Sunday, 22 April 2018

zwischenstopp: willmars

We’ve previously wrote a little bit about the village of Willmars when we went exploring some ruins and contemplated hunting for mushrooms but the side of town one spies from the road is also pretty picturesque and compact—everything that makes a proper village all right together. The bakery/general store is co-located now with the fire department removed a bit from the main street but everything else is right there.
The settlement was originally in the hands of a cadet-branch of the Franconian dukes of Henneberg, controlling the lands with imperial immediacy from the forests of Thüringen to the banks of the Main, from the early thirteenth century onwards.
Once the line died out with no legitimate heirs in 1583, Willmars and its neighbours reverted ownership to the Duchy of Saxony.
With the major re-distri-bution of sovereignty within the Holy Roman Empire of 1803 (der Reichsdeputationshauptschluss), the villages once again traded hands and came into possession of the Free and Imperial Knights von Stein zu Nord- and Ostheim—more or less for keeps and more on this venerable family to come.

spaceship earth

Sponsored by the partnership of a senator and environmental activist in response to a devastating oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, Earth Day was first observed in 1970 on this date. The movement has grown exponentially since and in 1990 spread internationally, set aside by nearly two hundred countries as time to focus on ecological challenges and solutions.
Despite growing support and awareness of the importance of our being better stewards of the environment and that Nature is not ours to dominate, the movement is facing regressive forces, not the least being narratives that global-warming is a myth. Originally celebrated about a month earlier on the Spring Equinox, the 22 April date was chosen so to make the day truly universal and not tied to a particular hemisphere and as the April date would fall within most colleges’ Spring Breaks and allow the chance for students to organize rallies. Unfortunately, as like contemporary conspiracy theorists—the date chosen was a bit inauspicious as 22 April 1870 was the birthday of Vladimir Lenin (unbeknownst to the event’s organisers, especially considering the need to translate it from the Old Style calendar to the Gregorian) and some harboured suspicions in the US particularly at the time (and through to this day) that that signaled a Communist inculcation and was reminiscent of the coerced “voluntary” Saturday (Subbotnik) spent in community service, to include the sorting and recycling of trash. Fortunately, Earth Day’s message has transcended those arguing that we’re separate and outside of the natural world.

consent of the governed

Intrigued as we were by the characterisation of a former CIA director of Trump’s regime as a kakistocracy, JF Ptak did some further spelunking into forms of government that fail the governed beyond khakistocracy. There’s a link to a quite exhaustive list at the source but just as a sample, some of our favourites, new to us, were: an adhocracy—a government whose deliberations are impromptu and without planning or bureaucracy, a mediocracy—rule by the average, the mediocre, and a ptochcracy—a government constituted of the solicitous poor

Saturday, 21 April 2018

zwischenstopp: neustädtles

One of my new low-stakes but hopefully rewarding projects is to document all the scenic but not at first blush distinct places that I pass through when going from home to work on what’s been several years of a long weekly commute. I’d like to stop for a moment in each place with one of the first villages that I go through to being one of a population of about two hundred called Neustädtles (little new town).
Documented for the first time in the 1420s when the village was sold to the Knights of Tann, the territory on the mountainous border of Bavaria and Thüringen exchanged hands several times until finally coming under the ownership of Julius von Soden, count of Ansbach (the previous owner a casualty of the French Revolution).
Charged with managing the surrounding forest he established the manor with several apartments and offices en suite to issue fishing and hunting permits in the early eighteenth century. Though broader events informed the village’s allegiances in the following centuries, its character is essentially unchanged.  Stay tuned to see where we’ll pause next time.


The announcement that Kim Jong-un will immediately cease nuclear and ballistics tests and dismantle at least one testing range (because North Korea is confident that it has perfected its tactical capabilities) is of course welcome news that we’ll even tolerate the gloating and the smug smog of trumpster fires taking credit for it in exchange for what looks to be at least one less thing to agonise about in this dystopian world.
Perhaps going a notch counter-clockwise with the whole countdown to Doomsday.  One cannot call it progress, however, when a crisis escalated by one’s own stubborn, sabre-rattling remedied itself without and in spite of the other party, restoring the uneasy status quo after much posteuring. North Korea retains its arsenal, whose size one can only guess and whose disarmament was the stated goal of the US, but pledges not to proliferate its nuclear technologies to others and the people of the country will possibly benefit and afforded the chance to prosper with less resources diverted to maintain the testing-programme seem like positive developments.

Friday, 20 April 2018

high crimes and misdemeanors


A committed flâneur myself, I appreciated the invitation from Calvert Journal correspondent Daryl Mersom to take a wander through the different quarters of Tbilisi to marvel at the contrasting and complementary styles of the city’s cultural influences, with the conviction that architecture is not best experienced with an itinerary or by a windshield tour but rather by walking.
From the Old Georgian for a “warm place,” the city was founded in the fourth century BC around a sulphurous thermal spring, an area referred to as Abanotubani, and the settlement has since been at the crossroads of successive civilisations, often in competition over the territory due to its strategic location, and these waves of influence have let their marks and have informed a rather vibrant cosmopolitan capital.
The iconic Wedding Palace designed by Victor Djorbenadze in 1984, purpose built as a matrimonial venue but now a private residence that can be rented out for special events and the 1975 Ministry of Transportation (now the headquarters of the national bank) by Zurab Jalaghania and George Chakhava were not directly included on the meandering path but are alluded to as component parts of the city’s architectural character.  One encounters a rich mixture of Byzantine, Soviet Modern, Beaux-Arts and Neoclassical styles and there’s a certain allure to this panorama that we would like to see in person.


revamp: the classic Vespa (previously) reincarnated as an electric vehicle whose dash console is one’s mobile phone, via the always splendid Nag on the Lake

white noise: a multimedia appreciation of the pioneering electronic composer and sound archivist Delia Derbyshire, who also created the opening theme music for Doctor Who

peafowl: an Australian community is divided over whether the urbanised birds are a nuisance or nice to have around

electroconvulsive shock: a FOIA filing includes an unexpected manual on the use of “psycho-electronic weapons,” via Boing Boing

exonym: in order to disburden itself of its past as a British colony—and possibly reduce confusion with Switzerland—Swaziland will return to its precolonial identity of eSwatini 

flóttamaður: still at large, the suspected ring leader behind the mass theft of computers for bitcoin mining in Iceland escapes prison and flees to Sweden on the same flight that carried the Prime Minister

a state in new england: making the Massachusetts oath of office more concise and assorted other constitutional conventions

subliminal education: an educational material publishing house (previously) conducted a massive experiment in classrooms across the US to test the efficacy of its new material without disclosing the “interventions” (previously) to any of the unwitting students and teachers, via Marginal Revolution

walled garden

Prior to learning about this breaking development thanks to Super Punch, I was mulling the notion of reinstating part of PfRC’s and my personal media presence once the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation went into effect, but the company’s surprise decision to repatriate its Ireland-based international operations means that the new law will have magnitudes fewer beneficiaries.
The four hundred million or so EU-area residents that are creators and consumers of digital content will be covered, and had the headquarters remained in Ireland and under EU jurisdiction so would the rest of the global population of over a billion and a half users whose activities are banked there, with the exception of North American records which are stored in California. With only Europe cordoned-off, all other data from accounts around the world will migrate to servers in the US and the company will have far greater latitude in what it does with people’s history and demographics. What do you think? Though we are glad to be afforded at least a measure of protection and control (maybe, hopefully a meaningful one), it seems like a real jerk move on the company’s part to deprive the rest of the world by centralising its clearinghouses and now I don’t think in good conscience reanimate my account. What we let this company get away with informs how all other stewards of privacy and truth behave going forward.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

frühling in wiesbaden

The weather today was splendid and enjoyed the vast park between the Bahnhof and the newly remodeled Rhein-Main Conference Centre (Congress-Zentrum) across from the city’s venerable art and natural history museum.

la révolution introuvable

A recent interview with EU parliamentarian Daniel (le Rouge) Cohn-Bendit who was one of the student-leaders during the unrest in Paris that ignited in May of 1968, ahead of the fiftieth anniversary of the riots, had two rather pointed statements: during the protests, no one was asking us about our relationship with 1918 and, commenting on today’s atmosphere, Cohn-Bendit’s compatriots were fearless about the future, whereas things now seem a bit tremulous (with notable exceptions).

hex key

We learn via Slashdot that robotic engineering is on the brink of surpassing an important milestone in terms of dexterity, coordination, versatility and patience in assembling a piece of IKEA furniture, a complicated, hands-on experience that would have until just recently been too much to ask of even the most sophisticated robots.
Spending half its time modeling a plan (and a little guidance from its handlers what the end product was to be without the ability yet to just consult the manual) and the rest on putting the chair together, both novice teams finished the job in about twenty minutes. See a video demonstration of the competition and feat at the link above.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

extended character set

Appreciating that as originally a Japanese convention, quite a lot culturally significant symbols would be represented in emoji, like the Great Wave off Kanagawa, Mount Fuji or a bento box. I was curious what the characters following zodiacal symbols meant.
Initially I felt a little underwhelmed with the list but took the chance to reflect on what strikes others as worthy of inclusion or shorthand for something else. For your edification: 🈁 is Koko for Here, 🈂 is Sa for Service Charge, 🈷 is the sign for Moon and signifies a Monthly Amount, 🈶 means Owned or Not Free of Charge, 🈯 indicates Reserved, 🉐 signifies a bargain, 🈹 a discount, 🈚 is for Free of Charge, 🈲 means Prohibited, 🉑 signals acceptable, 🈸 is the Japanese button for application, 🈴 is used to advertise that one has earned a passing grade, 🈳 is empty and available and used to mean Vacancy, ㊗ is the icon for Congratulations, ㊙ marks a Secret, 🈺 is the equivalent of “Yes, we’re Open,” and 🈵 indicates No Vacancy. The Alpha through Omega Omicron following are incidentally blood-types.


Through a mesmerising clip that’s a rather voyeuristic illustration of the commuters’ rat-race and routine called Underground Circuit—comprised of a montage of subway footage, Nag on the Lake introduces us to the work of creative artist Yuge Zhou, whose common-thread of the patterns of human activity in urban settings is explored throughout her repertoire.
This particular work struck me as voyeuristic despite the faceless quality of those navigating the outer rings in a somnambulist fashion are nonetheless doing so to the rhythm of the drummers at the centre, a reference to the concept of Phra Phrom, the Four-Faced Awakened One, an auspicious figure of devotion widely adopted by the Chinese and other Asian faith traditions. Watch and listen to the whole video at the links above and discover more of her artwork.

ico or vires in numeris

Not content with having nudged public sentiment sufficiently for a pivot towards isolationism and fascism, reportedly the data-analyst company that scrapped data from untold millions of social-media users to spin those attitudes into a concerted, targeted campaigns that appealed to our insecurities and vanities did so with the ulterior motive of wading into the crypto-currency market, arguably a murkier place due to the slapdash competition than their initial, creepy harvest of personal information, with plans to launch an initial coin offering, eminent until a whistleblower came forward.
The blockchain architecture that frees electronic currency of traditional financial institutions was to be touted as a means of safeguarding one’s personal data, though it was unsurprisingly unclear how that would have exactly worked or whether the firm would disclose the fact that it had built dossiers on us all already. As chilling as this abuse of trust and opaqueness is and each of us should take action to signal that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable, it also strikes me as ultimately comforting and hopefully to know that society, both polite and impolite, does not quite descend into tribalism without a lot of help and manipulation—still easily duped are we.

the worst view in the world

In collaboration with local artists, Banksy has introduced a line of keepsakes, we learn via Colossal, available at the gift-shop of his Bethlehem hotel (previously here and here) that are inversions of the normal tourist tchotchkes of famous landmarks with the West Bank barrier wall depicted in various stages of crumbling. The hotel has also recently released an album by several Palestinian and international performers and has hosted several other events that you can read more about at the links up top.

imagine a man of my stature being given away as a prize

Though semi-retired from the programme since 2014 and leaving a legacy that goes beyond the some two-thousand answering-machine and voicemail greetings recorded (I wonder what kind of exclusive club those lucky recipients have formed, the format only recently changed to expand to give winners the choice of any of the panelists’ or hosts’ voices), the passing of veteran National Public Radio reporter, anchor and score-keeper emeritus Carl Kasell is hard to reconcile, as he’s been a familiar voice that’s accompanied us for a long time.
Beginning as a news announcer for the weekend edition of All Thing’s Considered in 1975, Kasell hosted Morning Edition since its inception in 1979 until 2009. For nearly a decade, there was overlap for the radio personality as news presenter and his role as judge and arbiter on the weekly news quiz show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!—a move which some might question given Kasell’s newscaster’s bearing and the comedic playfulness of the show but his deadpan humour not only worked but was sustaining for the long-running show, entering its third decade this year. Thanks for delivering developments of events great and small and thanks for all the laughs. Rest in peace, Mr Kasell.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

still-life with roquefort


the long way home: in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbour, an American seaplane in New Zealand had to find an alternative route across the Pacific

a map of the world that does not include utopia is not worth even glancing at: a trailer for the documentary trailer for the Minnesota Experimental City (previously) and its founder Athelstan Spilhaus

transiting exoplanet survey satellite: a nice primer on NASA’s TESS mission that’s expected to sweep the skies for potentially planets

il fuori salone: highlights from Milan Design Week

funkloch: in contravention of the Rural Call Completion Task Force, a telecom provider is being punished for phantom ring tones

if you don’t love me at my worst: this 1921 comic strip foreshadows those expectation versus reality memes pretty spot-on

ordinance survey

Our thanks to the Londonist for introducing us to an rather stunning and absorbing project called Britain from Above that drew on the extensive archives of the Aerofilms Collection to present to the public and elicit feedback (2010-2014) nearly one hundred thousand aerial photographs and films from between 1919 to 1953.
The varied collection includes urban, industrial and rural scenery and was begun when two veteran flying aces from World War I were granted a charter to launch the first comprehensive land survey by air. Aerofilms also pioneered the discipline known as photogrammetry—the term for producing maps from aerial photography. These vintage images are not only visually captivating but also provide important insights for understanding growth and development and management, conservation of both built and natural environments.

pet project or message in a bottle

Via Slashdot, we learn that building on the 2016 discovery of a strain of bacteria in a dump in Japan that ate plastic, a group of researchers at the University of Portsmouth accidentally prodded the catalyst that allows the bacteria to breakdown and metabolise PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic into overdrive.
Curious to understand the evolutionary mechanism that selected for such appetites in the first place, scientists altered the enzyme inadvertently whilst taking it apart. Though further trials are needed, researchers are confident that the process is scalable and could be a tool (this is a big problem whose solutions take a concerted effort and shifts in behaviours, as well) in combating the problem of plastic waste in the oceans.

Monday, 16 April 2018

view of the world from ninth avenue

The always inspiring Nag on the Lake, through the lens of a special textile exhibit hosted at the visitor’s centre of a historic mill located between Glasgow and Edinburgh helps us to place a name and personality to a diverse portfolio of work by an artist arguably best known for his political cartoons, Saul Steinberg. Though commercial work was not his favourite engagement, Steinberg looked as if he took no mean measure of joy in creating textiles and pattern-work, his ornate design The Wedding pictured, and in the 1950s, being able to cotton onto any medium was definitely to the artist’s advantage.
As a young man in Romania, his caricatures documented and lampooned the rise of fascism under conditions made it intolerable and he fled across the Atlantic and was granted asylum by the Dominican Republic in 1941. While he waited for his immigration application to the United States to be approved, Steinberg carried on a lively correspondence in cartoons with The New Yorker (previously), and this epistolary relationship informed a career that lasted for nearly six decades.

technology, entertainment, design

Via Super Punch, we are invited to consider the presentation that’s the buzz of this year’s TED Talk conference which was held last week in Vancouver. Computer scientist and virtual-reality pioneer Jaron Lanier lamented the “free,” ad-based internet that we’ve created and suggested that these behaviour modification and commodification empires either adopt a subscription model, a utility that one pays for like any other service, or abandon this venture entirely.
“We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it’s financed by a third party who wishes to manipulate them.” People of course encouraged to keep up their end of whatever topic of discussion might be circulating out there in the ether, as well. Charging a fee for their services (Marginal Revolution crunched the numbers earlier and determined that globally a membership fee of twenty dollars would cover the advertising revenue it earned per user per year) and it would drive improvement to make the site a service worth paying for. Would you rather have your outlook and opinions meddled with for free or pay a nominal fee and get your money’s worth? One pays for quality. If everyone roundly rejects paying anything for a service that once touted itself as complimentary and always would be, what are we to infer if such a business model fail to attract customers and reach critical, networked mass? Ideas worth spreading, indeed.

silurian hypothesis

Angling from the perspective of an astrobiologist and attempting to give one possible solution to Fermi’s paradox, Atlantic correspondent Adam Frank was about to put to the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies that perhaps alien civilisations advance to the point where they’re either consumed by a climatic catastrophe of their own creation with it being exceedingly rare for a race to muddle through but his proposal was derailed mid-sentence with the rather arresting question why ought one presume that humankind is the Earth’s first advanced civilization.

I’ve wondered about this before and of course it’s the subject of speculative fiction, considering that all of our vaunted history just barely reaches back four thousand years—though from an evolutionary standpoint, we’ve had the mental facilities that we possess today for about sixty-thousand years already and have been anatomically the same for about three hundred thousand years, which all seem to barely register as a blip on a geological timescale. The director, with deference to a Dr Who race of intelligent and industrial reptilians that inhabited the Earth millions of years ago, posits a hypothetical precursor quite off the scale of practitioners of archaeology and a challenge for paleontologists and geologists. The article goes on to explore what traces our civilization might be depositing in the layers of the Earth that might be detectable by scientists tens of millions of years in the future, once our buildings are ground to dust and even our most problematic pollution has finally degraded. Would future scientists even recognise the mark in the strata as telltale? More than the search for a long extinct race of intelligent dinosaurs that were perhaps too clever for their own good, this thought experiment—with actual inference—importantly demonstrates to us in there here and now how we leave an imprint on our planet and what we might do to soften that impact so humans (and the environment that we share with other residents) might be around a bit longer.

Sunday, 15 April 2018


I ran across this rather delightfully engrossing and illustrative (subjects not pictured) interview from Atlas Obscura’s archives recently that discussed what necessary liberties and license can confront and confound the anatomists and other researchers that—without context and living examples to look towards for inspiration—and cause inaccuracies that become ingrained in the way we envision dinosaurs and other long extinct beasts.
Until very recently, no one would have thought to embellish a stegosaurus with fancy feathers and plumage that might make the actual creature far fluffier than the lean and severe hunters that we picture. A classically problematic interpretation was thinking the skulls of elephants were actually the skulls of mythological cyclopes—or dinosaurs fossils evidence of dragons. Conversely, the padding, pouches, crests and wattles of extant species of today that aren’t necessarily preserved along with the skeletal frame that the artists have to work with—or otherwise over compensated for to achieve a sense of balance—could in for future paleontologist create some quite fantastic creatures—raptor like geese or deer that used their antlers (imagining them stretched taut with a sail of skin) like a paraglider. It would take quite an inspired leap (and probably a heretical one too) for a biologist of the far future, without the benefit of having experienced the life-cycles of the specimens studied, to realise that a toad and tadpole or butterfly and caterpillar are the same creatures.  What do you think? I suppose no matter how far off the mark we our with our rough sketches, it’s important to keep on using our imaginations.


Recognised as a pioneer for his introduction of entomology to the curriculum of higher-learning in Japan as both an academic and applied (on their roles in agriculture and forestry as well as in a broader ecological sense), Dr Shōnen Matsumura is probably best remembered for his exhaustive and ambitious four-volume catalogue first published in 1904 called Thousand Insects of Japan. Matsumura himself named and described (and has several named in his honour) over twelve hundred species in journals and contributing to other taxonomical endeavours that the professor saw as the natural extension of his original project.

Saturday, 14 April 2018


 Though we’re yet to properly and fully explore it, there’s quite an extensive, marked prehistorical trail leading away from home. It climbs out of the valley and affords a good vantage point of the village from the fields and tree-line just beyond. There’s an ensemble of ancient Celtic burial mounds, though not as well defined as this other grouping we saw recently, but we are eager to discover what other artefacts the path has to offer.

of the people, by the people, for the people

In response to Trump’s offensive rubbishing of the character of the intelligence services, a former agency director erupted, “Your kakistocracy is collapsing after its lamentable journey. As the greatest nation history has known, we have the opportunity to emerge from this nightmare stronger and more committed to ensuring a better life for all Americans, including those that you have so tragically deceived,” addressing Trump with no intermediaries—through a Tweet. Surprisingly, this will be the fifth time that PfRC has used the Greek neologism and it has been invoked in many other editorials about this regime,  but the present surge in inquiries about its meaning—government by the worst—and how it echoed this earlier bit of testimony of he who bears the brunt of Trump’s attacks sent me on an errand mission to the original 1644 sermon preached by one Paul Gosnold (original orthography below and note the old-fashioned way plurals are formed) before the assembly of St Mary’s of Oxford, including some visiting parliamentarians:

Therefore we need not make any scruple of praying against such: against those Sanctimonious Incendiaries, who have fetched fire from heaven to set their Country in combustion, have pretended Religion to raise and maintaine a most wicked rebellion: against those Nero’s, who have ripped up the wombe of the mother that bare them, and wounded the breasts that gave them sucke: against those Cannibal’s who feed upon the flesh and are drunke with the bloud of their own brethren: against those Catiline’s who seeke their private ends in the publicke disturbance, and have set the Kingdome on fire to rost their owne egges: against those tempests of the State, those restlesse spirits who can no longer live, then be stickling and medling; who are stung with a perpetuall itch of changing and innovating, transforming our old Hierarchy into a new Presbytery, and this againe into a newer Independency; and our well-temperd Monarchy into a mad kinde of Kakistocracy. Good Lord!

Oh lordy, indeed! A derived term is khakistocracy, an ironic pun referring the habit of strongmen dictators of parading about in military fatigues or as poseurs in battledress.

warmongering or operation desert stormy

Though we are just four months into 2018 and we don’t have comparable figures for comparison from the UK and France, as opposed to the fifteen-thousand Syrian migrants fleeing their war-torn country that the US helped resettle in 2016, this year the US has only welcomed eleven.
It strikes me as beyond cruel insult in this proxy war that millions are caught in the middle of to condemn the killing of civilians and respond by raining down death and destruction yet offer those trying to escape the violence little to no support or recourse—not to mention arming opposing regional factions and increasing sectarian strife. Targeting sites linked to the Assad regime’s chemical weapons programme, military facilities were avoided to prevent the possibility of collateral damage to Russian assets. Twice the amount of missiles were used in this mission compared to last April’s response to a chemical weapons attack. Some two thousand American troops are stationed in opposition Kurdish-controlled northern Syria—for good measure. This stunt also happens to coincide with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s former boss who was fired by Trump publishing a rather damning bombshell account of his dealings with Trump and under the direction of the independent counsel, the FBI has raided the offices of one of Trump’s lawyers, possibly securing irreconvertibly incriminating evidence of wrong-doing behind the campaign and the election.

Friday, 13 April 2018

tuesday’s child

From a co-worker I learned that some people from Ghana, Togo and the Ivory Coast name their children after the day of the week on which they were born. The Akan, Ndyuka and Fanti peoples of the Guinea Coast of West Africa and diaspora believe these “day names” confer further meaning on the character of the person—comparable to the fortune-telling rhymes of English folk songs but imbued with far richer heritage.
The circumstances of one’s birth—such as precedence, order and special deliveries—can be further narrated through middle names. In the Twi dialect spoken in central Ghana, Monday is Ɛdwóada and is associated with peace and depth and gives us the male name Kwadwó and the female name Adwoa. The Latin epsilon sounds like the e in bed. Tuesday is Ɛbénada and is associated with the ocean and gives us the male name Kwabená and the female name Abenaa. Wukúada, Wednesday, is associated with the spider (the embodiment of ancestral knowledge and tales) and gives us the male name Kwakú. Thursday is Yáwóada is has its root in the word for Earth and gives us Yaw and Yaa. Friday is Efíada after fertility and gives us Kofí and Afua. Saturday, Méméneda, gives us Kwámè and Ama and is associated with the divine and Sunday, Kwasíada, gives us Kwasí and the female form Akosu and is associated with the Cosmos. Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Atta Annan was born on a Friday and his middle name indicates that he was a twin.


asterix and obelix: the comic book route of Brussels

mad libs: a handy template for Republican politicians to use for announcing their retirement

slot cars: a electrified stretch of road opens to traffic in Sweden which will recharge the batteries of electric vehicles as they drive down it, via Slashdot

stamina, fitness and skill: Pelle Cass’ compelling composite photography of athletic events capture the patterns of motions in sports

fluency: an artist explores the roots of language and consciousness through a vocabulary of personal hieroglyphics

saloon: a virtual cache of bar- and alcohol-related accessories and ephemera, via Weird Universe

b-side: an Austrian company developing high definition vinyl records, which can be played on existing turn-tables, will bring them to the market by 2019


 Approaching the subject through the lens of Chinese customs that regale holiday gatherings with words that sound similar to those of good luck and fortune and eschewing those that rhyme with death, disease and ill-will, Nautilus contributor Julie Sedivy reprises an interesting essay that examines how language reveals in ambiguity and how we give meaning to our sounds that favour pun and entendre.
On a broad-scale, considering the number of speakers of Mandarin, Cantonese and English, one wonders how attraction and aversion and the density of definition influences our behavior and decision-making. Oh to be the sort of polyglot who could appreciate this nuance and make this sort of equivalent formulation but apparently because of the way that Chinese languages are constructed (phonetic real-estate is crowded) it would not be considered abnormal for a speaker not rely too heavily on context and spell out that they are dashing off to the bank—that is a financial institution and not the water’s edge—to get some money. What do you think? One would expect less ambiguity and greater precision, leaving less room for confusion, would be the better course of action linguistically but we seem to have a penchant for over-burdening our speech with a vagueness that we’ve become accustomed to, begging insight into the ways language and culture reflect the unplumbed architecture of cognition.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

troxler fading

TYWKIWDBI introduces us to a curious optical illusion that occurs when one focuses at the single black dot in the centre of this image with the wash of colours surrounding it will disappear after about twenty seconds of uninterrupted staring. Click on the image to open it in a separate screen in case there is distracting marginalia on the page.  The visual effect which happens at least in part in the brain (and not in the eyes) was first identified and described by Viennese physician and philosopher Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler and is explained as the perceptual neurons (there are parallel effects for the other senses besides just sight) become inured to an unchanging background and begins to ignore it.
The above animation illustrates a variant of Troxler fading called the Lilac Chaser, credited to Jeremy Hinton circa 2005, and you’re invited to stare at the black cross-hairs for about thirty seconds and see what happens. Clinically and metaphorically, learning about ways that our perceptions are liable to compromise we’re finding simultaneously enlightening and leaving us wondering how we might be benighted.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

jenseits oder art brut

A bit nonplussed with myself for not having taken the opportunity to venture out on this vector sooner, I took advantage of the fine weather to return to Heidelberg, visiting after a rather long absence. Though I only had the vague agenda of going in search of this artefact that I’d learned about recently (but more on that later), I didn’t really have a plan and familiar with the old town, just wanted to enjoy the day.
Beginning on the opposite bank in the Neuenheim district, I ascended the Heiligenberg (the Saints’ Mountain) and marched down the northern slope along the scenic and duly reflective Philosophenweg and enjoyed the views of the town below as I approached the Neckar and the crossed at the Old Bridge.
I was mistaken about where the autobiographical jacket of Agnes Richter was displayed, along with the rest of the curated collection of psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn (DE/EN) but did locate the facilities that housed the former asylum and saw in the venerable campus museum—the University of Heidelberg founded in 1386—how the institution appeared during Nazi times and had a peek inside the ornate lecture hall, die Alte Aula.
Admission to the University Museum also included a tour of the Student Prison (der Studentenkarzer)—a pastiche of the various incarnations that the jail had taken from the days of the university’s founding until the outbreak of World War I, which afforded those with affiliation to the university a special and separate jurisdiction from regular townsfolk and generally lighter punishment for youthful indiscretions.
A sentence rather became a badge of honour and right-of-passage with the rise of fraternal organisations. Having already seen a lot, I sort of lost track of my quest and thought it would need to wait for another day but I recalled where the school of medicine was located and decided to look there.
I wasn’t sure how the gallery had escaped my notice beforehand—given all the opportunities that I had to explore Heidelberg in the past but a rather overwhelming and solemn experience awaited me.
Taking interest in the art that his patients produced not only as a psychologically heuristic tool but also for their aesthetic value, Prinzhorn began curating his collection in the 1920s and took special care that their art was documented and conserved—even through the ravages of World War II and euthanasia campaigns that murdered many of the artists.
Overcome by the expressive styles—something that I can’t quite name, informed surely from distress and disassociation but at the same time insightful, I found the exhibit fascinating and altogether something that I was not quite prepared for.
Embedded within the walls of the gallery space were several offices occupied by psychologists and one saw people come and go amid the paintings.  Moved by these testimonials that offered a glimpse into the mental state of the artists, I had nearly forgotten about Agnes Richter’s jacket and inquired with one of the staff members (who also handpick among the thousands of objects in the collection which works of art to display on a rotating basis) and was told it could only be viewed as part of a guided tour, which I’d arrived too late for.
I wasn’t disappointed, filled with so many other impressions to filter through, and resolved to visit again—since the exhibit regularly changes—when H could join me. Being a psychotherapist, I think it is something that H would be interested in seeing as well.