cooking magazines through the paces

osmosis: researchers in Sweden radically create the world’s first cyborg plant

rub-a-dub: the king of Sweden calls for a global ban on bathtubs for environmental reasons

but first a word from our sponsors: at least one internet giant is moving to ransom access to email unless subscribers disable ad-blocking software

matriculation or the kids are alright

When it was first published in September of this year, I really assayed and digested the lengthy and circumspect piece by The Atlantic called The Coddling of the American Mind, however the gravity of the situation remained in some higher orbital—to me—at least until recently through an interview with an American zookeeper to a British and international that zoos in the US, while preserving their educational utility as a destination for field-trips, strongly tended to shy away from displaying exhibits that suggested evolution and climate change for fear of causing offence. I realise that the transition from being students, participations and citizens to being consumers of educational and democratic experience is not exclusively an American problem and has no respect for borders or other enshrined approaches—though happily there’s still pushback, but obviously the American sandbox is the best environment to try to understand how this situation—the creation of pockets of refuge, whole institutionalised swaths of up-and-coming society that go coddled and unchallenged—came about and what consequences it could have.
The solution is not clear, I thought, and could only be described in terms of greater polemics, disparaging wealth gaps upheld with one’s all, and the fact we’ve grown accustomed to the passive recruitment of what resounds with us (what we’d like to hear re-enforced at the expense of dissenting alternatives) and the fact it’s never been easier to enlist in any crusade with only a modicum of personal discomfort—also never easier to condemn heretics and traitors to the cause. Of course, there has always been charismatics, people who fancy themselves above being challenged and certain mouthpieces for campaigning, and the whole of American society is far from sheltered and protected from the affronts of the Classics and the micro-aggressors, but never was there the fostering of a culture that would construct that best of all possible worlds. Not to suggest that organised religion is fully exonerated, but such a mindset seems to me to be partly responsible for the success in indoctrinating and the follow-on radicalisation of many individuals, who are unable to see further than than these familiar horizons. One of the greatest dangers and fount of all sorrows is the expectation that the world conforms to our our standards. The brilliant science-fiction writer Douglas Adams, in his Salmon of Doubt, puts this paradox another way—rather succinctly, with a self-aware puddle, at first in awe and rather self-sure because the hole it finds itself in fits the puddle perfectly and then in panic as the puddle realises that its universe is shrinking, along with the puddle itself.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

expanded universe

Via Boing Boing, we rediscover the lost intervening episodes of the Star Wars saga as captured in the imagination of luminary Alan Moore, acclaimed as the best in his genre and creator of other classic, brilliant franchises such as V for Vendetta, the Watchmen and contributing writing to other more mainstream storylines as well. This treasury of short vignettes features five abstracts of the stories with weirdly psychedelic panels.

Friday, 20 November 2015

trump card

Thanks to a superb essay from Dangerous Minds, suffragans now have keen insight in the platform and the policies of America’s favourite rogue presidential contender, who can apparently combat terrorism solely by dint of his uncanny instincts of just feeling there’s bound to be an attack.
Just as the Führer’s stellar rise as the soi-disant “messenger from nothingness” was guided by a higher power—confirmed, I think, as one of the candidate’s personal heroes by his response of “you tell me” to interlocutors whether his plan to force Muslims to register themselves into a national database wasn’t something akin to the Nazis’ treatment of the Jewish population, attributed his coif and political successes to mysterious, Americans may be courting another equally occult and charismatic disaster. Apropos, Karl Marx once declared: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy—second as farce.”

5x5

antique singer sewing machines: cosplay caliphate labs are desperate to obtain red mercury

genre: enterprise in Grenoble to furnish free short works of fiction so people waiting don’t feel compelled to stare at their phones

membership has its privileges: no longer a melting-pot for the ordinary and fabulous to endure together, Los Angeles is constructing an exclusive celebrity terminal

space oddity: theatrical preview of David Bowie’s upcoming Blackstar album

b.f. skinner: pigeons can be trained to spot anomalies on diagnostic screenings as good as human radiologists

barefoot in the sand or casimir effect

For this centenary year of the publication of the General Theory of Relativity, Dangerous Minds has nice remembrance of the visit, decades later, by the preeminent scientist, Albert Einstein, and how he came to acquire those sandals in the iconic, candid photographs.
Be sure to visit the link for the full account, but his hosts believed Einstein was inquiring after a pair of “sundials”—which has suggests some impenetrable, secret insight into time-dilation to me. It’s interesting that Einstein, after cementing his ideas, rejected (initially at least for some of the projected outcomes but was never a convert for others) the chief cosmological consequences of his model: Einstein rejected the notion of the Big Bang (der Urknall) and the expanding Universe, the figment of Black Holes (Schwarze Löcher) and Wormholes (Wurmlöcher—also known as an Einstein-Rosen Bridge) whose dynamics suggest the possibility of time-travel. We are reasonably sure that the former two phenomena exist—and have good reason to suspect, given the sceptic’s track-record, that the latter might be possible as well. Photographs themselves are like little fossilised increments of spacetime, allowing one to reach into the past. Given that cinema was emerging around the same time, I wonder if Einstein and other theatre audiences knew intuitively to apply their sense of flashback and foreshadowing to cutting to different scenes on the movie screen.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

fakery and fraudulence

I’ve finally received my long-awaited love letter from the Office of Personnel Management informing me that the totality of personal information has been compromised in a targeted cyber-attack, with the private details of my family and associates as well.
“Our records also indicate that your fingerprints were likely compromised during the cyber intrusion. Federal experts believe the ability to misuse fingerprint data is currently limited. However, this could change over time as technology evolves…” As recompense, the correspondence encourages me to register in a sort of identity-theft monitoring and protection programme, but I don’t know if I’ll be signing up as there’s not much there to instil a sense of confidence in their stewardship of any more individual data. When bits and pieces are stolen, it seems that something so easily lost isn’t worth protecting to begin with but it’s getting really intimate when a whole comprehensive profile is exposed.

docomo or the queen’s english

As is my wont, I must have glossed over this rather disturbing announcement and I truly appreciate Bob Canada for reviving this discussion—thinking that the Word of the Year as nominated and elevated by the venerable institution of Oxford University Press was “emoji,” which I thought to be pedantically behind the times, and not an emoji.
Albeit their flagship OED aims to capture language as it is actually used and not prescribe how it ought to be—despite the authority that it enjoys, I am not sure what to make our language and lexicon when “Face with Tears of Joy”—which sounds like a title museum curators would give to distinguish a work with no name, is celebrated. What do you think? I certainly use the glyphs for punctuation, I guess at the expense of full-stops, but in general not for a whole thought. Maybe Oxford’s contender was chosen too because of the ambiguity that can be substituted and encoded and be assigned different signals and meanings—like the suggestive eggplant or nail-polish representing some hollow accomplishment or indifference or the agony of being pepper-sprayed here pictured.

5x5

eddie are you okay: catchy barrel-organ version of Smooth Criminal 

lol: ukiyo artists from Edo-era Japan also liked animal memes

planchette: a Ouija board furniture ensemble 

d³Ʃx²: dedicated Whovian reveals the Doctor’s true name

octave: gallery of very large musical instruments

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

the bees’ knees or honeycomb hideout

As if humans weren’t already enough of a plague for the bees and their business, I learnt recently of a newly discovered component that might tease out a bit more about why bees as a real ecological keystone are vanishing and well as the wildlife they support.
Although diesel emissions are very much a contentious subject right now, it would serve one well to realise despite the increase in traffic and that our driving is leaving a much bigger footprint than we’ve been led to believe, three decades ago, the situation was far more dire with trees growing along the Autobahn covered in black soot and at least know, slowly, we are paying greater attention to the important things, diesel—specifically the nitrous oxide (NOx) which probably isn’t good for any living thing in any amount—has a measurable cognitive detriment for the pollinators. Vehicle exhaust affects the subtle aromatic chemistry of the flowers that bees seek and even a tiny change in the scent environment means that bees can’t form a mental map of the desired nectar and can’t communicate with their interpretive dance to others in the hive. Possibly this signals interference does not spread far from the shoulder of the road and may not be the chief pathogen working against the colonies (as there are several other candidates—habitat loss, pesticides, genetically modified crops, electrosmog from cellular masts, etc.), this is yet another reason to clean up our obsession with fossil fuels and the internal combustion engine, which seems quite antiquated and steam-punk no matter how it’s packaged.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

la solidarité

Just down the street, the Henkell Fabrik is also illuminated with the Tricolore. Visible from the Autobahn as well, it is a very fine gesture on behalf of this storied institution, purveyors of German sparkling wine white (Sekt), housed in this grand Gründerzeit hall, to mark the tragic occasion with a show, a beacon of hope and solidarity.

public-key or the wedding-planner

Mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing’s machines predated anything we’d recognise as a computer—these processors being a pure figment of his imagination in carrying brute applications out to their natural consequence, but the incredulous brilliance of this mental exercise does belie user-interface, reliance and ubiquity but rather in puzzling out the limitations of computation and programming. Given proper a proper set of instructions, an algorithm to solve a given computational problem, one of Turing’s Machines will tease out the answer eventually—though perhaps not to human-scale regardless of how these questions might be framed in mortal and approachable terms.Faced with finding the optimal seating arrangement for a small wedding party with the protocol that no guest ought to be seated next to one another whom would detest their neighbours and ruin the celebration might be easy enough—even for a human to juggle, an as yet hypothetical computer could reach the layout in a reasonable time, too, by running linearly through every possible permutation. While unconscionable teraflops make this seem instantaneous, Turing realised that for a grander matrimony with particularly prickly relations grows exponentially in complexity and computers can only work with the facts that they are given—with no capacity for compromise or good enough. Suppose one’s guests were to be the general assembly of the United Nations and then the number of possibilities that the computer must assay becomes greater than the number of atoms in the known Universe. The computer would cycle again and again for several billion years but would eventually produce a solution. The inability to provide a quick and comprehensive answer Turing recognised was a limitation and a liability, but at the same time Turing realised that this shortcoming was enduring and exploitable. Sometimes the numbers can be crunched forever. Perhaps there is no overseer, Evil Genius out there that knows where all the bodies are buried and the dirty little secrets that might make for a convivial setting, but there are also woefully multi-generational problems that can be solved with a clue. Data-encryption on one end delivers incredibly, increasingly long strings of numbers that are the product of multiplying two other numbers together on the other end, and hackers are not able to identify one or both figures—without some sort of clue. Just decades on, it seems too soon to descend into the realm of the practical from this elegant formulation, but having this limitation enables the security of on-line encryption and passing code. On the other hand, knowing how to solve logistics problems—given that finding a solution to one challenge presupposes eliminating the other as well—will serve up amazingly efficient systems of delivery. Both economic models are inseparable, it seems.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

sens critique

Though going forward won’t bring anyone back and I am probably betrayed some dreamy optimism when I hope that policy will change for the better, but to learn nothing just is further insult to the countless that have perished and suffered in the power-vacuum, voided by Western adventures, that the cosplay Caliphate has come to occupy. Refugees cannot be be conflated with a group of loutish terrorists that ascribe to noting loftier than the charisma of some bully with a vague vision, since the refugees are for the most part fleeing the same violence that visits Beirut and Aleppo on a daily basis. Some might argue that strict border controls will cause more suffering for those in transit and makes little sense as those radicalised individuals could already be present since months at their target location (plus there are always ways of inserting oneself into the massive throng of humanity on the march, such hostile and unneighbourly acts would topple the core values of the European Union, etc. etc.), however adopting a different approach may be necessary. Perhaps all borders should be closed and in order to help the most vulnerable and those with no means of securing escape (a smuggler, a bus ticket, a place on a rickety boat), refugee commissions should travel to Syrian camps for displaced persons and satisfy their quota by referring however many, once properly assessed and vetted. No one would be compelled to make the treacherous journey, no middle-men could skim profit, no terrorists could peddle their ideology and fewer opportunistic, economic migrants would join the ranks of those legitimately and immediately threatened. There are enough inchoate threats as it is, and perhaps if not dealing with an uncontrolled stream of refugees coming into the country, authorities could have been allocated resources to monitoring domestic threats that were already present and in the works. The nihilistic following does not hate the freedoms that their host countries enjoy—as difference and descent would in no way be tolerated by their home-nation regimes—and the attitude characterised by liberty seems sometimes just that. In as much as we Westerners might criticise African and Middle Eastern people for not doing more to save their homelands from tyranny, corruption and oppression, we are not terribly heroic when it comes to defending those cherished freedoms (until a common threat comes along) either. There’s precious little protest offered up against poverty and self-interested policy decisions (which helped to create this dread tension in the first place, as above) and corporate ploys that degrade and estrange the democratic process. Aujourd’hui nous sommes toutes les parisiens.

star wars, nothing but star wars

There was a regretful and probably universally relatable, accessible piece written for BBC Magazine—though happily I never thought of selling my extensive collection of Star Wars action figures and have them with me still—about one youth’s remorse over having traded his assemblage away, mint-in-box or so claimed. It’s quite interesting to think about the challenges that we faced back then in terms of acquisition, planning, composing wish-lists—and readily sharing that encyclopædic knowledge of the cast and crew and correcting others in play when they strayed from character.

orthograph or parts of speech

The fantastic Æon magazine has a very fine retrospective essay on the singular strangeness of the English language that hits all the big, perplexing points for this, the only language that subjects its young and impressionable speakers to the rigours of spelling-bees (French students have dictation contests, which seems a more practical skill to develop).
This language (from an anglo-centric point of view) is the outlier in terms of using gendered nouns, declension, fails on intelligibility and has a very motley grammatical structure. Though others have been exposed to the say waves of conquest, English seemed one of the few clever and stubborn enough to survive in one form or another by adopting and incorporating the form and style of its invaders—the Romans, the Norse and the Normans. Whether these unsystematic traits make the language difficult or at a point unpenetrable is hard to say—it’s hard to argue, no matter one’s take on it, of English’s dominance and attempts to supplant those quirks with constructed, universal languages have not been met with overwhelming success.

copasetic

The ever-engrossing Mind Hacks performs quite a nimble triangulation on the nature and origin of the so-called safe-space—that is a social venue that’s set aside and made exclusive for any particular set of people that identify with one group or another, for which outsiders are excluded.
Self- segregation, rather than an ostracism that’s imposed from privileged sources, is supposed to open up a forum of discussion free from harassment but in theory, not free from dissent or controversy, but one has to wonder how balanced groupthink can hope to be when its sheltered and fostered. This concept seems very much couched in terms of modern political correctness, but the safe-space goes back further and is rooted in the ideas of corporate climate surveys and the research of psychologist Kurt Lewin, who while trying to avoid associations of reinforcement, did crucially acknowledge that concepts that Lewin imparted like (which can now sound like latter day office woo) sensitivity-training, feedback, input, toxicity in leadership, workplace morale needed to be engendered in an environment free of reprisal and openness. What do you think? Have these ideas been brought to a place where they improve social dynamics or have they become merely hallmarks of strife and censorship?

Saturday, 14 November 2015

language laboratory oder verenglischen

The Local, Germany’s English language daily, profiles an Italian living in Berlin who, frustrated with obstacles to practising the German language properly and gaining a better mastery of it in an international office setting turned to inventing needful compound words to express contemporary, specific anxieties that no word exists for. Though this lexicon is by its nature a non-standard and idiosyncratic one, building it is a clever way to strenghten one’s vocabulary and imagination. For the nonce, verenglishchen is to rebuff a foreigner’s best efforts to address another in his or her native language by replying in English. I ought to embark on the same sort of project.

living with a vulcan

The spectacular images and increased understanding of solar activity that have been keeping astrophysicists occupied and excited over the past few weeks—as part of NASA’s broader programme LWS (Living with a Star, which sounds like a network television reality show—are being won by a probe that’s positioned itself so it is not blinded by the Sun and can make out details that were made invisible by too much glare beforehand.
Not being able to stare into the Sun, as Business Insider brilliantly reports, has had a long career of challenging science. To account for the observed anomalous orbit of Mercury, most were convinced there had to be another, tiny planet orbiting even closer to the Sun. Such theories proved true in another instance—incidentally giving Newtonian Mechanics someone of a pardon and reprieve, and the hunt was on for the elusive Planet Vulcan. Albert Einstein, as he undermined the foundations of classical physics, dispelled the myth of Vulcan with his Theory of Relativity which included the curvature of space-time by massive objects Rather staking his reputation on there not being an intermediary planet as Neptune’s eccentricity was explained by Uranus and Pluto, in 1915 Einstein proposed that Mercury took the smoothest path it could through warped space in order to explain the observed wobble. Once Vulcan did not materialise, Einstein’s theories were in a much more secure position.

woodstock

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings directs our attention in a thoughtful and expansive book review of graphic artist Chip Kidd’s recently published programme and kind memoir that imparts a great sense of reverence and goodness for the touchstones of Charles Schutz’ Peanuts characters.
The enduring success of the franchise comes about as perhaps for the humanities one of the longest running autobio- graphies and confessionals, Schultz claiming he was not only Charlie Brown but a little of every character, Snoopy included. Not only does feature explore the complexities portrayed with a sometimes conflicted and existential gang as only Schultz could create—a vexed bafflement on par with Hamlet serialised, but there is also a touching account of how the Peanuts reflected current events and fears over segregation in the States and brought in the character of Franklin in response.

Friday, 13 November 2015

nuance and nudge

Mental Floss has a funny and informative comparison chart of how emojis are rendered differently on different devices, and the deviation from the norm seems quite significant for much of the core vocabulary.
It’s really interesting to think that we rarely stray from our familiar, native ecology and might never appreciate how one meaning is subject to code-switching (alternating between two different syntaxes) in a sort of meta-communication. Of course, it is humorous rubbish that our short-hand might become garbled but the general ramifications might become something broader in terms of precision and understanding.

5x5


wiki, wiki, wiki wiki-room: Wikipedia’s agnostic, philosophical co-founder is a healthy skeptic of the developing product

format-wars: after four decades, Sony is retiring Beta-Max

non-verbal: as an encore of the facial recognition algorithms that guessed one’s age, there a new application that produces an emotional composite from one’s expressions

cast-offs: as a fashion-statement, Dutch designer folds newspapers into disposable shirts you’d think twice about throwing away

thin white duke: David Bowie gets down on Soul Train

Thursday, 12 November 2015

timeliness, objectivity and narrative

Building strong partnerships with leading museums and educational institutions around the world to help bring the iconography and language of modern art to the broader, internet dwelling public, the clearing house Artsy is wonderful resource for discovery and triangulation.

Learning enough to pique one’s curiosity to learn more about the inter- connectedness of the community and their contemporaries—through the lens of their portrait of Dorothea Lange, for example, whose evocative Migrant Mother (probably for most one of those archetypal images that we hold in the quiver of minds) captured while under commission for the American Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, but there’s really a more elusive, evasive quality in this photograph and its framer that settles after the initial, unmediated impression. The network of related artists—most of whom I’ve never heard of but seem quite worthy of further investigation—imparts context, but it’s really taking a step back, through biography and scrutiny, that helps to disabuse one—after a fashion—for what we as an audience might take for granted. I think I’d rather conflated Migrant Mother and the haunting blue-eyed Afghani girl from that National Geographic cover in my mind—making the Depression-era photograph colourized—perhaps because the identities of both subjects was once anonymous but are now identified: Florence Owen Thompson and Sharbat Gula. It takes a commitment on the part of the viewer, which is I suppose what powerful and memorable art demands, to see the humanising portrayals and to take something too away from the setting. Though history and poverty always best themselves, it is impossible to imagine the backdrop of abject poverty and starvation that the government attempted to stave off through resettlement and relocation. This scene also conjures up another one of Lange’s programs—documenting the forced internment of Japanese and other foreigners, which was suppressed at the time. I’ll be sure to visit this resource again to get my bearings and discover someone new.

gasworks gallery

The ever inquisitive Nag on the Lake has a nice vignette about the creative repurposing of the elegant, Victorian girders of the Pancras Gasholder to frame a nice park in London, which reminded me of the Gasometers we’ve encountered reinvented and venues for a wide variety of displays.

Not a meter but rather a container, like a water tower (which are also beautiful works of architecture), the function of these mammoth structures was to store a large volume of natural gas in situ ready for local use—to power gas lighting originally and then for heating. When more and more gasworks became redundant (though some are still in use in many areas for balancing pressure), municipalities faced challenges in reclaiming the real estate as the business was a dirty one but there are quite a few notable and creative solutions that incorporate the original casing, like apartment blocks in Vienna, or rather famously the Gasometer of Leipzig, which now hosts a visual panorama (das Panometer) that displays—across a huge canvas of some thirty meters by one hundred meters, the largest photographs in the world, accented by light and sound effects and sweeping vistas.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

golden years

Though governments still will enunciate the fact that a huge class, cadre will reach retirement age all at once and stop contributing to state pension schemes and leave the labour force all at once—which is the greater threat to those funds solvency—it seems more convincing to instead raise a spectre that all can relate to, perhaps out of fear of derision should one group (to which a majority of officials surely belong) be made to bear the entire burden.

Increasing longevity is cited as the prevailing argument for raising the retirement age, and while many people are living much longer on average than the sixty-five years of age that was suggested in the late nineteenth century as a social safety net was stitched together, that milestone was understood as the threshold of feebleness and general uselessness and rather not as the mark whence one had contributed his or her share to the system and could enjoy the next third or more of his or her adult life in retirement. Notching up the age redefines sixty-seven or however much it climbs as the new redundancy and further fails to respect the fact that there are profound differences, dependent on one’s employer and career-path, in benefits and retirement packages. Those best equipped and willing to keep working are reaping those years of good custody and care, and those who continue working are the fittest among us to begin with. On the other hand, those compelled to keep up their jobs because their pensions would provide insufficient income or are just counting the days have not only been robbed of a sense of purpose, no reciprocity lays ahead. What do you think? Though the welfare and will may be there to increase our useful life-spans, it seems to come at the expense of our Golden Years.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

go-pro or pencil-shavings

Researchers are exploiting the amazing properties of the recently discovered carbon-foil graphene to mimic the behaviour of tendons and muscles that can tense and relax at the slightest prompt, be it moisture, pressure or light.
Once these little works of origami were better understood, range of motion could be configured in such a way and programmed to demonstrate certain strengths and agilities. The elusive class of carbon—distinct from the graphite that’s in pencil lead and diamond, had been guessed at for many years and even predicted the material’s robustness but no one could imagine how one could sheer a surface layer so thin as to realise all those assets until Manchester physicists Andre Geim with associate Konstantin Novoselov applied some office tape to a pencil-sketch he’d been making, balled up the tape and rolled it in his fingers before tossing it into the waste bin. Prompted by his partner, Geim later retrieved the bit of cellophane tape—which is a pretty nifty job in materials engineering itself being pressure-sensitive and will produce x-rays if used in a vacuum—to discover that a layer of grapheme had been preserved. Together awarded the Noble Prize in 2010 for this discovery, a decade prior Geim, making him the only laureate to hold both honours, was presented with the Ig Noble for his study on levitating frogs with small magnets. Though this imaginative parody of the pomp and circumstance international committees whose recognition can take decades or more seems to suggest a certain dastardliness in the sciences and humanities, it is quite the opposite in nomination and presentation, crediting achievements that first make one laugh and then think.

Monday, 9 November 2015

trapper-keeper or mixed-media

The ever-brilliant and stunning Colossal curates a very fine exhibition the schematic and stratified collages of artist Augustine Kofie, whose exacting planar work evokes other assemblages and pastiches but harks back as well to an interesting but receding niche when what we call data occupied physical space and needed to be corralled and organised in particular ways. It’s the odd bird, I think, who harbours nostalgic feelings for carbon-paper and filing (though working for the American government, the paperless office is still in the future) but it is really poignant to study the architectural cross-sections of note-pads and linotype folders and wonder where the intersections between storage and figures now stand.