Friday, 31 January 2020


Exactly twenty years ago on this day, the Scottish band Primal Scream released their titular album in the United Kingdom, as NPR reports, with lyrics and themes that seemed a bit overblown at the time but in hindsight seem eerily prescient to the inheritors of the dystopia that they raged against.
Though in those millennial salad days it would be hard to appreciate the trend despite similarly concordant portrayals across the arts and entertainment spectrum, their predictions of epidemics, endless wars, economic asymmetry, surveillance states and the preponderance of propaganda were ignored at our peril. Find more musical retrospectives with National Public Radio at the link above.

Thursday, 30 January 2020


solar max: amazing high-resolution imagery of the surface of the Sun

holyrood: the Edinburgh parliament will continue to fly the EU flag post-Brexit (plus votes for a second referendum for independence)

birth tourism: a woman planning to visit US territory of Saipan forced to prove that she was not pregnant

commonly known as the pipewort family: the stunning paepalanthus flowering plants

part of the troop: robotic gorilla infiltrates a family in the wild

bmc: a large cache of art and artefacts, largely never before seen, from Black Mountain College (adjacently)—staffed by among others Anni and Joseph Albers after they fled Nazi Germany—is being put on-line

Sunday, 26 January 2020

nipkow disks

With an improved scan-rate of twelve-and-a-half frames per second (over that of the first transmission back in October of a ventriloquist’s dummy’s head at a rate of five), Scottish engineer John Logie Baird (see previously) made the first public demonstration of his mechanical television on this day in 1926 to members of Royal Institution and reporters from his Soho workshop and studio on Frith Street.
His pioneering live video recordings—though rudimentary at first advanced at a galloping rate—and were within a year being transmitted via telephone lines with signals being broadcast across the Atlantic shortly thereafter. Baird went on to invent the first colour television and picture tube, aside from producing some of the world’s first programming.
In the summer of 1930, the BBC—with Baird’s input—selected the one-act drama by Luigi Pirandello, The Man with the Flower in his Mouth (L’Uomo dal Fiore in Bocca) to be the adaptation of its first experimental telecast, the exchange between a man dying of a malignant growth in his throat (il fiore in bocca) and a relaxed business man who missed his train connection and is content to wile away his time until the next comes was chosen for its running-time of thirty minutes, small cast and lack of scene changes. As it was a live transmission, no record of the original exists.

Saturday, 11 January 2020


We very much appreciated the introduction to the decorative rarity found in Japan and northern Europe but can be cultivated and cared for at home, sort of like Sea Monkeys but a lot more genuine, I think, called a marimo moss ball. Also known as mossimo (ใƒžใƒชใƒข), a Cladophora or lake ball, it’s a bit of a misnomer as it's a particular growth formation—a colony, of a fresh-water algae called Aegagropila linnรฆi. The organisms will assume this globular cluster particularly in Iceland, Scotland, Ukraine (see also) and colder lakes in Japan but are increasingly endangered in the wild due to poaching. Protection efforts and due diligence on the part of collectors are helping to ensure that one can purchase a kit from sustainable sources.

Saturday, 21 December 2019


fintech: the Nordic country put together an artificial intelligence crash-course for its citizens and now is making the curriculum available to all—via Kottke

chirogram: a deaf student at the University of Life Sciences at Dundee, seeing a deficit in communication, invents one hundred new signs to quickly articulate complex scientific concepts—via Dave Log

the year in pictures: TIME curates one hundred iconic images that tell the stories of the past twelve months

the decade in content: Vanity Fair reviews the trends, memes and moments that defined aspects of the past ten years

dj earworm: the decade encapsulated (previously—albeit on a smaller scale) in a mashup of one hundred songs

klaviatur: a demonstration of the six-plus-six, four row Jankรณ keyboard—which allowed players to cover ranges impossible by a single performer on a traditional piano

headspace: the framework of current privacy protection advocacy and laws is unprepared to safeguard us from the coming mind-reading technologies 

Saturday, 7 September 2019

l’abbaye de landรฉvennec

We’ve briefly touched on the abbey at Landรฉvennec previously through its founder’s association with the myth of the City of Ys but both Saint Guรฉnolรฉ (Winwaloe, Gwenole, *460 - †532) and congregation of monks are worth addressing further on there own.
Son of Dumonian prince Fragan of Albany—Guรฉnolรฉ already had quite the saintly pedigree with reverend twin brothers and another canonised sibling besides and his mother Gwen Teirbron (Blanche in French or Alba Trimammis in Latin) who was revered as a Breton holy woman in her own right and with the colourful epithet meaning three-breasted, she was prayed to for fertility, venerated perhaps as a euhemerism of a more ancient mother goddess.

What was to become a Benedictine community from the eighth century until destroyed by Viking raids and then rebuilt in stone in the early 900s and then ultimately suppressed and its property sold off after the French Revolution (more here) was possessed of a great scriptorium and scrolls and early tomes.  
These archives included a rare medieval copy of the Notitia Digitatum—the late Roman Empire’s list of offices that addresses the administrative organisation of the court and provinces here presenting the shields from a register of military commands, the iconography and the ornament that bears a resemblance to the yin-and-yang symbol—the Taijitu—having evolved independently and from different traditions centuries before Taoist use, that were preserved.
Along with a wealth of other artefacts that were reunited after centuries of separation by the order in 1950 with the ancient site reconsecrated in a sense and opened as a museum with the brothers taking up residence in a new abbey just outside of the village.

Friday, 6 September 2019


cheese whey wine: this proposal does not exact merit the enthusiasm of either turophiles nor ล“nologists

nessie: DNA evidence suggest that the monster of Loch Ness might be a colony of giant eels

mensch-maschine: watch limber, articulate but abstract robots mimic human motion

an englishman in new york: a biographical look at the life and times of Quentin Crisp (previously)

cloverleaf: a gallery of freeway interchanges (previously), via Present /&/ Correct

formaggio ubriaco: bringing it full circle, this delicacy from Treviso sounds more palatable

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

the matter of britain

Former Prime Minister Teresa May made the executive decision to rule out withdrawal from the European Union—not excusing her window-dressing a fools’ errand and Pyrrhic victory—absent an agreement on terms of future trading relationships and remained steadfastly committed to this goal knowing that forestalling negotiations could result in the dissolution of the United Kingdom.
Now with a new prime minister and no closer to reaching a deal, first ministers of Scotland and Wales are respectively calling for another independence referendum (Boris Johnson is stating that he will deny the country the chance to re-visit this once-in-a-generation vote and that the question is a settled matter) and threatening to stage crippling protests over the negative economic impact that will render domestic sheep and their agricultural industry in general unmarketable. Northern Ireland, which like its sister countries with the exception of England voted in favour of remaining a member of the EU, has raised the spectre of reunion with the Republic of Ireland over the economic impact of Brexit and the very real possibility that leaving may necessitate the unwelcome return a physical barrier on the isle—a sentiment fuelled also by the prospect that London may need to impose direct rule on the region in the interim. Closing the border in violation of the Good Friday Agreement would also threaten the trade deals with the US that the UK has banked this whole ordeal on. Winning is sometimes easy, whilst governing is the real challenge.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

notae tironianae

Absent any comprehensive and systematic stenographical short-cuts except for what could be improvised and some legal jargon that were purposefully opaque to stave off the non-credentialed, the catalogue of glyphs, growing to some five thousand symbols, created by Marcus Tullius Tiro (*94 – †4BC) was a highly useful innovation.
An enslaved clerk who was later freed to continue working as the Roman orator and statesman Cicero’s, his former master, personal secretary, Tiro was able—through his notes—to facilitate the dictation and capture the thoughts of the philosopher and statesman, and the method was quickly disseminated. Taught in medieval monasteries, the extended character set grew to some thirteen thousand shorthand symbols that made for an abbreviated syllabary, which could be further modified and combined to compress whole sentences and still retain the words verbatim. Falling out of favour with the proliferation of the printing press, a few Tironian notes are still in use today—notably the ⁊ (the glyph for et, and) is used extensively on signage in Scotland and Ireland where the sign is called the agusan and agus respectively.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Tucked away in a drawer for the better part of five decades, a family in Edinburgh has learned that their treasured heirloom conversation piece is one of the five legendary missing pieces from the Lewis Chessmen (previously), a medieval set from the twelfth century unearthed on the Isle of Lewis in northern Scotland in 1831. A shrewd antiques dealer got the artefact for a bargain of £5 and it has been appraised at over a million pounds—hopefully auctioned off to join its team mates.

Sunday, 10 February 2019


squala mater: a definitive Latin translation of Baby Shark—via Super Punch

sonovox: watch Lucille Ball demonstrate the “voice-box” technique that Peter Frampton popularised

amplifying random noise: regional terms for carbonated beverages in the United States

the wandering earth: big budget scifi movie from author Liu Cixin (previously) has excellent New Year’s debut

from snowman to gingerbread man: the surprisingly flat dimensions of Ultima Thule (previously) baffles researchers

gregg-ruled: edition of Alice in Wonderland transcribed in shorthand—with illustrations to help the reader keep his or her place

embroidered stories: an exhibition of samplers (previously) from Scotland

Sunday, 15 July 2018

hole number five is called fin me oot

Now apparently turned out of Castle Mayskull, the self-described consistent and (again) very stable genius is staying at his Scottish stronghold.
Trump (we’re giving this monster too much coverage but he deserves no peace) is unwelcome there as well, what with the PM revoking his status as a business and trade ambassador and a prominent Scottish university stripping him of his honorary degree well ahead of his latest conniption of reckless impolitic diplomacy. New Yorker correspondent takes a look at another one of Trump’s soi dissant titles, “the king of debt” through the lens of the dearly rehabilitated golf resort. What do you think? Outlays of over two-hundred million dollars (the biggest expenditure by far other than the campaign) of other people’s money have gone into this revenue-losing under-utilised venture, leaving a lot of unanswered questions about Trump’s business model and again who has leverage over him.

Monday, 23 April 2018


everything zen: images from this weekend’s European Stone Stacking and Balancing Competition in Scotland are tranquil (rather than precarious) and oddly fulfilling, via Super Punch

soiree: ahead of the fete for Macron’s state visit, the Atlantic reviews White House state dinners of the past decades

boilerplate: discontent over handling of user data may signal the end of perpetuating meaningless fine-print and illusory choice in contracts

bird’s eye view: cameras carried aloft by trained pigeons deliver turn of the century aerial photography (previously)

convolutional neural network: using deep learning and augmented reality, programmes can aid physicians in detecting cancer and other diseases in real-time, via Slashdot

crassus became the richest man in rome by owning the fire department: privatising emergency services will insulate the wealthy from the worst consequences of climate change while making the poor pay

2008 tc3: meteorite found in Nubian desert is one of the last remains of an ancient, doomed proto-planet

rest in grease: a fast-food chain’s release of a mixtape prompts us to question the boundary between music and marketing and what constitutes a brand versus a band

Friday, 9 June 2017

strong and stable or disunited kingdom

Castle Mayskull’s gamble backfired with her calling an ill-advised snap, general election in order to reinforce a mandate that her party had already secured to withdraw the UK from the European Union and discourage future referenda on devolution and secession.
The Conservative Party has lost a few seats in Parliament’s House of Commons which brings the critical number to retain an absolute majority. Rebuffing calls to resign as Prime Minister—having squandered her mandate, should the incumbent insist on staying and no coalition can be brought together to support her, she risks precipitating a constitutional crisis and dissolution of government. So called hung Parliaments have occurred in the past but with the political landscape being in such turmoil and congregations so polarised over it seems unlikely that an alliance will be forthcoming and the days to follow will be anything but tidy.  This miscalculation, which drew younger voters in greater than expected numbers to the ballot, threatens to reverse the course of negotiations for a Brexit deal and possibly the decision to leave in the first place and is already boding greater economic disruptions than experienced after the referendum. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2016


Though the referendum held in Scotland on whether to split from the United Kingdom did not pass, with the discussion and debate of the coming plebiscite over the BREXIT question, the country may be getting another chance to weigh memberships. The Scots enjoyed their independence (though under a shared monarch) three centuries ago but the union was rather coerced under duress when Scotland needed to be bailed out and presents an allegory, I think, for the current economic and political environment.
Wanting to stake their claim on the world’s stage (another possible case of imperial envy though the Scots treated the natives of their colony fairly well, relatively), some entrepreneurs secured a royal charter to establish an outpost in the South Pacific—New Caledonia, after the Roman name for the lands north of their province Britannia (the wilds beyond Hadrian’s Wall were also known as Pictavia). Financially, the venture was not very successful to begin with—with sandalwood being the only unique commodity and many investors went bankrupt over the ambitious scheme. To compound matters, the English refused trade with the Scottish colony and economic cooperation back home—even kidnapping New Caledonia’s native labour-force to work the more profitable sugar-cane plantations in Australia and Fiji—until Scotland said uncle and agreed to re-join the UK. To re-coup some of the losses, Scotland sold New Caledonia to the French Empire where it remains to this day. How do you think this might apply to the EU?

Monday, 8 September 2014

nova scotia

Depending on the outcome of the coming referendum, how will Scotland address our friend? Oh don't mind her—that's just Elizabeth, the queening-lady.

Friday, 9 May 2014

meรฐ lรถgum skal land byggja

As Scotland is herself poised for a referendum on whether to secede from the United Kingdom, the archipelago stretching to the ends of the Earth of the Shetlands, Orkney and the Western Isles also wants the question of its independence to be brought to a vote. The constituency’s motto is an Icelandic phrase, “with the law shall this land be embiggened,” and reflects historic and cultural ties to Scandinavian countries, especially Norway—having not become a part of the UK until the fifteenth century (actually as a dowry for the union of the Norwegian and British royal houses). The petition to instigate the plebiscite has already been signed by around ten percent of the population and if the measure is passed, the residents could then choose to rejoin Norway.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

seรฑorita woundy-face

Although an independent Scotland has already extended assurances that, like all the Commonwealth Realms, it would continue to recognise Queen Elizabeth II as their liege and there is the possibility too that Scotland may choose to form a republic and reject all royalty, the local's Spanish edition shares an interesting speculation:

the 18th Duchess of Alba de Tormes, the Grandee of Spain, could be created as monarch of the Scots. The clue is in the doรฑa's barreled name, which honours all her ancestors, Marรญa del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva—reaching back to a time before the union of Scotland and England, not counting some forty other styles and honours. Although such a change probably won't come to pass, it would be a fitting foil (to reject the Windsors) to the UK threatening Scottish exclusion to the pound Sterling if they secede.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

devolution or shelbyville-adjacent

The suggestion of one of Silicon Valley's resident tycoons that California governance has become untenable and the state ought to be splintered into six separate republics has picked up some momentum for the populace too impatient for the great quake and letting Mother Earth sort it all out.

Maybe there is some truth to the claim that management is growing impossible and that a unified California is too unwieldy to be run under the former model. The proposed breakup, given enough petitioners to force a referendum on the matter, however, includes a state of Silicon Valley carved out of the adjacent state of Central California which would create the wealthiest enclave in America next to one of the poorest regions. Segregation does not seem to be solution for creating a functional government—jettisoning territories that are of different political persuasions or in different tax brackets, especially when the middle-class is burdened with actually paying into state and federal coffers while the corporations are typically the scoff-laws. Though for very different reasons, this plan reminds me of the upcoming decision of Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and join to European Union as an independent member. What do you think? Is small-time session the answer?

Sunday, 19 August 2012


Via the always splendiferous Neatorama, artist Fuchsia Macaree (the link is no longer) shares a brilliant visual logographic alphabet of a treasury of poetic foreign words that have no equivalents in English, like T for the Scottish term Tartle, the act of hesitation upon forgetting someone’s name, or P for the Russian Pashlost, which is a self-satisfied vulgarity masquerading as high morality—plus more to learn with everything else from Age-Tori to Zhaghzhagh.

There a lot of novel, neat words that are pretty lyrical and that I had not heard before, but this is not an exhaustive presentation of things that defy translation. What would you include in an alphabetical format?

Idiosyncratic and family pet-names names for things and concepts or a how about list of the weird jingo and abbreviations of concepts hard to visualize thrown around freely at the office, those words that would be completely foreign sounding and unassailable to a non-native speaker?