January 28th, 2009

David Attenborough accused of ingratitude for nature…


God’s nature, anyway. He has revealed that he receives hatemail from seething creationists who deplore his lack of acknowledgement of God’s hand in nature.

It saddens me to hear that someone so admirable as Attenborough — someone who probably appreciates and loves nature more than a cathedral full of creationists could — is on the receiving end of this childishness.

Telling the magazine that he was asked why he did not give “credit” to God, Attenborough added: “They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator.”

Attenborough went further in his opposition to creationism, saying it was “terrible” when it was taught alongside evolution as an alternative perspective. “It’s like saying that two and two equals four, but if you wish to believe it, it could also be five … Evolution is not a theory; it is a fact, every bit as much as the historical fact that William the Conqueror landed in 1066.”

Attenborough, who attended the Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester in the 1930s, said he was astonished at manifestations of Christian faith.

“It never really occurred to me to believe in God – and I had nothing to rebel against, my parents told me nothing whatsoever. But I do remember looking at my headmaster delivering a sermon, a classicist, extremely clever … and thinking, he can’t really believe all that, can he? How incredible!”

Full article: Guardian

January 28th, 2009

comics, space and time

Scott McCloud explores the nature and potential of comic books/graphic novels as a medium.

January 27th, 2009

“i hate this city”

Das Mißverhältnis zwischen der
Einbildung und dem Sachverhalt ertragen.
“Ich Leide.” Das ist besser als:
“Diese Landschaft ist haesslich.”

Simone Weil

Well… maybe.

January 27th, 2009


Agnosia, a fascinating phenomenon, was mentioned in the article of my previous entry (which referred to visual agnosia). Wikipedia gives a summary of the condition in its various forms. A basic definition:

Agnosia (a-gnosis, “non-knowledge”, or loss of knowledge) is a loss of ability to recognize objects, persons, sounds, shapes, or smells while the specific sense is not defective nor is there any significant memory loss.

One specific form of agnosia is Amusia:

agnosia for music. It involves loss of the ability to recognize musical notes, rhythms, and intervals and the inability to experience music as musical.

Sounds incredibly unamusing to me! In fact that sounds horrible, but I suppose you’d be none the wiser. You’d feel terribly left out, and alienated from society, I would imagine…

I often feel I have the symptoms of what’s described here as “time agnosia” (the loss of comprehension of the succession and duration of events)… But what’s more likely is that I just have a highly selective memory.

Read about the different kinds of Agnosia at wikipedia.

January 27th, 2009

the “grand illusion” of consciousness

This was actually touched upon in my previous entry, but I thought it deserved its own post. An excellent article from NewScientist (22 June 2002) on an approach to explaining consciousness with science:

For the proposal “It’s all an illusion” even to be worth considering, the problem has to be serious. And it is. We can’t even begin to explain consciousness. Take this magazine in front of your eyes. Right now, you are presumably having a conscious experience of seeing the paper, the words, and the pictures. The way you see the page is unique to you, and no one else can know exactly what it is like for you. This is how consciousness is defined: it is your own subjective experience.

But how do you get from a magazine composed of atoms and molecules, to your experience of seeing it? Real, physical objects and private experiences are such completely different kinds of thing. How can one be related to the other? David Chalmers, of the University of Tucson, Arizona, calls it the “Hard Problem”. How can the firing of brain cells produce subjective experience? It seems like magic; water into wine.

Read further

January 27th, 2009

“no photography day”

Not an act of censorship, but one of celebration:

In Skye I snapped away at the ice and frost quite happily, and at my comrades, who themselves snapped, with their crappy iPhones, at tree and face with wanton abandon. Only one of us demurred. Some of us, he snorted, prefer to use our minds. I was not unsympathetic to his response. After all, it was only a few years ago, at sunset, on one of the bridges from Cambridge into Boston, that I had said the same to another friend, only not, I hope, with such preening pomposity. The essential complaint is given loudest voice by one Becca Bland, founder of ‘No Photography Day’, who seems to have required a few books about Zen Buddhism to reach her conclusion, that photographers are

“… missing out on so much of the given moment through their obsession, an act of possession—of wanting to own the appearance of the place, as if this was all it had to give and photographs were their way of taking it.”

Read further at varieties of unreligious experience.

BBC News article about “no photography day”.

January 27th, 2009

food matters

I want to stress, too, that this is not a new way to eat, but one that’s quite old-fashioned; you could even say it’s ancient. Among our ancestors, there were few people who did not struggle to get enough calories; it was only in the late twentieth century that people could and did begin to overeat regularly. Until then, most people considered themselves lucky to eat one good meal every day; many people spent half the year eating poorly, and the other half eating decently, though certainly not lavishly, except on certain feast days and holidays.

Mark Bittman is the author of a book called Food Matters in which, amongst his recipes, he argues for the case that we as individuals can do great good by eating less meat in our diets.

Listen to him discuss his philosophy on npr.

January 27th, 2009

beautiful science

A short but very sweet NPR broadcast: Paging Through History’s Beautiful Science.

“We’re trying to illustrate what is sometimes a slippery notion, and one that is often unexpected,” says Lewis, “to think of science and beauty, hand in hand.”

via growabrain

January 27th, 2009

shooting president bush


And I turned to one of my editors — First I said, “Oh, my God.” And he said, “What?” And I said, “You’ve got to see this picture of Bush. This is really stunning.” And I flipped it over to him to process and his first reaction was, “Wow.” And I said, “If he wasn’t just back there behind that door crying, I don’t know what that look on his face is.” Because he just looks absolutely devastated as he comes through this door after essentially ending his eight year presidency. And it’s just really striking. He just looks absolutely devastated.

Errol Morris’s blog at the New York Times website has a discussion with some of the most prominent photographers to have followed Bush’s presidency. They list their favourite images of him and say why they like them.

More (via kottke)

January 27th, 2009

the pragmatics of politeness

A Swede with a Chinese wife discusses the pragmatics of intercultural politeness.

An American acquaintance with a Chinese wife once complained to us, “I really wish she would quit ordering me around”. That made me laugh. What this is really about is that the Chinese don’t use polite figures of speech with their families. Indeed, they may be offended by them as such phrases mark an unwanted distance. You don’t say “Please pass me the salt” to your mom, you say “Pass the salt”. My wife does that all the time with me, straight imperatives, and I often complete the sentence for her with a joke to soften the impact of what I can’t help but perceive as rudeness. She’ll say “Pass the salt” and I’ll pass it, replying “…or I will cut your balls off”. Then we’ll laugh.

Read more: aardvarchaeology (via neatorama)

January 27th, 2009

the elegant science of OLEDs

via treehugger

January 26th, 2009

your funeral, my trial

Here’s Sonny Boy Williamson performing Your Funeral My Trial to what transpires to be an audience of apparently zombified souldead white people.

The ease with which he executes this flawless performance is remarkable. Effortless cool!

Speaking of which, here’s Howlin Wolf talking about the blues:

January 25th, 2009

Drink Your Tea

Thich Nhat Hahn is a contemporary Buddhist Poet, and he certainly appreciates a good cuppa.

Drink your tea slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axis
on which the world earth revolves
– slowly, evenly, without
rushing toward the future;
Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life.

Well yes I was being facetious; it’s not really about tea so much. But it’s certainly a philosophy I can wholeheartedly get behind.

Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced Tick-Naught-Han) is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. During the war in Vietnam, he worked tirelessly for reconciliation between North and South Vietnam. His lifelong efforts to generate peace moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. He lives in exile in a small community in France where he teaches, writes, gardens, and works to help refugees worldwide. He has conducted many mindfulness retreats in Europe and North America helping veterans, children, environmentalists, psychotherapists, artists and many thousands of individuals seeking peace in their hearts, and in their world. (read more)

Here’s another biographical page
, including Hanh’s 14 highly admirable precepts. Here are the first three:

Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.

Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout our entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.

Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.

What a person! You can read more of his poems here, here and here

January 24th, 2009

pastry parcel zen

Above: Argentine Empanadas

The joy of wrapping various ingredients in various pastries to create various variations of the pastie is something that has invariably appealed to various nations of the world over the span of various periods in history, it seems.

In Spain and South America, there is the empanada. The wikipedia article reveals that there are many many regional variations of the same dish! The empanadas in the province of Entre Rios, for example, are often stuffed with milk-soaked rice.

In Mallorca there are cocarrois — usually favouring an olive oil base for the pastry and filled with various mediterranean veggies (sometimes spinach and raisins).

Germany and Austria have their strictly sweet variation, the strudel.

England has of course the Cornish Pasty — historically functioning as a packed-lunch meal in a pastry packet for miners, sometimes with a pastry wall in between separating a sweet jam compartment (dessert!) from a meat and veg compartment.

Italy has its wonderful calzones — more like folded up pizzas, with gooey mozzarella cheese, and vegetables inside.

India have their triangular, fried parcels of vegetables and cheese: Samosas.


And America has… well, they have their Hot Pockets.

January 24th, 2009

Robert Graves


Do you consider yourself fortunate in having been a poet?

There’s no alternative. If you’re born that way, that’s your fate – and you’ve got to do your best. It’s a way of life. You have to be in the world, but not of the world, as the Sufis say. You can’t cheat and you must only say what you have to say and not what people would like you to say.

So that to write a true poem means rejecting as much as accepting?

What’s more, writing a poem is rather like finding the top of a statue buried in sand. You gradually take the sand away and you find the thing, whole – That is what poetry is, rather than building something up. It’s rediscovering what you’ve known inside yourself the whole time, what you’ve foreseen.

You’ve written that you write poems for poets. Do you mean you write poems exclusively for poets, or for people who live as poets do?

A poet is a person who lives and thinks in a certain way. A poet doesn’t necessarily write poems. It is simply an attitude, and there are a great many more poets around than meet the eve. I think about one person in 20 is perhaps a poet. The ones who are not poets expect something of what they think is poetry, which I don’t propose to give them. What I write is for people to understand who are on the same, as they say, wavelength as myself. I don’t write for an audience at all really: I write for myself. But the audience is presumably there.

What kind of people are they, these people who are on the same wavelength as you?

They’re people whom you can absolutely trust, instinctively; and they’re people who don’t argue. They are people whom you can trust in a crisis, and people who will never do anything mean. And they don’t argue logically. Logical argument is what destroys poetry because poetry is beyond logic.


January 23rd, 2009

ant-people descend on washington d.c.

Geoeye has a tremendous half-metre resolution photo of the National Mall in Washington D.C. on the day of President Obama’s inauguration. To use the overworn but valid analogy, the people look just like ants!


Click the above image to download the full picture

January 17th, 2009

get your oats

Porridge purists reject the instant varieties for the traditional pan method, which involves stirring the oats with a wooden ‘spurtle’. There are some superstitious sorts who still claim that porridge should only be stirred using your right hand in a clockwise direction to ward off bad spirits.

Superstitious or not, if you want to be a true Scot, you should dismiss all thoughts of a ‘luxury’ version with brown sugar and cream, and instead prepare your morning tastebuds for porridge with salt. After all, porridge was made from water and oats long before anyone thought of making it with creamy milk and sugar.

Oats have been grown in Scotland since the Late Medieval period and porridge has long been notable as the staple diet of crofters throughout the land. The mixture would be prepared at the start of the week, then poured into a ‘porridge drawer’, where it was cooled and consumed by a family over the following days. The solid mixture could be sliced and taken out as lunch to be eaten cold or the slices could be fried up for breakfast.

BBC Food has everything you always wanted to know about oats.

January 11th, 2009

google’s carbon footprint

Speaking of energy efficiency… Alex Wissner-Gross, an Harvard physicist researching the effect of computers on the environment, reports the following:

… a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”

Google is secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also refuses to divulge the locations of its data centres. However, with more than 200m internet searches estimated globally daily, the electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions caused by computers and the internet is provoking concern. A recent report by Gartner, the industry analysts, said the global IT industry generated as much greenhouse gas as the world’s airlines – about 2% of global CO2 emissions. “Data centres are among the most energy-intensive facilities imaginable,” said Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Banks of servers storing billions of web pages require power.

via neatorama

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