Friday, 30 September 2016

hiermit hermit

Previously, thanks to Futility Closet’s excellent podcast, we learned of the curious eighteenth century custom among the landed gentry and hopeless romantics of England of employing individuals as professional hermits to lend their estates certain airs, but I never before made the connection that the caretaker of a hermitage is also a hermit, until informed that a divorced, former police officer will be taking up solitary residence at the bottom of Verena Gorge. According to tradition, the venerated saint that the Swiss valley is named after passed through the area, having traveled from Egypt. A contemplative theologian in retirement, the new hermit won’t be able to abandon his manners and social graces altogether, however, as quite a few hikers come through, and in fact the last incumbent resigned her commission over the amount of tourists.

Thursday, 29 September 2016


utopia planitia: Elon Musk’s seven year plan for colonising Mars

working-title: David Lynch was once considered as director for Return of the Jedi, originally called Revenge of the Jedi

sepia: amazing true colour slides of America in the 1930s and 1940s

dangerous minds: trading cards of thoughtful and revolutionary intellectuals

forced perspective: one dedicated individual’s mission to document vanishing ghost train ride attractions

pen pineapple apple pen: a bizarre but catchy musical performance by singer-songwriter Pico Taro


Via the always entertaining Everlasting Blört comes a gallery of early contenders for the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, a competition celebrating the amazing diversity and overwhelming silliness of the animal kingdom. Begun just last year and hailed with much fanfare, the competition also benefits the Born Free Foundation, which works to keep wildlife in the wilds. The 1 October deadline for entrants is fast approaching for those shutter-bugs out there.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

freedom of disinformation act

The inquiring and persistent Matt Novak, writing for Gizmodo’s Paleofuture, brings us the Cold War curiosity called the United States Information Agency, superseded by the State Department’s Broadcasting Board of Governors, whose media and divisions were charged with the mission advocating US policies and values abroad—in other words, propaganda or counter-propaganda.
Perhaps the most memorable public-relations campaigns that the organisation ran is the still extant Voice of America radio service (although a 1976 act mandated that the content be fair and balanced and news-casters had to get a little more creative with their message amid human-interest allegories) and a series of spaghetti-Westerns produced covertly and at astronomical expense called Project Pedro meant to make the neutral, rather laissez-faire government of Mexico to take a stance against Communist ideologies infiltrating Latin America, but by way of introductions for the doctrinaire and indoctrinating USIA, there was also a fictitious by-line (nom de plume, nom de guerre), a prolific polyglot economist Guy Sims Fitch, that was a catchment for pro-American monetary policy and distributed to news outlets all over the globe, usually as cheerful op-ed pieces in praise of the wages of capitalism (maybe such shill articles today might be in praise of TTIP and the like)—except in domestic papers, that is. Novak’s FOIA filing to retrieve some information on those writers and editors that wrote under this pseudonym was foiled owing to a technicality that the successor intelligence agencies cite for secret identities, since there’s no way for government to confirm or deny the consent of anonymous, unidentified authors to having their private writing given public attribution.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

neighbourliness or service interventions

Courtesy of Kottke’s Quick Links, I am pouring over this list of one hundred and one small civil- and civic-engineering hacks that one could apply to any community to improve it. Just a few select ideas that could be pitched to municipal-councils or could shame city governments into action:

66. Turn snow piles into sidewalk ice bars
79. Host a movie out-of-doors
98. Map your public produce—stray fruits and vegetables that go unharvested
13. Guerrilla gardening revolution
71. Become a tour guide and showcase your neighbourhood

What do you think? Was there one idea (or a hatful) that resonated with you that you will try? Surely all of us can try a little urban exploration, at minimum.

wintertuin ou hôtel particulier

Thanks to Messy Nessy Chic for piquing my curiosity with this divinely art nouveau glimpse of the Hôtel Hannon in Brussels, a Hôtel Particulier being a grand, detached townhouse in French. A wealth and successful petro-chemical engineer named Édouard Hannon in 1902 commissioned an architect friend to design him a home in the city. The house was transformed into a showcase for some of the finest art of the period, with fine frescos and mosaics, stained-glass from the Tiffany tradition and Émile Gallé, who contributed lamps, vases and other bric-a-brac. Tragically, the family only were able to reside there a couple of years and the mansion was left to decay, until having purchased the property, the borough opened house as a museum in 1989 after extensive restoration.

industrial arts

Back in 1935 surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp plied his craft in a purely commercial venture at the gadget fair Concours Lépine in Paris—a sort of invention-convention for debuting new household appliances—with his Rotoreliefs.
These kinetic works of art designed to rotate on a turntable and propagate optical illusions unfortunately missed the target audience at the fair, who were naturally more interested in the latest slicers and dicers than record albums that didn’t have any audio content. Duchamp was not disheartened by this entrepreneurial set-back and continued honing his trade in collaboration with other artists. Be sure to check out the whole curated article at Hyperallergic for more Rotoreliefs in action and short film Duchamp made with fellow surrealist Man Ray.

Monday, 26 September 2016


Robert Coleman Elementary of Baltimore, Maryland has replaced traditional discipline measures with after school meditative sessions. In the two years that this programme has been piloted in partnership with a local holistic healing centre, no students have been suspended or expelled, though one might venture that attendance at detention has grown.


Talented and prolific insect and arthropod photographer Nicky Bay shares a gallery of the unlikely Mirror Spider, native to the Australian continent. The lustery patches that cover their abdomens owe their character to the same biological compound that gives fish scales their shine, and as Bay documents, can grow or shrink in size or shift position to give the spider more camouflage, nearly disappearing behind the reflective surface entirely.  Discover more of his amazing work at the link above.

to autumn

Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer have o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinéd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

What are the songs of Spring? Aye, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy Music too—
While barréd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

~ John Keats, 1819

crucible or lacrymæ batavicæ

When one drips molten glass into a vessel of water, a little tadpole glass droplet forms that has some amazing physical properties. The bead can withstand blows from a hammer but if the tail is snipped, the whole droplet violently explodes. Previously known as Dutch tears (the Latin name above), there was a paucity of scientific investigation until they were reproduced and experimented on in the ducal court of Mecklenburg.
Prince Rupert gave British King Charles II an exciting demonstration and Prince Rupert Drops as they became known in England (called Bologneser Träne auf Deutsche—Baloney tears, however, owing to the reputation of the Italians as glassmakers) were taken up by the Royal Society for further studies in the mid seventeenth century. Though mostly taken up as a party-favour or a parlour-trick, volcanologists found the laboratory trials valuable as the drops approximated the pyroclastic forces found in eruptions and lava-flows, as did polymath Robert Hooke, whose puzzlement over the store of potential energy led to the development of the idea of elasticity, strain and compression and a scientific, predictable toolkit for ever more intricate mechanisms.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

mare incognitum

Beforehand I had heard of how map-makers have historically staved-off others appropriating and copying their survey work by inserting made-up avenues (trap-streets) or frivolous features, knowing that if these decoys were present, their competitors were simply stealing from them.
I never knew that this geographic bait was sometimes preserved with intention and out of a sense of tribute and tradition, as was the case with Hy-Bra∫il (named after the home of the ancestors of one of Ireland’s legendary clans), a phantom island that drifted on charts between Ireland and North America over the course of nearly five centuries. Other spurious islands usually only survived one or two iterations of mapping, the false information quickly dispelled, but Hy-Bra∫il remained from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century in some form or another.  With Atlantis lost, perhaps in this Age of Exploration, navigators needed some immaterial goal to sustain them on their journeys—something elusive, which supposedly only emerged from the mists once every seven years and even when visible for that one fateful day, was forever just beyond the horizon. Maybe the Bermuda Triangle is heir to that tradition.

but brawndo’s got what plants crave—it’s got electrolytes

Via the always brilliant Kottke, we learn that there will be in the US nation-wide screenings of the sadly prescient film Idiocracy from director Mike Judge on 4 October—to mark the movie’s tenth anniversary. Would you go to a show or is it hitting a little too close to home?

Saturday, 24 September 2016

coop and coup

Amazingly, pigeons can be taught to read or at least spell-check, an extensive study conducted in Ruhr-University Bochum has concluded.
Building off of the autoshaping, conditioned behaviour developed by psychologist BF Skinner (which incidentally was used to pilot the first smart-bombs), researchers found the best and brightest and had them begin learning to differentiate words and pick out phoney words inserted into otherwise orthographically correct blocks of text. While they may not understand written language, they seem just as adapt as other animals whose ability and intellect is held in higher esteem and seem to pick up new vocabulary (and even conjugation and plural forms) with ease. Maybe we’d ought to look out for eavesdropping pigeons reading over our shoulders as well. They’d probably be just as quick and accurate at texting too.

i keep my visions to myself

We really enjoyed this instructive duet courtesy of The Neurocritic from Elon Musk and Stevie Nicks explaining the concept of Neural Lace. Not one of Ms Nicks’ famous shawls, rather this material is a mesh that would allow human brains to interface symbiotically with artificial intelligence and enrich both systems. The fabric that is being developed by chemists and nanotechnologists is supple (and subtle) enough to be an injectable form of electronic enhancement—the stuff of cyborgs.

a murder is announced

In commemoration of the centenary of her work and the fortieth anniversary of the great crime novelist’s death, the British postal service will be issuing a set of stamps from Studio Sutherl& and artist Neil Webb that contain embedded clues (hidden lenticular and microprinting and heat-sensitive ink) to solve Agatha Christie’s mysteries. The artwork is unique but reminds me a little of macabre styling of Edward Gorey, especially his opening animated sequence to the PBS Mystery-hour. 

Friday, 23 September 2016

pavilion or point-of-sale

Though planners pared down the aspirations for Epcot from an actual, functioning city of the future (the utopian Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) down to a theme park with futuristic attractions.
Before the Epcot was demoted to a sort of permanent World’s Fair with any kind of opening delayed until 1982, RCA pitched ideas to Disney on how it would support the city’s infrastructure to make what went on behind the scenes as authentic and state-of-the-art as what it seemed on the surface. Revolutionary for the late 1960s, proposals included the use of debit cards almost exclusively and eschewing cash. Even more interesting was how the notion of electronic money back then already connoted eroding privacy, since the money trail was anything but anonymous and carried a permanence. Around this time, at the height of the Cold War, a Georgetown think-tank, tasked to devise the most insidious yet invisible and voluntary state surveillance were they working for enemy, dreamed up a convenient system for the KGB that essentially mirrors our current network of automated teller machines and cashless registers.

vox humana

As Nag on the Lake informs, a team of researchers in Italy have reconstructed the voice-box, wind-pipe and vocal-cords of the frozen caveman Ötzi, discovered in the Italian-Austrian Alps a quarter of a century hence (this week in 1991 by a pair of German hikers) and subjected to a battery of probing and prodding over the years—and found that, unlike Neanderthals, who were determined by a similar imaging process to be possessed of rather silly falsetto voices, our Iceman had a gravelly, masculine way of speaking. The voce umana is a resonator on a pipe organ so called because of its resemblance to the human voice.

rosencrantz and guildenstern

As a means of avoiding some of the most odious security-theatre of airline passengers, a Danish company is field-testing a smart cart of sort, a baggage trolley that takes the screening process to the queue for much greater efficiency and far less waiting time. Too bad Hamlet’s ill-fated couriers did not heed the advice of airport-security and pack their own luggage—or at least not accept a sealed missive without knowing the incriminating contents. What do you think? Could this device alleviate some of the dread the flying public faces at the airport? Be sure to check out the link above for a video demonstration of this prototype. [Hides behind an arras]

Thursday, 22 September 2016

jupiter ii

Considering the train of exciting news from space, from gravitational waves to tantalising close planetary systems and much in between, the announcement that potentially revolutionary findings about the Jovian, Galilean satellite Europa will be released after the weekend is certainly something to anticipate. Astronomers have long speculated that beneath the icy crust of the planet sloshes a salty, global sea that could harbour alien life.
Perhaps the press-release will confirm the watery substrate or confirm that the outer crust is thick enough to protect supposed oceans from the harshness of space and radiation from Jupiter and thus more conducive to the development of life. Perhaps space agencies could deliver a surprise that surpasses whatever has been previously vetted. Thoughtfully, ESA (the European Space Agency) has been considerate enough to build a containment facility in case we do come back with potential contaminates (EURO-CARES it’s called). Considering how delicate our ecology is—especially from the perspective of an outsider looking at our vulnerable planet protected by only a few diffuse kilometres of gas that living things generate—I hope that regardless of the discovery that we aren’t ham-fisted about our further exploration.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016


The ever alluring Messy Nessy Chic has an engrossing vignette of the 1937 World Expo, hosted in a Parisian venue, which is striking as a moderator between the inchoate belligerents of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. Aside from the antagonistic pavilions, there’s plenty of other showcases to see, plus considering the motives of the creators and apolitical drives of the respective architects behind these temporary installations that makes them take on a strange permanence.

autobots, roll!

An Ankara-based research and development firm has created a range of prototype and fully operational Transformer vehicles. These BMW cars can be driven just like any car but also can take a robotic form and is fully articulated. Maybe these warriors are not quite ready for a pitched-battle but the team behind these custom Decepticons are working fervently to add more features.


Naturally, one associates the year-long blockade and subsequent airlift (Luftbrücke) in the immediate aftermath of World War II with Berlin and the Tempelhof airfield of the American Sector, and while there were serious geopolitical intrigues involved, including the Western powers propping up of the new Deutsche Mark (to make sure that a recovering West Germany was not able to completely renege on its debts, in part) that led the Soviets’ attempt to isolate West Berlin and starve the exclave into submission, in my mind it remains as a goodwill mission and those flights had to have originated from somewhere.
Two hundred thousand flights from the from the summer of 1948 until the following June formed a bucket-brigade that continuously brought food and supplies to the divided city—and I’ve never been able to quite reconcile that popular image (nothing trivial, no, but also not the stuff of a hot war either) of the airlift with the rather grim fact that all the streets on the military installation (recently named in honour of the general and deputy military governor of Germany who orchestrated the so-called Operation Vittles) are in turn named after service members who died during the operation, a moving tribute and considering the scope and complexity of the continuous runs, it is surprising how few casualties there were. Command and control for the entire mission—which was distributed over three air-corridors, in British occupied Lübeck and Celle as well as the main thrust coming from Rhein-Main airbase and Wiesbaden’s airfield—was headquartered in a townhouse at the head of Taunusstraße just off the Kurpark and Casino of Wiesbaden, since converted to apartments and a florist shop. The Soviets tolerated the stream of flights, not wanting to be accused of stoking more conflict, and supposed that the British and Americans would eventually grow weary and either surrender West Berlin or concede to Soviet demands that they stay out of German economic policy. Though the contrast of humanitarian mission so embargoed with the victory of the Allied Forces (East and West) is nonetheless still a little jarring, it’s probably far more noble and civilised for preserving the peace—mutually—in the face of frustrations that could have just as easily descended into renewed violence.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

your hit-parade

There’s a very clever robotic oracle called Jukedeck that isn’t even coin-operated that will serve one up a signature tune, a jingle, a strain of incidental music that’s unique and to specifications for one to use forever however one sees fit.
From an algorithmic base, the artificial intelligence scores tunes of whatever mood or style instantly, and while presently (not as of yet as the program is still learning) none are arguably terribly catchy or timeless standards, they are fun to try on for size. I’m convinced it’s at least very good at muzak for the waiting room or holding the line and bombastic news intros. Give it a whirl and share what you get in return.


sprockets: historic, confrontational Nazi disc-jockey booth at a gramophone expo prompts a discussion on propaganda, via Messy Nessy Chic

populuxe: lone surviving prototype of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion kit home, via Nag on the Lake

the story of the hitchhiking bride: fraudulent “ghost drivers” vexing ride-hailers in China, via Super Punch

babel fish: in an on-going series of Icelandic monsters of the month, the Sögusteinn, the tale stone, a sort of egg that when inserted into the ear can answer all questions

curated: the New York’s Museum of Modern Art has made tens of thousands of images of their past exhibitions available on-line, via Kottke 


Via our ever-faithful surveyor Nag on the Lake, we find that some helpful soul has installed a telescopic mountain finder in the Swiss Alps. I’m sure in the midst of all that grandeur, it’s easy to misjudge distance or mistake one peak for another, but a peek through these angled tubes, labelled with the summit in your sights and the distance away, works like a sextant. Not all of us have the vocal skills to navigate, like the yodelers, with echo-location. Read more about the installation and find more fun stuff at the link above.

Monday, 19 September 2016

megabit, metabit

To my peril but also to my subsequent delight and emendation, my love-letters from Brain Pickings are usually dog-eared and set aside for reading that I always promise to get to at soon point, but that pile in my inbox is seething and threatens an avalanche. Happily, I was able to return to an intriguing sounding review of the life and times of a young mathematician who’s pioneering work in circuitry demonstrated that all logical operations could be reckoned by switches and relays and the just invented transistor, leading Claude Shannon to quickly and intuitively conclude that all information in the wilds—its natural habitat could be corralled and tamed, with data emerging as information thanks to the transfiguring exchange between the observer and the observed.

Corresponding with contemporaries that included Alan Turing and Vannevar Bush, Shannon was able to appropriate rather vague and generic terms, as had Isaac Newton in his mission to redefine physics in a disciplined and predictive manner, and furnish the world with Information Theory complete with a grammar that’s intelligible to both the mediator and the immediate. The bit is a metric, a measure of state (coined by Shannon as a portmanteau of binary digit) conveying either true or false, yes or no, but scalable out to any degree and precipitated the limning of communication and experience into a digital analogue that is accessible and exploitable by computer systems. Although we think of programmes as limited to the confines of simple logic, Information Theory also provides brute computing somewhat of a reprieve, showing that rather unique data-sets that encode unique and familiar data can be elided over, somewhat like the End-User Agreements that computers ply us with as instructive (although mathematical in nature, it is pretty human to skim), aiding in speed and compression. Moreover, as apparently as discreet and incompatible as Nature chooses to impart information, there is always a measurable threshold that computers can harness, from bar-codes and magnetic-strips to more custom parameters.

Sunday, 18 September 2016


A week ahead of the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the State of Hessen—the first German constituency at that level to be formally reconstituted after World War II as the chief staging-grounds of the American-occupied sector—I was able to arrange (or rather happened upon) a tour of the formal ducal residence that hosts the state parliament (Hessischer Landtag), just removed from the Rathaus and main market square of Wiesbaden, the capital.

Click on any image to enlarge it.
The city will commemorate the occasion by opening all of its ministries on 24 September to the public but it was a privilege to have a guided tour that rather tidily tied together the idea of accessibility, image and engagement on the part of the represented. The entrance, facing the people’s Rathaus, is very much in keeping with the Baroque style of the city’s other royal structures—and was the duke’s (later created grand duke of Nassau-Orange) winter-quarters, the summer palace being a few kilometres down a grand avenue on the bank of the Rhein in Schloss Biebrich.
Just off the central stairwell (Treppenhaus), there was a greenhouse of sorts whose walls were still decorated with a lush jungle motif—distinct from the icy snow-flake theme that subtly adorned the rest of the palace in the ceilings and in the parquet of the floors (I am thinking that people were just beginning to study wintery precipitation under the loop) that once held exotic plants. Now the space only held busts of past Hessian minister-presidents, but having been elevated, the grand-duke took up new addresses and his botanical collection went to Frankfurt am Main to seed the area that’s now known as the Palmengarten.
Another legacy of the royal family was the unexpected premature death of the Duchess Katharina, his Russian wife, caused the grieving Duke to build the Orthodox chapel on the Neroberg as tribute (more on this place to come). This routine of upstairs and downstairs and quite a few of strategically-placed mirrors were designed to make this rather modestly-sized castle appear as large as other great houses in Europe for visiting dignitaries, and we were participants in another carefully arranged diplomatic nudge by being invited, unusually for any historic tour, to sit on the furniture.

In these representational chambers, the love-seats (so called Causeusen) were angled to make opponents to face each other askance and so more relaxed—other sofas had extra wings for advisors. I felt out of my class as a political boffin as others in the group recognised the dance-hall and balconies as places or receiving honours and momentous addresses.
The great hall hosted the first sessions of the state parliament in 1946 and marked the point of transition into the modern addition, refurbished in 2008 in order to make the work of government more transparent and rather a fish-bowl with passers-by able to catch a glimpse or more of the proceedings with windows ringing the gallery of the plenary chamber. The ceiling and seating layout reminded me of the convention held at the Paulus Kirche of Frankfurt (see link above) held in Frankfurt that established the Weimar Republic. I wonder what more insider-secrets await with the open-house event next week.

Friday, 16 September 2016

form follows function

Via The Awesomer, we are given an interesting and exciting primer to the potential of metamaterials being explored in the Human-Computer Interaction Labs of the Hasso-Plattner-Institute in Potsdam—really a well-equipped sandbox studio that lets engineers play with advanced three-dimensional printers.
The internal lattice of these structures defines their mechanical properties, rather than their outer shape and composition, and thanks to careful craftsmanship, the input of a poke or a pinch can be translated to any desired output (something tunable) without the intermediary components of latch, bolt, keys, tumblers, hook or crook. Complex machines could potential come no assembly-required as their function is built into their cells and a bit of pressure and release drives the apparatus.

code of conduct

Pounced on by the marvelous Nag on the Lake, we are treated to another gala museum exhibition by our guides at Hyperallergic, this time of New York City’s mass-transit manners mascot of the 1960s, Etti-Cat. Posters by Jo Mary McCormick-Sakurai that regaled subway cars with this proto-meme admonished commuters to act their act age ~ please ~ and to be courteous to their fellow-travelers, surrendering seats to the elderly, stepping lively and refraining from littering and vandalism. This campaign did succeed in making people behave with more civility to one another and made the trip a bit more pleasant.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

cabin in the woods

Apparently just in time for Halloween, a developers are hoping to release an augmented reality game to bring monsters into one’s own homes—for those among who aren’t already enough challenged by playing life on hard-mode.
The platform will take full advantage of the surveillance powers of our smart phones to accurately plot the layout of one’s home (assuming that many of us reside in places that must be mapped out, like the Overlook Hotel) and will monitor players’ heart rates and galvanic responses to gauge how frightened they are as they are running for their lives. What do you think about that? It won’t be like those whodunnit dinner theatres I suspect and I don’t imagine well catch a reprieve. Who is needing to invite more ghouls and demons into their lives?  Announcing it so early, is this holiday-creep as well as holiday-spillage?

finally republicans are worrying about women's health


Via Kottke comes a comprehensive exposé by the New York Times shows how the sugar lobby bribed researchers to shift the blame of coronary disease and all the other ill-effects (real and reputed, since the findings and received-wisdom is perhaps not to be trusted) that the substance can cause to saturated-fats and other culprits.
Though we’d like to think, nearly five decades on, that as consumers and political animals we are justifiably accomplished in spotting misdirection and skeptical of the pronouncements of experts, a little nudge has great ripples and derails agency and choice as much as the discussion. We are responsible for our health and well-being, without a doubt, but plying sugar-coated inquiries have created such a dearth of selections that it’s been made nearly impossible to make informed decisions. What do you think? It’s hard to hold such behaviour to account, no matter how unconscionable it is. Even if you chose to go beyond from scratch and grow your own food from seed (if you can find a supply not tainted by a vertical monopoly), you’d be even harder pressed to find a plot of land not systemically polluted or otherwise compromised by contamination.

industrial light and magic

A few months ago, the studio behind the Star Wars franchise and ArtStation solicited the talents of some of the best concept artists in the industry, asking them to reimagine iconic scenes from the saga. Because it was a competition, technically there ought to be front-runners, but all the submissions deserve honourable-mentions. Check out the whole gallery at the link up top.

omega man

Most address with confidence the premise of the coming technological Singularity and the underlying notion that artificial intelligence will surpass human ability and escalate quickly surpassing human comprehension, and while the reality now seems tantalisingly close the concept was minted by Hungarian-American mathematician and futurist John von Neumann back in 1958.
Maybe it seemed just around the corner back then, as well. Singularity, fraught with its promise and apprehension, probably owes it coinage to a contemporary and complementary theological concept, developed and elaborated in 1955 by controversial Jesuit priest and paleontologist (discoverer of Peking Man) Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, called Point Oméga. The idea of the Omega Point (in English) premises that all sentient beings in the Cosmos are constantly evolving towards a higher social consciousness, which is ultimately indistinguishable from and one with the divine. Later writers championing Chardin’s concept believed it was something to strive for but would never be achieved—perhaps as detractors of the technological Singularity have put forward. I wonder if a spiritual singularity could be heralded by having created something that transcends what we as creators understand.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

beyond the uncanny valley of the dolls

The eerily realistic school girl called Saya is the creation of design duo Teruyuki and Yuki Ishikawa, and although fully virtual and computer-generated does seem to cross over from the uncanny and surpasses hyper-realism to something indistinguishable from an authentic human being. I wonder what that achievement might mean in terms of the Turing test for this level of human-machine interface and whether we want to be comfortable with that. What do you think? Should artificial beings be made to wear some emblem or badge to mark them as such, like the hologram Rimmer on Red Dwarf who was marked with an H on his forehead?

peer-review oder lügensteine

There was something vaguely familiar among this list of the most infamous scientific hoaxes that prescribe a preventative dose of healthy skepticism that the Presurfer shared. One of the pranks was perpetrated in my old town of Würzburg, just around the corner, at the prestigious university, where among other things, x-rays were discovered, probably began innocently enough but soon became a ruinous scandal.
Rock-hound, early fossil-prospector (though there were collections, at the time in 1725, people didn’t understand how fossils were formed and preserved) and dean of the School of Medicine Johann Bartholomeus Adam Beringer was known to hunt for specimens in the vineyards of Eibelstadt on the outskirts of the city, and some of the professor’s colleagues thought it would be a hoot if they planted some stones there for their cantankerous and rather arrogant co-worker to find. They etched into pieces of limestone impressions of bugs and frogs, which Beringer theorised were either fossils from before the Great Flood or were the artifice of prehistoric tribes. On later expeditions, Beringer also found fragments that bore the name of God in Hebrew characters, and with the evidence of the Tetragrammaton, Beringer decided that these could be no human artefacts but rather “capricious fabrications of God Himself.” Beringer commissioned a lithographer and began publishing volumes of his amazing findings. Even though disliked by the university staff, the hoaxers realised that they had gone too far and admitted to the fraud, discrediting not only Beringer academically but all involved as well. Some of Beringer’s so called Lügensteine (lying stones) are on display at the regional museum housed in Fortress Marienberg, and perhaps that’s where I was introduced to these eighteenth century pranksters.  Be sure to check out the link up top for more scandalous episodes of deception and duping.

dark dorkingtons

There were quite a few hen-fanciers during the Victorian Era, producing quite a few distinctive show-breeds, popularised by the Queen herself having received a pair of exotic chickens from China. I first recall seeing these chicks with their hair did on Bibliodyssey’s former web-presence, since migrated to the socials but still a wonderous visual and literary archive worth the visit. The heights of the craze, hen-fever, were captured in the definitive volume “The Illustrated Book of Poultry” by Lewis Wright—first published in 1870 and periodically reissued over the next several decades. Check out the appreciation and gallery from Kottke at the link above to learn more and see who else is in the hen-house.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

overt and covert

Beginning with some lines of haiku lifted from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, Hyperallergic explores how the battery of diagnostic tests that psychologists use or purport to use (recalling that for the Rorschach ink blots and the like, there are no wrong answers—just crazy ones) taken out of the clinical-setting and context become accidental-art. I especially enjoyed the primer on the now discredited narrative-type or storytelling exams, like the Thematic Apperception Test or Make a Picture Story that operated on the principle that the subject’s motives and character would be revealed by his or her projections, since our veiled self-indictments must mean that we are repressed or vicarious ourselves.