Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bannerman's Castle

BLDGBLOG gets a lot of respect around the net these days because, well, they're awesome. And they're obsessives and experts in a very specific sense.

Consider, for example, this neat little article on Sean O'Boyle's photographic study of Bannerman's Isle:

The castle was Bannerman’s vision and his execution. It was creviced and encrusted with battlements, towers, turrets, crenellations, parapets, embrasures, casements, and corbelling. Huge iron baskets suspended from the castle corners held gas-fed lamps that burned in the night like ancient torches. By day Bannerman’s castle gave the river a fairyland aspect. By night it threw a brooding silhouette against the Hudson skyline.

It's doubly cool because the castle (renamed "Butterman's") was used as a setting in John Crowley's AEgypt books.

"This is probably the coolest fish around"

--Per Scott Taylor, who discovered and characterized a fish in Belize that can live out of water for months at a time.

The fish, whose scientific name is Rivulus marmoratus, can grow as large as three inches. They group together in logs hollowed out by insects and breathe air through their skin instead of their gills until they can find water again. ...

Surviving on land is not the only unusual behavior exhibited by the fish. They have both testes and ovaries and essentially clone themselves by laying their own, already fertilized eggs.

"This is probably the coolest fish around, not only do they have a very bizarre sex life, but they really don't meet standard behavioral criteria for fishes," said Taylor in a summary of his paper.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Michael Palin Diaries 1967-1977: The Python Years

Just finished Michael Palin's excellent diaries of his Monty Python years. The level of discipline is remarkable--I usually miss writing down the days that have the most going on. It's also remarkable for just how warm-hearted it seems; not surprising, though, to anyone who's seen Palin's rapport with people across the globe in his travel narratives. Everyone seems to respond well to someone who's genuinely nice.

Great little interview (from the BBC?):

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halstead Street Halloween Parade

Sometimes you have trouble figuring out whether these people are dressing up for Halloween or whether they usually look like this.

Fire! Fire!

Monday, October 29, 2007


The overcast skies in Seattle over the weekend were offset by some wonderful color from the Japanese maples planted on balconies & yards.

View of dowtown looking north.

Banksyesque stencil on a pub wall. The city retained that nice early 90's indyrock vibe. It smelled like vinyl records and brewpubs.
More brightly-colored hair than I've seen all year in Chicago. Very DIY attitude.


Ten tales just long enough to send a single shiver up your spine, or distract you for a moment while the killer approaches, written and read by Neil Gaiman and nine other writers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Every Year Counts

A day is a tourist,
A year is a traveler.

An example of a commercial made as an excuse for art. Like this one:

Or maybe I just like the twinkly music...

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Summer of '07: someone brings back the classic rant-with-a photocopier method. These days nearly as extinct as an eight track. Note mixture of religious/ pro-marriage instructions with anti-China/ North "Koria" material. Also note photographs of models (?) included to attract attention.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Great Article from Wikipedia on Out Of Place Artifacts, including:The Saqqara Bird, the Baghdad Batteries,the Baigong Pipes, the Coso artifact, a geode which contains a spark plug from the 1920s, the Dendera Lamps and several artifacts that are supposed to predate humanity.


Fernworks makes great resin paintings of birds and skies and barbed wire, and great little "temples" of wood and translucent materials.

Quiet poetry for your house.

Decisions, decisions

Text and video from a masterclass by Daniel Kahneman, co-founder of behavioral economics. Even at the University of Chicago, where the economic actors are often assumed to be perfectly "rational", his research has made a big impact...yet for whatever reason, behavioral economics are not integrated into the curriculum from the start. Everyone still learns the neoclassical models, which have the great advantage of being straightforward, mathematically tractable, and very flexible, but which have the disadvantage of being wrong.

And by wrong I mean "out of line with the way human beings actually operate", which means in turn that they're going to give you incorrect predictions in a lot of cases. We knew this when we learned the models, but everyone "forgets" this fact in the effort to pass the classes. Since economic models correctly lead one to some fairly counterintuitive results, it's easy to think that all counterintuitive results are therefore correct, instead of thinking about the motivations underlying the decision.

Decisions, decisions

Text and video from a masterclass by Daniel Kahneman, co-founder of behavioral economics.

Decisions, decisions

Text and video from a masterclass by Daniel Kahneman, co-founder of behavioral economics.

Friday, September 21, 2007

What if the Middle Ages Never Existed?

Fomenko's New Chronology. Amazing what you can find rooting around in Wikipedia's attics:

The "New Chronology" is radically shorter than the conventional chronology, because all of ancient Greek/Roman/Egyptian history is "folded" onto the Middle Ages and Antiquity, and the Early Middle Ages are eliminated. According to Fomenko, the history of humankind goes only as far back as AD 800, we have almost no information about events between AD 800-1000, and most historical events we know took place in AD 1000-1500.

These views are entirely rejected by mainstream scholarship.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths...

I would spread the cloths beneath your feet.

Manhole at Hill & Wells just north of Walter Payton College Prep. I walk over this on my way to work but never noticed it before. The image is only really visible if you look at it directly--it shows up better in photos than to the naked eye.

Mystery Meteorite Illness

I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Lovecraft:

Around midday Saturday, villagers were startled by an explosion and a
fireball that many were convinced was an airplane crashing near their remote
village, located in the high Andes department of Puno in the Desaguadero region,
near the border with Bolivia.

Residents complained of headaches and
vomiting brought on by a "strange odor," local health department official Jorge
Lopez told Peruvian radio RPP...

"Boiling water started coming out of the crater and particles of rock and
cinders were found nearby. Residents are very concerned," he said.

-AFP, via Yahoo!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Magnetic Fields at Carnegie Hall

Great concert by the Magnetic Fields from NPR. They should put this out as an album.

Meditations on Time

In a recent interview with Mary Beard at BLDG BLOG, a book about Pompeii is mentioned:

it’s easier to spot political motives a generation or two after the

Another thing: one of the most famous excavations in Pompeii was the
excavation of the Villa of the Mysteries and its frieze, first published in the
1930s. These were fantastically lavish volumes – you know, more expensive that
you would ever imagine, in a fantastic vellum binding – which my library in
Cambridge managed to get a copy of. The book's got Mussolini's fasces on the
back cover, in gold emboss, and, instead of being dated 1938, it's dated Era
Fascista VII or something.

So we got a group of students together and we passed the book round, and we
said, "Do you notice anything about this book? Now, don’t think of the pictures
– look at it as a book. Do you notice anything about it?" And most of the
students said, "Well it’s lovely. It's really expensive, isn't it?" It took them
about a quarter of an hour before a single one of them said, "Oh, what’s this
here?" pointing to the fasces and the dating by Era Fascista.

And, had all gone according to plan, the world would have ended up in Era Fastista M, sometime around 2931 AD, and we would now be in EF LXXVIII. Happily, we never got much past EF XI, but I hear the book is very well produced.


In Ethiopia, they've just passed the year 2000 since they live according to the Julian calendar, as well as the Gregorian, in part depending on what language you're speaking. Addtionally, as one man in this story from NPR puts it, we have just finished the second day since the birth of Christ, since every day is a thousand years to God. 6AM is midnight, the start of the twelve daylight hours, and midnight is 6PM, halfway through the nighttime hours.

The story also features Muligieta, the most beautiful girl in Ethiopia and the Black Eyed Peas.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Two Nosed Dog

I initially thought this description of a two-nosed dog might be an April Fool's item on the part of the BBC, with a bit of Photoshoppery, but this appears to be real:

Colonel Blashford-Snell first encountered a Double-Nosed Andean tiger hound called Bella in 2005 when he was carrying out reconnaissance for this year's expedition in the area near Ojaki.

He told Radio 4's Today programme: "While we were there, sitting by the fire one night, I saw an extraordinary-looking dog that appeared to have two noses.
"I was sober at the time, and then I remembered the story that the legendary explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett came back with in 1913 of seeing such strange dogs in the Amazon jungle.

"Nobody believed him, they laughed him out of court."


A few years ago, I saw William Gibson give a reading of Pattern Recognition in the St. James Cathedral in Chicago. With the gold leaf and religious imagery overlaid by a network of tech equipment and halogen lights, it seemed like a fitting locale for the author of Neuromancer. I wanted to suggest to him that he visit Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, another Gibsonian location, but didn't get the chance.

On Monday, I went to his reading of Spook Country, held in the much less Gibsonian Borders on Michigan Avenue. Attended by a large contingent of hackers and ninjas of a wide variety of age groups, the biggest surprise was the predominance of oddly named people (Cinchel, Aramigosta, 9Jane) and people from unusual countries (Latvia, Belarus) getting their books signed, often with really long notes appended, until his hand gave out.

It is seemingly hard to ask concrete questions of the man. I for one drew a complete blank. He had some useful advice for writers, though, beginning with Damon Knight's dictum on writing: "Alice in Wonderland good, Alice in weird Wonderland good, weird Alice in weird Wonderland bad". He also had a great story about his first writing teacher who had spent several years writing specifications for the military and whose idea of a good writing assignment was, "give me 500 words describing this pencil in great detail...wait, since you're a beginner, just do the eraser, or maybe that metal bit that goes around the eraser here at the end." This resulted in him being able to do great descriptions of little machines "like a particular kind of switchblade" but left gaps in the early novels that he can detect now.

Reason #54: It's fun

237 reasons to have sex, a comprehensive list from a University of Texas study. One must assume that not all reasons appeared with equal popularity. Somehow, one is also reminded of other stupendously long lists, such as the fictitious 548 facial expressions, and of long lists of possible sins in Medieval church manuscripts (which can now be used as lists of suggestions of possible ways to have sex which one has decided to have for one of the 237 reasons, much as one used to use the purity test list of questions as a compendium of ways to while away the winter evenings when one was in college).

Friday, July 27, 2007

"This party is like...H'orgy, like horgy." -Terence Stamp on Fellini
I would quite willingly listen to Terence Stamp recite grocery lists and the ingredients insert of cereal boxes.
"I love you, David"-Love and Human Remains (in ten parts)
This movie had a big impact on me. I wish they would put it out on DVD.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter 7 short review

Finished a couple of hours ago.

Summary judgement: She knocked that one out of the park. It pays off like the finale of the biggest fireworks show on earth and leaves the reader completely satisfied.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter 7 Speculations & Spoilers

A large number of possible leaks and spoilers have gone up and down the Intertubes today in preparation for Saturday's release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Many of the big ones seem implausible given the narrative direction and texture of the first six books. If J.K. Rowling follows some sort of classic plot structure, there are three reasonale outcomes for the books, all of which follow from Harry defeating Voldemort:
  1. Harry lives happily ever after. He goes on to become Hogwart's Headmaster, Minister of Magic or Quidditch world champion. Most likely, he marries Ginny Weasley, they have children who go off to Hogwarts and the cycle starts again.
  2. Harry dies in the process of killing Voldemort or at the hands of someone else. I think this is unlikely to happen, especially due to JKR's large number of hints that this might happen; if she really wants closure, the worst way to go about it in this postmodern age is to kill the character off. (see also: Superman, Buffy Summers, Sherlock Holmes)
  3. Harry lives, but somehow loses all of his powers, either because they're linked to Voldemort's, because he somehow "burns them out" or because he gets put into a situation where exposure to magic is deadly to him in the future. This is a fine classical ending, parallel to Prospero breaking his staff at the end of the Tempest.

Other predictions:

  • Snape turns out to be good after all (come on, you have to have seen this one coming)
  • Draco does something to redeem himself and/or gets saved by Harry
  • It turns out that Dumbledore had been using Nicholas Flamel's Sorcerer's Stone to extend his own life until the end of Book 1, when his supply started to run short and he had just enough to "put his affairs in order"
  • Who lives? The main three characters, McGonagle, the Weasleys, Luna, Neville.
  • Who dies? Voldemort, one more baddie (Peter Pettigrew, maybe?), plus one of the remaining good guys (could be Harry, probably one of the Phoenix people, maybe Snape)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Strategy roundup

Possibly the best article on strategy in the global counterinsurgency effort to date. Some very sharp people are running around in the basement of the Pentagon. Sadly, they are way down in the basement until at least 2008.

The Heart is Deceitful

From the Washington Post:

If they ever make a movie of the life of Laura Albert -- and for reasons
we'll get to, that now seems unlikely -- the scene Wednesday in a Manhattan
courtroom would make a killer denouement...

For fans and onlookers, the unmasking of Albert, which happened in 2005,
was like finding out that John Updike is a robot. But it was a more serious
matter for the owner of Antidote Films, an indie-movie company in Manhattan,
which had acquired the film rights to "Sarah" back when everyone assumed that
LeRoy was flesh and blood.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A woman runs past me on Franklin St, wearing a black leather purse as headgear.
Is this the new fashion?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Great song dedicated to YouTube and Shortbus guy Jay Brannan by the talented Matt Woolfrey.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Origins of Minimalism

Short profile of Richard Serra, who had a "remarkably supportive mother".

In a chewy interview in the show’s catalogue with MOMA’s Kynaston McShine(who co-curated the show with Lynne Cooke, of the Dia Art Foundation), Serra tells of his mother’s first visit, in the sixties, to his loft on Greenwich Street. “It was barren, there was nothing in it but a mattress on the floor, I was living on maybe $75 a month. . . . She looked out the window at the Hudson River and said, Richard, this is marvelous.”

Update: More Serra
Update: Even more Serra
Update: Still more Serra

The Challengers

Our office did the Chicago Corporate Challenge...well, half of us did.

I think these pictures make us look like one of those third-rate superhero teams.

Nice flexing, Min.

Nice banana, Ethan.

The Profit Calculator

New York Magazine does a really good article on how various businesses from a yoga studio to Goldman Sachs make their money.

It shows further anecdotal support for the rule of thumb that an average, well run business is one that generates about 10% profit. High profit businesses are of two types: a) high risk, "winner take most" businesses where superstars rule (e.g., Goldman Sachs trading business, Nobu), or b) ones in early stage markets where risk and return are not yet well priced.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hunt Slonem

Gawker reviews a NYT profile of Hunt Slonem:

At first blush, the article reads like an exquisite corpse.

"People come and go in the homes of the painter Hunt Slonem, both the quick and the dead... Lunch is Louisiana takeout: boudin sausage, pecan pie, a local desert called ooey gooey. The talk is of a portrait, just hung, of Catherine of Aragon... Then
Mr. Slonem's caretaker calls with word of an interloper: a voodoo head, or
something that looks like one, has been found in the third-floor ceiling earlier
in the week and tucked away in a kitchen cabinet. Mr. Slonem goes at once to
retrieve the head, a mud-colored walnut-size carving of a skull, with a tiny
straw hat and pointy appendages. Then he retreats to make a call."

As the intrepid reader continues, he realizes Slonem is completely insane—equal parts James Merrill, Liberace, Valentino, Lou Reed, Bert Sugar, Keith Haring, and Scarlett O'Hara. Also he owns five houses. Not only the Louisiana plantation that is the focus of the article but another one a hundred miles away. He also owns an 89-room New York studio, and it really is awesome.

Love the parrot.

My friend Lance is always telling me that if he decides to stay in Toledo, rather than running off to Dubai, he's going to become both a)filthy rich and b)completely bizzare. He's got some work cut out for him if he's going to move from the gifted amateur eccentric category into the professional leagues.

Yonge and Bloor

William Gibson, poet of cities (Chiba, New York Sprawl, Moscow, Naughties London) dreams of phantom Toronto:

It consisted largely, I found, of the most amiable sort of repurposed
semi-ruins. A vast Victorian colonial seashell of blackened brick, shot through
with big, grim grey bones of earnest civic Modernism. I marvelled that such an
odd place could have existed without my having heard of it. North of New
England, all this baroque, mad brick; sandstone gargoyles, red trams, the
Queen's portrait everywhere.

New-found friends, often as not, rented high-ceilinged rooms in crumbling townhouses, their slate rooflines fenced with rusting traceries of cast-iron, curlicues I'd only seen in Charles Addams cartoons. Everything painted a uniform dead green, like the face of a corpse in those same Addams cartoons. If you took a penknife and scraped a little of the green away, you discovered marvels: brown marble shot with paler veins, ornate bronze fixtures, carved oak. In the more stygian reaches of cellar, in such places, there were still to be found fully connected gaslight fixtures, forgotten, protruding from dank plaster like fairy pipes, each with a little flowered twist-key to stop the gas.

This was mid-town, walking distance in various directions from Yonge and Bloor.

In my twenties, it always seemed that my friends lived in exactly these sorts of townhouses around Columbus (German Village, Victorian Village, Grandview). Grand, decaying, repurposed, sublet. Ornamental stairways made for midnight conversations, grubby marble bathrooms with eccentric plumbing. They're the Great Lakes version of loft apartments.

I seem to remember going to a lot of parties at these houses, talking to strangers (friends of friends of friends). Girls in black kilts & cat eye glasses and dudes in rock band t-shirts & week-old shaves. Home-dyed hair and beastie boots. The smell of old vinyl and cardboard from childhood record collections. Cigarettes and multicolored candles in big ceramic ashtrays.

How many of those parties did I actually go to? How many more do I just remember because someone told me about them? That was my Bohemia.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Super Troopers

(SOO-pah TROO-pahs)
Intrepid aerialists in midflight

Hansel and Gretel

...are aliive and well/And living in Berlin.

We're back on the air, people, without converting to the New Blogger (TM).

Photos from the Napa trip and the visit to the Surgical Museum coming shortly.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mach 20

If a sperm were the size of a whale, however...

Why, Thank You!

It is cold enough for me.

Walking to the bus stop is like entering a Jack London story. I hope the tinder works, or I'll have to gut a dog to warm my hands inside.

Also, my sewage line froze due to global climate change, so I am taking showers in an apartment down the hall. The water lines for the hot tub situated over my apartment froze as well, so I have a plastic tent suspended from my ceiling. It's all very chic in a postapocalyptic sort of way.