Tuesday, 4 May 2021

7x7

sensory deprivation: science fiction author Hugo Gernsbeck invented an isolation helmet to eliminate distractions  

while my guitar gently weeps: Prince performs a mind-blowing solo during a 2004 induction ceremony for George Harrison into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 

๐Ÿ†Ž: revolutionary way to use thirty-year-old gaming controls (see also) to reach new heights in high-scores

seti@home: project Breakthrough Listen seemingly revives the spectre of Fermi’s Paradox  

gratitude journal: tiled grid of things to be thankful for from Kira Street inspires one to make one’s own mood board  

urban renewal: colour-coded maps like stained glass help one visualise how cities age and grow 

; vs –: duelling punctuation preferences of famous authors

Saturday, 17 April 2021

not of this world

Reportedly, on this day in 1897—with parallels to the more famous incidents at Roswell, New Mexico a half a century later—a UFO grazed a windmill on a farmstead outside of the small town of Aurora, Texas and crashed. The extra-terrestrial pilot, some witnesses calling the being a Martian, died in the process and was buried—accorded Christian rites—in a grave in the town cemetery. The wreckage was sealed by a concrete slab in a spent well and the authorities have refused requests for mass exhumation of the cemetery (the stone marking the plot having since disappeared, taken as a souvenir), and most participants, the journalist of The Dallas Morning News whom originally wrote the story included, have recanted their accounts as a hoax to bring tourists to the small town—though one wonders what was in the Zeitgeist to prompt the fabrication of such a legend so early.

Friday, 9 April 2021

responsable de style

Via the always interesting Things Magazine, we are directed towards an appreciation and celebration of the life and work of the recently departed French engineer and automobile creator Robert Opron (81932), head of the design department at Citroรซn since 1964 and then working with Renault in 1975—headhunted to develop an ultra-compact city car concept before transferring to Fiat and Piaggio a decade later. Custom coachbuilt Citroรซn Presidentials were commissioned for Queen Elizabeth’s state visit in 1971 as well as this clever CX camera car for the BBC were Opron’s doing and his whole line of models were visionary and iconic whilst working with the major French and Italian manufacturers. Opron’s most innovative and unconstrained design was for the smaller Fiat spin-off Simca with his first foray in 1958 in the bubble-topped, roving UFO called the Fulgur—Latin for lightening. Responding to an industry challenge to create a vehicle for the 1980s, this two-wheeled, gyroscopically-balanced concept (“idea”) car was to be—though not in the demonstration car—was to be guided by radar, voice-controlled and atomically-powered. More from the obituary at the link above.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

alley oop

Though not the first or most famous of its class, learning that the mildly mysterious Coso Artefact was discovered on this date in 1961 by some rock-hounds in California’s Owens Valley did impel us into the strange and contentious realm of out-of-place archaeology. While prospecting for geodes, the group found a spark plug from the 1920s encased in a rock that was estimated to be a half-a-million years old.
Though geological processes could account for the concretion and nodule formation around the clear anachronism, proponents of time-travel, prehistoric alien visitation and lost civilisations of course carried the day—as they do for other anomalous found objects, deemed in the wrong chronological context, that are categorised as OOPArt (Out-of-Place Artefacts). While not all are haunted with the blight of pseudoscience and sometimes there is a honest misinterpretation, wishful-thinking or confirmation-bias over a pet theory, most claims are dubious and tend to be a demerit to human ingenuity and accomplishment, like the Nebra Skydisk or the Antikythera mechanism being the artifice of extra-terrestrials or even gods, pareidolia due to suboptimal inputs and of course outright forgeries and hoaxes meant to embarrass or strengthen an agenda or alternate point-of-view.

Monday, 4 February 2019

debunked

The reliably engrossing and entertaining Futility Closet delivers with its latest podcast episode a real object lesson in sociology confirmed with real world observations that really lay bare the concept of cognitive dissonance and how it infiltrates the human psyche.
Not only are we loathe to acknowledge sunk costs and move away from a system of belief that we’ve invested a lot or a little in, we also seek to justify our fear and trepidation, confident that ritual was our saving grace. Infiltrating a doomsday cult that arose as Leon Festinger (*1919 – †1989) and his academic colleagues were theorising about how the human mind copes with the chasm between expectation and reality and the behaviour that manifests in the mid-1950s, their ideas that were a sharp departure from the received wisdom of accounting for hysteria and panic but were vindicated through a mental narrative of members reframing the failure of their dire prophesies to materialise. Festinger was also a pioneer in networking theory, coining the term propinquity (from the Latin for nearness—and by extension familiarity) in kinship-forming and establishing in- and out-groups, which is now of course not limited by physical presence.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

die glocke

A German model toy manufacturer has recalled one of its air crafts and taken it off the market over criticism for suggesting that Nazi Germany was able to achieve space flight with a kit based off a legendary ship. The kit’s liner notes come woefully short of clarifying the ahistorical nature of the design and the project behind it and could mislead impressionable minds.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

haute couture or are you a good witch or a bad witch

First seen on the equally fabulous Neatorama, we were directed towards an investigation into one of the more benign and be-knighted cults to come out of 1950s California: the Unarians. Siding with Marx that religion is the opium for the masses, the collective’s founder vehemently held that the philosophy of Unarius (an acronym for UNiversal ARticulate Interdimensional Understanding of the Sciences) is a revealed system of thought that flows from an extraterrestrial brotherhood and the transmigration of souls.
The movement spread and boasts a few international chapters as well as the academy in California, which operates to this day—though the Unarians lost some impetus when their predicted first-encounter did not take place in the year 2000, but no one committed suicide over it. It was, however, with the passing of the founder and his wife and partner taking the mantle as Archangel Uriel that things really got ratcheted-up a notch. Under her leadership, pupils began past life regression therapy to repair and gird their karmic energies through elaborate play-acting—called psychodramas—and equally assiduous crafting. If not exactly true to the period, designing and making costumes (like the krewes for Marti Gras and similar spectacles) was also an important component to working through one’s former transgressions. Be sure to visit the links for more outfits that would make Liberace and Lady Gaga seem rather conservative and public-access television footage of some their rites.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

fermi’s paradox or good fences make good neighbours

In the 1950s astrophysicist and futurist Enrico Fermi posed the question that encapsulated not whether we were alone in the Universe but rather where is everybody, and given his lack of the cosmological observations of the present, put forward a pretty stupendous conjecture that’s but puzzled over since. Granted that at the time, many of the important criteria were know—the extreme old age of the Universe, its size, the commonality of stars but significantly, the commonality of stars harbouring planets, approaching one hundred percent and it would probably be more unusual for a star not to have a solar system, still the expectation remained that there ought to be alien life out there in abundance. This postulate has inspired a lot of debate by individuals with far superior credentials but I think it’s a very worthwhile exercise to try to imagine the counterintuitive:

  • Intelligent life is something rare or unique—seemingly unlikely across the eons and vast distances, populated with stellar and planetary bodies, though natural cataclysm might account for relatively short-lived civilizations
  • It’s in the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself and others—more likely given our track record (seminal events like harnessing the destructive power of atom or bad environmental stewardship) and the fittest life forms to evolve would force out the weaker
  • We’re listening but not too chatty ourselves—the totem space-invaders depiction of the Arecibo Message represents one of the few times humans have intentionally reached out
  • The Earth is dismissed as something too exposed—hardy humans don’t hide within Dyson spheres and those with more delicate constitutions could not imagine that place being hospitable or like us, they’re turning in on themselves, content with virtual reality, fantasy and vicarious living or worried about economic and social disruption as exploitative schemes become unsustainable
  • Humans are intentional kept at bay—we are excluded as inmates of an alien zoo, they fear us given that our imagined portrayals of contact are often brutal, xenophobic and catastrophic
  • Aliens are too alien—their sense of timing or scale may be totally out of sync with ours or our symbols, glyphs and patterns go unrecognised like theirs do for us

What do you think? Do you have any theories? We don’t have any basis of comparison of course, except ourselves and though unlikely to disburden ourselves from esteem and bias, it is rather extraordinary that in the time that humans have existed, physiologically and intellectually recognisable as humans, all of recorded history—rounding it off to a segment of ten thousand years—could have repeated nearly two dozen times or more already, if allowed to play out from its inception to conclusion. All that fits into just the last few million years and does not even touch the billions that came before. The paradox itself could be responsible for this silence as a sort of self-propagating disbelief across the galaxy that surely we cannot be the first to reach out or be contacted.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

vis viva or รฉlan vital

The director of Sigmund Freud’s out-patient clinic in Vienna, influential and controversial to contemporaries, was called Wilhelm Reich and due to later public shaming by an agency of the US government is nearly unknown except for a few of his kookier traces. Reich authored many respected works on mass-hysteria, including exploring why people were enervated by fascists and suddenly found it acceptable to participate in mob activities like biblioclasm (book-burning) and worse, linked poverty to mental health, hypnosis, developed what became the concepts of bio-feedback, body-language and Gestalt therapy (personal accountability), massage therapy and spoke very frankly about sexuality and inhibitions.
After the violent coup that elevated Hitler to power, Reich and many other Germans fled to Norway—including future Chancellor Willy Brandt—and Reich, continuing his research, solicited volunteers, Brandt among them, to make love whilst attached to an oscilloscope and study what sorts of voltage was measured. As the war engulfed Europe, Reich immigrated to the United States, sponsored by the psychiatry school of Columbia University—which did not turn out like Operation Paperclip. It was in New York that Reich first described his Orgone theory—which was basically the same notion as รฆther or the all-pervading Force or Chi, and imbalances in orgone (named after the orgasm, and not unlike Freud’s libido ideas) radiation led to all human ailments, disease and mental disorders. Reich met with compatriot Albert Einstein and tried to convince him of the efficacy and truth behind his conclusions—possibly under the pretext that the Allies such harness the power of this mysterious metaphysical element before the Nazis discovered it. Orgones could also be used to control the weather. Though Einstein heard him out and even tried to recreate his unscientific experiments, ultimately debunking them because of sloppy control-conditions, Einstein probably thought Reich was a touch looney and this encounter may have begun the unhinging of his professional reputation. Undeterred, Reich continued his experiments, which seemingly innocently enough, consisted of placing volunteers (although sometimes seriously ill people too that fell for quackery) in what was essentially a Faraday cage, a metal shield from outside interference that kept internal energies inside, called Orgone Accumulators for long periods, naked, to restore their natural equilibrium. Failing to get back into academia, Reich decided to purchase a farm in the state of Maine, naming it Orgonon, which included laboratories, treatment areas, a conference centre and an observatory for UFO sightings.
For all his eccentricities, Reich received little bad press while on the ranch and those in the psychosomatic medical community still though highly of his earlier writings. One magazine interview propelled his theories to national attention, after the war had ended, and Reich became a target of the US Federal Trade CommisSion (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical fraud and possible sex-trafficking. Interstate sales of orgone accumulators and printed materials that espoused Reich’s teachings were banned. A federal officer, posing as a client, asked Reich to ship him an accumulator, thus framing him. One of Reich’s final feats was saving the local blueberry harvest by creating a cloud-bursting device that beamed positive orgone radiation into the sky and ended the drought. Farmers were pleased with the results. The sentence handed down was harsh and provided for prison time and the destruction of Reich’s research facility, all orgone accumulators and his publications. FDA agents were present at Orgonon to supervise the destruction carried out by Reich’s friends and associates with axes and a bonfire, with Reich made to watch. After this unrepentant beastliness, accused of being delusional and paranoid and worse, Reich died while in jail, a cell being no proper accumulator. There was a resurgence in interest in Wilhelm Reich in 2008, fifty years after his death, a vault was opened at a medical library of the campus of Harvard University that held an archive of his unpublished papers.