April 29th, 2010

meat love

Jan Švankmajer (born 4 September 1934 in Prague) is a Czech surrealist artist. His work spans several media. He is known for his surreal animations and features, which have greatly influenced other artists such as Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, The Brothers Quay and many others.

Švankmajer has gained a reputation over several decades for his distinctive use of stop-motion technique, and his ability to make surreal, nightmarish and yet somehow funny pictures. He is still making films in Prague at the time of writing.

Švankmajer’s trademarks include very exaggerated sounds, often creating a very strange effect in all eating scenes. He often uses very sped-up sequences when people walk and interact. His movies often involve inanimate objects coming alive and being brought to life through stop-motion. Food is a favourite subject and medium. Stop-motion features in most of his work, though his feature films also include live action to varying degrees.

More of his imaginative short films (like Food) are available to watch on youtube. Thanks Femi

April 24th, 2010

defamiliarization, “disordering the rhythm” of language

Words ought to be a little wild for they are the assaults of thought on the unthinking. -John Maynard Keynes

From a diary entry of Tolstoy, quoted in Viktor Shklovsky’s “Art as Technique”:

I was cleaning and, meandering about, approached the divan and couldn’t remember whether or not I had dusted it. Since these movements are habitual and unconscious I could not remember and felt that it was impossible to remember – so that if I had dusted it and forgot – that is, had acted unconsciously, then it was the same as if I had not. If some conscious person had been watching, then the fact could be established. If, however, no one was looking, or looking on unconsciously, if the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been.

Read the (short) essay, Art as Technique, which discusses the effect of defamiliarization in language. Thanks to Alice!

April 24th, 2010

dreaming as a learning aid

Volunteers were asked to learn the layout of a 3D computer maze so they could find their way within the virtual space several hours later.

Those allowed to take a nap and who also remembered dreaming of the task, found their way to a landmark quicker.

The researchers think the dreams are a sign that unconscious parts of the brain are working hard to process information about the task.

Dr Robert Stickgold of Harvard Medical School, one of the authors of the paper, said dreams may be a marker that the brain is working on the same problem at many levels.

He said: “The dreams might reflect the brain’s attempt to find associations for the memories that could make them more useful in the future.”

Could that mean that worrying before bed serves similarly to install the worries more deeply in your consciousness?

(via bbc news)

April 22nd, 2010

food that digests itself for you

The alien pods of the Chickpea plant, Cicer arietinum L.
Photo by wikipedia user botbin.

Raw chickpeas apparently increase significantly in nutritive value when left to sprout. But I read that uncooked chickpeas contain chemicals that inhibit protease — the enzyme in our bodies required to digest their protein. So how can one benefit from the sprouted chickpea if you can’t even digest it?

Apparently when the chickpea sprouts, it effectively begins to digest itself for you. It turns its protein into digestible amino acids which it uses to fuel the plant’s growth. Therefore one doesn’t need to cook a sprouted chickpea to make it digestible, as one does an unsprouted chickpea.

[anti-nutrients] are substances that bind enzymes or nutrients and inhibit the absorption of the nutrients. The commonly alleged anti-nutrients are protease inhibitors, amylase inhibitors, phytic acid, and polyphenolic compounds such as tannins. With proper soaking and germination, none of these are anything to worry about. Around the world, studies have been and are being conducted on the use of germinated seeds as a low-cost, highly nutritive source of human food. It is well established that when legumes are properly soaked and germinated, their nutritive value increases greatly, usually to levels equal to or exceeding those of the cooked bean. (Nutritive value is the ability of food to provide a usable form of nutrients: protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals). This has been shown for mung bean, lentil, chickpea (garbanzo bean), cowpea (blackeye pea), pigeon pea, fava bean, fenugreek seeds (a member of the pea family), green & black gram, kidney bean, moth bean, rice bean, soybean, and legumes in general. The increase in nutritive value in the raw sprouted seed is due to an explosion of enzyme activity, which breaks down the storage-protein and starch in the seed into amino acids, peptides, and simpler carbohydrates needed for the seed to grow. The seed is literally digesting its own protein and starch and creating amino acids in the process. Because of this process, sprouted seeds are essentially a predigested food. At the same time, the anti-nutritional factors such as enzyme inhibitors and other anti-nutrients are greatly decreased to insignificant levels or to nothing. Soaking alone causes a significant decrease in anti-nutrients, as the anti-nutrients are leached into the soak water. Soaking for 18 hours removed 65% of hemagglutinin activity in peas.Soaking for 24 hours at room temperature removed 66% of the trypsin (protease) inhibitor activity in mung bean, 93% in lentil, 59% in chickpea, and 100% in broad bean. Then as germination proceeds, anti-nutrients are degraded further to lower levels or nothing. Soaking for 12 hours and 3 – 4 days of germination completely removed all hamagglutinin activity in mung beans and lentil. Soaking for 10 hours and germination for 3 days completely removed amylase inhibitor in lentils. Normal cooking removes most or all of the anti-nutrients.

(via living-foods)

April 21st, 2010

mother HUBBARD

A Golden Hubbard squash (species Cucurbita maxima, a large variety of winter squash).
Photo by wikipedia user badagnani.

April 20th, 2010

an artist’s diet: fire and hot water


I wish I had the creative fire burning under me at the moment that Joan Armatrading seems still to command:

Before I can begin work on any album, I have to observe an important ritual: cleaning. It clears my head. Everything in the studio must be cleaned, dusted and tidied. It takes as long as it takes – sometimes even two days.

Then I check my recording software, select my guitars, ensuring they have new strings, and set up the computer ready to record. I play everything myself – guitar, keyboards, mandolin, mouth organ, whatever, and record on to Apple’s Logic Pro 8 software, which is much easier than the old analogue tape recording. Before starting the actual writing, I unwind with a cup of hot water with nothing in it, not even a slice of lemon – I’ve never drunk alcohol.

I can typically work from 6am and finish at 8am the following morning. I have to be completely alone when working – other people only get involved when it comes to mixing the album. Such solitary existence means no one prompts me to do normal things like eating, drinking and sleeping. It is only when I’m about to keel over that I remember to rest and refuel.

I used to work like that on animations: wake up, and jump on to the computer to finish the work that I abandoned the previous night at the point of exhaustion. I never knew I was capable of such concentration and passion before I got into that hobby. Time dissolves!

More from Joan’s diary entry at FT.com.

April 19th, 2010

neither eruption was unusually powerful


Astronomy (vulcanology?) Photo of the Day :

Why did the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland create so much ash? Although the large ash plume was not unparalleled in its abundance, its location was particularly noticeable because it drifted across such well populated areas. The Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland began erupting on March 20, with a second eruption starting under the center of small glacier on April 14. Neither eruption was unusually powerful. The second eruption, however, melted a large amount of glacial ice which then cooled and fragmented lava into gritty glass particles that were carried up with the rising volcanic plume. Pictured above two days ago, lightning bolts illuminate ash pouring out of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

(via APOD)

April 17th, 2010

never has a chart flowed more sweetly


This flow chart visualizes the difference in processing between teas made from the camellia sinensis plant.

(via reddit/r/food)

April 16th, 2010

tribal identity vs. modernity

Andy Thomason (1993):

When Emile Durkeim conducted his statistical analysis of suicides in 1897, not only did he help establish the sociological perspective and the science of sociology, he also touched on what many consider the bane of modernity, and what may be the inevitable result of civilization and human’s attempts to dominate the earth and our environment.

Durkheim discovered that men, the wealthy, the unmarried, and Protestants were more likely to commit suicide than Catholics, Jews, the married, or the poor. He found that high suicide rates were inversely proportional to the degree of social integration of a particular demographic group. In other words, the more individualistic and autonomous a group a person belonged to, the greater the chance of the individuals in that group had of committing suicide.

Further studies have confirmed his findings. Higher suicide rates correspond directly with the loss of cultural identity associated with greater affluence and autonomy.

Durkeim attributed this phenomenon with a breakdown of social bonds, mores, and moral guidance resulting from the increased individualism a rise in prestige and affluence affords. He termed the condition “anomie.” In later studies he examined the role of anomie in other sociol ills such as deviance and criminality.

Pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers stated in 1955 that Persons are constituted through socio-historical and cultural processes. Since then, many other theories have emerged–from symbolic interaction to social self and deviance theories–that all say basically the same thing with slightly different emphasis. Our “selfs”, our identities are forged by our culture.

Social bonds certainly existed with greater strength in pre-industrial societies, but the anomie described by Durkeim began with our first tentative step toward civilization, when initial, albeit minuscule, breaks with our tribe and the erosion of our tribal identity started.

Movement toward modernity has increased the number of choices individuals have, but traditional, tribal people have a more well defined personal identity. As civilization and industrialization increase social ties weaken, and as those ties weaken it becomes increasingly difficult to form an identity or connection to anything larger than ourselves.

In their own language, all the terms that traditional, tribal people use to refer to themselves mean literally “human” or “human being” and define what it means to be part of the tribe and what it meant to be a human being.

Tribal identity defines and locates an individual within itself and within the larger context of the world, nature and even the supernatural, gives human beings and the individual a place in the world, providing a framework in which humans can depend on to interact with each other and the natural environment. Tribes defined our relationships, forged social bonds, identities, and commitments, and gave the individuals a sense of security, continuance, and well-being.

Read more (Tribal Identity and Loss of Self @ suite101)

April 11th, 2010

creative mechanisms

Psyblog has an interesting rundown of 7 strategies meant to nurture or boost creativity.

I think I’ve used all or most of these before without knowing it. And I think that’s key, too, to creativity; if you’re thinking too much about it from this objective angle, then you’ve already come a cropper.

Number seven is good all-round advice, however. Re-conceptualization:

People often jump to answers too quickly before they’ve really thought about the question. Research suggests that spending time re-conceptualising the problem is beneficial.

Mumford et al. (1994) found that experimental participants produced higher quality ideas when forced to re-conceive the problem in different ways before trying to solve it. Similarly a classic study of artists found that those focused on discovery at the problem-formulation stage produced better art (Csikszentmihalyi & Getzels, 1971).

◊ For insight: forget the solution for now, concentrate on the problem. Are you asking the right question?

More at Psyblog

April 8th, 2010

what we see doth lie

Here’s a video I made almost a month ago but didn’t reveal because I wasn’t sure whether I liked it or not. Looking at it again, I like it enough.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXXIII

No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
They are but dressings of a former sight.
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist upon us that is old,
And rather make them born to our desire
Than think that we before have heard them told.
Thy registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present nor the past,
For thy records and what we see doth lie,
Made more or less by thy continual haste.
This I do vow and this shall ever be;
I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.

April 8th, 2010

spending warm summer days indoors writing frightening verse to a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg

The brains of shy or introverted individuals might actually process the world differently than their more extroverted counterparts, a new study suggests.

About 20 percent of people are born with a personality trait called sensory perception sensitivity (SPS) that can manifest itself as the tendency to be inhibited, or even neuroticism. The trait can be seen in some children who are “slow to warm up” in a situation but eventually join in, need little punishment, cry easily, ask unusual questions or have especially deep thoughts, the study researchers say.

The new results show that these highly sensitive individuals also pay more attention to detail, and have more activity in certain regions of their brains when trying to process visual information than those who are not classified as highly sensitive.

Role in evolution

The sensitivity trait is found in over 100 other species, from fruit flies and fish to canines and primates, indicating this personality type could sometimes provide an evolutionary advantage.

Biologists are beginning to agree that within one species there can be two equally successful “personalities.” The sensitive type, always a minority, chooses to observe longer before acting, as if doing their exploring with their brains rather than their limbs. The other type “boldly goes where no one has gone before,” the scientists say.

The sensitive individual’s strategy is not so advantageous when resources are plentiful or quick, aggressive action is required. But it comes in handy when danger is present, opportunities are similar and hard to choose between, or a clever approach is needed.

More (livescience)

April 7th, 2010

Easter Sunday over Totowa, New Jersey

Jason Das:


I love how drawing from life realigns my engagement with my surroundings. Field sketching is a lot like what I imagine meditation to be like — the wiring in my brain switches around. Parts I usually keep on switch off, parts I can’t consciously activate start working. And of course I notice details about people, plants, buildings, light and color that I never would have otherwise.

Then, at the end of it all, I get a drawing to show off! It’s a pretty good deal.

Sometimes I go out planning to draw, but generally I just try to keep a sketchpad with me whenever I can. I draw in offhand moments, in leftover time — while waiting for a train, eating a lonely lunch, or hanging out at a bar or coffeeshop. A lot of my best sketches tend to happen when I should be doing something else.”

(via urban sketchers blog)

April 5th, 2010

night of the carrots

Priit Pärn‘s 1998 animation Night of the Carrots is finally available to view online, in three parts: One. Two. Three. Thanks Tom for the head’s up.

Posted in Ha!, Video | No Comments »
April 2nd, 2010

hollywood suffers cardiac arrest

Tom Shone argues in Slate that Hollywood blockbusters are getting colder and more cerebral.

Say what you like about the directors who are regularly held up as the saviors of American cinema—the Coens, David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, Steven Soderbergh, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson—they all fight shy of the kind of direct strike on an audience’s emotions that is usually Hollywood’s raison d’etre. They excel at distance, dislocation, anomie, alienation, emotional cauterization, and cosmic melancholy, with a light dusting of irony covering all. Feelinks, not so much.

I agree that the balance between heart and mind is way off. And by heart I don’t mean sap and saccharine, I mean stories with truth and honesty and intimacy. A movie can’t invoke emotion if it’s not made with emotion.

Not that I’m not looking forward to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, mind. Or the next PT Anderson film, whatever it is. I appreciate a mixture, a balance. Slate magazine.

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