Saturday, 31 December 2016

eine guten rutsch ins neue jahr!

Previously we’ve learnt that wishing someone a good stumble into the new year wasn’t exactly like telling someone to break a leg but rather just to have a good start, but regardless of how you’re ticking off these final moments of 2016 and what lucky rites you’re practising, we’ll cross that threshold together. Thanks for visiting and best wishes for a healthy and auspicious new year from us at PfRC.

shooting-gallery or swords into ploughshares

The always engrossing BLDGBlog informs that the US Department of Defence, who’ve committed to dozens of projects to protect the environment and encourage sustainable practises, is entertaining a proposal by the Small Business Administration that would have the armed forces at least train with ammunition whose bullet shells are biodegradable. 
They would contain a small amount of seeds to be released as the casing is broken down, in order to sow the tactile grounds and ranges with native brush and wild flowers. The DoD is seeking out companies with the material expertise to make this a reality and urges people to come forward. Geoff Manaugh goes on to ponder how this initiative—which sounds potentially quite the opposite to the notion of salting the fields of one’s enemies, reminds him of a tree bombing-raid campaign he blogged about over a decade ago that might result in mass-reforestation after wildfires or allow woodlands to reclaim fallow pastures.

Friday, 30 December 2016


In case you had forgotten the about the pure, unbound theological and metaphysical bizarreness that comprises Rankin and Bass Christmas specials, here’s a brief plot summary of Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. Spent from having just helped deliver Christmas gifts, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer finds himself again in contract by Father Time, seeking his help urgently to find the missing Baby New Year—Happy, before the strike of midnight on New Year’s Eve, else the year will never progress with the incumbent never able to retire.
Father Time conjectures, rightly, that Happy, bashful, has hid somewhere on the archipelago of years past, where superannuated, old Babies-New-Year step down to rule an era similar to their calendar year. Having enlisted extra help, they locate the baby only to see him abducted by a vulture called Eon the Terrible, who is predestined to expire at the passing of the year and is determined to stop the procession of time to avoid dissolution into ice and snow. The vulture is a bit endeared to Happy and by being persuaded to release the baby back into Rudolf’s custody, is spared his fate and Happy is flown back to Father Time’s castle to herald in the year ‘Nineteen-Wonderful,’ Rudolph adding that he wishes it a shiny one.


watch the birdie: delightful feeder and photo-booth for our feathered friends

cozyduke, miniduke: operation Grizzly Steppe publishes the alternate aliases for the Russian spear-fishing campaign that hacked Democratic Party emails

sms: a space consortium plans in 2018 to begin to incessantly, obsessively bombard select exo-planets with messages

for the benefit of mister kite: the artist behind the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover tribute to those we lost in 2016 had to be updated far too often

matinee at the bijou: documenting threatened cinemas around the world

rue du brexit: on French town plans to honour the sovereign stand of half of the British people, via Marginal Revolution

cargo cults: online emporia plan for floating, aerial warehouses for seamless drone delivery

Thursday, 29 December 2016

cowboys and indians: historiography

The brilliant host of the History of the Crusades podcast, Sharyn Eastaugh, has just finished the last instalment of her current series on the Crusade against the Cathars with a fascinating episode on the legacy of the Cathars, which has proven just as engrossing as learning about the adventuring in the Holy Land.
It’s really incredible how she as the presenter was able to present this closing chapter of the narrative with great but intriguing brevity—including the scholar and reluctant Nazi Otto Rahn who first sold the world the idea that the Albigensian campaign to the secrets of the Holy Grail in the early 1930s—believing that transposing the Parzival legend to Occitan locations would unravel the mystery. True to her commitment, however, to address the history of the Crusades and not just produce a podcast on some of the Crusades, this excitingly won’t be the last of the podcast, with Ms Eastaugh launching in the coming months on the Baltic Crusades between the Teutonic Knights and the pagan Finns, Poles and Saxons.

in memoriam

In the face of the heart-breaking sadness that’s befallen on the family of Carrie Fisher, one would do well to acquaint oneself (or reconnect as the case may be) with the multitudes of class-act performances from Debbie Reynolds and reflect on her recent and frequent walk-on roles, plus her outreach efforts.
As much as anyone is missing out by not knowing the Golden Age of Hollywood—still good for all its mythos and for its small-screen spawn—admittedly the legendary Reynolds may not enjoy the cultural immediacy that she’s due, but I’ll wager if we dangle Charlotte A Cavatica before you, whom Reynolds voiced in the 1973 production, it’ll all come flooding back to you. If you need a moment, please consider getting to know Pigcasso, the painting rescue pig in Cape Town who reminded me of the story of Charlotte’s Web although his talent emerged later and wasn’t what saved him from the slaughter house. Proceeds from Pigcasso’s artwork help fund charities that raise awareness of the poor living conditions of farm animals and encourage compassionate choices. Back to the family and friends mourning the loss of yet another luminary who have our deepest sympathies: requiescat in pace et in amore.

blue laws or désuétude

Neatorama features an interesting overview of sumptuary laws and practises from around the world that really prompts one to think about the relationship of different societies when it comes to alcohol consumption and how varied those jurisdictions are.
Where and when the sale and imbibing is suffered or permitted has as many or more regulations, regimes and schedules as tax code. From prohibition to the quirky and unenforceable laws, comparing and contrasting the different rules made me think of this mid-century French sobriety campaign that recommends no more than a litre of wine per day, which is debatably désuétudinal—that is, no longer custom and lapsed, obsolete advice. Did you know it is illegal to be found drunk inside a public-house in England? Or that the small-batch absinthe outside of Switzerland is missing rather key ingredients? I can imagine that some of these laws are so codified to encourage domestic consumption and is a matter of pride and patriotism.  What local regulations strike you as odd and byzantine?

Wednesday, 28 December 2016


While the year might have been vituperated with “post-truth,” the rubric and culture that are a reflection of the term is not one of propaganda machines and the memory-holes of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Ministry of Truth (Minitrue in Newspeak) or even the counter-factual insistence that two plus two equals five.
If anything the rhetoric spurns authority figures and the establishment—insofar as the appeal to our vanities and fears allow—and would not suffer even a benign dictator for long out of fear that he would become an expert, dispensing a bit of knowledge and experience in addition to the justice, which was the only thing bidden or expected. It’s not that we proles are lorded over by the fictions of an eternal struggle and those interested in perpetuating it—rather, it’s us that creates the demand for disinformation and hand back a manufactured crisis for the charismatic to champion. What do you think? We didn’t liberate ourselves from them it seems—if they ever were in control—and have ceded what agency we did have to oppressors of our own making, which is a perfectly paradoxical case against facts and edification.

remember... the force will be with you, always

This cruel year is taking too much and has given precious little back—and I didn’t suspect that we’d all be so steadily churning out obituary columns in sad celebrations of amazing and inspiring careers.
I remember seeing Carrie Fisher in The Blues Brothers very young and couldn’t reconcile why Princess Leia had such a pivotal ‘cameo’ in that film, and I think Fisher wouldn’t want us to be able to reconcile it—as the ambassador not only of the type of Hollywood royalty that’s rare and precious these days but also the delegation from Alderaan, never feeling resentment over being type-cast with a role she was happy to reprise, as the heroine of an otherwise all-male adventure that wasn’t the distressed damsel just waiting to be rescued. Her status as an icon didn’t diminish her other talents and candour about the important stuff and will be profoundly missed, joining that ensemble cast of stars and oddities that live on in their legacies.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

butterfly kisses

A place calling itself the Imagineering Institute is marketing a sleeve for one’s mobile gadget that will telegraph one’s kisses to far-off loved ones.
Apparently, the silicone surface will precisely reproduce the tender pressure of the lip muscles for those on both sides of the exchange. The input/output device, called the Kissenger (the kiss-messenger), will also monitor the blood pressure and the galvanic responses of the users for clinical trials and see if they can make the virtual experience indistinguishable from the authentic one—or even offer competition. What do you think? I am afraid more action-at-a-distance peripherals might soon follow.  It can be awkward enough to be within earshot of a conversation that can sound very one sided, and I could just imagine being next to a stranger puckering-up for an air-kiss.


shadow-casting: projecting the shade created by New York City’s skyscrapers

buzz-kill: cosmic radiation may inhibit cannabinoid reception for astronauts

panopticon: Lithuanian studio produces a tapered mirror to be seen from all angles

ball-peen: a quick tour of the Hammer Museum of Haines, Alaska—conserving humanity’s oldest tool

geocentric: confound your geographic prejudices by looking at maps oriented differently

azotea ajardinada: Spain to put mobile gardens on the tops of buses and bus-shelters 

Monday, 26 December 2016

mmxvi: annus horribilis, annus mirabilis

december: Pioneering US astronaut John Glenn passed away, as did America’s TV Dad, Alan Thicke. Doctor Henry Heimlich also left us, as did Zsa Zsa Gabor. Over a billion user accounts are compromised by a once pioneering search engine. Carnage and destruction continue in Aleppo as Syria, all the global powers’ proxy-war, is poised to fall to the entrenched government.  A truck ploughed through a crowded Christmas Market in Berlin.  Sadly, singer George Michael passed away as well as icon Carrie Fisher with her mother, Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds, joining her the next day.

november: Donald J Trump defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton as the forty-fifth presumptive to the office of President of the United States of America. We had to say farewell to America’s TV Mom, Florence Henderson. Janet Reno died, and we had to say good-bye to Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel on Fawlty Towers. Retro funk and soul performer Sharon Jones passed away as did Leon Russell though not of precisely the same genre. Poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen left us. Fidel Castro expired aged ninety, on Black Friday and cause of death was declared as America’s return to greatness.

october: It was announced that Bob Dylan will be awarded the Nobel prize for literature. Hopefully prematurely, obituaries for the Great Barrier Reef circulated, the cause of its demise being coral-bleaching.  A craze of dressing as scary clowns and frightening people has spread globally.

september: Meaningful global climate accords held in Paris are put into force, although later in the month carbon dioxide levels surpass anything experienced in the course of human events. NASA launches a probe to study and return with samples from an asteroid with a high potential to impact the Earth—in the twenty-third century, possibly either nudging it closer or pushing it further out of bounds.

august: Gene Wilder left us. Brazil hosted the Olympic Games. The actor that portrayed R2-D2 Kenny Baker sadly departed, as did host and political discussion moderator John McLaughlin. Costa Rica powered itself with renewable energy for one hundred days and hopes to wean itself off of fossil fuels completely.

july: A wholly solar-powered aircraft becomes the first to circumnavigate the globe. We had to say good-bye to Elie Wiesel. During Bastille Day celebrations, an atrocious terror attack occurred on promenade of Nice, setting off a summer of terror across Europe. An abortive coup d’état rocked Turkey and a political purge followed, exacerbating an already tense situation. The African Union’s fifty-four member nations issue a single passport that allows holders to travel visa-free within the bloc.

june: After two decades of construction, the Gotthard Base Tunnel under the Alps in opened. The UK voted to leave the European Union. The promising actor Anton Yelchin who played the new Chekov was struck down far too early. Boxer Muhammad Ali departed.

may: Presidential elections in Austria are too close to call, and the contenders a member of the Green party and a far-right candidate will hold a run-off later in the year. Nationalism is on the rise throughout the world. Super Tuesday’s delegates are awarded to Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump.

april: The pop megastar Prince passed on. Der Süddeutsche Zeitung along with a consortium of other news outlets publish millions of leaked documents implicating many heads of state and prominent figures in the Panama Papers scandal. For the first time in history, capital punishment is outlawed by more than half the countries in the world.

march: Coordinated bomb attacks take over a hundred lives in Lahore and Brussels, and ISIS claims responsibility. Sadly, comedian and show-master Garry Shandling passed away. World-renowned architect Zaha Hadid also left us. Myanmar sworn in its first democratically elected president in half a century.

february: For the first time since the Great Schism of 1054, the leaders of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches met and committed to an Ecumenical Declaration. Writers Umberto Eco and Harper Lee passed away on the same day. Heretofore theoretical gravitational waves were observed for the first time.  A huge swath of Canadian temperate rain-forest will be protected forever and called Spirit Bear. Bolivia and Peru also reached a deal to protect Lake Titicaca.

january: Davie Bowie tragically passed away, as did musicians Glenn Frey and Natalie Cole. There’s an outbreak of the Zika virus, causing panic in the sub-tropics and prompting many couples to postpone having children, due to the risk of birth-defects. Brutal and powerful Mexican drug-trafficker Joaquín Guzmán is re-captured after his escape from a high-security detention facility. The International Atomic Energy Agency declared that Iran has complied and dismantled its nuclear weapons programme and instructed the UN to lift sanctions. 

i want to believe

As a gift, we got a really out of this world bottle of Outer Space Vodka, touted as filtered through four billion year old meteorites and as best enjoyed by Earthlings when released from a cryogenic freezer—which is a bit unclear if it means reanimated terrestrial astronauts or a cold beverage. For the latter case, we received the perfect solution earlier this year with this other present of a raygun gothic silicon ice tray.


Over Christmas week a Norman village of about thirty-five hundred residents unveiled a one kilometre-long stretch of road that is cobbled with solar-voltaic panels.
Though the region is not famously sunny, the power generated is projected to kept the village’s street lamps burning with a surplus for other utilities. And despite the first of its kind experimental thoroughfare (Wattway it is called and is the innovation of a veteran firm specialising in asphalt) costing five million euro to pave, a trial of the next two years that will look at durability and energy returns may mean this small village in the Orne will be truly trail-blazing in the near future. Perhaps electric vehicles can be made self-charging.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

pause for station identification

Please enjoy our tireless troupe with their interpretative Yule Log dance as you while away the holiday hours, or if care for more sedate spectacle, please check out this extensive bulletin-board of various artists’ take on the tradition—whose proceeds help young people like us off the streets by teaching them how to code. Thanks for visiting, as always, and happy holidays and may all your wishes for this season come true!

summary judgment or a betrayal of crust

If you haven’t already discovered the sheer hilarity of being an privileged witness or court observer to the Honourable Judge John Hodgman’s docket, I strongly encourage you to experience justice being dispensed first hand. In the tradition of television jurisdictions, plaintiffs—generally couples or neighbours, bring their cases, played out in extended podcast form, and pledge to abide by the court’s ruling.
All the episodes I’ve so far been catching up on are very entertaining with the right balance of lunacy and obscure cultural grounding, but I thought one case in particular would be a good introduction for those just getting acquainted with internet justice: a complex web of deceit is woven when a married couple want to give a gift subscription to a pie-of-the-month club but decide to do the baking themselves. After continuing this ruse for over half a year, one wants to come clean and confess but the other promises to take the secret to his grave.

découpé or humument

We are being treated to the five decade long planned demolition and brilliant reimagining of a rather unremarkable Victorian-era book by a historian and novelist called William Hurrell Mallock entitled A Human Document by London artist Tom Phillips. It is amazing to think about all the books that were in circulation during that time and how though we acknowledge that period (and others) as prolific, really there are very few titles out of the whole Phillips’ first iteration of the 1892 story came out in 1970—abbreviated as Humument, subjected to a sort of cut-up technique then being synthesised as an operatic performance of surrealism and then a critically acclaimed digital app in 2010. The work’s final form is ready for publication in early 2017 and each page is a poetic collage of few words that tell a profound story in fragments.

Friday, 23 December 2016


Via Kottke’s Quick Links, there’s an interesting editorial from the New York Times’ magazine exploring one major social site’s attested commitment to combating the spread of fake-news by enlisting users and fact-checking organisations—like the deputised urban-legend dispeller Snopes—is less about encouraging critical thinking among its community but rather policing the rest of the internet, already regarded by many as the same as the internet, and filtering out more and more attention-merchants that might siphon users off of their platform.
Sensational headlines are just the latest iteration of the catchpenny clickbait that the platform wants to counter but it is of course the chief propagator of the same and its “content” rather than something inward-looking, news generated by what connected and kindred users were doing (don’t get nostalgic, however, for a golden, pure age of social media that never happened) and personal details and accomplishments (updates, checking-in) that they wanted to share has become overly reliant on “pedigreed” outside sources. As the platform becomes more restrictive of dalliances down the garden-path and thus outside their sphere of influence (and revenue stream), leaving those confines become an experience perhaps something less and less comfortable, spammy and something one would regret sharing and all news becomes native. What do you think? That doesn’t sound as if it is promoting diversity of opinion and community discourse either—and perhaps worse than fake-news.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

force-sensitive or non-canon

Though this ruling will probably not rock the faith of the hundred seventy thousand self-identified Jedi knights in the UK (according to the latest census figures), the Charity Commission found that the Temple of the Jedi Order fails to promote moral or ethical improvement to qualify as a charitable institution and lacked the necessary spiritual or non-secular element—questioning its cogency, cohesion and seriousness—that are the hallmarks of a religious system. Adherents of the seventh most popular religion in the UK took issue with this ruling but it will not deter them from continuing their outreach and charitable operations and re-applying. What do you think? Should a system of believe that’s based on a space opera be judged as something frivolous compared to other religious traditions? The commission was also concerned that Jedi practitioners did not positively impact broader society and fostered a world-view focussed inward on its members—which made me wonder if that wasn’t a veiled swipe at other institutions.

atlas and artefact

Our intrepid friends at Atlas Obscura are celebrating fifty-eight of the greatest discoveries of the past year in the realms of archæology, palæontology, art history and even cryptozoology. From a forgotten underwater train-wreck in Canada to the meteorite dagger of King Tut, explore these recently uncovered wonders on an interactive world map.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

separation anxiety or we can remember it for you wholesale

Writing for The Atlantic, Rebecca Searles explores a strange new sort of metaphysical detachment that some users experience after testing out virtual-reality and then forced to confront their mundane, authentic realities. Somewhere on the scale between awakening from an odd dream and Total Recall, unreality can be a lingering thing (as sophisticated as it has become) and once oneironauts get their sea-legs and can cope with the physical disorientation, some can start to develop symptoms of post VR sadness when the experience is over. What do you think? Given that the point of VR is to deliver an experience as realistic as possible—and perhaps even a hyper-realistic one where humans aren’t bound by mortal weaknesses, perhaps it ought not come as a surprise and accepted as a natural consequence, especially when the sheltered existence is perceived to be something better than the everyday alternative.

lamp under a bushel

Having just learned of the name of the decoration myself through its gentle lampooning on BBC Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy, I appreciated reading more about the Christingle, featured as Atlas Obscura’s weekly object of intrigue. The comedian in the show could only justify adorning an orange with a red ribbon if one wanted to distinguish it from other oranges whilst one is attempting to retrieve it from the airport baggage claim conveyor belt.
Now we know, however, that a German Moravian (Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine) minister in the sixteenth century invented the Christingle as an allegorical device for children to teach them about Jesus—the red ribbon symbolising Christ’s blood and the candles’ flame representing enduring joy, the oranges being introduced later. The skewers of dried fruit or candies represent the bounty of the world and the four seasons. Also known for their advent stars, I wonder if this other Moravian tradition might spread as well, but perhaps not for all times and all occasions, like in the movie theatre—which the comedian above was reprimanded for by ushers for partaking in.


so disappoint: vast gallery of retail fails of products that did not live up to expectations, via Boing Boing

a la carte: NYC Public Library system is transcribing historic menus to see how diets and tastes have changed over the years, via the always marvellous Nag on the Lake

exhibition, exposition: collection of creative art installations from the past year

found footage: honoured among the worst films ever made, Turkish ‘Star Wars’ is being conserved

no static at all: despite lack of enthusiasm from the listening public, Norway’s FM radio broadcasts are about to sign-off

entropy, zoetrope: hypnotic biological simulations that are collaborations from Max Cooper and Maxime Causeret

intercalary: artsy and hopeful collection of calendars for chronicling 2017 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

guerre de course

As we close in on a quarter of a century since the dissolution of the Soviet Union—26 December 1991, a day after Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation, it’s striking how Russia is a reflection for the US of its long and illustrious career of regime building and heavy-handed support of governments sympathetic to their world-view of transparency, liberal democratic institutions and free-markets.
Regardless of the extent ostensibly state-sponsored hacking affected the outcome of America’s presidential election, the intrusion into political party secrets and strategies ought to bear out investigation—and the victors would be gracious to remember that their data was compromised as well and there’s sure to be hell to pay later. In a world that was polarised and after the US could comfortably proclaim itself as the last-standing superpower, America’s meddling in politics was rampant and undeniable. From General Pershing in Mexico to the geopolitics of the Suez canal that ended the British Empire, and later from Iran to Afghanistan, arguably the cause for the collapse of the USSR, America has sought to engender a climate—as would any other nation within reason and within limits—favourable to its national interest. What do you think? Of course, Russia worked to undermine this engineering throughout, but as unopposed as America has imagined itself in the past few decades, the tonic of democracy and exceptionalism has soured and become something doctrinally unpalatable.

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, 19 December 2016


In the tradition of Douglas Adams’ The Meaning of Liff that crafts apt descriptors for common, relatable yet heretofore unnamed experiences Vice Magazine gives us pretty clever words for twenty-four new emotional experiences that this past year was responsible for creating.
Strangeloving is of course the demurred but undeniably vested thrill in watching the downfall of the institutions of western democracy. Other choice ones include infobia, reluctance to acquaint oneself with the buzz of the moment since that would be validating its impact and bearing on one’s existence going forward, and the condition of Cohentonia, the low-grade shame of admitting exhaustion over the endless chain of celebrity deaths. Can you think of other terms to describe this—on balance, dumpster-fire of a year?

Sunday, 18 December 2016

forty-winks o siestario

Demonstrated health benefits aside (provided that one’s work and life framework can support it), the Spanish government is considering labour-reforms that may curtail the tradition of the siesta. Interestingly, as ingrained as it seems in Spanish lifestyle and it is common-place across the Mediterranean as a way to avoid working through the hottest part of the day, the connotation of the prolonged afternoon nap with that country probably has more to do with advertised or perceived business-hours than cultural prevalence, the extended lunch and workday being formally instituted in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, when it was necessary for everyone to hold multiple jobs to make ends meet.
As there was little in the way of public transport, workers were granted a two or three hour break to make it to their second job and to work a full-shift, hours extended until late in the evening. The situation was exacerbated when Spain’s time zone was aligned with Berlin—out of solidarity with Nazi Germany though geographically much closer to London. As economic conditions gradually improved, this work-schedule took on the reputation of labourers being able to sneak home for a nice long and refreshing nap and worked until later in the night. The reality, however, sociologists believe is that the siesta-ideal is far from practical and is exacting too high a toll on workers and their families. The Spanish word for the concept of a power nap is siesta poderosa. In reality, few live close enough to their workplaces to consistently get away and take advantage of siesta-time and it causes havoc for your children and parents—rarely being able to settle down and turn in until after midnight. What do you think? Compared to counterparts in other European countries, Spaniards are just returning from lunch as others are getting ready to go home for the day, and for more and more something to be envious of. Alternatively, we could all institute a culture of napping and be a bit more flexible with what we think of as an honest day.

whether square-cut or pear-shaped

Geochemists at the University of Bristol, concerned with the mounting problem of what to do with spent radioactive material, have found a novel way of sequestering small bits of it safely to create gemstone batteries that could last for potentially thousands of years, corresponding to the half-life of the nuclear waste used to generate the modest but enduring charge. The waste is vapourised and inserted into the stone, which as the hardest substance in nature, are not prone to degradation or leeching out any radioactivity. There are hurdles to overcome, to be sure—not the least being the casing to house a gram of the nuclear cell is prohibitively expensive (but maybe cubic zirconia would be just as sturdy a substitute) and the output isn’t nearly as robust as most modern applications demand, but one day perhaps our cybernetics (pace-makers, auxiliary memory enhancers, bionic livers) or our robotic domestics might be powered by a little spark of radiation trapped inside a diamond.

the ghost of christmas pluperfect

Collectors’ Weekly has a nice reflection on the diaphanous and sparkly things that have fuelled how we frame Christmas time, hitting on how strange it is to think that our shared nostalgia—even having lived in Germany for all these years, a place stepped in its own tradition and exporter (in the Victorian Era—and much later, their glassmaking expertise) of many of the standard customs—for the most part don’t reach back to time immemorial but rather to post-war America and Mid-Century Modern style.
Despite all the fossilised lyrics of carols, in fact, almost all that’s not the reserve of the space-race and the burgeoning atomic age seems to be sourced back to the nineteenth century, and with Christmas’ revival (which quickly became something terrible and consumer-oriented), Victorians sought to keep it something pure and authentic—turning away from machines and mass-production and launching the Arts and Crafts movement. The spectre of materialism was always there but was particularly difficult to stave off after the austere years of all manufacturing going to the war effort and then industry finding itself surfeit with raw materials and excess capacity and beat swords into plow-shares—and tinsel and coffee-makers and vacuum-cleaners. Santa Claus was even accredited as an astronaut (and as a cosmonaut) to be tracked by NORAD. Reaching back even further, the holiday, supplanting Saturnalia, has always had its share of ulterior motives and customs that have the most curious and conflated origins but it’s no reason to humbug Christmas—nor to despair over its meaning and its keeping

Saturday, 17 December 2016

manual communication

Thanks to the marvellous Madam Jujujive, we appreciate that of course hearing impaired communities would also be interested in nominating and selecting words—or signs of the year. For its inaugural honour, the Swiss Deaf Association chose to bypass other novel gestures (Gebärden, signes, segnes, segni) such as the way of expressing vegan, Netflix or deportee and went with the sign inventedfor Donald Trump. Referencing the hair of course is brilliant but I could think of cruder but deserved ways of getting the message across just as quickly.

minced oath

While I cannot vouch for the veracity of any of these substitutions, I did rather enjoy this lesson on euphemisms for swears in other languages. True or not—I can say that I’ve never heard someone self-censoring calling someone an ass-hole (Arschloch) by calling them a candelabra (Armleuchter), they’re certainly fun to say and saying crumbs or consarnit or any number of muted expletives, especially in the heat of the moment and not just out of disbelief. Possibly the best to adopt from this batch is the Romanian nuanced way of exclaiming, “What my feather?”

fahrvergnügen oder reitgenuss

A locomotive that formed part of the German national railway fleet back in the 1970s has revived its vintage harvest orange carriages in a private, crowd-funded venture to bring discriminating passengers from Stuttgart to Berlin, with various whistle-stops along the way. Outside of a few tourist trains along special routes, I can’t recall seeing anything but Deutsche Bahn trains at the station but am given to understand that there are no barriers to competition, if another carrier has the engines and the staff to run them safely.
Though not a substitute for commuters and those on a tight schedule, Locomore aims to attract a certain base of clientele—at a quarter of the cost of the regular fare between the two metropolises at a mere twenty-two euros, that feels the journey should be a pleasurable and social responsible experience. The six-hour trip (and travel by train in general) is powered by renewable energy sources and offers organic (Bio) and locally-grown drinks and snacks. Moreover, the cars are outfitted to invite passengers to join communities in different compartments for those who might want to take in a work-out, photograph the passing countryside, chat over coffee or sequester their children during the journey. I think it would be leagues more enjoyable to travel in this sort of bargain luxury, rather than the harrowing car trip or one of those long-distance buses—that are just as prone to getting stuck in a Stau (traffic snarl) as any other vehicle on the road, even if you can leave the driving to someone else. I think I’ll have to hitch a ride to points north on the Locomore express, seeing that they stop in Frankfurt and are planning expansion to more destinations.


sound garden: Dutch Institute of Sound and Vision lets you explore boutique radio stations from around the world

to catch a thief: artist Anthony van der Meer allows his phone to be stolen and tracks what ensues

dichronic: the incredible craftsmanship that went into the ancient Roman Lycurgus Cup harnesses nano-technology

sproglaboratoriet: beating out hygge, ‘Danskhed,’ Danishness, won word of the year

hearth and home: guide to appeasing household spirits around the world

figgy pudding: an overview of the folklore behind Christmas cuisine, via Strange Company

ward & centre: the utopian civil engineering of Ebenezer Howard influenced urban layouts for generations

fuselage, empennage: modular airplane interior could reconfigure itself for long-haul flights for more efficient, comfortable use of space, like a sky caboose

bir varmış, bir yokmuş

Following in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm of the previous generation (but whose legacy was still being unfolded), Hungarian linguist and ethnographer Ignácz Kúnos travelled around Ottoman Turkey collecting folklore, and in 1913 published a brilliantly illustrated by Willy Pogany edition of forty-four Turkish fairy tales.
Though in presentation, the collection may strike Western readers as something more in the tradition of 1001 Arabian Nights, the stories are cognates of the archetypal ones that the occident monomyth is heir to. The title above is the beginning of the Turkish preamble to all fairy stories, the equivalent to Once Upon a Time (Es war einmal…) and like Kúnos’ own Hungarian Egyszer volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer egy... means once there was where there wasn’t, there was a, a form of introduction that was playfully duplicitous. Visit Public Domain Review to read the book in its entirety and to discover more forgotten literary gems.

Friday, 16 December 2016


Learning about the careful and creative forensics that go into reanimating the ancient soundscapes of the deep past—the foley artistry that gives us dinosaurs that honk, quack or tweet rather than roar ferociously, though I’d bet a booming, nerve-scattering chirp could be just as curdling, reminded me that I had once speculated (once is misleading, I think, since it’s not as if it’s something that I know now to be untrue or a patent violation of the laws of physics) that all sounds were somehow preserved, imprinted into the environment and that we detectives weren’t clever enough to puzzle out. I was never sure what this infinite analog media might be of course, but did suspect that on some level that every crash, cry and concerto was caught up in the surrounding molecules, awaiting play back. I suppose knowing the acoustics of noise-maker well enough is an acceptable alternative path for chasing down lost sounds. This sort of scoring sound-effects do as much to reinforce or ruin an image as much as a fluffy Tyrannosaurus rex.

magic lantern

As the bloc has expanded from twelve member states to twenty-eight, office space at the European Union headquarters buildings is naturally going at quite a premium—not counting the attendant actors accompany the “travelling-circus.”
The councillors that represent the executive officers of the member states, the other chamber that acts as a counter-weight to parliament (it’s all terribly complicated and byzantine and enough to make people shutdown rather than engage), and support staff are moving—or rather, are expanding into, after some delays and misgivings, from their purpose-built structure, the Justus Lipsius hall that the Council occupied since 1995, to this new building, occupying a space donated by the city Brussels and just separated by a span of footbridge (next to rest of the ensemble that makes up the rest of the supranational government). The glass façade encloses an orb that comprises eleven storeys of conference rooms, cafeterias, galleries and offices. The whole edifice is a marvel of passive engineering and highly energy-efficient, and much of the construction material was recycled and salvaged from demolition sites across Europe. No word yet what this new headquarters might be called but the Samyn and Partners commission will be ready to host its first sessions in 2017.

the bear retreats to his den

Via Spoon & Tamago with reinforcements courtesy of Hyperallergic, we’re treated to the traditional Japanese concept of the microseason, that divides the cross-quarter year into smaller, poetic subdivisions (seventy-two ko) that marches on in segments of four or five days like a natural calendar.
With wonderful smoothing descriptive names like “first peach blossoms,” “rainbows begin to appear after a shower” or “eastern wind melts the ice,” these gentle transitions (this is when the bear starts its long winter’s nap and next week is when the salmon swim upstream) are a much nicer and more accessible yearly planner, at least for those who get to enjoy at minimum the basic four seasons and can find nuance in between. Both links above feature a beautifully crafted application for one’s mobile device that helps one keep up with the sekki and ko and includes explanation of the symbolism drawing from other traditions and where one might journey to see the phenomenon that marks the season—or imagine one’s native equivalent and rhythm.

judge dredd

In this era of fake news—which has always been with us but I suppose it’s easier to peddle anything as truth nowadays, especially as there is always the critical-mass of people who want it to be true to be found and who are willing propagators to people who might otherwise be sceptical or dismissive, the wise eschew unconfirmed rumours, particularly those that spontaneously pop into existence in the tabloid cloud-chamber, but given what 2016 has already managed to deliver (and I think that perhaps that this year is evidence of time travel and the altered time-line is desperately trying to preserve itself that tossing out unlikelihood after unlikelihood) we suppose that actor and erstwhile artist Slyvester Stallone could end up being the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts. This independent body is responsible for issuing grants for art projects and education across the country and works closely in partnership with community organisations to promote local theatre and orchestras, and has dodged attempts to defund and dissolve the trust several times, at the hands of Republicans whom found showcase work objectionable. Perhaps it is a hopeful sign that the president-elect does not want to defang the endowment outright and signals that there is some future for it, but given the patronage, one has to wonder what sort of proposals get funded. Any time-travellers looking to make amends for 2016 seeing this notice, please know that we can’t handle much more implausibility.