Tuesday, 31 October 2017

stargate/sunstreak

Incredibly, as the investigative team at Muckrock discover, the presence of a brochure for the creepy-looking Buffalo Bill Wax Museum among the cache of declassified material from the Central Intelligence Agency has an even more bizarre reason for its inclusion. Not just hoarders of ephemera, they kept the historic document of the exhibition as it was decades ago in hopes of teasing out evidence of not just extra-sensory perception but also time-travelling abilities. What exactly was behind the choice of this chance culture touchstone (or rather, shibboleth) is unclear.

procrustean bed

Reading about how medical research and treatment can at times be prone to assigning arbitrary standards and causation to particular diagnoses and projected outcomes that risks spoiling the investigation by latching itself to the serviceable led us to learn about a mutilating, rather gruesome classical metaphor: a Procrustean bed. A son of the sea god Poseidon, Procrustes was a highway man and demented blacksmith who ran a hostel on the trail between Athens and Eleusis. Inviting pilgrims to stop and rest, the demigod would show his guests to their accommodations, a bed that was inevitable too big or small for the hapless traveller. Procrustes would then proceed to adjust his guests to fit, stretching them tortuously or whittling them down to size. The hero Theseus finally dispatched this menace as his sixth and final labour by putting the monster to his own rack. Despite its horror-story roots, the reference is invoked quite a bit and in addition to the above criticism levied against medical science, the European Union in its relations to its member states is sometimes described as the same sort of arrangement. The notion of one size fitting all or reverse-tailoring also occurs in geometry and statistical analysis where data is chosen selectively in order to prove a proposition. Television editors also call on Procrustes when they are faced with the sore task of having to cut for time.

Monday, 30 October 2017

post-mortem

In an effort to increase the public’s awareness of the environmental consequences of invasive species and monocultures, the city of Chicago’s bureau of parks and recreation has partnered with several art institutes to turn blighted trees into a medium for carving—rather than just carting them off. Though little consolation for loosing such ancient and stately members of the community to a voracious beetle that has consumed hundreds of millions of trees in North America since its accidental import from Asia circa 2002, it also provides an unexpected outdoors encounter, as authorities work to halt the spread, with the arts and generates curiosity for both the spectator and the creator.

le génie du mal

Our thanks to Kuriositas for introducing us to this handsome devil, who’s taken up residence underneath the pulpit (chaire de vérité) of Saint Paul’s Cathedral of Liège (previously).
Not the usual subject of religious sculpture, the artist who executed this fallen angel, Guillaume Geefs, had to come up with his own iconography—drawing from the myth of Prometheus and other sources to frame his creation—which was commissioned as a replacement for an earlier work by his younger brother, whose version of the Genius of Evil was removed from the church for being too much a distraction for the congregation. See a comparison at the link up top. I suspect that church-goers still do not dedicate their undivided attention to the sermon but rather spare a glance to the tortured soul lurking below—the elder Geefs making the androgynous figure even more alluring. The brothers Geefs came to prominence themselves in the 1830s with Belgian independence movement by creating nationalistic monuments and public sculpture that celebrated their history and culture separate from the Netherlands, and the Church turned to the artists to convey their dispatch of the “triumph of religion over evil’s genius” but it is debatable whether either iteration was exactly on message for parishioners and the wider public—the devil too sublime and seductive. It’s always a gamble whether people respond better to caricature or camouflage.

vanlife

Packing their customised Volkswagen T4 with only the bare necessities, a duo from south east England took off for the continent and turned their motorised dream home into a six-year long roadtrip. They’ve documented their adventures in a guide book and travelogue called The Rolling Home—happily in its third printing—and just because they’ve settled back in Cornwall, they’ve not lost the taste for the nomadic life and still live in their van.

beyond the uncanny valley of the dolls or playable-character

Neural networks have trained themselves, dreaming themselves from an age of nightmare to a liminal, lucid slumber, to produce absolutely convincing, authentic-looking images of people that only exist in the machine’s circuitry.
Second generation applications of learning software are already outpacing human engineering by crafting their own versions and this visage-generator works as good as it does by bouncing ideas off of a parallel, adversarial programme constantly critiquing its choices and adjusting accordingly. Visit Sploid at the link up top for a video demonstration which includes entire computer-created environments—although not uncanny like a mannequin any longer, the results and transformations are still eerie and different than the transitional figures of the face-morphing sequence of Michael Jackson’s 1991 single “Black or White,” who had a warmth in their slipping away.  There’s something a touch dejected, I think and it’s different that the impermanence of a dream since one dreams of those one knows or remembers, in watching these characters glide past that seem surpassingly real yet are a chance configuration that may never be grounded as existing in any sense.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

black tuesday

Thanks to our faithful chronicler, the good Doctor Caligari, that among other things, this date marks the anniversary of the US stock market crash in 1929 that had ripples across the globe and made possible the unthinkable, a second act to the Great War—the war to end them all. Speculation in the exchanges had been promoted to all and sundry and participation and was nearly universal as was leverage and exposure against a heady backdrop of utopian peerage that made hold-outs and outliers appear irresponsible and social misfits and ensured brokerage a sure bet—until all of a sudden it wasn’t and desperate efforts to reverse the sell-off failed. For those subsequent times when the bottom has threatened to fall out of world economies, safety protocols have been put in place but I wonder what sort of tolerance and strain come into play amongst all this automation and inscrutable programming. As I reflect on this question, it is also the day in Western Europe that in the small hours of Sunday morning an hour is stolen from us. And while we’d potentially be facing the sore tasking of resetting several dozen antique clocks, the reality is that all the vital systems are automated and though the change was a noticeable annoyance, there wasn’t anything that absolutely needed changing. Beyond a biannual reminder to check one’s smoke-detectors (the two in my apartment will silently summon service personnel to change their batteries, if need be), I wonder what else synchronicity is robbing us of and how this degree of mechanization has removed the human element from our economic model and other things.

eigenvectors

We’d previously encountered and were delighted with the imaginative fusion of the found-object as the anchoring artefact of a composition but had not seen the entire gallery of the brilliant Christopher Niemann gathered into a single portfolio before. Via the equally brilliant Everlasting Blört, these sketches might inspire some abstract and effort-added, breakfast table pareidolia in you the reader.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

sexy sexy dombie sexy cat

For those still undecided on a Halloween costume, one can always repair to a neural network, we discover via Fancy Notions, for last-minute consultation.
Naturally robots were not prepared for this highly idiosyncratic task but soon became more authoritarian. Ranging from Sexy DVORAK keyboard to suggesting in later iterations that one aspire to be a Starfleet Shark or Mario Lander or the Statue of Pizza or the Twin Spider Mermaid the sub-routine seems to be learning. Check out more recommendations at the links above and see if you find your inspiration.

eau la la

To impart a bit of public luxury, the city of Paris is expanding its campaign of effervescent water (eau pétillante) fountains and will soon be installing at least one public convenience in each of the twenty arrondissements.
Though more subdued and functional than the historic Wallace drinking fountains that are scattered throughout the City of Lights (so called for being the first metropolis to be illuminated by night) the new ones are a modern complement to those iconic symbols of Paris cast by sculptor Charles-Auguste Lebourg at the behest of the eponymous philanthropist, Sir Richard Wallace, to make these watering places to supplement the utilities destroyed by the Franco-Prussian War and make drinking water as safe a beverage of choice so people weren’t expected to repair to alcohol, like since the Dark Ages when booze was the only non-lethal thing to imbibe, a little carbonation goes a long way. Expatriate Wallace gladly credited France with all his good fortune and wanted to repay his adopted home with every honour but also was sort of a teetotaler. It is hoped that this nudge will reduce plastic bottle use plus the need to shuffle bottled water around the world. Despite the off-putting news recently that there was a trace of Legionnaires’ Disease causing bacteria in my apartment building’s plumbing but it was immediately redressed, I’d gladly too drink water from the tap, so long as it was sparkling.

thirty-eighth parallel

While menacing Asia next week, Dear Leader will visit South Korea, and while the agenda has not yet been released, I do hope his security detail and handlers can dissuade him from going to the Demilitarized Zone in person because I don’t think the dotard has the restraint to keep from petulantly dangling a foot over the border, like a tourist posed straddling at the Four Corners Monument, the quadripoint in the US southwest where four of the boxy states touch and is surprisingly under the administration of the Navajo Nation and Ute Tribe who probably found such a demarcation unwelcome and untoward, possibly like many on different sides of the peninsula. Perhaps he can be taken to a film-set or a holodeck instead—at least as a trial-run. I wonder if any of this stuff is rehearsed ahead of time.

eccentricity

Unprecedented but long suspected, astronomers believe that they may have observed and recorded an interstellar comet passing by for the first time.
The hyperbolic trajectory that they’ve tracked of the small object—already fast receding into the void of space and becoming too dim to follow—suggests that it originated outside of our Solar System and sort of dropped into the plane that the Sun and planets are on from above—in the direction of the constellation Lyra. Using the Sun and the inner planets for a gravity assist, the object was then sling-shot out of the Solar System, headed toward the constellation Pegasus. If the observations are confirmed, it could lend credence to the theory of panspermia—that the organizing principles that we associate with living things might have extra-terrestrial origins and be seeded through the Cosmos by hitchhiking on such comets.

Friday, 27 October 2017

7x7

yōkainoshima: Charles Fréger photographs the monsters of Japanese folklore (more yōkai here, here and here)

arm + bend = elbow: more clever word sums from Futility Closet

oктя́брьская револю́ция: to mark the centenary since the start of the Russian revolution curators at

the Hermitage ceremoniously re-started the clocks stopped the moment Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace

tessellation: gorgeous drawing game inspired by Islamic art and architectural forms, via Waxy

zeroth law: Saudi Arabia confers citizenship on an android plus plans to build a robot pleasure megacity

moment factory: Montreal’s basilica transformed into an immersive multi-media experience in hopes to renew appreciation for the landmark

monsterpiece theatre: a nice appreciation of Cookie Monster, the academic muppet

regnum, cladus, ordo

Though only introduced (I believe despite having grown up in their natural range) to the oversized fruit via a vicarious taste-test just a little while ago, I was pretty intrigued by the suggestion that the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera, known by a variety of names including hedge apples ) might be a remnant of days when mega-fauna roamed the plains of North America. In evolutionary terms, ten thousand years—especially for long-lived, hardy trees (there was a campaign to plant them across farming regions as wind-breaks after the Dust Bowl) has not given the species sufficient time to notice that there are no longer giant sloths, mammoths or buffalo to propagate their seeds and shrink their fruit down to something more portable and appetising.
The avocado might be another candidate as a prehistoric hold-over—though our intentional cultivation efforts has caused major changes in the past epoch to the taste and size of fruits and vegetables as well and in the wilds, left to themselves, take other paths for other palettes.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

as one does

In addition to the royal “we” or pluralis majestatis, there is the contrasting practise of invoking the pronoun when expressing opinions referred to as the editorial “we”—pluralis modestiæ, in the sense of either acting as a spokesperson or referring to the reader and the author. In general, addressing oneself (or another, usually with in a patronising, shaming tone) with agreeing inflections in the first person plural is called nosism.

pseudomonarchia dæmonum

We enjoyed exploring Jacques Collin de Plancy’s comprehensive reference on demonology, le Dictionnaire Infernal, with Public Domain Review as our dark companion and guide. First published in 1818 to a rather startlingly resounding reception (given relatively enlightened nature of the era) it was the sixth and final version that was illustrated by maritime painter Louis Le Breton (working from earlier engravings) that cemented the book’s popularity in 1863 and haunted the reader with superstitions which the author and the age had believed themselves to have matured beyond.  The occult has always managed to gain a purchase in times when rationality and reason seems on the rise and de Plancy himself vacillated in his belief as he embarked on his project, but in seeking to formally classify and describe the hierarchy of that universe may help to reconcile that dissonance.

kennzeichen

Once automobiles in Germany attain a certain age (a calculus of year of manufacture and number of vehicles produced) they are classed as Old Timers (what we’d call classic cars) and have an H added to their vehicle registration plates (see more about German and European license plates and tags here, here and here). Fully-electric vehicles have for the past few years earned an E at the end.
I was very happy to find out that in Poland, antique autos are distinguished with an old-fashioned coach. Vehicles registered to Americans stationed in Germany have undergone several different iterations of markings—going from having them really stand out to blending in.

booming sands

I had heard the expression before but I had always guessed it had something to do with drilling for oil, and I appreciated being disabused of that misconception in a very harmonious and smoothing way with an artist’s concept to bring the sonic experience also known as singing sands to a wider audience who may not have the means of traveling to the remote deserts to hear it for themselves. When conditions are just right, the avalanche and advance of shifting dunes produce a droning, resonate sound. The artist, Lotte Geeven based in Amsterdam, has collected sound samples from some of the estimated thirty-five sites around the world where this phenomenon occurs and is now soliciting for source samples of the sand from these locations. Working with scientists and engineers, the artist has devised a whirling circular drum with amplifiers to recreate the unique timbre and soundscape of the world’s deserts.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

i’m a lineman for the county

It’s urgent and vital that Puerto Rico has its electricity and other essential utilities restored and made more robust and at the end of the day it does not matter who completes the task so long as it gets done, but unusually, as Super Punch reports, the lucrative contract has gone to a small company, only incorporated two years ago and having only two full-time staff members until very recently, rather than being farmed out to the already existing networks. The efficient and agile company has proven its mettle in challenging outages in the past and is willing to take the risk that the already bankrupt territory might default on its payments, and it also apparently helps to ascribe to the crony-capitalism that is at the regime’s core and to be from the same Montana small town as the Secretary of the Interior.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

trick or treat

For those out there still harboring doubts that Dear Dotard’s regime was about anything other than personal enrichment and propelling a self-styled billionaire from his true status as a heavily leveraged economically and moral bankrupt individual, we present a festive Halloween baseball cap on offer as official presidential memorabilia whose hue compliments that monster’s hair and complexion. It’s becoming a serious challenge to imagine anything more terrifying than the banality of merchandising that betrays a blissful ignorance of the missives and message that it is sending.

gyuunyuuya

Via Present /&/ Correct, a blog updated frequently about all and sundry that’s always worth checking out, we learn that in Japan the milkman (ぎゅうにゅうや, gyuunyuuya) is still making his appointed rounds but instead of leaving the bottles on the stoop or porch, they go into a storage box hung near the doorstep. One can find a massive gallery at the links (the later would take a person functionally literate in Japanese to properly navigate but I am sure you’ll get your fill of these antique, distressed wooden boxes too at the former) and there are plenty still around—although newer models come in plastic with insulation.

under

The international architecture group Snøhetta (which is seeming rather busy these days) has released concept images for a new undertaking outside of Oslo at the southernmost point along the Norwegian coast, a monolithic submerged structure that’s more than an aquatic dining experience for patrons but also a unique marine research facility. The gourmet restaurant is to be named simply under (also Norsk for something that’s a wonder) and will have a panoramic view and an outer surface conducive to barnacles and other reef-dwellers sheltering there, making the structure part of the environment that is the subject of its study.

öffentlichen personennahverkehr

Big Think’s regular feature on the cartographic arts is showcasing this 1927 aesthetic marvel that illustrates not only the location of stations and stops for underground and surface trains (see more on metro maps here, here, here and here) in Berlin but also shows the volume of passengers by the relative thickness of the pastel coloured blocks. From a data visualisation perspective, it looks as if this sort of chart had the potential to become crowded rather quickly—like the high-traffic areas at the city centre and perhaps was rejected analysts as not the most effective means for imparting this sort of information—but nonetheless this sleek and clean map has an arresting quality. Be sure to check out Big Think for more on the map’s provenance and context plus other interesting and engrossing items.

hankering for a hunk of cheese

Turophiles in China can once again delight in stinky and soft cheeses from France and Italy and elsewhere after customs officials’ fears were allayed that the bacteria behind the smell was not potentially harmful to human health. After a two month embargo the decision was reverse and is now codified in an export agreement, which may preclude future disputes. Though Western-style dairy products are not traditionally part of the Chinese diet, taste for Roquefort, brie and mozzarella is on the rise with the Asian market-share having nearly doubled in the past year.

logography

Via the Awesomer, we’re introduced to the typographical stylings of Vinicius Araujo who has crafted a Helvetica letter sampler of electronic devices formed into the initial of their brand names. Visit the links up top to see the artist’s entire alphabet.

Monday, 23 October 2017

5x5

pinch and dash: these images of recipes resolved into their component parts by Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj are fun and reminded us of another Nordic creative food display

papillons de jour: graffiti artist Mantra using a trick of perspective has created gigantic butterfly specimen cases on multi-storey builds in Metz, via Nag on the Lake

good design for a bad world: a look at ten Dutch Design Week innovations that take to task global issues

apollo-soyuz: artist Maciej Rebisz’ illustrations explore how far we might have gotten had the space race continued

hanfu: the human stylists who do the hair and makeup and dress intelligent robots and what message those fashion choices send

Sunday, 22 October 2017

course à l'espace

Thanks to the dedication of one feline-fancier who wants to remedy a grave historical omission by raising interest and erect a monument in Paris, we learn the tale of brave Félicette, a stray cat, who unlike her more famous canine compatriot Laika the Space Dog, undertook in 1963 a flight of fifteen minutes and survived to relate her experience, safely returned to Earth in a parachute capsule.
Félicitte’s vitals and vocal reactions were recorded during the launch, flight, which included five minutes of zero-gravity, reflected that the experience was not a pleasant one for the traveller. Her contributions to rocketry helped with the development of a satellite launch platform that enabled the French to compete with the US and the USSR. Sadly instead of being allow to retire as an inspiration to others, Félicette was some months later euthanized so the distressing effects of space flight might be studied further. That in itself makes me think that the first and so far only space cat deserves some sort of memorial.

face value

Via the always brilliant Nag on the Lake, we are treated to a rather metaphysical look at identity politics and the notion of a trustworthy, relatable visage in a series of permutations on the composite face of the US legislative branch. The resulting blended persona includes the facial characteristics of female senators and representatives—as well as the minority ones—though the congressional Everyman is not very androgynous and appears pretty white due to unbalanced representation, notwithstanding recent gains in better mirroring the makeup of America’s population.
I know we don’t elect averages and we are not wanting to confuse appearance for ability (though that goes both ways and we all just mostly muddle through as it is) no matter what the jurisdiction but it is debatable to say that we aren’t governed by algorithms, and aspirationally I wonder what it means that we’re not at equilibrium while we can articulate our shortcomings with great specificity. What do you think?  The most effective influencing factors (not to be mistaken with inspirations) are those whom most resemble us and the company we keep. I think it might be interesting to consider a composite of my circle of friends and professional network.

catalogue raisonné

We enjoyed reading how Dear Dotard is nearly as touchy about the originality of his painting by Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Les Deux Sœurs (The Two Sisters) as he is about his taxes, charitable giving, inaugural crowd size, etc.
Though perhaps a bit less vocal about this matter of contention, he will nonetheless rehash the argument with anyone who’ll listen that his is indeed the original and despite the curators’ certainty of the provenance of the work hanging in the gallery of the Art Institute of Chicago. A copy in the artist’s hand is not inauthentic but we’re not even sure if that’s the case because no expert has been allowed to examine it and the ongoing pettiness though unsurprising is nauseating just like all of his other unsubstantiated boasts. We wonder, if it proves ultimately to be a fake, some huckster didn’t appeal to Dear Leader’s vanity like Dutch master forger Henricus van Meegeren who was nearly executed for treason for selling Nazis the country’s heritage and national treasure in the form Vermeer artwork—except that van Meegeren redeemed himself as a hero for selling Nazis counterfeit Vermeers that he painted himself. That seems a fitting outcome for a phoney presidency who’s done nothing but attack the arts, humanities and science.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

zaprudered

Back in August, National Public Radio’s Fresh Air had a programme with veteran reporter Philip Shenon about the then quickly approaching decision deadline on the declassification of some thirty-six hundred previously unseen documents on the assassination of US president John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the subsequent Warren Commission charged with conducted the official investigation into the incident and the possible repercussions of full disclosure.The episode is worth revisiting.
Apparently—though things are certainly primed and ready for change and there are already voices urging caution—Trump has decided to authorize the release whose statute was prompted with legislation passed a quarter of a century earlier after film-maker Oliver Stone’s adaptation JFK revived many dormant conspiracy theories as well as inciting new ones. The guest journalist had reason to suspect that the files would show a degree of dereliction and willful lethargy on the part of intelligence agencies to act to protect the president and show that the assassination could have been prevented—reflecting badly on the FBI and the CIA and the notion of the deep state, a figment of the nationalists the support Dear Dotard, which can surely be, if the outcome of pouring over this cache of new information does in fact lend credence to this argument, manipulated as an indictment against them despite the fact that they’ve had fifty-four years to repent and learn from their mistakes, plus the fact fact the timing is beyond accidental. I don’t know and feel the chance to get closer to the truth about a turbulent time for America and the world should not just be couched in our dumb present, but I strongly suspect that it’s a forgone conclusion that the revelations will be sadly used to bolster the megalomaniacal notion that this narrative is the consequence of some awful destiny that Dear Dotard is supposed to deliver or rather distract us from. Considering the company he keeps and as much as the fringe take to pandering, Thursday’s news may go beyond a condemnation of government institutions and respect for law and more towards the shameless indulgence and captivation of hypotheses that reach beyond, including how Trump went so far as to implicate the father of one of his rivals (and not he is undeserving of any sympathy but still…) during the campaign of playing a direct role in the act. Watch for what antics get buried in the news cycle but please don’t let the importance and solemnity of this moment be absorbed by the present tragicomedy that America has become.

yippie

It was fifty years ago today when Bill Greenshields was photographed at a protest rally against the war in Vietnam on the grounds of the Pentagon burning his draft card.
The identity of the picture taken is lost to history (Greenshields assumed it was an undercover intelligence agent trying to collect incriminating evidence on any and all of the demonstrators) but it somehow came into possession of anti-war and social justice activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya who, as Greenshields was amazed to see as he relates in an exclusive interview to Dangerous Minds a year later his image had become a counter-culture icon. The 1967 Washington protest march that Greenshields took part in also happened to be the one where Abbie Hoffman with the help of Allen Ginsberg led a chorus Tibetan chants to try to levitate the defense headquarters compound with positive psychic energy. Be sure to read the entire reminiscence and learn more at the link above.

鉢の木

Sadly, authorities in Osaka had to confiscate all the marijuana plants that a thirty-five-year old gentleman was discovered to have been growing in his apartment—even though we feel he ought to receive some special dispensation for having cultivated and cared for his crop according to the ancient art of bonsai. The title—transliterated hachi-no-ki—is a subcategory of growing dwarf specimens (he did so to save space in his tiny accommodations) that means potted (bonsai denotes tray-planting) or “the bowl’s tree.”

visual evoked potential

Accomplished artist Laurence Aëgerter, who lives and works between Marseilles and Amsterdam, has with the help of neuroscience and a gerontologist curated five volumes of disparate, gently jarring pairs of images meant to stimulate the minds of dementia patients.
Aëgerter calls her therapy Photographic Treatment and hopes that inviting caregivers and residents to look over these photobooks together might solicit engagement and creative thinking whereas other activities might come across as off-putting or cause feelings of embarrassment or frustration. Some institutions in the Netherlands are already employing Aëgerter’s technique and importantly paying more heed (in matters as simple as changing the wall decorations) to other opportunities to capitalise on the power of images. Be sure to visit Hyperallergic at the link above to see a gallery of the images and to learn more.

girl interruptus or from here to paternity

The introduction to a particularly brilliant crossover episode that profiled the intersection of the history of Ancient Greece with that of witchcraft was a nice reminder of the bizarre and complicated origin story behind the liminal figure of Tiresias of Thebes, the blind seer who tried to keep Oedipus from investigating too far into the murder of the former king and posthumously advised Odysseus how to return home and avoid the traps in store for him and his crew. For disturbing a pair of copulating snakes whilst hiking up Mount Kyllini, he garnered the displeasure of Hera who punished him (I guess) for his transgression by transforming him into a woman.
Seeing this baffled individual, Apollo came and offered a measure of explanation, saying that Tiresias would be made his former gender should he encounter mating serpents a second time. Legends vary but some accounts hold that female Tiresias was a prostitute of great fame, and giving birth to and rising a daughter, sired by none other than Hercules (though some dispute paternity), called Manto, who was also gifted with the curse of prophesy and was the namesake of the city of Mantua (Mantova). Seven years later, Tiresias came across another pair of snakes entwined in the act and either did or didn’t interrupt their activity (accounts vary) and his manhood was restored. At some point afterwards, Zeus and Hera were having a heated debate as to which gender derived more pleasure from sexual congress (though they didn’t specify what sort of intercourse) and at an impasse decided to bring in Tiresias who had experienced it from both sides as arbiter. When Tiresias sided against Hera once again by saying that ninety percent of the pleasure was the woman’s share, the goddess was so enraged that she gouged out Tiresias’ eyes. Out of pity and unable to countermand the punishment of his sister-wife, Zeus tried to compensate by granting Tiresias the ability to see into the future and a number of other superhuman talents plus a life extension that crossed seven generations and he became a prophet of Apollo.

Friday, 20 October 2017

découpé

It’s hard to stay mad at the internet for long, especially when (via Twisted Sifter) we learn of a sub-reddit dedicated to taking to disparate animated memes and combining them.

utilidors

By way of a new documentary that covers its history and the vision that was far ahead of its time, City Lab introduces us to the space-age utopia that was never realised, a modular, scalable settlement that could accommodate a quarter of a million individuals, conceived by geophysicist and oceanographer Athelstan Spilhaus in the mid-1960s and designated Minnesota Experimental City (MXC).  Aspiring to what EPCOT was originally meant to be Spilhaus’ ambitious plans anticipated the rise of working and shopping remotely and was centred around recycling, energy efficiency and generally minimising mankind’s environmental footprint.
Prohibiting internal combustion vehicles, the compound was to make use of a novel, dual-carriage mass transit network that addressed the last-mile conundrum that continues to vex public transportation and discourages people from taking the bus. MXC, however, proved too revolutionary and support began to flag once Hubert Horatio Humphrey Jr (a fellow Minnesotan and avid cheerleader for the project along with architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller) lost his bid for the US presidency to Richard Nixon and locals began picketing the proposed site. It’s sad to think that such a bold departure from toxic urbanisation seems just as unachievable today as it did all those decades ago—and even less so in some places.

onomastique

With the name Kevin too having been an explosively popular choice for a generation of newly reunified Germans as well, we appreciated this examination by French edition of The Local about how expectant parents were infatuated with the Hollywood-propelled but accented version of the name.
Although Kévin appears in the official rolls of recognised prénoms—which dictated, coincidentally, what parents were allowed to name their children up until 1993, two years after the phenomena that so captured the attention of mothers and fathers swept the continent—as the namesake of an Irish saint that was not uncommon in Brittany, the popularity soon faded and this class of like-named boys and their parents became (like in Germany) targets of mild ridicule and derision. The French government, like that of Germany, still retains discretion on what names might be inappropriate and therefore not allowed—which I believe is a sound and appropriate policy and does strike me as an expatriate associated with an American community with babies and young people named Maverick, Voilà, etc. as something highly advisable.

nosce te ipsum

Despite the prevalence, pedigree and seeming verisimilitude and versatility of the maxim, Know thy Self, Professor Bence Nanay writes it is a potentially dangerous directive, making a pretty persuasive case that we’re wilfully blind to the gradual changes in our personalities, tastes and characters and sticking with the self-same choices and preferences, which are importantly within our control but yet may be misinformed or no longer complimentary to the person we’re becoming, may help perpetuate this delusion.
Not that there are no consistent qualities and abiding principles in our lives, but holding tenaciously on to a self-image that may not be an accurate reflection of oneself is a potential source of tension.  It is also impetus to keep doing things that one does not particularly care for and even resents, because we mentally shroud the contradiction with cognitive dissonance that makes us think our choices are own rather than a resigning to habit because we’ve squandered all of our energies on self-censorship and keeping up appearances. What do you think? We especially liked the quote from André Gide on how “A caterpillar who seeks to know himself would never become a butterfly.” We ought to strive to reacquaint ourselves with ourselves daily to avoid repairing to vanity and pandering.

give me a bouncy c

Taking a cue from the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a major internet retailer, we learn via Marginal Revolution, has developed a sort of tonal pass-key that admits or restricts users from collaborative projects on the basis of being in tune, with those discordant or cacophonous ones being identified as inauthentic members.
Although I like to keep my computing time quiet and on mute, I think I might prefer this sort of harmonious CAPTCHA (which is an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, which I think the machines have out smarted long ago) to the usual tests of humanity. Many of the firm’s ideas reportedly have not progressed beyond the sandbox of claims jumping but it’s nonetheless intriguing that being able to sculpt mashed potatoes into Devil’s Tower or that subterranean subterfuge might be indicative of alien visitations is certainly worthy of examination.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

lemma, lexeme

Engrossingly, Mental Floss tells the story of the criminally insane former American civil war medical officer and surgeon who was one of the founding (and among the most prodigious) contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary, Doctor William Chester Minor.
The crowd-sourced, definitive reference book differs from other dictionaries insofar as it is a descriptive account of the language that traces the development of words (from the nonce, to slang and to jargon) and changes in meaning and nuance—rather than a prescriptive effort that informs speakers of the correct way to speak, and in order to capture a comprehensive picture of the spoken and written word, the editors enlisted thousands of volunteers to tease out shades of meaning, and confined to Broadmoor asylum, surrounded by stacks of books from all eras, Minor found new meaning for his existence and working on the project alleviated his mental condition during daylight hours—at least. A combination of a severe persecution-complex and undiagnosed nymphomania (sexually frustrated due to his upbringing by strictly religious, missionary parents) eventually led to his honourable discharge from the army, and wracked by a recurring nightmare that quickly became a consuming reality—probably also exacerbated by the horrors of the battlefield and being made to brand a defector with a “D” on his cheek with a cattle iron.
Hoping to escape his nocturnal visitations, Minor used his retirement windfall to relocate to England but to his horror, the mysterious intruder had followed him and menaced him still.  Minor acquired a pistol so as to defend himself and when the intruder presented himself next, Minor brandished the weapon and the intruder fled.  Minor pursued him outside and shot the first bystander he encountered and was thereafter institutionalised for the rest of his life.  Not to make light of mental illness and certainly working on compiling a dictionary that is a reflection of English as she is spoke throughout the ages brought the inmate moments of great lucidity as he helped give to the world a great academic resource, but I do have to wonder what it means that our etymology and shades of meaning is influenced by one so haunted by incubi or succubi.   Minor stopped contributing to the project after being one day possessed of bereaving himself of his member but even that did not cure him of his psycho-sexual burdens, but not before the publisher behind this enterprise got to meet with his chief benefactor and quickly forgot that the encounter was taking place in an insane asylum.

flussbau

We had not realised that the upper Rhein valley acquired its present appearance not by Nature but rather through extensive engineering until reading this profile on Johann Gottfried Tulla.
Of course many of the ancient palaces and fortifications that lend the river its romantic airs existed prior to Tulla’s excavation and construction that worked to straighten meandering sections, deepen the bed to improve navigation and remove numerous islets that began in the first decade of the nineteenth century, but the character of place was really transformed by the efforts to tame the marshlands and regulate flooding. Transportation infrastructure was the primary motivation and not tourism, but the manicured embankments did make for a good monumental showcase. Virtually unrecognisable from an ecological standpoint, Tulla’s landscaping and construction would be considered criminal today and an assault on the environment, it’s hard to imagine villages developing in swampier climes and malaria (which Tulla himself ultimately succumbed to) was rampant in the area. The efforts to mitigate flooding in the industrially-important cities of Koblenz, Bonn and Köln produced flooding further downstream, and presently work is being undertaken to re-naturalise and de-constrain the river as much as possible and allow it to choose its own course.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

after glow

The detection of gravitational waves from the impact of the collision of two neutron stars (the event is named a kilonova)—thanks to the addition of a third facility near Pisa—allowed astronomers to triangulate the source of the bloop and trace it back to its origins in the sky and pair the visual the remnants (the previous soundings involving black holes) of the explosion with its sound-profile.
Equipped with this extra dimension of data, scientists were able to study the coronal spectra to confirm the conjecture that such violent events seed the Cosmos with gold and other heavy elements and are the source of gamma ray bursts. Moreover, measurements once refined may show the lag time between the propagation of waves of light versus waves of gravity and if seen to be reliable in their spread, could be a second cosmic distance ladder to compliment the Doppler shift of distant objects moving away or moving towards us.

minority report or criterion theatre

Piccadilly Circus is being transformed into an experimental panopticon, Gizmodo reports, with hundreds of cameras embedded in LED billboards to inform the advertising canvas what it suspects the passer-by what might take an interest in.
Algorithms have a reputation for being either judgy or tone-deaf by turns and of course one can ignore the ploys and constant pelting—up to a certain limit—but to be forever mischaracterised in public and in private and to have false assumptions made about oneself would probably quickly grow intolerable. How would omnipresent network of consumer surveillance see you? Though the zealous marketing-managers behind this digital street experience will probably never have to confront the abject horror of a colossal erectile-dysfunction commercial or an exercise-campaign was meant specifically for them and the rest of us are made to adopt and accept this latest form of oppression, perhaps that discomfort for prejudice will resonate with a broader demographic and will engineer empathy for the marginalised who face racism and discrimination all the time.

Monday, 16 October 2017

toponym

Via fellow internet caretaker Messy Nessy Chic, we discover that lexicographer Lars Petrus has undertaken the task of defining the creative names for IKEA furniture and accessories. Many items are named for geographical features in Småland, but many other are quite abstract and poetical, like NUTID (present tense) and ÖDMJUK (humble). What are some of your favourites?

ручной труд

Calvert Journal, through the lens of two individuals directly impacted by the prohibition, outlines the infamous Article 253 from Russia’s labour code that makes it illegal for Russian women to pursue a whole tranche of trades, nearly five hundred professions that are focused around manual labour.
The vestigial and conflicting ordinance—dating from Soviet times when the state took a preternatural interest in the reproductive powers of its female population and wanted to shield them from back-breaking work and indeed contains provisions to protect women from workplace discrimination—broadly spares women from potentially hazardous work and specifically stipulates that women on the job cannot be made to lift objects heavier that ten kilograms more than twice per hour—among other things—but has translated in modern times as way to exclude women acquiring and making a living through practical skills and becoming a member of a well-paying guild, like plumbing or carpentry or coach-driving. Though many seem contently unaware of the law, it still has wide effects beyond the labour-market with many Russian women growing up without practical repair skills.

mon calimari

Having undergone a profound image transformation thanks to science and exploration—though the ocean depths remain a mystery, giant squid and their smaller cousins have gone from the monsters of mythology (consider the trope of the land octopus) to objects of fascination and even adoration, with some advocates suggesting that they replace the giant panda as the World Wildlife Fund’s spokes-animal. Nautilus treats us to tantalising glimpse (for that’s all the headway we’ve made) into behaviour and culture of a group of cephalopods via the way they communicate through incredible control over their pigmentation, and not just for camouflage. Their intellect is so alien from our own it seems in ways unknowable, but it’s as if they wear their neurons on their sleeves and meaning and intent come through mediated by a visual language.