Thursday 7 April 2016

bardolatry or oh no-etry

Coinciding with US National Poetry Month, there’s a clever sonnet-generating algorithm that creates convincing, natural sounding Shakespearian stanzas that adhere to the rules of grammar and scansion, informs Boing Boing. Here is an example, Sonnet № 3959816917:

When I perhaps compounded am with clay
I tell the day, to please him, thou art bright
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night
I grant I never saw a goddess go
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Receiving naught by elements so slow
And buds of marjoram had stol’n thy hair
If my dear love were but the child of state
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you
Such civil war is in my love and hate
Robbing no old to dress his beauty new
Her audit, though delay’d, answer’d must be
If ten of thine ten times refigur’d thee

There is some repetition with certain conceits and stock-phrases reappearing but that’s able to dull the machine whirring in the background and allow the rhythm, rhyme and even meaning come through. I wonder if true scholars could pick out what’s computer-generated sentiment from Shakespeare’s own collection of 154.

Saturday 2 April 2016

doctor zaius, doctor zaius

A Kazakhstani scientist with the alliterative name of Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was a pioneer in the early 1900s in the field of artificial insemination.
Praised and later eulogised by sociologist Ivan Pavlov, Ivanov’s chief accomp- lishments were in the field of animal husbandry and of interest to horse-breeders, but reportedly his research also dabbled in controversy, hoping to create ape-human hybrids, called humanzees—for no particular reason. Early trials failed and the premature death of simian donors and the aftermath of the Soviet revolution put a stop to his further experiments. Contemporaries even composed an opรฉra-bouffe called Orango to lampoon and chastise Ivanov’s ambitions, but it was not staged until 2011 to somewhat less knowledgable audiences. Let’s be sure to thank the Frinkiac for the ease in finding this appropriate illustration.

Sunday 13 March 2016

the overlook

While iconic producer and director Stanley Kubrick’s staging and ensemble could never be labelled derivative, having inspired countless other homages, and nothing less could be ascribed to The Shining, there is nonetheless than some point for point correspondence that Kubrick himself attributes to a much earlier inspiration.
The Swedish film called Kรถrkarlen, the Wagoner, was presented to British and American audiences a year after its debut under the title of Thy Soul shall bear Witness or The Phantom Carriage in 1922. Both films have to address the torture of alcoholism and the resulting missteps in family life, although the silent version had more ledgend to draw upon than the local lore of hotel staff with a sort of Flying Dutchman curse of the street urchins and dissolute of the town of Landskrona that holds the last person to die in the previous year is charged with acting as the Grim Reaper and collects the souls of those to die in the next. A departed drinking buddy who led the protagionist astray in life tries to make amends in death by arranging encounters with people who can help him get his life back in order. One can view the film in its entireity at this link, and appreciate its pioneering use of special effects and complex storytelling which makes use of flashbacks within flashbacks.

Saturday 27 February 2016

yoiking and taxonomy

Recently, as the large settlement of Tromsรธ was anticipating the return of the sun after six weeks of perpetual night (surely an event to celebrate but it was not as if the locals were emerging from dread and depression after this long, dark, sacred night, though I can’t say I was not very relieved to see the days waxing longer) and heralded the first patch of daylight with song.
The city and region that’s traditionally Sร mi (the older and rather pejorative term for the people was Laplander) is a big music scene—including the for a sort of ancient tone-poem called a yoik or joik. These chants, though wordless, are very evocative and full of meaning, and it’s said that the Sร mi peoples were taught yoiking by the elves and fairies and at birth, a yoik is composed for an individual, this personal signature being as important as one’s name—admitting later improvisations, of course. Places, animals, plants and the elements have their own special tunes as well. As with many aboriginal customs, joiking was regarded with suspicion and condemned as spell-casting and suppressed (along with their language) for generations but both have seen a strong resurgence in recent years—migrant children hosted in these northern communities are excited to receive yoiks of their very own. A lot more than just a salutation of the sun, one can listen to a selection of yoiks here or by searching the internet for more of these hauntingly beautiful folk chants, perhaps even composing your own signature sound.

Thursday 25 February 2016


The marvellous property-scout Nag on the Lake invites us to a rather breath-taking viewing of a unique bell-tower penthouse on Centre Street of Manhattan—where for price, the happy new tenants could enjoy panoramic views from the cupola of New York City. The Beaux Arts style building was built to purpose as the New York City Police Headquarters and served this role from 1909 to the early 1970s when the department outgrew its operations centre. In the late 1980s, the structure at the heart of the metropolis was converted into posh condominiums. This would be a pretty swank hideout for a brooding and mysterious superhero.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

majuscule and minusclue

A bicameral system of writing has two cases for its letters, usually distinct in form and not only size—like Latin-, Greek- and Armenian- derived alphabets, whereas Arabic, Hebrew and Persian make no differentiation.  I wonder if that makes reading a particular challenge, like the cursive-hand that is reportedly incomprehensible to young people.

Aside from รฆsthetic prerogatives of font and layout, mixed cases probably were cultivated for the sake of speed when copying out a running script—as opposed to headings or chapters that dominated most inscriptions, and the conventions were propagated with the printed word. Individual rules of orthography are as varied as language, where sometimes all nouns are germane or sometimes demonyms, the months and days of the week go with no special consideration and certain symbols and ligatures often only take one form, like the Eszett (รŸ) that’s never at the front of a word or the Latin alpha that can be single- or double-storey. If rules of capitalisation prove too complex, especially given an international venue, something called a “kebab-case” is employed where dashes replace spacing and no words are writ-large. Using underscore in a similar way is called snake-case. Not to dispense with proper punctuation altogether, words whose meaning changes with capitalisation like Mass (liturgy) or mass (physical property) and Hamlet (Danish prince) or hamlet (small village)—plus many others, especially having to do with place—is called a capitonym.

Monday 15 February 2016

pomade ou les moustaches de l’oiseau

First spotted by erstwhile bird-watcher Mademoiselle Titam (l’article est disponible uniquement en franรงais), I was delighted to discover these dapper little moustachioed seabirds called Inca terns (Larosterna inca), native to Chile and Peru, cleaving to the Humboldt current that drives the South Pacific like the dynamo Gulf Stream that warms Europe. What I found really striking—given our human biases, was that for what we’d consider a very masculine trait, there’s very little dimorphism between the males and the females in terms of plumage, and all the terns sport the same look, unlike for those with antlers, manes or the birds-of-paradise. I suppose other sea-going fowl, gulls and penguins, do look quite uniform across the genders.

Saturday 13 February 2016

eros and agape

Valentine’s Day in its received format has a pretty interesting history of conflation, segregation and outright confusion. As the Roman Empire was filling its calendar with holidays, the day preceding the Ides of February became sacred to Juno (Hera), the long-suffering spouse of Jupiter (Zeus), who was among many other attributes and kennings, the patroness of marriage and newly-weds. Accordingly, this date began a favoured time for nuptials and young boys and girls, whom were normally strictly separated throughout the rest of the year, in anticipation for the coming feast distributed ballots, lots with their names on them and later—during the following feast of Lupercalia, pairs were drawn and the two youths would be “married” for the duration of the festivities before being parted again, to be later married off under more customary, strategic conditions arranged by their parents.
I do not know if any of these sweethearts pined afterwards but graver unimpassioned measures were to be introduced during the first decades of the three hundreds when, according to legend, there was a backlash against the recalcitrant Christian community, under the reign of Aurelian (and later repeated by Diocletian) who was distrusting of their anti-social behaviours in not observing the rites of the Empire and aside from tossing them to the lions forbade marriage (but this may have also been a more general-order, irrespective of affiliation) since matrimony was not conducive to going off to war. A hero was produced, as is often the case (and another during the Diocletian persecution with the same cognomen and guilty of the same crimes against the state), in the person of Valentino, who performed in cognito wedding services in accordance with Church customs. This underground community was infiltrated and an unrepentant Valentine (and his later incarnation) were thrown in prison. One of the Valentines had an audience with the Emperor (Claudius Gothicus, according to some) who was sympathetic to his cause at first, but the Valentine got a little too preachy and the Emperor had him executed anyway. Both martyrdoms took place at the head of Lupercalia and as a symbol for fidelity and family—though I suppose there could only be one Valentine with that sort of patronage. Though Valentine greetings were sent first in the late Middle Ages, it was not until Victorian times that the spirit of the holiday recaptured that original sense of the lottery and flirtation—and continued admiration. Happy Valentines’ Day everybody!

Saturday 6 February 2016

hi-def or the force awakens

Fellow true-believer Bob Canada, whilst watching some of the classic episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, in anticipation I’m sure of the relaunch of the series, in thrilling high-definition re-mastered quality, noticed that the panelling of the interior of the Satellite of Love is composed of Star Wars spacecraft (at least two Millennium Falcons) and a Darth Vader helmet action figure carrying-case. I wonder what other easter-eggs are out there to be discovered. The process of adding superfluous (but we’re now accustomed to and wouldn’t buy a sleek and featureless design) textures to surfaces to make them more visually interesting is called greebling, whether executed with set decoration or computer-generated graphics.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

men without chests, men without hats

Amidst the horrors of World War II which were driven by failed experimentation and ill-informed beliefs that mankind could be perfected through eugenics, author C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) wrote a short treatise called the “Abolition of Man,” though the ablutions Lewis was calling out was in educational reform that sought to eviscerate objectivity and inherent and abiding morals and replace them with more progressive, scientific modes of thought.
Lewis argued that the purpose of pedagogy is no more and no less than imparting right and wrong and not mistaking better for the good, and discarding old value-based systems (such terms are easily turned and spindled) left society groundless (without trunks, chests), and without thought rooted in Nature, philosophy and religion, one might as well pack it up and own to the fact that the goal is abolition of humanity. Though the technology of seventy years ago could not seriously advocate for artificial-intelligence—nor really for genetic-engineering, Lewis’ words of warning were nonetheless prescient and was very much afraid that changes in curricula would create a class of overlords with enough intelligence and insight to manipulate the rest of us. Although on the surface the tyranny and oppression of the few (which seems familiar if not illegitimate) appears quite different from the existential threat of the robot holocaust, but both cases beg that mankind’s hindrance is its own humanity, imperfect, impious and diverse. What do you think? Are we more likely to be devout (as masters) to those matters of our own creation, trusting medicine and machine, more so than the conversant but unreachable age-old ethics that have always accompanied us?

Sunday 31 January 2016


radio goo-goo, radio ga ga: discover songs by country and decade, via the splendiferous Everlasting Blรถrt

subtitle: Emojini analyses images and assigns the appropriate pictorial captions

fail: the internet responds in kind when a doctored photograph is lauded by a big camera company

take me to the renaissance festival anon: report of the world’s largest medievalist congress held in Kalamazoo, Michigan, via the always interesting The Browser

lossless: long departed computer scientist David Huffman not only gave the world data-compression techniques but also applied mathematical origami to all sorts of things, like automobile air-bags

prestidigitate: despite rumours to the contrary, cartoon characters exported to Japan are not given a little finger to show that they are not affiliated with the Yazuka mafia; on The Simpsons, only the hand of God has five digits, via Reddit 

Tuesday 26 January 2016

mad dogs and servicemen

The memorable theme song of M*A*S*H* became a little more haunting to me when I learnt awhile back that it has lyrics and the song itself is “Called Suicide is Painless.” One could imagine droning along to the tune of that dirge.
A bit of trivia even more intriguing about the score came courtesy of Dr. Caligari’s daily amalgams of history: celebrating the premiere of the Academy Award winning film this week in 1970, it was pointed out that the composer of the theme, the son of the virtuoso director, Robert Altman—fourteen years old at the time, has earned nearly three times what the director was paid for the movie, making over two million dollars in royalties after the series based on the film was launched. Work is more of a soap opera but can at times feel like the dark comedy with the jingoism and ingratiating ironies. Incorporating the same signature tune, the show had a run of eleven years and I still remember when all the neighbours came over to watch the series finale and how emotional everyone got when saying goodbye, farewell and amen.

Saturday 23 January 2016

andorian ale

Thanks to Wikipedia (and it cannot receive enough encomnia in my opinion) I learnt that the producer of Star Trek—unlike inventing the teleporter to forego having to film landing scenes, insisted that the series be shot in colour and thus placing it in the prime-time schedule (because of the expense) of America’s pioneering broadcasting triumvirate so audiences could appreciate the green skin of the Orion slave girls.
Later contributors to the programme considered the Orions a little too risquรฉ and perhaps deviant to afford them continued appearances. The Andorians, although founding members of the Federation of Planets and acclaimed for their libations, were excluded as well. In the expanded Universe, however, they became symbols of sexual liberation and figure large in stark opposition to the predominantly heterosexual milieu and deflector shield ceiling of the canonical storyline.

Thursday 21 January 2016

jรถtunheimr or planet nine from outer space

Orbital perturbations of the outer most planets of our Solar System and perhaps the mysterious and unexpected geologically active surface of Pluto suggest to astronomers that a Neptune-sized world sweeping out an elongated path nearly twice as distant as Pluto at its aphelion might exist.
That far away and with such an unimaginably long year would be quite faint and the marauder would only make itself know, possibly with great disruption, only once in epochs, and so is naturally elusive—even if one’s telescope are fixed on the right patch of sky. If such a ninth planet does exist (and that seems to be a pretty big leap as other theoretical place-holders have dematerialised in the past), astronomers propose that it is an ice-giant ejected from the Solar System’s core long ago—or, even more exotically, a captured “rogue” exoplanet. That would really be something if we had been harbouring a galactic hitchhiker all this time. Native or not, maybe the new planet should be named after Thrym, king of the Ice Giant realm of Jรถtunheimr—which is a nemesis to the realm of men and their gods.

Friday 15 January 2016


quinceaรฑera: Wikipedia celebrates its fifteenth anniversary

you sank my lanthanide series: a parent has developed a period table of Battleship to teach chemistry

independent order of odd fellows: a look at the iconography of the secret societies of America, via the Everlasting Blort

that’s a bad boy: a Roman mosaic unearthed in Alexandria reveals that pet-shaming has been a phenomenon since ancient times

yosemite sam: accommodations and attractions of the US national park compelled to re-flag because of an unscrupulous naming-rights dispute

powwww: a studious and hilarious collection of expository BAT LABELS from the original Batman series

Tuesday 5 January 2016

ishtar or 48 hours later

Despite how well the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh establishes and wields all the classical reverberating hallmarks of myth, the story of a tyrannical king sent a wild man by the gods to curb his oppressive-tendencies—is really strikingly unknown compared to other influential works of cultural heritage. Only really rediscovered and promulgated to audience of any size after World War I, I guess it should not be surprising that the only cemented reference to the friendship fostered between King Gilgamesh and Enkidu I really ever encountered until recently was in that brilliant episode of Star Trek the Next Generation (“Darmok” it was called and perhaps the literature of ancient Sumer might not gain wide-spread status until the twenty-fourth century ) where CPT Picard encounters an alien race whose language muddles the Universal Translator. Finally realising that their speech is drawn from their native mythological canon, using allegory and allusion, CPT Picard reaches out to his fellow captain through the story of Gilgamesh. As a post-script, Picard reads a bit of Homer and wonders—never quite knowing the context or what the fallen alien captain was trying to tell him, if better understanding of his own mythological legacy might make them better explorers. As a foil to the very photogenic but committed bachelor and demi-god Gilgamesh, the gods fashion the savage Enkidu, whose disruption to the countryside seems almost as repulsive to the beleaguered subjects of Uruk as the king’s persecution within the city walls.
Hoping to civilise and tame Enkidu, Gilgamesh arranges for him to be seduced by a temple harlot—and the marathon love-making session seems initially to have worked, as Enkidu cleaned up pretty well too and the animals seems to reject his company afterwards. The former wild scourge dispatched, Enkidu even settling down and becoming a shepherd, Gilgamesh was free to continue his reign of terror more or less unabated. Learning of the king’s deportment while tending his flock, Enkidu resolved to intervene all the same. After a long battle, the two realise that they are of equal strength and sort of a buddy cop movie relationship ensues. The two go off questing together and Gilgamesh is transformed and forgets his old ways on their adventures. Eventually the pair encounter the goddess Ishtar, who has a reputation as somewhat of a vamp to compliment Gilgamesh’s former rakish but reformed ways, and when the king begs off her advances, the scorned goddess demands the Bull of Heaven be visited on Uruk to dealt the land with earthquakes, droughts and plagues. Ishtar’s contingency plan (if the king of the gods refused to unleash this Kraken) was to raise a zombie army to devour the living. Enkidu and Gilgamesh, however, are able to slay the beast—further enraging the gods, who decide one of them must pay for this transgression with his life and Enkidu wastes away, ageing rapidly for weeks, denied a warrior’s death and only a bleak, dusty afterlife to look forward to. Inconsolable, Gilgamesh gives his companion full funerary honours and resolves himself never to die—especially not to succumb to the ravages of old age and dotage (mortal himself despite his divine parentage), and embarks to find the immortal couple, rumoured to have ridden out the Great Flood, and learn the secret to eternal life. Wandering the wilderness, still wracked with grief, Gilgamesh adopts the habit of his departed friend and wears animal hides and is admitted into this Garden of Eden where the couple has taken up residence, rather grudgingly as they try to dissuade him from seeking this lot. Possibly to prove that their immortality was a unique gift and perhaps a curse, the couple Utnapishtim (meaning the Far Away) and Siduri (the patroness that gave mankind beer, rather as a consolation prize) put Gilgamesh to several impossible tests—like staying awake for a week straight or fetching the sprig of a rejuvenating plant from the bottom of the ocean only to loss it later. The king grows more sorrowful when he realises his efforts are in vain. The couple summons Enkidu’s ghost which restores Gilgamesh’s mood and makes him more receptive to their lecturing, which includes the advice to be the best ruler that he can be and create a legacy for himself so that he’ll always be remembered for his good deeds. This is the sort of immortality that man can aspire to and over-reaching can only end in heart-ache. The themes and the architypes of course pervade all myth and legend to follow but this foundational work I think deserves more exposure and study.

Friday 1 January 2016


Happy New Year, Turophiles! Best wishes to you and yours as we welcome 2016 and we have a quick survey of designated, predicted and scheduled events and commemorations for the upcoming time.
To recognise their nutritional significance, the United Nations has declared this year the international year of pulses—that is, your beans, black-eyed peas and other legumes. The Summer Games will be held in Brazil. The Orthodox Church will convene a Holy Synod. Most of the world will be treated to Venus transiting the Sun and the Juno space probe will arrive at Jupiter. Russia is planning to launch an orbiting hotel for space-tourists. Not so many bold assertions or much commitment there. It seems that only astronomical matters are the only safe-call for the world’s reluctant and conservative Nostradamuses, citing the inevitable march of time. There’s that which is called self-fulfilling prophesy. Maybe resolutions are for, after all. What are some of your forecasts?

Tuesday 15 December 2015

vitruvian man

Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic figure swaddled in geometry is an homage to an actual person, an ancient Roman retired general, called Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, whose pursuits after being discharged lent an indelible mark of humanising to the art of building and distinguished architecture from engineering, a romance of ruin and classical influence that has endured for the millennia.
In ten volumes, Vitruvius took a comprehensive approach to construction, effectively elevating a profession that had heretofore not garnered much respect, by demonstrating that the architect must have knowledge in civil-planning, history, agriculture, anatomy, building material, ceremony, measurement, physics and the logistics of utilities—the plumbing. De architectura was certainly drawn from many sources but it is the only surviving insight into Roman technology and aesthetic—their ingenious water supply systems, air-conditioning and manner of surveying. Anecdotally, the books are also the source of Archimedes’ bath-time eureka-moment. The illustrations were unfortunately lost but the manuscripts, discovered in an abbey in Switzerland, helped the spread of the Renaissance to the north of the Alps and prompted the Neo-Classic revival—and da Vinci’s depiction is a direct reflection of Vitruvius’ own scholarship into proportion and how we’re commensurable with ourselves and our homes.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

viennese sandbox: secessionist

Whilst in Vienna, H and I of course paid our respects at what’s described as a temple to Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) design. The Secession Building is not a museum on the interior, as we discovered after being confronted with a gallery of quite nice but incongruous exhibition of grainy photographs of rippling water and stars—though I suppose appropriate for celebrating the centennial of Einstein’s big and world-changing ideas, but rather as a hall for embracing the avant-garde as the founding artists had done.
The space was mostly empty and we had to wonder if this mop-head wasn’t in fact art or a decoy for one to make one’s own.
Descending to the basement, we discovered the Beethoven Frieze (EN/DE), created by Gustav Klimt, which was really a transfixing sight to behold with all its receding references: an interpretation of the composer’s Ninth Symphony (also known as Ode to Joy with lyrics by Friedrich Schiller), scored by Richard Wagner and performed by Max Klinger, in statuary-form.
The fresco itself also was executed only as a temporary decoration for a 1903 showing of contemporary artists, but was preserved by a collector with foresight and carefully prised off the wall upstairs before being installed in its permanent home. The Muse of Poetry looks like she’s consulting a tablet computer and does not want to be bothered (photography was not allowed and monitored, which made the experience all the more holy—down a rabbit hole of allegory) and stands in between an angelic choir and the monstrous giant Typhล“us, the gorilla creature, attended by his Gorgon daughters—all elements in the struggle of the tone poem that became a national hymn.
The frieze ends with a knight in shining armour having doffed his protection and embracing his damsel in distress, illustrating the final stanza of “this kiss to the whole world,” diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt. Outside we spied one of the ubiquitous pedestrian crossing signs that Vienna installed to celebrate its inclusive victory in the Eurovision song contest—depicting the freedom to love whomever.

Monday 30 November 2015

viennese sandbox: gasometer city

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the creative ways that municipalities have repurposed gasholders and other industrial behemoths.
Dreamily, I had mentioned the apartment blocks of Vienna as one innovative measure and was surprised to be able to see the site in person. The panoramic installation of four former storage tanks were in operation for eight decades up until 1984 when the city made the transition to natural gas for heating. Bauwerk des Dekonstruktivismus is the designation for architectural ensembles like this. The historic outer-shells were preserved—in part owing to the environmental contamination and the potential difficulties to be faced by new tenants without the support of the government and the city, once the landmark was retired extensive renovations and redesign took place, culminating in 2001.

The complex, joined by sky-bridges, comprises over eight hundred apartments, student dormitories, cinemas, a lecture hall and a shopping centre, and has subsequently fostered a unique sense of community within the four blocks, causing academics, ethnographers and urban-planners to take note with this phenomenon. I think it would be pretty keen to live in such a place, almost like living on an orbiting space station.