I have found a lot of odd things at flea markets. I think the most bizarre thing I ever brought home was a baby’s umbilical cord…

“I have found a lot of odd things at flea markets. I think the most bizarre thing I ever brought home was a baby’s umbilical cord that was taped into a scrapbook. I find myself asking the same questions over and over, “Why did someone make this and how did it end up at a flea market?” Objects that have no answers for why they exist are the best.”

Mark Mulroney (viaicpbardmfa)

Supersonic Stereo

sound, supersonic, audio

The sonic boom would be the first thing the target would hear. It would be followed by several sounds played over one another, including both reversed music (rising slightly in pitch as it fades out) and forward-playing music (which would play at half speed and an octave too low), followed by the crash of a stereo demolishing your neighbor’s shed.


The Dead-Curious Cat and the Joyless Immortal

curiosity, venkat, evolution, desire, genetics, perception

Curiosity does not seem to be a fundamental drive, unlike what I am told are the three basic biological drives (seeking pleasure, avoiding pain and conserving energy), so it is probably derived. Curiosity requires a certain energy surplus, since its visible signature is a restless dissipation of energy, but it does not seem directly motivated by energy conservation concerns. So is it derived from pleasure-seeking or pain-avoidance or some mix of the two? Does that make a difference?


inconsistent with recent terrestrial contamination.

fossil, astrobiology, polonnaruwa meteorite, arxiv

Results of X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) analysis, Triple Oxygen Isotope analysis and Scanning Electron Microscopic (SEM) studies are presented for stone fragments recovered from the North Central Province of Sri Lanka following a witnessed fireball event on 29 December 2012. The existence of numerous nitrogen depleted highly carbonaceous fossilized biological structures fused into the rock matrix is inconsistent with recent terrestrial contamination. Oxygen isotope results compare well with those of CI and CI-like chondrites but are inconsistent with the fulgurite hypothesis.


In a nutshell, they don’t establish the samples they examined were actually meteorites. They don’t establish they were from the claimed meteor event over Sri Lanka in December 2012. And perhaps most telling, they don’t eliminate the possibility of contamination; that is, diatoms got into the samples because those rocks were sitting on the Earth where diatoms are everywhere.


“Paleofantasy”: Stone Age delusions

paleodiet, paleofantasy, evolution, physiology, diet, exercise, history

Although she writes, “I would not dream of denying the evolutionary heritage present in our bodies,” Zuk briskly dismisses as simply “wrong” many common notions about that heritage. These errors fall into two large categories: misunderstandings about how evolution works and unfounded assumptions about how paleolithic humans lived. The first area is her speciality, and “Paleofantasy” offers a lively, lucid illustration of the intricacies of this all-important natural process. When it comes to the latter category, the anthropological aspect of the problem, Zuk treads more gingerly. Not only is this not her own field, but, as she observes, it is “ground often marked by acrimony and rancor” among the specialists themselves.


Debt: The first five thousand years - David Graeber

debt, money, credit, coinage, religion, history, economics

However tawdry their origins, the creation of new media of exchange – coinage appeared almost simultaneously in Greece, India, and China – appears to have had profound intellectual effects. Some have even gone so far as to argue that Greek philosophy was itself made possible by conceptual innovations introduced by coinage. The most remarkable pattern, though, is the emergence, in almost the exact times and places where one also sees the early spread of coinage, of what were to become modern world religions: prophetic Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism, and eventually, Islam. While the precise links are yet to be fully explored, in certain ways, these religions appear to have arisen in direct reaction to the logic of the market. To put the matter somewhat crudely: if one relegates a certain social space simply to the selfish acquisition of material things, it is almost inevitable that soon someone else will come to set aside another domain in which to preach that, from the perspective of ultimate values, material things are unimportant, and selfishness – or even the self – illusory.


I have something of an obsession with the image above, considering it the “canonical” image of a drone. It’s the first Google…


I have something of an obsession with the image above, considering it the “canonical” image of a drone.

It’s the first Google image result for “drone” and as such is reproduced endlessly elsewhere. The warping effects of Google Image results on public understanding of complex subjects are a discussion for another time, but it’s worth noting that the image is frequently captioned as a Predator (General Atomics MQ-1) drone, when it is in fact a Reaper (GA MQ-9) - including in such contexts as activist reports on Drone warfare. An artist’s impression that would appear to be based on this image graces the box of the Revell 1:48 MQ-9 ModelIt’s the avatar for Dronestagram.

It took a while to track down the markings, but this aircraft bears the insignia of the 138th Attack Squadron, part of the 174th Attack Wing (174 ATW), a unit of the New York Air National Guard, stationed at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse, New York. This image at Wikipedia shows another 174 ATW aircraft, registration 09-4066 (this serial number does not appear in Joe Baugher’s listing of2009 USAF serials, although there is a record of a Reaper aircraft numbered 09-4056 whichcrashed in California in 2010).

There are no drones visible in either Bing or GEarth historical imagery of Hancock Field to add to the Watchers project, or at Wheeler Sack AAF which the 174 ATW uses for launch and recovery, and where the latter photo was shot on on 14 Feb 2012.

I had some suspicions about the Canon Drone, and research bears these out.

At first, the feeling was just unease. Staring at it for some time, seeing it endlessly reproduced across the web and in print, it began to seem unreal, a fiction, too smooth, too perfect. But that’s an effect of drones: they always appear otherworldly. (See, for example, this image of a Global Hawk at Waddington Air Show in 2010. The beluga-like Hawk seems impossible, smoothly rendered into the perambulating crowd.)

Of course, it’s not just that. The Canon Drone is indeed entirely unreal. A close inspection, and comparison with other Reaper images, including 09-4066, bears this out almost immediately. The level of detail is too low: missing hatches on the cockpit and tail, the shape of the air intake, the greebling on the fins and body. That ‘NY’ on the tail: it’s not aligned properly, it’s a photoshop. Finally, the Canon Drone’s serial, partly obscured, appears to be 85-566. The first two numbers of USAF serials refer to the year an aircraft entered service: there were no Reapers back in 1985 (development didn’t even begin until 2001).

The Canon Drone does not exist, it never has. It is computer generated rendering of a drone, a fiction. It flies over an abstracted landscape - although perhaps the same one as another canonical image, thisPredator in flight, which, while unmarked, at least appears worn enough to be believable.

Where does the image originate? As the default drone photo, it is endlessly reproduced without attribution. It appears in Google Image searches for 2009, but not for 2008 - although I’m unsure how reliable this dating is. I’ve hit a wall in finding out more.

I think: the Canon Drone is emblematic of the liminal, self-obfuscating essence of the UAV, and all of our noumenal infrastructures. The most widely reproduced image of this most illegible of our contemporary technologies is itself a dream.

The Universal laws behind growth patterns, or what Tetris can teach us about coffee stains

coffee, diffusion, KPZ, universality, tetris, bacteria, burning paper

Now, if you think about it, there’s something deeply puzzling here. Bacterial colonies, travelling flames, and coffee particles are all totally different systems, and there’s no reason to expect that they should obey the same mathematical laws of growth. So what’s behind this mysterious universality? Why do such different beasts play by the same rules?


Mondragon Corporation

collective, workers cooperative, federation, corporation, means of production

The MONDRAGON Corporation is a corporation and federation of worker cooperatives based in the Basque region of Spain. It was founded in the town of Mondragón in 1956 by graduates of a local technical college. Their first product was paraffin heaters. Currently it is the seventh largest Spanish company in terms of asset turnover and the leading business group in the Basque Country. At the end of 2011 it was providing employment for 83,869 people working in 256 companies in four areas of activity: Finance, Industry, Retail and Knowledge.


Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae

CRE, antibiotics, resistance, bacteria, health, infection, antibiotic resistant

The bacteria, Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), kill up to half of patients who get bloodstream infections from them. In addition to spreading among patients, often on the hands of health care personnel, CRE bacteria can transfer their resistance to other bacteria within their family. This type of spread can create additional life-threatening infections for patients in hospitals and potentially for otherwise healthy people. Currently, almost all CRE infections occur in people receiving significant medical care in hospitals, long-term acute care facilities, or nursing homes.


The allure of D’Annunzio

bbok review, D’Annunzio, Fiume, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Christopher Duggan, TLS, beauty, poetry, life

D’Annunzio’s heroic exploits as a pilot during the war (Hughes-Hallett’s excellent account of this phase of the poet’s life underlines his genuine bravery) and his occupation of the city of Fiume in 1919–20 in defiance of the government in Rome and the international community cemented his position as prophet-bard and champion of national regeneration. The Fiume episode, whose aesthetic, moral and political perverseness is vividly captured by Hughes-Hallett, provided the nascent Fascist movement with further material on which Mussolini later drew: choreographed parades and ceremonies, ritualized chants, exotic uniforms, the celebration of youth, the cult of the heroic (and shaven-headed) leader, inflammatory speeches from balconies designed to generate a collective euphoria akin to religious enthusiasm.


Borg Complex: A Primer

technology, technodterminism, borg, the borg, borg complex

A Borg Complex is exhibited by writers and pundits who explicitly assert or implicitly assume that resistance to technology is futile. The name is derived from the Borg, a cybernetic alien race in the Star Trek universe that announces to their victims some variation of the following: “We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.”


“We’re surrounded by objects and systems that are too big or too opaque to understand — everything from the global banking…

“We’re surrounded by objects and systems that are too big or too opaque to understand — everything from the global banking system, to the Edgerank algorithm Facebook uses to order your newsfeed,” says Webb. “And the effect of this alienation is felt subtly: I believe it means we can never build a good mental model of the technologies we use. We’re constantly having our expectations slightly violated, we feel a little itchy, like we don’t fit comfortably in our own world.”

The Virtual Haircut That Could Change the World. (viatimoarnall)

The True Story of a 1967 “Contact” Incident

first contact, radio, radio astronomy, LGM, SETI, pulsar

At the time, the dawn of radio astronomy, the discovery of a source of regular pulses in space was a huge surprise. “We had to face the possibility that the signals were, indeed, generated on a planet circling some distant star, and that they were artificial,” said Hewish later. The timeline behind the discovery stretches over 6 months or so. In August 1967, Bell noticed regular signals at the same sidereal time each day. Almost immediately, the team considered the possibility that the signals were generated by Little Green Men or LGM as they called it.


BLDGBLOG: Optical Calibration Targets

optical calibration, drones, infrastructure, CLUI, optical resolution, imaging, aerial photography

Although I am truly fascinated by what sorts of optical landmarks might yet be developed for field-testing the optical capabilities of drones, as if the world might soon be peppered with opthalmic infrastructure for self-training autonomous machines, it is also quite intriguing to realize that these calibration targets are, in effect, ruins, obsolete sensory hold-overs from an earlier age of film-based cameras and less-powerful lenses. Calibrating nothing, they are now just curious emblems of a previous generation of surveillance technology, robot-readable hieroglyphs whose machines have all moved on.


“A post-democratic society is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell”

democracy, politics, LSE, post-democratic, post-industrial

The term was indeed a direct analogy with ‘post-industrial’. A post-industrial society is not a non-industrial one. It continues to make and to use the products of industry, but the energy and innovative drive of the system have gone elsewhere. The same applies in a more complex way to post-modern, which is not the same as anti-modern or of course pre-modern. It implies a culture that uses the achievements of modernism but departs from them in its search for new possibilities. A post-democratic society therefore is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell. The energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite. I did not say that we were now living in a post-democratic society, but that we were moving towards such a condition.


Introducing The Paper Bay

academia, guerilla open access, research, publishing, piracy, thepaperbay

It’s a beautiful business to be in: publish research that you took no part in, claim the copyrights to the results of that research, publish the research in a very expensive journal, publish reprints at exorbitant fees and finally, when a more efficient distribution method appears get rid of all the costly components of the business but keep the prices the same. According to one person I spoke to who is knowledgeable about the publishing field the profit margins dwarf even those of the publication of pornography.