Sunday, 25 September 2022

sip (10. 167)

Via tmn, our attention is again directed towards bespoke, luxury fallout shelters, bunkers, panic rooms flogged (also a punishment for criminal offences for the not so well-appointed) to the rich and powerful—only this time, the glamorous, underground residences, replete with fake skies over courtyards with swimming pools, private theatres, wine cellars, conference centres and showcase galleries and garages, or anything else the client can imagine, are being pushed on the influx of multi-millionaires resettling in the United Arab Emirates. What do you thinK? The firm offering such fantastical and secure retreats is a Swiss company called Oppidum—the Latin term for a fortified city. I thought only pharaoh in his pyramid could only be so entombed.

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

down in the underground (10. 155)

Via Boing Boing, we are referred to a curator of one of our own, older obsessions—manhole covers in this site that has meticulous catalogued, though far from complete, these manifestations of the extensive infrastructure of suburbia, numbering over eight thousand examples from over five hundred cities all across the globe.

Thursday, 7 January 2021


Via Waxy, we make the acquaintance of a namesake (a portmanteau of the Pixar character and Salvador Dalรญ) neural network that generates, using Open AI, images from captions. It’s still too brittle, its minders say, for free-text (see also) but one can play Mad-Libs with a certain string of prompts to get an idea of its virtuosity and capabilities. 

This first array of images is in response to the cutline a triangular, yellow manhole cover. The second, poetically, is a fox—made of voxels—sitting in a field. The network even demonstrates learning in geographical facts, fashion and dating styles and technology, though some seem better informed than others. 



Monday, 23 September 2019


Via her excellency Nag on the Lake, we discover that the infamous fatberg of Whitechapel (previously) has been memorialised with a special manhole cover.
The one hundred-thirty tonne blockage discovered beneath the east London district was comprised of an unsavoury amalgamation of wet-wipes, cooking oil and other items that are not meant for the sewer system—sort of like the problem of aspirational recycling whose good intentions can spoil the whole batch which can prove overtaxing for even the best engineered though ageing infrastructure.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019


misirlou: celebrating the life and genre-forming stylings of Dick Dale (RIP *1938 – †2019) and the Del Tones

the people have spoken: voters of a Massachusetts town remove and re-elect their mayor on the same ballot

scarlet letter: Monica Lewinsky on public shaming and cyber-bullying

caturday: a 1986 feline calendar on the Internet Archive—previously

the professor and the madman: preview for a cinematic adaption of the story of one of the Oxford English Dictionary’s foundational contributors

ใƒžใƒณใƒ›ใƒผใƒซใฎ่“‹: a photographic safari for the most colourful manhole covers (previously) in Japan  

Monday, 26 November 2018


black mirror: a local Chinese business woman is publicly pilloried when an AI misinterprets an ad on the side of a bus as the jaywalking CEO—via Slashdot

cover art: vintage, non-fiction paperback jackets animated by Henning M Lederer

drainspotting: a memory-match game played with decorative Japanese manhole covers (previously here and here)

wallflower: Cecilia Paredes camouflages her subjects against bold floral patterns

l’anis del mono: artist Omar Aqil models Pablo Picasso’s abstract paintings in three dimensions with everyday objects

christmas evil: White House continues the decorating tradition of transforming the residence into a nightmarish hellscape

Thursday, 30 August 2018


secret garden: Google Earth leads a team of researchers to an untouched mountaintop rainforest in Mozambique

ultima thule: on its encore mission, Pluto probe beams back its first image of its next target

comnenian period: an exploration of Byzantine architecture from draughtsman Antoine Helbert, via Kottke

amos rex: a subterranean museum opens in Helsinki  

seven points of articulation: a visual history of the past four decades of LEGO Minifigs (previously)

drainspotting: a tour of the manhole covers (elsewhere) of Massachusetts  

hyperpolyglot: what the people who’ve mastered dozens of languages can teach us, via Digg

Wednesday, 26 April 2017


Unlike in most other places where the รฆsthetic of manhole covers tends towards purely utility and economy, in Japan it’s a matter of community engagement with some nineteen thousand designs reflective of local industry, culture and history. Visit the link up top for a tour of the Nagashima Imono casting factory where many of the manhole covers for Japanese municipalities are made.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

latch and locker

Hyperallergic features a nice appreciation of the overlooked Pop Art artist Dorothy Grebenak, active from 1950 to 1970.
Though she never quite owed up to being attached to that particular genre, Grebenak’s creations were as iconic as those of Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol. Possibly relegated to a secondary status due to her medium of choice—almost exclusively working in hooked rugs meant to be displayed on the wall like a tapestry—Grebenak’s work made it into some prestigious museums but got no further than the gift shops, until being championed by one collector and gallery owner. Find out more about this forgotten artist at the link up top.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016


Being something of a manhole-fancier myself (that sounds like an awful indictment so perhaps the German term Kanaldeckel is better), I really appreciated being introduced to the urban artist called Raubdruckerin by the fabulous Nag on the Lake. This exhibitionist has made a circuit of dozens of cities to pirate the impressions of the signatures of the plumbing that lies underneath the asphalt but can really be iconic symbols of a place on to tee-shirts and tote-bags and just as representative as a skyline.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

oubliette or down in the underground

An artist by the name of Biancoshock is converting disused manholes in Milan into tiny luxury apartments. In an installation called Borderlife, meant to draw attention to the plight of immigrants and the vanishing ordinary residents priced out of affordable housing in urban centres over gentrification, a functionally decorated suite of rooms is sunk down a series of rabbit holes. Be sure to visit the artist’s gallery found at the source-link up top.

Monday, 21 December 2015

c.h.u.d. oder down in the underground

Though I think my preoccupation with manhole covers contains a mostly untried yearn for urban exploration that I’ve rarely managed to summon up the courage (probably sensibly) to carry out, I would risk being caught trespassing to see what lies beneath Wiesbaden.
When I was a little kid, I can recall wading through flood canals in Oklahoma teeming with crayfish (crawdads—sort of giant sewer shrimps that one would readily barbecue) and once following a tunnel underneath the old officers’ club in Wรผrzburg (formerly the local Nazi party headquarters) big enough to drive a tank through to it cemented up conclusion. H doubts the veracity of this latter Goonies’ adventure.
 A clever Redditor posted this portal—which I came across by accident—and to the turn of the century infrastructure that lies below. The city’s manhole covers (Kulideckeln) seem rather plain and haven’t really interested me like those that celebrate coats-of-arms and this entrance to the underworld, which I had crossed over without notice many, many times before, even less so. The protagonist, Harry Lime, of The Third Man descended a similarly constituted stairwell.
 Instantly, I knew right where it was—the vaunted brick arches reflecting other utilities of the age, like the landmark Grรผnderzeit water-tower in Biebrich, on the square adjacent to the Hauptbahnhof but I didn’t go to examine it right away—though it might be a time when others might be checking, as I discovered it’s secret while frantically searching for news on the evacuation of the train station, due to a terror warning that has not yet materialised. Out of an abundance of caution, the Christmas market was also cleared out. Presently, maybe it’s best to leave such spelunking to the professionals, the CHUDs and Morlocks.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

panorama or bread and butter

With this news item and its repercussions overshadowed by the visit of the Queen and then understandably wide-spread panic over the financial viability of Greece and the coordinated terrorist attacks that targeted tourists, it took me some time to realise that there is truly a landmark decision—pun very much intended, on the docket for the EU parliament. Standardising the so-called Panoramafreiheit, named after the German concept that images either framed or incidentally with art installations and works of architecture that are on display to the general public can be shared openly without fear of reprisal or accusations of commercial infringement, has suddenly become a priority. And while some are championing the German model be taken up in other lands where legal entanglements can make publicising a picture, especially of modern buildings whose likeness is controlled by some individual or brain-trust, difficult, others fear that the interpretation and enforcement of commercial-use could swing the other way in favour of the lien-holders. Tacky souvenir-shops seem to have gotten away with selling kitsch for years, whether copyrighted or not—Paris owns the right to the picture (and reminiscences thereof apparently) of the Eiffel Tower illuminated at night—and while I don’t think it’s necessarily right for some fly-by-night opportunist to profit at the expense of the labour of some genius architect and the outlays of a municipality by 3D-printing charm bracelets of some newly built sports stadium named after an on-line loan company—supposing there’s a market for such trinkets, no one should need to get permission and pay royalties for making their own personal postcards and sharing them.
The fact, however, that the venues where such things are shared are mostly unabashedly commercial ventures, the legal wranglings, suits and disappeared images would be soon to follow. Given that they are the bread and butter of the industry of sharing and of the gadgets that make this level of snapshots and selfies possible such candid postcards prompted this discussion—and probably gave someone a whiff of money to be made, it strikes me as ironic and necessary that there might be a degree of cooperation between those prying giants of the internet and their usual antagonists, the libertine Wikipedia and your friendly neighbourhood Pirate Party. It is strange to think of them being potentially on the same side.  I imagine that the social media networks would wither on the vine should the environment become as restrictive about broadcasting one’s whereabouts (with pictures) as bootleg has become.  Should the lawyers get their way, what is to stop it from progressing to even natural monuments, claimed as trade-mark by states unable to glean any tax-revenue off of those same internet giants that get off scot-free (which really does mean duty-free, hors taxes) though profiting greatly with local operations? Be sure to let people know how you feel about this and photograph everything as that’s the new graffiti.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013


Der Spiegel's international desk reports through a narrative of the scavenger- hunt (die Schnitzeljagd) and a collection of the discoveries on the City of Leipzig being the latest entry among German metropolises in a new form of tourism that aims to capture urban landscapes in new ways through sponsored Photo Marathons. I really like this idea, although when exploring someplace new I have not assigned myself a certain theme, especially such esoteric ones subject to abstract license—except maybe manholes and graffiti.

Thursday, 14 March 2013


There is an entire pool at Flickr dedicated to artistic and interesting manhole covers. Neat-o-rama curated a little preview. Japan seems to have some of the more unique and elaborate examples and there is a lot to discover from all over the world, but I am ever excited to go on an urban safari through a new German community and collect more local symbols and crests.

Monday, 3 December 2012

jobbing or come-uppance

Following the template of job security safety nets already in place in Austria and Norway, the European Union social services commission will put forward, within an obligatory framework, a mechanism to hold the problems of high unemployment among young people to account.

Just as there are para- chutes to try to slow the other concussions and pancaking of the fall-out of currency crisis, the EU is recognizing the debilitating and demoralizing urgency of the lack of prospects and direction, especially among the youth, which besides over-taxing government welfare and lends less to pension funds, leaves young people with some difficult and disheartening choices about career, family and home. Governments would like to be able to guarantee all people under twenty-five years old either a new position or at the very least, an apprenticeship, within no longer than four months after losing a job through redundancy or upon completion of their education and poised to enter the workforce. The details, associated costs and trade-offs are still being ironed out (in most EU countries, there are weighted social criteria, years to retirement, number of dependents, that are statutory considerations when it comes to letting people go, and whether such guarantees over warranties bias the scale and hurt established workers) and the promise may prove too ambitious, but it is a positive signal for governments to commit to their well-being of their up-and-comers and much as for their own reputation and safekeeping.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

water closet

Heaven forbid that one should have to pee while one is out and about. Quite a lot of places are ill-equipped for a potty-emergency, having to ask for a key or produce change or simply be met with refusal. Norway, for being sparsely populated faithful provided, however, immaculate, public conveniences at every turn and in some unlikely and remote spots—like some TARDIS for the beleaguered, but that’s not the case everywhere. The local, the English language daily, reported in both its Swiss and German (the stories are no longer available but please visit the German and Swiss dailies) editions stories on advances in lavatory etiquette, albeit on opposite ends of the spectrum. First, researchers in Switzerland were lauded for their reinvention of the toilet, a prototype designed for the developing world but suitable anywhere—sanitary and clean without plumbing or electricity, inexpensive and environmentally friendly with some very clever and promising engineering elements.
 Meanwhile, in Kรถln marketers are promoting an item similarly off the grid, called the pocket urinal for gentlemen and ladies. This sort of tetra-pak receptacle was originally developed for construction workers and gliding enthusiastic who cannot easily leave their posts, but has been endorsed by the city for Carnival time and other festivals when too many revelers are less willing to hold it or wait for one of the too few bathrooms. This too is a clever idea but not nearly as ecologically kind nor inexpensive—relatively.

Monday, 23 April 2012

synaxarion or by george!

Though Germany is one of the few places not wholly under the patronage of Saint George and Germany has another event to mark on this day—the anniversary of the enactment of the Reinheitsgebot, the Saint Day has universal recognition and usually falls (the feast can be preempted by Easter) on a strange amalgam of celebrations that are as varied and involved as his cult and veneration. Aside from beer, literature is also synthetically celebrated on this day, due to it being the anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes’ death and the anniversary of both William Shakespeare’s birth and death (though this coincidence is a bit contrived because of subsequent calendar reforms)—books are a traditional St. George’s Day gift.

For Saint George himself, festivities can range from the civic to national to professional observances for the many places and vocations (including blacksmiths, butchers, farmers, miners and beer-barrel makers) he covers. The historical personage was an accomplished and respected leader of the imperial guard in Roman Palestine, and although a favourite of the Emperor, was martyred for making a spectacle of his refusal to recognize the pagan household gods. Apparently, his faith inspired a revolt among the people and military ranks, overturning the ban against Christianity. Where the bit about the dragon comes in is not so clear. I always felt kind of sorry for the dragon, but it was more than just a nuisance, demanding livestock- or maiden-sacrifices from villagers in exchange for access to their oasis and water supply. Then, instead of taking the act, George slaying the dragon (symbolizing Rome, perhaps) to save the life of the chieftain’s daughter who drew the bad lot after all the sheep and goats had been devoured, as a fait accompli, I prefer to think of it as a continuous battle, a tumbling and constant struggle like the eternal standoffs seen in the constellations.
This fiery perseverance is something internalized, perhaps, as the choices that confront us all the time and the sometimes delayed realization that choices and acts have consequences. I like how this imagery has been propagated and the hero is acknowledged in his homelands and far beyond, and his icons and devotions are spread from the Middle East to the nation of Georgia, to the flag of England and the Arab world because of widespread miraculous acts and visions of the Saint on the eve of battle.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

crawlspace or urban spelunking

Via the superlative BLDGBLOG, Der Spiegel (auf englisch) reports on a persistent mystery that’s been buried and forgotten in locations all over Bavaria. There are hundreds of discovered ancient stone passageways tunneled into the earth, mostly impossibly narrow and tight, in farmers’ fields, under churchyards and in towns, that have been described with such creative names as Schrazelloch ("goblin hole") and Alraunenhรถhle ("mandrake cave"), because locals believed that they were the mines of dwarves and oubliettes of elves—since no one can really say what the purpose of these articifical caves were.

Though known of for a long time, with similar phenomena occurring in other parts of Europe, curators are only now taking interest in studying them, speculating on their functions from emergency food storage, like a fall-out shelter, refuge from marauders, like a panic-room but being impracticably small, others have interpreted them to have had spiritual significance. These Erdstall catacombs are never documented as being built prior and throughout the Medieval period—only their slow, accidental discovery, and maybe were the meditation chambers of a mystery-cult. No one knows, but perhaps the attention will lead to more finds, and maybe there’s something to be found down in the underground of Bad Karma.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

ich habe noch einen koffer in berlin

We are on vacation for the long weekend, and this time to the capital, to explore the strata of this multilayered, storied city.  Stay tuned to our little trave blog for upcoming developments.  For now, we have arrived in a shabby-chic hotel in the quarter of old Moabit, just beyond the buildings of parliment.  This area, bizarrely, was originally settled by French Hugonauts fleeing religious persecution.  One of their first enterprises after arriving was a venture for silk cultivation, but the Chinese white mulberry tree would not grow in the sandy soil of Berlin, which are the only trees that silkworms will spin their cocoons on, so they had to find another way to support their new community.