Saturday, 30 April 2016

sachet

Though recently outlawed (in the sense that retail outlets won’t be giving them out freely any longer) this map that shows the dialectical breakdown of the French terms for plastic shopping bags, uncovered by Mental Floss’ Arika Okrent, is no less intriguing. The source website, Français de Nos Regions (en français) illustrates lingual variations by French-speaking regions for a host of everyday items, like the soda-coke-pop continuum in the States or the isogloss in German-speaking areas know as the Speyer or Apfel-Appel Line that separates High German from Low German.

Friday, 29 April 2016

foia, foil

Writing for Gizmodo, reporter Matt Novak delved into the jauntier halcyon salad-days of White House entertaining by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the George Bush Presidential Library to learn more about the exclusive screening of The Hunt for Red October, which was a strange mingling a fantasy and reality, where politicians met celebrities that played to their wildest dreams and idealisation of how they imagined they should be as swashing-buckling, crusading statesmen.
Much of the material from the gala fete in February of 1990 was delivered heavily redacted and the guest-list is still incomplete, but the presence of certain attendees (or their implied presence) for this sneak-preview makes one wonder how much creative-input America’s intelligence apparatchik had in the film-making. Although The Hunt for Red October—adapted from the 1984 novel—saw its premiere to general theatre audiences after the Berlin Wall fell and the Great Soviet was beginning to dissolve, production took place at a time firmly ensconced in Cold War noir—and notably the last in a long tradition that need not be nostalgic. I wonder if the apparent loss of a counter-balance—an enemy to fight, came as too much of a shock and put viewers all around (especially the influential and influenced individuals at this reception in the White House) in the mood to gear up for a new target. Not to worry as Desert Storm was on six months away, although it was fully another five years until the CIA owned up to having its own casting-couch in Hollywood.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

spock is not impressed with your handheld genetic sequencer

I am nonetheless with this achievement of miniaturisation that The Atlantic expertly presents first through the driver of much innovation, pushing our envelop out of necessity, positing how residents of the International Space Station could properly diagnose their ailments and turn to an effective treatment. Many have a weakness for antibiotics to remedy those bouts that masquerade in all those unremarkable symptoms that could be bacterial or viral.
Given the limits of the dispensary, it would be unwise to pursue the wrong plan, so enter the hand-held DNA sequencer dubbed MinION from Oxford Nanopore Technologies. Within the laboratory bulky and delicate, such a device had heretofore been impractical in orbit but could now provide vital information about how pathogens and contagious agents function in microgravity and in close-quarters. The article ponders then the perhaps apocryphal, the stuff of urban-legend, scanning might reveal whose dog is despoiling one’s garden or the walkers who fail to attend to their charges’ business properly might become a civic duty. Beyond forensics, the potential, however, for crowd-sourced research is beyond all bounds—equipped with tricorders, we become minions, legion, and like medicine men or witch-doctors examining our surroundings and finding unique organic compounds and novel interactions.

semantics, semiotics

Via Gizmodo comes a fascinating and rather unexpected insight into the way the brain processes and retains language, having created an intellectual atlas that plots how individual concepts, words exist in isolation and as a constellation by closely monitoring the crania of a test audience listening to an engaging story-hour.
The imaging reveals that words dwell in specific parts all over the brain—not confined to the left-hemisphere which is generally associated with communication—even betraying nuance and the different degrees of meaning and intent that words can convey. Following along with the transcript of the radio broadcast, researchers were able to pin-point the audience’s reactions to each line of exposition and learned that the homogenous listeners (all native English-speakers and presumably all sane) all have pretty much the same internal rainbows of syntax. I image those slight differences are even more intriguing. Neurologists believe that such maps, whose narrative was a challenge to capture beforehand, may facilitate the interface between mind and machine in the future and better understand cognitive maladies.

exterminate! exterminate!

Appearing like a cross between a Darlek and a matryoshka doll, the debut of China’s first crowd-control/anti-terrorism robot is garnering a lot of perhaps deserved ridicule on the internet.
I wonder, however, if the autonomous AnBot as it’s called might be deceptively non- threatening and dumpy looking to lull the mobs into a false sense of security, and once deployed a trio of cyborg ninjas tumble out of its hatch. The pepper-shakers from Doctor Who look harmless enough too but are a formidable foe, but if AnBot can be thwarted with uneven pavement or a dishevelled rug, then perhaps it should stick to vacuuming or join its American counterparts in issuing orders on the battlefield, as the Pentagon is pushing to enhance strategic planning with artificial-intelligence nudging human instinct.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

merkmal, mermail

The dried and liberally taxidermied carcass of a manta ray or a small shark, though pareidolia played a bigger role for these grotesque souvenirs than it did with the Fiji mermaid, carries the interesting name of Jenny Haniver.
Supposedly British marines first became acquainted with these nasty chimera when calling in Antwerp in the sixteenth century, where sailors had been crafting the keep-sakes for tourists for generations. The name stuck as a cockney-version of the French term jeune d’Anvers (the youth of Antwerp). People knew, for the most part, that this business was humbug but enjoyed letting their imaginations run wild, liking the idea of having a vanquished monster for their mantle. The antique mermaids (Meerjungfrauen) of Fiji probably themselves were the product of Japanese folklore and the legendary creature, the ningyo—which does share some correspondence with Western traditions, albeit that the ningyo was considered a delicacy that would impart great longevity to those who ate it.

golden thread

My Modern Met reports on the accidental technique that could make rugged batteries last hundreds of times longer by retaining the ability to hold a charge and not degrade so quickly, which I think has been a significant prompt for people to otherwise needlessly upgrade their quiver of gadgets.
The lithium-ion batteries that power most electronic devices are liable to wear out after a few hundred cycles due to the build-up of dendrites on the anode cell that eventually kills battery-life. Researchers have known about nanoscopic configurations for galvanic cells since at least 2007 and the potential to extend useful life exponentially (better charging-times as well), but outside of the laboratory (and a lot brilliant engineers are attacking the problem of optimal energy storage from all angles), the nanowires always proved too brittle for commercial use. Recently, a team lead at the University of California, Irvine discovered accidentally found out that slathering the delicate wires with gel made them more malleable without compromising capacity.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

supergau

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of massive meltdown of the experimental nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, which is being marked by remembrance and memorials in Ukraine. A host of other events occurred on this fateful date, as Doctor Caligari informs, including the first on screen appearance in 1956 of a radioactive monster called Godzilla for American audiences, and the 1937 carpet-bombing of a Spanish village that inspired Pablo Picasso to create Guernica. It is also national pretzel day in the US and Brot Tag in Germany.  Be sure to follow the Cabinet to stay abreast of history repeating.

big brother and the holding company

The always interesting TYWKIWDBI directs our attention and sadly abject resignation to this non-descript office building in Wilmington, Delaware that dwarfs other company registers—like Ugland House, as the source article from the Guardian reports, of Georgetown in the Cayman Islands.
Though only hosting a fraction of letterbox businesses, Ugland House was incredulously called “either the world’s largest building or the biggest tax-scam on record”—but as the official address of some three-hundred thousand companies, ranging from the portfolios of politicians (making for some strange mingling of assets) to the world’s richest and most powerful corporate entities, this little yellow building is a clear and unequivocal answer as to why no Americans were tripped up in the Panama Papers.  After all, why risk engaging an offshore tax-haven when there’s something far closer to home? More than a million firms (including the media outlet cited), foreign and domestic, have been lured by the state of Delaware’s business-friendly posture, opacity and low-tax burden, whose structure openly encourages companies to shift earnings from other jurisdictions, costing other states and countries untold billions in tax-revenues.  Obviously such loopholes like this inspire rage and indignation, but given its prevalence and the duplicity of custodians, is it any wonder that this sort of thing is happening and no one is willing to do a thing to stop it?

asia-minor or turkish delight

The middle of next month (16 May 2016) marks the centenary of the signing secret pact known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement that carved up the Middle East in an arbitrary fashion, drawing the modern borders of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Palestine. Covert negotiations went on for the previous five months, in anticipation of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by the Triple Entente, Britain, France and the assenting third party, Imperial Russia, but pivotal battles of the Great War were yet to be fought.
The outcome on the fields of Amiens, Ancre, Marne and Megiddo did not negatively diminish the apportioned claims of the UK for Jordan, Palestine and strategic points along the Mediterranean and for France, the Levant, represented by the eponymous ambassadors—however, Imperial Russia, who had been promised Constantinople, the straits of the Bosporus and Armenia (but consulted in matters as much as the Arabs or the Persians were) lost their territory due to the intervening destabilising of the Bolshevik Revolution that transpired in November of the following year. This forfeiture allowed the other powers to proceed with a second wave of colonialism and though the resulting architecture has fuelled overwhelming sectarian strife but did also engender a framework of protections, tolerance for minorities in the region. This imperfect and shaky geopolitical architecture endured as a legacy for nearly a century and though the formal lines in the sand still exist, what precious little about the Agreement that was sheltering and steadying was dismantled with violence and prejudice by the Cosplay Caliphate. The Agreement only came to light thanks to a leak from the Bolshevik brokers to the newspaper Pravda, in retaliation for having their claim denied, and later picked up by the Manchester Guardian. The revelation led to massive uprisings in the Middle East as World War I itself drew to a close, which was countered with damage-control measures that were not more flattering than the secret partitioning , the buzzards circling, to begin with.

someone once said pflegermaus

The German word for bat is Fledermaus (Flying Mouse) but I turned it into an ambulatory nursing mouse, like Krankenpleger. I suppose they’d also be good residents of one’s belfry.

Monday, 25 April 2016

daisy-chain or paper mario

Thanks to the always interesting JF Ptak Science Book Store, we learn a bit about the contributions of American engineer Vannevar Bush, one of the early administrators of the Manhattan Project and organising force behind the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the fore-runner to NASA.
Despite those consummate and heroic (America was all but ignorant of the potential for rocket-warfare beforehand) achievements as a manager, Bush is probably due a greater debt for his work in the 1930s that previsioned the internet and the concept of memex (indexed memory) that was sort of a mechanical version of hypertext protocols—later set forth in a 1945 article for The Atlantic Monthly called “As We May Think,” describing how computational-assistance could enable individuals to amass and share an archival database of research material by following chains of associative-traits . Throughout his professional career, Bush seemed to eschew the idea of digital computing, preferring analogue models (but perhaps as something illustrative only, not schooled in a world of circuits and relays) but was also prescient in his worry about information overload and the glutting of real progress as input exceeds optimal processing capacity.

dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life

Via Hyperallergic’s Required Reading links comes the fascinating and forward-thinking tale of how the Artist solved the dilemma of branding himself with a symbol that was unpronounceable and naturally was not in the ASCII or Dingbats gallery of glyphs. Having resolved to commit to his new moniker, Prince designed his own font and began to send out hundreds of publicity diskettes (with instructions) from Paisley Park to media outlets in 1993.
Some believe that this move was a passive-aggressive way at getting back at his recording label, unhappy with his contract, but the Artist formerly known as Prince was able to get the magazines and newspapers to play along, at a time when the on-line world and graphic-interface was just emerging and no one spoke in emoji. I really appreciated this artefact and remembrance and as with the loss of another legend earlier this year (2016 needs to seriously stop killing musicians but we know there are some wondrous jam-sessions happening in Heaven right now), sometimes it’s easier to pick out and latch on to the minute details (like the equally pioneering bowie.net) in order to esteem careers that are too momentous to celebrate with the standard obituaries.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

rosencrantz and guildenstern

For the four-hundredth anniversary of the death of playwright William Shakespeare, Kronsborg castle—the inspiration for Elsinore, where the tragedy of Hamlet was set, was open for an overnight stay for one lucky and devoted fan for the first time in a century.
The winning application was in the form of a clever to the Bard in iambic pentameter. Runners-up and local gentry were wined and dined earlier in the evening with a fancy banquet—and that would have sufficed for me since I don’t know about staying the night in such a haunted place. There are some pretty keen hotelier promotions happening lately, and we do trust that the couple slept soundly, but this opportunity strikes me like bedding-down in the head of van Gogh.

lèse-majesté

The leader of the Berlin faction of the Pirate Party was detained by law enforcement for conducting a literary analysis of the infamous poem about the Turkish president on the street in front of that country’s embassy (the Turkish mission to German in der Tiergartenstraße, Berlin, mind you, and not in Ankara) over the weekend.
This development comes just after the Chancellor expressed second-thoughts on her initial condemnation of the comedian’s satire though still feeling that the case of the prosecution should go forward. The last time paragraph 103 from the German book of criminal code (Strafegesetzbuch—essentially a left-over from the days of European monarchy, criminalising the insult to the dignity of a foreign head of state, lèse-majesté) was invoked was by the Shah of Iran in an attempt to muzzle the critiques among the Iranian diaspora settled in Germany, and perhaps the Chancellor, announcing the intent to sunset the antiquated law within two years, was quietly hoping that it would similarly backfire. Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, who have comparable laws in their penal codes (and constitutional monarchies all), announced that they would be repealing them post-haste.

hingucker oder slow news day

Apparently others took an interesting in our temporary displacement and our tented house—like the circus had come to town, made the local papers and caught the notice of passers-by. We don’t care for the extra attention for our secret head-quarters but the caption didn’t reveal too much and was not published until after the fumigation was finished, so as not to attract Nosey Parkers. People remarked that the colourful tent reminded of them of the summer of 2006 when Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup games and various venues all across the country saw games and hosteled visiting teams.

rent-to-own

H and I both are getting new tricorders upon the expiry of our current contracts. We’ve opted for the new model housed in the body of the last generation and are more excited about the much improved terms of the associated data-plans, which is a strange upgrade for a new gadget, to my mind, which does not betray any visible difference (despite twenty-four months of wear and tear), seeming a bit more like imposture than perfection—initially, at least.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

clang, clang, clang went the trolley oder schülerlotse

The cities of Augsburg and Köln, with others soon to follow suit, has installed pedestrian traffic signals in the pavement (Bodenampeln) of intersections and where lanes cross street-car tracks in order to prevent inattentive individuals, fixated on their mobile devices, from stumbling into on-coming traffic. Other places have designated lanes for those who’d prefer their telepresence to negotiating their actual surroundings. What do you think? Maybe some clever person ought to invent a crossing-guard (Schülerlotse) app that warns one if he or she is about to amble blinding into the street.

pranayama, amygdala

Whilst researching another matter, I came across twelve brilliant tips to stave off anxiety and relax the clenched muscles that express stressed responses (the unhealthy sort) with immediate results that one could mostly do in the scant privacy of one’s official cubical without seeming too weird, plus a whole wealth of other related avenues of relaxation and mediation at this website by Carol Bourne.
Of course we all have an intuition for these things and no one willingly creates knots in one’s muscles where negative energy can dwell—even the internal organs can tense up—but unless one is dogmatic about it, we all forget and need reminding, especially if relying on the interactions of likeminded individuals for advise and guidance and not deigning to the serendipity of surprise. My favourite tactic, with indeed instant results, was Alternate Nostril Breathing—whose exercise is really not that different from what Marsellus Wallace’s wife demonstrates for us: first seal the right nostril with the right thumb and inhale, pause (unless pregnant or having a heart-condition), cover the left nostril with the ring-finger and pinky of the same hand and release the right nostril. Exhale (drawing it out longer than the inhale) and then inhale through the right nostril. Repeat a few times but don’t overdo it in the beginning, consult your general practitioner and/or your local guru. This breathing practise has many benefits aside from the initial and rather surprising sense of well-being and also synchronises both hemispheres of the brain, calming the nerves, improving focus and cleansing the lungs—which are responsible for eliminating the overwhelming bulk of the waste-products our bodies produce, expelling a lot more than carbon-dioxide in exchange for oxygen but the residue as well of countless other chemical reactions happening inside us. Be sure to visit the website and forum above for more mindfulness.

Friday, 22 April 2016

presomnia

Mind Hacks’ creator Vaughan Bell contributes a fascinating investigation to The Atlantic that explores that liminal state between slumber and wakefulness called hypnagogia. Though the experience may be universally familiar, the mental landscape of lucid dreams, poetic idylls and unhinged realities, it is not a well-mapped one. If the state only manifested itself during those brief periods when we drift off to sleep, it might be understandably difficult to gain a purchase and examine the cognitive mechanisms at work, but researchers believe that trance and meditation could also be hypnagogic in nature, greatly prolonging the window for observance and study. Perhaps learning how the conscious mind dismantles itself can show us more about cognitive models and filters of perception in our waking hours.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

voice and accountability indices

Broadcast on BBC Radio 4, professor and gadfly Timothy Garton Ash recently presented a series of sobering and important essays on the state of free speech, which distills the ideas and necessary dialogue found his comprehensive and engaging internet presence.
Positing that no subject should be taboo in the pursuit of knowledge, we see liberty of expression under assault not only—and paradoxically—by the synapses that an intimately connected world but also in those corridors of learning and ivory towers of educational institutions—also being the last place one would expect to find the aura of censorship and sophistry, Professor Garton Ash elucidates interlocutors with a treacherous trio of veto-powers that elegantly present the threat: the heckler’s veto—wherein in all dissent is lost in the noise and chaos, the assassin’s veto—the threat of violence or litigation, and the veto of the offended—the intimidating prospect of violating the safe-space of another group. What do you make of these mute-buttons and has the internet facilitated the creation of this sort of timorous bully-pulpit?

legal tender

The outstanding BLDGBlog is showcasing the cultured project of Bristol artist Heidi Hinder, entitled Financial Growth, that illustrates the way we exchange microbes is as much the common-currency as coin through petri-dish experiments.
As part of wider research into the meaning of cash in a digital age, where most transactions occur in the æther. Far from militantly advocating the end of coins and paper-notes and full integration into a cashless society or overly focused on hygiene, Money no Object examines what it means for something whose presence (and tangible reminders) has accompanied us all along to suddenly become immaterial, not just invisible like these bacterial landscapes that we keep in our pockets and purses, unseen until given the chance to be unfurled, and ritually exchanged to cultivate a more diverse garden. I wonder if the circulation of resistances and vulnerabilities is as important a social function as other forms of communication and what it might mean were that venue of expression to abruptly stop.

feu de joie and many happy returns

Happy birthday, your Majesty!  Of course, being queen has its privileges and in addition to her natural birthday, in June we will also be treated to the trooping of the colours and fanfare of the monarch’s official birthday, transported by long-standing tradition to a fair weekend in that month owing to the vagaries of English weather.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

petsmart

Via the always interesting Super Punch, we find this clever, satirical internet start-up generator that delivers convincingly well-presented shells, frontages of so called tech unicorns—rare and majestic creatures that have attained a valuation of a billion dollars, on paper at least, but as the field gets crowded by copy-cats or vertical monopolies become less viable and hence a dead monoceros (this is an ex-unicorn). With testimonials and angel investors, one would be pardoned for mistaken these snowclone templates for actual start-ups with a similar naming-convention, which have surprisingly, as a cause for concern, achieved that prized status.

sequestered or the long now

Via the Presurfer, we learn about the resting place outside of the city of Chicago where the first nuclear reactor and associated waste was interred. Researchers at the University of Chicago, working under a top secret commission to bring the powerhouse on-line before the Axis Powers, under the supervision of Enrico Fermi, achieved this first sustainable, controlled reaction at the woodland laboratory in 1942.
The experimental Chicago Piles (CP-1 through CP-3) ran for about a decade until brought off-line and buried in situ—marked with granite blocks and the warning to potential grave-robbers that digging is not advised—though safe for visitors due to the low yield and shielding used for this prototype. Reading this postcard reminded me of the call for submissions several years back on how to handle the nuclear waste of contemporary times, which is much longer-lived and far more deadly and poses a significant problem that the next ten thousand generations of Earthlings will need to contend with. From a vantage point far older than human civilisation itself, how could we ensure that the message of danger and to keep away from today’s nuclear waste disposal sites are imparted to the future? Proposals included a defensive, infernal landscape with sand berms and giant totems of tortured souls, giant steely thorns like the sort that enveloped Sleeping Beauty’s castle, or even a priesthood of sorts to bridge the millennia and warn off the curious and scavengers that indeed you will be struck down by beams of invisible energy if you defile this ancient temple. Can you think of a way to signal danger that won’t be liable to misinterpretation, or is our bequest an unmarked grave?

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

seal of approval

Via Boing Boing, comes a dystopian but probably very prescient look at how the ecology of robots and social media has changed after the disastrous and messy hook and crook of an experimental chatbot from Hugh Hancock that posits in the near future, not only will everyone enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame, they’ll also be attended by flights of chatty mobs—potentially making human presence on-line, at least in certain, defined circles, not a very pleasant or varied experience.
Public-relation firms could deploy armies of minions that could rival any mortal army of the most vitriolic and determined army of internet comment-trolls. Such flea-circuses, no matter how rudimentary or sophisticated, could soon manipulate the news and censor what might go against the current of the trending issue of the day by scale and inertia, elevating the flattering and burying the unbecoming. What do you think? Is it like a public garden being occupied by vandals and hooligans or might this never come to pass? Once these pests get into the wild, I am betting that human-users won’t be easily able to cull this invasive species.

the crustacean college of sea-monkey knowledge

Author and contributor to Public Radio’s This American Life Jack Hitt, writing for the New York Times, transports us to the magical undersea kingdom of novelty toy impresario and master-marketer Harold von Braunhut, inventor of the Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys and countless other mail-order items, by visiting his widowed-bride Yolanda, former campy pictures vixen, at the Maryland estate that was built by hawking and playful humbug. Yolanda is currently fighting a breach of contract by the toy distributor that assumed control of sales (Sea-Monkeys are still doing a brisk business) for using a Chinese supplier of brine-shrimp, instead of those packaged by von Braunhut herself with a secret process that guarantees reanimation, but the comprehensive article delves into the colourful (and sometimes dark) careers and backstory that brought the interview and the interviewee together for this fascinating remembrance.

galgenhumor

H and I are temporarily displaced while our home is being fumigated for woodworm. Though we disagree with the necessity and method and it was hard work rescuing all the plants in the jungle and such—and worry that the swallows might not come back to roost—the operation and efficiency are impressive. Checking up on the company, operating out of Nürnburg, to see if it had a reasonable reputation, we noticed that all the publicity photos of mostly churches and other historic structures were tented in the same flag colours. I guessed it was supposed to be some cute, patriotic statement or maybe there was a sale on that particular pattern. I didn’t go down, I suppose, the obvious route—associating gassing with Germany, until one of H’s colleagues brought it up.

Monday, 18 April 2016

parity or difficulty-setting: hard

Thanks to Messy Nessy Chic’s for spotting this 1970 reimagining of the board game Monopoly in Blacks & Whites: The Role Identity & Neighbourhood Action Game—by the brain-trust at Psychology Today.  The purpose of this game, debuted not long after the was to illustrate to adult players lessons about racial-relations, privilege, economic disparity and the opportunity gap.  White game pieces are afforded considerable advantages and for them the rules about going to jail are rather more fluid.  The goal of playing, more in the spirit of the original concept for Monopoly, was not to accumulate the most money and property and causing one’s opponents to give up but rather to achieve an economic-balance, one which the game’s rules made impossible.  

fgm, fsm

Around two years back—as improbable as this constellation of outreach and events sounds, the California based UFO cult, the Raëlians, raised funds in order to have a self-described Pleasure Hospital constructed and staffed with plastic- and reproductive-surgeons in the west African country of Burkina Faso to help victims of the awful, traditional practise of female genital mutilation. The clinic in Bobo-Dioulasso, however, was never allowed to open its doors, supposedly due to violations to the building-code; an alternative site was found and the doctors treated some fifteen women with corrective procedures which restored them cosmetically and alleviated at least some of the physical pain as well.
The main tenants of Raëlian belief is that extra-terrestrials have always been reaching out and guiding humanity but they will only manifest themselves truly once human kind is at peace with itself in mind and body, and that state is only attainable through the pursuit of pleasure (sort of like the adherents of the anti-abbeys of Thélème and Semiquavers in Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel) and possibly the cult felt a strong moral compunction to redress these trespasses (as the UN has done) that rob women of the experience of pleasure—and to mention the health problems that this reprehensible practise can cause, but there is no evidence that the cult was interested in proselytizing its beliefs with this mission. None of the medical staff were members and there was no literature passed out, but the doctors quickly had their licenses to practise in the country revoked, citing suspicions over cult activities and promoting deviant behaviour. The government of Burkina Faso is not the complete villain having outlawed the practise and are actively disseminating that edict through the villages, and though this was a grave disappointment to those hundreds of millions of women having suffered their whole lives with the scars of the past, a few were made whole, word spread, and the visiting doctors were able to teach their techniques to local surgeons so that they might be able to champion the fight against barbarity. It’s not a matter people like to discuss—and perhaps introducing aliens averts even more—but avoiding the topics only reinforces those who would believe it to be an acceptable thing to do. There is a very salient difference between violence and intimidation and social norms and obligation.  (We do realise his noodliness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is not a UFO cult but know that FSM would also not condone such acts from his worshipers.)

Sunday, 17 April 2016

vocoder or all your obnoxious traits are belong to us

The always interesting Mind Hacks informs that every quirk is well documented and studied—but not to the point, I think, of making it less engrossing and perhaps charming (or insufferable) in the ideation that goes by the name of palinacousis—that is, an auditory hallucination that is usually manifested by speaking in the manner of the last person that one has heard.
Do you mean now-now or later-now? Refudiate much? The study, however, that brought this phenomena to our attention was not a harmless case of unsolicited echolalia but rather a more extreme version, wherein a man experienced the voice of the current person he was in dialogue with as the sound and mannerisms of his previous interlocutor. He found this vocal-swapping debilitatingly funny and was not able to hold a proper conversion. This sounds like a very modern, memetic condition to me.

high-mark, water-mark

Having happened to watch the Baraka spin-off of the masterful Koyaanisqatsi trilogy last night, this appreciation showcasing the series’ trailer reconstructed entirely with corresponding stock-footage (retaining those delightful water-marks that immediately make most avert their eyes) from Mental Floss really resonated with us.
The comprehensive look at life on Earth with all its dread foibles and majesty, the narration about our relationship with nature and technology is narrated through tone poems accompanying pioneering cinematography—those kind of sweeping shots that we kind of take for granted nowadays but were groundbreaking in 1982, but is probably even more relevant for worlds out of balance (the Hopi meaning of the title) today. It is appropriate that the homage-maker used stock-footage, the branded mavens and mastheads of intellectual property and media giganticism, being as the films themselves had very limited release through the 2000s over copyright and royalties disputes that never were satisfactorily resolved until deemed by at least one jurisdiction as “culturally significant” and a national treasure. Watch both trailers and learn more about the directors and soundtrack at Mental Floss.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

calling doctor bombay, emergency! come right away

Though Czech is the adjectival form and perhaps the additional republic makes the country sound as if it has to legitimise its standing somehow, the proposal of the Czech Republic (Česká republika) to change its English and hence international handle to Czechia smacks to me like a page from Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis, in waking up to find oneself transformed in order to keep up with the times—those times being rather fickle and unperturbable.
Since the divorce from Slovakia, the country has been known as Tschechien in the German Sprachraum, which to my ears sounded too close to Tschetsschenien (Chechnya) and I feel that this forced change is confusing as well—though not exactly without some historical precedence, going back to latinate-loving Englanders observing the Holy Roman Empire’s tenant states. One has to wonder about exonymy and endonymy and the success rate of rebranding.

that glaswegian, tall chavvy fighting idiot of old

Via the always excellent Nag on the Lake, we learn about the recent surfacing of a list of personae non-grata from the legendary venue, the Half Moon pub of the Herne Hill district in London, which was closed due to flooding in 2013 but has yet to be reopened.
This guide of unwelcome, potentially troublesome patrons is perfectly British, pretty abusive and gangsterish too but pretty amusing all the same and I am glad someone bothered to share, reminding me of that burgeoning practise of asking customers names so they can inform you when your order is ready—one which I hope does not catch on since I rather like us being called the Englishmen or the doctors. There’s no Sodding McSodface on this list and most would require no further explanation, but Deaf Adam earned his lifelong ban for mistaking Coldplay for the Rolling Stones on the jukebox.

Friday, 15 April 2016

brav und borrel or thesaurus of feels

Professor and contributor to The Journal of Positive Psychology, Tim Lomas, aims to enrich our emotional landscape with a collection of some two hundred terms that have no equivalent in English. One can see the abstract at the journal’s website that began this continuing undertaking, but Boing Boing goes one further, sharing a selection of some of the terms of endearment (and they are positive and fulfilling sentiments in the main).

It’s hard to say if stocking our quivers with more precise, nuanced words improves our emotive literacy but I agree that the project and further investigation is worthwhile for its own sake. Some of my favourites included:

Rare English: grok—understanding so thoroughly that the observed becomes part of the observed

Icelandic: að jenna—perseverance for see a boring chore through

Hindi: talanoa—gossip as a social-adhesive

Greek: ξενία—recognising the importance of hospitality

Be sure to check out Boing Boing’s choices and learn more about the study, perhaps finding a new way of expressing what resonates with you. I especially appreciated how the article was categorized with the tag “the meaning of liff,” in reference to the Douglas Adams collaboration to fill lexical gaps for relatable experiences for which there was beforehand no adequate expression.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

biotop oder flyover

With nice weather and reckoned sufficient time, I (possibly impulsively) decided to meet a couple of colleagues for dinner in Mainz under my own power and set out crossing the Rhein on foot from the Hessen capital of Wiesbaden to the adjacent capital of Rheinland-Pfalz. It’s a funny and persistent syndrome that’s mostly not been a disservice, but trying to imagine distances in my head are without fail translated to something much smaller, a sandbox that one can just dart from one corner to another without any investment of time and energy.

It always ends well, in any case, and I was treated to vistas that one could not appreciate at higher speeds, certainly not from the passenger seat of a car, and the islands of industry and the contemplative lagoons at rest and the green verge that buffered the city from the shore. I knew the general direction but away from the clearly marked path, I had a clever application in my pocket that gave me a nudge if I was marching in the opposite directly but did not reign in my exploration overmuch. Truly away from the roads and taking the most direct routes, given my mode of transportation, I was astounded to find myself hiking through a really amazing and unexpected nature reserve just above the river’s floodplain—unseen but infinitely more interesting than some fallow-field of highway median.
I found myself in a landscape of sand dunes (der Mainzer Großer Sand), whose pronounced topography did not present a struggle but was distinctly not flat, the sort of geometry one grows unaccustomed to along more manicured trails.
This ancient environment was host to tall cypress trees and other flora that belonged in more Mediterranean climes, owing to the fact that although nutrient poor, sand was far better at holding heat.  Approaching the boroughs of Mombach and Gonsenheim, the dunes made the transition into a great forest, only gently interrupted with a few paths, that is the largest contiguous one in the region at seven square-kilometers, a wood of some eighteen-hundred acres. Despite being often turned around and stopping to marvel at the landscape, I still made it on time but with none to spare.

cue cutlines

After the dismal (ricocheting, perhaps) failure of its last Chat Bot, Microsoft has unveiled a routine that writes captions (cutlines really as the output is a few lines of description) for your photos, Gizmodo reports. The programme seems reliably good, especially in the face of the heaps of obscenity I’m sure the internet is tossing at it, but be forewarned, as the service curates the images submitted to it for training purposes. Although not the first attempt at automated captioning, it does seem like a good approach to organise one’s ever growing archives of pictures.

flights of fancy or project longshot

The announced coinciding with Space Night, the anniversary marking Yuri Gagarin’s seminal space-walk—as Boing Boing reports, Professor Stephen Hawking is partnering with a consortium of investors (we are all stake-holders in this enterprise) to send a swarm of small space probes, propelled aloft on the beams from an array of lasers—which providing that the focus can hold, could see at least some of the tiny craft (about the size of a pocket calculator with sails unfurled) reach our nearest stellar companions, the group also known as Rigil Kent, the foot of the Centaur, around five-hundred times the distance from the Sun to Pluto, in just two decades. The method makes me think of the Little Prince hitching rides on passing comets. Starshot, as it’s called, has some technical challenges to overcome, and regrettably it seems perhaps sustained public enthusiasm for science projects, and who knows what we’ll discover—but I think that Hawking and associates can push our horizons.

tobacco mosaic

Graphic artist Eleanor Lutz’ latest project is a series of animated viral trading cards, that teach about the infectious agents’ properties and causes one to better appreciate these hauntingly complex structures. Such pathogens, liminal and not easy to distinguish from vegetable and mineral and I think that notion of an autonomous and adaptive poison imparts them with their sinister reputation, but as persistent as these pestilences are, our bodies have become ever more resilient in rebuffing countless and non-stop assaults. This piece comes to us by way of the outstanding Kottke, who has introduced us, to our delight, to Lutz’ works previously.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

veranstaltungsraum oder moments at the museum

Last week, I chanced upon the Heimat- (homeland is not really an equivalent phrase—attachment or identity, perhaps) and Industrial-Historical Museum of the Wiesbadner borough of Biebrich and went in for a look.
The formerly independent town on the shores of the Rhein is still an important manufacturing centre in the region, but the focus of the permanent collection mostly had the focus and reach back to the eighteenth century and the creation of the Duchy of Orange-Nassau with a lot of interesting ephemera of the age and spiky hats. One of the more interesting pieces on display was a chest (eine Truhe) with its complicated, artful locking mechanism revealed.
There was also a special exhibit of the works of native painter and relative unknown Friedrich Carl Scheidemantel with many pictures in the Rheinromanik genre, contemplative idylls and castle ruins cast against dramatic skies, and also many, like the ensemble here pictured, of the cartoon-medieval that depicted the expedition (again with a healthy dose of license and anachronism) of Otto the Great to the fields of Lombardy, which helped him consolidate power and assert himself Holy and Roman Emperor of the Germans.

prêt-à-porter or this is not even my final form

Via fellow fashionista Nag on the Lake, we were pleased to discover the elegant solutions to some of the most vexing equations of the cat-walk in artist Jonathan Zawada’s inspired gallery of runway models called Fashematics. White-Out, Bat Girl, heavily-redacted documents and beer-cosies all are on a collision-course to deliver some choice collections of haute-couture. These humorous stylings remind me of how vintage apparel from Peter Max could be described as the offspring of Art Nouveau and Haight-Ashbury.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

allthing or all that’s fit to print

Boing Boing’s Iceland correspondent reports on a wonderful and antithetical response to the scourge of off-shoring and out-sourcing (and indeed even proxy-wars) in the plan, having already secured parliamentary endorsement, to make the country a designated safe haven for the freedoms of expression and information.

Advocates, who hope to create a Switzerland of bits, hope that this stance will compel other governments to be more transparent and forth-coming about legislation and its enforcement. Cobbling together some of the best whistle-blower protection and anti-censorship laws from different jurisdictions—for instance, the attorney-client privilege that any conversation with a journalist enjoys in Belgium or the public registry of all government documents (even classified ones) in Estonia, is creating a forum where witness to corruption can come forward without fear of reprisal. As if meaningful reform and mindful democracy weren’t occasion enough, perhaps this new media landscape might be able to attract internet start-ups to recover some of the jobs-prospects lost to Iceland’s former dignities where laws are not biased towards copy-holders and a select few with political heft—besides, surely the land of fire and ice is probably an ideal place to operate with a smart labour pool and totally green geothermal energy to power it all.

wright-on, wright brothers

Dangerous Minds shares nice appreciation of a psychedelic and affirming little vintage activity book from environmentalist and artist Peter Max of paper airplanes to cut out, fold and let soar. The designs feature playful short messages, like Today is Your Day and I can’t talk, I’m laughing. Be certain to check out Dangerous Minds for more groovy curations to explore and inspire.

vulgate

Previously we’ve looked into how emojis are rendered differently across different platforms, a sort of diglossic code-switching between sender and receiver, should they have different devices, but here’s a deeper, academic investigation into the potential for misinterpretation by the differences in emotion, sentiment that they signal. Hannah Miller’s thesis abstract is pretty interesting. Via Kottke’s latest batch of quick links, one supposes that through this study (provided that competition extends into the future and allows the time needed for dialogues and regional accents to foment) the way the symbols are used might fracture from the mother language into increasingly non-mutually intelligible and distinct languages, sort of like the Romance tongues emerging as splintered versions of Latin.