Monday 20 May 2024

the great 404 (11. 567)

Via Maps Mania, we are invited to revisit the Kessler Effect (previously here and here) and the pressing, existential problem of space junk. NASA scientist Donald J Kessler conjectured in 1978 a upper-limit for density of satellites in low-Earth orbit, a threshold beyond which (a level that according to some estimates is already passed) even a minor collision could cause a catastrophic chain-reaction, an ablation cascade that would render subsequent launches impossible and leave future exploration grounded and triangulate the implications, connecting the dots, by finding constellations in the debris field as it becomes more fraught and a challenge to break through, like the pictured Broken Compass (see below, see also). What asterisms can you see?


one year ago: Blessed Alcuin’s logic puzzle, nine kings, one room (1910) plus an extreme exoplanet

two years ago: assorted links to revisit plus more Alcuin

three years ago: a brood of cicadas in North America emergestaxia of twist-ties, naming every colour plus the fly-bee

four years ago: World Bee Day, Theatre of the Orb of the World (1570) plus Meck Dec Day

five years ago: standardising le Grand K, the NSA (1919), fetishising the five-paragraph essay, medieval medical records plus a new single from Vampire Weekend

Wednesday 24 April 2024

graphical symbols for use on equipment (11. 512)

Via Present /&/ Correct, we are directed to the International Organisation for Standardisation’s (ISO, see also) Online Browsing Platform (OBP) that publishes an annual catalogue of pictograms and other deliverables (coordinates, vocabulary, terminology, industry norms) for manufacturers and municipalities to license (most, however, have been made freely available to the public) commercially for a nominal fee. The annex of ISO 7000 is a registry of systematised and universal icons appearing on machine parts, cables and consoles with different subcategories covering building construction, surgical instruments and implants, woodworking, fishmeal and identification documents.

Thursday 4 January 2024

piso mojado (11. 241)

Via Miss Cellania, we not only learn of the existence of a universally understood slipping hazard sign, a wet floor marker in the shape of a banana peel but also there is a whole sub-site devoted to their sightings. We’ve never encountered such a warning (we wonder where they are most common as opposed to the foldable one that props up) and though the trope of the obstacle and the prat fall certainly still are prevalent and comprehensible, it seems a little ironic that the cultivation practises of the fruit has led to the extinction of the variety that was particularly prone to cause tumbling, prompting concern for public safety in the mid-nineteenth century when importation became especially popular in America (leading to the gag) and municipal ordinances (with posted signage) regarding their proper disposal.


one year ago: the Dark Forest of the Internet plus outsourcing one’s outlet

two years ago: assorted links to revisit 

three years ago: Trump harasses election officials plus more facts gleaned from the past year

four years ago: AI generated beetles, an anti-Bob Ross, a book on bricks plus cities coping with sea-level rise

five years ago: preserving the present plus more links to enjoy

Thursday 9 November 2023

button copy (11. 106)

Via Curious Brain, we enjoyed this short montage from Daniel McKee (previously) to music by Resonate that cycles through international traffic signs, showing the variations through different countries on warnings and restrictions. The title refers to the retroflective elements that follow the contours of sign legends caught by oncoming headlamps.

Friday 22 September 2023

6x6 (11. 013)

schedule f: Trump and the Heritage Foundation’s plan to dismantle the administrative state, replacing federal workers with sycophants—via Miss Cellania  

chinoiserie: a grand tour of Rococo era architectural follies as homage and aspiration to Eastern aesthetics—see also  

disco demolition night: more on the publicity stunt that incited a riot and brought down a whole genre of music 

agrostology: of grasses and lawns  

we’re safety now, haven’t we: US federal consumer safety commission drops an album that includes some bangers—but hardly for the first 

time swing time for hitler: new audio book by Scott Simon explores how Nazis banned jazz as degenerate art and repurposed it to dispirit the Allies—with more on Lord Haw-Haw and other propagandists


one year ago: MERS-CoV (2012),  the premier of West Wing (1999), Putin addresses the public and announces a draft plus an early Hobbit computer game

two years ago: assorted links to revisit plus Fiddler on the Roof (1964)

three years ago: Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state, the last day of summer, more links to enjoy plus dazzling skylines made of dot-stickers

four years ago: exploring the Messel Pit plus a highly idiosyncratic language

five years ago: rehabilitating coral ecosystems with electricity, an AI makes college course catalogues, typhoon naming conventions plus an M-class exoplanet

Friday 1 September 2023

the perils of penelope (10. 975)

Via ibฤซdem, we are referred a seemingly endless, seemingly exhaustive (there must be a reason for the particular signage and an attendant tale of tragedy) and international gallery replete with all pictogram figures in all variety of calamities as cautionary tales (see also) about potential dismemberment, electrocution, restricted areas and especially slips, trips and falls.

Sunday 16 August 2020

mendicant marks

Previously we have encountered the glyphs left by the hobos, vagabonds and other members of the travelling community as coded guidance (see here), but it was not until this discovery by our faithful antiquarian that we had seen a map made by and for the community in this ethnographic study of Kent that included a chart and key in circulation from 1870. The map was was rendered by a local screever or sidewalk-chalk artist who would normally be consigned with religious iconography and whom captioned figures with such names as “¾ Sarah.” See more at the links above for a glimpse into this world of cunning and survival.

Tuesday 11 February 2020


Despite being introduced as a universal, Europe-wide emergency number in 1991 with support for mobile phones and geographic messaging services fully integrated in 2008, subsequent public polls still consistently show a paucity of knowledge in how to ring the police or fire department in a panic, so since 2009, the European Union has commemorated this number on its corresponding calendar date to increase awareness and promote its appropriate use.
Local legacy conventions in many cases still summon a first-responder or redirect—like 999 for Anglophone areas (introduced in 1937 in response to a calamitous house fire at a London boarding house), 911 (1968, which I suppose just slightly faster to dial if one were using a fiddly rotary phone) for those regions historically connected to the United States (Panama, the Philippines, Liberia among others) and 101, 102, or 103—depending on the nature of one’s emergency—in Russia and former Soviet satellites. It’s interesting how one’s sphere of influence—independence and aspirations—are reflected here as well.

Sunday 20 October 2019


From 1942 to 1990, Arnold Odermatt was employed as a forensics photographer for the Swiss canton of Nidwalden whose extensive portfolio documents encroaching modernity into this once isolated area, especially in traffic accidents, taking a second photograph for his own personal collection once the injured had been taken away.
Though his fascination is morbid and inscrutable as his motivation was never stated and the existence of the images were only disclosed by accident (his filmmaker son discovering the trove in a box in the attic one day and published them in a book that garnered attention in the late 1990s at the Frankfurter Buchmesse), there is, one might conjecture, a restorative property in seeing these husks of vehicles in an austere light, unmoving without drivers and passengers. Much more to explore at the link above including several galleries of Odermatt’s compositions, which includes many candid, happy scenes artfully captured as well.

Tuesday 29 August 2017

anthropomorphic test device

Unveiled last February, the hyper-realistic, pliable figure known as Graham designed by Melbourne artist Patricia Piccinini (in collaboration with a forensics expert and a trauma surgeon) whose anatomical frame is modified to withstand low-impact car collisions has been nominated for London’s Design Museum annual award competition. Commissioned by Australia’s traffic safety board, the grotesque is sort of a reverse crash-test dummy, imaging how we might have evolved to survive automobile accidents if that were our only threat to contend with, and installs safety features in the passenger as a way to lobby the industry to make safer vehicles.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

jellystone or where the buffalos roam

Via the always engrossing Everlasting Blรถrt, we discover that not only is the generic human symbol resigned to his tortured fate of slips, trips and falls and now hapless goring by bison whilst visiting national parks, he also has a nickname, Helvetica Man. The origins of this luckless pictogram pre-date the typeface’s foundry and was called so to invoke the font’s neutrality—ever stoic, even in the face of the gauntlet of Olympian contests and undaunted by any and all hazards, and suggests the Vitruvian Man or one of those prehistoric victims of an avalanche or tumbling into a tar pit, unfrozen or extracted ages later.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

rutherfords and risk-assessments

Immediately for me invoking recollections of that endless film franchise Final Destination, wherein some hapless teenagers have premonitions of freak accidents that are perpetuated by some Rube Goldberg chain of events and shoddy craftsmanship, the notion of the micromort, conceived by ethicist and information-scientist Ronald Howard of Stanford University, modestly and eloquently has further reaching meaning in terms of public literacy in probability and statistics, risky undertakings, and deflecting media bias.

As a unit or scale, the micromort roughly measures a one-in-a-million chance of dismem- berment or death from exposure to various activities—both bidden and unsolicited, like base-jumping, shark-attacks, skiing, drug use, quick-sand, terrorism, diet—allowing one to weigh the peril though in the end the odds seem to say on our side. I don’t think that this a model that insurance companies use, per se. Facts and figures can be easily turned into anecdotal evidence in support of any argument or newly-fashioned threat. Not to disparage the better intentions of keeping healthy, wealthy and wise, but the burden bore by saying that sitting is deadly and is ratcheting up one’s individual risk by—say a fifth, does not factor in prevalence and can be misrepresented as something huge and something that we’re morally obligated to counter. History is punctuated by moral panics and distortion, but even more so now, as we’re already couched in safety and leisure, and the idea of security and hygiene has supplanted superstition. Like the dread millisievert, the rutherford is also a doseage of radiation exposure and can also be easily taken out of context. What do you think? Does being informed carry with it a healthy degree of skepticism?