Metahaven is a new kind of graphic design team. This self-styled ‘design think tank’ is such a departure from conventional forms…

“Metahaven is a new kind of graphic design team. This self-styled ‘design think tank’ is such a departure from conventional forms of practice that it is unlikely many designers have heard of them yet, particularly outside the Netherlands. Nor do they go out of their way to provide colleagues with entry points into their concerns and methods. A Dutch design historian who tried looking at their peculiarly awkward website (www.metahaven.net) confessed to me, with good reason, that its fragmentary structure perplexed her. It would be easy to dismiss the team – graphic designers Daniel van der Velden and Vinca Kruk, and spatial designer Gon Zifroni – as arcane experimentalists whose activities have nothing to do with the realities of practice.”

Eye Magazine | Feature | Borderline (viaiamdanw)

Mons, a city in Belgium that’s been designated the “European Capital of Culture” for 2015, saw its year in the spotlight get off…

hyperallergic:

Mons, a city in Belgium that’s been designated the “European Capital of Culture” for 2015, saw its year in the spotlight get off to a rocky start after one of its marquee commissions collapsed. The large-scale public installation “The Passenger,” by Belgian artist Arne Quinze, consists of a latticework of red, orange, black, and naturally stained wooden beams floating over the city streets in a cloud-like formation. At about 6pm on the evening of December 24, however, one of its supporting columns gave way, and part of the structure collapsed into the rue de Nimy and the local courthouse, La Voix du Nord reported. No one was injured in the collapse.

Backers of the project entertain visions of Gwadar as a new, more convenient gateway for trade from Chinese and Central Asian…

“Backers of the project entertain visions of Gwadar as a new, more convenient gateway for trade from Chinese and Central Asian markets to points west. For China, closer access to the sea from its landlocked western territories, where a massive development campaign is underway, can save thousands of miles and days of travel for goods that would otherwise have to exit the country from the east on a much more circuitous route.”

China’s footprint in Pakistan (viaiamdanw)

Bot Resources by A Cobleigh, Thricedotted, Inky Bot resources is a really useful list of links to code, APIs and ideas for…

algopop:

Bot Resources by A Cobleigh, Thricedotted, Inky

Bot resources is a really useful list of links to code, APIs and ideas for making bots. I found this on the also very informative Bot Weekly newsletter delivered by Beaugunderson. The rapidly growing community of botmakers is so prolific that these weekly updates tend to include ten or more new bots, mostly twitter bots though. I have a feeling that in 2015 this community will experiment more beyond twitter.

I’m re-photographing very old photographs and repurposing them. I recently used a portrait of my siblings and myself taken in…

“I’m re-photographing very old photographs and repurposing them. I recently used a portrait of my siblings and myself taken in Ottawa in 1971. It appeals to my sense of frugality, making use of things that already exist, bringing them back into circulation. Photography comes with this anxiety of overproduction; you can just keep shooting and shooting and you end up with so much material (Garry Winogrand, for instance). Pulling something out of the so-called archive is a way to mitigate that anxiety.”

BOMB Magazine — Moyra Davey by Elisabeth Lebovici (viaphotographsonthebrain)

The man who saved Japanese Chess by blowing Western minds… Or?

I got dragged into one of those Wikipedia rabbit holes where you keep clicking one more link until you have 30 open tabs, all Wikipedia. This time, it was about the staggering variety of regional chess variants that all sprung from one game, Chaturanga, which developed in India in the 7th century, and spread both East- and Westward, mutating along the way into modern Chess and many other variants. That’s interesting from a historical perspective, of course, and from a Computer Science perspective, these Chess variants are interesting because while computers have eclipsed the best humans in Western Chess, some of the Asian variants of the game are much more computationally complex, despite not having more complicated rulesets. The ancient board game Go (which is unrelated to Chaturanga, and predates it) is perhaps the most complex of all popular strategy board games, and computers still play at an amateur level without handicaps. Much effort in the field of Artificial Intelligence has been spent trying to develop good algorithms to play these games at the level of strong human players.

The Japanese variant of Chess is called shogi, and is also more computationally complex than classical Chess. Shogi is unusual as Chess variants go, in that players are allowed to drop pieces they have captured from the opponent back onto the board and use them as their own pieces. The pieces are not distinguished by color, and except for the piece equivalent to the king, are the same for each side; who is controlling a piece is indicated by which way the piece is pointing. This brings us to the very possibly apocryphal story of the man who saved shogi from the oppressive American occupants. Here it is:

After the Second World War, SCAP (occupational government mainly led by US) tried to eliminate all “feudal” factors from Japanese society and shogi was included in the possible list of items to be banned along with Bushido (philosophy of samurai) and other things. The reason for banning shogi for SCAP was its exceptional character as a board game seen in the usage of captured pieces. SCAP insisted that this could lead to the idea of prisoner abuse. But Kozo Masuda, then one of the top professional shogi players, when summoned to the SCAP headquarters for an investigation, criticized such understanding of shogi and insisted that it is not shogi but western chess that potentially contains the idea of prisoner abuse because it just kills the pieces of the opponent while shogi is rather democratic for giving prisoners the chance to get back into the game. Masuda also said that chess contradicts the ideal of gender equality in western society because the king shields itself behind the queen and runs away. Masuda’s assertion is said to have eventually led to the exemption of shogi from the list of items to be banned.

Wow! Mind blown, or what? Unfortunately, when we do a little bit of academic source criticism, the only citation for this incredible story is a book by one Masuda, Kozo. Certainly this guy is an impartial source who would have no interest in embellishing his own role in history? Alas, I could find no other credible sources for this version of the story, although it’s a very good story, you have to admit. It is, however, a fact that the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, led by the SCAP himself, General Douglas MacArthur, sought to eliminate a variety of practices that they thought were too tightly tied to feudal or imperialistic ideology, including sports like judo and games like shogi. The book Mapping an American Empire of Sport repeats the story about the SCAP wanting to ban shogi, judo and kendo. It doesn’t confirm the incredible rhetorical heroics of Masuda Kozo, however. In place of traditional Japanese sports, MacArthur promoted Western sports, and was a fan of baseball in particular.

But the book makes a great point:

Ironically, the suspicions of Americans during their occupation of post-war Japan that associated sports and physical practices (judo, kendo and shogi) with Japanese ideological and spiritual beliefs closely echoed the inter-war Japanese governmental suspicions of Western sports practices as being infused with Western or American beliefs. In many ways, any physical movement, whether it is rule-bound or spontaneous, is a practice that is essentially an empty form that can be infused and associated with any values, ideology or spirituality, whether it is of Western or Eastern origin.

The Japanese easily adopted baseball and other Western sports by simply infusing them with traditional Japanese values, such as bushido (the way of the warrior, old Samurai philosophy). And of course, a board game like shogi or Chess is really just an abstract game manifested on a physical board with physical pieces. Today, it is played online, immaterially except in the form of ones and zeroes, as well as on the physical board. As an abstract game, it carries no political allegiances. We are free to interpret the game as we like. Whether Masuda invented his radical reinterpretation of Chess after the fact or actually delivered it as an apologia before the occupational government, it demonstrates just how much room there is to reinterpret a game and infuse it with any politics or ethics one wishes, when really it’s all just a few wooden pieces moved on a board with squares on it according to a simple, abstract set of rules.

The iconography of the game may superficially have ties to culture, but it is only slapped onto an abstract game. The ancestor of the modern rook was a chariot (the word rook comes from Persian, and is rather odd for an English word; in other languages, the piece is called Tower, which the piece more physically resembles in most chess sets), the ancestor of the bishop was an elephant. Quite a transformation, from animal to high-ranking preacher. Or perhaps not.

In any case, the SCAP was probably more concerned with the cultural practices and the ideology surrounding judo or shogi than with the actual iconography or rules of the game itself. One can play shogi without having a Japanese cultural background; one can perform a judo throw in basic training in the US army while devoutly believing that Japan deserved Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

History is written by the winners. And sometimes the writers of history want to make themselves winners, which I strongly suspect is the case with Masuda. Regardless, now, seven decades after the end of WWII, the number of shogi players is declining with no oppressive influence from the Americans. Yet the number of players of Go, a Chinese game also very popular in Japan, is on the rise.

(via http://science.tumblr.com/post/106498655950/the-man-who-saved-japanese-chess-by-blowing )

“Fine, I’ll tell you. But I have to warn you, Richard, that your question falls under the umbrella of a pseudoscience called…

“Fine, I’ll tell you. But I have to warn you, Richard, that your question falls under the umbrella of a pseudoscience called xenology. Xenology is an unnatural mixture of science fiction and formal logic. At its core is a flawed assumption—that an alien race would be psychologically human.”

“Why flawed?” asked Noonan.

“Because biologists have already been burned attempting to apply human psychology to animals. Earth animals, I note.”

“Just a second,” said Noonan. “That’s totally different. We’re talking about the psychology of intelligent beings.”

“True. And that would be just fine, if we knew what intelligence was.”

“And we don’t?” asked Noonan in surprise.

“Believe it or not, we don’t. We usually proceed from a trivial definition: intelligence is the attribute of man that separates his activity from that of the animals. It’s a kind of attempt to distinguish the master from his dog, who seems to understand everything but can’t speak. However, this trivial definition does lead to wittier ones. They are based on depressing observations of the aforementioned human activity. For example: intelligence is the ability of a living creature to perform pointless or unnatural acts.”

“Yes, that’s us,” agreed Noonan.

“Unfortunately. Or here’s a definition-hypothesis. Intelligence is a complex instinct which hasn’t yet fully matured. The idea is that instinctive activity is always natural and useful. A million years will pass, the instinct will mature, and we will cease making the mistakes which are probably an integral part of intelligence. And then, if anything in the universe changes, we will happily become extinct—again, precisely because we’ve lost the art of making mistakes, that is, trying various things not prescribed by a rigid code.”

“Somehow this all sounds so … demeaning.”

“All right, then here’s another definition—a very lofty and noble one. Intelligence is the ability to harness the powers of the surrounding world without destroying the said world.”

Roadside Picnic - Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (viam1k3y)

Why we love repetition in music

psychology, music, repetition, research, ritual, Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, Aeon

In 2008, the psychologists Pascal Boyer and Pierre Liénard at Washington University in St Louis went so far as to claim that ritual creates a distinct attentional state in which we consider actions on a much more basic level than usual […] Ritual shifts attention from the overall pattern of events toward their component gestures. Instead of noting only that a bowl is being cleaned, the witness to a ritual might notice the acceleration of the hand across the bowl’s edge during each wiping gesture, or the way the cloth bunches and then opens as it is dragged forward and back across the surface. What’s more, the repetition of gestures makes it harder and harder to resist imaginatively modelling them, feeling how it might be to move your own hand in the same way. This is precisely the way that repetition in music works to make the nuanced, expressive elements of the sound increasingly available, and to make a participatory tendency – a tendency to move or sing along – more irresistible.

http://aeon.co/magazine/culture/why-we-love-repetition-in-music/

Time spent building a looter-proof bunker or learning how to grind your own flour is time not spent reading Shakespeare or…

“Time spent building a looter-proof bunker or learning how to grind your own flour is time not spent reading Shakespeare or playing tennis. If you enjoy grinding flour more than playing tennis, fine. If practising survival skills in the woods thrills you, go ahead. But if not, you might weigh the opportunity costs of prepping against the likelihood of apocalypse.”

I will survive (viaiamdanw)

The illustrations on the banknotes show generic examples of architectural styles such as renaissance and baroque rather than…

“The illustrations on the banknotes show generic examples of architectural styles such as renaissance and baroque rather than real bridges from a particular member state, which could have aroused envy among other countries. “The European Bank didn’t want to use real bridges so I thought it would be funny to claim the bridges and make them real,” Stam told Dezeen.”

The Bridges of Europe by Robin Stam (viaiamdanw)

By the standards of other successful Chinese cities, Yiwu is more down-and-dirty. There are none of the showpiece infrastructure…

“By the standards of other successful Chinese cities, Yiwu is more down-and-dirty. There are none of the showpiece infrastructure projects like new expressways and elaborate modern skyscrapers that proliferate in other Chinese cities. While clearly all this trade has made many in Yiwu very rich, the city looks like the China of twenty years ago. Its market stalls are not the kind of place where most Chinese care to shop these days. Chinese, especially urban-dwellers, like well-designed brand-name chain stores with higher-quality merchandise and slick packaging.”

Yiwu: China’s Little Known Capital of Commerce (viaiamdanw)

Each one, he said, took about three days to paint. “Before I had some Western customers,” he told me. “Now all my clients are…

Each one, he said, took about three days to paint.

“Before I had some Western customers,” he told me. “Now all my clients are Chinese.”

He paused, looking from the wet pink poppies to the rather depressing tones of the old school classical flowers. Was there a relationship between the shift in global purchasing power and his artist’s palette?

“There is a difference in taste,” he said at last.

“I’d say that Westerners prefer classical pictures which tend to be very dark. Chinese people like bright colours.”

China’s oil painting village feels global shift (viaiamdanw)

Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy

art, politics, labour, work, post-everything, Contemporary Art, democracy, post-democratic, e-flux

The art field is a space of wild contradiction and phenomenal exploitation. It is a place of power mongering, speculation, financial engineering, and massive and crooked manipulation. But it is also a site of commonality, movement, energy, and desire. In its best iterations it is a terrific cosmopolitan arena populated by mobile shock workers, itinerant salesmen of self, tech whiz kids, budget tricksters, supersonic translators, PhD interns, and other digital vagrants and day laborers. It’s hard-wired, thin-skinned, plastic-fantastic. A potential commonplace where competition is ruthless and solidarity remains the only foreign expression. Peopled with charming scumbags, bully-kings, almost-beauty-queens. It’s HDMI, CMYK, LGBT. Pretentious, flirtatious, mesmerizing. This mess is kept afloat by the sheer dynamism of loads and loads of hardworking women. A hive of affective labor under close scrutiny and controlled by capital, woven tightly into its multiple contradictions.

http://www.e-flux.com/journal/politics-of-art-contemporary-art-and-the-transition-to-post-democracy/

He had never felt this outside of the Zone, and even in the Zone it had only happened two or three times. Suddenly, he seemed to…

“He had never felt this outside of the Zone, and even in the Zone it had only happened two or three times. Suddenly, he seemed to be in another world. A million smells assaulted him at once—smells that were sharp, sweet, metallic; dangerous, caressing, disturbing; as immense as houses, as tiny as dust particles, as rough as cobblestones, and as delicate and intricate as watch gears. The air turned hard, it appeared to have surfaces, corners, edges, as if space had been filled with huge coarse spheres, polished pyramids, and gigantic prickly crystals, and he was forced to make his way through all this, as if in a dream, pushing through a dark antique shop full of ancient misshapen furniture … This only lasted a moment. He opened his eyes, and everything disappeared. This wasn’t another world—it was his same old world turning an unfamiliar side toward him, revealing it for an instant, then immediately sealing it off, before he even had the chance to investigate.”

Roadside PicnicArkady and Boris Strugatsky (viam1k3y)