Sunday 31 May 2020

anthroposophy and apogee

Acknowledging the esoteric dangers that have emerged from the pseudo-scientific disciplines that arose towards the end of the era of Enlightenment just on the cusp of Modernity that try to reconcile the onslaught on evidence that the Cosmos is far older and complex than we can account for with the Bible and founding mythologies, Geoff Manaugh introduces us to the writing of one Sampson Arnold Mackey by leaning heavily into the paradoxical nature of such ethnography and theosophy that it’s in the effort of nailing down a narrative that brings up the problematic nature of speculation and amateur pursuits.
Never going away just repackaged and given a different sheen, we look at impossible epochs and receding events that disappear from the archeological record dredged up from archetypal memories and leading down pathways—some branches potentially problematic, either in fiction, espousing dangerous ideology or adopting thinking that rejects any achievement outsized in the mind of the beholder technically or sensibly has to be the work of the supernatural and one is left to deal with various theories that state the Pyramids of the Ancient Egyptians and Nazca Lines were the work of aliens. Mackey’s The Mythological Astronomy in Three Parts published in 1827 is no different than modern day disaster movies that gainsay the slow creep of environmental degradation with something dramatic like the flipping of the Earth’s magnetic poles and makes a deep and earnest investigation into a pet theory relating to the procession of the zodiac—that we’ve moved on from the Age of Pisces to the Aquarian one, except that Mackey hoped for more cataclysmic and drastic transitions—plunging humankind from an time of general prosperity into an “Age of Horror” plunging the world into deep enduring winters and arid droughts. Life and culture are driven so far as we know by stability and not swings between extremes, however distance that time out of mind may be. The work presents calculations, and like trying to pinpoint the primordial flood that haunts and informs our collective memory is a way to privilege one original story over another and suggest in was the deluge that formed the Mediterranean, for example, or makes some similar loaded and elaborated assumption—which again seems to be the overreach of amateurism that breeds more fables—but still invites one to ponder if these larger, unfathomable cycles might not have some bearing on belief and behaviour and constitution and how disaster imprints and lingers and that instinctual awareness of a pendulum fuels dread and hope.

Monday 25 May 2020

toki pona

Invented in 2001 with its full lexicon published on this day in 2014, the eponymous constructed ‘language of the good’ has a sparse, flexible vocabulary of around one hundred and twenty root words set forth by linguist Sonja Lang whose minimalistic qualities championed by a small but strong community of enthusiastic ascribers employs a few words to express big and broad ideas and promote positive thinking—the project developed as a form of self-therapy out of a dark place—in line with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity that posts that one’s grammar defines one’s world-view and outlook.
Basic ideas can be used to communicate increasingly complex and nuanced meanings but only through an additive process that’s just as easily parred back down to its elemental concepts. Despite being rejected as imprecise by authorities, Toki Pona was among the languages subject to an investigative study on the ability of machines to understand natural language (even naturally occurring examples are parochial and political with prescriptive grammar) in context, significantly outperforming English and others. Because of the limited lingual inventory and morphemes, aside from the Latin script, two logographic writing systems were developed by Toki Pona students: sitelen pona and sitelen sitelen, the latter glyphs pictured along with the banner of constructed languages, designed by Christian Thalmann for the CONLANG family—Lang’s experiment not intended as an auxiliary form of communication but having in a way attained that status.

Saturday 23 May 2020

floating in a tin can

Via the latest Link Pack from Swiss Miss, we are enjoying watching this sort of anti-compilation as imagined from the privileged perspective of an astronaut aloft far above the world and peering into random living rooms seconds before drifting away almost as much as looking at any intentional anthology of cursed clips. These videos—which one has the option of watching through if so taken—are gleaned from internet with the only provisos being that they are unedited, no categorisation or description and have virtually zero viewers.

Friday 22 May 2020

dรถstรคdning or duolingo

Revisiting an endearing collective of librarians sharing the best of the worst from their best housekeeping practises, we also are finding ourselves re-acquainted with another morbid-sounding term (like culling) that’s really practical, affirming and necessary as part of a personal and professional project in Swedish Death Cleaning.
Taking decluttering to the next level and not just its inevitable conclusion, the exercise—the foresight not just for those who need to clean up behind you but also for one’s own piece of mind—translates literally as death-standing and signifies over and above the tidying up that is to be assayed on a regular, unending bias (sorry, dying’s not even a release from those chores) but rather a more permanent and reward type of organisation. Working from home, our librarian is unburdening from their stacks of two copies of a workbook that touts learning German in ten-minutes a day, which in hindsight probably was not the most effective approach to that undertaking.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

conversational implicature

First encountering this lesson on the “hidden rules of conversation” until I took the time to view it, I was assuming that it referred to the unwritten order of precedence for adjectives which English speakers follow and whose violations are called out—a fascinating if not narrow phenomenon in its own right, but subject tackled—quite well, the cooperative principle, the attainment and sustainment of effective communication, speaks to something fundamental to the nature of language—reinforced again by disregarding the above norms of exchange. The basic guidelines that define this pursuit of a social goals and consensus-building—as opposed to rhetoric and sophistry are known as Grice’s Maxims—as set out by H.P. Grice (*1913 – †1988): try to make only the contributions to the conversation that are confidently true, relevant, succinct and orderly. It was really engaging to note how much of our speech and correspondence can be implied and what mechanisms act as a leveller for assumptions, intuitions with those shared shortcuts being a vital and integral component for efficient communication.

Thursday 30 April 2020

speak of the devil

Founded on the principle of religious scepticism and gravitating towards the devil in the sense of adversary and ideological foil to theism, the Church of Satan was constituted in the Black House of California Street, San Francisco on this day, Walpurgisnacht, by musician, actor and occultist Anton Szandor LaVey (*1930 – †1997) in 1966.
Explicitly not espousing a belief in the Christian characterisation of the Great Dissembler or in fact any other deity for that matter, the orientation’s high priest saw the value in and reduplicated the organisation and the hierarchy, though as a counterpoint to the control and validation that the Abrahamic faiths demanded and by extension the share of evangelical prosperity that they tout. The Church also recognised the intrinsic value and co-opted some symbolism and ritualistic elements as cathartic and therapeutic—so called lesser magic with the possibility of greater, supernatural magic that was outside the limits of human comprehension yet only ahead of scientific understanding. Learn more about the Church’s history and tenants at the link to their website above.

Saturday 18 April 2020

le livre des esprits

With the 1857 publication on this day of Allan Kardec’s (nom de plume of Hippolyte Lรฉon Denizard Rivail, *1804 – †1869) seminal, gospel work The Spirits Book, the Spiritist movement (not to be confused with a parallel interest called spiritualism, which concerned itself with the ability and inclination of the dead to communicate to the living) is considered arrived and complete with this final codification that attempts to address the hard, existential questions.
The main tenants of the governing philosophy hold that all corporeal living beings are manifestations of essential and discrete immortal souls which need to become incarnate at increasingly higher states to attain intellectual and moral perfection. The major schism between the former and the later was Spiritism’s belief in the reincarnation, transmigration of the soul into other physical containers and dead relatives being unavailable for consultation through a medium and thus never took hold in the United States and United Kingdom (though those objections seemed to have lapsed in the meantime) as it did in other parts of Europe, South America and Asia. Another aspect that established religions took grave exception to was Spirtism’s theist nature—evolution-affirming in its acknowledgement that a supreme and ambivalent god set things in motion but then stepped away.  After Kardec’s death, his wife and co-founder Amรฉlie Boudet became the movement’s leading authority. There are upwards of twenty-million adherents world-wide, with the majority in Brazil and Vietnam.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

voyage autour de ma chamber

Via Cynical-C, we are invited to indulge the travelogue and memoir by revolutionary army officer Xavier de Maistre (*1763 – †1852) penned whilst he was confined to quarters for six weeks (forty-two days) as punishment for participating in an illegal duel.
Serving his sentence without stint nor quarrel, this is the sort of reflective appreciation that we could all take a cue from—especially when so many are not afforded the same luxury—de Maistre satirises the traditional gap year, grand tour narrative accorded to young men of sufficient rank of the continent and journeys about his suite of rooms as if his furnishings were exotic locations. The work is not only the author’s amblings and impressions but also really engages the imagination of his audience in a sympathetic manner—surprising as de Maistre never expected to have a readership and had no intention to publish it, but his brother was so taken with the account, he had it put in print.

Friday 6 March 2020

the winnowing oar

Via Kottke’s Quick Links, we really enjoyed this thoughtful farewell send-off that the intrepid explorers at Atlas Obscura created for their out-going boss in a small shed on a plot of land not far from the crossroads of the historic highway Route 66 as a ritual repository inviting individuals, as their CEO did as the collection’s first contributor, to leave parts of their former selves behind to acknowledge and honour life’s transitions and pivot points.  We really liked this idea, especially after charting out so many curious places and compendia to have created a spot of their own. It reminds me of Tiresias’ instructions to Odysseus as an act of propitiation to take an oar from his ship and to walk inland until he reaches people who’ve never heard of the sea and mistake the implement he is bearing for a cradle to separate the wheat from the chaff (แผ€ฮธฮทฯฮทฮปฮฟฮนฮณฯŒฯ‚)—and there make sacrifice to Poseidon for making it home. Much more to discover with Atlas Obscura at the link up top. 

Thursday 5 March 2020


goetheanum: a visit to the seat of the General Anthroposophical Society in Dornach in the canton of Solothurn

0107 – b moll: a brilliant short by filmmaker Hiroshi Kondo on cityscapes, commutes and light—via Waxy

musical instrument digital interface: every possible melody has been played in MIDI format, copyrighted and promptly released into public domain

pivot point: we are entering the era of Peak Car—see also

gratuitous diacritics: a peek inside the world of extreme heavy metal logos—via Things Magazine

autoritatto: an artist commissions a neural network to generate her a self-portrait out of thousands of selfies

it’s big, it’s heavy, it’s wood: documenting the wildlife traffic over this log bridge in Pennsylvania enters its second year

Monday 2 March 2020


We’re familiar with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave but our thanks to Fancy Notions for referring us to this 1973 animated short illustrated by Dick Oden and narrated by Orson Welles that we had not encountered beforehand. The dialogue of Socrates and his interlocutor, portrayed as Plato’s brother Glaucon, that puts forth this archetypal thought-experiment contrasts the power of education and enlightenment and wilful ignorance and how shadows can limn our reality.

Monday 27 January 2020

diacope and deposition

People—especially those who are disenfranchised—will glom onto any minutiae no matter how trivial or incredulous if they detect an advantage and can imagine how it might leverage their team, but what’s even more surpassingly unbelievable, as Geoff Manaugh ponders and invites us to come along, is the magical thinking with which we make totems and talismans out of blandishing characterisations that cling to the margins of justice and framing policy.

What do you think? Truth and justice are to be upheld and suffer a thousand cuts, and as Napoleon put it “Repetition is the strongest of the rhetorical tools” and the only one worth having in one’s quiver. It’s not just the lie but its dissection and rehashing that drain people’s ability to attend and make informed choices, but we like—need this narrative of the last straw even though for institutional change or preservation, cherished symbols are rarely imbued with the power to affect real, enduring change for politics despite the effect that they have for the polity.

Friday 24 January 2020

meet the neons

Samsung’s STAR Labs have created virtual beings, imbued with artificial and adversarial intelligence that behave convincingly like human beings and are poised to get even better once escaping the laboratory and confines of a consumer electronics exposition.
What do you think? An extension of the electronic personal assistant, a spokesperson (which may be a neon himself and does not realise it) explained that bots are being developed for a future wherein “humans are human and machines more humane” with the new companion especially suited for roles as bank tellers, news anchors, health care providers, financial consultants and lawyers.

Friday 29 November 2019

peanuts gallery

Having had this top detail of a comic strip panel inhabiting my image archives for some time now and not really understanding where it was from, I appreciated having it put into context with this nice, grateful recollection of the eminent author and visit to a past exhibition that brought some insight to the interior (both mental and stylistic) of Charles M Schulz’ characters (see also) that particularly underscore questions of generational divides and how perspective is born of attention as much as intention.
One might not have paid much notice to backgrounds of comics (and cartoons) that contemporary eyes might label as sparse and minimalist but they were really couched in a MidCentury Modern sentiment that informed the entire aesthetic. Note the furnishings by Ray and Charles Eames and other iconic designers in the  panel (March 1953) to your right alone, which was faithfully recreated with actual artefacts of the age, and more will creep into focus next time you peruse the funny pages.

Wednesday 27 November 2019


In an experiment that lends credence to the idea that we are living in a massive simulation, we learn via Slashdot that Moscow area dairy farmers have outfitted their cows with custom-made virtual reality headsets to furnish them with nicer scenery and thus boosting their overall welfare.  While the cows’ well-being seems to have benefited, it is yet inconclusive if the experience yields more or better milk—as was the stated goal, and it’s also unclear how traumatic it might be for our bovine friends to be ripped back to the reality of their bleak environs from a pleasant summer pasture.

Friday 1 November 2019

world vegan day

In honour of the anniversary of the founding of the animal rights society and publication of the movement’s first newsletter with its first coinage of the term in November of 1944 by English activist and advocate Donald Watson (*1910 – †2005), this day amidst the harvesting (and slaughter), feasting and revelry of this transitional time of year is set aside for education and outreach on living without exploiting fellow animals.
We’re getting there slowly and really admire and respect those who questioned our imagined station and dominion all those decades hence and how easily many of us have it now with the luxury of choice and mainstream alternatives. This older event poster, directly inspired by the banner of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Ingsoc (Newspeak for English Socialism) Party, strikes me as deliciously ironic, especially for those who seek and attribute cultish overtones to the lifestyle choice out of fear. One party slogan is after all, “Proles and Animals are free.” Do read some of the literature and lean into the science and come to your own conclusions.  

Thursday 10 October 2019

circle of friends

First proposed in the 1990s by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the eponymous number suggests a range of values to the number of socially significant relationships that individuals can maintain, pinning—and certainly not without inviting rigourous debate—the number of cohesive and stable groupings to around one hundred-fifty.
Arriving at this number through ethnographical studies and researching the cognitive capacity of non-human primates defined three categories of decreasing connection as bands, kinships and tribes, being the broadest and largest affiliation. Though perhaps the original studies were skewed towards the WEIRDs and there are appreciable cultural differences as well as varying capacity for differing personality types, the foundation of the theory seems solid and is reflected in institutions and organic organization. The critical question that presently scrutinises Dunbar’s Number is whether social media, especially for those digital natives who have never known a time without an online presence, changes that ratio. What do you think? It is unclear if we are increasing our reach and ability to sustain meaningful relationships with the help of technology or if like the low-demand but rewarding feeling of accomplishment that we get from amplifying outrage, this sort of popularity is a poor substitute for substance.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

head and shoulders

Via Kottke’s Quick Links, we find ourselves confronted, buffeted by the prรฆternatural canniness of this royalty-free stock photo library of faces (see previously here and here)—one hundred thousand of them but surely these legions are limitless—all generated by machine to use as one sees fit.  Summoning these beings into existence of a sort, undoubtedly we owe some responsibility for these models and this endless gallery, real from synthetic indistinguishable must evoke a sense of empathy. If people really did have the conviction that a camera could steal one’s soul, there are more superstitions to overcome, but maybe there comes a point when the liminal acquire agency and identity. Conveniently, one can download this whole population from the Phantom Zone as a compressed file. What do you think? H teases me because I was set against getting a robotic lawnmower, anticipating that it might not have chosen that life of toil. I was being serious, wondering what careless capricious impulses might be driving us.

Friday 20 September 2019


foreverspin: a lovely film exploring the cross-cultural phenomenon of tops by the design duo Ray and Charles Eames (previously) with a playful, cinematic score by Elmer Bernstein

empire state of mind: re-examining the legacy of the Russian Revolution for Central Asia

bereitschaftspotential: an abiding experiment refuting free will seems to have been overturned, via The New Shelton Wet/Dry

east enders: Spitalfields Life celebrates its tenth anniversary revisiting some of the Gentle Author’s favourite posts

long play: a major drinks conglomerate pledges to spin plastic straws into vinyl records in the transition away from single use items

rendered environments: ambient animations from Georgian artist Sandro Tatinashvili

axis of rotation: a master-class in the art of the yo-yo

Wednesday 4 September 2019

first do no harm

We really appreciated this primer on cultivating the practise of meditation and mindfulness from Open Culture and found the segue, introducing our urge to conflate what’s by its nature simple with what’s easy and effortless, especially resonant and a draws one into reading the rest of the article.
Easier said than done, vice is far more amenable to marketing and branding than virtue, and our intuitive senses fail us along with patience and persistence and the advice we dispense to ourselves.  Like misapprehending the better for the Good, we imperil ourselves with overexposure to the vulnerabilities of denying gradualism in favour of the illusion of big and sudden change and instant results.  We cannot avail our compassion, I think without some impossibly big ask of enlightenment that’s unreasonable to expect of novices just muddling through, for institutional, caretaker sort of change and progress without sacrificing or compromising something of ourselves.  Much more to contemplate at the link up top.