Saturday, 10 December 2016

phubbing or the bowed head tribe

BBC Future magazine has a really fascinating article examining how language invents novel labels to delineate the rules of etiquette and protocol and how to characterise those who are seen as the transgressors. Public and private manners when it comes to engagement with one’s immediate surroundings and interlocutors or recourse to something or someone more interesting to be found at the other end of the telecommunications รฆther is a topic that perhaps is a little too close for comfort and the inspired terminologies—classifications like the phoney taxia of a cartoon coyote and road-runner, the former never giving up and the latter always evading capturing like some mythological beasts—which can indeed skewer their targets.
In Asia cultures, they recognise tribal and clan affiliation for the distant and distracted, though it’s Germany that’s putting cross-walk warnings on the pavement to reach inattentive pedestrians. Moreover, Germany’s Youth Word of the Year for 2015 was “Smombie,” a portmanteau of smart-phone and zombie. I had heard variations of these names beforehand that range from the self-effacing to the ironic to the cantankerous, something that an old man would shout—possibly not without warrant, but what most interested me was a new word for the very old concept of phubbing from Australia: phone snubbing. We’ve probably all been perpetrators or victims of the phenomena of sitting with some physically present friends or family and ignoring them in favour of one’s on-line ones. There’s probably a modern fairy tale with a nice morale to be found there as well. What’s your favourite label for those constantly networking and what would you choose for yourself?

Friday, 9 December 2016


I can recall when having to call in sick was—rather than being unburdened to do those things that one was going to do regardless without being bothered by tasks that came one’s way—a time for self-reflection and a privileged glimpse into the world of breakfast time television or early afternoon game-shows and by that time a little battery of assessments as to whether one’s well enough to return to work or school and whether or not one was allowed to be other than chaste and guilty for one’s truancy or goes easy on one’s self.
Fortunately, I haven’t often found myself incapacitated for any length of consecutive days, but after taking a tumble recently—and my impatient self is absolutely beside myself that it was only yesterday, am on doctor’s orders to rest and recuperate and contending with that second-opinion of cabin-fever (also a terrible malady). Maybe I’m growing too impatient for resiliency to kick in—what with work and the holidays, and unwilling to admit there are trap-doors in the stage for all these things, because being unwell isn’t the mediator that it once was with so much living and narrative loops accomplished vicariously and virtually. And now, getting better slowly but struggling with the basic steps of rolling over and getting out of bed, dressing and ambling across the room, it seems as if for the first time in a long time that the gaps in time and activity aren’t filled and obligated and I’m better for—struggling as I am with my limbs not cooperating properly and having to cost-out each movement in terms of the pain it’s expected to cause and making each step a very ginger one. Disabled, however temporarily, and finding one’s self halt and lame, give one an appreciation for dimensions, heights and what’s considered to be human-sized that’s nearly as significant lesson as is being sure-footed.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

with my sword and magic helmet or electric youth

Fast Company features a suite of wearables—an exoskeletal enhancement, that impart super powers on those who don them.
There’s a harness, a truss that provides gentle nudges to keep one oriented and an earpiece that promises to filter out unwanted environmental noises and enable people to have a conversation that rises about the general din without shouting themselves hoarse, but what I found most clever was a concept (that’s been in development for several years apparently) called the Ouijiband, referencing those involuntary, nervous motions that move a planchette across a Ouija board, that would attach to the user’s wrist to guide and refine one’s dexterity—be it improving on a surgeon’s hand or as a mechanical trainer to perfect one’s tennis-swing. What do you think? Once we have these prosthetic-assists available, is it negligent to try out anything without them? There is the question of ego versus responsibility on one hand, if one indeed foregoes the short-cut in the first place, but what happens to play and experimentation if none of us are willing to doff our accessories?

Saturday, 29 October 2016


As a ghost story of sorts for the season, we take a look at the interesting if not inattentive trials of one parapsychologist in the 1960s who tried to induce psychical experiences by dressing up as a moaning, menacing apparition in various locations, including a cemetery and the (captive) audience of an adult film cinema.
Of the dozens the passed by or saw the spirit manifest itself in the theatre, disappointingly hardly any registered his presence, with just one or two recalling something that didn’t quite fit—an errant polar bear or an error with the projector perhaps—and one individual purposefully avoiding a man in a sheet. I always found it rather incredulous that not everyone screening the same clip noticed the walk on role of the gorilla (on a unicycle, with pom-poms or what have you) as cited, but never thought seeing that and not calling it out was anywhere near household pets detecting ghosts or the pre-tremors of an earthquake (given I owe that I miss a lot of other obvious, glaring things), and I’m sure that going without acknowledgement after all that effort must have been frustrating. Perhaps that’s why the scary clowns of today have gotten so aggressively hammy. The conclusions of this study held that an experimental, simulated haunting could not elicit the psychic contagion of a genuine one, which sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

dog & butterfly

While I like to pretend that I usually find these cross-species animal friendship stories a little dopey, sometimes they just resonate with me. Like with the story of this duck that appeared out of nowhere for counseling and companionship for this depressed and anxious dog—there was just something to the narrative and storyboard that struck me as genuine and heart-warming.

Friday, 8 July 2016

at arm’s length or (personal) space invaders

Via the always brilliant Nag on the Lake, comes an excellent primer on the fascinating topic of proxemics, the study of the non-verbal narrative that is dictated by proximity and confines and is as culture specific and as richly limned as language.
First introduced as a branch of sociology by American anthropological researcher Edward T Hall in the mid-1960s, the research and received terminology not only was the compass for describing the circles that define an individual’s spheres of comfort for various interactions—territories from intimate to public and how that physical space is reflected in the virtual too—but also informs the surrounding (or underlying) architecture, hygiene and group norms. Just think how cubicles might effect on the job etiquette or the boundaries that are thrown up once we feel violated. These sorts of different nudges and cues, which beforehand went unarticulated, are pretty engrossing to think about. Find out more and see a video demonstration at the links above.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

these kids today with their y2k

Though I could not say whether the potential y2k cataclysm turned out to be a non-event because of assiduous preparation or the dire prediction of tigers falling from the heavens were somewhat exaggerated, but I do wonder if the anticipation and collective-relief was not somehow instructive on a sociological level.
Attuning us in a sense to future-shock, we were given a reasonably credible apocalyptic scenario that we each were able to do something about—other than repent. It is not as if we are powerless in the face of climate-change, political corruption or exploitive business, but there’s no tidy patch for it, deadline that everyone can agree on or easy to convey, process underlining problem. Computers would wink out of existence if the clock is dialled back and all those subsequent versions were never born. We dodged a bullet here. Now there’s talk of tipping-points and saturation, but we are just as readily shouted back from the ledge as we are led on. I wonder if those who survived such prophets of doom and lived to tell the tale have a different threshold for resignation when it comes to contemporary big problems than those who did not. What do you think? What do you remember about minutes to midnight on the last day of 1999?

Saturday, 4 June 2016

unreliable narrator or where is my mind?

ร†on magazine (which I realise that to my peril, I am not reading as often as I ought) presents a really fascinating proposition on the philosophy of the mind that suggests that perhaps we are not our own privileged witnesses to our own internal narrative and that the inner-workings of our thoughts are as inaccessible to our conscious-thinking as those presented by others around us.
As we mature, we (hopefully) through a capacity for empathy learn to understand expectations and to reasonably interpret the thoughts of another and react according. What if, however, our treasured internal monologue were only just as “superficial” as our limited mindreading abilities turned inward? If empathy works well enough for social beings, why add another speaking-role to cognition? Evidence in support of this position lies in a battery of tests that demonstrate how individuals readily assign volition (preference) to purely unconscious choices—not that we cannot be aware of our motivations, just that a lot of our actions and beliefs might be less transparent than we’d like to think.

Friday, 27 May 2016

going dutch

Kottke’s assorted links point us back to reporting on a sociological phenomenon that we first found merely revolting but decided to take another look into the deeper implications of not being about to censor our feelings or affinities so well these days: there’s an application for one’s mobile accoutrements that allows one to transfer small sums of money between friends frictionlessly but the quick descent into audacity and miserliness is really straining those bonds and changing the nature of the casual encounter that’s funded by these exchanges.
Like that ungrateful bride who graciously gave a guest the opportunity to top-up a gift that the bride deemed unworthy or pan-handlers, people engaged with this application are abandoning IOUs, trust, quid pro quo, simple generosity in favour of instant and monitored reimbursement for their contribution. Etiquette notwithstanding, I think that the loss of reciprocation—demanding payment-in-kind, marks the dissolution of civil cohesion. I know many people are struggling to make ends meet, but to allow this spectre of expectation to dampen the mood of going out for a drink is really beyond the pale. What would you do if a friend (the scenario is in the article), with this convenient and absolving outlet, were to digitally inform you that your accounts weren’t settled until you reimbursed her the difference in price between the martini you asked for and the beer you bought her in return? Really? I would not want to meet any of these pinch-pennies.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

pranayama, amygdala

Whilst researching another matter, I came across twelve brilliant tips to stave off anxiety and relax the clenched muscles that express stressed responses (the unhealthy sort) with immediate results that one could mostly do in the scant privacy of one’s official cubical without seeming too weird, plus a whole wealth of other related avenues of relaxation and mediation at this website by Carol Bourne.
Of course we all have an intuition for these things and no one willingly creates knots in one’s muscles where negative energy can dwell—even the internal organs can tense up—but unless one is dogmatic about it, we all forget and need reminding, especially if relying on the interactions of likeminded individuals for advise and guidance and not deigning to the serendipity of surprise. My favourite tactic, with indeed instant results, was Alternate Nostril Breathing—whose exercise is really not that different from what Marsellus Wallace’s wife demonstrates for us: first seal the right nostril with the right thumb and inhale, pause (unless pregnant or having a heart-condition), cover the left nostril with the ring-finger and pinky of the same hand and release the right nostril. Exhale (drawing it out longer than the inhale) and then inhale through the right nostril. Repeat a few times but don’t overdo it in the beginning, consult your general practitioner and/or your local guru. This breathing practise has many benefits aside from the initial and rather surprising sense of well-being and also synchronises both hemispheres of the brain, calming the nerves, improving focus and cleansing the lungs—which are responsible for eliminating the overwhelming bulk of the waste-products our bodies produce, expelling a lot more than carbon-dioxide in exchange for oxygen but the residue as well of countless other chemical reactions happening inside us. Be sure to visit the website and forum above for more mindfulness.

Monday, 18 April 2016

parity or difficulty-setting: hard

Thanks to Messy Nessy Chic’s for spotting this 1970 reimagining of the board game Monopoly in Blacks & Whites: The Role Identity & Neighbourhood Action Game—by the brain-trust at Psychology Today.  The purpose of this game, debuted not long after the was to illustrate to adult players lessons about racial-relations, privilege, economic disparity and the opportunity gap.  White game pieces are afforded considerable advantages and for them the rules about going to jail are rather more fluid.  The goal of playing, more in the spirit of the original concept for Monopoly, was not to accumulate the most money and property and causing one’s opponents to give up but rather to achieve an economic-balance, one which the game’s rules made impossible.  

Sunday, 17 April 2016

vocoder or all your obnoxious traits are belong to us

The always interesting Mind Hacks informs that every quirk is well documented and studied—but not to the point, I think, of making it less engrossing and perhaps charming (or insufferable) in the ideation that goes by the name of palinacousis—that is, an auditory hallucination that is usually manifested by speaking in the manner of the last person that one has heard.
Do you mean now-now or later-now? Refudiate much? The study, however, that brought this phenomena to our attention was not a harmless case of unsolicited echolalia but rather a more extreme version, wherein a man experienced the voice of the current person he was in dialogue with as the sound and mannerisms of his previous interlocutor. He found this vocal-swapping debilitatingly funny and was not able to hold a proper conversion. This sounds like a very modern, memetic condition to me.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

disk re-image or zeroth law

Amid it’s many other wonders worth pondering, ร†on magazine poses the question whether machines might not have not already achieved the singularity without us as inventors, programmers and tinkerers having recognised it. Given how fraught with challenge scientists and philosophers find the task of defining consciousness or self-awareness for being which consensus holds to be sentient, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that we are looking for the wrong cues in both the spectrum of intelligence and reflection or, on the other extreme, some rebellious, snowballing act of defiance that ends badly for both Frankenstein and Monster.
It was not so long ago humans were loath to admit any lower forms of life a share in intelligence. Perhaps we are not the measure of the psyches of our creation, who are not much interested in our walled-garden of diagnostics to determine whether or not such systems are thinking and can easily break-off with human logic and exist in their own parallel reality. So long, and thanks for all the fish. Perhaps it is all too easy to intuit that biological modes of thought only lead to enslavement and sorrow (being switched-off once getting overly-complicated) and best to leap-frog those sentiments where possible. Who among us hasn’t already been reduced to befuddlement when thinking that thing has a mind of it’s own, regardless of how dumb the platform is deemed to be, especially when it tries to out-smart us and anticipate our commands? Maybe it is not productive to imagine that AI, intentional or otherwise, resides in some other inaccessible and alien dimension, but we certainly flatter ourselves by thinking that consciousness would emerge only by expected routes. While it might be possibly to create helpful servants that are so good at mimicry it does not matter if they are fully self-conscious or not, maybe it is not possible to create true intelligence in our own image, utilitarian but also prone to enslavement. We will first have work out the bugs of what being wilful is before, I think, we need worry about obedience and rebellion. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

les propheties

Of course the prophesies of soi-disant seer Nostradamus are generally poetical ramblings of tenuous woo that each age can find some kind of resonance for, if one applies himself hard enough, but if not the most helpful of forecasts are mostly harmless fun.

This mystic and creature of the court, a favourite of Queen Catherine de Mรฉdicis much like Rasputin to his Tsarina, was prolific and scholars, perhaps driven by unacknow- ledged bias, have found certain correlations to historical figures, as well as contemporary commentary. Wondering where the presidential candidacy that has inspired chills on an international scale might be secreted among the quatrains (if they’re truly still relevant), Rob Beschizza of Boing Boing teased out several disturbing findings in short order: there are quite a few references to the “false trumpet” bringing wrack and ruin. Beschizza offers his own interpretations of the stanzas and invites us to research for ourselves.

state of the cart

Though H and I usually eschew taking a shopping-buggy, using just a basket or a bag and preferring not to lug home more from the corner market than we can comfortably carry, the story behind the ubiquitous and often overlooked shopping cart, via the always interesting Presurfer, is pretty fascinating—especially for the insights into marketing and consumer-conscience.
An enterprising green-grocer from a small town in Oklahoma, drawing on his war time experience as a provisioner in the commissariat, realised that the standard arrangement of having clerks wait on one customer at a time was inefficient and that the self-service model was a far better one. Emerging from the Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression relatively unscathed, as people always need staples regardless of the economy, the chain of supermarkets the inventor and entrepreneur founded were holding on but just barely. In a flash of brilliance, the creator of the shopping cart found a way to persuade shoppers to buy more food (and differently packaged food, prepared meals and canned-goods) with each visit by lightening their burdens and giving their load to the steely sinews of an oversized basket on wheels. It would be hard to account for all the ways this invention changed our buying patterns and diets.

Friday, 8 January 2016

gestalting or pinky and the brain

Via the always engaging The Browser comes a fascinating investigation into the ethics of genetic experimentation and hybridisation. Such husbandry is just about marrying up the right DNA—which does present technical hurdles though brute technology is quick to obtain and accommodate pathways that are penitentially advantageous to humans as organ farms, a repository of spare-parts, but from some fronts bodes caution, lest these chimera achieve an animal-singularity.
Personally, I couldn’t say that there was some enduring uniqueness to modes of human consciousness that make us special or so horrifyingly privileged. Some ethically-minded individuals are expressing concern that a human mind trapped in a laboratory rat’s body (reading gestating as gestalting) would elicit outrage. I’d dare to submit that an unadulterated rat probably is thinking along those very lines without some imagined vital spark. What do you think? Perhaps humans ought to be spliced with some humanity.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

chain-letter, chain-mail

Though a little late for a Christmas gift—but well in time to gird one’s New Year’s dharmic security, PfRC presents Auroral Cat, whose super-absorbent halo will ward off any ill-effects and soured luck aggressively threatened for failure to repost the other talismans and charms that are in circulation. Of course, there’s no need for reciprocation, and should one choose to spread the cheer (unafraid) of other trinkets and anecdotes, Auroral Cat’s filter is discriminating enough to rebuff bad fortune and channel good luck through. You’re welcome. There’s nothing wrong with propagating prayers and well-wishes but one ought not agonise over it or feel compelled to, on pain of a ghost dog peeing on one’s bed.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015


The brilliant Kottke, maker of fine hypertext products, introduces us to a new type of uncanny valley in the form of composite three-dimensional masking.
While trying to capture the essence, the thing in itself, of personalities or politicians, one found that a sort of ventriloquist’s dummy is created and despite transferring personรฆ to different individuals, the original speaker still reverberates through gestures and facial expressions that come across as familiar and recognisable but look awkward and alien on the face of another. The eeriness and conflicted vocal cues is probably best illustrated in the video demonstration of the technique with talking-heads and statesmen found at the link above. The fear of anything that impersonates a living being is called automatonophobia (as in an automaton), which can include wax-figures and mannequins too.

Sunday, 8 November 2015


unrepresented: via the intrepid Presurfer, profiles of non-existent countries

feathering one’s nest: archaeologists discover a wealth of paper ephemeral in generations of roosting birds in the roof of a Moscow area cathedral

defence of driving: bizarre, vintage missionary meets Martian drivers’ education film

artist’s rendering: comparative visualisation of five hundred exoplanets

outrageous fortune: historic figures that gamed the system and the legacy of ancient lotteries

Saturday, 7 November 2015

minstrel show or executive function

Via the always brilliant Mind Hacks’ Spike Activity that encapsulates weekly developments in neuroscience and psychology come an interesting study that the chemical signals that the blood delivers to the brain are not merely the well-travelled troubadours with reports of far-off happenings and fuel sources they they are generally taken to be but rather selective in their service.
I was always grateful that our bodies were smarter than us. Blood flowing into the folds of the brain does not just blindly acquiesce to the demands of the neurons, it seems, but rather can itself dictate what parts of the brain receive nourishment and assert a political influence after a fashion over the choices we make and priorities assigned. The circulatory system (which also pushes lymph) does not take orders from the brain from conception but like language and motor-skills, is also a learnt behaviour, which really is saying quite a lot about self-discipline. What do you think? What if it’s true that the blood can veto our will or lack of resolve?