Tuesday, 27 June 2017

big tent politics

Published by the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag (auf Englisch, as Boing Boing reports), veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hirsh—responsible for exposing the massacre at My Lai and equal-opportunity critic of US capers—shares a series of conversations between an American soldier (AS) and a security advisor (SA) that was leaked to him regarding April’s retaliatory missile strike on a Syrian airbase, heavily redacted for security reasons.

AS: This is bad… Things are spooling up.

SA: You may not have seen trumps press conference yesterday. He’s bought into the media story without asking to see the Intel. We are likely to get our asses kicked by the Russians. Fucking dangerous. Where are the godamn adults? The failure of the chain of command to tell the President the truth, whether he wants to hear it or not, will go down in history as one of our worst moments.

AS: I don't know. None of this makes any sense. We KNOW that there was no chemical attack. The Syrians struck a weapons cache (a legitimate military target) and there was collateral damage. That's it. They did not conduct any sort of a chemical attack.

SA: There has been a hidden agenda all along. This is about trying to ultimately go after Iran. What the people around Trump do not understand is that the Russians are not a paper tiger and that they have more robust military capability than we do.

This dangerous, deadly incompetent leadership style is about to be put to the test again, as Dear Leader predictably is planning on staging a distraction to side-line public scrutiny as the Senate moves to vote on the future form of healthcare in the United States. The fact that he’d resort to taking lives, putting others at risk and squandering millions on a pretence and as a side-show (not to mention exacerbating already strained international relations) in order to push through a tax-break for the wealthy swaddled in medical insurance reform is beyond despicable. Anyone colluding with his wanton cannibalism is deserving of the same harsh criticism.

Monday, 26 June 2017

symbols, signals and noise

Finding renewed meaning in its message in the escalating and frenetic age of emails and emoji, this 1953 featurette based on the research and studies of communication theorist Claude Elwood Shannon for the IBM corporation was created by the design-duo Ray and Charles Eames (click here and here for some of their other work). ‘A Communications Primer’ targeted engineers and encouraged them to apply the suite of tools that Shannon developed to their own work.

Well ahead of the era when machines became ubiquitous either in businesses or at home, the discussion of cues and clamour seems just as valid filtered through all the post-war years of progress as they did at the time, as does the central tenant of Shannon’s theory—that information is a measure of one’s freedom of choice in expression and messaging. Be sure to visit Æon magazine at the link up top for more thought-provoking videos and essays.


t-kimono: classic garment re-tailored in partnership with a Norwegian studio

born on the fourth of july: many argue that independence is contingent on international recognition, via TYWKIWDBI

snarknado: flooding in the US carries buoys of fire-ants, via Super Punch

the mother of invention: expectant father Philippe Kahn came up with the idea of the camera phone to share his daughter’s birth in real-time, via Dave Log v 3

crystal ball: to the uninitiated, these fortune-telling booths of Hong Kong could be offering any number of professional services, via the Everlasting Blört

ostinato: a custom-build instrument designed to produce that tension-building music for scary movies 

grand rounds or house-call

While the US over-class is conniving to liberate millions from any semblance of health-security, an innovate company in Seattle called Artefact is designing the preventative healthcare delivery platform that could make, as Fast Company reports, all those shrill arguments and dire predictions somewhat of a moot point.
A less sinister narrative than we usually associate with the internet of things, one’s prying devices’ paternalistic well-meaning are reframed as one’s partners in health and will collectively summon (at a free moment on one’s calendar without having to worry about scheduling conflicts, day or night) a fully automated, mobile doctor’s office to take one’s vitals, provide a diagnosis, and perhaps even a treatment plan and dispense a prescription—or make a referral to its human counterparts, as needed. There’s no reason that healthcare should be so fraught and atrociously expensive in a rich and developed nation, but the fact that such a vision has not yet attracted any financial champions makes me think people are too fearful of the disruption to industry and aren’t undeserving of being under-served. What do you think? Without the cadet-cartels that are put in place to keep of safe but are often just a profit opportunity, there’s probably not much money in keeping us healthy—without keeping us in suspense. Given the state of affordable housing and infrastructure, maybe there are too many details to work out and physicians on wheels ought to be deployed to poorer nations with resource stretched too thin already that might truly appreciate it.


Although there seems to be some reassuring buy-in surrounding this programme to launch over seven hundred small, expendable satellites into low, geostationary orbit in order to expand broadband coverage for the US market does still leave me with some feelings of trepidation.
With net neutrality already essentially doomed and the relative ease, both economically and technologically, with which one could extend free, quality internet access to every individual on Earth, it makes me mistrust those administrators that don’t own space but rather regulate the airwaves and serve at the pleasure of Dear Leader. Instead of something useful and magnanimous like the global positioning system (a US Navy by-product), I’m fearful that it will play out like Project West-Ford, that seeded the upper atmosphere with an artificial ring of half a million tiny needles, without consulting any other of Earth’s residents, that was potential catastrophic, short-sighted and left debris that still raining down more than six decades later. What do you think? An enduring venture with more partners that is open to all seems far more worthwhile, rather than something that seems a bit slap-dash. What do you think? Who is going to clean up the mess that these satellites leave once the enterprise stops being profitable and their care is abandoned?

Sunday, 25 June 2017

an ox is as good as a best

Lewis and Quark have been allowing neural networks to be expressive in many different creative venues and now the intrepid duo (previously here and here) have given their project a compilation of idioms and proverbs to try to understand.
Although the computer’s interpretation of human mythos is rather inscrutable, it seems to have an unexplained affinity for oxen, despite there being only three references in the entire data-set. Some of the phrases that the machine produced could almost pass as parables, especially foreign language ones that need to be translated and explained for the sake of non-native audience: “Death when it comes will have no sheep.” “A good face is a letter to get out of the fire.” “A good anvil does not make the most noise.” Others made far less sense: “No sweet is half the barn door after the cat.” “There is not fire and step on your dog and stains the best sermon.” Be sure to visit the link above for more examples and more on the methodologies of machine-learning.


Incredibly—though at the same time we learn that there’s already a niche market of applications to serve many of one’s paranormal needs, including an app to tell one if their house is haunted—an app for one’s digital accessories from the Institute for Noetic Sciences, a parapsychological research facility located in Petaluma California founded by an astronaut who had an epiphany after going into orbit and walking on the Moon—can gauge two different types of extra-sensory perceptions: telekinesis and precognition (both conscious and subconscious). Reviewers are not leaving very stellar ratings for the app, but I suppose that might be an expected reaction from someone having their status as someone without psychic superpowers confirmed and told they were quite normal in their mental abilities.

inherit the wind

Chillingly, we learn via Super Punch that Turkish president Erdoğan has directed high schools to excise the topic of evolution from its science syllabus in public schools.
Demonstrating that wanton ignorance and lack of curiosity is not exclusive to one demagogue, the controversial topic will be removed from standardised textbooks issued to the country’s matriculating ninth graders beginning next fall, arguing that young Turks are not yet equipped with the critical-thinking and scientific background to adequately assess a theory fraught with problems confronting students at such an impressionable age. I suppose we needn’t worry about them acquiring that vital skill-set now. This development combined with the narrowly won referendum to cede the office of the president greater powers represents a national lurching away from its commitment to secularism and separation of church and state and towards a policy of neo-Ottomanism, for which Turkey hopes to be the anchor and guide.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

never remember

With amazing stamina, the New York Times’ Opinion column has assiduously documented, sourced and fact-checked every lie that Dear Leader has uttered since the inauguration on 21 January up to the present. This does not include the false narratives of his campaign or the alternative truths of his staff and surrogates and aims to counter that complicity of numbness and exhaustion when it comes to this assault on reality that is by no measure normal and has inspired a million marchers in protest.

state of the union

Though likely pointed out ad infinitum elsewhere, the Queen’s Speech (or rather a speech from the throne) that is the State Opening of Parliament this year was a slightly more subdued affair this year as compared to years past. While much of the ceremonial pomp and circumstance was retained for the occasion—many traditions that go back to the sixteenth century, like the symbolic searching of the cellars, taking hostages, the procession of the peers, etc.—Her Majesty herself choose a car rather than a carriage for means of conveyance to Westminster and choose to leave the crown to a valet rather than wear it.
This last occurred in 1974—a year with two snap elections and a coalition of chaos.  Instead the Queen opted, provocatively, to dress as the European Union flag whilst Castle Mayskull listened politely.

media blackout

Dear Leader has banned cameras from the increasingly infrequent and evasive White House press briefings, and in response one major news outlet brought on veteran court room sketch artist (see more about the profession that may be seeing a revival here) William J Hennessy Jr to limn the atmosphere that signals a significant departure from the level of access and transparency that previous administrations afforded to journalists. Apparently some Republican lawmakers though the network’s “stunt” but the artist, toughened by covering the Iran-Contra Affair, Bill Clinton impeachment process, terror trials and hearings for Guantanamo Bay inmates can surely take some clasping at pearls by the rank and file.

Friday, 23 June 2017

undisclosed location or habeas corpus

NPR’s Fresh Air featured a really engaging and frankly terrifying interview that explored the various contingency plans for the continuity of the US government in the event of a nuclear attack or other catastrophic event through the lens of bureaucracy and bunkers.
Optimistically first codified in the 1940s at a time before run-away proliferation when nuclear capabilities did seem survivable due to delivery methods and potency of the arsenal, the government seemed to want to keep up the pretence that such doomsday forecasts would still hold as to contemplate otherwise was unthinkable—believing that the person who had the sole, unilateral authority to choose how to respond would be the sagest and most introspective of Americans. Despite the level of detail and deputising involved in these plans and places of refuge, all of it seemed geared toward the goal of supporting some cult of personality that could sustain survivors through to a national reconstitution that would take hold at some calculated juncture in the not too distant future. There were quite a few engrossing details and descriptions to latch on to, like how the emergency cash reserves of the US are in large part denominated in the unpopular two-dollar bill and the order of precedence when it comes to safeguarding national treasures like the original bill of rights or the constitution, but what struck me as most surprising was that there was (and assuredly is—in some form) the equivalent of the Nuclear Football was at the disposal of the US attorney general. Like the president’s entourage, an aide would accompany America’s top lawyer at all times with a briefcase full of writs and warrants signature-ready to curtail civil liberties and confine the troublesome.

apiary or cargo cult

Revealed in a patent application disclosed recently, a major online retailer is aiming to install multi-level, vertical “fulfilment centres” in urban environments. Instead of the traditional warehouse model, which may be located close to transportation hubs are too far removed from consumers and workers, giving aerial delivery drones a hive (this traditional beehive form is called a skep and were fashioned out of wicker or coils of straw) to work from could facilitate commerce without contributing to street level congestion. I wonder how these changes in infrastructure and supply-chain management will affect urban planning and civil engineering.

carriage shift

Though no touch-typist am I and would be tripped up whatever the case, it’s a little bit of an adjustment for me just switching between a QWERTY keyboard at work and the only slightly different German QWERTZ layout at home.
I could not imagine, however, taking to something so radically different—for an industry standard—as what the French are contemplating as a replacement for the maligned AZERTY with the Dvorak-style BÉPO model. I’ve always thought it’s a little ironic that typewriters were given their respective layouts to keep mechanical units from jamming by pacing typists and making them work a little more deliberatively. What do you think? Should keyboards focus on ease and intuition, concede to the times (the chief complaint about the unmodified AZERTY keyboard is hunting for the @-sign) or stick with tradition? I never quite got over the fact that a telephone keypad assigned letter values to the 1 key and started admitting Q and Z.

dress right dress

The US government squandered millions, as Super Punch informs, outfitting the Afghani army.
Standard- isation in uniform and gear is of course important to signal allegiance on the battlefield and it stands to reason that the army would want something distinctive to discourage impostures. While far cheaper alternatives were available, over a quarter of the hundred million dollar expenditure went towards a proprietary camouflage pattern. The branded camo, Spec4ce it’s called (not pictured), is produced by Canadian firm called HyperStealth whose previous contracts include costuming a rogue paramilitary force for an Iron Man movie. Al Qaeda and company will surely lay down their arms and surrender to international anti-piracy laws. While the costs constitute barely a drop in the bucket in the scheme of that unending war and the American army seems pretty obsessed with window-dressing itself, it is even more regrettable that the choice in pattern was committed with no regard for landscape of Afghanistan and rather than camouflage troops, it makes them more visible.

tyto alba

Via Nag on the Lake, we learn of a very clever way to up-cycle wine packaging from the Portuguese vintners of Companhia das Lezírias . Having committed to protecting local barn owls, they are raising awareness with a collection named Tyto Alba (the Latin nomenclature for the bird) whose wooden boxes can be hung from a tree branch after enjoying. Though the accommodations might be too cramped for an owl, these bird houses, nest-boxes are a pretty nifty idea. Most populations of barn owls are not under grave threat in Europe, but the creatures have suffered at superstitious hands for ages, believed to be bad omens due to their rather liminal natures. While owls—or birds in general for that matter, are not famed for their ears, but uniquely among birds barn owls ears (if they were visible) would appear lop-sided and it’s this offsetting that allows them to use their preternatural hearing to triangulate prey in complete darkness.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

don’t talk about our son, martha

Our faithful chronicler, Dr Caligari, informs that on this day, among many other events like the trial of Galileo Galilei for the heresy of positing that the Earth travels around the Sun, the concluding moves of the Machtergreifung of 1933 that banned all other political parties in Germany and the 1941 invasion that ended the country’s “Peace and Friendship” treaty with Russia—director Mike Nichol’s released his first film in 1966 with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starring in the screen-adaptation of Edward Albee’s absurdist work Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to critical acclaim.

the confusion of the tongues

We enjoyed this history lesson in the syllabry called Deseret devised at the same time as the Mormons began their exodus to the arid territories of the American southwest.
Meaning “honeybee” in the Jaredite language (one of the four ancient tribes of Babylon that the Church of Latter Day Saints believes spread to the New World after that enterprise with the Tower failed) and also the name of the settlement before it was incorporated as the state of Utah, the thirty-eight character alphabet that represented all phonemes in the language was an attempt at spelling-reform, like the Shavian alphabet, to make learning and reading English less inscrutable for non-native speakers and immigrants. Public reception within the community was less enthusiastic than expected—though adopted by the Hopi tribe for their writing system—and combined with conspiratorial indictments that the point of the script was either to keep Mormon communication secret from outsiders or control what Mormon readership had access to, the Deseret experiment didn’t quite catch on at the time but is presently enjoying somewhat of a resurgence in interest that’s surveyed pretty thoroughly by Atlas Obscura at the link up top.

super sonic

With the very busy Schipol Airport just nine kilometres outside of Amsterdam, noise pollution has posed a serious problem for residents living in that sound footprint, which can propagate over an expanse of some thirty kilometres due to the featureless plain that surrounds the facility.
Back in 2008, however, officials seeking to remedy this situation accidentally noticed that when the fields around the airport were ploughed, noise levels dropped. Inspired and drawing on the nineteenth century experiments and demonstrations of father of acoustics, mathematician and musician Ernst Chladni, an architectural firm dug runnels and raised berms to change the soundscape of the area. The symmetrical furrows are separated by the equivalent to the wave-length of the general racket and disrupt the spread of the noise, cutting it in half. The park that separates the airport campus from populated areas has features named in Chladni’s honour—whose brilliance might be most immediately recalled with his demonstrations of sound propagating through a solid medium illustrated by the way grains of sand arrange themselves according to the vibration. Those shapes (nodal patterns) are called Chladni figures.


Two young boys in Erding outside of München are apparently the subject of investigation for having fired rubber pellets from toy guns at Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun while he and his entourage were cycling through the Altstadt. No injuries were sustained but the incident was reported to local authorities, nonetheless. The king, also styled Rama X, owns a few holiday homes in Bavaria and it is unclear if this occurrence might not have further repercussions, as it is illegal to insult the king—but with Germany’s intention to over-turn its law on lèse-majesté (Majestätsbeleidigung), any wounded feelings would probably not have legal standing.

meridian planum

Though only meant to survey the Martian landscape for a mere ninety days, thirteen years on the rover Opportunity is still exploring the Red Planet and sending back telemetry and some pretty stunning vistas.
This view from the Endeavour impact crater is absolutely astounding, and the twenty-two kilometre in circumference canyon was named for a Canadian township officially, but it is itself an homage to the ship of Lieutenant James Cook’s vessel of exploration to Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. There’s a lot to be said for such technological resiliency and the audacity of a few select engineers is something to respect. Visit the link above for a curated gallery of Opportunity’s amazing photography.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

carrot and stick—tomato, tomato

While of course toil with or without motivation is certainly possible—and in fact, most of us are either compelled to at the end of a whip or in involuntary indenturehood that’s a bit of a looser leash, I enjoyed reading this little bit of cheerleading on how to be smarter about procrastination and focus.
It’s of course too easy to get distracted by shiny-objects or going for low-hanging (what’s beeping or vibrating and clawing for our attention) fruits to the perpetual off-putting of addressing more pressing and systemic matters (or even trivialising them to convince ourselves what we’re avoiding isn’t all that important after all) but there is value to be had in structured procrastination, especially if it’s something that might put one more in the flow. Given oneself license to engage in doing nothing can also be productive in the long term, rather than fight against apathy and lethargy to the point of exhaustion. It does appear vital, however, that we allocate a certain amount of time—not to complete a task, but rather to work on it, or take a break from it. One timeboxing technique to explore is called the Pomodoro (an efficiency-expert named his method after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that he used in his student years) whose steps are pretty straightforward but could prove effective for some people struggling to stay on task: commit to something that needs doing, set the timer for twenty-five minutes, work until the bell rings and repeat—taking ever longer breaks between iterations. While I am sure there’s an app for that, I imagine that they’re already too culpable in indulging our interruptions or at least a convenient scapegoat.

fungus among us

Though not quite the confectionary house of the witch that lured inside Hansel and Gretel, a very clever student at London’s Brunel University (named for the famed architect and civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel) is developing a construction medium that fruits from edible mushrooms. The stringy, root-like mycelium is mixed with cardboard as a filler and then left to grow to form a pretty robust frame. The student envisions future bottom-up, pop-up kiosks and food booths serving dishes plucked off the walls. Apparently mycelium has already been field-tested and there is a precedent for these “mushroom sausages” as building elements with bio-bricks and other experiments that one can learn more about at the link above.

soylent blue

The private bioinformatics company’s that’s responsible for the research that drives several different markets from medicine to agriculture to biofuels latest venture involves harvesting algae as an energy source.
Usually the by-products that humans find useful are rather inimical to the organisms continued existence—fat in this case which the algae produces but only naturally in dire situations and when it’s deprived of essential nutrients. Some gene-editing, however, can induce simulated starvation and cause the algae to produce fat that is efficiently converted into fuel, almost equivalent to a vegetable oil. While earlier iterations of renewable biofuels were fraught with controversy as green-washing and not truly sustainable as it was competing with food-crops, there’s algae in abundance and this particular variety can thrive in polluted and brackish waters and perhaps even cleaning them up a bit in the process. What do you think?  Do developments like these take some of the edge of engineered Nature and ought they?

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

elements of eloquence

Language Barrier reacquaints us with the unwritten guidelines of style that native English speakers follow without thinking and the exceptions that make the rule.
Adjectives need to be presented in the following order, lest they ring dissonant, according to author Mark Forsyth: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose plus the noun or gerund being modified.  For example, one can plan for a sturdy great old crooked black English umbrella—whereas shifting any of those attributes around would make one sound rather unnatural. Those outliers, like Big Bad Wolf (size preceding opinion), can be explained by another unconscious rule—that of ablautive reduplication that mandates alternating vowel sounds go from i to a or o (for the sake of economy) and not the other way around: flip-flop, tick-tock and so forth. Ding dang dong.


alpha quadrant: astronomers spy more terrestrial exoplanets in our corner of the Milky Way

glymphatic node: new anatomical system discovered charged with cleansing the brain and spinal cord

 twitterpated: applying artificial intelligence to group and identify bird song

sub-space: a helpful, accessible explanation of that Chinese satellite network’s quantum entanglement experiment, disabusing our expectations of instantaneous communication

kalkül: images from a vintage East Germany children’s maths text book—site tip from Everlasting Blört

lacquer: Australian researchers are making advances with “solar paint” that pulls hydrogen from the atmosphere like a photosynthesising plant

tame: in depth genetics study suggest cats self-domesticated—or maybe it’s their humans that are house-broken

Monday, 19 June 2017


Wil Wheaton, having engaged with a commenter expounding on the historical context regarding the origins of Christianity and the received tradition unmediated by political expediency, improved vastly on the slogan entreating God to save one from his followers, by remarking that “Canon Jesus is better than Fandom Jesus.” I much prefer the way Wheaton turned out to the way the series imagined he would, as well.

saturday matinée

The always entertaining Poseidon’s Underworld takes a nostalgic look at a typical Saturday morning television line-up, including the Sid & Marty Krofft production that I probably thankfully have no memory of (I recall having an aversion to any programming that was not animated) called Far Out Space Nuts.
Starring Bob Denver and Chuck McCann as low-level, jump-suited NASA employees accidentally launched into space and faced a series of misadventures with extra-terrestrial friends and foes, it struck me as influencing the premise of Mystery Science Theater 3000, although apparently with a much larger budget and much less funny.
We’re also reminded how young children were encouraged to binge-watch the whole of the morning with a space opera leitmotif to indulge in—with Space Nuts followed by Ruth Buzzi and Jim Nabors playing lost astronauts, accompanied by a chimera called a dorse, who seems to inform modern meme-culture.
These aired circa 1975 but bled over in syndication for years to follow.  Be sure to check out Poseidon’s Underworld for the entire revue —including Shazam!, which I do recall and whose invocation was the initialism of the gods and heroes that helped out our super-hero: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, Mercury! We think Billy Batson could have benefited from some better role-models, like Athena perhaps—and though compartmentalised, segregated by programming for boys and programming for girls were also on offer.

Sunday, 18 June 2017


wrong side of the tracks: gentrification and inequality captured in aerial photography

fifty columns: there’s an installation in Johannesburg at the site where Nelson Mandela was arrested, which from a distance (like this structure in Melbourne) forms the visage of South Africa’s anti-Apartheid statesman and is a monument to those who fought for reform

dialogue agents: a pair of chat-bots (here are another two doing the talking) learning to communicate and negotiate (and keep the volley going) in the wilds of social media have developed their own language

this is spinal mäp: a customisable template that turns cartography metal, via things magazine

f—k you, i’m millwall: a fan of the South London football club who fended off assailants during June’s London Bridge attack and hailed as a hero is having his response turned into a beer by a Swedish beer company, via Nag on the Lake

thousand islands: homesteading on the archipelago on the Saint Lawrence seaway straddling the US and Canadian borders


Immediately after Dear Leader unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord to the consternation and disappointment of nearly all, France’s newly-elected president generously invited all those displaced, unwanted and defunded ecological scientists and entrepreneurs to his country to set up shop.
Now with the full faith and support of parliament and ministries of the environment and education, the government is making good on that promise and has pledged thirty million euros to fund foreign environmental studies and programmes—with a matching grant from schools and other organisations—that will support the work of fifty researchers (on top of on-going domestic initiatives) at least over a period of five years.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

ring of accolades

I am just as weary with the tedious, nauseating reign of Dear Leader and that praise-panel (Marion, don’t look at it. Shut your eyes, Marion. Don’t look at it, no matter what happens!) earlier this week really just about did us in. We however felt it was our duty to report on the probably roots of this insatiate need for flattery, which we learned likely came from Dear Leader’s role-model and touch-stone, Roy Marcus Cohn—attorney and chief-counsel behind what was truly the biggest witch-hunt in US history by aiding Joseph McCarthy’s investigations into un-American activities.
After helping to ruin the careers of countless real and imagined Communist-sympathisers and went on liberate Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of their lives for spying on the basis of rather dodgy testimony, Cohn began representing Dear Leader, along with other prominent Mafia figures and the management of Studio 54. Cohn’s counsel first came to public attention in 1973 when the US government accused Dear Leader of violating statute that prohibited the discriminatory practises in renting to tenants and Cohn audaciously launched a countersuit, which while failing did kind of give him a pass. And as if that was not enough, Cohn mentored Dear Leader in the most Machiavellian style that he should insist upon loyalty, reinforced often by having confidants recite a circle of accolades and introduced Dear Leader to the right-wing media moguls that became his campaign’s mouth-piece and dog-whistle. Roy Cohn died from AIDS-related complications in 1986 with posthumous speculation that Cohn was in a gay relationship, counter to his violently homophobic stance that was behind the so-called “lavender scare” parallel with McCarthy’s persecution.

in memoriam

Everyone is entitled to their opinions on terms limits and the scope and tenure of soft-powers and could probably summon up a dozen vexing counter arguments—but I think it can be said with confidence that if Helmut Kohl was not allowed to remain chancellor of West Germany from 1982 to 1990, the reunification probably would not have occurred.

The US and the UK preferred a weaker, divided Germany but the statesman was willing to throw his own economy in turmoil by a goodwill gesture to East Germany which dignified both powers and helped usher in an end to the standoff of the Cold War.   Had Kohl not then gone on to govern the whole of Germany for another eight years, the European Union as we know it with its trade partnerships, labour integration and common currency may have never been formed at all—and for keeping true to the course of geopolitics in a steadfast fashion whose alternatives seem rather unthinkable, Herr Kohl is owed a great debt of gratitude. We’d do him an honour in remembering how fragile such institutions are considering their precarious roots that only grit and resilience brought them about and the same qualities are essential in saving them.


Colossal exposes us to some of the latest denizens of the deep captured in photography for perhaps the first time with marine biologist and dive team leader of Moscow University’s White Sea research station Alexander Semenov.
These specimens are truly alien like the Pega confœderata that looks like section of air-cushion wrap to cushion fragile items in transit—seeming exceedingly delicate (here is a curation of another researcher’s approach in capturing and communicating the bizarre appearance and anatomy of the strange jellies, slugs and worms) and would indeed dissolve away if brought to the surface, existing in an almost solid state of being. These creatures are particularly at the mercy of our poor stewardship of the planet’s oceans as pollution takes years to settle to the bottom reaches of the abyss and once it reaches this terrain, there is no place else for it to go and toxins and other detritus becomes concentrated. These animals are already a mystery and we can’t pretend to know their threshold for human garbage.

Friday, 16 June 2017

what's that, flipper? timmy fell down a k-hole?

Controversially and perhaps dubiously, via Dave Log v 3.0, we discover that a group of marine biologists in the mid- to late-1960s (interestingly corresponding with the run of the television series referenced in the title) studying the cognitive abilities of dolphins were inspired to give the dolphins small doses of LSD to determine if that mind-expanding experience might be enough to break the language barrier, as it were, and facilitate communication between humans and the clever cetaceans.
Led by trained psychoanalyst Jon C Lilly, who in addition to being a close confident of Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary was already known for having developed the sensory deprivation tank and as a founding member of SETI (provisionally called the Order of the Dolphins for his battery of experiments), the aquatic mammals were carefully administered the psychoactive drugs as an alternative to invasive and potentially harmful brain probes. Unfortunately, these trials did not result in an immediate and comprehensive cultural exchange between the species (although there is word of a romantic tryst) and funding was eventually pulled, but no harm came of it and dropping acid did make the dolphin-participants much more vocal and chatty and even helped one member of the pod overcome his fear of human interaction and informs our notion of consciousness and being self-aware as well as respect for animal kind.


Charmingly, Nag on the Lake shares these recipe placards previewed in partnership with IKEA Canada. After arranging the ingredients according to the instructions (in the Nordic furniture purveyor’s signature style), the recipe can be popped into the stove too, being printed on parchment paper with edible ink.

social studies

Thanks to TYWKIWDBI for educating us in the cognitive bias described formally in 1999 known as the Dunning-Kruger effect (not to be confused with the Voight-Kampff test—she doesn’t even realise she’s a replicant) pertaining to incompetent persons suffering from delusions of grandeur.
Due to their aversion or inability for metacognition (thinking about thinking or simply self awareness), they self-assess as surpassingly qualified, despite lacking critical skill-sets. Secure and unaware, the most pervasive manifestation are those who over-estimate their driving abilities, raging that fellow motorists have no right to share the road or as laughably doltish criminals, which are fairly harmless. Hubris, however, can be a very dangerous thing, especially when the over-zealous and over-confident are aggrandised.

Thursday, 15 June 2017


Though this moveable feast of Corpus Christi is not technically a national holiday observed in every German state, on this ecumenical jubilee year (DE/EN) that marks the five hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting the ninety-five theses on the door of the royal chapel of Wittenburg, all Germans are accorded all the observances. Bavaria (where we live) has the most liberal public holiday schedule with thirteen, minus Reformation day, and other states granting fewer ranging from nine to twelve (like Hessen, where I work). Affording all holidays to everyone is a symbolic way to counter sectarianism as a few observances are markedly celebrated or disdained to the envy of neighbours clearly along historical Catholic or Evangelical majority territories.

ford at the fair

There are a lot of interesting angles to pursue in this latest ploy for attention from Tedium but what really resonated with us was the mention of the partnership between industrialist Henry Ford and botanist and inventor George Washington Carver to create a “soybean” car—or rather an automobile with a hemp-based body.  Like the factors that led to the production of the plastic Trabant in East Germany, war time austerity and steel and fuel rationing prompted this collaborative effort in 1941.
Designed to also operate on hemp oil, there is some unsettled contentions about the success and abandonment of this bioplastics vehicle. Only one prototype was built and displayed to the public at the Dearborn assembly-line and later at the Michigan State Fair and was subsequently destroyed—along with the exact combination of crops used—and newspaper accounts vary as to the reception. Despite significant investment, safety demonstrations, patent-filings and acres and acres of soy and marijuana, the end of World War II and surplus steel seemed to mothball the idea for the more ecologically-friendly mode of transportation but the initial decision to walk back the first model the remains a bit of mystery.  Tales abound how the petroleum industry conspires to quash innovation that would not be in their self-interest, and perhaps the soy car was one of the earliest casualties and one wonders what trajectory things might have taken otherwise. 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

chemin de fer

Messy Nessy Chic captivates our attention with her latest scouting expedition returning with this incredible, extant railway hotel constructed in the 1920s called the Belvédère du Rayon Vert of the French town Cerbère close to the border with Spain.
The art deco gem that once boasted a breath-taking cinema, dining halls and a roof-top tennis court closed down in 1983 but can happily still be engaged on a weekly-basis for those willing to rough it self-catering or toured for an afternoon. Check out the source link above to peruse a gallery of photographs and for more details, including the telephone number to arrange a visit since—in the spirit of being a time-capsule, there’s no website to deliberate over.


Informed by the creative dotage of poet Justinus Kerner when he spilt ink in his notebook and was inspired to versify on the intriguing smudges, Hermann Rorschach as a young child was fascinated with this technique and earned the nickname “Klecks”—German for inkblot.
The chain of development of klecksography from poetry to psychological tool to study the subconscious did enjoy an intermediate phase as an international popular pastime, we learn from Atlas Obscura, just a few years after the publication of Kerner’s book of poems with a pamphlet instructing people how to create shadow-pictures or gobolinks for festive occasions and use the resulting image (tellingly, taken as monstrous mostly) as a writing-prompt. Similar to a test in word association or talking therapy but with a visual media, a patient’s interpretation of the stains is a way to access involuntary imagination and probe impulses not yet manifest came about in 1921 when Rorschach was studying Sigmund Freud’s theories on dream symbolism and was reminded of his childhood hobby.


Via the intrepid adventurers at Atlas Obscura, we learn that researchers at the University of Zurich have created the largest and most complex virtual universe with the Piz Daint super computer (named after an alpine peak).
The simulation, this meta-cosmos is to be used in conjunction with the Euclid space probe mission, launching in 2020, to scour the skies for signs of dark matter and dark energy. Astrophysicists hope that virtual models seeded with informed guesses as to the composition and arrangement might help them plot out the satellite’s course to maximise the chances of detecting the illusive substance (sort of like using augmented reality as a heuristic tool), which is thought to be the chief component of the Universe and far more prevalent (but weakly interacting) than the matter that we are accustomed to working with.

blind fAIth or rapture-ready

Writing for Æon magazine, contributor Beth Singler of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion explores the alignment problem, which like the zeroth law of Asimov begs what if any morals and norms ought to be imposed on artificial intelligence.
Despite how the technocracy might deride religion and insist that it’s a hindrance to peace and progress (like some interpreting the parable of Eden as justification for abusing the Earth), the optimism, the zealotry, the fire and brimstone and even the language that discussions of the technological and economic singularity are couched in ring very similar to that of the clerics that many try to hold at a distance. What do you think? A synthetic theology and subsequent hope of deliverance and reprieve resulting from an ultra-intelligent machine might be more like contemplating the mind of God than we are ready to admit.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

let them eat cake

Via NPR’s The Salt, we learn of a New York City self-taught baker turned social-media vigilante named Kat Thek who has founded a boutique agency called Troll Cakes, where one can not only commission a particularly tone-deaf or mean-spirited comment or critique to be committed to cake-form but the bakery will go one step further on behalf of their customers who were perhaps the target of harassment and do some detective work to determine the identity of the troll and send the cake to them.  The bakery also offers White House specials to give Dear Leader an opportunity to eat his own words—particularly those that have not aged well.

#c0ffee is the colour

The other day, I was wondering what my mobile phone number might spell out—recalling when catchy eight hundred numbers were hot-properties—and being disappointed that there was no encoded, memorable message to be teased out of that string of numbers.
Even when aided by an “algorithm” that surely sells the contact information to marketers of those foolish enough to offer it up, there was nothing to be found. Undaunted and in a similar vein, Waxy brings us a project that parsed an English lexicon to determine what words might be translated into valid hexadecimal, web colours—those marked with a number sign on a cascading style sheet (CSS). Turning letter o’s into zeroes and ones into i’s and s’s to fives, etc. our vocabulary palette is much expanded but even dialling back the interpretation to a stricter setting still returns quite a spectrum. As the hues are defined as either three or six letters in length and the base-16 system only goes up to number F, covefe is unfortunately out of bounds.


bat-signal: rest in peace, Mister West

lobby card: expansive, international collection of vintage movie posters, via Kottke

stratum: peeling back three decades of graffiti in Nijmegen reveals a chronicle, like the growth rings of a tree

the inklings: exploring the Oxford pub that hosted professors, thinkers and writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis

with the eyes of others: an exhibit introducing audiences to the neo-avant-garde art of Hungary of the 1960s and 70s

weather balloons: the cache of UFO photographs that the US Central Intelligence Agency recently declassified are laughably rubbish