Sunday, 10 December 2017

sunday school or psalm 10010111

After helping produce a podcast whose topic was speculating what sort of theological system a machine might make with access to all the world’s religious texts, our intrepid friends at Lewis and Quark (previously here, here and here) decided upon a slightly less ambitious experiment and tried to teach their neural network psalms from Judaism and Western Christianity. Most of the results were unsatisfying gibberish and beyond the programme’s comprehension (and perhaps a little strange that it comes at the same time that the Pope urges reform in the way that a phrase is translated, interpreted in the Pater Noster and we have to wonder about and perhaps re-examine our own language and liturgy) but there are some good lines and the structure fit the standard form so well, the words could be easily adapted to choral arrangement. What do you think? Oddly, the binary number translates to psalm one hundred fifty-one, the one about David slewing Goliath and then gives a prayer of thanksgiving.  Oh let them do no bungers in the mountains…

earthfasts and rentaghost

Although I can claim no remembered cultural affiliation with any of these mostly short-run children’s television programmes from the mid to late 1970s through to the early 1990s, this curation of forty-two lesser known British series is really a matter of fascination. Though I am sure to have my share of bad and obscure television heritage, I really want to meet someone who grew up wanting to be contestants on Brainchild, learned science literacy from Over the Moon, were contributing correspondents on CBTV or learned to read from Len and the River Mob. Did you find a forgotten favourite amongst these titles?

astra firma

Earlier this month, Earth’s first space-faring micronation launched its first nano-satellite into orbit. The Kingdom of Asgardia—clearly a nod to the city in the sky of Norse cosmology, may have humble beginnings with a precarious satellite no bigger than a breadbox but it has ambition and organisation to match and hope to soon expand into manned space station and orbital dock for further exploration.
As with most micronations there’s a slightly off-putting air with the want to relieve oneself of burdensome regulations and taxes and secrecy surrounding the privy council (more mundane examples here, here, here, here, and here) but I think anything that smacks as problematic is neutralised by the fact that it’s passing overhead every hour and a half and its provisional charter: (1) to ensure the peaceful use of Space (2) to protect the planet from space-based threats (coronal mass ejections, space junk and asteroids) and (3) and to provide unfettered and direct scientific knowledge and access to space to all. Find out more about the project at the link above and at Asgardia’s home page.

shockeye of the quanwncing grig

Having recently learned that a shelved Whovian mini-series had been completed after decades of neglect, called Shada, focusing on the inmates of a maximum security prison planet, we were understandably excited that the first villain in this rogues’ gallery of poorly costumed bad guys was none other than the Cambridge bon-vivant Skagra whose campy uniform consisted of a floppy hat and silver cape with disco pants. From the Monarch to the Movellans (adversarial to the Darleks so I suppose an ally), there’s plenty of nemeses to call to mind as they try to thwart the Doctor and his companions and whose greater crimes may have been against fashion than the balance of power in the Cosmos. Who is your favourite?

Saturday, 9 December 2017


As if Christmas weren’t already coming early for many industry titans with the planned repeal of net neutrality consumer protections which is to include removing the burden of fair disclosure, it seems that the US kakistocracy has also expressed a willingness to ease the regulatory onus on the airlines by no longer requiring them to be upfront about fees for baggage and handling, seat-selection, boarding-priority and other services described as optional. These rollbacks would make it much harder for consumers to compare fares and would eliminate the reporting requirement that stipulates that the airlines publish what profit they make from these ancillary fees for things that used to be a courtesy. I wonder what affronts are to follow.

dig dug

Stock-market traders leveraged a design weakness in bitcoin and other virtual, sometimes-cryptocurrencies by treating what was meant to replace money as an investment vehicle and that greedy impulse has created potential obstacles in becoming the better stewards of the environment that we absolutely have to become, as Things Magazine explores from several angles.
As the speculative value of the electronic currency goes up, the computing power needed to maintain the protocols of the network increases exponentially and thus the power needed to run the platforms and despite vanishingly small returns, the computing power needed to “mine” for new coins. It’s hard to keep one’s sights on savings and efficiency and reducing one’s carbon footprint while carpet-baggers are willing to spend presently a day’s worth of the electricity needed to power nine Western households on virtual spelunking. There’s still a profit to be made and there have been examples of calculated efforts to use greener sources of energy—like geothermal sources in Iceland to power server farms but that’s after plane-loads of cargo were dispatched there. What do you think? It strikes me as demoralising and I don’t trust this scheme to drive us toward innovation. If we continue on the same trajectory mining for virtual currency will soon surpass the energy needs of the entire industrialised world and that could in no way be a sustainable situation.

Friday, 8 December 2017


From the Serbo-Croatian word for monument, we discover via Calvert Journal, there’s a well-curated, well- researched catalogue of the thousands of memorials to World War II erected under the direction of Josip Broz Tito’s regime in Yugoslavia from the 1960s to 1990. We only encountered a few during our trip to Croatia but then again we were not equipped with a map to seek them out, nor did we appreciate their historical context and intent to unify an amalgam of people through large scale community art project. Uniquely, the abstract geometric objects (previously) were proposed as a means to decontextualize conflict and remembrance and a departure from the usual monuments of Soviet heroes—which more than a quarter of a century after the fall of the Iron Curtain, still elicit discussion and debate in all forms.

truth in advertising*

Any industry could be accused of extorting its customers with hidden fees and fine print and internet service providers are probably already among the worst culprits and if the Federal Communications Commission chooses to award the telecoms the gift of repealing the restrictions and consumer protections afforded under net neutrality, we learn via Slashdot, ISPs won’t be required to disclose what sort of extra costs individuals might incur should they exceed their data caps and terms of their monthly plans. Companies also won’t be required to be forthcoming about penalties for switching plans or providers nor about promotional and introductory rates and how quickly that trial period might lapse.


Via Super Punch, our attention is shifted to the profoundly strange and fraught development of square dancing in the US. Though rooted originally in European folk dance, the American version of it is a big departure that saw a revival in the 1940s and 50s as a romancing of cowboy pastiche and not having the historical context and provenance that I thought.
Make of this what you will and do explore the thread at the link above for more dance-conspiracy, industrialist Henry Ford and educator Dr Lloyd “Pappy” Shaw strongly prompted the wholesome activity as a counterbalance to the deleterious influence of jazz and pushed to make modern Western square dance (as distinct from New England quadrilles and that of Appalachia whose dances are a direct descendant of Scots traditions) a national dance. While it certainly does not seem as provocative and divisive as American Confederate monuments erected decades later and only to intimidate and I don’t know how nefarious the above characterisation is, it is a little shocking to learn and I wonder if our Cosplay Nazis might not adopt and champion the return of this trend. Then I am confident that the forces of good would prevail in when challenged to settle their differences with a dance-off.

Thursday, 7 December 2017


Via My Modern Met, we are introduced to the Japanese craft and cloth called furoshiki (風呂敷), a traditional wrapping medium and technique that seems like an appealing alternative to the customary pile of crumpled papers that is the detritus of the holidays.
Originating during the early Edo period, the practice was first devised as a way for bathers to bundle their clothes after disrobing at public spas and avoid a wardrobe mix up and eventually extended its meaning to include packaging wares for transport or to present and decorate a gift. Furoshiki has seen a decline—remaining all along the preferred way, however, to pack bento boxes as the cloth insulates and doubles as a place-mat—but is now enjoying a resurgence thanks to growing attention to our impact on the environment.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

raison d’être

There is a concept in Japanese culture—especially enshrined among the population of Okinawa—similar to the French philosophical invocation above called ikigai (生き甲斐), which is generally translated as “a reason for being.”
Finding one’s true calling and intrinsic worth is not an easy task and not one that’s admitting to short-cuts (I think that one of the most important lessons that’s at least a glancing acquaintance if not something learnt and taken to heart, is that prayer—in whatever form you give it to include mediation and mindfulness—is not supposed to be petitionary but the chance to reflect and to assemble and articulate what’s missing or what’s falling short plus garner solidarity and that affecting change takes work) but the search and discovery (it’s hard but not elusive or impossible as deriving meaning and satisfactory from life is far from being unattainable) is character-building and gives searchers a reason to persevere.

erbe fondamentali

Fascinatingly, as the Washington Post reports, the Italian government has charged its military with the production and distribution not only of medical marijuana but also with the responsibility for supplying so called “orphaned drugs” that treat rare diseases which don’t court much attention from pharmaceutical companies due to the extremely limited market.
With oversight from growth to harvesting (and sterilising it with gamma rays, which I didn’t realise was a done thing) to the logistics of getting it to pharmacies around the country, the task fell to the military once it was realised that private firms were unwilling to try to navigate the complex system of prerequisites in order to receive the necessary licenses and permits. Access to healthcare and therapeutic drugs was nonetheless a governmental mandate and sought an alternate route to cover its population. What do you think about that? Poised to expand capacity, there are some detractors that decry the efficiency and potency of the army’s product (here and here are a few counter-examples of unhealthy relationships with cannabis) but they are able to undercut imported cannabis at least than a tenth of the cost and seem very dedicated and sincere in their mission.

soldier of fortune

In order to fight the firmly entrenched agents of the “deep state,” conventional, bureaucratic government and further undermine the intelligence services of the US, apparently the Trump regime has approached the founder of a controversial mercenary outfit to explore subverting established protocols and procedures with a private spy network.
Those deemed not sufficiently loyal to the administration would be summarily outed and deposed. Though CIA spokespeople (under the leadership of another antithetical figure) vehemently deny the veracity of the claim, the company’s founder is already under investigation (after a fashion) for his willingness to be the architect behind a back-channel line of communication between the White House and Moscow and has been a go-between for foreign business deals. Familial connections to the regime, being the brother of the Secretary of Education and Ponzi-Scheme Heiress Betsy DeVos, probably also has its benefits—and liabilities.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017


As we are rapidly propelled to the end of another year and the time comes for annual superlatives, we are treated again by Kottke to fifty-two things that consultant Tom Whitwell has gleaned over the past year personally and professionally.
The index is a fascinating revue of not only contemporary times but also many are contextualised as historical development, like the bit of trivia that the first Automated Teller Machine cards were mildly radioactive paper vouchers that were machine readable or that phosphorus-rich dust from the Sahara carried aloft is crucial for the sustainment of the Amazon rainforest. What are some of the facts that you’ve learnt this year? Be sure to check out the whole list and you might come across a few items you first heard of at PRfC.


modernistmas: a collection of modernist gingerbread architecture

wizard sniffer: the stellar rise in popularity of the interactive, choose-your-own-adventure fiction, via Waxy

domo arigato: the international robotics exposition in Japan

the jones act: GOP tax reform levies a twenty percent tariff on goods manufactured in Puerto Rico

payload: to demonstrate his new, reusable rocket’s mettle, Elon Musk will apparently launch his own Tesla Roadster into orbit around the Sun, extending out as far as Mars

the clanking of the chains that jacob marley forged in life: soundtracks for Melania Trump’s festive White House

lb&scr e2 class: extreme stunts with a Thomas the Tank Engine playset

we’ll be having a wonderful christmas time: Sir Paul McCartney’s lost experimental 1965 album was meant to be a present to his bandmates


Apparently twenty percent of the population are susceptible to the “noisy GIF” phenomenon and hear a thudding sound in time with this animation. Do you hear these electric pylon jumping rope? It seems like a natural enough association to make in anticipation but I wonder why only some perceive it and others do not. It makes me think about the deaf couple that ran a boutique specialising in fine glassware that I visited a few times. The way that they handled vases were shudder-inducing for me—certain that they’d shatter something but I realised that they knew the tolerance and fragility of their items far better than I did and hearing glass on glass was not necessarily insightful.

Monday, 4 December 2017


The always engrossing Hyperallergic invites us to consider another uniquely enigmatic aspect of Leonardo da Vinci’s work aside from Mona Lisa’s smile with his attention to human anatomy found in the feet of his subjects. Living and working in age when feet and toes were not generally shod and kept out of public sight, the artist was doubtless keenly aware of feet physiology and endowed his super human subjects with speculatively his own minor deformation (not a sign of lycanthropy)—called Morton’s toe (for an American orthopaedic surgeon) and classically a “Greek foot” (pied grec, piede greco) where the second toe appears longer than the big toe.
Many statues of antiquity were executed in this way—including homages like the Statue of Liberty—as opposed to the Egyptian foot where the greater toe is longer. Many more pedary profiles (there’s no science behind this—sort of like palmistry or phrenology) are to be found and Da Vinci’s characters amazingly exhibit them all.

sloppy joes

A quick read of the tea leaves on how the US Department of Agriculture—the agency responsible for maintaining the integrity of America’s foodstuffs—might relax some of the stricter standards put in place to ensure that public school meal programmes (for comparison, here are some global examples) were healthful and nourishing, Naked Capitalism hit upon an interesting, adjacent campaign combatting food-waste.
Many of the dissenting voices who’ll advocate classifying catsup the tomato paste of pizza as a vegetable say that kids end up throwing away big portion of these healthier meals and while the problems that afflict institutional lunches are not new and schools have challenges staying in compliance, some districts are engaging their pupils by setting food sharing and donation programmes to reduce the amount of food that gets thrown away. Students are required to fill their trays with a balanced meal—including a portion of vegetables, a carton of milk, et cetera—but after passing through the line, they are empowered to trade something unwanted (within reason) for an extra helping of something desired and know that they are giving food away to the hungry and disadvantaged of their communities. Instead of ingratiating processed foods at a formative age, it’s probably a far more important lesson to imprint that waste and choice has consequences.

fine dining

Unfortunately, the US Sh*t Poster in-chief is an influencer and is setting—unsurprisingly—an atrocious example with his dietary predilections, which is a resounding endorsement for the processed, nutritionally vacuous and brandable foods that he’s chosen to limn the limits of his palette.
Such a cycle of meals only serve to keep us indentured to the systems underlying it: an economy bolstered by mcjobs, precarious and underserving healthcare that’s over burdened in part by lack of choices (though Dear Dotard could avail himself of any number of gourmet repasts and one would assume exercises his taste to leverage guests with dinner table diplomacy) and the pharmacopeia to stave off the deleterious effects of such a lifestyle. Hopefully, most of us have matured beyond this stage of being a finicky eater and perhaps like other unwelcome commendations and subsidies, people will further distance themselves from this short list of go-to franchises.

Sunday, 3 December 2017


We appreciated the message, style and provenance of this series of UK World War II propaganda posters circulated in 1940 in order to impress upon the public the importance of avoiding idle talk and over-sharing, since someone was always listening and even seemingly innocuous details (which we’re want to spread despite ourselves for the chance to pique and leverage the interest of our cohort) could be aggregated into rather circumspect intelligence on plans and operations. We see who’s eavesdropping on the after work conversion of our pub-goers, and given the number of secrets still surfacing, I think that the campaign was on balance a successful one.

Saturday, 2 December 2017


media obsolescence: a personalised nostalgic romp through which ‘tech world’ informed your formative years, via Things Magazine

temperance: a 1908 map that charts insobriety across England

don’t make them like they used to: after nearly four decades of dormancy, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent Voyager 1 course-correcting instructions—from twenty-one billion kilometres away, and the little probe complied

petard hoist much: why a legislative victory on tax reform could furnish the Republican party with exactly what it needs to abandon Dear Leader

vizard: bizarre sixteenth and seventeenth century fashion trend of obscuring the female visage with a featureless black dot to preserve the skin from the sun and errant glances

#otd: the US senate voted overwhelmingly to censure colleague Joseph R McCarthy in 1954 for his persecution of ruthless investigations of thousands of alleged Communists which brought dishonour and disrepute on the government

stairwell of the quarter

We had a similar response when first encountering this architectural conceit called an alternating tread stairway—that the designer had a flair for the MC Escheresque. Then I realised what an elegant solution to a practical problem of staircases either taking up too much floor space or needing too much clearance when room is at a premium. By having these dual treads to climb up (which I would imagine negotiating confidently might take some practice), each step does not have to be incredibly steep and narrow or—without this design element, the construction would extend out twice as far into the hallway. Be sure to visit the source up top to find out more.

Friday, 1 December 2017

slaolie stil

Commissioning the talents of artist Jan Toorop in 1894, the Nederlandse Olie Fabriek (the Dutch Oil Company) inadvertently launched a sub-genre to the Dutch Art Nouveau when the resulting advertising poster for Delftsche Slaolie (Delft Salad Oil) resonated with the public for its unique flowing iconography. Born in colonial Java, Toorop had repatriated himself and studied art in Amsterdam and was informed by the burgeoning Impressionist movement but one could detect Indonesian design influences in the repeating geometry of his works. See more examples of Toorop’s salad oil style posters at the link above.

articulating the popular rage

The Japanese buzzword of the year is sontaku (世にも)—a heretofore under-utilised term that describes people who undertake offensive and strategic actions to ingratiate themselves with their superiors, the placatory following of an unspoken order. This newly found appreciation for what we’d call a brown-noser or a lickspittle is a reflection of the country’s political Zeitgeist and unease over the prime minister accruing more power beats out the less controversial (Japanese society generally isn’t openly critical of its leadership and are usually pretty astute at surmising wishes or “self-censorship”) neologism insuta-bae which, converting Instagram into a verb, refers to those chasing down admiration.


stellar cartography: Google Maps venture out into our Solar System and chart the planets and natural satellites

circling the drain: research suggests that all the antidepressant medications flushed away are making fish antisocial and withdrawn

musical instrument digital interface: what the virtuosity of plant life can say about consciousness

festtage: a humourous and insightful primer for German Christmas season—for the uninitiated

neutralidade da rede: to imagine the US without protections against blocking and throttling, one need only look to the situation in Portugal

low earth orbit: Russian cosmonaut claims to have sampled extra-terrestrial bacteria from the hull of the International Space Station

in praise of air: a four stanza poem printed on an oversized panel at the University of Sheffield campus purifies the air it extols

pot to kettle or goldwater rule

Though giving free publicity to the crusade and culture war of Trump and his loyal supporters is always ill-advised and I think contributes to the divisiveness that these individuals thrive on, his latest twitter fugue is very hard to ignore—not that doing so is necessarily an endorsement or a pass and it seems that not acknowledging his antics make them go away. We can’t quite figure what set off this particularly awful conniption fit but it may be a combination of his uncharacteristic constraint in reacting to North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test or being chided by Democratic legislators who declined his invitation to huddle on tax policy by saying he ought to stop tweeting and start leading.

Not only did this children’s treasury of unhinged tantrums promote three Islamophobic videos of garbage provenance and when challenged by Theresa May (a bit milquetoasty as she ought to cancel his state visit and owes her candidacy in part to a voter-base that harbour the same sentiments) told her that she would do better to direct her attention to combating terrorism in the UK, Trump also rehashed some old, disproven conspiracy theories that I think were on the radar of no one and denying his own well-documented lifelong career as a sexual predator feted the downfall of another journalist. Facing the spectre of Brexit and desperately needing a favourable trade deal with America to stave off economic collapse, I suspect that May and company will not allow this disgusting outburst (which is only picking up momentum) to cast lasting, public aspersions, but Trump’s actions nonetheless strain the “special relationship” between the US and the UK and his amplification of hate and intolerance emboldens those extremists view and further divides communities and makes peaceful integration impossible—which of course is perfectly allied to his nihilistic agenda.