Sunday, 31 January 2016

sometimes you feel like a nut


radio goo-goo, radio ga ga: discover songs by country and decade, via the splendiferous Everlasting Blรถrt

subtitle: Emojini analyses images and assigns the appropriate pictorial captions

fail: the internet responds in kind when a doctored photograph is lauded by a big camera company

take me to the renaissance festival anon: report of the world’s largest medievalist congress held in Kalamazoo, Michigan, via the always interesting The Browser

lossless: long departed computer scientist David Huffman not only gave the world data-compression techniques but also applied mathematical origami to all sorts of things, like automobile air-bags

prestidigitate: despite rumours to the contrary, cartoon characters exported to Japan are not given a little finger to show that they are not affiliated with the Yazuka mafia; on The Simpsons, only the hand of God has five digits, via Reddit 

Saturday, 30 January 2016

acuity or my way or the highway

Typefaces are important, especially in public-works, and establish a corporate and even a national identity and much unseen thought goes into font design. The iconic typeface of German licence plates, called unromantically DIN 1451, was created to balance visibility with difficulty in altering one’s plates, a J cannot be turned to an I or a 3 into a B.
Moreover signage on roadways has to meet up to exacting uniformity and expected standards. The recent decision of the US government, as Quartz reports, to decommission the use of an artisanal typeface adopted more than a decade ago to return to a previously used one—called “Highway Gothic,” has gotten some quite upset with the bureaucracy. Though the change is being officially spurred by older drivers and poorer legibility from a distance, advocates for the welfare cues embedded in design are seeing this decision as quite a setback. I wonder if it’s the visual acuity of driverless carriages that’s driving this change, like the illerate move on British roadways a few years ago that was an assault on punctuation.

haute couture or are you a good witch or a bad witch

First seen on the equally fabulous Neatorama, we were directed towards an investigation into one of the more benign and be-knighted cults to come out of 1950s California: the Unarians. Siding with Marx that religion is the opium for the masses, the collective’s founder vehemently held that the philosophy of Unarius (an acronym for UNiversal ARticulate Interdimensional Understanding of the Sciences) is a revealed system of thought that flows from an extraterrestrial brotherhood and the transmigration of souls.
The movement spread and boasts a few international chapters as well as the academy in California, which operates to this day—though the Unarians lost some impetus when their predicted first-encounter did not take place in the year 2000, but no one committed suicide over it. It was, however, with the passing of the founder and his wife and partner taking the mantle as Archangel Uriel that things really got ratcheted-up a notch. Under her leadership, pupils began past life regression therapy to repair and gird their karmic energies through elaborate play-acting—called psychodramas—and equally assiduous crafting. If not exactly true to the period, designing and making costumes (like the krewes for Marti Gras and similar spectacles) was also an important component to working through one’s former transgressions. Be sure to visit the links for more outfits that would make Liberace and Lady Gaga seem rather conservative and public-access television footage of some their rites.

tolle tagen

A lot of customs and seasonal trappings have in them stereotypical elements that might cause mild (or grave) offence, like the indeterminate amount of black men that are Sinterklaas’ helpers or the traditional Faschings costumes of the swarthy Middle Easterner wearing a fez, the pirate, the harlot or various spirit animals. Someone innocently brought in these treats for our office’s Prunksitz and with the agonising and the hand-wringing over making the wild abandon of the last days before Lent enjoyable for all, the newly arrived groups of refugees as well, I wonder if such get-ups are still (or were ever) appropriate. What do you think? Are we too worried about aggressions, macro- and micro-? Sensitivity training is something in broad circulation and not without contention.

blonde ambition oder i’m fantastic, made of plastic

Via the resplendent Nag on the Lake comes a look at the less wholesome inspiration for the Barbie franchise.
Barbie’s ingรฉnue, a call-girl from a Hamburg tabloid’s funny-pages, had ambitions but rather than becoming a doctor or a lawyer or an astronaut, the original Lilli character aspired to be a gold-digger and secure herself a sugar-daddy. Nonetheless, Lilli was quite liberated and had a keen fashion sense. The panel’s appeal led to novelty figurines that were marketed to adults, like pin-up girls and gag-gifts for bachelor parties. They also proved to be pretty popular playthings for children though they weren’t intended for that and most parents disapproved. Whilst touring in Europe, one of Mattel’s founding designers brought a few of these biker-bitch Barbies back to the States with her, and having purchased the rights from the German newspaper, began producing Barbie dolls in 1964.

litotes or b-sides

The unseen stacks and storerooms of museums around the world surely hold vast amounts of less interesting specimens and artefacts, not really fit to rotate them for display or loan—notably lacking artistic or scientific merit. It’s as if one could accuse museums of having hoarding-tendencies since these objects are unlikely to ever be disturbed from their slumber.
Thanks to BBC Radio Four’s Inside Science, however, I was introduced to a brilliant, sardonic little project of one curator to try to showcase these hopelessly neglected shelves of items in a blog called Underwhelming Fish Fossil of the Month, wherein keenly dull examples from the museum’s backroom collections are showcased and ridiculed—like in this preservation from August 2015 that’s compared to something as regal and fanciful as the Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story. It’s silly and absurd and sometimes overly generous with its praise. I noticed, however, that by browsing through these featurettes and their deconstruction of each fossil, I was actually learning far more about the evolution of fish and the methodologies of conservation and classification than I ever knew before. It’s really fascinating stuff, and I think one ought to rummage through their wardrobes, attics and junk-drawers to tease out some cultural merit of what’s been relegated to those dark corners.

Friday, 29 January 2016

missing-link or not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin

At first, I was a little sceptical about the claim and the mystery that the subject of the human race’s facial anatomy espouses, however, after reading the first few lines of this essay from The Atlantic, I began to really appreciate this puzzle.
Like those palaeontologists who are able to prestidigitate a complete dinosaur specimen out of a single length of bone, the subtle protrusion on our jaws that forms our chin has been pointing researchers in all sorts of different, wagging directions—and the question has been perplexing evolutionary biologists since the very beginnings. Not even our closest relatives—nor those branches of the family tree that withered away—possess the same sort of jaw-line (though some argue that elephants have a similar feature) and science, and not for a lack of speculation, chin scratching—has so far failed to deliver a plausible explanation. All the suggestions have been refuted—such a configuration would not have made it easier to chew or talk or act as an effective face-guard for cavemen fisticuffs. That last bit about duelling savages strikes me as particularly Victorian—like their unhealthy preoccupation with dinosaur husbandry and mating practises. What do you think? Chins couldn’t have become a dominate trait out of a need to stuff pillowcases or fold fitted-sheets, and the answer probably lies in a convergent constellation of factors that we’ve not yet untangled. It’s also funny how chins (as well with teeth for ducks) are one of those features we immediately anthropomorphise to the point where we’re blind to its absence.


My birthday’s months off yet but Mental Floss gave me an early gift (quite a taboo thing to do in Germany but such superstitions are not universal—but still, no premature greetings please) in nice celebratory list of forty things that also turn forty this year. The compilation includes the debut of the Muppet Show, Rocky Horror cosplay, the meme in its current context, the phasing out of slide rule, anti-piracy and intellectual property, and Queen Elizabeth II’s first official e-mail on the ARPANET from a terminal at the Royal Signals and RADAR Establishment in Malvern, Worcestershire. A very merry unbirthday to us.


bleak house: a gallery of sad, ugly Belgian dwellings, via the Everlasting Blรถrt

magick lantern: Richard Metzger curates a fascinating exhibition on occult works of art

iridescence: giant clams from the Indian Ocean could teach us how to better harness photovoltaic energy and make better displays

public-viewing: thanks to Boing Boing for reminding us about the network of museum open archives, Europeana Collections

fringe and flatland: an apology for outsider science, via Kottke’s Quick Links

wonderment: the entrepreneurial Scotsman who invented the mechanical television was real mad scientist

Thursday, 28 January 2016

the encircling game or alphago

The artificial intelligence research division of one internet giant (with other rival concerns not far behind) has developed a tandem neural-network that’s able to best human champions at the ancient strategy game Go.
Meaning the encircling game in Chinese, its goal is to capture more territory on the board than one’s opponent, AI experts once believed that a machine could never excel to human competence as unlike checkers and chess, where computers can use their bullying calculating speeds to forecast out all possible moves and outwit its challengers, the go game-board has more combinations than atoms in the known Universe (incidentally, I’ve started to wonder what that means, really, as I trust it’s more than just some clichรฉ and represents some exponential threshold, but does it take into account the Universe that’s mostly dark energy or the amount of stuff that ought to be there be that cannot be directly observed…) so brute force calculations are not a practical option for even the fastest computers. Human players—and there are grand-masters of go, which is quite sophisticated and challenging despite deceptively simple rules of engagement, began to lose their edge once a dual bit of programming was introduced that asset values and policies in a segregated fashion and apply those judgments in the same way as its competition. What do you think of this enterprise? Does it make for sore-losers?

yankeedom or upper caucasia

Given that the datelines from America betray a strong polarization, it is easy to dismiss and class all demographics into one of two categories—usually along political ideologies.
With a respectful aversion to over- simplification, gerry- mandering and gentrification, author and journalist Colin Woodward presents a really intriguing ethnographic picture of the North American continent divided into eleven nations. The boundaries of these cultural identities cleave sometimes to regional dialects but there’s quite a bit of interesting undercurrent buoying up these geographic divides. Do you agree with how Woodward parses the States? Do you think such rifts remain to make these distinctions relevant? Given that Florida has heaped on disappointment in with elections past (and seems to be classed as an outlier on Woodward’s map), perhaps Bugs has the right campaign strategy for ensuring it’s not contested another toss-up.

charta visa

Rob Beschizza of Boing Boing shares an informed and informative little project that is pretty visually stunning as well in the Passport Index. It’s interesting to take a broad survey of these travel and identity documents and then to be able to gain a purchase on the relative value citizenship—rather bearership, has in terms of access and accessibility. Examining the passports by rank under the protocols, some odd pairings—ties come up and reciprocity, diplomacy shows itself in strange ways. The convention of using or dispensing with visas for travel comes from the Latin phrase for “the paper which has been seen.”

moving on up or shabby sheik

The intrepid real estate broker Miss Cellania, scouting for Neatorama, spotted this amazingly hot property in this furnished time-capsule in Chicago. The original owners lovingly decorated the penthouse but left it virtually untouched since 1972—even leaving cleaning and cosmetic products of that year’s vintage. One can also take a simulated tour. I wonder how long it will stay on the market, and I hope its new occupants, who are certain to be hailed as thrift-store royals, continue the curation.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016


dress the flesh: the rise of the plant-butcher, via Kottke’s quick-links

three is a magic number: the creative talent behind “Schoolhouse Rock!”

linear b: excellent, freshly available image and textual library of the Voynich Manuscript and Codex Seraphinia 

neural handshake: meet the neurosurgeon who tried to hack his brain and nearly lost his mind

the genlteman’s recreation in four parts: seventeenth century common dog names included Ranter and Jollyboy

 chicken dance festival: a creative and award-winning re-imaging of The Shining is classified under the genre of cinegraffiti

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

rarebit or why do we call them comics

Atlas Obscura presents a really fascinating essay that deconstructs a constellation factors that make up the hallmarks of modernity through the lens of a turn of the century comic strip that centres around midnight-snack, indigestion fuelled nightmares with the blame laid squarely on an “imported” (the focus seems to be mostly from an American perspective as the caricatures were but is surely of a universal character since internationally people were experiencing similar cultural shocks) delicacy called “Welsh Rarebit,” basically cheese-toast soaked in beer as a sort of hair-of-the-dog ballast for late-night revellers.
Assiduously, Winsor McCay, under the consultation of his series “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend,” documents the development of rather Freudian fantasies as carried out in the restive slumber of the indignant, whose psyche and drives might be explained mechanically as an assault by cheese as heartburn. Far from funny, at least to contemporary viewers—much like a lot of the reserve content of the funny pages—McCay portrays secret and vengeful scenes that one would rather not disclose, lest one shows his or her vulnerabilities and suppressed desires. As easily, however, people were willing to adopt a litany of compromise to gain modern conveniences—the electrified dwellings that invited staying up through the night, the logistical coordination that allowed people to live in growing urban-settings (to cultivate such routines and support surplus consumption), I believe that the illustrator though that his readership could recognise that something other was driving this feeling of being unsettled besides just alcohol and cheese, unlike the spectre of Jacob Marley who was initially dismissed as a spot of gravy gone bad. Such fiendish behaviour reflected perhaps made the world more receptive to adopting new customs and paradigms, like the psycho-analysis and other accommodations (and necessary back-lash) that came in its wake. Check out the thesis for further details and panels. Turophiles, what do you think?

non-euclidean, not constantinople

Via Colossal, resident artist Aydฤฑn BรผyรผktaลŸ transforms the timeless landscapes of the city of Istanbul into warped skyscrapers and other impossible geometries that dizzyingly ripple back over themselves in an exhibit called Flatland—inspired by the dimensionally biased commentary of the same name on the gentrified Victorian court by school-master Edwin Abbott Abbott (so named as his parents were first-cousins, in keeping with the practise of keeping blue-blood in the family). As denizens of Spaceland, and despite seamless and masterful composition like the visual, we have difficulty imagining worlds sinking and without horizons, nonetheless. Seeing the slack and swell of the land curling over like a wave is hard to invent—even as a dreamscape, and it is worthy of deference that the imaginative capacity of another could concoct and communicate such vistas.

mad dogs and servicemen

The memorable theme song of M*A*S*H* became a little more haunting to me when I learnt awhile back that it has lyrics and the song itself is “Called Suicide is Painless.” One could imagine droning along to the tune of that dirge.
A bit of trivia even more intriguing about the score came courtesy of Dr. Caligari’s daily amalgams of history: celebrating the premiere of the Academy Award winning film this week in 1970, it was pointed out that the composer of the theme, the son of the virtuoso director, Robert Altman—fourteen years old at the time, has earned nearly three times what the director was paid for the movie, making over two million dollars in royalties after the series based on the film was launched. Work is more of a soap opera but can at times feel like the dark comedy with the jingoism and ingratiating ironies. Incorporating the same signature tune, the show had a run of eleven years and I still remember when all the neighbours came over to watch the series finale and how emotional everyone got when saying goodbye, farewell and amen.

Monday, 25 January 2016

desquamate or they’re tearing all the factories doiwn

I noticed that my athletic, sporty body-wash boasts “aroma” and an equally invigorating mystery substance called allantoin—which was new to me but apparently as pervasive as any of our daily chemical compounds. Like other products containing urea (which strikes me as a grave incongruity for skin-care but there you go), the manufactured version aims to replicate the application of an herbal ointment—a virtual panacea known as the comphrey plant.
The wildflowers (Beinwell oder Walluwurz and are related to forget-me-nots) have a long and established history of medical applications as an anti-inflammatory and exfoliating agent. Molecularly, the distilled allantoin used in industrial applications is identical to what comphrey yields but like with any cosmetic pandering, the metabolic shortcut is co-opted and tamed in the sanitary world first to make one’s skin insensitive to irritating ingredients that are part of the industrial process and to encourage peeling way of old skin (it’s called desquamation, descaling a fish) so one feels soft and supple. I suppose that beauty is not for the squeamish.

flight deck

Forty years ago this week, the maiden voyages of the sleek, supersonic jet liner, Concorde a joint Franco-British collaboration, took place, continuing for twenty-seven years before the fleet was retired. The combination of low fuel prices and industries still slowly being decommissioned as Europe transitioned into its Cold War identity made the time just right for this sort of venture—which sounds like fun and familiar times, four decades on.
The decision to ground the planes and put them on almost taxidermical display so one can wonder and be nostalgic over having never been whisked across the ocean at twice the speed of sound always strikes me as an affront to progress—no matter how elite and exclusive that the manifest tended to be, and was driven in part to the 9/11 Terror Attacks that drained all the romance out of jet-setting and also to the development of higher capacity freighters to shuttle more and more passengers to their destinations, teethed on high-overhead and unchecked competition. Maybe it’s even more retrograde to try to recapture past accomplish, though the technical achievement (at least for something that is commercially available) was never repeated, and though although new break-through in รฆro-space but it would behove one to remember that cruise-goers (or soldiers’ of fortune) are not the heroes that astronauts are, and while space-tourism might be driven by individual investment and could very well lead to innovations in efficiency, that enterprise—purely a commercial venture—also strikes me as giving up the ghost. Like for Concorde, there’s no separate flag-ship and we’re all just classed in different ways—through cordons and charters that might make the flying experience marginally less traumatic for a few but generally, democratically bad all around. What do you think? Can you believe it’s been forty years since the inaugural flight?

Sunday, 24 January 2016

damn it, janet

Way back with the elevation of US president-elect Reagan—a seismic shift that really marked the change in the country’s political landscape with a new partisan permanency that few could see as lasting, in the late fall of 1980, a satirical comedy programme lampooned the whole frightening opera with an extended sketch—a spoof within a spoof, called the “Ronnie Horror Picture Show.” Vice-President George H.W. Bush also makes an appearance as man-servant Riff-Raff. The production is fraught with clever references and well-staged musical numbers, and one can watch the late-night double-feature at the link in its entirety. Be sure to visit some of Dangerous Minds’ other brilliant vignettes as well.  Someone ought to adapt this for today’s ideological battlefield.

mulder and scully

Although Wired!’s sneak preview of the return of the X-Files only mentions the changing face of technology in its headline (“and now it has smartphones”), I am grateful that at least one other person is recalling the state of connectivity at that time. Admittedly, I was a late-adopter and really only had a cellular phone for emergency purposes, but back in college (when the original syndicate had its run) I can’t remember anyone having a mobile phone, much less using them ubiquitously and gratuitously.
The dormitories weren’t wired for landlines and we had a sheltered computer lab for word-processing and for those cognoscenti, to access the World-Wide Web. One day, queuing up at the cafeteria, I remember having to awkwardly juggle my tray to try to answer an incoming call and holding up the line behind me. The lunch-lady told me to take my time, “It’s alright—X-File.” I wonder if the show helped to introduce and normalise the way we use the wireless today—especially given that, for people of a certain age bracket, our only other formative exposure came with pagers—in MTV’s The Real World—which are not for presumptive drug-dealers. The cultural influence, spin-offs and perhaps distrust certainly cannot be underestimated.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

andorian ale

Thanks to Wikipedia (and it cannot receive enough encomnia in my opinion) I learnt that the producer of Star Trek—unlike inventing the teleporter to forego having to film landing scenes, insisted that the series be shot in colour and thus placing it in the prime-time schedule (because of the expense) of America’s pioneering broadcasting triumvirate so audiences could appreciate the green skin of the Orion slave girls.
Later contributors to the programme considered the Orions a little too risquรฉ and perhaps deviant to afford them continued appearances. The Andorians, although founding members of the Federation of Planets and acclaimed for their libations, were excluded as well. In the expanded Universe, however, they became symbols of sexual liberation and figure large in stark opposition to the predominantly heterosexual milieu and deflector shield ceiling of the canonical storyline.

we are a culture, not a costume

The discovery of a class of bacteria—which are everywhere, in the soil and among our beneficial gut population—which can only be described as vampiric took place several years ago and while I am not sure what direction the research has taken, this strain seems especially timely given that one local hospital was found to be harbouring Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA oder Multiresistante Krankenhauskeime) in some of its wards.
News like that incited a panic among some of the clientele, battle-weary from the likes of Ebola—even though it’s endemic to most treatment facilities already and all would forego the negative publicity. These Micavibrio aeruginosavorus and related specimen called Vampirovibrio chorellavorus are purely predatory and cannot live even in nutrient-rich environments, shunning them, unless there are some other hapless bacteria to feed on—making their study rather difficult since the sample is always a contaminated one, latching on to their victims with enzyme fangs and sucking the life out of them. Subsequent culturing made pathologists hopeful that a living, evolving antibiotic agent could be used to combat those familiars (coming from the word midge, a nigget is a small insect—perhaps like Jiminy Cricket or a flea-circus—that was used as a witch’s minion, and I bet that the same terminology could apply to tinier things like germs) of our own drug abuse and hygiene.


onionoise: the Viennese Vegetable Orchestra performs Radioaktivitรคt from Kraftwerk

placebo button: expecting more underneath the casing of a fire alarm

one teaspoon of unicorn tears: excerpts from absurdly challenging gourmet recipes

maltese falcon: interesting abstract of ancient forgeries

free-range: a look at different fruits, vegetables and nuts growing in the wild, via Presurfer

washington, this is kallstadt calling: Spiegel International visits candidate Trump’s ancestral family home in a village near Mannheim—the same place whence the Heinz dynasty hails

ringxiety or push-notification

I don’t often keep my mobile device in such close proximity to my person so as to make it an extension of my senses (say, something akin to an artist’s paint brush or a seeing impaired person’s walking stick), but sometimes when I am marching along with my phone in my bag, I’ll get false alarms that cause me to pause and check, only to find it was in my imagination.
This happens especially I think when I’m anxiously expecting a call, and I always feel a bit silly. I knew I was not quite alone in suffering from this phenomenon but had no idea that it was common enough to earn a forum, clinical studies and even a name: Phantom Vibration Syndrome. Researchers are not quite sure what causes these ghostly cues but most believe they are harmless, tiny muscle spasms that would otherwise go unnoticed (perhaps like a nascent version of Restless Leg Syndrome, which apparently becomes insufferable for some people and dreaming, twitchy dogs) that are at an amplitude sympathetic to the subsonic silent mode of our phones. Such prompts also indulge our sense of separation anxiety as these same calls and responses are our social towropes that connect us to the wider world. What do you think? Have you been haunted by phantom vibrations?

Friday, 22 January 2016

sensory reparation

Dangerous Minds has a brilliantly curated piece on the psychedelic architects of late 1960s Vienna, Hans-Rucker-Co, who first appeared on the scene and began long quite long and distinguished careers (with installations and buildings in Kassel and Dรผsseldorf and long-time champions of design as the founding members of the documenta exposition) with their radical Mind Expanding Programme that aimed to place wearers, bearers and inhabitants in altered states of being through transformative environments. Their creations are iconic and certain the architecture that was their later legacy was not mainstream, but it strikes me as wonderfully anachronistic that these individuals came together and developed their art first around this project. In addition to these “fly head” helmets that atomized one’s outlook, be sure to check out the mind-expander loveseat, ball pit for adults and the primogenitor of the voyeuristic fishbowl experience in Oasis Number 7 and more at the link.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

jรถtunheimr or planet nine from outer space

Orbital perturbations of the outer most planets of our Solar System and perhaps the mysterious and unexpected geologically active surface of Pluto suggest to astronomers that a Neptune-sized world sweeping out an elongated path nearly twice as distant as Pluto at its aphelion might exist.
That far away and with such an unimaginably long year would be quite faint and the marauder would only make itself know, possibly with great disruption, only once in epochs, and so is naturally elusive—even if one’s telescope are fixed on the right patch of sky. If such a ninth planet does exist (and that seems to be a pretty big leap as other theoretical place-holders have dematerialised in the past), astronomers propose that it is an ice-giant ejected from the Solar System’s core long ago—or, even more exotically, a captured “rogue” exoplanet. That would really be something if we had been harbouring a galactic hitchhiker all this time. Native or not, maybe the new planet should be named after Thrym, king of the Ice Giant realm of Jรถtunheimr—which is a nemesis to the realm of men and their gods.

party of one oder telefonzelle

A merry-maker and entrepreneur from Berlin has repurposed old public telephone booths into private discotheques, complete with a jukebox selection of dance music and a light show and even doubles as a photo-booth—delivering some mementos of one’s abbreviated party. This is a pretty keen idea and enhances the list of overhauls that the more or less obsolete telephone booth is receptive to: time machine, miniature library, insect hostel, changing room for super heroes—and it does not even matter if unlike the TARDIS, it’s not bigger on the inside.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016


peak curtains: Swedish furniture purveyor concedes that we’ve got enough junk

man on the street: Latin American media giant purchases a controlling share of the Onion

ladders of light: rare phenomenon projects one icy village into the night sky

algorithmic: beautifully elegant approach to filtering out prime numbers

il tempo sepolto: gorgeous art nouveau era daytime hotel below the streets of Milan

rewritten by machine on new technology: the output of presenting sitcom scripts to neural networks

how does your garden grow

First appreciated by the doyenne Nag on the Lake—with the interesting disclaimer that this is in fact not the first blossom in microgravity—this image of a zinnia in space is pretty inspiring and marks at least a symbolic step towards making interplanetary voyages self-sustaining.
Not only does the absence of gravity to hold down soil and define up and down present particular challenges so too did apparently the bureaucracy that accompanies growing a flower on the International Space Station. Things were looking rather bleak for the plants until the gardener decided to break with the established protocol dictated by Mission Control and care for them as you would terrestrial counterparts and took the plants outside of the laboratory and into the station’s cupola to bask in the natural light of the Sun.

heathenry or self-identification

The ever brilliant Dangerous Minds gives us a gentle but dazzling reminder that in between these cross-quarter days and geographically too we are in the midst of the perennial animistic cycle of death and rebirth in this gallery of photographs by ethnographer Charles Frรฉger, who trekked across Europe in search of the archetypal Wild Mann. The author is hesitant to put too fine a point on it, as well, so I am reluctant to be pedantic either but dressing up and the associated rituals (and though perhaps not to vouchsafe a bountiful harvest or secure favour from the elder gods) seems suspended somewhere between cosplay and national garb. Rather than being disdainful, I think that there is surely something in the ceremony and associates that transcends fandom or avid re-enactors. What do you think? Are we guilty of chauvinism to dismiss partakers as engaging in a weekend hobby? Be sure to check out the entire gallery of bizarre and transformative regalia.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

quasi modo, desperado

Oslo’s City Hall (Olso rรฅdhus)—perhaps most recognisable as the venue for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony—also boosts a grand carillon that’s been chiming away the hour with musical intermezzo for quite a few years already. Through the end of May, the belfry will ringing out David Bowie and Motรถrhead songs to be added to the daily performance. Sadly, one can be certain that more immortal classics, like Tequila Sunrise and Hotel California, will be forthcoming repertoire with the passing of Glenn Frey. This is a touching tribute on the part of the kingdom’s capital, but 2016 is starting to wear out its welcome and will have to really work in over-drive to make amends.  RIP

bandwidth and broomsticks

Archivists and students of modern history—which I think reinforces that strange feeling of being ungrounded, of something being just out of reach because it happened prior to the spread of the internet’s meticulous and totum pro parte record-keeping—are finding that the teletext pages, the subspace of the airwaves, were also encoded and can be teased out of VHS recordings.
This service, which reaches back to the early 1970s, was invented in the UK but has apparently been phased out entirely by most broadcasters but is still quite prominently featured and utilized on German stations, but the technology remains in place, as it’s the carrier-signal for closed-captions as well—as the notices, headlines, weather, score-cards, schedules, page after page (“magazines”) of programme descriptions and supplemental material provided have been supplanted by the advent of the World Wide Web—which the scheme rather previsioned and anticipated, at least in popularity and accessibility as formatting and compatibility issues tended towards compartmentalization. Recovering this ephemeral—even though parallel and complimentary to what’s on the television in most cases, I think it’s nonetheless a fascinating little snap-shot of the everyday and pushes back the wayback machine by at least sixteen years.

Monday, 18 January 2016


a fifth of beethoven: brilliant remixing, superposition of classical compositions

sprockets: the future of dance according to a 1960s West German Sci-Fi series

just happy little accidents: out-of-focus stars reveal their true colours

duzen, tutoyer: the revolution that relaxed Sweden’s forms of address

blueprints: Atlas Obscura tells the story of the first publication in the world to be illustrated with photographic plates, a book on the algae of Britian

kineoscopic: Colossal features the newest hypnotic installations by sculptor Anthony Howe

universal constant

At the risk of seeming totally and unapologetically loony, though that’s something everyone ought to hazard in the off-chance that someone else might be inspired by our addle-brained moments, I had a dream—which I struggled to recall more of—where H and I were taking a car ride and I either announced or silently deduced that the problem of the Cosmological Constant was like folding a map. It seemed terribly profound to me at time but the mysterious pronouncements of dreams usually do and usually are consigned to a deserving place in one’s mental junkyard. I was curious about the analogy as the “problem,” puzzle I think I was referring to does not even strike me, consciously, really as one of those honest ones that are deserving of worry and investigation:
the Cosmological Constant becomes problematic to scientists and theologians because it invokes the “best of all possible worlds” argument of German polymath Gottfried Leibniz (it’s strange than though calculus has become a rather feared and reviled subject best left to machines, both indepent discoverers are honoured with a snack named after them—Leibniz biscuits and Fig Newtons), that the fundamental values of the Universe are finely-tuned to host intelligent life as we know it. The ratios and numbers as we’ve figured them, though we don’t fully understand how they’re related to one another or what’s a prime notation and what’s derivative, had to have been exactly as they are and even the slightest change would mean that the Universe could not have come into being in any recognisable or sustaining form. While I think it’s equally as wrong to ignore one’s biases as it would be to not be in awe of that sort of coincidence, it does not seem to me to be a very big conundrum since we are the ones here, taking the measurements, but maybe it does figure large to my unconscious, seeing as I had that random dream—and it’s related to the Fermi Paradox. Though if there ever was a connection to begin with, I’ve lost the meaning of my analogy. Even though there’s apparently more than one right way to fold a map (which I’ve always found challenging), the solution is something that can be solved with algorithms, no matter how big the map—which might be significant in itself. I don’t know whether this will prove inspiring or not, but I think we should not be afraid to put our baffling dreams out there.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

unaided eye

Though just able to reach to the threshold of the microscopic and with magnification strength more akin to a jewellers’ loupe, we’ve been having fun investigating the details of the liminal world and preparing specimen with our plug-and-play laboratory.
 It was by observing a shaving of cork that Robert Hooke first coined the term “cell” for the basic biological unit, likened to the private retreat and workshop of monastic cells—though we probably couldn’t make that leap at this resolution and with a wine cork. It’s interesting, nonetheless, what details show themselves—secrets of manufacture—like in the security features of a Euro bill.
I wonder what those micro-printed golden rings indicate off the Sicilian coast and in the Adriatic. What use could those perforated dots on the cuff serve in paper napkin making? Are they a thinble for us to get a purchase or for the presses that sort them?  We’ll see what other invisible secrets we can discover.

stp oder iso 1

It’s grown a bit colder over the last few days, more in keeping with the season, but I am fearful for the batch of earlier-adopters (bunnies and bulbs) that took the mild Winter as a cue that Spring had sprung. In Germany, accompanied by the rest of the world with the exception of America and perhaps Liberia and Myanmar, degrees (Grad) of temperature are of course registered in Celsius.
H informed me that the difference, though one might not often hear this in everyday speech, is expressed in degrees Kelvin. H was not sure about the reason and researching, I could not figure it out. Photo editing software—when referring to colour temperature use this parlance as well. A degree on the Celsius scale and one the Kelvin scale is of the same magnitude, and I wondered if there wasn’t some level of greater technical accuracy in putting it this way: Congratulations—you’ve lost two whole newtons! I think that formula would only work for someone being pushed off a ledge. Although Kelvins following the centigrade values (with 0° being the freezing point of water and 100ยบ being the boiling), polymath Lord Kelvin, studying the laws of thermodynamics and the relations among temperature as understood at the time, pressure and volume, ingeniously realised that an ideal gas as temperature decreased would eventually shrink to a volume of zero and all molecular motion would stop. Later, this was reckoned to be -273° C, and presented a very useful tool, though no ideal gases exist. Fahrenheit might get a lot of bashing for not being as scientifically rigorous, but zero on that scale is the freezing point of brine, salt-water—which while not absolute zero, I suppose for all practical purposes might seem so. Does anyone know why in German, the gain or loss is said with Kelvins? I’d like to know.

borealis or miner forty-niner

One of the latest entries on BLDGBlog covers a fascinating and mysterious phenomena made visible by aerial surveying in the form of boreal rings of lighter pigmented, less thriving foliage that occur in the thousands throughout the forest landscape of Ontario.
Unlike crop-circles and similar occurrences that have either very mundane or other-worldly explanations, researchers are discovering a surprising and wholly unexpected account where ancient glaciation has pockmarked the woodlands with electromagnetic fields and the entire area is like a subtle circuit board. I just how that this exploration stays a geological and botanical one, rather than a tool for prospectors, though I suppose the latter could inform the former too.

applestand or given and received

I’ve really been enthralled lately with the discovery of a well researched and executed educational podcast series called Medieval Death Trip, which explores medieval chronicles and other texts more in depth than the usual footnoted references that they receive and the bidden commentary that they entail. Voraciously, I’ve been working though the extensive archive of episodes and am finding it a welcome change that a different light is cast on the Dark Ages, ethnographically speaking, rather than the usual cloistered and superstitious pall that’s afforded that epoch of history. As telling as linguistic developments and throw-backs are, one of the more illuminating points that revealed itself was in the urgency with which the need for family names came about.
Of course there was the administrate embargo of record-keeping in the form of the Domesday books that followed the Norman conquest of England for the assizers, but there was also a strong cultural emulation to give one’s offspring that patent of their usurpers, just like in the diglossic dissonance between the vernacular Old English—seen as backwards—and the courtly French. Quicker than ancient parlance fell away, giving one’s children Celtic and Nordic names went out of fashion. As few are called Cletus or Bethany any longer, within a single generation parents found it uncouth to draw on their heritage and no longer named their ร†รฐelรพryรฐ, Ealdgyth, ร†lfwine or ร†lfgifu (respectively, friend or gift of the elves)—though Alfred (advised by elves) and Edgar (prosperous spear, rich prick) have survived. Old English and modern France, taken as an amalgam, have an embarrassment of names to choose from, but the Normans, though themselves of Scandinavian mercenary roots, only had a few: namely, Guillaume (reconquered as William) and Matilda (wife of said conqueror)—plus a few other crossovers, like Richard, Roger, Guy and Gilbert, which were not nearly as popular on the rankings of baby names in 1086. The potential for confusion was apparent soon enough, with brothers and sisters within the same nuclear family having to wonder who was being summoned. It sounds like a proverb, like how the camel got its hump or the Tower of Babel, to remove surnames from patronymic and codified reason, but it struck me as true and curious nonetheless. Incidentally, the name of the podcast refers to “Wisconsin Death Trip,” a thesis paper (adapted into a book and then as film) presented in a series of episodic newspaper clippings revelatory of the hardships of living in the US Midwest around latter decades of the 1800s.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

someday my prince will come

Though this rather pandering structure, implying to some at least that the station for a woman is barefoot and pregnant (though those seem to be generally Western voices and we don’t know the attitudes of the local throngs that have come to preview it), is touted as a church, this blue glass slipper pavilion is more of a wedding chapel.
Maybe not a shotgun, Las Vegas-type affair exactly, since the target patrons surely have had to have done some planning, dreaming, this well-healed edifice in Taiwan, meant as a draw for eligible females is not exactly inspired from a Cinderella type story, at least not a sanitised version. According to local lore, a bride-to-be in the 1960s was stricken with some terrible condition called “blackfoot disease,” which comes from drinking water with too much arsenic and causing subsequent clotting in the feet. Tragically, this suffered had to have both of her feet amputated, never married and spent the rest of her life in a convent. Considering that the incidences peaked around that time and was afterwards nearly eliminated due to better water treatment, the tragic bride may be an imagined heroine that stands for all that suffered. It does not seem so romantic but also maybe a little less patronising as well. Already attracting attention, the chapel is set to open on the Lunar New Year.

Friday, 15 January 2016

studio cards

Through the daisy-chains that bind us, I was astounded to find this superbly fun and classy curated gallery of vintage film animations in a blog called Nitrate Diva. Lovingly maintained and with a vast archive that spans from the Silent Era through the 1960s, I found it to be too remarkable not to share. Of course, these pictures have a separate, fossilized mythos of their own, but finding these clippings moving under their own power opens up a whole new strata of arresting scenes. One won’t regret the visit.


quinceaรฑera: Wikipedia celebrates its fifteenth anniversary

you sank my lanthanide series: a parent has developed a period table of Battleship to teach chemistry

independent order of odd fellows: a look at the iconography of the secret societies of America, via the Everlasting Blort

that’s a bad boy: a Roman mosaic unearthed in Alexandria reveals that pet-shaming has been a phenomenon since ancient times

yosemite sam: accommodations and attractions of the US national park compelled to re-flag because of an unscrupulous naming-rights dispute

powwww: a studious and hilarious collection of expository BAT LABELS from the original Batman series

Thursday, 14 January 2016


One tool the storyteller has in his or her quiver of tropes to perhaps fend off a fading suspension of disbelief—when the audience is no longer transported into that fiction or fantasy and is growing unwilling to buy what’s improbable (the most treacherous area for an author or actor is delineated by the inconsistency in which the impossible drifts towards the merely unlikely)—is called the lampshade hanging technique. Accorded with the principle that anything is less glaring than a bare bulb, the narrator calls attention to the offending material and tries to move on—hoping that the audience identifies enough with the characters to accept that everyone is finding the situation incredulous.

If used craftily, one won’t notice it—naturally. The antithesis of deliberately calling out minor discrepancies is a more of an endemic problem to the industry (I don’t think that such a trope could be found in literature prior to film and television—except as primary transgressions, possibly) is a strange phenomenon called “genre blindness,” which is something pervasive and highly visible. Though I am not certain if much of modern theatrics are set in a Universe slightly parallel to our own, characters sometimes do seem separated and sheltered enough never to have seen a movie or a sitcom themselves. This plot device, which can present pretty monumental challenges maintaining that suspension of disbelief, accounts for all those instances where teens don’t blanch at the idea of wondering into the woods at night when zombies and werewolves are afoot, undying scepticism in the face of near irrefutable evidence to the contrary, Bond villains willing to indulge a creative death for their nemesis rather than dispense with him quickly and directly or—as some have wondered—whether the characters of the Star Wars saga were even paying attention to the previous episodes or never bullseyed womprats back home—they’re not much bigger than two metres. What are some other examples of “genre blindness” you can think of?

dance, magic dance

I was delighted to be informed that prior to her career as Medical Officer for the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise, Cheryl “Gates” McFadden (Doctor Beverly Crusher) played a pivotal, creative backstage role in many Jim Henson productions as dance choreographer and puppet director.
She helped compose the musical numbers for Labyrinth, as well as wrangling the skeksis for Dark Crystal and puppeteer in several muppet capers. Dr. Crusher presently has an active teaching career and has hosted several acting workshops. Finding this out was nearly as serendipitous as the time, a long time ago, when we went to the lost luggage outlet in rural Alabama and finding that gatekeeper Hoggle rather sadly went unclaimed or was left at the wrong terminal with no welcoming party. Since more people have discovered this oubliette, the goblin I think has become a mascot for that proverbial spot where all orphaned socks and other things gone missing end up.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

bonhomie oder in a word

The German Sprachraum Unwort of the Year has been announced, and among many other nominees vying for top spot, and it is Gutmensch—having already been accorded second place in 2011 and in common-parlance for far longer. Politically- and journalistically-speaking, it’s sort of a catty, backhanded tactile term, coded word for a group (Gutmenschtum) that counters counter-thinking.

Someone described as such maybe touting the rhetoric of popular opinion—what’s politically-correct (Politische Korrektheit)—but in doing so betray a moralising naivety. Though the term evokes the idea of the Good German or the Good Soldier ล vejk and is ultimately of Yiddish origin for an unpretentious person—ein gutt Mensch (itself having a very dicey provenance, cited in Mein Kampf as a do-gooder mentality that was a liability), opposing sides of especially divisive issues can parlay this characterisation as their antagoniser’s goon squad or deputised useful idiots. It’s strange how such loaded words can be used to cloak innocence and arrogance, but all rests in the context. What do you think? Is this selection inviting too much controversy, something as subversive as the un-word itself, especially considering on-going developments—or is political-correctness something deserving of assault?

Tuesday, 12 January 2016


now hist. and rare: the OED’s rather murderous beginnings and criminal contributors

memory & function (& memory): Scarfolk, the English town forever doomed to repeat the decade of the 1970s, is coming to the air-waves

stranger danger: get cyber safe

life-long learning: adult Norwegian teaches herself to play the violin and documents her amazing improvement

presto the magician: an analysis and appreciation of the Saturday morning cartoon Dungeons & Dragons

nengajo: beautiful collection of Japanese greeting cards for the Lunar New Year, via Everlasting Blort