March 29th, 2010

memories only as accurate as the last time they were remembered?


Ten years ago, while experimenting with rats, [Joseph] Ledoux made a discovery that changed the way neuroscientists view memory […].

In that experiment, Ledoux conditioned rats to fear a bell by ringing it in time with an electric shock until the rats froze in fear at the mere sound of the bell. Then, at the moment when the fear memory was being recalled, he injected the rats with anisomycin, a drug that stops the construction of new neural connections. Remarkably, the next time he rang the bell the rats no longer froze in fear. The memory, it seemed, had vanished. Poof!

Ledoux concluded that the neural connections in which memories are stored have to be rebuilt each time a memory is recalled. And during rebuilding—or reconsolidation, as he termed it—memories can be altered or even erased. Neuroscientists now believe that reconsolidation functions to update memories with new information—something of an unsettling idea, suggesting that our memories are only as accurate as the last time they were remembered.


March 27th, 2010

Liu Ling the poetic drunkard

I always thought it was a shame that Alan Watts died at such a young age (58). And how incongruous, I thought, that he should die from alcohol-related health problems. But then again, maybe it’s not so strange!

From an interview with one of Watts’ associates, Gia Fu Feng:

Q. You’ve mentioned Alan Watts several times and I know that you’ve been with him when he was teaching. What was he like to be with?

A. You see Alan Watts was very creative. When he drinks he’s very clever. He was in a class, you know, at night time, he was all drunk. But his lectures were never boring. He was a tremendous entertainer. He said, “I’m an entertainer, I’m no Buddhist philosopher.”

Q. Alan Watts actually died from alcohol, didn’t he?

A. Oh yeah. At that time he drank whisky by the bottle.

Q. But how could that tie in with the Tao?

A. That’s from the Tao! The fact that he drank is totally in tune with the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove-his utter disregard for convention. One of the sages, a famous poet called Liu Ling, had a servant who followed him carrying a jug of wine and a spade. In this way he always had some wine to drink and his servant would be ready to bury him if he dropped dead during a drinking bout! It’s in the Tao. So Alan Watts’ drinking is quite Taoistic.

I stumbled upon this (here) when looking for info regarding his untimely end, expecting further tragedy. And yet — what a terrific story! I need to get myself one of those jug carriers.

Coincidentally I learnt earlier today that a wine jug is called an oenochoe!

March 27th, 2010

the vinegar tasters



The Vinegar Tasters, is a traditional subject in Chinese religious painting. The allegorical composition depicts the three founders of China’s major religious and philosophical traditions: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. It favors Taoism and is critical of the others.

The three men are dipping their fingers in a vat of vinegar and tasting it; one man reacts with a sour expression, one reacts with a bitter expression, and one reacts with a sweet expression. The three men are Confucius, Buddha, and Laozi, respectively. Each man’s expression represents the predominant attitude of his religion: Confucianism saw life as sour, in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people; Buddhism saw life as bitter, dominated by pain and suffering; and Taoism saw life as fundamentally good in its natural state. Another interpretation of the painting is that, since the three men are gathered around one vat of vinegar, “the three teachings are one”.

The full article contains the rest of the fascinating background of this cheeky and clever image.


12th Century Song painting in the Litang style illustrating
the theme “confucianism, taoism and buddhism are one”.

Here’s another painting with a similar — but unbiased — message. Wiki:

Song painting in the Litang style illustrating the theme “confucianism, taoism and buddhism are one”. Depicts taoist Lu Xiujing (left), official Tao Hongjing (right) and buddhist monk Huiyuan (center, founder of Pure Land) by the Tiger stream. The stream borders a zone infested by tigers that they just crossed without fear, engrossed as they were in their discussion. Realising what they just did, they laugh together, hence the name of the picture,Three laughing men by the Tiger stream.

Found by sheer coincidence! As with the first.

March 26th, 2010

practical aesthetics

Practical Aesthetics is an acting technique originally conceived by David Mamet and William H. Macy, based on the teachings of Stanislavsky, Sanford Meisner, and the Stoic Philosopher Epictetus. (wiki)

Mark Westbrook @ Ezine:

The actors on stage must deal with what’s in front of them in the truth of the moment. Nothing is more likely to disturb that illusion more than failing to respond truthfully if your colleague on stage accidentally drops the bottle of champagne. The audience will suspend their disbelief if they are not given a reason to react otherwise.

The actor employing Practical Aesthetics is in a constant state of improvisation. Each moment on stage is unrehearsed in the traditional sense. Instead, rehearsal writes into the muscle memory of the actor, the given circumstances of the play, including notes from the director and tools or tactics by which to pursue an essential action for each scene. In Mamet’s words ‘we prepare to improvise’.

Lines are learned by rote without meaning or feeling. This allows the individual line to serve any possible tactic without fixing a line reading.

Additionally, Practical Aesthetics employs techniques for getting the actor out of their own head. The actor places their attention on the other, and tries to achieve in the other a change whilst observing and adapting their approach to the new and changing truth of the moment. This takes the focus off the actor themself. Constant and progressive use of Repetition exercises adapted from Meisner, habitualises this practise in the actor. The truthfulness of the actors response is now only limited by what he or she can see before them and that possibility is endless and constantly shifting.

More @ “Practical Aesthetics — An Overview”

See also:

March 26th, 2010

mamet speak


[David] Mamet’s style of writing dialogue, marked by a cynical, street-smart edge, precisely crafted for effect, is so distinctive that it came to be called Mamet speak. He often uses italics and quotation marks to highlight particular words and to draw attention to his characters’ frequent manipulation and deceitful use of language. His characters frequently interrupt one another, their sentences trail off unfinished, and their dialogue overlaps. Mamet himself has criticized his (and other writers’) tendency to write “pretty” at the expense of sound, logical plots.

When asked how he developed his style for writing dialogue, Mamet said, “In my family, in the days prior to television, we liked to wile away the evenings by making ourselves miserable, based solely on our ability to speak the language viciously. That’s probably where my ability was honed.”

One classic instance of Mamet’s dialogue style can be found in Glengarry Glen Ross, in which two down-on-their-luck real estate salesmen are considering breaking into their employer’s office to steal a list of good sales leads. George Aaronow and Dave Moss finagle the meaning of “talk” and “speak,” steeped in fraudulent connivance of the language and meaning:

Moss No. What do you mean? Have I talked to him about this [Pause]
Aaronow Yes. I mean are you actually talking about this, or are we just…
Moss No, we’re just…
Aaronow We’re just “talking” about it.
Moss We’re just speaking about it. [Pause] As an idea.
Aaronow As an idea.
Moss Yes.
Aaronow We’re not actually talking about it.
Moss No.
Aaronow Talking about it as a…
Moss No.
Aaronow As a robbery.
Moss As a “robbery”? No.

David Mamet (imdb) @ Wikipedia

March 25th, 2010

in silico


In silico is an expression used to mean “performed on computer or via computer simulation.” The phrase was coined in 1989 as an analogy to the Latin phrases in vivo and in vitro which are commonly used in biology (see also systems biology) and refer to experiments done in living organisms and outside of living organisms, respectively.

I’d never seen this expression used before today, but I like it more than the clumsy-sounding alternative “on the computer”, at least for written language.

I read it today at the blog How Plants Work in the context of “virtual landscaping”:

Landscape designers have been using cad programs for years. But thanks to web-based apps such as Second Life® and Google Sketchup anyone so-inclined can landscape in silico.

I think it could catch on if more people use it — I was able to understand what it meant in that context, which is a good sign of its potential.

March 25th, 2010

no, Time! thou shalt not jest that I do knit

I need to get a job.

Check out more images of this Father Time doll and how I made it, by viewing the full entry below. I’m particularly proud of the solution I found for his skull.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Crafty, Time | No Comments »
March 25th, 2010

Holy recycling, Batman! Here come Hydrocyclone and the Ragger

I’ve sometimes wondered how recycling plants deal with unwanted materials (like staples in magazines, plastic windows in envelopes, etc) mixed up with the recyclables. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to wonder this; Slate magazine has an article explaining the rather ingenious processes involved in pulping paper for recyling.

When bales of sorted paper arrive at a mill, they’re fed into a huge, blenderlike contraption along with water and chemicals. The resulting pulp then goes through a number of purification steps. First, a long chain called a ragger is lowered into the swirling mixture; things like twine and wire wrap around the chain and get pulled out. A metal screen at the bottom of the pulper picks out more contaminants—this should be when your plastic window fragments are removed. Next, the slurry is spun around in a cone-shaped hydrocyclone—which separates out higher-density items like stones and bits of metal (like staples)—and then it’s screened again through a finer mesh. Finally, if the pulp is being made into high-quality product like white office paper, air bubbles and detergents are pumped in to wash away unwanted ink particles.

The answers to more “recycling stumpers” at Slate.

March 24th, 2010

veggie paper

A close-up of my colourful and fibrous veggie paper.

The inner edge of the apple card is dark because I had to moisten it
in order to fold it without breaking the paper.

Paper doesn’t have to be made out of wood fibres, and it doesn’t have to be bleached and smooth. I had fun making this fruit and vegetable fibre based paper (admittedly it’s quite coarse — like card) and printing on it with fruit and vegetables afterwards. I should have gone the full mile and made the paint out of fruits and vegetables, too!

For more photographs and an explanation of the process, read the full post.

Read the rest of this entry »

March 24th, 2010

mother’s day poem

Mum and I go on walks
for exercise,

though we scarcely exert.
I give my hand
to her.

COLD HANDS, she says.
Circulation perhaps,
we say.

I say,


Dad made me a framed sieve
from wood and mesh.

Finishing up,
he said:

He left to light the fire,
pour a whiskey,
and smoke.

I stayed in the garage
making paper,
heart warm.

March 24th, 2010

reasons for moving

Keeping Things Whole by Mark Strand.

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

from Reasons for Moving;
Atheneum, 1968

(via 3qd)

March 21st, 2010


Unemployed Girl. Kasimir Malevich, 1904.

March 20th, 2010

the realist


Each instalment of The Realist by Asaf Hanuka is a self-contained work of art, full of poetry, truth, honesty and imaginative visual storytelling.

It takes the banal scenario of a young couple seeking a new apartment and creates a rewarding and involving experience.

One page is published each week on the Realist blog (in English and in its original Hebrew).

The artist’s personal blog, tropical toxic is also worth a look.

(via lines and colours blog)

Posted in Ha!, Image | No Comments »
March 20th, 2010

when all else fails, tell a story…

From Margaret Atwood’s review of “Anthill” by E. O. Wilson in the New York Review of Books:

[E. O. Wilson] has written widely on human nature, on genes, on mind, on culture. Then, beginning in 1984 with Biophilia, he expanded his field of vision to position human beings within their own crucial ecosystem, the earth. It’s no accident that small children are riveted by other life forms: we humans emerged to consciousness in necessary converse with them. It’s only in the past fifty years or so that children have been brought up to think chickens come from the supermarket and Nature is a TV show. As with so many things, what we don’t know may kill us, and what we seem not to know right now is that without a functioning biosphere (clean air, clean water, clean earth, a variety of plant and animal life) we will starve, shrivel, and choke to death.

Wilson wrote one of my favourite books, The Diversity of Life and is renowned for his work studying and writing about insects, and ants in particular. His latest book is called Anthill, but this time it’s a novel, a fiction.

So, why has Wilson now turned to novel-writing? Those of us who’ve been at it for a while might have warned him off. Stick to what you know, we might have said. Rest on your considerable laurels. Don’t risk having the literati point and jeer; don’t give your opponents the opportunity to tear you down. What have you got to gain?

“A wider readership for urgent ecological messages” might be one answer. Many people have trouble grasping complex hypotheses and long strings of numbers, whereas narrative skills seem to be part of the basic human toolbox—an adaptation that gave those who could spin impressive yarns an evolutionary edge. Studies have shown that we identify with and remember stories, learning more easily from them than we do from more abstract presentations. (Hence the “stories” of such things as candles and pencils that we got in primary school. Are kids now being taught via Andy Atom and Ginny Gene? If not, maybe they should be.) Biologists—like doctors—are by their nature prone to storytelling: they study life forms, and a life form is nothing without its story, moving and changing as it does through time, through birth to growth to reproduction, then back into the ongoing food chain. Wilson may well have reasoned that he could get his warnings across more easily through a novel than through another “Nature” book.

What to make of Anthill ? Part epic-inspired adventure story, part philosophy-of-life, part many-layered mid-century Alabama viewed in finely observed detail, part ant life up close, part lyrical hymn to the wonders of earth, part contribution to the growing genre of eco-lit: yes, all these. But hidden within Anthill is also a sort of instruction manual. Here’s an effective way of saving the planet, one anthill at a time, as it were—preserving this metaphorical Ithaca as an “island in a meaningless sea,” a place of “infinite knowledge and mystery.” The largeness of the task and the relative smallness of the accomplishment make Anthill a mournful elegy as well: this may be all that can be saved, we are led to understand. But we are also led to understand that it’s worth saving.

Full review @

March 20th, 2010

charlie kaufman @ the red book dialogues


The Red Book Dialogues:

In the spirit of RMA’s recent exhibition The Red Book of C.G. Jung, in 32 sessions from October 19, 2009 to February 10, 2010, personalities from many different walks of life were paired on stage with a psychoanalyst and invited to respond to and interpret a folio from Jung’s Red Book as a starting point for a wide-ranging conversation.

In the following discussion, screenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman and Jungian analyst John Beebe interpret one of the images from Jung’s red book as part of a rather protracted but often intriguing musing on Jung’s ideas.

Audio from wnyc culture.

Other celebrity artists such as David Byrne and Billy Corgan participated in the event alongside academics and specialists in the field. See the agenda at the Rubin Museum of Art.

March 17th, 2010


GALWAY, Ireland—Two girls on a ledge, 1988. © Harry Gruyaert / Magnum Photos

Slate has a nice selection of photographs — by various photographers — of Irish life between the 50s and 80s. I like the less typical images like the one above. See here.

March 17th, 2010

inner potential

Irish comedian Dylan Moran muses on self help and “unlocking your inner potential”.

March 16th, 2010

the killer triangle: salt+fat+sugar

A killer burger. Fantastically communicative photo by Johanna Parkin.

David A. Kessler on our creeping diet:

For years I wondered why I was fat. I lost weight, gained it back, and lost it again – over and over and over. I owned suits in every size. As a former commissioner of the FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration), surely I should have the answer to my problems. Yet food held remarkable sway over my behaviour.

The latest science seemed to suggest being overweight was my destiny. I was fat because my body’s “thermostat” was set high. If I lost weight, my body would try to get it back, slowing down my metabolism till I returned to my predetermined set point.

But this theory didn’t explain why so many people, in the US and UK in particular, were getting significantly fatter. For thousands of years, human body weight had stayed remarkably stable. Millions of calories passed through our bodies, yet with rare exceptions our weight neither rose nor fell. A perfect biological system seemed to be at work. Then, in the 80s, something changed.

More at the Guardian.

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