Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fix this

A crazy story of what junkies do when natural disasters strike. Essentially, ignore all the warnings, deal with withdrawal then go steal the drugs that will keep you stable until the dealers return.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Va bene

A strange story about the weird additions to Italian that emerged after one of Mussolini's edicts banned all use of Foreign words either spoken or written. That edict posed a particular problem for actors who dubbed movies who had to come up with equivalents for phrases and words that had no real analogue in Italian. Called Doppiaggese (translationese) it led to the coining of lots of new words and phrases. There's more here and here. One of my favourites is 'Grande Giove' for 'Great Scott'.

Samarkand or bust

A great resource here for those who need to know what the western half of the Silk Road was like in the early 15th century. It was written by Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo who travelled to Samarkand as an ambassador by King Henry III of Castile and Leon.

Monday, October 22, 2012


This suggests that some of the first mechanical devices capable of performing calculation appeared in the 18th century. It was done for very specific ends, to help a man blind from a young age carry out mathematical research. The first engines that used steam to do work date from the late 17th and early 18th century so that steampunk might have happened a lot quicker if more people had known about these. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Matchbox menace

Specifications have been written up that allow you to send data using carrier pigeons. Some people have tried sending data this way and it worked (kind of) though was very slow. It took almost two hours to send 64 bytes of data.

What it does show is that, if you get the rules right, they can be instantiated in almost any form you like. AI troublemaker John Searle proposed building a machine out of empty beer cans which would be noisy, spectacular and slow too.

A few years ago James Bridle built a machine to play noughts and crosses out of matchboxes. He can't claim credit for the original idea (that belongs to Donald Michie) but he did make one that works.  The name of this fabulous beast? Menace (Matchbox Educable Noughts And Crosses Engine).

No choice

This is all about HPL so I am obliged to post it here. It's HPL talking about himself in suitably recondite style.

Just sayin'

A different view on what we are doing when we collaborate with all those social networks.

Adult themes

Thanks to Lapham's Quarterly I am now acquainted with John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester - who set a high standard when it came to Restoration debauchery. Perhaps his greatest feat was, while drunk, handing Charles II a copy of a poem he had written that, err, did not paint the monarch in a flattering light. The poem (Danger! Adult words and themes!) is a hoot, with perhaps the most swearing I have ever seen in verse form. Fabulous.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dance away

Hmm. A thoughtful post about the choices we make and how they come to define us, often for reasons that, after a while, no longer make sense.

Browsing fodder

A fantastic way to lose a few hours scrolling through all the crazy stuff that's out in the public domain.

Spooky Scotland

I've never heard of clootie wells before I read this post by Fiona Lang. They are pretty strange, especially the one on the Black Isle (!) in the Highlands. I guess my surprise is how well patronised they are, especially that one. Freaky.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Dark sun

Any self-respecting civilisation is going to put a giant shell round its sun to capture all the energy said star is kicking out. Look for this and, boom, you've got a flight plan for the extra-terrestrials. So that's what some astronomers have started doing.