December 31st, 2008

norman foster london bus


Recently the London Transportation Department held a contest to redesign the iconic Double Decker bus, and we’re excited to announce the winning entry by renowned architects Foster + Partners! They’ve created a zero-emissions, super accessible, and environmentally innovative double decker bus that heralds a new era of sustainable public transportation for London.

More pictures & full article: inhabitat

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December 30th, 2008

2020 vision: DIY optometry


Above: A Zulu man wearing self adaptive glasses.

By 2020, retired oxford physicist Josh Silver hopes that his invention of self-adaptable glasses will have reached 1 billion of the world’s poor.

Silver has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.

The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered, that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription.

Silver calls his flash of insight a “tremendous glimpse of the obvious” – namely that opticians weren’t necessary to provide glasses. This is a crucial factor in the developing world where trained specialists are desperately in demand: in Britain there is one optometrist for every 4,500 people, in sub-Saharan Africa the ratio is 1:1,000,000.

Read more: Guardian article
via neatorama

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December 30th, 2008

about luck

Why do some people always seem to be lucky and others unlucky? Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire sought to find this out:

I placed advertisements in national newspapers asking for people who felt consistently lucky or unlucky to contact me.

Hundreds of extraordinary men and women volunteered for my research and over the years, have been interviewed by me. I have monitored their lives and had them take part in experiments. The results reveal that although these people have almost no insight into the causes of their luck, their thoughts and behaviour are responsible for much of their good and bad fortune. Take the case of seemingly chance opportunities. Lucky people consistently encounter such opportunities, whereas unlucky people do not.

I carried out a simple experiment to discover whether this was due to differences in their ability to spot such opportunities. I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. I had secretly placed a large message halfway through the newspaper saying: ‘Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $50′.

This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than two inches high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

Unlucky people are generally more tense than lucky people, and this anxiety disrupts their ability to notice the unexpected.

via neatorama

December 29th, 2008

passive houses

“Passive houses” are becoming increasingly popular in Germany and their influence is slowly spreading. A passive house is one which is hermetically sealed, highly insulated, and which retains much more heat than a regular house. It is so energy efficient that the body heat of people and appliances is effectively recycled and contributes towards keeping the house warm.

Inside, a passive home does have a slightly different gestalt from conventional houses, just as an electric car drives differently from its gas-using cousin. There is a kind of spaceship-like uniformity of air and temperature. The air from outside all goes through HEPA filters before entering the rooms. The cement floor of the basement isn’t cold. The walls and the air are basically the same temperature.

Look closer and there are technical differences: When the windows are swung open, you see their layers of glass and gas, as well as the elaborate seals around the edges. A small, grated duct near the ceiling in the living room brings in clean air. In the basement there is no furnace, but instead what looks like a giant Styrofoam cooler, containing the heat exchanger.

Passive houses need no human tinkering, but most architects put in a switch with three settings, which can be turned down for vacations, or up to circulate air for a party (though you can also just open the windows). “We’ve found it’s very important to people that they feel they can influence the system,” Mr. Hasper said.

The houses may be too radical for those who treasure an experience like drinking hot chocolate in a cold kitchen. But not for others. “I grew up in a great old house that was always 10 degrees too cold, so I knew I wanted to make something different,” said Georg W. Zielke, who built his first passive house here, for his family, in 2003 and now designs no other kinds of buildings.

Read more.

via kottke

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December 29th, 2008

das Nachhausekommen

I’m back from spending Christmas at my parent’s house.

I love this description of returning home by Ingeborg Bachmann.

Nichts ist mir sicherer als dieses Stück der Gasse, bei Tag laufe ich die Stiegen hinauf, in der Nacht stürze ich auf das Haustor zu, mit dem Schlüssel schon in der Hand, und wieder kommt der bedankte Moment, wo der Schlüssel sperrt, das Tor aufgeht, die Tür aufgeht, und dieses Gefühl von Nachhausekommen, das überschwemmt mich in der Gischt des Verkehrs und der Menschen schon in einem Umkreis von hundert, zweihundert Metern, in dem alles mir mein Haus ankündigt, das nicht mein Haus ist, sondern natürlich einer A.G. gehört oder irgendeiner Spekulantenbande, die dieses Haus wiederaufgebaut hat, zusammengeflickt vielmehr, aber darüber weiß ich so gut wie nichts, denn in den Reparaturjahren habe ich zehn Minuten entfernt gewohnt, und die längste Zeit ging ich an der Nummer 26, die lange auch meine Glücksnummer war, bedrückt und schuldbewußt vorüber, wie ein Hund, der seinen Herrn gewechselt hat, seinen alten wiedersieht und nun nicht weiß, wem er mehr Anhänglichkeit schuldet.

From her first and last novel Malina

December 21st, 2008

Church Going by Philip Larkin

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
“Here endeth” much more loudly than I’d meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation – marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these – for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

Philip Larkin

December 20th, 2008

the joy of soup

This blog by the self-titled Soup Lady looks to be a treasure trove of interesting recipes for soup fans.

I found it when googling for a recipe for radish soup. I’m at my parents house in Mallorca — we bought vegetables from the local market, and spotted some gigantic radishes that looked like enormous pink carrots.

I also bought a load of tea — they have varieties here I could never expect to find in Ireland, and for like 50c a box… Teatopia.

December 19th, 2008

The President’s Guide To Science

Aired: September 16, 2008 on BBC 2 ……. Horizon asks some of the biggest names in science to have a quiet word with the new president, be it Obama or McCain, in the Presidents Guide to Science. The United States president is quite simply the most powerful man on earth, but they often know little about science. That’s a problem when the decisions they make will affect every one of us, from nuclear proliferation to climate change. To help the new president get to grips with this intimidating responsibility some of the world’s leading scientists, from Dawkins to Watson, share some crucial words of advice.

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December 17th, 2008

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

via milkandcookies

December 16th, 2008

Protected: Life’s Liquorice

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December 15th, 2008


Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual’s ethical and moral well-being: “Virtue consists in a will which is in agreement with Nature.” This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; “to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy”, and to accept even slaves as “equals of other men, because all alike are sons of God.”

The Stoic ethic espouses a deterministic perspective; in regards to those who lack Stoic virtue, Cleanthes once opined that the wicked man is “like a dog tied to a cart, and compelled to go wherever it goes.” A Stoic of virtue, by contrast, would amend his will to suit the world and remain, in the words of Epictetus, “sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy,” thus positing a “completely autonomous” individual will, and at the same time a universe that is “a rigidly deterministic single whole”.

Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man, otherwise it would be admitting something that lies beyond its proper subject-matter. For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s own life. – Epictetus

From wikipedia

December 15th, 2008

nom du guerre, “war name”

The term “nom du plume” — a pen name or pseudonym — did not originate in France. It was used first in Britain by people who wanted a more literary phrase, and to whom the less widely understood metaphorical term “nom du guerre” (name of war) did not appeal. Then later it made its way into French!

From wikipedia:

Despite the use of French words in the name Nom de plume, the term did not originate in France. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, in The King’s English state that the term nom de plume “evolved” in Britain, where people wanting a “literary” phrase, failed to understand the term nom de guerre, which already existed in French. Since guerre means war in French, nom de guerre did not make sense to the British, who did not understand the French metaphor. The term was later exported to France (H. W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage). See French-language expression, although amongst French speakers pseudonyme is much more common.

December 14th, 2008

My Dinner with André

My Dinner with André (1981), IMDB:

Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, apparently playing themselves, share their lives over the course of an evening meal at a restaurant.

From IMDB bio page for Andre Gregory:

In the early 1970s, Gregory underwent an existential crisis in his life and work which essentially brought this successful career to a halt. Five years later, as he began to emerge from a period of doubt and introspection, he met with and shared his many recent experiences — all unique, some even bizarre — with a friend, the actor and writer Wallace Shawn. (Gregory had met Shawn when Shawn famously attended every performance of Gregory’s 1970 “Alice in Wonderland” staging.) Shawn was impressed by Gregory’s humane, articulate way of relating this painful time in his life, and saw the potential for humor in the huge personality difference between the two friends, and suggested that the couple consider staging these discussions as a movie. The result, in collaboration with director Louis Malle, was My Dinner with Andre (1981), one of the most unique, touching, and funny movie-going experiences in modern cinema.

My Dinner with André is on youtube in 13 parts of roughly ten minutes each. via growabrain

December 14th, 2008

Pataphorically speaking

From wikipedia:

The pataphor is a term coined by writer and musician Pablo Lopez (“Paul Avion”), for an unusually extended metaphor based on Alfred Jarry’s “science” of ‘pataphysics. As Jarry claimed that ‘pataphysics existed “as far from metaphysics as metaphysics extends from regular reality,” a pataphor attempts to create a figure of speech that exists as far from metaphor as metaphor exists from non-figurative language. Whereas a metaphor is the comparison of a real object or event with a seemingly unrelated subject in order to emphasize the similarities between the two, the pataphor uses the newly created metaphorical similarity as a reality with which to base itself. In going beyond mere ornamentation of the original idea, the pataphor seeks to describe a new and separate world, in which an idea or aspect has taken on a life of its own.

Like ‘pataphysics itself, pataphors essentially describe two degrees of separation from reality (rather than merely one degree of separation, which is the world of metaphors and metaphysics). The pataphor may also be said to function as a critical tool, describing the world of “assumptions based on assumptions,” such as belief systems or rhetoric run amok. The following is an example.


  • Tom and Alice stood side by side in the lunch line.

  • Tom and Alice stood side by side in the lunch line, two pieces on a chessboard.

  • Pataphor

  • Tom took a step closer to Alice and made a date for Friday night, checkmating. Rudy was furious at losing to Margaret so easily and dumped the board on the rose-colored quilt, stomping downstairs.
  • Thus, the pataphor has created a world where the chessboard exists, including the characters who live in that world, entirely abandoning the original context.

    December 13th, 2008

    leap second

    December 31st will be a long day this year. One second longer, to be exact. The earth’s trip around the sun doesn’t exactly correspond to our calendar, as it takes 365.2422 days. That’s why we add a day for leap year every four years, but it still doesn’t come out even, so every once in a while, another second is added to the last day of the year

    I mustn’t forget to set my clock back.

    Also via neatorama

    Posted in Ha!, Space, Time | No Comments »
    December 13th, 2008

    scary/exciting brainreading technology


    A Japanese research team has revealed it had created a technology that could eventually display on a computer screen what people have on their minds, such as dreams.

    Researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories succeeded in processing and displaying images directly from the human brain, they said in a study unveiled ahead of publication in the US magazine Neuron.

    While the team for now has managed to reproduce only simple images from the brain, they said the technology could eventually be used to figure out dreams and other secrets inside people’s minds.

    via neatorama

    December 12th, 2008

    The Ouroboros


    Kottke uncovered this interesting article on the Ouroboros.

    The Ouroboros (Greek Ουροβόρος, from ουροβόρος όφις “tail-devouring snake”, also spelled Ourorboros, Oroborus, Uroboros or Uroborus, in English pronounced /ʊˈrɒbɔrɔs/ or /ˌjʊəroʊˈbɒrəs/), is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon swallowing its own tail and forming a circle.

    The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end (See Phoenix (mythology)). It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished. The ouroboros has been important in religious and mythological symbolism, but has also been frequently used in alchemical illustrations, where it symbolizes the circular nature of the alchemist’s opus. It is also often associated with Gnosticism, and Hermeticism.

    I particularly like this part:

    Plato described a self-eating, circular being as the first living thing in the universe—an immortal, perfectly constructed animal.

    “The living being had no need of eyes when there was nothing remaining outside him to be seen; nor of ears when there was nothing to be heard; and there was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him: for there was nothing beside him. Of design he was created thus, his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself. For the Creator conceived that a being which was self-sufficient would be far more excellent than one which lacked anything; and, as he had no need to take anything or defend himself against any one, the Creator did not think it necessary to bestow upon him hands: nor had he any need of feet, nor of the whole apparatus of walking; but the movement suited to his spherical form was assigned to him, being of all the seven that which is most appropriate to mind and intelligence; and he was made to move in the same manner and on the same spot, within his own limits revolving in a circle. All the other six motions were taken away from him, and he was made not to partake of their deviations. And as this circular movement required no feet, the universe was created without legs and without feet.”

    December 12th, 2008

    Amish gene breaks down fats

    A small number of Amish have been found to carry a gene that helps to break down fats and lower levels of LDL cholesterol.

    It is hoped the finding will lead to new therapies to reduce cholesterol.

    The researchers used blood samples from 800 volunteers in the Old Order Amish community to look for DNA markers that might be associated with levels of fat particles called triglycerides in the blood stream.

    High blood levels of triglycerides, one of the most common types of fat in food, have been linked to heart disease.

    They found a mutation in the APOC3 gene, which encodes a protein – apoC-III – that inhibits the breakdown of triglycerides.

    As part of the study, participants drank a high-fat milkshake and were monitored for the next six hours.

    Individuals with the mutation produced half the normal amount of apoC-III and had the lowest blood triglyceride levels – seemingly because they could break down more fat.

    They also had relatively low levels of artery-hardening – a sign of cardiovascular disease.

    That’s all marvelous and peculiar, but what I find truly astonishing is how they got 800 Amish people to cooperate in such an invasive scientific experiment!

    BBC Health

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