Thursday, 7 October 2021

shock theatre

With the debut of the syndicated package of made-for-television monster movies after a few minor roles in a Western series—one being an undertaker—on this day in 1957 in the Philadelphia market, John Zacherle (*1918 - †2016) began a decades’ long career as a horror host, editing a pair of anthologies of ghost stories plus penning a few monster novelty songs. Often filling in for his colleague and fellow Philadelphian broadcaster Dick Clark when touring, Zacherle was the substitute MC for American Bandstand. As a promotional stunt to mark his move to New York, Zacherley staged a presidential campaign in 1960, running as a “cool ghoul” but failing to meet the threshold to get on the ballot in any state. Continuing the same format as Shock Theatre, the interstitial breaks became more and more elaborate with a cast of monstrous characters and branched out into a few motion picture parts as well as hosting a cartoon variety hour and adolescent dance show in New Jersey called Disc-O-Teen. Through the seventies and eighties, Zacherle was a Prog Rock disk-jockey and in an array of b-movies. His success and notoriety helped his niece Bonnie Zacherle develop and successfully pitch her 1982 toy line, My Little Pony—the horror.

Friday, 1 October 2021

highly irregular

Via the always engrossing 99% Invisible, we are introduced to the poem “The Chaos” penned by Dutch teacher and travel writer Gerard Nolst Trenitรฉ under the the pseudonym Charivarius (see also) in 1920 as a part of a broader commiseration and discussion on the mongrel nature of the English language and the challenges that poses for new learners. An excerpt of the rather epic length work begins:

Dearest creature in Creation,
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

Ending thus with the emblematic, problematic words italicised:

Finally: which rhymes with “enough,”
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of “cup”…
My advice is—give it up!


cultured: beautiful Petri dish art (see also) from Dasha Plesen  

tax centinels: protesting college students conspired to create “penny famines” across the US in the late 1930s 

rediffusion: the Thames Television archives—via Things magazine  

fat bear bracket: follow the celebration of survival and success with Katmai’s nature preserve ursine residents—via Hyperalleric’s Required Reading 

the thing on the fourble board: a 1948 episode of the radio programme Quiet, Please! is considered to be one of the scariest broadcasts ever 

bisection: the spiralling figural sculpture of Isabel Miramontes  

frustule: the rich diversity of diatoms illustrated in an 1890 volume

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

conspicous calculation

Addressing the lexical weight of numeracy and the outsized weight we attribute to it as we do with all jargon from coding to spellbinding, we really enjoyed the panel discussion between host Helen Zaltzman and guest Professor Stephen Chrisomalis featured on the latest episode of the Allusionist on numbers and notation. 

We especially appreciated the disabusing reminders about bias, audience and the recent dominance of Indo-Arabic numerals (see also) and the vestigial systems, like Roman numerals, that accord prestige and the fact that I, V, X, L, C, D, Mwere not immutable from Antiquity until now with medieval abbreviations sometimes reflecting the Latin name or using Claudian letters and that the symbols were never meant to denote centum or mille but rather that half X is V and half C is L, and so on.

Monday, 30 August 2021


headgear: Languagehat is no longer neglecting the latter portion of its remit 

on seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful april morning: a pair of short stories from Rysuke Hamaguchi adapted for film  

aggregate accessory fruit: the curious, circuitous route of the misnamed garden variety strawberry  

like astrology for businessmen: a look at the Myers-Briggs personality test 

strokenteelt: see strip cultivation at work in the Netherlands 

erm: a discussion on intonation and a hummed “I don’t know”

Thursday, 5 August 2021


event horizon: unlike planets or stars, the size of black holes are not limited by physical constraints  

peg and pulley: a compelling argument to revive the cross-building washing line—via Pasa Bon!  

alien dreams: uncannily creative art from AIs—via Waxy 

bertilak de hautdesert: a highly recommended retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight—see previously 

the greater fool theory: also called survivor investing, on the origins of value, margin calls and fiat currency—see previously  

thirteen things: a truly outstanding round-up from a fellow internet caretaker, including an indoor-outdoor bath tub on rails, pineapple cheese and a chameleon tape-measure 

intercluster medium: a galaxy-sized cloud of gas out floating in splendid isolation

Saturday, 31 July 2021

vintage obscura

Gleaning the rarities of world music from popular sources this radio station—with a simple protocol of a few criteria—rotates through taste-expanding repertoire of tracks of limited exposure and have been recorded or released at least a quarter century prior—which is presently pre-1996. Give them a listen live and review their entire growing playlist.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

stamina potion

Directed towards an engrossing economics side-quest to ponder from NRP’s Planet Money, we learn how a cadre of rather ingenious individuals, to stave of the worst effect of a collapsing national currency and exponential inflation which strips money of one of its defining pillars as a store of value, to farming for computer game gold, since collecting and trading those virtual coins for primarily euro or US dollars was at a far better rate of exchange than the bolรญvar soberano and paid a better wage. Choosing the MMORPG (massively multiplayer on-line role-playing game) platform of Old School RuneScape because of its low bar to access, straightforward and relatively easy to play (especially for repetitive, income-generating tasks) and would run on older computers and not be too data intensive, their activity (not allowed according to house rules, selling to third-parties, but can’t really be stopped) has drawn supporters sympathetic to their real world plight and detractors complaining of encroachment and how it skews the in-game economy.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

turner d. century

A minor super-villain (see also here and here) that first appeared as Spider Woman’s nemesis in a December 1980 issue of the comic, the alter-ego of Clifford F. Michaels’ formative backstory has the character adopted by a wealthy business tycoon for whom his biological father was chauffeur and valet, the benefactor responsible for rebuilding much of San Francisco after the 1906 Earthquake but was displeased with the moral turpitude and vice that emerged from the rubble.

The magnate attempted to launch a campaign to restore manners and mores to what they had been at the fin de siรจcle but failed and so sheltered himself and surrogate son from the degeneracy and idealise the past with the dress and affectations of a gentleman in 1900. Raging against progress and change with toxic nostalgia, Century tried depopulating the city in various ways in order to start fresh with society (possibly with wax figures as substitutes for actual residents) including a hypersonic weapon, flame-throwing umbrella and magic time horn that kills people under sixty-five (like high-pitched nuisance feedback that only young people can hear). Century’s plans were thwarted and the character killed off finally in 1986, along with a slew of other second tier criminals that needed to be culled from the Marvel paracosm, by vigilante assassin Scourge of the Underworld.

Monday, 26 July 2021

pluralia tantum

Existing only in the plural form, the term bibliobibuli was coined in 1957 by H. L. Mencken from the Latinate roots biblio and bibulous to call the set that read too much: “I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion. They wander through this most diverting and simulation of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing.” This harsh indictment applies it seems to those who with a slate of podcast subscriptions requiring listening to and catching up on. Now I feel personnally attacked.

Thursday, 1 July 2021


banning: a 1967 forgotten film about a sordid tryst at a country club 

remains of the day: six relics of once ubiquitous fast-food empires  

plain chachalaca: more badly named bird friends—see previously here and here, via Super Punch

awestruck: short, initial pieces optimised for joy and wonder from NPR 

gallery 88: an electronics line for kids from Sony—see also  

dhead xlvi: a David Bowie painting (see previously) saved from a landfill fetches over one hundred thousand CA$  

grand opening: a brief history of the ribbon-cutting ceremony  

britbox: an interactive fiction project for a cult 70s television programme that dabbled in paganism and the paranormal—see also—which never existed

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

le pont de trinquetaille

Seeing that on this day in 1987, a Van Gogh (previously here and here) of a bridge scene in Arles fetched a then record twenty million dollars at auction made me reflect on a recent podcast episode about the individual responsible for the artist’s posthumous and compelling fame promoted out of necessity and circumstance, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger (*1862 - †1925), widow of theretofore Van Gogh’s greatest champion, his brother Theo, and sister-in-law who had acquired a great deal of the then worthless works and against the advice of friends and family brought them back to their native Holland from Paris after losing her husband. In order to provide for herself and her child, Van Gogh-Bonger collected and edited an epistolary exchange and between the brothers and family biography, helping to establish her brother-in-law’s fame and reputation, as well as arranging exhibitions, helping to define not only Vincent as a celebrity but the attendant marketplace of the art world as well.

Friday, 25 June 2021


Commissioned originally by a paint company for voice-over artist Ken Nordine to write and perform radio spots in the style of signature his “word jazz” albums (also long-time WBEZ Chicago public radio host of the programme of the same name), the work expanded by 1967 into a full recording of some thirty tracks, personifying a different colour each, kind of like Eighty-Eight Lines about Forty-Four Women. Covered hues include Puce, Chartreuse, Ecru and Mauve. The reverse of the sleeve and liner-notes included byzantine instructions for a board game and make a finger-painting based on the order prescribed and scoring was self-apparent.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021


Often times blogging makes me a little ambivalent about reposting something lest I steal someone else’s thunder for research and study. I think I flatter myself here with that worry. I share especially with urgency and eagerness that which has particularly waylaid me recently and though I think a lot of what we post falls into that category, this latest Merriam-Webster panel discussion was recently emblematic of what we are about, not discounting pedantic hyper-correction. Of course—coming from someone who thought quinoa, spelt and spoken, were two different grains—there’s no shame in mispronunciation unless you can’t be bothered to try with someone’s name, it was really disabusing, unsettling to learn that victuals is meant to be said vittles—plus the preponderance of a “victualler license” for restaurants and inns. Listen to the whole podcast below for more surprises and gentle corrections.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

on the clock

Through the lens of some of the artefacts of the transitional era when the railways began not only to collapse space but time as well and the attendant need for standardisation and synchronisation 99% Invisible (which one can read or listen to as a podcast) takes us on a tour of some of the remnants and malingerers of that period when the world suddenly grew a lot smaller and more interconnected. Especially notable is the introductory clock of the Corn Exchange in Bristol that made an early concession to locomotion by adding a second minute hand to its face to mark London time, with local time, lagging (see also here and here) by around ten minutes according to the reckoning of high noon. Much more to explore at the links above.

Monday, 17 May 2021

▄ ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄▄▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ ▄

In yet another brilliantly delivered, disabusing lesson from Helen Zaltzman we learned that despite the popular, vernacular etymologies and assigned backronyms the universal maritime distress signal S̄ลŒS̄, the prosign or procedural signal formally written with the overscore to distinguish it from letters though its other advantages include being an ambigram and legible from all angles, is an abbreviation for nothing and eventually—taking the Titanic disaster to bring the UK on board—customary way to dispatch an unequivocally (see also) urgent message of imminent peril. The need for an international standard first suggested by Captain Quintino Bonomo at the Berlin Preliminary Conference on Wireless Telegraphy in 1903, radio developed in the late 1890s with the proposed signal being SSS DDD, a bit more of a mouthful to dit and dot to request aid from ships at sea but no authoritative convention was set forth with many but not all seafaring nations (and not consistently either) using CQD at the recommendation of the Marconi International Marine Communication Company, which is derived from an abbreviation—CQ from sรฉcu, the French shortened form of security, and D for Distress (Dรฉtresse—not Come Quick, Drowning), the first part having been already adopted as “general call,” all hands on deck. Germany first adopted S.O.S. in 1905, the nine syllable sequence being a unique call-sign, out of fear that CQD would be received as a general notification

Sunday, 9 May 2021

television and the public interest

The titular speech given on this day in 1961 by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Newton N. Minow (previously) to a convention of the trade and lobby group the National Association of Broadcasters, compared to the Golden Age of TV in the 1950s, contemporary programming of violence, cartoons, Westerns, commercials and game shows was assuredly a “vast wasteland.” Acknowledging that when television is good, nothing—not theatre nor any other forms of media—is can surpass it in terms of quality and potential to engage, Minow went on to advise his audience that “television and all who participate in it are jointly accountable to the American public for respect for the special needs of children, for community responsibility, for the advancement of education and culture, for the acceptability of the programme materials chosen, for decency and decorum in production—and for propriety in advertising. This responsibility cannot be discharged by any given group of programmes, but rather only through the highest standards of respect for the American home and applied to every moment of every programme presented. Programme materials should enlarge the horizons of the viewer, provide him with wholesome entertainment, afford helpful stimulation and remind him of the responsibilities which the citizen has towards his society.” Reforms brought about in reaction to the address led to the creation of US Public Television and National Public Radio.

Monday, 3 May 2021

information as a public good

The annual observance focused on the above theme, World Press Freedom Day was enshrined by the United Nations in 1998 as a time for reflection and remediation for governments to uphold their commitment to freedom of expression and an adversarial press and encourage journalists and media professionals to recount their struggles and pledge to truth and ethics in pursuit of reporting. The day falls on the anniversary of the forerunning Windhoek Declaration of 1991 when a consortium of newspaper reporters from all across Africa met in the Namibian capital resolved to promote an independent and pluralistic press for the continent. The Press Freedom Index is also updated at this time, ranking the ability for journalists to cover candidly government and corporate behaviour.