Sunday, 4 November 2018

olfactory bulb

Via Marginal Revolution, we are introduced to artist Sissel Tolaas celebrates the olfactory when the world becomes estrangingly deodorised, enshrining everything that’s visceral and memorable about the often derided sense of smell.
Her brave and unabashed landscapes perfumed with perhaps what we’d as soon forget create a odour distinctive to time and place and craft a unique narrative with each waft—telegraphing specific characteristics that rather defy digitalisation and the usual heraldic shorthand, though our sensibilities seem to shy away from confronting the vulgar without detergent. Tolaas has even crafted a compliment of vials containing bespoke smells never smelt before to break in case of an event that one wants to create an indelible memory for. It’s assuredly a good thing that we must needs be present for the perception that is most immediate and unmitigated to the brain (though whole industries are devoted to building those barriers) and to perform witchcraft, chemistry and biology, unable to elevate ourselves above the miasma that was formerly blamed for all maladies.

Sunday, 28 October 2018


subscribe to our newsletter: having to compete with social media walled-gardens, websites have gotten to be pretty needy, via Nag on the Lake

torch song trilogy: Theresa May Dancing to Stuff, via Everlasting Blört
gifaanisqatsi: a rather soothing random mix of animations whose time dilations fit with the 1983 documentary about “worlds out of balance” (previously with GIF), via Things Magazine

got to go where the love is: a number from Van Morrison’s new album

safety matches versus strike anywhere: designer Helen Stickler creates messages of activism out of vintage matchbook covers

sortation: Pirate Party in Iceland proposes to select at random ten individuals to address parliament every month  

Saturday, 25 August 2018


First published on this date in 1937, I recall having read through W H Auden’s and Louis MacNeice’s collaboration Letters from Iceland in preparation for a short trip there years ago—fascination for Iceland is nothing new or novel but before selfies and social media, I turned to the inter-war pastoral’s section marked “For Tourists.” I don’t have an enduring impression of the correspondence or the travelogue but remember the advice to avoid Reykjavík—which I didn’t heed, but we do think it’s a good occasion to revisit the book and plan a return excursion Iceland itself.

Saturday, 18 August 2018


We learn that Icelanders have a catchy-sounding colloquial term, bongóblíða—bongo weather, to describe this rather pleasant respite from the sweltering heat we’re currently enjoying, though still quite seasonable and hot conditions. The word is a lyric from the 1988 Eurovision entry Sólarsamba (Sunny Samba) from father-daughter duo Magnús Kjartansson and Margrét Gauja Magnúsdóttir. Check out the link above to see a music video of the song for pronunciation help.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

í embætti

On this day in 1980, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir became the first democratically directly elected female president (forseti—the presiding one and derived from the Æsir god Fosite, the personification of justice and reconciliation), assuming the high office in Iceland.  Though she initially won by only a slight majority of voters, she went on to serve three more terms, running in two of the elections unopposed, making her also the longest serving—to date—female head of state, with an administration of exactly sixteen years. In 1996, Vigdís chose not to be considered for re-election but has remained active since as a goodwill ambassador, lobbying on behalf of minority languages and world peace.

Friday, 15 June 2018


i’m ready for my close-up: a selection of vintage Hollywood test shots

emeco: a look at the indestructible chair commissioned by the US navy in 1940 that could withstand the blast of a torpedo 
columbo: US ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrinch, returns a pilfered letter penned by Christopher Columbus to the Vatican Library

fjallkona: Iceland picks a drag queen to be its national personification, the Lady of the Mountain

flare-up: periodically the Sun erupts

jankó layout: an alternative keyboard to the traditional piano format

pitchforks: main-stream media is ignoring the protests of poor peoples in the US

x-ray vision: Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers harness ambient radio signals and WiFi to see through walls

Sunday, 3 June 2018

𒍪 og súmersk trúarbrögð

As reported by BBC Monitoring and News from Elsewhere, in response to a surge in membership, Iceland’s Zuism community, a revival of the ancient Sumerian religion—considered the most venerable and precursor to all other forms of faith, is seeking permission to construct a two-storey ziggurat in Reykjavík as a meeting place for their growing congregation.
Having spread across Scandinavia, in part due to the fact that adherents are not subjected to the tithing that applies to other state-recognised religions and that instead the tax revenues are used to support social welfare projects, the name derives from the verb to know zu (𒍪) and references the thunder-bird god of wisdom Zú or Imdugud and the theogony also includes four main divinities: An or Dingir—the heavens associated with the north celestial pole who crosses the skies in the Little Dipper (constellation Usra Minor), Ninhursag, Mother Earth—or the Lady of the Mountain, Enki—the lord of the harvest and agriculture and Enlil, the weather god. There’s a whole cast of heroes and minor deities as well whose counterparts are readily recognised. He that you call Jupiter, we call Marduk. In addition to influencing religions to follow, the Mesopotamian civilisation also invented taxation and debt but with the understanding that in order to avoid the ill societal effects of a crippling burden, it was necessary to have the occasional debt-forgiveness—a practise which the Zuistar (what members call themselves) hope champion and to reintroduce as well.

Friday, 20 April 2018


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

Sunday, 8 April 2018

six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunch!

A group of post-graduate students in Iceland have conferred a banana a passport so they can study not only the scope and complexity of the process and infrastructure that brought the single piece of fruit from its place of origin in Ecuador but also the reductive nature of food labelling and how no product or produce is from just one place, passing seamlessly from palette to plate.
Following the fortnight-long journey of a banana of nearly nine thousand kilometres whose handled by thirty-three individuals on each day of the travel—without deference to the growers or consumers, really, illustrates the impact of upholding global trade networks, bearing in mind that more finished- rather than harvested-goods can encircle the planet several, on ocean-going vessels (the fact that the seas are brought into this petty land-lubbing ordeal is also overlooked) times before reaching the purchaser. The same group has also examined the travels of Iceland’s chief exports—cod and aluminium

Monday, 29 January 2018


The always brilliant Nag on the Lake shares a short but rather remarkable video on the efforts to reforest Iceland and return it to the state it was, some twenty to forty percent woodland coverage, before the arrival of the Vikings and the clearing to make room for agriculture and grazing lands. Lack of trees contribute to extreme weather in the country as well as diminishing returns on farming and pastures as soils erodes, threatening to turn the island into a desert. Learn more at the links above.

Thursday, 4 January 2018


meltdown: a good primer to the security vulnerability revealed in micro-processors

shorttermism: a look at some of the factors driving factory closures despite long-term, sustained viability

kyngreiðsluskilyrði: the Icelandic government is determined to close the gender pay gap by making it illegal to set wages for women less than men

curb side: a look into America’s valet parking Olympics

investment instrument: a few ideas on how to spend your bitcoin

the insolence of the young: memorandum circulated as a gag to the staff of the Atlantic in 1973 on repulsive topics is weirdly resonant

the blog is dead, long live the blog: a nice reflection on the practise and pursuit with a kind tribute to the Presurfer

border slash: the US expends over a million dollars annually to maintain a deforested boundary between it and Canada—to ensure that the border is more than an imaginary line, via TYWKIWDBI  

Friday, 22 December 2017


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

Friday, 13 October 2017


As an update to a project first covered last summer, we learn that an international consortium of engineers and alchemists have brought the first negative-emissions power plant on-line in Iceland.
The scientists and their backers were understandably muted about their works and successes—hoping that industry would do a better job of policing itself and leave direct-air capture—having filters sequester atmospheric carbon-dioxide by transforming it into stone—as an absolute last-resort. Additionally, despite the fact that we’ve probably passed that pivot point and considering what’s at stake, the scientists were also not wanting to seem too pie-in-the-sky considering the prohibitively high costs associated with constructing the facilities—but desperate times call for a symmetrical response and right now with many places battered by climate-change driven natural disasters—hurricanes, wildfires, no price can be too dear. This first prototype plant paired with the geothermal generating station in Hellisheiði (to make it truly carbon-negative) is so far able to reabsorb the annual emissions of an average family home, but a May demonstration project in Geneva captured the equivalent of twenty households with costs coming down.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

any port in a storm

Taking advantage of a constitutional crisis that has promulgated the dissolution of parliament (I can remember when a nation’s collapse into chaos garnered more coverage), neo-Nazi internet refugees behind the publication of The Daily Stormer have taken up residence in Iceland, and not because of the country’s pledge to create a sanctuary of internet freedoms but rather because enshrined within that legal framework it is stipulated that only the executive can revoke an .is domain and it appears that they’ve won at least a few weeks’ worth of reprieve since Iceland is lacking one. As repulsive as hosting such a presence might be, Iceland ought to be proud of this technicality and have some extra motivation to form a stable coalition to be rid of this parasite soon. The present editor-in-chief to the publication is heir to Julius Streicher’s (Gauleiter of Franconia) original Der Stürmer that focused chiefly on the problems of miscegenation, an unofficial weekly digest for useful idiots which became a growing embarrassment to the Nazi party who was nonetheless executed in Nuremberg for war crimes.

Thursday, 13 July 2017


fish and visitors: Icelanders are growing weary of insensitive tourists

meal-ticket: clever man works hospitality loopholes to eat for free for nearly a year before people got wise to his scheme

by jove: amazing, arresting images of the Giant Red Spot of Jupiter

je pense, donc je suis: our sense of self understood through the power of attention

theatre-in-the-round: the workshop of a LEGO expert constructs a zoetrope with minifigs, plus an original precursor to animation encoded as a GIF in bacterial DNA

sanli tu: medieval abridged guide to the Chinese classics of protocol and divination goes on display alongside some of the artefacts pictured therein

Sunday, 12 February 2017


Although his Christian affiliation made him stop short of fully tracing back the lineage of revolutionary general and first president of the Republic George Washington to the Norse pantheon of gods, late nineteenth century genealogist and theologian Albert Welles, taking a cue from saga writer and fellow Christian Snorri Sturluson who demoted the gods to larger-than-life versions of good marshals and stewards of the tribe, essentially linked the individual also romanticised as Roman statesman and embodiment of civil virtue Cincinnatus, across thirty-two generations of Viking ancestors to Odin. Of course these myth-making sessions are important for the cohesion of a people and serve to legitimise leaders and their actions, and while this claim garnered no significant traction nor created pretensions of divine and ordained right, such Teutonic twists have in other milieu led to catastrophic conclusions.

Friday, 20 January 2017


heart-shaped box: as part of its forgotten formats series, Ars Technica explores the history of the 8-track cartridge and its links to the Lear jet and Kurt Cobain

mall-walkers: sculpt one’s figure among the sculptures with a workout at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, via the always aesthetic Nag on the Lake

good fences make good neighbours: social media entrepreneur, eschewing privacy, sues hundreds to keep his Hawaiian estate pristine, via Boing Boing

road to nowhere: celebrating architectural fossils preserved despite apparent lack of historical value

assuage party: conservatives members of a Danish archipelago volunteer to host rumoured but inevitable US-Russo summit

yavin base: 1977 theatre audience reacting to Star Wars’ trench run

Friday, 6 January 2017


what sorcery is this: seemingly magical, Möbius-burrito method of putting the cover on a duvet (Plumeau, Bettdecke)

journeyman: large format, industrial three-dimensional printer installed in its own shipping container for ease of transportation

ретрофутуризм: 1960 Soviet vision of the year 2017

gluggaveður: a winter’s trek to Iceland’s Arctic Henge

furkids: funny and effective animal shelter promotional presentation produced on a shoe-string budget

f-bomb: despite older brother’s protests baby prodigy gets rather sweary

vinification statt gentrification: tiny urban vineyard in Berlin that was also home to the first programmable computer from the laboratory of Konrad Zuse

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

óþekkur eða gott (naughty or nice)

Reports that one Icelandic Christmas figure, Kertasníkir, remains popular but might be slipping in the rankings with the younger demographic, I had to investigate more into these so called Yule Lads and what roles they played in the season’s celebrations.
The sons of mountain-trolls, the Yule Lads (jólasveinar) are said to come to town during the thirteen days preceding Christmas Eve (compare to Twelfth Night that marks the end of Christmastide), often bringing in tow their ferocious Yule Cat that was to devour children whom did not receive new clothes for Christmas (or perhaps those recalcitrant ones that complain about getting socks) whereas the Yule Lads mostly have a taste for human leftovers, and visits each child to mete out rewards or punishment according to the child’s behaviour (though the centuries and modern parenting practises seem to have mellowed them significantly). Kertasníkir is the Candle-Thief (candles being made of tallow and therefore edible) with other popular brothers being Stúfur, a stubby one known for steeling pans to gnaw the crusts left on them, or Hurðaskellir, who plays distraction by slamming doors at all hours so his compatriots can commit mischief unimpeded.

Monday, 12 December 2016


As the Reykjavík Grapevine informs, former Icelandic interior minister Ögmundur Jónasson granted a lengthy interview to EU think-tank Katoikos, with a warrant to speak for those sometimes feeling exiled in their own or adopted homes, in which he addresses his thought on the rise in nationalism, the financial crisis that ravaged the tiny island nation and—perhaps most sensationally, his standing up and eventual dismissal of the FBI.

There had been some discussion and rumours circulating around the 2011 incident, but Jónasson had not yet spoke about it candidly beforehand. After having been approached (and received in a cold manner, though the message did not seem to go through) in the early summer about touring the servers that were reputed to be hosting some of the data of the WikiLeaks platform. Despite the initial rebuffing reception, three months later, a whole planeload of agents came, with designs on framing the WikiLeaks founder. This act of defiance is certainly significant despite the fact that I wonder if Julian Assange has gone a little stir-crazy and am reminded nowadays of Harvey Dent’s line to Batman: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Jónasson made it understood in no uncertain terms that the FBI had no jurisdiction here and should leave immediately, the minister far more willing to side with the whistle-blowers over the domestic intelligence agency. At this point in our story, Assange had already surrendered to UK authorities, having leaked his major caches of communiques throughout 2010 but had not yet secured asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London