Sunday, 31 December 2017


westminster chimes

Our faithful chronicler, Doctor Caligari, notes that on this day, among many other notable events, a BBC sound-engineer ventured out onto a roof opposite the Houses of Parliament to sample the chimes of Big Ben in 1923, and since the following year when the Greenwich Time Signal (the pips) was developed to mark the precise start of the year both have been part of the global television service’s daily broadcasting.
Though not the first nor the only interruption to this routine, August of this year inspired some rather unexpected emotional attachment to the particular peal of the bell when a replacement sound was sought while the tower and the Palace of Westminster undergo some much needed repairs for the next several years. Ultimately, they could find no satisfactory substitute and a recording was settled on instead, never mind they’ll be nothing to toll midnight either. Be sure to visit the link up top to read more on today’s entry plus learn about how this day became the turning point for the new year and about different festive traditions that regale it.

all times are local or dateline: anywhere on earth

As we are preparing for the countdown that marks the changing of the year, it always makes me keenly aware of time-zones and the procession of midnights across the globe, living in Germany and with family and friends in the States and how are festivities start much earlier and our sometimes unenviable jump on the cycle of things with the hegemon of time.
Six or seven hours’ difference is a relatively small one, especially considering how a transatlantic flight can negate that lag depending on one’s direction of travel and shifting up toward the international dateline one arrives at zone, International Dateline West, where the displacement is greatest and a few islands with no permanent human presence are the last to carry over into the new year. Because there are no people on this remote archipelago in the Pacific half way between Hawaii and Australia, Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) does not determine its clocks and calendars but for nautical and navigation purposes, it is twelve hours behind. Both of the named places, Baker and Howland Islands (the latter known for being one of the refuelling stations that Amelia Earhart never made it to on her ambitious round-the-world flight) are United States Outlying Territories acquired under the Guano Islands Act and presently comprise one of the world’s largest wildlife reserves. Another naming convention for this place outside of time is the calendar conceit of Anywhere on Earth (AoE), which for archival and chronicling purposes not tied to a location a period has considered to have expired once any and every place. 31 December is considered a closed matter with its associated deadlines past once it’s midnight on Howland Island, and the convention was established not so long ago by the international Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) for balloting purposes, realising that that they could not privilege the local time and business hours of one member over any other voter.

mmxvii

january: Millions march across the globe in protest to the inauguration of Dear Leader, followed immediately by a federal hiring-freeze and a controversial travel ban. Artificial intelligence surpasses humans at the ancient game of Go. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Mary Tyler Moore.  

february: North Korea invites international censure for testing a ballistic missile over the Sea of Japan and for the very public assassination of the country’s leader’s half-brother. Astronomers discover a solar system comprised of seven Earth-sized exoplanets in our Goldilocks zone.

march: Millions face the prospect of starvation in northern Africa. Elon Musk successfully recovers and reuses the booster stage of an orbital class rocket.  The United Kingdom invokes Article Fifty of the European Union Treaty, triggering its exit from the bloc.

april: US retaliatory action in Syria significantly damages the country’s relationship with Russia, then America drops the largest conventional bomb in Afghanistan. Coral bleaching threatens the world’s reefs. A passenger was violently removed from a commercial airliner prior to take-off, setting off a trend of customer abuse.  We had to bid farewell to comedian Don Rickles and actor Jonathan Demme.

may: A terrorist bombing at a concert in Manchester tragically killed twenty-two people and injured hundreds. A ransomware virus holds computer systems around the world hostage. French presidential elections put a stay on the spread of conservatism. Sadly, actor Roger Moore, musician Greg Allman and statesman Zbigniew Brzezinski passed away.


june: Amid resounding international criticism and pledges by others to redouble their commitment, the US withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement. A dread inferno engulfed an apartment block in West London, killing seven-one and displacing hundreds.  Terror attacks perpetrated by the Cosplay Caliphate ravage Tehran. Former West- and reunified German chancellor Helmut Kohl passed away, as did actor Adam West.

july: North Korea continues to test more and more sophisticated, longer-range missiles. The Syrian city of Mosul is taken back from ISIL. Huge ice bergs break away from the Antarctic ice shelf. Researchers believe early human migrated out of Africa seventy thousand years sooner than previously thought. We bid farewell to actors Sam Shepard and Jeanne Moreau.

august: The detection of gravitational waves is becoming a common occurrence. North America experienced a total solar eclipse. Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast. The Burmese military carry out ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya people. The Eagles’ Glen Campbell passed away as did Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis.

september: Russia expels hundreds of American diplomats over new sanctions. Hurricane Irma devastates the Caribbean and Puerto Rico, followed closely by Hurricane Maria. An earthquake strikes Mexico City. Actor Harry Dean Stanton, Monty Hall and playboy Hugh Hefner pass away.

october: A gunman opens fire on an audience gathered for a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada from high atop a casino resort hotel and killed fifty-eight and injured hundreds, surpassing last year’s deadliest shooting at an Orlando, Florida nightclub, failing again to make Americans more willing to discuss gun-control. The US withdraws in protest from UNESCO, with Israel following immediately after. Austria elects a far-right coalition.  Our Solar System gets an interstellar visitor.  German researchers discover that there has been a seventy-five percent drop in insect biomass over the past twenty-five years. Catalonia declares independence from Spain. Tom Petty dies.

november: A German newspaper publishes a tranche of documents leaked by an offshore law firm as an encore to the Panama Papers. A work attributed to Da Vinci fetches the highest price ever paid at an auction for a piece of fine art. Many brave women come forward and confront their sexual harassers.  Parliament will be given a final vote on the divorce deal before the UK leaves the EU. Actors David Cassidy and Jim Nabors pass away.

december: More wildfires ravage California. The Trump regime provocatively recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moves to eviscerate net neutrality and other consumer protections. Russia is barred from the Olympics due to its sanctioned, systemic doping practises.  Narrowly, Alabama elects a senator from Democratic party rather than a sexual predator, though there is still one in the White House. Entertainer Rose Marie and French rockstar Johnny Halliday pass away.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

new year’s eve eve

H and I went to a village fete for the Winterval—actually to usher old the old year and make way for the new, granted a bit, ever so slightly early but I doubt that a community even could compete with the war-zone of firecrackers that typify New Year’s (Silvesternacht) revelry—around in and around the Kirchenburg (fortress church) complex which was illuminated with hundreds of candles and torches for the occasion.
One can find quite a few of these defensive structures in this area but this particular compound in Ostheim vor der Rhön constructed between 1400 and 1450 and outfitted to withstand a protracted siege and support a sizable amount of refugees is one of the largest and most elaborate in Germany.
After a few carols, mulled wine (Glühwein) and a word from the Burgermeister, a group of marksmen (well, members of the volunteer fire department) ascended the Waagglockenturm (originally a signal tower visible over a vast distance as a warning to the next settlement in case of attack) with hand-canons and fired off several incredibly loud volleys. We have shared glances of this place here and there before but soon we will treat you to the full, proper tour. 

10 – 10 till we break again

One of the latest book reviews from Hyperallergic introduces us to the unknown but rather familiar radio subculture of citizens’ bandwidth (CB) operators of 1970s and 80s UK.
Employing handles and coded toponyms that could be easily at home in the hobbyists’ current mode of communication, operators navigating the airwaves and sounding out fellow-enthusiasts wanted to remain anonymous—up to a certain extent since there was celebrity in these circles as in every endeavour, especially for the authorities—because while it was permissible to own such a radio receiver (subject to a licensing-fee, I imagine), it was against regulations to broadcast and considered piracy to do so.
Nonetheless, these networks of scofflaws persisted and sometimes arranged community gatherings so they could meet and mingle in person. To maintain aloofness from potential self-incrimination, attendees had calling-cards printed up to pass around with their handle and a bit about their broadcasting habits and haunts—eyeball cards or eyeballing the exchange was called to signify a face-to-face encounter. Be sure and check out the link above to learn more about these radio renegades and the profiles of the operators behind these aliases and the publication that is part of the new Four Corners Press Irregulars series.

genusvetenskap

Though slightly recanting an early statement that the Church of Sweden is to make God gender-neutral as sensationalism and ‘fake news’—oh what has that despicable dandiprat in the White House wrought—despite a significant shift in attitude and acceptance, another congregation in Västerås has definitely stirred some controversy and defends its decision to advertise for a Christmas mass (put out in the style of a birth announcement or a baby-shower) referring to Jesus with the pronoun “hen.” Though propelled into the fore of public discussion by being a marker indeterminacy and championed by people who do not identify themselves as gender-binary, the church is bringing up another important nuance in the language. Hen/he could also be used when the gender is unknown and the dean of the church is not questioning the identity of the historical figure but the fraught and friendly pronoun is also appropriate to use in circumstances where the gender of the person is irrelevant and it was in this sense the announcement was framed in the way it was. What do you think? Jesus’ sex or whether He is cisgender does not matter today especially, but that detail has been used chauvinistically to justify a long continuum of the patriarchal establishment to the detriment and continued inequality of women and in general those who don’t ascribe to convention.

祝你生日快乐

Accomplished self-trained pharmacist and educator from Ningbo and Nobel laureate for developing malaria treatments that have saved the lives of untold millions, Tu Youyou is celebrating her eighty-seventh birthday today. It can seem very confusing but I suppose it’s really quite a straightforward matter to wish her a happy one. Ms Tu relates that her given name comes from a verse in the Shih-ching (the Chinese book of classic poetry) that the deer bleat ‘youyou’ as they gaze on wild Artemisia (hao)—a type of sagebrush whose chemical derivative (artemisinin or qinghao su), Tu would come to discover, can be used as an anti-malarial drug.

Friday, 29 December 2017

check your privilege, obi-wan

Kottke is now the host and curator of The People’s History of Tattoonie, which itself was in danger of becoming rarefied and disjointed as an anthology of sorts. Usually I find such satire a little heavy-handed for my taste as we all ought know not to impose our cachet and culture upon something long, long ago and far, far away (notwithstanding how a more advanced culture would have more mature definitions of identity than we do, and in the end we usually just look smug fancying ourselves to be the soul of consideration and accomodation) but this dialogue, line of argument is pretty brilliant and needless to say illustrative. “Your ‘Big Story’ of the military-imperial complex lets you ignore what’s right in your FACE.”

bess, you is my woman now


5x5

an error in the matrix: those iconic strings of computer code in the opening credits of the franchise are sushi recipes

clerestory: fantastic Mid Century Modern bird houses

the glasgow school: Scottish sisters and classmates whose style profoundly influenced what we call Art Nouveau, via Everlasting Blort

pseudo-random numbers: some computer encryption is based on the unpredictability underlying globules of oil and water of a wall of lava lamps

event horizon: a preview of some of the planned excursions into outer space for the upcoming year


savvy consumers

Via Kottke, we discover an open directive from Foster Kamer that should top our list of New Year’s resolutions—which might prove surprisingly easy to uphold considering what’s at stake—that encourages literate and circumspect consumption of journalism by unshackling oneself from one’s social media feeds.
We can choose to step away from the cycle of manipulation and the internet echo chamber—and perhaps the fear of missing out (FoMO)—by not incentivizing the content-brokers and help those whose horizons are already being limited and not allow the hosting or favour of a single outlet be the measure of success. Supporting independent and quality reporting and diversity of content can be made to seem like either impossible or unnecessary, given our own vanity with what we regale ourselves with—though the plurality of view-points is an illusory one, or that there’s no standing up to the giants who’ve set the hurdle to entry too high. The antidote to the notion that the internet is a one-stop shop, however, is simple and just takes a bit of attention and intention to make online ecology a better one—whose health and integrity have become even more vital to the off-line world as the boundaries are blurred: step out of that walled-garden and rely on your browser, search-engines (though be wary of what is driving these as well), use book-marks, subscribe to newsletters and create your own daily-digest and push back against the monoculture we’re enabling because we are easily besotted with convenience and a bit of flattery.

avoirdupois or system of a down

The United States of America’s unique status globally as a hold-over on adopting and integrating the metric system of weights and measures cannot be laid at the feet of any historical incident or accident other than familiarity and resistance has become sort of a fount of national pride—with even the most traditional patches of England and her colonies rejecting the Imperial system as an outmoded artefact but it was nonetheless a pleasure to indulge that pirate intrigue had a hand to play in America’s delinquency in adopting the international standard.
A hodgepodge of units inherited from metropolitan Britain and concurrent thalassocracies was vexing the young country’s trade and threatened to intimate certain allegiances and so then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson invited one French scientist behind the development and standardization of the metric system, Joseph Dombey, to come and demonstrate the merits of his enterprise. Storms blew the visit emissary’s boat into the privateer-infested waters of the Caribbean, however, who ransomed Dombey (ransomed him to death—unfortunately) and cared nothing for his baubles—including a metallic rod that was to be America’s standard kilogram, though there’s a movement in place to divorce the value from a physical representative. It is difficult to gauge what consequence that the success of Dombey’s and Jefferson’s mission might have had, as America launched several other campaigns to align themselves with international standards (the USA is in possession of four archival kilograms for calibration purposes) but never managed to overcome the inertia of custom, which is a powerful thing to be sure.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

noli me tangere

For the first time, as Hyperallergic reports, the eighteenth century Austrian grimoire Touch Me Not! is available as a full colour facsimile with translations of the German and Latin texts—which is rather a unique primer on the dark arts, focused nearly exclusively on the transgressive and with few pretensions to spare for the best intentions of the practicioner—especially one who has failed to take a sufficiently reverend approach for the esoteric arts.
Also being sufficiently girded with psychedelic substances whose potions are also laid out in the book can’t harm either. Warnings abound throughout the visceral compendium not to meddle in such matters and the Touch Me Not! is the final proscriptive in the work’s title “A most rare Summary of the entire magical Art by its most famous Masters of the Year 1057”—though this embellishment of ancient provenance is probably only meant to entice contemporary (circa 1775) even more. Still the command does also conjure what Jesus uttered to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection—there is too much invested in every iconographic tradition for it just to be a coincidence and for it not to carry some echo of significance. Similar to the weight given in medical circles to the placebo effect (meaning I will please), classically trained surgeons were often instructed that most organs in all but the most dire of emergencies beseeched “noli me tangere” and that invasive measures were seldom advisable.

mind the gap

Drawn from a variety of sources, we really enjoyed perusing this curated gallery of vintage London Underground posters and advertising campaigns in order to boost ridership.
Many of the brightest and boldest examples date from the 1920s and from the studios of graphic designer Horace Taylor but the collection (with many we’ve never encountered before) spans the whole of the twentieth century in all styles and is definitely worth checking out.  Over the ages, I think London has done an outstanding job in promoting public transportation, the hallmark of sound and convenient infrastructure being that people choose to take it rather than strive to avail themselves of other means.

sententiae

Though enslaved when original brought from Syria to Italy, Publilius Syrus was subsequently freed and legitimised (classically trained) by his master once he realised his oratory potential and was allowed to spend his days in observation, penning pithy maxims.
Among his most famous and enduring sayings is that “a rolling stone gathers no moss” (Saxum volutum non obducitur musco—which also contains the anti-proverb, a rolling stone gathers momentum) is variously interpreted as people always on the move establish no true roots or that moss is substitute phrase for stagnation but that is not his only one left up to the listener. Often misattributed to the playwright Euripedes, Syrus’ Stultum facit fortuna, quem vult perdere (catalogued as Aphorism 911, the former, number 524) means “Whom Fortune wishes to destroy, she first makes mad” has enjoyed a like measure popular culture relatability with it being put in the mouths of several worthies to include Antigone, Prometheus and Captain James Tiberius Kirk with different shades of meaning ultimately up for debate in terms of causality.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

apogee

As a reminder that that damned paperclip overlooking New York City’s Central Park was not the only conceptual skyscraper dreamt up and not built during the past year fraught with proposals to raise and raze contentious and symbolic in the realm of landmarks and property development, we could appreciate this list of superlatives from architectural doyen Dezeen. Our personal favourite and the one worth the ambition remains the so-called Analemma Tower (forever free from licensing-arrangements, one hopes) and tethered to an orbiting, captured asteroid (which seems technically feasible) or artificial satellite and whose residents would be able to circumnavigate the globe as it spins beneath. Be sure to visit Dezeen at the link above to learn more and tell us what your favourite is and how you’d help to realise the impossible.

these kids today with their y2k

For those who have become accustomed to using the turn of the century or fin de siècle as a way to reckon future and past dates I’m sure have already come to wrestle with the sobering fact that the Year 2000 Computer Bug will attain the age of majority soon and that 1970 is not thirty years in the past but more like nearly five decades and hardly futuristic.
We nonetheless appreciated this collection of popular culture call-backs that the times inspired—from novelty songs, sitcom staples, class-action suits and survival guides for the technological apocalypse soon to visit humanity. Ultimately, there was no ensuing disaster and tigers did not rain from the heavens (no matter how we might try to frighten ourselves) and while I know that there’s little commonality about this non-event and the esteem for which we have for other, real impending disasters which may not be repaired with a simple patch are nonetheless within our power to prevent and part of me wonders if that boy-who-cried-wolf, survivor-mentality does not somehow resign some to leave everything to invisible hand, trickle-down providence. What do you remember about those last tense moments but forcing oneself to abandon and partying like it was 1999? What media digest do you remember prophesying the worst?  I suppose the y2k worries and shared memories will perhaps even more so than the prevalence of connectivity and virtual personae be the shibboleth that separates one generation from the next. 

dandiprat

Although of unknown etymology it seems that the original meaning of the term referred to a curiously indeterminately valued silver coin—anywhere between one and one-half to three and one half pence, it seems to have lodged itself in the language with a figurative sense first with the circa 1604 (when the particular coin was also common-currency) stage-production of Thomas Heywood’s comedy, The Wise Woman of Hoxton, as a bargain of a dowry in exchange for a marriage commitment. Dandiprat came to signify first someone small in stature and then someone of small character, a contemptible, insufferable person—but not all connotations are necessarily negative.

messianic complex

Norwegian photo-journalist Jonas Bendiksen set out on a three-year spiritual sojourn (trying to be open-minded and receptive to the experience) to document the lives of seven individuals who style themselves as the Second Coming of Jesus and it was from those intimate portraits readers get the community of believers as profiled in The Last Testament.
The big questions of whether the spiritual leaders rise to their followers’ expectations is perhaps not outside of the scope of the book but leaves them unanswered, allowing readers instead to contemplate the crusades done in the name of original namesake. All those appearing in the gospel, who seem blissfully tolerant of their pretenders (perhaps there is enough geographical separation to avoid competition) despite the apparent stakes, are worth investigating but Vissarion, the charismatic figure of Siberia who leads a worldwide congregation of around ten-thousand centred around a settlement in a hollow called Minusinsky. Vissarionites preach a message of reincarnation, vegetarianism and sobriety of the soul (many points in common with his Japanese and Brazilian, Inri Cristo, counterparts) and consider their leader to be technically the word of God (the Logos) returned and not divine, despite some elaborate personal hagiography and celebrating Christmas on Vissarion’s birthday, 14 January—which is even closer to the Orthodox observation date.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

gated reverb

Probably a nifty party trick and a perennially good suggestion to ring in the New Year but perhaps especially apt to usher out 2017, we learnt (first heard on NPR’s Politics Podcast—support your local public radio station) that if you play Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” on 31 December beginning at 23:56:40 precisely, that epic, heroic drum break will coincide with the stroke of midnight. I hope that this potential bit of performance art isn’t too much an imposition or disrupts your New Year’s Eve disc-jockeying—or rather, I hope it is a big disruptor and causes you to reframe your whole party. In fact, play all the Phil Collins and all the Tom Petty, especially “Breakdown.”

Monday, 25 December 2017



Sunday, 24 December 2017

seasons greetings

Though there will be no long snow-bound, winter’s nap for H and I, we will be busy with Christmas celebrations over the next few days and we’ll be taking a pause for station identification. Thank you one and all for visiting (we cannot say it often enough) and we hope for a bright and happy holidays for everyone and we’ll see you again real soon.

it’s very gold

The tradition of the unit coin or the challenge coin is as old as the US military itself and they represent a token of appreciation exchanged amongst different commands for service-members and civilians for assistance and have become popular as trophies and keepsakes—the challenge being that every member of a gathered group ought to be able to produce his or her last coin on being presented with a new one (and if this was the first or the honouree was not carrying one, they treated the rest of his or her cadre to drinks).
Every presidential coin minted has borne the motto that speaks to the central tenant of the United States of America—E pluribus unum, that the nation draws its strength from its diversity—that is until now. Replacing the de facto official maxim with a divisive and dumb campaign slogan probably also means a soldier cannot be made to suffer such a souvenir, no matter his political leanings. There’s no time for false modesty in this administration, which I suppose would also include refinement of speech, taste and a sense of basic decorum.

retcon

Since first discovering the Maximum Fun network of podcasters about a year ago, I’ve been very pleased with all the series and shows that I’ve ended up subscribing to and have found myself especially enchanted with the wit and wisdom and pop-culture reach of one of the newer offerings, Story Break. Three professional Hollywood script writers get to take a break from the usual industry fare of the safe, sellable or filmable and spend an hour brainstorming, developing and finally pitching a movie based on a pastiche of odd premises, like the Kellogg’s Cinematic Universe with breakfast cereal mascots receiving the Marvel superhero treatment.
If you find yourself already exhausted with the existing holiday special line-up and can summon your imagination to limn out the festive scenario the crew is given, you will definitely want to check out their latest pre-production piece, Sleighrunner. The original arc of narrative began with a hegemonial on-line retailor kidnapping Santa Claus, first to take out the last vestige of competition and then to harness Kris Kringle’s unrivalled, perfect logistics and distribution set-up, which the company’s fleet of delivery drones and virtual omnipresence cannot match. Conceding, however, that the corporation already dominates the holiday, the writers take a different angle and have the online retailor not satisfied with capturing the commercial side of the holiday season but also aspiring to make Christmas magic real for all by raising a drone army of Santa’s Helpers capable delivering their presents in person at the appointed hour, arriving in reindeer drawn flying sleighs. A glitch happens however during the first test-flight and the prototype, sentient robot Santa crashes to Earth and no longer can access his original programming not realise that he’s a replicant (tagline: Naughty or Nice – They All Run). Hunted down by a legion of drone Santas and accompanied by a young child who found the castaway robot who believes him to be the real Saint Nicholas, our malfunctioning robot learns about commercialism and the true meaning of Christmas and in some sense does become the real Santa. Or something—nonetheless, it’s a movie I’d watch.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

basti fantasti

Whilst arguably at least a nominal improvement over a regime that seeks to denigrate and defund those institutions that promote the arts and humanities, Vienna’s museum board is nonetheless within their rights to protest the misappropriation of the motto of the Secessionist Movement—co-founded by in 1897 by symbolist painter Gustav Klimt—by Austria’s ascendant right-wing government, under the leadership of Sebastian Kurz.
Der Zeit ihre Kunst, der Kunst ihre Freiheit (as seen on the Secession Hall, which houses some of Klimt’s iconic works) means “to every age its art and to each art its freedom” which the cultural wing of the ironically named Freedom Party and ruling coalition (under the People’s Party) has co-opted, which in this other context sounds rather sinister like another pithy German saying that’s not said any longer, Jedem das Seine, to each his own.

operation blue book

Here is a nice ensemble of articles and footage that really captured our sense of dejection when it came to the media’s coverage (or lack thereof) on the revelation that the US Air Force and Pentagon maintained a secretive programme up until five years ago to study (like its antecedents) the phenomenon of unidentified flying objects and assess their potential threats.
Despite a reputable news source and containing some of the more compelling and credible testimony that we’ve encountered in years, the insanity of the news cycle, morbid scepticism and the contagion of time pressure all conspire (we would be flattering the regime if we expected it not to tell) so we are far more willing to believe the command: “Move along. Nothing to see here,” and perhaps we do so of our own accord. Of course there’s a lot of attention-seeking garbage out there not worth the investment of one’s time and attention (and it is encouraged to argue passionately about made-up aliens), but if journalism isn’t allowed to ever stray into the realms of the speculative, indulgent or even the aspirational, it seems to me to collapse into nothing more than one’s daily-digest of propaganda. I want to believe.

Friday, 22 December 2017

6x6

daft the halls: a fun, festive musical compilation in the style of the artists, via The Awesomer

tulip mania: companies unrelated to cryptocurrency craze are garnering attention by adding “blockchain” to their names

not to scale: Tanaka Tatsuya’s creative dioramas comprised of tiny people interacting with everyday objects, via Nag on the Lake

jólnar: the yuletide Icelandic Ogress Grýla seems far more formidable than Krampus (more on her extended family here), via Miss Cellania

bowling for elves: a look back at the viral 1999 computer game that circulated by email and the ensuing scare that made the public more wary about cyber-security

tuin der lusten: an animation studio reinterprets Hieronymous Bosch’s triptych Garden of Earthly Delights (previously) with contemporary vanities

subtle allegory or indistinguishable from magic

This short synopsis of the premise of a science fiction premise really resonated with us: first serialised in 2006, Liu Cixin’s award winning (and recently adapted into film) The Three-Body Problem (三体) proposes that humans have encountered no alien races because extra-terrestrials conspire to contain one another, lest they advance and become a threat.
Introducing this dominant race dispenses neatly with the other reasons aliens are not visiting. Rather than actively disarming and disabling their machines and modes of exploration, the only thing aliens would need to do to humans or any other planet-bound denizen would be to bring in an element of woo and superstition and pseudoscience, maybe a peppering of miraculous events that defy logical explanation to really enforce and cement beliefs. Playing the long-game, the dominant races’ containment-policy ensures it has no competition by undermining trust in science. Given our violent regression to primitive charms and preserving appearances, however, I think that perhaps blaming a technologically superior alien race for keeping humanity relegated to the cosmic backwaters also violates the principal of Ockham’s Razor, lex parsimoniae. We certainly hope that this message is preserved in the theatrical release.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

official channels or meanwhile—back at galt’s gulch

Surely apropos of some sort of unpublicised gaffe with those tag-line salutations that some people choose to personalise their missives with, we received a citation from the governing regulation as a friendly-reminder to cut out the practise.

(2) Use of inappropriate signature blocks when sending electronic messages (emails). Army policies for records management apply to emails. Emails generated by Army personnel in their official capacity from Army communication devices (including but not limited to computers and hand held devices) will not contain slogans, quotes, or other personalized information as part of the individual sender’s signature block.
Signature blocks within emails will contain only the necessary business information, such as: the name of the organization (office, activity, or unit represented); official mailing address or unit information; name of individual; telephone numbers (Defense Switched Network, commercial telephone, cell phone number, or facsimile numbers); office email addresses or government websites (unit web or social media page); government disclaimer (Privacy Act Statement, Attorney Client Notice); unit historical motto or any other information approved by Headquarters Department of the Army. Requests for exceptions will be submitted to the first flag officer or equivalent in the chain of command (with possible delegation to the next in the chain of command, or his/her equivalent).

Most of them, those mottoes either are too arch, not that good (especially after seeing them more than once) or outright embarrassing. I noticed that above coda on an email from a colleague and felt quite sorry for her—having been there myself at one point.

voiture populaire

Just a Car Guy introduces us to the concept automobile built by the French company Panhard et Levassor (who are credited with having created the first modern transmission) in 1948, the Dynavia, as a smaller and more affordable people’s car that the company would be more in keeping with post-war realities. The prototype (another voiture here) with an aluminium, aerodynamic chassis and weighing in at only four hundred kilograms, never went into mass production itself but influenced the design and spirit of the subsequent line of  Panhard Dyna Z saloons (sedans), manufactured from the mid- to late-1950s.

breaking functional fixedness

I’ve found myself mediating on the question of insight and the cultural blind-spots that prevent us from being keen-sighted enough to recognise (both writ large and writ small) our own mistakes, achievements, peril and opportunities in ourselves or in others with this rather brilliant, succinct essay by Umair Haque, introduced by Jason Kottke.
Posing the question, what do you call a world that can’t learn from itself, societies risk cultivating the inability to see beyond the horizon of their established norms and values. Perhaps the dichotomy of a more authentic Europe and an ersatz America is not wholly an accurate one (which does not matter) since I don’t believe that Europeans are beyond the enticements that have driven US quality of life down to new lows, but rather because insisting on perfect generalisations that can be compartmentalised in one way or another is exactly what wedges aspersion between groups and makes one less likely to appreciate how good or bad conditions are and re-enforces the refusal to learn from the success or failures of another. Insofar as both extremes are taken for granted, Americans are loath to experiment with foreign ways of doing things, despite evidence that they work better and might even translate well across the Atlantic, and those nations who’ve achieved are just as disinclined to see how their happy existence is in jeopardy by tolerating the regressive forces of exclusion and keeping others down and out that will undo the underpinnings. What do you think? Can we as individuals and as a society (no matter where we live) cultivate practising insight?