30 September 2009

"The jungle revels in debauched lewdness"

Somewhere earlier this summer I encountered a review of Conquest of the Useless; Reflections on the Making of Fitzcarraldo, a new book by Werner Herzog (Ecco/Harper Collins, 2009). It's a curious book, created apparently by transcribing his notebooks from 30 years ago. It's not what one might expect in a "making of the film" book - it's almost stream-of-consciousness style, with disconnected thoughts and contents of dreams.

What was interesting to me was to discover that Herzog didn't live the life of a pampered director; he was on-site near the headwaters of the Amazon, living in squalor and coping with the incredible incompetence of local workers. Here are some of my jotted notes from the book to give the flavor of the contents:

12 – At the Indians’ request, we bring chain saws, machetes, and shotguns to the Rio Cenepa, as well as a large canister of poison for arrow tips. They no longer know how to make it themselves. Vivanco says they will pay for a spoonful with a gold nugget.

79 – The family who had given us a pot of hot water crowded around, and we fixed tuna for them and gave them tea; that is how it is done here – food is always shared, Cesar says, which is why there is no word for “thank you” in their language.

100 – Upon returning to Iquitos, I found the little bookshelf in my cabin encased in a termite mound; I had to peel the few books, the radio, letters, and journals out of the hard coating, and the most recent journal, which was on top, has been devoured, except for the cover, which is covered in plastic.

165 – One time I had grasped hold of a smooth sapling without noticing that a multilane highway of fire ants led up and down it. Then I made the mistake of trying to cut down the tree with my machete to protect those following behind me, but my blow was not strong enough and merely shook the sapling, sending fire ants raining down on me, getting under my shirt and in my hair, and for two days I was climbing the walls.

169 – The helicopter of the Bolivian president, Barrientos, flew into a power line and crashed from a low altitude. He had suitcases full of money with him, presumably from drug deals. The helicopter immediately caught fire, but although people were there and tried to rescue him from the blaze, no one could get close, because the heat made the submachine guns carried by the president and his entourage start firing wildly, and in the hail of bullets no one dared approach.

226 – Across from our headquarters overlooking the Nanay there was a huge explosion in a boiler, fortunately after the work day in the factory there as over. The one night watchman was blown to pieces and sent flying. A smallish bloody piece of him landed with a splat on our porch.

233 – Water is dripping from the roof, but the rain does not refresh anything. The cat has thrown up on the porch. The chickens are standing in the rain getting soaked. My suit is hanging from the rafters of my palm-frond roof, covered with mildew. There is mildew on my shoes and my notebook. you hang up laundry, but it does not dry. My shirts disappear without a trace… this morning a tarantula the size of my fist was sitting in front of me on the table, and for the first time in my life I was only half-afraid.

I've listed this in the category of recommended books, but it does tend to be repetitious and occasionally tedious, so most readers will be satisfied with a quick perusal; probably only film enthusiasts will read it cover-to-cover.

Addendum: Those who like the movie or read the book will also appreciate the movie "Burden of Dreams," the 1981 documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo.

Untethered space walk

"At about 100 meters from the cargo bay of the space shuttle Challenger, Bruce McCandless II was farther out than anyone had ever been before..."

Click to enlarge.

Photo credit NASA, via APOD.

Slovenia: 90% tax on executive bonuses

LJUBLJANA, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Slovenia's Parliament on Wednesday voted to raise the tax rate on top wages to 90 percent in firms that receive state aid or state guarantees, imposing one of the highest tax rates in the world...

It will apply to managers' wages that exceed 12,500 euros ($18,470) per month* and to bonuses that exceed 25,000 euros per year. The new rate gained support by all parliamentary groups and was imposed by a vast majority of votes...

'The new tax will have a small influence on the budget as it only applies to a limited number of companies but it still sends an important signal to people in such strained times,' Borut Hocevar, an editor at daily Zurnal24, told Reuters...
*The average monthly net wage in the country amounted to 922 euros in July.

One-stop shopping

Credit Robert Couse-Baker, via Suddenly.

Angela Merkel

Collage found at Izismile, where there is seldom credit re source.

A rotating dining room - built by the Emperor Nero!

Remains of the fabled dining hall have been discovered on the city's Palatine Hill, where emperors traditionally built their most lavish palaces.

The hall is said to have had a revolving wooden floor which allowed guests to survey a ceiling painted with stars and equipped with panels from which flower petals and perfume would shower onto the tables below...

The Roman historian Suetonius described the unique revolving room in his Lives of the Caesars, written about 60 years after Nero's death.

"The chief banqueting room was circular and revolved perpetually, night and day, in imitation of the motion of the celestial bodies," he wrote.

The BBC has a video which explains that the rotation of the room was powered by water.

Photo credit: EPA

29 September 2009

Covers of old paperback novels

Selections from a large gallery at Golden Age Comic Book Stories, where there appears to be much to explore...

Colbert addresses the use of Tasers

Via HuffPo.

"The money you could be saving..."

A Mad magazine advertising parody. Source.

Something to keep in mind during cold and flu season...

CLINTON When Sally Harpold bought cold medicine for her family back in March, she never dreamed that four months later she would end up in handcuffs...

Harpold is a grandmother of triplets who bought one box of Zyrtec-D cold medicine for her husband at a Rockville pharmacy. Less than seven days later, she bought a box of Mucinex-D cold medicine for her adult daughter at a Clinton pharmacy, thereby purchasing 3.6 grams total of pseudoephedrine in a week’s time...

Those two purchases put her in violation of Indiana law 35-48-4-14.7, which restricts the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, or PSE, products to no more than 3.0 grams within any seven-day period...

When the police came knocking at the door of Harpold’s Parke County residence on July 30, she was arrested on a Vermillion County warrant for a class-C misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. But through a deferral program offered by Vermillion County Prosecutor Nina Alexander, the charge could be wiped from Harpold’s record by mid-September [this story was dated Sept 3]...

While the law was written with the intent of stopping people from purchasing large quantities of drugs to make methamphetamine, the law does not say the purchase must be made with the intent to make meth...

Just as with any law, the public has the responsibility to know what is legal and what is not, and ignorance of the law is no excuse, the prosecutor said...

Harpold, who is employed at the Rockville Correctional Facility for women, feels her reputation has been damaged by the arrest, and that she has been wrongly labeled as someone who makes meth.

Her police mug shot ran on the front page of her local newspaper, she wrote, in a letter to the Tribune-Star, “with an article entitled, ‘17 Arrested in Drug Sweep.’”

The morning she was arrested, Harpold and her husband were awakened by police officers banging on the front door of their home at Midway along U.S. 36. She was allowed to get dressed, and was then taken in handcuffs to the Clinton Police Department, where she was questioned about her cold medicine purchases. She was later booked into jail, and her husband had to pay $300 bail to get her released.


Sesquioxidizing is not in any official scrabble dictionary, but should be, even if only for its magically positioned q, x and z. The word lives on the web, it can be found in "The Archive of Endangered, Special, or Fun Words", with the text: 'the word is derived from the word "sesquioxide", and thus not found in the dictionary directly'.

Using sesquioxidizing and otherwise TWL06 words only, on a day that things go your way and with the rack DGIQSXZ one can get 2015 points [upper image]... the bigger SOWPODS dictionary makes a difference. Words like 'jabberwock(s)', 'talaq', 'leylandi(i)', 'highfaluting' and 'acidulent', none of which are in the TWL06, allow a 2044 points move with the rack DGQSZXI [lower image].

Scrabble enthusiasts will know what TWL and SOWPODS are; others won't care. More info at Scrabulizer, via Metafilter.

Medical Horrors

A magazine from 1932. Found at MagazineArt.org, which looks to be a fascinating site to explore. Via (exclamation mark).

WTF is now TFW

The Wisconsin Tourism Federation has changed its name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin after being informed of the conventional interpretation of its former acronym.

Several people at the BoingBoing discussion thread have already pointed out that changing it to FTW ("For The Win") would have been better.

Via Fark.

28 September 2009


A veiled woman was out and about in Amman, Jordan, Monday. (Mohammad abu Ghosh/Associated Press). Source.

"Never tell a man the truth about the one that he adores"

I wonder if I'm the only person on this blog old enough to remember the musical comedy team of Flanders and Swann.

This is their performance of "The Armadillo." Those who need help with the lyrics will find them here. For a brief biographical sketch of Michael Flanders, go here.

Real crop circles

Aerial photograph of Kansas, showing center pivot irrigation. At low magnification it's beautifully abstract.

Irreconcilable differences


Green building

Not an "earth after humans" photo, this appears to be just exuberant gardening on a bank building in Barcelona in 1980.

Credit to jmtp, via.


Many caterpillars (especially moth caterpillars) are very hairy. The hairs provide a modicum of protection because they are often irritating to predators. When the caterpillar is fully mature and enters the pupa stage to undergo metamorphosis, the body hairs are often woven in with the silk to form the cocoon. In this example (species unknown to me), the hairs appear to have been arranged in a sort of protective tent.

Credit, via.

The oldest orchestra in America

Pictured above in 1871 are the 16 members of the "Pierian Sodality of 1808." Some nitpickers might argue whether the organization has been continuously an "orchestra" because in 1832 the membership shrank to one (a soloist flutist). But if they regrouped thereafter, they would still be older than the runner-up, the New York Philharmonic (1842).

They go by a different name nowadays - the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra.

Google Classic

Apparently this is old and all over the net. First time I've seen it. Original credit ???

Doyle spirals

Found here (top) and here (bottom), via Suddenly.

The scientific explanation for these forms involves Mobius transformations, and is way beyond my sphere of knowledge:
The theorem means that any four such circles that comes with one pairing transformation alpha automatically has another beta. The group generated by these transformations can be applied to the original starting circles to develop a beautiful packing of circles in the plane. If the four circles are all the same size, we simply get the usual hexagonal packing of the plane. But if the circles are of different sizes, we get something a lot more beautiful: a Doyle Spiral. The transformations alpha and beta will be loxodromic spiralling element whirling the circles all around and through each other.
I don't know if this helps...

Doyle spiral circle packings (DCSPs) are a rich resource for mathematical investigations with endless applications in computer-based art and design... Each DCSP fills the plane with closely packed circles, where the radius of each circle in a packing is proportional to the distance of its centre from a central point, These packings exhibit many properties – each one is massively self-similar, for example...

Garden sculpture

Via (which is not the original credit - nor is such ascertainable via TinEye).

Dregs of the human race

This shocking image shows an urban fox with a chain bolted through its leg - amid growing fears they are being used to bait fighting dogs...

A hole had been drilled through the animal's flesh after it was caught by poachers in south east London...

It is feared that fighting dogs are being let loose on the trapped animals either for "fun" or as practice for illegal fights...

In London, a number of cats have also been discovered "ripped to pieces" in the Rotherhithe area...
Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

It's a great day for conspiracy theorists

Two for the price of one, starting with evidence that the skull fragments attributed to Adolph Hitler are not his...
US archaeologist Nick Bellantoni found fragments from the skull believed to be Hitler's were too thin to be from a male, and suspected it was the remains of a much younger woman... DNA tests performed in a US laboratory confirmed the remains could not have belonged to the Nazi leader...
The alternative explanation, of course, would be that Hitler was actually a woman.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma...
Long-secret security tapes showing the chaos immediately after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building are blank in the minutes before the blast and appear to have been edited, an attorney who obtained the recordings said Sunday...

"Four cameras in four different locations going blank at basically the same time on the morning of April 19, 1995. There ain't no such thing as a coincidence," Trentadue said.

He said government officials claim the security cameras did not record the minutes before the bombing because "they had run out of tape" or "the tape was being replaced."

"The interesting thing is they spring back on after 9:02," he said. "The absence of footage from these crucial time intervals is evidence that there is something there that the FBI doesn't want anybody to see."

Photo credit Reuters.

26 September 2009

Gabions - then and now

Gabions (from Italian gabbione meaning "big cage"; from Italian gabbia and Latin cavea meaning "cage") are cages, cylinders, or boxes filled with soil or sand that are used in civil engineering, road building, and military application. For erosion control caged riprap is used. For dams or foundation construction, cylindrical metal structures are used. In a military context, earth or sand-filled gabions are used to protect artillery crews.
I've seen these for years at road construction and shoreline stabilization sites, but never knew what they were called, nor did I realize that the principle had been used in the 16th century to protect cannon emplacements:
In the medieval era, gabions were... made from wickerwork and filled with earth for use as military fortifications. These early military gabions were used to protect field artillery gunners. The wickerwork cylinders were light and could be carried relatively conveniently in the ammunition train, particularly if they were made in several diameters to fit one in another. At the site of use in the field, they could be stood on end, staked in position, and filled with soil to form an effective wall around the gun.
You learn something every day.

Ancient stairway

Obviously carved into fissured rock on the side of a mountain, with a cross carved next to the steps. Photo found at Pixdaus without further identification or credit re source, and with tags indicating "Anglo-Saxon" and "england," which surprises me a little. It looks more like something that might have been created in central Europe or perhaps a monastery in the Greece/Adriatic area. Does anyone recognize it? (Click to enlarge)

Addendum - identified by Anonymous as follows "Stony stairway from the 13th century. The stairway is part of a rock castle in the mountains “Elbsandsteingebirge” in Sachsen, Germany." Continuing a string of my never being able to ask a question here that someone didn't have the answer to. Amazing. Thanks.

Korean house numbers

In most countries, when you are looking for a house you can follow the numbers on the buildings. They are arranged in a logical numbered sequence, right? Not in Korea. Next to House No. 1 could be house No. 88 or anything! House No. 2 will probably be half a mile away. Why? I wondered. Something to do with confusing the invading North Korean troops when they arrive, as somebody helpfully suggested? No. Apparently, they are numbered according to their age. So No. 1 will be the oldest house on the street. What happens if they tear it down and build a new one on the same spot, God only knows. Anyway, what it all means is that giving your address to a taxi driver is next-to-useless. You have to guide them every step of the way.
Photo credit to Hovs.


I like the man, but this is kind of spooky.
On Wednesday, the Obamas hosted a reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, during which they stood for 130 photographs with visiting foreign dignitaries in town for the UN meeting. The President has exactly the same smile in every single shot. See for yourself — the pictures are up on the State Department’s flickr (link). And, of course, compressed into 20 seconds for your viewing pleasure.
One does, of course, have sympathy for someone whose job description includes posing for 130 photos with strangers during an afternoon reception. I know that's the very essence of politics and diplomacy, but I wouldn't do it.

Credit Eric Spiegelman, via Neatorama.

There's a metaphor here...

...or perhaps a simile. Just can't think of anything right now. But a cool photo, found at Suddenly.

Canine Regulations

Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

25 September 2009

Galileo justified

Hammer and feather dropped on the moon...


Designed by a London architect:
The product is made of carbon fibre, laminated with rubber on the side that touches the floor and leather on the side next to the skin... This form felt light and airy on the foot. So we called it the ‘Mojito’ as it was rather like a twist of lime skin.
Via Neatorama.

Is this a metaphor for the American political system?

Credit, via Illusion360.


"Hailed by Time magazine shortly after its completion as Wright's "most beautiful job," it is also listed among Smithsonian magazine's Life List of 28 places "to visit before ...it's too late." It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. In 1991, members of the American Institute of Architects named the house the "best all-time work of American architecture" and in 2007, it was ranked twenty-ninth on the list of America's Favorite Architecture according to the AIA."
Fallingwater has also been called RisingMildew by some wags, and it has developed some structural problems, perhaps not unexpectedly for a home built in the 1930s. The video above is done with computer graphics; it's a bit fast and "zoomy," but still interesting. Another interesting video rendition is the walkthrough done with a Half Life engine.


Click the photo to see the entire image, and then click it again to view as wallpaper.

We all see this every week - but not from this perspective. Looking at this abundance and variety has to give one pause...

Wallachian parking lot?

Had this been created by Vlad Tepes, the spindle would have entered the tailpipe. This was actually "The Spindle," an iconic sculpture in Berwyn for twenty years. It was eventually demolished after an eBay auction failed to provide any bidders.

Car enthusiasts are invited to identify the makes/models/years of the 8 cars.

Photo credit johnmartine63.


European depiction of the Persian (Iranian) doctor Al-Razi, in Gerardus Cremonensis "Recueil des traités de médecine" 1250-1260.

For those unfamiliar with the procedure, uroscopy is explained here.

Image credit, via (exclamation mark).

More info re water ice on Mars

Above: A fresh, 6-meter-wide, 1.33-meter-deep crater on Mars photographed on Oct. 18, 2008, and again on Jan. 14, 2009, by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera. The bright material is ice, which fades from Oct. to Jan. because of sublimation and obscuration by settling dust.
Meteorites recently striking Mars have exposed deposits of frozen water not far below the Martian surface. Pictures of the impact sites taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show that frozen water may be available to explorers of the Red Planet at lower latitudes than previously thought...

So far, the camera team has found bright ice exposed at five Martian sites with new craters that range in depth from approximately half a meter to 2.5 meters (1.5 feet to 8 feet). The craters did not exist in earlier images of the same sites. Bright patches darkened in the weeks following initial observations, as freshly exposed ice vaporized into the thin Martian atmosphere...
More info at the NASA website (whence also the image credit).


I haven't checked the equivalence of the two statements, but anagrams of long passages are not difficult to create.

Here are two examples from my files (credit unknown):

"To be or not to be: that is the question, whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune..."

Anagrams as: "In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten."

And -

"That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind --Neil Armstrong"

anagrammed: "A thin man ran; makes a large stride, left planet, pins flag on moon. On to mars."

And finally, this famous coupling -

"This is my story of Jack the Ripper, the man behind Britain's worst unsolved murders. It is a story that points to the unlikeliest of suspects: a man who wrote children's stories. That man is Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, author of such beloved books as Alice in Wonderland."

- which anagrams as...

"The truth is this: I, Richard Wallace, stabbed and killed a muted Nicole Brown in cold blood, severing her throat with my trusty shiv's strokes. I set up Orenthal James Simpson, who is utterly innocent of this murder. P.S. I also wrote Shakespeare's sonnets, and a lot of Francis Bacon's works too."

Credit for the last one to Harper's Magazine (February 1997, letters to editor).

Photo credit.

I'll be glad when London fashion week is over...

It's like driving by the carnage at an accident; you feel you shouldn't be rubbernecking, but you can't help gawking...

The photos above are from a gallery of 16 at The Guardian. All of them depict men's fashion, only one of which is specifically called fetishwear.

Photo credits: Andy Rain/EPA, Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images, Danny Martindale/WireImage.com, Zak Hussein/PA, Yui Mok/PA.

24 September 2009

You're only as old as you feel...

Via Titam et le Sirop d'Erable (bottom) and unknown (top).

Nabokov edits Kafka's Metamorphosis

Nabokov, of course, was a respected entomologist, so his interest in Kafka's Metamorphosis should not be surprising. His lecture on Kafka is here. The photo above is of the first page of his teaching copy, in which he appears to be either correcting the translation or editing for improvement - not sure which. I haven't located the other pages.

The Staffordshire Hoard

I said yesterday that I wouldn't be double-posting material that I write up for Neatorama, but I'll make an exception for this once-in-a-lifetime event, and because here I can post more of the spectacular photos and append some thoughts of my own.

The news coming out of Britain today is of the greatest treasure hoard ever discovered on the British Isles - perhaps the finest in European history. Found by an amateur with a metal detector, the assemblage totals perhaps 1,500 items (they're still extracting them from lumps of earth), dating to the 7th century.

It's gold and silver, but it's not just coins. Included are clothing accessories, jewelry, and lots of armor- and war-related items. Every item appears to be designed for males, so the supposition is that this was the spoils of battle (or the accumulation of a lifetime in the military). The gold pieces are beautifully crafted with filigree and inlaid precious stones (garnet) and glass.

Pictured above, top to bottom, are a millefiori stud with an inlaid glass mosaic, a gold band with a Biblical phrase (in Latin) from Psalm 67, part of a design of two eagles and a fish, a plaque with stylized interlaced arms, a decorated dagger hilt, and an apparently solid gold buckle and plate.

I've spent a long time trying to wrap my mind around this discovery - reminding myself that this treasure didn't come from the time of Elizabeth. These were made a THOUSAND YEARS before she was on the throne. These predate the Plantagenets and the Normans. This is before King Canute challenged the tide. Before Alfred the Great, for cryinoutloud. These were buried before there were English kings. Before there was an England, if I may be permitted to say such a thing (although I guess there would have been a "Britain.")

Someone buried this treasure during the Dark Ages - a time when one tends to think of men scrabbling about wearing animal skins and fighting with pointy sticks. But behind them on the battlefields there must have been magnificent warriors resplendent in gold and silver and probably elaborate silks and woolens that haven't survived. It boggles my mind.

One other comment, which I may have expressed on this blog before. The Brits are to be endlessly commended for their thoroughly enlightened policy regarding the discovery of buried treasure. The law of the land gives half the value of the find to the person who discovers it. In many (?most) countries the government tries to confiscate anything found or repatriate it to presumed descendents, with the result that magnificent finds like the above from the whole of the world's history are routinely sold on the black market to wealthy people who hide it, or worse yet, melted down for base metal value by "potholers" ravaging archaeologic sites. Kudoes to the Brits for rewarding the finders and preserving their heritage.

Here are some relevant links (including credits for the photos above) -

Link to BBC article with a slideshow of 12 photos.

Link to a gallery of 15 photos at The Guardian.

The Stafforshire Hoard, is the “home page” for the find, which is being co-managed by the British Museum, English Heritage, the University of Birmingham, and others. There are 619 photos at the site, but the server is very slow today - presumably nearly overwhelmed with traffic.

Update Nov 26: The hoard has been appraised at £3,285,000, which will be split between the man who found it and the farmer on whose land it was located.

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