Thursday, 31 August 2017


the art of vehicle maintenance: further notes and take-aways from Why Buddhism is True

great railway journeys: an intrepid duo visit every train station in the United Kingdom over fifteen weeks

urban spelunking: thieves bore into Paris cellar from catacombs and make off with a quarter of a million euro worth of vintage wine, via Super Punch

interstitial: much like with the latest iteration of the Star Wars saga, fans of Blade Runner will be treated to series intervening short films

psychic-driving: technology and psychotherapy are not guaranteed to be compatible nor risk free

nothing ventured, nothing gained: whilst dashing off to witness the solar eclipse, the Fancy Notions team visited the micronation (we have only gotten to visit one) of the Republic of Molossia 


Seventy thousand residents of Frankfurt am Main—a tenth of the city’s population—will be evacuated on Sunday (EN/DE) out of an abundance of caution as an unexploded bomb (Blindgänger) discovered in the Westend district is defused. The UK-made munition was dubbed “blockbuster” for its capability to take out whole streets and was dropped during one of the seventy-five aerial attacks that took place, destroying some seventy percent of the city. This event marks the largest post-war mass-evacuation and the latest in a series of ordnance uncovered by construction projects in urbanised areas.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

gentleman farmer

Writing for the Awl, correspondent Clinton Crockett Peters shares the biography of that charismatic megafauna, kudzu, that has invasively engulfed much of the southern United States and is spreading. Growing up in east Texas, Georgia and Alabama I can remember those kudzu monsters, how trees covered and chocked with the vine were propped up and seemed like dinosaurs in the dark, and how aggressively out-of-place it seemed but I never knew its provenance and how it was once peddled as get rich-quick-scheme.
While certainly not without merits if kept under control, kudzu—which was introduced to the American public at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia alongside ketchup, root-beer and the telephone—is native to Japan and afforded greater range will spread with devastating consequences including damage to other agriculture and ecological changes in carbon-cycles, not to mention the pesticides that some resort to beat back its advance. The versatile vine is useful for preventing erosion—though the Dust Bowl still occurred—recharging over-farmed soil and as food for people and livestock, but as with other short-sighted schemes it seems incredible in retrospect that kudzu was subsidised and its planting was encouraged, championed by celebrity “front-porch farmer” Channing Cope through weekly radio broadcasts, and took nearly another century to classify the vine as a noxious weed and begin to realise the effects of introduced species. Read all about it at the link up top.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

weiße haus

I’ve passed this villa in the Hessian capital numerous times and it always caused me to do a bit of a double-take but never realised until recently that the similarity to the US presidential mansion was intentional.
In 1903, sparkling white wine (Sekt) magnate Friedrich Wilhelm Söhnlein commissioned a Zürich architectural group to build a residence for him and his new wife and re-import Emma Pabst, heiress to the American brewing dynasty, specifically in the style of the White House. The design (an homage to Irish architect Jame Hoban) was also part of the motivation for the US military authorities to commandeer the compound from 1945 until 1990 and utilise it as a local head-quarters—just removed from the Kurpark by a few hundred metres. When the villa was returned to the state, it was considered for a time as a new home for the state government or alternately listing the property as a consulate—even though many countries were represented in nearby Frankfurt. Presently the building is in private hands but can be rented for special events.

bizarre love triangle

The Spanish commercial photographer that took the image of a boyfriend with a wondering eye, as Super Punch informs, is surprised but unconcerned (so long as decorum is maintained) by how one of his staged stock photos has gone viral and is fodder for the meme-mill.  The prolific self-taught entrepreneur has used the same trio of models in most of his compositions taken over the past five years, stringing their affairs into one epic soap opera story-board.

anthropomorphic test device

Unveiled last February, the hyper-realistic, pliable figure known as Graham designed by Melbourne artist Patricia Piccinini (in collaboration with a forensics expert and a trauma surgeon) whose anatomical frame is modified to withstand low-impact car collisions has been nominated for London’s Design Museum annual award competition. Commissioned by Australia’s traffic safety board, the grotesque is sort of a reverse crash-test dummy, imaging how we might have evolved to survive automobile accidents if that were our only threat to contend with, and installs safety features in the passenger as a way to lobby the industry to make safer vehicles.

Monday, 28 August 2017

cool and calculated

Thanks to the brilliant essay by Margaret Wertheim we’re reminded that not only is non-Euclidean geometry not just some contrarian theory, it’s moreover observable in Nature and we can learn to crotchet with hyperbolic patterns.
By pondering how simple creatures and primitive—even primordial—structures can prefigure the most complex and abstract mathematical concepts that mankind is credited for discovering rather than being informed by a disembodied function, the author explores how we might not have taken the most optimal and encouraging approach to academics and suggests we engage in maths jam-sessions and that virtuosity differs only in instrument. Study and practise aren’t being supplanted by license but rather the notion that our imagination is rather inhibited by convention and we’d be better able to see the next revelatory breakthroughs if calculus was the plaything of all aspirants and not just the few. When first taking a geometry course and being introduced to the different fates of parallel lines, I recall day-dreaming about the architecture and the topologically understanding of birds but didn’t know that these abstract concepts were embodiments of the physical world. There are a lot of thought-provoking avenues to explore in the piece whether or not one believes that honey-bees or nautiluses know what’s best suited to going about their business and the most resonant support for her argument was how mathematicians have time and again have found themselves feeling doubt and disdain for their most transformative theories and nearly didn’t dare share them for fear of rejection—whereas bit of contextualisation and craft might have proved liberating.

love chechen-style or broken-window, broken-home

Rewarded with unfettered license to play-house with his country in exchange for loyalty towards Moscow, after months of brutal treatment of gay men Ramzan Kadyrov, we learn via Super Punch, is back with more social-engineering initiatives with televised reunions of divorced couples. As ludicrous and as much like the premise of a reality TV programme as the Council for Harmonising Marriage and Family Relations, which brings together former estranged partners under the auspices of it being better for the children and children raised by single-parents are more likely to turn to terrorism (apparently), may seem, it’s deadly serious like broken-window policing policies and ex-husbands and –wives have no say in their forced co-habitation, which is strictly monitored by prying-eyes, and refusal to participate could carry consequences that would potentially rival the most abusive husbands.

sign of the times

London-based artists Scott Kelly and Ben Polkinghorne are installing conspicuous banners in the midst of scenic locations all over New Zealand that make the helpful recom- mendations for similar destinations that we tolerate or disdain on-line (though not appreciating how such algorithmic shrewdness that we’re only privileged to be manipulated landscape the internet) so that visitors might mediate more on the environmental impact of their tourism and lifestyle choices. Like a garish and annoying pop-up advertisement, there are ways of course to bat it away or otherwise remove it from one’s field of view and get at the desired content but one still has to contend with that just out of the frame it’s there—like the fairway that surrounds the Egyptian pyramids or the Vatican that’s never the subject of the composition but are nonetheless fraught.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

reference desk or site-seeing

From Life Hacker we get the incredibly useful tip that the whole of Wikipedia is available as a data dump any time by going here. It is currently some fourteen gigabytes of compressed information, unzipped to around sixty and can easily be tucked away onto a USB drive to have a version at one’s disposal whether on-line or off to satisfy the curiosity of the moment or merely for the pleasure of pursuing daisy-chains of related ideas down rabbit holes.
It’s a little too big to tote around on one’s mobile devices (and should one try to employ an abridged version, it feels like defeating the purpose with limitation) but the Wikipedia app is worth having—only taking up nominal space and having a very tight turning-radius owning to the fact it’s not laden down with the usual advertisement targeting software—and has a quite interesting feature, provided that one is will to share one’s whereabouts with Wikipedia: it informs on what locations in one’s physical proximity have articles written about them and what heading one should take to visit them. It’s quite useful for orientation and sight-seeing when in a new place for the first time and is really the only tour guide that one needs.

Saturday, 26 August 2017


Earlier in the week, I was visiting the NATO training grounds and mission support installations at the northern and southern boundaries of the two hundred and thirty square kilometre base in Grafenwörh in the Oberpfalz in eastern Bavaria. Conducted under the auspices of the US Seventh Army since 1945, Prince-Regent Luitpold designated the land outside of the village as the best-suited terrain for the principality’s soldiers to drill in 1907 and commissioned the construction of the reserve.
The water tower remains the landmark of the post—Tower Barracks, and the village is pretty charming as well. Luitpold, who presided over Bavaria in the name of his nephews Ludwig and Otto who were both deemed unfit (mad) to reign due to mental incapacitation, made several miscalculations and miscarriages including the military build-up that made the Great War an inevitability, eventuality instead of an possible outcome which are certainly of immeasurable geopolitical importance.
Included in that registry of miscalculations too was perhaps the royal decree that denied Friedrich Trump repatriation to his home in Kallstadt near Darmstadt for his failure to  discharge his military obligations to hearth and Heimat back in 1905 (Austria had ceded the western part of the Palatinate to Bavaria in 1816 and remained part of that kingdom then Bundesland through 1946).  Dear Leader’s grandfather had to once again leave his roots in Germany (after petitioning for the right of residency) and return once again to America to realise his own destiny.

and many pleasant facts about the square of the hypotenuse

Via TYWKIWDBI, we discover that a century of study and conjecture mathematicians have teased the secrets from a thirty-seven-hundred-year old Babylonian clay tablet and revealed that not only were the fundamental principles of the Pythagorean theorem known and applied earlier than expected, that indispensable ratio among the sides of a right-triangle providing that c²=a²+b², but moreover the artefact represents not only the world’s first trigonometric table and also the only completely accurate one—owning to the way the Babylonians counted in base-sixty instead of base-ten number-systems, which we retain in the way we reckon time and the degrees and minutes of longitude and latitude. This anonymous tablet predates the work of Hipparchus of Nicaea by more than a millennium, whom history has called the father of the branch of mathematics and credits with the invention of such preternaturally useful navigation and surveying tools like the astrolabe and the first star charts. The discovery is not just a revelatory in that it shows that these underlining principles were known to architects and astronomers far earlier than we believed, but there’s also the insight that these triads, the values of the sides of triangles, were derived ratiometrically—that is without inscribing a right-triangle in a circle.

cross-over episode or malleus maleficarum

I’ve been enjoying listening to the History of Ancient Greece podcast researched and presented by Ryan Stitt that reminds me very much of the History of Rome series that got me back into the genre in the first place.
Recently, one of Stitt’s presentations on classical tragedians ended with a short introduction from fellow-blogger Samuel Hume on his project The History of Witchcraft: A Podcast History of Magic, Sorcery and Spells. I’ve been enjoying the first few episodes and look forward to progressing through the catalogue for this series as well. Listeners will get their share of bewitching, possession, curses and rites, but only a witch-hunt can uncover witches and the anecdotes and institutions portrayed are a fascinating, sorrowful look at how societies can punish those who don’t know their place and how the chauvinistic male psychic is particularly affronted by strong women.

Friday, 25 August 2017


The US National Archives and Records Administration of course has an extensive collection of preserved films—including a sub-genre of instructional animation—from which our friends over at Muckrock have plucked their nominees for the most surreal out of over a century of bizarre cartoon-making. Including Private Snafu but mostly comprised of non-canon After School Special characters I’ve never heard of, it’s an interesting and indulgent way to examine how state-controlled messaging and motivation has changed and evolved over the years.  Watching one video of course cues up related items, so you can compose your own highlights reel. 

pogrom und pulverkessel

Twenty-five years ago this week and just separated by double the amount from World War II in 1992—a couple of years into the reunification, the Lichtenhagen district of Rostock experienced horrendous xenophobic riots. Despite thousands of by-standers applauding the attack of a hi-rise complex sheltering asylum-seekers with Molotov-cocktails and stones, no one was killed but the onslaught that lasted several days and tragically inspired parallel attacks was nonetheless a very dark moment in recent German history and seemingly one whose lessons were squandered.  Ignoring early rumblings that indicated the tensions in the city between residents and refugees were growing, government and law-enforcement authorities carry much of the blame for their inaction.  The focus of the pogrom, the first act of its kind since the war, was the so called Sonnenblumenhaus, which the state government had designated for the sheltering of some three hundred asylum-seekers per month while their applications were vetted.  As the world came to terms, however, with the new realities of a collapsed Soviet Union, the system soon became overwhelmed with over eleven-thousand individuals, mostly Roma from Romania, living in the building and camped out on the surrounding grounds.  Instead of increasing support, services were cut and living conditions soon became intolerable.  Police were inattentive to maintaining the peace and provocateurs grew emboldened, going so far to recruit outsiders that also haboured such feelings of hatred.  Unfortunately these episodes have become frequent occurrences and the culpability falls on all of us. 


universal translator: what is this dog’s urgent message?

cirque du toile: a fun appreciation of the printed fabric through history up to the present

equestria: a neural network is trained to name new Ponies—previously here 

regret avoidance: lottery mania illustrates how people make economically disadvantageous choices

jōkotō: cutlery company designs delux scissors styled as the iconic katana blades of samurai

eclipse de sol

The ever interesting Kottke shares the discovery of a striking postage stamp commemorating the 1970 solar eclipse that covered much of North and Central America—and was the first broadcast in living colour—designed by the graphic artist Lance Wyman, whose iconic reputation was established two years prior with his logographs for the Mexico City Olympic Games and the symbols for that capital’s (plus Washington, DC’s) metro systems.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

solar cell

Via Gizmodo, we learn of a potentially truly crowning achievement in the discipline of synthetic biology in the form of an experimental culturing of a strain of bacteria that are more efficient than plants at harvesting the energy of the sun and sequestering carbon-dioxide. They’re considered cyborgs as the molecule the bacteria uses as a photo-receptor is radically different from chlorophyll, and the addition of a few chemicals give the bacteria little crystalline solar panel shields—a natural but overlooked defensive-mechanism to heavy metals in their environment. The by-product of the bacterial respiration is acetic acid, which can be used as a food source for other bacteria or to create bio-fuels and bio-plastics. This process does not need to take place in the laboratory but merely in a vat in the sun and is scalable without the need for manufactured electronic components.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

litfaßsäule or post no bills

Recently, H and I learned that those purpose-built advertising columns like this one in my neighbourhood in Wiesbaden, known as Morris columns in English-speaking venues after the French printer Gabriel Morris who brought them to Paris, are called Litfaßsäule after the Berlin printer and publisher Ernst Litfass who first originated them. Repulsed by disordered pamphleting of walls, storefronts, fences and trees with random advertising and notices, Litfass received permission to erect Annoncier-Säulen in public places the city in 1855 and earned his title König der Reklame (King of Advertisements) by renting advertising space. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the columns also became lighting-rods and showcases for propaganda.  Litfass maintained his monopoly until his death, oddly enough, in Wiesbaden in 1874 and afterwards many municipalities undertook building their own pilasters.

next exit

Marking a year since the photographer’s passing, the US Library of Congress has curated a digital catalogue of over eleven thousand images captured over three decades and a hundred thousand miles of the highways and byways of America of John Margolies.
Margolies’ odyssey sought to collect the vanishing vernacular architecture that embellished roadsides that made potential customers take a second look and made the passing landscape a little less monotonous. Many of these structures are only conserved in Margolies’ archives, which he selflessly placed in the public domain so others would be free to enjoy in the nostalgia and embark on road-trips into a lost past. See much more at the links up top.

Monday, 21 August 2017


Via Nag on the Lake, we not only learn the etymology of the term scofflaw but also how a bar in Paris—a country that’s demonstrated its sensibility previously for not experimenting with government imposed prohibition on alcoholic beverages—took advantage of the ensuing hoopla and stumbled onto buzz-marketing.
A Boston banker and staunch Prohibitionist named Delcevare King, seeing that the experiment was a failing one with the otherwise law abiding flagrantly flouting the law (the constitutional amendment was in force from 1920 until 1933 when it was repealed by a second amendment) and criminal gangs forming to create a lucrative black market, sought to find the perfect derogatory term to shame the misguided into compliance. To that end, King sponsored a contest soliciting the best epithet and enticed over twenty-five thousand entrants with a prize in the form of two hundred dollars-worth of gold—an inconceivable ransom for a wordsmith in 1923 and it made the papers worldwide. King’s efforts to “stab awake the public conscience of law enforcement” choose—over boozeshevik, boozocrat and many others, the neologism scofflaw but was himself made a rather international laughing stock for publicly harbouring such puritanical condemnation. Seizing the opportunity, Harry’s New York bar (an American extract from 1911, shipped to the City of Light) patronised by the expatriate community named a cocktail after the new term. A recipe and review of the Scofflaw can be found at the link above, a clever project linking letters and liquor through history.

Sunday, 20 August 2017


Not contended with merely rubbishing the high office to which he was elected nor making a mockery of the agencies under his purview by installing chiefs antithetical to the cause they’re to champion while being content to allow vital appointment to go unfilled and even thanked Russia for culling its staff at the US mission to Moscow, Dear Leader has thanked fellow serial presidential candidate and “Contract with America” architect Newton “Newt” Leroy Gingrich for his early and consistent loyalty and support with a Holy See ambassadorship for his current and third wife, documentary film-maker, author, political aide and noted adulteress Callista Louis née Bisek—subject to congressional approval.
The grace-and-favour posting to the Vatican has only formally existed since 1984 (as was the case with a lot of non-Catholic majority countries) established and credentialed under Reagan and Pope John Paul II with personal emissaries representing papal and American interests previously. Though I suspect there’s little responsibility or symbolism attached to the job—especially after such an announcement—it still would have been a privilege to be a plenipotentiary along with the some one hundred and eighty countries that maintain diplomatic relations and it has not been without controversy—recently back in 2009 with Pope-Emeritus Benedikt XVI over tensions with Obama’s push for equality in marriage.

living in a powder-keg and giving off sparks

Though not quite as infrequent as a total solar eclipse, it is a rare occurence to find out new facts about the same musician back to back.  We learned earlier in the week—but still not in time to book passage on the sold-out cruise—Miss Bonnie Tyler will be performing her signature 1983 power ballad on deck to guests (and surely with guests) as the ship passes in the path of totality and the sun is blotted out.
Total Eclipse of the Heart lasts slightly longer that the two minutes and forty seconds of civil twilight that cruiser-goers will experience, but there’s no word if there’s a special abbreviated performance might be given. Incredibly this is not the only news regarding the song from this past week—as Miss Cellania points out, the piece was originally written for Meat Loaf and was to appear on his next release but as his own 1977 landmark  Bat out of Hell album was such a run-away success and a tough act to follow, he dismissed his lyricist to rethink his next project. A few years later, the songwriter realised that the number would be the perfect way to showcase Tyler’s operatic talents. While I appreciate that perhaps in the grand scheme of things, pop songs may not be of the greatest pith and moment, but it’s a bit rough to imagine how karaoke nights, the development of the music video and the eighties genre might be radically different had things turned out otherwise.  What do you think?  Turn around Bright Eyes.


On display at the corporate headquarters based in Memphis, Tennessee is by good fortune and foresight the overnight shipping and cargo airline firm Federal Express’ first delivery van, a second generation Ford Econoline van from 1973. Founded in the same year by Fred Smith, confident that time’s value was on an upward trajectory, the company now has the rather redundant title of FedEx Express and more competition from courier services have come on to the scene but the corporation still remains the leader in overnight deliveries—plus had the wherewithal to conserve its humble beginnings. Be sure to visit Just a Car guy at the link above for more automotive wonders.

Saturday, 19 August 2017


When sixteen out of seventeen members of Dear Leader’s Committee of the Arts and Humanities, whose duties include overseeing the doomed National Endowment for the Arts, resigned en masse (the one public official—the honorary chairman found her hands tied), the signed a collective thoughtful and urgent letter expressing their disgust towards the White House’s response to last week’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. If one takes the first letter of each paragraph after the salutation and puts them together, the acrostic reveals a hidden message. Additionally note the opening line, “Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms.”

black jack

Though always eager to be the centre of attention be it through palace intrigues or disgraceful provocation and the news that Trump dismissed his chief propagandist to return to the managing the media properties that helped create the landscape that made it possible for this regime to seize power became the dominant headline, Trump’s doltish antics ought not to cause us to be distracted from his awful reaction to the violence in Barcelona with an appeal to a patent and self-plagiarised falsehood.
Ironically, the public figure who just the day prior berated the press for speaking before they knew all the facts (unlike himself) related a crass story that he was already told was untrue. Instead of condolences and statements of solidarity, Trump offered that Europe should study Pershing, most likely—although restricted to one hundred and forty characters, one has to fill in the blanks sometimes, to the military commander’s nation-building exercise in the Philippines and his tough stance on terrorism with an apocryphal account of executing Islamic terrorist in a defiling manner and how the example set ended insurgency in the region. Who is feeding this troll?  Do not make this tragic moment and movement about you.  While this libellous, revisionist and frankly criminal fable is unlikely to do anything other than cause more inflammatory feelings, the injunction to study General “Black Jack” Pershing might be illuminating in terms of understanding what America’s foreign “policy” might become going forward with a return to imperial aspirations and what sort of messenging (through a restored Bannon) that might entail.

Friday, 18 August 2017

an army marches on its stomach

Though the idea has spread far and wide at least on informal terms, the French were the first in the seventeen-hundreds to acknowledge and commission the commissariat corps styled vivandièred or cantinières. These women were for the most part affiliated with those on the battlefield and could provide far better fare and refreshment than what the military was capable of providing. These women at the front also experienced quite a lot of mission-creep—often omitted in histories, figured quite large in the outcomes on the battlefield.

strumming on the old banjo

Rising above the ranks of unabashed, unapologetic romancing of statues of Confederate military leaders, Damon Young shares his encounter with a surpassingly offensive monument that he’d managed to overlook his whole life, despite being in the same city. The bronze of US songwriter Stephen Collin Foster was cast and dedicated in 1900 in the city of Pittsburgh near the campuses of the Carnegie Institutes (not that the provenance is any excuse for the portrayal) and depicts Foster elevated over an African America ostensibly performing some of the minstrel tunes that either inspired Foster or rather that Foster just committed to sheet-music and took the credit for.  Standards of decency and propriety had advanced, at least one could be forgiven for thinking, that is until one reads an excerpt from a city newspaper article written one hundred and ten years after its dedication (which directed the author to the statue’s existence in the first place) that is couched in dated, racist terms.  You’ll do a double-take too.

beyond the long now

Acclaim for Kottke for directing our attention to the well-curated Wikipedia property that concerns itself with distant future scenarios for the known Cosmos as we presently understand it, beginning with events postulated to take place beyond ten thousand years from now.
As illustrated in this timeline, due to the gradual shift of the lunisolar calendar, in AD 20 874 Gregorian and Islamic calendars will share the same year number, just a few hundred years after Chernobyl becomes once again safely habitable for humans, and still five thousand years until the earliest possible receipt of the Arecibo message by an alien intelligence. Assuming the same limitations still apply, a reply would take another twenty-five thousand years—coinciding with the planned return and unsealing of an orbiting space time capsule to be launched in 2019. There’s a lot of fascinating facts to wade through and I’m sure everyone will find something resounding to stand in awe of. Off this scale by many orders of magnitude and of course a gradual and on-going occurrence, astronomers poignantly believe that by one hundred billion years in the future the Universe will have expanded to the point that no civilization would see starry night skies and look up to wonder about their neighbours.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

jai guru deva om

Against the advice of his gurus and meditative-betters, philosopher and author Robert Wright not only took notes to be later adapted into a book during his silent retreats, he also shared his feelings of inadequacies and failing when it comes to practicing mindfulness.  
Why Buddhism is True does not privilege it above other religious traditions and articles of faith are not addressed but is rather true in the sense that its core teachings and methods of coping—suffering comes from misunderstanding and meditation leads to liberation—work on a physical and psychological level because they allow us to transcend the inscrutables of billions of generations of evolution. The great chain of being that has led to you and your condition is miraculous but also has brought the hitchhikers of history which may have conferred advantage (Fear is the mind-killer.) at one point when our lives were more precarious but are now nuisances and sources of unbidden bias and anxiety. Perhaps not to be edited away could we identify the offending gene, the willingness to be still and confront and embrace the distressing renders it less powerful. The take-away is—by the way—that there is no wrong way of being attentive (Do or do not. There is no try.) and that daily practice yields daily reward.


Having discovered and explored this enchanting place ourselves back in October 2013 but not knowing the full story behind how the town came to be abandoned and left to fall into disrepair only to see a brief resurgence, we really appreciated this travelogue by Messy Nessy Chic correspondent Luke Spenser on Oppède in Vaucluse, near the Côte d’Azur. From the Latin for town (oppidum) this place is actually comprise of two towns, a valley settlement (Oppède-les-Poulivets, “with the nice view”) and an old town, Oppède-le-Vieux, hewn into the ramparts of the Petit Luberon mastiff. As picturesque as the old town was, the local agricultural community grew less and less willing to make the arduous climb up and down the mountain to work the fields every day and eventually transplanted themselves to the valley permanently. Roofs of buildings above were removed so the former residents were no longer liable for property taxes. During World War II and Nazi occupation, members of the resistance formed a short-lived artist colony amid the rubble and ruin. One member of that community was writer and artist Consuelo de Saint Exupéry (née Suncín), who was the inspiring but rather tumultuous muse for the character of Rose in her husband’s work The Little Prince. The article brought back some nice memories and I think it is high time to return to that part of France.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

algorithmic engagement

We’ve previously explored numerous times how fraught social media is with manipulative and inscrutable sets of instructions that determine what content one is presented—or confronted with—that has led to people bemoaning the changes in myriad ways. We ought not be so obsessed with what’s hot off the presses but missives can grow stale and many times pledges and opinion do not age well—and it’s a psychological distressing struggle that a billion denizens charge towards daily and mostly fail by the hour.  People rate what comes across as an asynchronous jumble from a nuisance when they’d just care to experience events chronologically without some strange dream sequences or unbidden flashbacks to something more sinister when something from weeks and months past is unearthed.
Considering the geopolitical climate of the present, however, it seems that the war for our attention is going far beyond the vaguely menacing to the patently terrorising insofar as the figurative war is being translated into very real ones in the name of optimising revenue and we lose on both fronts. Online engagement is perhaps its own apotheosis in reality, but sensationalism distorts our perception of threats and given that our experience across all demographics is necessarily either dogmatic and doctrinaire or impressionable because of the limits of what we can know and can take part in have suddenly been made rather unlimited and the propagandists were the first on the scene.

very fine people on both sides

Trump’s lie-filled, unhinged tirade that passed as a press-conference taking reporters’ questions after delivering a few prepared remarks on the state of US infrastructure (“We’re like a third-world country.”) is indefensible and for those who hadn’t already caught on further evidence of the urgent imperative to dislodge him and his entire regime, but please do not allow Trump to make what transpired over the weekend about himself.
This does affect all of us, but the events that transpired are not about how not all white people are bigots nor how not all Trump supporters are white supremacists—that’s the same sophistry of moral relativism that Trump and his handlers have used to re-craft his stance. The mixed-messaging is revolting but we already had strong suspicions about Trump’s character and that he harboured such sentiments and even a resolute denouncement would probably reveal itself to be less than genuine. There is blood on his hands, assuredly, but the fact that his natural constituency is comprised of such an angry, disaffected mob bearing tiki-torches is the issue at hand, and as much as we’ve drilled to withstand the forces of hate and rabid nationalism when confronted with this raw, unmediated and stultifying meltdown, we are unsurprisingly are ill-equipped to frame.  Shock and shame are not to be conflated with surrender or acculturated normalcy. 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

the bell that rings the hour

Along with rather urgent plans to remodel and refurbish the Houses of Parliament, London’s public works will also be silencing Big Ben from next on to 2021 (with some exceptions, like for New Year’s) for repairs to the clockwork—and groaningly, the addition of an elevator for tourists.
Although not the first intermezzo for this icon, we hadn’t appreciated what a cultural touchstone and cue that the chimes could be for those outside of ear-shot. More used to hearing the pips, we weren’t aware that a live broadcast of the bells attended the 1800 and midnight BBC dispatches and the station surveyed the whole of the UK for a substitute for the interim. The chimes of Nottingham Council House (Big Tom) were considered but as the bells do not toll at midnight and weren’t an exact match, the network decided to use a recording during repairs.


Forty years ago this week not only saw the launch of the Voyager, our cosmic embassy, probes and also the reception of the Wow! Signal by Ohio State’s Big Ear radio telescope, discovered a few days later when volunteer astronomers were reviewing the print-outs.
Though never repeated (and it’s worth pointing out that for all our errant broadcasting, we’re not particularly chatty, either—the pixelated Arecibo message of 1974 is one of the few interstellar missives humans have sent) the strong, narrow-band that blip remains the prime and sole candidate for an alien transmission. The alphanumeric values represents the intensity variation of the signal over about a minute of time and appears to have originated in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius.

viva piñata

Via Dangerous Minds, we find ourselves regaled with the sculpturally elegant and fantastical piñatas inspired by the monsters and chimera of Hieronymus Bosch of south Texan artist Roberto Benavidez. All connoisseurs would of course perish the thought of assaulting any of these exquisite papier-mâché creations with a bat. View more of the artist’s gallery of works at the links above.


A preliminary but rather brilliant year-long trial in Denmark is demonstrating that parked electric vehicles can help to regulate the power grid. Recharging batteries overnight and during work hours can place stresses on utilities infrastructure and is already changing peak hours and demands but by keeping cars otherwise engaged and active players in their refuelling, the grid could selective reduce, increase or take back energy from the batteries (plus presumably store excess capacity) on this extended grid. As if this was not incentive enough in itself, the exchange—which is something I’m sure we’ll being taking for granted in the near future, can also earn some money for the vehicles owners paid out by the grid’s operators.


Remarkably on this day nine distant years ago, PfRC began as a little travelogue. Still wanting for a theme and some direction some four thousand posts later, we hope to continue making it worth your while to visit for years to come. Here are our top ten most viewed posts of all-time for your consideration, the rankings possibly being somewhat skewed due to gentle vandalism (or shameless self-promotion) but such is the architecture of things on-line, we suppose:

10: a recipe for a vegetarian shawarma sandwich

9: a collection of links from April of 2017

8: discovering the Germanic Yuletide demon and friends

7: civic disengagement does not correlate with religiosity

6: a Russian parking garage employs holograms to discourage able-bodied drivers from occupying handicapped spaces

5: the tenants of ´pataphysics and its discontents

4: socio-realism in art movements

3: a periodic table of typefaces

2: some office-place ephemera of the Satanic panic of the 1980s

 1: a collection of links from November 2011

Thanks for stopping by and making this hobby an enriched and rewarding experience.  Please stay tuned for continued curiosities and adventures.