Thursday, 20 July 2017

superstation or dateline: land of the lost

Before it was home to the CNN Center, the anchoring attraction of the downtown extension of the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, Georgia was fleetingly the World of Sid & Marty Krofft—one of the first all-indoors amusement parks.
Despite some of the frenetic, psychedelic rides and attractions, including a multi-storied, variegated carnival atmosphere and a colossal pin-ball game and appearances by signature television characters like the Banana Splits, Witchiepoo and HR Pufnstuf (whose fungibility prompted possibly the intellectual-infringement lawsuit ever with the Krofft’s franchise taking RonaldMcDonaldland to court) plus musical interludes, the park tragically did not prove the drawn that the producers and backers had hoped for—the whole experience could be taken in in just a few hours and after initial positive reception, families questioned whether it made sense to make a trek to a less than reputable section of downtown for less than a full day’s commitment.

Besides, the city’s zoo and aquarium were close by and cheaper alternatives and other amusement parks were cast out into the suburbs—with ample parking. Only six months after its grand opening in May of 1976, the park closed and it wasn’t until a more than a decade later when Ted Turner occupied the complex in 1987. Not many traces remain of the original arcade—other than, that is, the monumental, free-standing escalator (still the largest one in the world) that formerly delivered park guests to the highest levels of the Krofftian universe and are still part of the cable news network headquarters tour.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

frau holle/mother hulda

Fancy Notions presents a wonderful vintage, stop-motion adaptation of the Brothers Grimm morality, work-ethic tale Frau Holle—or as it’s sometimes rendered in English, Mother Hulda from Cornet studios (1976—purveyors of many fine instructional films as well, as featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000) called The Magic Well. With elements of the Cinderella story (Briar Rose), a studious, hardworking young girl is abused by her step-mother and expected to do all the household chores (whilst her biological daughter is pampered) and spin wool into yarn the rest of her hours until her fingers bled from the effort.

The story was told to Wilhelm Grimm by one interview subject named Henriette Dorothea Wild who lived near Kassel but came from Huguenot roots (famously members of the family accounted for other fairy tales like the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, Rumpelstiltskin, the Cat and Mouse in Partnership, etc.) whom the collector of fables later married. One day, spinning as was her custom outdoors near the well—she pricked her fingers and dropped the spindle while trying to dab the blood away. Fearful of the punishment that would ensue for having lost their chief means of livelihood down the well, the girl launched herself after it. The girl awoke to find herself in an enchanted land and did small kindnesses to some nearly over-baked breads and an over-burdened apple tree she encountered along her way to meet Frau Holle—a kindly old woman she served loyally without stint, cooking for her and making her bed—shaking her bedclothes caused the snows to come in Hesse—central Germany. Frau Holle ist für die Schneemenge im Winter verantwortlich, denn je gründlicher sie ihre Betten ausschüttelt, desto mehr schneit es auf der Erde. The girl leads a charmed life but does eventually grow homesick—to which Frau Holle gladly releases her and restores her to the cottage in the woods with the spindle and an abdundance of gold as if no time had passed at all. Seeing her step daughter so arrayed with gold, the conviving widow tosses the spindle back down the well, pricks her favourite daughter’s finger on a rose thorn and throws her down, rather fearlessly after. To learn more about etiquette, superstition and ephemera and how the other daughter fares, please visit Fancy Notions at the link above.

broadside, broadsheet

Via Design Observer—and though not as timely perhaps if it would have been a few weeks ago but noteworthy nonetheless, we learn that while not a signatory a woman—who was the first postmaster general and major press-agent in Baltimore—was bold enough to include her name just below the other John Hancocks (some more florid than others) on the Declaration of Independence.  Click to magnify and look to the very bottom of the page.

The copy in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand is probably the more famous version of the document that kicked off the Revolutionary War for Britain and its thirteen colonies but if it wasn’t for the commission by congress for the print-job from Mary Katherine Goddard’s publishing house in 1777 (this was a second-run but the first to disclose the names of the treasonous who remained anonymous shitposters previously) the rebellion might have never gotten into circulation. Of course, even this level of association was risky and Goddard intentional threw her support behind the Republic—serving congress and Constitutional Conventions with printing and distribution services as well as press-coverage throughout the war—until forced out of her office as postmaster and later as newspaper editor in favour of male stewardship. Some things behind the Beltway and beyond are sadly slow to change.

out to pasture

Professor and conceptual artist Pippin Bar has created a browser-based simulation, as Hyperallergic informs, that recaptures the tremolo sense of accomplishment of clicking things away and tedium of unrelenting but mild distractions of a real office-setting whose output is constantly under siege by work-motivators (commission-forming, superfluous meetings and other forms of pep-rallies) for human workers to wean themselves on once automation takes over these skeuomorphic tasks once and for all. While some workplace applications may have grown a bit more predictive and proactive in their behaviours since, it’s telling how the 1990s backdrop for It is as if you were doing work instantly dates it but there’s precious little process-improvement in the intervening decades and certainly not the sort that wins extra leisure-time (if anything, the opposite) for the worker. What do you think? Does it already feel like your job is keep up the pretence for a Potemkin office?


This piece of engraved cutlery bearing a benediction with musical notation to be sung before and after a meal as a digestif dates from Renaissance era Italy.
And while it may it would have been below the station of such a wealthy family who could afford such a fine table service to deign to slice their own food, the Victoria and Albert Museum helps us to imagine how such a repast might play out by setting the lyrics to a choral arrangement. Be sure to visit Colossal at the link up top to learn more and discover more artistic artefacts.


For World Emoji Day earlier this (we’re still on the hunt for whoever is behind these endless and arbitrary celebrations) Apple released a preview of the way it’s rendering some of the cache of newly approved icons from the late June meeting of the Unicode Consortium—in case some of this seems familiar, it ought to. Though it was mostly squeezing some extra mileage out of old news, there was one fine coda to the story that no one could have anticipated by reminding the world that added to our visual lexicon, there’s now a zombie—coinciding with the death of the filmmaker George A Romero who famously gave culture its undead touchstone first directing the independently produced Night of the Living Dead (zombies were never mentioned in that movie, only ghouls) in 1968 and five subsequent spin-offs plus hundreds of homages. Thank you for all the nightmarish inspiration and requiescat in pace (seriously, do that), Mister Romero.

Monday, 17 July 2017

sea of time

Though not quite the phantas- magorical conveyance of the Beatles that had its animated debut on this day back in 1968 at the London Pavilion, a former dance hall in Piccadilly Circus that was the venue for many film premieres, the Golden Submarine is a race car that is celebrating its centennial this year—we learn via Messy Nessy Chic. The stream-lined, steam-punk dragster was built for the Illinois circuit back in 1917 by Barney Oldfield and Harry Miller with rigorous safety components added to the aerodynamic foil (actually put through the paces in a wind-tunnel) and enclosed, protective cockpit.

aye, aye captain!

Speaking of Bikini Bottoms (which makes one wonder if there’s not some sinister message behind the world crafted by a marine biologist turned animator), our faithful chronicler, Doctor Caligari, points out that today among many other things in 1999 (not counting the pilot that first aired in May of that year), the Nickelodeon network premiered SpongeBob SquarePants as a regularly scheduled programme. Whatever opinion one has formed for the show, its longevity, I’d venture, does demand some respect.


The circulation desk at Public Domain Review recommends the seminal work of short-fiction by satirist and philosopher Voltaire (the nom de plume of François-Marie Arouet adopted after his release from the Bastille in 1718) called Micromégas (1752), which enjoins a common trope of scrutinising human foibles allegorically with the eyes of outsiders but the other worldly titans of this story also comprise one of the first instances of science-fiction in the Age of Enlightenment.
The eponymous Micromégas, a thirty-seven-kilometre (eight leagues) tall individual from a giant planet orbiting the star Sirius, finds himself at the receiving end of a heresy complaint for advocating that the “insects” of his home word need to be studied—though impossibly small and inconsequential—probably something parallel to the early proponents of the “germ theory” of diseases (first suggested in 1546 but not widely accepted until the 1850s) and is banished for a spell—though generations in human terms, an instance given the lifespan of Sirians that stretches into the millions of Earth years. During his exile, Micromégas decides to explore neighbouring constellations and comes to our solar system, first meeting an interlocutor on Saturn—a pocket sized one, relatively, at less than two kilometres in stature. The two take a pleasant stroll around the Earth but find the miniscule planet unremarkable until the discovery of a beached whale leads to a second find of a stranded boat—carrying a retinue of philosophers. Amazed but doubtful that anything so imaginably tiny could be intelligent, the alien visitors fashion an ear trumpet to amplify the words of the shipwrecked crew. With equal incredulity and nearly reaffirming the Sirians initial dismissal of the Earthlings, they announce that the Cosmos was created for men—sort of like modern-day views of the Anthropic Principle and our seeming privileged place in the Universe. Taking pity on humanity, Micromégas promises to give them a book with all the answers but once it is unrevealed back at the Academy, the pages are blank. Read the short story in its entirety at the link up top and discover more treasure from art and literature at Public Domain Review.

itsy, bitsy or swimsuit edition

Over at Weird Universe, they’ve posted a pair of newspaper clipping from 1939 and 1940 that show models sporting a sun dress and hula skirt (respectively as the term bikini was not coined until 1946 as a rather dark reference to the Bikini Atoll, a captured Nazi Pacific outpost—in German it was known formally as the Eschholtzinseln whereas bikini meant the place of coconuts in Marshallese—where the US, in Operation Cross-Roads, carried out its first peace-time nuclear test) that celebrate the bounty of the harvest and local vegetation.
The prickly cactus two-piece swimwear model apparently in fact made it into the annuls of contemporary German propaganda as an indictment against America for its lack of good taste and sophistication, although those associated with the shoot were more upset that the dateline was wrongly attributed to Florida rather than the desert southwest of Arizona where members of the sponsoring Sunshine Club gathered.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

polyglotinous or said no one ever

A linguistic curiosity plucked from the vast archives of Futility Closet comes in the form grammarian and instructor Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff whom, following the cues of education reformer Jean Manesca who believed that the classic scholastics that taught moribund languages like Latin and Ancient Greek was not the best approach for imparting fluency in pupils of a living one, refined his methods and published his grammars and foreign study guides in the 1840s that contain the familiarly stilted and strange sounding scenarios that one is unlikely to encounter outside of a foreign language class or ever utter verbatim.

One wonders if bi-lingualism was not frowned upon prior to Ollendorff, borne in part out of personal frustrations while travelling.  Sort of like a googlewhack—inputting a search-query that yields exactly one or zero results or a hapax legomenon, those practise sentences (you know the sort) that are well-intended and for Ollendorff’s students at least accurate and possibly memorable for their strangeness—and not like those one might find in that infamous Portuguese primer, “English as she is Spoke.” His signature, repetitive syntax earned him an immortal literary epithet in HG Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau (a bit like something out of Dick and Jane but far more arch)—“Yesterday he bled and wept,” said the Satyr (presumable ESL). “You never bleed nor weep. The Master does not bleep or weep.” “Ollendorffian beggar!” said Montgomery, “you’ll bleed and weep if you don’t look out!”

Saturday, 15 July 2017

post-modern prometheus

Over the coming year ahead of the bicentennial anniversary of its publication, we learn courtesy of BCC’s Inside Science, that Arizona State University in collaboration with many other thinkers are releasing a special annotated, transmedia edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus to encourage the vital political dialogue that is corollary to ethics and literacy in the sciences as well as celebrating all its influences and derivative works. The prescience of this cautionary tale has yet to be fully unpacked and its resonance and currency in today’s scientific milieu when one can without asking permission but perhaps forgiveness seemingly easily de-extinct not only woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers but also Neanderthals is certainly to be heeded.

doxbin of history

With predictable irony, the White House’s election integrity commission charged with the prevention of voter fraud that it intends to fulfil by doing away with the right to a secret ballot allayed fears of the public that the registry would disclose personally identifiable information of private citizens by revealing the details (to include full names, emails and phone numbers in some cases as the on-line form to lodge a complaint asked for this information) to the public in raw form, not bothering to mask any of the personal information. While it’s unclear whether the commission’s webmaster was careless or vindictive towards those who wrote in to express their dissenting opinions of this initiative (and actively encourage a bit of vigilantism), it seems to definitely reaffirm the fact that government ought not to be trusted with this scope and breadth of data—which they surely already are in possession of, but contempt for domestic intelligence agencies has made this regime thankfully far from omniscient.

dunkle materie

In the 1930s Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky (building upon some significant antecedents with Lord Kelvin measurements and Henri Poincaré’s matiére obscure) accounted for the exponentially different observed velocity of the galactic clusters he was watching due to the presence of some “dunkle Materie.” Consistent but predictable discrepancies in similar measurements over the intervening decades had persuaded science that there was there was a mysterious form of matter that comprised most of the substance of the Cosmos, which was conveniently allusive and unobservable was necessarily for how we understood the Universe to work—which does sound a bit forced.
Justin Khoury, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Pennsylvania, proffers a new way of understanding dark matter that while not substituting it for the classic idea of æther, a pervading continuum, does invite us to imagine dark matter as not particular or cloud-like (exclusively, at least) but something more fluid in nature. Specifically, we’re to think of dark matter like something called a Bose Einstein Condensate, an exotic state of matter that takes on the quantum property of superfludity. Some particles (and we can only create it in the laboratory under temporary, microscopic conditions) that make up the matrix take on the properties of losing all viscosity—like a super-conductor having no resistance to current—and at the same time other particles retain the sort of fluid dynamics that we are used to. Though we are most comfortable with witnessing or being baffled by quantum weirdness on very small scales, perhaps dark matter and dark energy are macroscopic manifestations of quantum effects at close-range—say just beyond the limits of human reach—and frictionless and virtually undetectable but stretching across vast distances of time and space, dark matter forms pools on galactic-scales that can be seen to influence the way clusters of galaxies and super-structures interact and hold stable. Some hold that dark matter is no better than superstitious preserving appearances—but to abandon it would mean modifying General Relativity—which like the quantum question of scale, has been demonstrated to work very well in our own solar system but remains not so rigorously tested in grander schemes.

Friday, 14 July 2017


The curators over at My Modern Met direct our attention to the striking “time slice” photography of artist Fong Qi Wei, who has honed his talent and patience for years to create these evocative composite images of a single subject or landscape throughout the day and night. As the artist states, these limnal—somewhere between a painting and snapshot—but also harmonising works engage the viewers more the longer it is considered and appreciated. It also makes me wonder what it means to take ourselves outside of time as much as we do out of nature and authentic experiences. And naturally, the also take well to animated treatment. Be sure to visit either of the links above to peruse the entire gallery and for related creations.


Of course we’re hurtling towards the moment (accelerating, I suspect if the US Federal Communication Commission gets its way and kills net neutrality) when the whole on-line experience and thus the way our personalities and world-view is informed will just be one vanity mirror to reaffirm our ignorances and prejudice, we are probably not quite there yet.
One platform that’s helping us lurch closer to that sort of dumb, narcissistic Singularity, essayist Paul Bisceglio writing for The Atlantic, explores at length with a rather brilliant, cautionary look at the personality quiz in all its incarnations—which, like many things, has taken a bit of a sinister, prying turn in the digital age. Not to spoil the fun and perhaps something insightful to be learned by which spirit-animal, Disney princess, or silent film star one is, but all these data-points feed algorithms that are destined when mediated through bogus psychologically projective tests inevitably become unreliable, judgmental and often flawed or dangerous. Couched in uncertain and unscientific terms as they are, such demographics are irresponsible and ought not be captured for marketers and political-handlers to use but that’s stopping no one from collecting that information and manipulating digital scenery with it. Instead, if one needs to indulge in some reflection, I’d advise one to stick to the horoscopes—and preferably by hard-copy.

grey poupon or an american in paris

Though nothing of substance is to be gained by entertaining Dear Leader at least while pacified by the pomp and circumstance and thronging crowds he demanded for his own inauguration—and while I can only hope in the same circumstance, we’d be noble enough to take one for the team and lure him away (Germany’s already gotten her lumps), he cannot concentrate on dismantling the tenuous gains towards a more equitable, charitable and cherished world we’ve made in the past decades. France’s traditions too are made of stronger stuff that this blemish will fade fast, and though the temporary relief is surely a welcome one for the US the cost does seem rather steep for a sleep-over. Superficially, some are comparing France’s new maverick president to Dear Leader for a shared flair for optics and betraying favouritism for certain journalists, but I think it’s huge stretch and insult other than to contrast Monsieur Macron from this classless Enfant Terrible and his mobster family.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

münzkabinett oder endangered specie

Authorities in Berlin are investigating a rather brazen heist but the pilfered commemorative coin—one of five created by the Royal Canadian Mint (for no particular reasons) in 2007 and acquired in 2010 by the city’s storied Bode museum, was loot too hard to resist.
In late March, a Big Maple Leaf, as they’re known with the Queen’s effigy on the obverse and the national symbol on the reverse , a gold coin weighing in at one hundred kilograms and with a face value of one million Canadian dollars but with a market value over four times higher as bullion. The investigation is continuing and arrests have been made—including one of the museum’s watchmen—and a crime family is under suspicion but police, given the nature of the liquidity of the haul, are not hopeful that the coin will be recovered, even in pieces.


fish and visitors: Icelanders are growing weary of insensitive tourists

meal-ticket: clever man works hospitality loopholes to eat for free for nearly a year before people got wise to his scheme

by jove: amazing, arresting images of the Giant Red Spot of Jupiter

je pense, donc je suis: our sense of self understood through the power of attention

theatre-in-the-round: the workshop of a LEGO expert constructs a zoetrope with minifigs, plus an original precursor to animation encoded as a GIF in bacterial DNA

sanli tu: medieval abridged guide to the Chinese classics of protocol and divination goes on display alongside some of the artefacts pictured therein

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

my son is a high-quality person and i applaud his transparency

Never mind that the honeypot was most definitely a trap and that the Russians are quite skilled at cultivating useful idiots and that most people would have had the presence of mind to not rush in on a lark or the fact that Junior’s venture was considered worth pursuing for what it might’ve yielded in terms of dirty laundry—beyond the pale of normal oppositional investigation—but at the same time excused for its apparent failure to yield actionable intelligence as much ado about nothing, this voluntary disclosure, thanks to unrelenting pressure from the press, drastically reframes the past narrative of having no connections with foreign agents.
No member of Dear Leader’s crime syndicate has owned up to meeting with Russia officials and intermediaries until being outed by journalists. Moreover, Dear Leader certified that the encounter in question was over the embargo for American adoption of Russian orphans, ostensibly over the legislation that legalised same-sex marriage rather than rescinding economic sanctions for the invasion of the Crimean Peninsula. Whether or not Russia had incriminating evidence on candidate Clinton or on their Manchurian Candidate, it is becoming more and more clear that Dear Leader was currying favour as a way to access the Russian property market. A potential business opportunity was capitalised upon back in 2013 when hosting a beauty pageant in Moscow and Dear Leader deigned to appear in a music video (far more awkward than Macaulay Culkin and George Wendt on Michael Jackson’s Black or White) of a business partner’s son. We don’t expect a neat coda of this fugue any time soon.

alif, alef or mater lectionis

An Israel typeface designer and professor created a new script that combines elements of the writing systems for the country’s two official language, Hebrew and Arabic, into a mutual intelligible characters.
Her motivations for creating this hybrid abjad were not exclusive political (coming just weeks after the Knesset proposed removing Arabic’s status) the but also social and personal, describing how in bi-lingual or tri-lingual signage, she saw the Arab calligraphy as decorative and not something to be heeded on the same level as Hebrew or English. I am sure that is a common enough experience and many other audiences, for want of literacy, would see something written in Arabic as vaguely terrorising itself. In Aravrit, however, both languages are fused, inviting the reader to see them as co-equals and perhaps to comprehend something about their commonality. Visit Hyperallergic at the link above to learn more and for a demonstration of how the characters were split and reconfigured.


Having legalised the possession of cannabis containing one percent of tetrahydocannabinol (THC) or less back in 2011, a major Swiss supermarket chain is now poised to add low-dose marijuana cigarettes to its line of other hemp-based products—Industrie- oder Nutzhanf. While the cannabinoid content is too low to induce a high, the manufacturers believe that it retains enough of its psychoactive properties to help relieve anxiety and pain management, and warn customers about smoking their product outside of the country, as the EU tolerance for THC in hemp is exponentially lower and policies vary greatly by jurisdiction.

heirloom variety

Indeed a thing we would not know if they did not blog intermittently, the distinction of open-pollination explained succinctly:
allowing crops to breed naturally, either assisted by resident pollinators, the wind or self-pollinating to produce offspring consistent with the desired traits of the parent plant.  We became impatient in the name of efficiency and the resultant, sustainable population explosion that came with the discovery of the Haber process at the turn of the century, which also ushered in the decline of open-pollinators. Monocultures and hybridisation have meant that the resultant seeds (a hybrid inbred) will not germinate or at least not in a predictable way, which is why modern agriculture has become reliant on a handful of seed providers—and the pesticides designed for them. At least one group is actively working to establish seed banks and a cooperative to educate consumers and farmers and give them a viable alternative.

butterfly in the sky

Regardless whether or not Reading Rainbow or Star Trek: The Next Generation registers on your nostalgia spectrum, you should do yourself the favour of checking out the new podcast series called LeVar Burton Reads. Drawing from different authors and a variety of genres (but with an emphasis, I suspect, on sci-fi), Mister Burton reads short fiction to his audience in a very engaging fashion. But don’t take my word for it.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017


To the dismay of some orthographic purist, the German Spelling Council (Rat für detsche Rechtschreibung oder RdR) the Eszett—ß will finally be given a proper capital (majuscule) form.
Instead of the rare but possibly confusing representation of a double S for the upper case letter, now people can officially exercise the option of using ẞ—großes Eszett. The pictured example is from sixty years ago but was an unofficial, unsanctioned capital glyph that the East German dictionary publisher designed for its own use, and there were other antecedents as well—going back nearly a century. STRASSE or STRAẞE now are both accepted but the same council session also decreed that certain Teutonicisms of foreign words like Joga or Ketschup are Verboten and the native spelling (more on spelling reform here and here) should be retained.

port sunlight

We really enjoyed the guided tour from Amusing Planet of the model villages (company towns) of the UK planned and constructed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the trailing years of the Industrial Revolution to house workers and their families.
Corporate barons in all trades from locomotion to mining, soap and chocolate created accom- modations and amenities that was far superior to the relative squalor of crowded working class neighbourhoods in urban centres. Although these pursuits weren’t entirely altruistic with landowners wanting to rid themselves of the eye-sores of cottages of the poor interrupting their views and some arguing the whole scheme was just the latest incarnation of feudalism with workers rather trapped and indentured (or indoctrinated) and with no choice other than patronising the company store, these settlements nonetheless pioneered retirement, medical benefits and union representation and helped enshrine and solidify the notion of labour rights. These purpose built villages were eventually integrated as regular towns and many contain listed-structures of historical significance.

standing order sixty-six

With the Trumpian effects of time distortion already punching holes in the fabric of reality, it’s scarcely possible to believe that this week marks a year since Theresa May ascended to the post of Prime Minister and leader of the UK’s Conservative Party after the passage of the Brexit referendum.
May’s professed political world view is rooted in the paternal and pragmatic philosophy of Benjamin Disraeli whose leadership informed what’s called One-Nation conservatism that while retaining the class system strongly advocated noblesse oblige and social justice for the disadvantaged and that indifference and apathy for inequities would result in violent revolution. Nonetheless, Disraeli’s agenda was oriented towards expanding the Empire and inspired fierce ideological battles from fellow populist William Ewart Gladstone who coined the term “Little England” to refer to the metropolitan Britain without its colonies beyond the seas. We’ll see what the future brings for incumbent and country.

Monday, 10 July 2017


sidebar conversation: company releases custom cellular phone to commemorate the meeting of US-Russo leadership on the sidelines of the G-20 summit

bucket-list: holding more than ten billion photographs, a hosting website is extorting uploaders by changing exorbitant fees to link to old images, effectively erasing great, historic swaths of the internet, via Super Punch

your daily donald: Iranian website sponsors a Dear Leader caricature contest, via Everlasting Blört

acme corporation: Chicago graffiti artist creates a Wile E Coyote and Road-Runner storyboard

sacré dépanneur: Nag on the Lake shares an appreciation of the Québécois neighbourhood corner shop—which comes from the verb “to troubleshoot”

better with the broom complicate: a neural network (previously here, here, here and here) tries to write titles and synopsises for Harry Potter fan fiction

Sunday, 9 July 2017

around the horn

We’ve known for some time that the fall of the Byzantine Empire—precipitated by the Ottomans’ taking of Constantinople—in May of the year 1453 was an event chronically adjacent to the dawn of the age of exploration with Christopher Columbus’ voyages in 1492 and Vasco da Gama’s five years later (preceding both and inspiring the success of his fellow countryman subsequently was Bartlolomew Diaz). We, however, failed to recognise the collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire and the blockade of overland routes to Asia directly, like the series of Crusades to recapture the Holy Land of Middle Ages and safeguard caravans of pilgrims, was aimed to re-establish trade-routes severed by Muslim occupation.

Unlike what Marco Polo had done a century prior, one could no longer walk to India and China and so a sea-route was sought in order to satiate those willing to spend exorbitant amounts of wealth on exotic spices and silks. Exchanges of goods and culture still continued by the Venetians, with whom the Ottomans had developed a business-relationship, but no one else thought that that maritime empire should enjoy a monopoly on supply. Betting that the globe was in fact smaller than Greek geomancers calculated, Columbus first embarked on a route to the East by going west and never realised that his progress had been arrested by two intervening continents, it was da Gama that actually reached the Orient first by sailing around the southern horn of Africa and on to Asia—prompting the Pope to negotiate a treaty decreeing all lands outside of Europe belong to one of the two Iberian kingdoms. The line of demarcation was the Cape Verde Islands (Repùblica de Cabo Verde) and everything to the West belonged to Spain, whilst (inclusive their colony on the archipelago) belonged to Portugal—stopping at Cuba and Hispaniola, and while repudiated many times over the centuries basically held until colonial ambitions for all of the European powers erupted. Though the Byzantine capital was subject to many sieges in over a milleuium until its fall—it took the Ottoman forces’ knowledge of gunpowder from the Chinese to breach the city’s defences, it had resisted capture until the fifteenth century and kept open the lines of communication between the West and East. One wonders if that if the old logistical network hadn’t become a less than ideal option, then would there have been an impetus for exploration.

resting rich face

A rather wide-spread study has revealed that our default, neutral facial posture can reflect a lot about our socio-economic well-being.
So far results are only slightly better than random but as discerning glances become more sophisticated (and ethnographers do think that there is some subtly in expression that human intuit) this will become another factor for algorithms to exploit as a gauge for credit-worthiness or even if it’s worth the return on investment for you to be in this or that particular store or be allowed to take a holiday as planned as an under-contributor. What do you think? If we are to trust technology to help us improve our lot and be willing to work collaboratively with it, the process should be a transparent one—even if we’re growing too dumb to have it explained in terms we can understand. If our expressions do carry artefacts of our past and class upbringing, those shouldn’t be leveraged against us.

Saturday, 8 July 2017


Bdelygmia (thanks to TYWKIWDBI for enhancing our vocabulary) is the name for a rhetorical term that’s an appeal to the emotions that signifies more or less what one would expect from such a retching sounding word: a litany of abuse, a heap of insults.
From the Greek for filthiness, it’s a series of carefully crafted epithets (sloppy constructions generally fail to sustain a feeling of enmity with the audience and can often backfire, portraying the name-caller as cruel or juvenile) meant to engender hatred for the maligned target and channel the threat of physical violence. An example of a harsh but not provoking invective comes from lyricist and populariser of the limerick Edward Lear in ranting about a noisy neighbour to a confidant in 1859, “A vile, beastly, rottenheaded, foolbegotten, brazenthroated, pernicious, piggish, screaming, tearing, roaring, perplexing, splitmecrackle, crashmecriggle, insane ass of a woman is practising howling below-stairs with a brute of a singingmaster so horribly that my head is nearly off.” It’s a standard device employed in factional politics and the weapon of choice for bullies of all venues, though most contemporary instances of bdelygmia are not so persuasive. No matter what sort sophistry and abominations are deployed, it is not rhetoric if it does not attempt to reach out to an audience to change minds and win support. Effectively only re-enforcing convictions already held is mere artlessly dangerous pandering and can move anyone to violence so disposed.

contrived durability oder tinker, tailor

Via Boing Boing, we learn that admirably the EU is taking further strides against institutionalised obsolescence with a guaranteed right to seek repair rather than disposal and replacement. Rather than supporting the status quo model of leasing that infantilises and confounds consumers with terms and conditions that bundle service contracts together and require any attempt to remedy a problem be conducted by authorised dealers, Europe is putting together a charter that awards companies who reduce waste and don’t sell people a ball and chain along with a car or a coffee-maker, stipulating an accepted, universal definition of built-in obsolescence, the ability to (while maintaining safety standards) upgrade and make modifications, untangling replaceable components like operating software, lightbulbs and batteries and encouraging general durability.

willkommen in der hölle

Corporations and kleptocrats are deserving of the coming mobs with pitchforks and protests are quickly slipping into violence and vandalism because people are feeling more and more powerless—especially when made to suffer and sidle such buffoonery and abject doltishness emanating from the US. No one has time for that. Outrage (DE/EN) should still be channelled and harnessed gingerly—however, and there’s no excuse for attacking for attacking the police and the emergency services who have incredibly tough jobs to do nor for senseless, opportune destruction and looting.
Such chaos and devastation are not political instruments and a resistance failed. The city of Hamburg deserves better and is better than the prevailing portrayals of the moment—while there’s many stand-out and shameful scenes, there were more peaceable demonstrations, concerts and marches with a message and mandate happening concurrently. That said, the responsibility lies fully with the politicians and their image makers not only by insisting upon prestigious venues but perhaps also by the fact that such rallies could not (with or without undirected rage) take place in the streets of Washington, DC, Riyadh, Ankara or Moscow.

buffer memory

One archivist and curator of endangered and at risk television programming is discovering that there is a palimpsest of preserved historical data to be retrieved from VHS and Betamax tapes that might seem otherwise without much merit from a conservationist point of view in the form of teletext pages that were collaterally recorded along with the surface shows.
Before the internet and home-computers became ubiquitous, the Ceefax service furnished a wealth of information, as with these captured feeds from June of 1983—plus resources to be found at the link up top that have compiled whole days’ worth of behind the screen programming.  Most broadcasters ceased their teletext operations in the early- to mid- 2000s once the internet (especially news websites) became robust enough to handle high-traffic volumes but the service still continues for some in TV Land.

Friday, 7 July 2017

eye in the sky

Via the always marvellous Nag on the Lake, we are treated to a carefully juried selection of the best photographs taken by aerial drone pilots from cameras aloft. These superlative examples of the genre, like this best in category Nature of lavender harvesting in Provence were solicited and curated by a specialty photography that really appreciates fresh and unexpected perspectives site called, previously featured here.

leerdammer, limburger

BBC Culture treats us to a tour of an exhibition hosted in the galleries of the Maurithuis of the Hague—the kingly cabinet known for curating the collection of Old Dutch Masters, which not only extols the aesthetic appeal of cheese as a subject for still life paintings but also for its inspirational virtues through the ages. There are dozens of examples mentioned worthy of further exploration but one of the more resonant ones was how a particularly ingratiating morsel of Camembert (and not Einstein’s contemporary writings on time dilation and relativity as some have suggested) that drove Salvador Dalí to create his iconic melting clocks in Persistence of Memory.

modern day presidential

The press must take a stand against the relentless, juvenile bullying of Dear Leader—what’s potentially at stake highlighted by his recent publicity stunts with fellow dictators who are known for repressing independent reporting including the Polish leadership who were gracious enough to bus in supporters to cheer him on.
Some are suggesting, however, that one outlet that’s been the brunt of his abuse may be legitimately traumatised, a psychological alliance as a survival strategy like those suffering from Stockholm syndrome . Whilst it is questionable whether the original contributor of the offending post would have taken the moral high-ground and pledged to amend his ways if not tracked down and confronted by the news network, they seemed to reach a bit too far with what some interpret to be an implied threat of blackmail or bullying by reserving “the right to publish his identity should” he not uphold any of those pledges to reform. It’s not helping matters for the media to stoop to Dear Leader’s level and only reinforces his narrative of the Lüggenpresse for those already so persuaded, and the response—which includes outing the identities of the reporting team and harassing their families, has been massively disproportionate. No journalist is advocating for Dear Leader’s mode of character assassination but his vocal minority have found a point of contention to latch onto. Words having consequence and expression, while free, is defensible only through responsibility are lessons that cannot be repeated too often if political discourse is to ever become something meaningful again.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

afternoon drive: saint goar

In honour of the patron saint of vine-growers, potters and innkeepers—the hermit and (another) reluctant clergyman Goar of Aquitaine, I took a drive just around the corner to the Rhine Gorge to again explore namesake village, Sankt Goar am Rhein. Charlemagne ordered the construction of church at the site of the cave where Goar dwelt (the hermitage) during Frankish times and a settlement grew up around it. The sister-city on the opposite shore of the Rhein, Sankt Goarhausen, is also named for the saint.  The present church on the site is in the Gothic Revival style and was completed in 1891 but still incorporating ancient elements. Although given permission to preach to the locals and pursue the uncomplicated life of a hospitable recluse, his reputation as a charismatic and wonder-worker kept the bishopric of Trier interested in retaining his talents. Not wanting to have the responsibilities and pressures of being a bishop, Goar prayed to be excused from the commitment and succumbed the next day to a sudden and violent fever that relieved him of his mortal coil. The old town was quite impressive and steeped in history and the monumental ruins of Burg Rheinfels that dominates the village looked incredible and will certainly bear out further investigations and new vistas.  I am very happy that I made my little pilgrimage but was a bit disappointed that the throngs of tourists were oblivious to the holiday and the doors of the church were not even open.  I felt privileged, like the day and its commemoration was my secret with the saint.


Our thanks to Super Punch for investigating past the headlines into the US Department of Justice suit against an American craft and hobby outlet’s founder for the illicit importation of ancient Middle Eastern artefacts.

Rather infamous already for refusing to comply with provisions of the Affordable Care Act and withheld compensation for the covered medical expense of contraception for its employees on religious objections, the family that owns the chain of stores massed a purloined collection of some five thousand scrolls, tablets (not pictured) and other relics smuggled out of the region by dealers under the guise of business samples. Plunder doesn’t necessarily need a further explanation but it turns out the motivation lie in a DIY project that the family was backing in Washington, DC: the Museum of the Bible is slated to open in November of this year, just off the National Mall and across the street from the US Department of Education. The privately-funded museum will display Biblical antiquities, showcasing the family’s sizable and questionable collection, and feature a research centre and an immersive augmented reality experience. Such passions and eccentricities are fine provided that no one’s hurt in the process, but given that the Cosplay Caliphate is receives its financial support through the sales of looted artefacts from Iraq and Syria, we’re too late for that already. The acquisition of the heritage and treasure of another culture by museums is always a subject fraught with controversy and begs questions of repatriation and cultural appropriation but touring galleries that reflects recent practices in pilfering and contributes to slaughter and strife and the undermining of regional stability seems perverse and wholly inappropriate.

intrusive r

Recently I learnt that the phonological phenomenon that I tend to partake of—inserting some errant phoneme into a word, both in English and in German, of course has a name: epenthesis (Epenthese).
The subtle p sound that’s rather unavoidable in hampster, somepthing or warmpth is one example called excrescence when a consonant is stuck in there, but the most common form in the received regionalism comes in the form of adding a rhotic sound—as in idear, warsh or what I’ve been called out for, Chicargo. There can also be something called a linking-r as in drawering or as in “I saw-r a film today—oh boy!” Four-thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire—or one twenty-sixth of a pothole per person, which through some formula (or not) yields the seating capacity of the Royal Albert Hall.