Friday, 30 June 2017

billions and billions

Writing for The Atlantic, correspondent Adrienne Lafrance share her extensive and dogged research in solving a mystery she encountered while studying the resurgence in interest in the Voyager programme, those two message in bottles dispatched and committed to the void four decades ago.
Generally, I am not one to hold others in suspense but I also don’t want to spoil the surprise that’s revealed in an excellent crescendo of engineering ingenuity and curating the gallery of sounds and images that will our ombudsmen to a future alien civilisation. The Golden Records, whose makers believe that if the crafts are not catastrophically destroyed will be playable in the for at least the next billion years, contain a sampling of Earth sounds meant to convey a sense of culture and the ecology of the planet. Many of the Foley artists are credited and known (go to the link to hear the whole album) but not for the voice behind the genuine laughter close to the beginning. The investigation teaches a lot about the production of this mission and the identity of the laugher shows that Voyager was not just a scientific expedition but also a cosmic and timeless love letter, which is probably the best sort of message to send out and hope that it’s a representation that we can live up to.


underground sundae: recreating the lost psychedelic commercial that Andy Warhol made in 1968 for a Manhattan family restaurant franchise

lad culture: Sir David Attenborough narrates a typical British night out

dumpster honey: revisiting a disturbing requiem for Nature in the Anthropocene epoch—and yes, it was the insecticides all along

chiaroscuro: stunning night time photographs of Japanese playground equipment

cubismo: Spanish street artist Belin produces hyper-realistic graffiti portraits that evoke Pablo Picasso’s elements of cubism and the surreal

alive, son of awake: a look at the tradition of fantasy and speculative fiction of the Muslin world that precedes European Romanticism by centuries

ehe für alle

Of course there’s pragmatism and politics behind the passage of equality of marriage for everyone as some wonkier kill-joys are pointing out but it’s also pride month and the Chancellor herself states she had a change of heart by an encounter with an inspiring lesbian couple (despite voting against the measure) and there has been overwhelming public support for the issue for a long time.
Critics are not particularly upset with the issue at hand and knew it was inevitable to join the rest of the European community where it’s already been legalised for some time: Denmark (with the exception of the Faroe Islands), Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg, Portugal, Ireland and the UK (minus Jersey and Northern Ireland)—but rather because by reaching out to her opposition, the Chancellor is making politics too boring by defusing any real stakes and ensuring she holds onto office due to voter apathy. That’s strange logic but the measure nonetheless that passed with typical German efficiency insofar as it was not even on the legislative agenda until earlier in the week.  Though civil union status has been accorded to same-sex couples in Germany since 2001 and extended most of the benefits and rights of matrimony to same-sex partners, being equal in the eyes of the law creates uniformity in inheritance, taxation and adoption. Gut gemacht, Deutschland!

hug of death

In a brilliant encore to the outlet’s most popular post from a year ago on telephone number trivia and other artefacts of the exchanges, Tedium expounds on more weirdness—for American audiences, to be found be found on the line. Ranging from the history behind automated services, like dialling a number to get the time and temperature (which people could not get enough of and often broke the switchboards), familiar operator voices, to unusual numbers to call (mostly the antecedents for humourous 404 landing pages) and how one used to request web pages by facsimile, the article covers a lot of ground and offers a lot of avenues for further investigation and entertainment.

Thursday, 29 June 2017


As Quartz magazine reports, no matter where one is on the political spectrum, Americans are still united in quackery. An analysis of ingredients show that most of the “wellness” products hawked as advertising marginalia on the websites of both left- and right-leaning propagandists are the same—just packaged and touted differently.
This natural and mostly unproven, untested pharmacopœia is derived from Ayurvedic herbs, exotic minerals and obscure mushrooms and make pretty dubious, miraculous claims. Any of us want would want a shortcut to achieve our better self—and perhaps the popularity of alternative treatments is grounded in the precarious state of healthcare in America (though by no means do they monopolise the market on gullibility) and has ylang-ylang punching above its weight—but the shortcomings or successes of arriving at a goal without taking the necessary intervening steps can From colloidal silver to nascent iodine, explore in depth how the differing “nourishing tonifiers” and tonics are able to cross the aisle and bridge the political divide.

le tiers état

Graciously the President of France has invited Dear Leader to Paris for Bastille Day celebrations, which he and his wife will join after his meeting with Russian leadership in Moscow.
Both couples will attend the traditional military parade that takes place on the Champs-Élysees, which will include American troops this year to commemorate the centenary of the US entry in World War I. The revue and joint honours aside, the charity of Macron really strikes me as something really extraordinary—and not just in comparison to the imperial idiocy and ignorance of his guest, given that 14 July not only marks a revolutionary break with the past that did away with feudalism and fealty but also solemnly one year after the horrific truck attack on crowds celebrating their national fête and the World Cup finals along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.


Via Boing Boing comes a very timely and tangible example of how dangerously destructive Dear Leader’s minions can be with his top environmental officer swayed by industry to rollback regulations that prohibited use of a pesticide that was originally developed during World War II for chemical warfare.
Despite the fact that dozens of scientific trials have demonstrated that the substance causes brain damage in young children and would drive hundreds of precarious species to extinction, the EPA administrator took the recommendations of the company’s corporate directors (who have brought us such delights as napalm, dioxins and leaky breast implants, but since they donated a million dollars to Agent Orange’s inauguration, everything’s OK) under advisement and reversed prevailing regulations. If the going-rate for influence is such a paltry sum, I wonder that there’s not more fawning, flattery and vying for attention.

the second arrow

Writing for Big Think, correspondent Philip Perry introduces us to the Buddhist parable of the second arrow—which has the simple exposition of walking through the woods and finding oneself suddenly struck by an arrow. This ambush is to be understood as an allegory for any unexpected misfortune, but the archer isn’t quite finished and has one more arrow in his quiver for us. The first strike was unavoidable but if we keep our wits about us and don’t collapse in an emotional heap, we can dodge the second volley and forego a good deal of extra grief. The visceral pain of the first arrow is rather inevitable but the suffering and sorrow (duḥkha) of the second is voluntary. Read more about the morale tale and Buddhism at the link up top.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

ehe für alle

In more positive parliamentary news, according to the chairwoman of the junior coalition partner of the Green party, the Bundestag will vote on legislation on Friday to legalise same-sex marriage, bestowing all the benefits and responsibilities appertaining to on all couples.
The Chancellor was formerly against full integration, believing such households might not be ideal for children—but changed her mind after meeting a lesbian couple who had cared for eight foster children. Opposition and conservative members of her party are upset with her timing, just weeks before an election—but hopefully a political calculation erring towards inclusion is the right decision. Germany’s Basic Law, which is a little tone-deaf and does not do such a stellar job in addressing social conventions and families (there is no German word for parent—it’s always die Eltern and the formulation Alleinerziehender is a complex one), may also need to amended so its definition of marriage is worded broadly enough to match the law of the land.

terra nullis or cincinnatus

Previously we’ve explored how the origins of the American Revolutionary War were less noble than they are usually framed in stories like the Boston Tea Party or the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, and it was refreshing to see that history and scholarship revisited through tracking down a team of colonial surveyors in the 1760s and the charts that they produced that demarcated the boundaries between what lands could be settled and what was the domain of Native American tribes. Many of the maps included both UK and Native American signatories agreeing to rivers, peaks and other landmarks as border markers.
Quite earnest in their efforts to reach a compromise that would promote a harmonious co-existence, all the territory of course still belonged to the Crown but settlers were not infringe further into Indian lands. The colonial governors were not always willing to enforce these treaties and in some cases flagrantly encouraged settlement and coastal, seaboard European communities moved further and further inland and on-going disputes, punctuated with memorable riots and skirmishes, eventually precipitated into rebellion and war. Admittedly conditions for aboriginal people was less than concordant at all times in Canada and Australia and I admit that I haven’t done the research on how things played out differently in those territories, but I think their experience was very different from the systematic “genocidal dispossession” experienced in America.

grenfell tower, june, 2017

Our heartfelt thanks to Nag on the Lake for directing our attention to a moving and righteously outraged elegy by Ben Okri for the victims, families and the displaced of the Grenfell Tower fire of 14 June.
“If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower,” the Nigerian poet writes and fervently captures the hollow sense of disdain—contempt of a gleaning ever more profit at the expense of a disposable underclass illustrated by this tragedy. The recent additions to London’s skyline, rather than æsthetic and aspirational, turn revolting and shameful and repeat the demand that a system where austerity for the many means prosperity of the few must change for the better. “See the tower, and let a new world-changing thought flower.”

Tuesday, 27 June 2017


Disturbingly, not only can US transportation security agents demand that travellers disclose the social media profiles and passwords but are now—after trials in select airports—making it standard practise to oblige passengers to remove books and other paper goods from hand-luggage for inspection, as Hyperallergic reports. Counter to the legal legacy of keeping reading habits out of prying eyes, this change surely means that a person’s literary tastes—to include research materials, titles and covers easily misconstrued by those deputised critics and censors, will become a criteria for barring entry and making transit a very difficult matter.

nature morte vivante

In response to an on-going paternity suit raised by a professional psychic, a judge ordered the exhumation of surrealist Salvador Dalí from beneath the stage of his hometown theatre and museum where his body is buried in Figueres, Catalonia.
Notwithstanding speculation whether Dalí in fact was disposed or capable of sexual relations by the fact he had no offspring inside his long marriage to his muse, Gaia, the tarot card reader is claiming that the eccentric artist had an affair with her mother whilst working as a chambermaid in the province of Girona. With no heir, Dalí donated his artwork and estate to the Kingdom of Spain but presumably, if fatherhood can be established, his daughter would have a claim on the artist’s legacy.

big tent politics

Published by the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag (auf Englisch, as Boing Boing reports), veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hirsh—responsible for exposing the massacre at My Lai and equal-opportunity critic of US capers—shares a series of conversations between an American soldier (AS) and a security advisor (SA) that was leaked to him regarding April’s retaliatory missile strike on a Syrian airbase, heavily redacted for security reasons.

AS: This is bad… Things are spooling up.

SA: You may not have seen trumps press conference yesterday. He’s bought into the media story without asking to see the Intel. We are likely to get our asses kicked by the Russians. Fucking dangerous. Where are the godamn adults? The failure of the chain of command to tell the President the truth, whether he wants to hear it or not, will go down in history as one of our worst moments.

AS: I don't know. None of this makes any sense. We KNOW that there was no chemical attack. The Syrians struck a weapons cache (a legitimate military target) and there was collateral damage. That's it. They did not conduct any sort of a chemical attack.

SA: There has been a hidden agenda all along. This is about trying to ultimately go after Iran. What the people around Trump do not understand is that the Russians are not a paper tiger and that they have more robust military capability than we do.

This dangerous, deadly incompetent leadership style is about to be put to the test again, as Dear Leader predictably is planning on staging a distraction to side-line public scrutiny as the Senate moves to vote on the future form of healthcare in the United States. The fact that he’d resort to taking lives, putting others at risk and squandering millions on a pretence and as a side-show (not to mention exacerbating already strained international relations) in order to push through a tax-break for the wealthy swaddled in medical insurance reform is beyond despicable. Anyone colluding with his wanton cannibalism is deserving of the same harsh criticism.

Monday, 26 June 2017

symbols, signals and noise

Finding renewed meaning in its message in the escalating and frenetic age of emails and emoji, this 1953 featurette based on the research and studies of communication theorist Claude Elwood Shannon for the IBM corporation was created by the design-duo Ray and Charles Eames (click here and here for some of their other work). ‘A Communications Primer’ targeted engineers and encouraged them to apply the suite of tools that Shannon developed to their own work.

Well ahead of the era when machines became ubiquitous either in businesses or at home, the discussion of cues and clamour seems just as valid filtered through all the post-war years of progress as they did at the time, as does the central tenant of Shannon’s theory—that information is a measure of one’s freedom of choice in expression and messaging. Be sure to visit Æon magazine at the link up top for more thought-provoking videos and essays.


t-kimono: classic garment re-tailored in partnership with a Norwegian studio

born on the fourth of july: many argue that independence is contingent on international recognition, via TYWKIWDBI

snarknado: flooding in the US carries buoys of fire-ants, via Super Punch

the mother of invention: expectant father Philippe Kahn came up with the idea of the camera phone to share his daughter’s birth in real-time, via Dave Log v 3

crystal ball: to the uninitiated, these fortune-telling booths of Hong Kong could be offering any number of professional services, via the Everlasting Blört

ostinato: a custom-build instrument designed to produce that tension-building music for scary movies 

grand rounds or house-call

While the US over-class is conniving to liberate millions from any semblance of health-security, an innovate company in Seattle called Artefact is designing the preventative healthcare delivery platform that could make, as Fast Company reports, all those shrill arguments and dire predictions somewhat of a moot point.
A less sinister narrative than we usually associate with the internet of things, one’s prying devices’ paternalistic well-meaning are reframed as one’s partners in health and will collectively summon (at a free moment on one’s calendar without having to worry about scheduling conflicts, day or night) a fully automated, mobile doctor’s office to take one’s vitals, provide a diagnosis, and perhaps even a treatment plan and dispense a prescription—or make a referral to its human counterparts, as needed. There’s no reason that healthcare should be so fraught and atrociously expensive in a rich and developed nation, but the fact that such a vision has not yet attracted any financial champions makes me think people are too fearful of the disruption to industry and aren’t undeserving of being under-served. What do you think? Without the cadet-cartels that are put in place to keep of safe but are often just a profit opportunity, there’s probably not much money in keeping us healthy—without keeping us in suspense. Given the state of affordable housing and infrastructure, maybe there are too many details to work out and physicians on wheels ought to be deployed to poorer nations with resource stretched too thin already that might truly appreciate it.


Although there seems to be some reassuring buy-in surrounding this programme to launch over seven hundred small, expendable satellites into low, geostationary orbit in order to expand broadband coverage for the US market does still leave me with some feelings of trepidation.
With net neutrality already essentially doomed and the relative ease, both economically and technologically, with which one could extend free, quality internet access to every individual on Earth, it makes me mistrust those administrators that don’t own space but rather regulate the airwaves and serve at the pleasure of Dear Leader. Instead of something useful and magnanimous like the global positioning system (a US Navy by-product), I’m fearful that it will play out like Project West-Ford, that seeded the upper atmosphere with an artificial ring of half a million tiny needles, without consulting any other of Earth’s residents, that was potential catastrophic, short-sighted and left debris that still raining down more than six decades later. What do you think? An enduring venture with more partners that is open to all seems far more worthwhile, rather than something that seems a bit slap-dash. What do you think? Who is going to clean up the mess that these satellites leave once the enterprise stops being profitable and their care is abandoned?

Sunday, 25 June 2017

an ox is as good as a best

Lewis and Quark have been allowing neural networks to be expressive in many different creative venues and now the intrepid duo (previously here and here) have given their project a compilation of idioms and proverbs to try to understand.
Although the computer’s interpretation of human mythos is rather inscrutable, it seems to have an unexplained affinity for oxen, despite there being only three references in the entire data-set. Some of the phrases that the machine produced could almost pass as parables, especially foreign language ones that need to be translated and explained for the sake of non-native audience: “Death when it comes will have no sheep.” “A good face is a letter to get out of the fire.” “A good anvil does not make the most noise.” Others made far less sense: “No sweet is half the barn door after the cat.” “There is not fire and step on your dog and stains the best sermon.” Be sure to visit the link above for more examples and more on the methodologies of machine-learning.


Incredibly—though at the same time we learn that there’s already a niche market of applications to serve many of one’s paranormal needs, including an app to tell one if their house is haunted—an app for one’s digital accessories from the Institute for Noetic Sciences, a parapsychological research facility located in Petaluma California founded by an astronaut who had an epiphany after going into orbit and walking on the Moon—can gauge two different types of extra-sensory perceptions: telekinesis and precognition (both conscious and subconscious). Reviewers are not leaving very stellar ratings for the app, but I suppose that might be an expected reaction from someone having their status as someone without psychic superpowers confirmed and told they were quite normal in their mental abilities.

inherit the wind

Chillingly, we learn via Super Punch that Turkish president Erdoğan has directed high schools to excise the topic of evolution from its science syllabus in public schools.
Demonstrating that wanton ignorance and lack of curiosity is not exclusive to one demagogue, the controversial topic will be removed from standardised textbooks issued to the country’s matriculating ninth graders beginning next fall, arguing that young Turks are not yet equipped with the critical-thinking and scientific background to adequately assess a theory fraught with problems confronting students at such an impressionable age. I suppose we needn’t worry about them acquiring that vital skill-set now. This development combined with the narrowly won referendum to cede the office of the president greater powers represents a national lurching away from its commitment to secularism and separation of church and state and towards a policy of neo-Ottomanism, for which Turkey hopes to be the anchor and guide.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

never remember

With amazing stamina, the New York Times’ Opinion column has assiduously documented, sourced and fact-checked every lie that Dear Leader has uttered since the inauguration on 21 January up to the present. This does not include the false narratives of his campaign or the alternative truths of his staff and surrogates and aims to counter that complicity of numbness and exhaustion when it comes to this assault on reality that is by no measure normal and has inspired a million marchers in protest.

state of the union

Though likely pointed out ad infinitum elsewhere, the Queen’s Speech (or rather a speech from the throne) that is the State Opening of Parliament this year was a slightly more subdued affair this year as compared to years past. While much of the ceremonial pomp and circumstance was retained for the occasion—many traditions that go back to the sixteenth century, like the symbolic searching of the cellars, taking hostages, the procession of the peers, etc.—Her Majesty herself choose a car rather than a carriage for means of conveyance to Westminster and choose to leave the crown to a valet rather than wear it.
This last occurred in 1974—a year with two snap elections and a coalition of chaos.  Instead the Queen opted, provocatively, to dress as the European Union flag whilst Castle Mayskull listened politely.

media blackout

Dear Leader has banned cameras from the increasingly infrequent and evasive White House press briefings, and in response one major news outlet brought on veteran court room sketch artist (see more about the profession that may be seeing a revival here) William J Hennessy Jr to limn the atmosphere that signals a significant departure from the level of access and transparency that previous administrations afforded to journalists. Apparently some Republican lawmakers though the network’s “stunt” but the artist, toughened by covering the Iran-Contra Affair, Bill Clinton impeachment process, terror trials and hearings for Guantanamo Bay inmates can surely take some clasping at pearls by the rank and file.

Friday, 23 June 2017

undisclosed location or habeas corpus

NPR’s Fresh Air featured a really engaging and frankly terrifying interview that explored the various contingency plans for the continuity of the US government in the event of a nuclear attack or other catastrophic event through the lens of bureaucracy and bunkers.
Optimistically first codified in the 1940s at a time before run-away proliferation when nuclear capabilities did seem survivable due to delivery methods and potency of the arsenal, the government seemed to want to keep up the pretence that such doomsday forecasts would still hold as to contemplate otherwise was unthinkable—believing that the person who had the sole, unilateral authority to choose how to respond would be the sagest and most introspective of Americans. Despite the level of detail and deputising involved in these plans and places of refuge, all of it seemed geared toward the goal of supporting some cult of personality that could sustain survivors through to a national reconstitution that would take hold at some calculated juncture in the not too distant future. There were quite a few engrossing details and descriptions to latch on to, like how the emergency cash reserves of the US are in large part denominated in the unpopular two-dollar bill and the order of precedence when it comes to safeguarding national treasures like the original bill of rights or the constitution, but what struck me as most surprising was that there was (and assuredly is—in some form) the equivalent of the Nuclear Football was at the disposal of the US attorney general. Like the president’s entourage, an aide would accompany America’s top lawyer at all times with a briefcase full of writs and warrants signature-ready to curtail civil liberties and confine the troublesome.

apiary or cargo cult

Revealed in a patent application disclosed recently, a major online retailer is aiming to install multi-level, vertical “fulfilment centres” in urban environments. Instead of the traditional warehouse model, which may be located close to transportation hubs are too far removed from consumers and workers, giving aerial delivery drones a hive (this traditional beehive form is called a skep and were fashioned out of wicker or coils of straw) to work from could facilitate commerce without contributing to street level congestion. I wonder how these changes in infrastructure and supply-chain management will affect urban planning and civil engineering.

carriage shift

Though no touch-typist am I and would be tripped up whatever the case, it’s a little bit of an adjustment for me just switching between a QWERTY keyboard at work and the only slightly different German QWERTZ layout at home.
I could not imagine, however, taking to something so radically different—for an industry standard—as what the French are contemplating as a replacement for the maligned AZERTY with the Dvorak-style BÉPO model. I’ve always thought it’s a little ironic that typewriters were given their respective layouts to keep mechanical units from jamming by pacing typists and making them work a little more deliberatively. What do you think? Should keyboards focus on ease and intuition, concede to the times (the chief complaint about the unmodified AZERTY keyboard is hunting for the @-sign) or stick with tradition? I never quite got over the fact that a telephone keypad assigned letter values to the 1 key and started admitting Q and Z.

dress right dress

The US government squandered millions, as Super Punch informs, outfitting the Afghani army.
Standard- isation in uniform and gear is of course important to signal allegiance on the battlefield and it stands to reason that the army would want something distinctive to discourage impostures. While far cheaper alternatives were available, over a quarter of the hundred million dollar expenditure went towards a proprietary camouflage pattern. The branded camo, Spec4ce it’s called (not pictured), is produced by Canadian firm called HyperStealth whose previous contracts include costuming a rogue paramilitary force for an Iron Man movie. Al Qaeda and company will surely lay down their arms and surrender to international anti-piracy laws. While the costs constitute barely a drop in the bucket in the scheme of that unending war and the American army seems pretty obsessed with window-dressing itself, it is even more regrettable that the choice in pattern was committed with no regard for landscape of Afghanistan and rather than camouflage troops, it makes them more visible.

tyto alba

Via Nag on the Lake, we learn of a very clever way to up-cycle wine packaging from the Portuguese vintners of Companhia das Lezírias . Having committed to protecting local barn owls, they are raising awareness with a collection named Tyto Alba (the Latin nomenclature for the bird) whose wooden boxes can be hung from a tree branch after enjoying. Though the accommodations might be too cramped for an owl, these bird houses, nest-boxes are a pretty nifty idea. Most populations of barn owls are not under grave threat in Europe, but the creatures have suffered at superstitious hands for ages, believed to be bad omens due to their rather liminal natures. While owls—or birds in general for that matter, are not famed for their ears, but uniquely among birds barn owls ears (if they were visible) would appear lop-sided and it’s this offsetting that allows them to use their preternatural hearing to triangulate prey in complete darkness.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

don’t talk about our son, martha

Our faithful chronicler, Dr Caligari, informs that on this day, among many other events like the trial of Galileo Galilei for the heresy of positing that the Earth travels around the Sun, the concluding moves of the Machtergreifung of 1933 that banned all other political parties in Germany and the 1941 invasion that ended the country’s “Peace and Friendship” treaty with Russia—director Mike Nichol’s released his first film in 1966 with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starring in the screen-adaptation of Edward Albee’s absurdist work Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to critical acclaim.

the confusion of the tongues

We enjoyed this history lesson in the syllabry called Deseret devised at the same time as the Mormons began their exodus to the arid territories of the American southwest.
Meaning “honeybee” in the Jaredite language (one of the four ancient tribes of Babylon that the Church of Latter Day Saints believes spread to the New World after that enterprise with the Tower failed) and also the name of the settlement before it was incorporated as the state of Utah, the thirty-eight character alphabet that represented all phonemes in the language was an attempt at spelling-reform, like the Shavian alphabet, to make learning and reading English less inscrutable for non-native speakers and immigrants. Public reception within the community was less enthusiastic than expected—though adopted by the Hopi tribe for their writing system—and combined with conspiratorial indictments that the point of the script was either to keep Mormon communication secret from outsiders or control what Mormon readership had access to, the Deseret experiment didn’t quite catch on at the time but is presently enjoying somewhat of a resurgence in interest that’s surveyed pretty thoroughly by Atlas Obscura at the link up top.

super sonic

With the very busy Schipol Airport just nine kilometres outside of Amsterdam, noise pollution has posed a serious problem for residents living in that sound footprint, which can propagate over an expanse of some thirty kilometres due to the featureless plain that surrounds the facility.
Back in 2008, however, officials seeking to remedy this situation accidentally noticed that when the fields around the airport were ploughed, noise levels dropped. Inspired and drawing on the nineteenth century experiments and demonstrations of father of acoustics, mathematician and musician Ernst Chladni, an architectural firm dug runnels and raised berms to change the soundscape of the area. The symmetrical furrows are separated by the equivalent to the wave-length of the general racket and disrupt the spread of the noise, cutting it in half. The park that separates the airport campus from populated areas has features named in Chladni’s honour—whose brilliance might be most immediately recalled with his demonstrations of sound propagating through a solid medium illustrated by the way grains of sand arrange themselves according to the vibration. Those shapes (nodal patterns) are called Chladni figures.


Two young boys in Erding outside of München are apparently the subject of investigation for having fired rubber pellets from toy guns at Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun while he and his entourage were cycling through the Altstadt. No injuries were sustained but the incident was reported to local authorities, nonetheless. The king, also styled Rama X, owns a few holiday homes in Bavaria and it is unclear if this occurrence might not have further repercussions, as it is illegal to insult the king—but with Germany’s intention to over-turn its law on lèse-majesté (Majestätsbeleidigung), any wounded feelings would probably not have legal standing.

meridian planum

Though only meant to survey the Martian landscape for a mere ninety days, thirteen years on the rover Opportunity is still exploring the Red Planet and sending back telemetry and some pretty stunning vistas.
This view from the Endeavour impact crater is absolutely astounding, and the twenty-two kilometre in circumference canyon was named for a Canadian township officially, but it is itself an homage to the ship of Lieutenant James Cook’s vessel of exploration to Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. There’s a lot to be said for such technological resiliency and the audacity of a few select engineers is something to respect. Visit the link above for a curated gallery of Opportunity’s amazing photography.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

carrot and stick—tomato, tomato

While of course toil with or without motivation is certainly possible—and in fact, most of us are either compelled to at the end of a whip or in involuntary indenturehood that’s a bit of a looser leash, I enjoyed reading this little bit of cheerleading on how to be smarter about procrastination and focus.
It’s of course too easy to get distracted by shiny-objects or going for low-hanging (what’s beeping or vibrating and clawing for our attention) fruits to the perpetual off-putting of addressing more pressing and systemic matters (or even trivialising them to convince ourselves what we’re avoiding isn’t all that important after all) but there is value to be had in structured procrastination, especially if it’s something that might put one more in the flow. Given oneself license to engage in doing nothing can also be productive in the long term, rather than fight against apathy and lethargy to the point of exhaustion. It does appear vital, however, that we allocate a certain amount of time—not to complete a task, but rather to work on it, or take a break from it. One timeboxing technique to explore is called the Pomodoro (an efficiency-expert named his method after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that he used in his student years) whose steps are pretty straightforward but could prove effective for some people struggling to stay on task: commit to something that needs doing, set the timer for twenty-five minutes, work until the bell rings and repeat—taking ever longer breaks between iterations. While I am sure there’s an app for that, I imagine that they’re already too culpable in indulging our interruptions or at least a convenient scapegoat.

fungus among us

Though not quite the confectionary house of the witch that lured inside Hansel and Gretel, a very clever student at London’s Brunel University (named for the famed architect and civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel) is developing a construction medium that fruits from edible mushrooms. The stringy, root-like mycelium is mixed with cardboard as a filler and then left to grow to form a pretty robust frame. The student envisions future bottom-up, pop-up kiosks and food booths serving dishes plucked off the walls. Apparently mycelium has already been field-tested and there is a precedent for these “mushroom sausages” as building elements with bio-bricks and other experiments that one can learn more about at the link above.

soylent blue

The private bioinformatics company’s that’s responsible for the research that drives several different markets from medicine to agriculture to biofuels latest venture involves harvesting algae as an energy source.
Usually the by-products that humans find useful are rather inimical to the organisms continued existence—fat in this case which the algae produces but only naturally in dire situations and when it’s deprived of essential nutrients. Some gene-editing, however, can induce simulated starvation and cause the algae to produce fat that is efficiently converted into fuel, almost equivalent to a vegetable oil. While earlier iterations of renewable biofuels were fraught with controversy as green-washing and not truly sustainable as it was competing with food-crops, there’s algae in abundance and this particular variety can thrive in polluted and brackish waters and perhaps even cleaning them up a bit in the process. What do you think?  Do developments like these take some of the edge of engineered Nature and ought they?

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

elements of eloquence

Language Barrier reacquaints us with the unwritten guidelines of style that native English speakers follow without thinking and the exceptions that make the rule.
Adjectives need to be presented in the following order, lest they ring dissonant, according to author Mark Forsyth: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose plus the noun or gerund being modified.  For example, one can plan for a sturdy great old crooked black English umbrella—whereas shifting any of those attributes around would make one sound rather unnatural. Those outliers, like Big Bad Wolf (size preceding opinion), can be explained by another unconscious rule—that of ablautive reduplication that mandates alternating vowel sounds go from i to a or o (for the sake of economy) and not the other way around: flip-flop, tick-tock and so forth. Ding dang dong.


alpha quadrant: astronomers spy more terrestrial exoplanets in our corner of the Milky Way

glymphatic node: new anatomical system discovered charged with cleansing the brain and spinal cord

 twitterpated: applying artificial intelligence to group and identify bird song

sub-space: a helpful, accessible explanation of that Chinese satellite network’s quantum entanglement experiment, disabusing our expectations of instantaneous communication

kalkül: images from a vintage East Germany children’s maths text book—site tip from Everlasting Blört

lacquer: Australian researchers are making advances with “solar paint” that pulls hydrogen from the atmosphere like a photosynthesising plant

tame: in depth genetics study suggest cats self-domesticated—or maybe it’s their humans that are house-broken

Monday, 19 June 2017


Wil Wheaton, having engaged with a commenter expounding on the historical context regarding the origins of Christianity and the received tradition unmediated by political expediency, improved vastly on the slogan entreating God to save one from his followers, by remarking that “Canon Jesus is better than Fandom Jesus.” I much prefer the way Wheaton turned out to the way the series imagined he would, as well.

saturday matinée

The always entertaining Poseidon’s Underworld takes a nostalgic look at a typical Saturday morning television line-up, including the Sid & Marty Krofft production that I probably thankfully have no memory of (I recall having an aversion to any programming that was not animated) called Far Out Space Nuts.
Starring Bob Denver and Chuck McCann as low-level, jump-suited NASA employees accidentally launched into space and faced a series of misadventures with extra-terrestrial friends and foes, it struck me as influencing the premise of Mystery Science Theater 3000, although apparently with a much larger budget and much less funny.
We’re also reminded how young children were encouraged to binge-watch the whole of the morning with a space opera leitmotif to indulge in—with Space Nuts followed by Ruth Buzzi and Jim Nabors playing lost astronauts, accompanied by a chimera called a dorse, who seems to inform modern meme-culture.
These aired circa 1975 but bled over in syndication for years to follow.  Be sure to check out Poseidon’s Underworld for the entire revue —including Shazam!, which I do recall and whose invocation was the initialism of the gods and heroes that helped out our super-hero: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, Mercury! We think Billy Batson could have benefited from some better role-models, like Athena perhaps—and though compartmentalised, segregated by programming for boys and programming for girls were also on offer.

Sunday, 18 June 2017


wrong side of the tracks: gentrification and inequality captured in aerial photography

fifty columns: there’s an installation in Johannesburg at the site where Nelson Mandela was arrested, which from a distance (like this structure in Melbourne) forms the visage of South Africa’s anti-Apartheid statesman and is a monument to those who fought for reform

dialogue agents: a pair of chat-bots (here are another two doing the talking) learning to communicate and negotiate (and keep the volley going) in the wilds of social media have developed their own language

this is spinal mäp: a customisable template that turns cartography metal, via things magazine

f—k you, i’m millwall: a fan of the South London football club who fended off assailants during June’s London Bridge attack and hailed as a hero is having his response turned into a beer by a Swedish beer company, via Nag on the Lake

thousand islands: homesteading on the archipelago on the Saint Lawrence seaway straddling the US and Canadian borders


Immediately after Dear Leader unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord to the consternation and disappointment of nearly all, France’s newly-elected president generously invited all those displaced, unwanted and defunded ecological scientists and entrepreneurs to his country to set up shop.
Now with the full faith and support of parliament and ministries of the environment and education, the government is making good on that promise and has pledged thirty million euros to fund foreign environmental studies and programmes—with a matching grant from schools and other organisations—that will support the work of fifty researchers (on top of on-going domestic initiatives) at least over a period of five years.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

ring of accolades

I am just as weary with the tedious, nauseating reign of Dear Leader and that praise-panel (Marion, don’t look at it. Shut your eyes, Marion. Don’t look at it, no matter what happens!) earlier this week really just about did us in. We however felt it was our duty to report on the probably roots of this insatiate need for flattery, which we learned likely came from Dear Leader’s role-model and touch-stone, Roy Marcus Cohn—attorney and chief-counsel behind what was truly the biggest witch-hunt in US history by aiding Joseph McCarthy’s investigations into un-American activities.
After helping to ruin the careers of countless real and imagined Communist-sympathisers and went on liberate Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of their lives for spying on the basis of rather dodgy testimony, Cohn began representing Dear Leader, along with other prominent Mafia figures and the management of Studio 54. Cohn’s counsel first came to public attention in 1973 when the US government accused Dear Leader of violating statute that prohibited the discriminatory practises in renting to tenants and Cohn audaciously launched a countersuit, which while failing did kind of give him a pass. And as if that was not enough, Cohn mentored Dear Leader in the most Machiavellian style that he should insist upon loyalty, reinforced often by having confidants recite a circle of accolades and introduced Dear Leader to the right-wing media moguls that became his campaign’s mouth-piece and dog-whistle. Roy Cohn died from AIDS-related complications in 1986 with posthumous speculation that Cohn was in a gay relationship, counter to his violently homophobic stance that was behind the so-called “lavender scare” parallel with McCarthy’s persecution.

in memoriam

Everyone is entitled to their opinions on terms limits and the scope and tenure of soft-powers and could probably summon up a dozen vexing counter arguments—but I think it can be said with confidence that if Helmut Kohl was not allowed to remain chancellor of West Germany from 1982 to 1990, the reunification probably would not have occurred.

The US and the UK preferred a weaker, divided Germany but the statesman was willing to throw his own economy in turmoil by a goodwill gesture to East Germany which dignified both powers and helped usher in an end to the standoff of the Cold War.   Had Kohl not then gone on to govern the whole of Germany for another eight years, the European Union as we know it with its trade partnerships, labour integration and common currency may have never been formed at all—and for keeping true to the course of geopolitics in a steadfast fashion whose alternatives seem rather unthinkable, Herr Kohl is owed a great debt of gratitude. We’d do him an honour in remembering how fragile such institutions are considering their precarious roots that only grit and resilience brought them about and the same qualities are essential in saving them.


Colossal exposes us to some of the latest denizens of the deep captured in photography for perhaps the first time with marine biologist and dive team leader of Moscow University’s White Sea research station Alexander Semenov.
These specimens are truly alien like the Pega confœderata that looks like section of air-cushion wrap to cushion fragile items in transit—seeming exceedingly delicate (here is a curation of another researcher’s approach in capturing and communicating the bizarre appearance and anatomy of the strange jellies, slugs and worms) and would indeed dissolve away if brought to the surface, existing in an almost solid state of being. These creatures are particularly at the mercy of our poor stewardship of the planet’s oceans as pollution takes years to settle to the bottom reaches of the abyss and once it reaches this terrain, there is no place else for it to go and toxins and other detritus becomes concentrated. These animals are already a mystery and we can’t pretend to know their threshold for human garbage.