The World of the Futre/Space Exploration

2 07 2010

My 6 year-old son came home after a visiting a book swap yesterday with an early 90s book on space exploration. I haven’t been able to find an image of it, but it was filled from top to bottom with illustration and the paper had that strong card like texture and smell that reminded of all the similar books I craved as a child. Needless to say he loves the book already, despite how dated it may seem. So of course I went looking for similar books this morning and was reminded of this:

which I came across at the Paleo-Future Blog which has a huge amount of interesting resources about perceptions of the future in the past.


A bit of a late return

27 01 2010

I’ve already fallen behind in my attempts to keep this blog chronologically consistent, but I’ll try and make up for it today.

Ethiopian Land Grab

The Guardian reports on Ethiopa’s selling off of huge tracts of unused land to foreign and local companies who will use it to grow various crops and flowers. Time will tell if this will become a system that allows  a foreign body to exploit a locality and then export the goods produced leaving the indigenous population in the same poverty or worse, a la the Irish famine. First indications seem quite good with higher pay for workers and a promise to sell produce locally, which is more an economic decision made on the basis that transport costs in Africa are too high, but time will tell. Article here

I Served the King of England

I finally finished I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal having received it as part of a swap. It really is a very enjoyable book. The narration takes a folklorish style and the narrator himself has the right mix of roguish and insightful qualities to keep your interest and prick your mind with childlike questions about what we expect from life. The timeline brings us through times of wealth and stability to those of poverty and oppression during WWII, followed by the era of Communism in Czechoslovakia. Though these times make for an interesting backdrop, it is the narrator’s own experiences and what he learns from them that make for the most intriguing element of the book. In some ways he personifies capitalism and its trials over the last century ending until finally realising the system, and all the alternatives, has failed and what matters most is how people interact with each other.

“Cuteness” as a Social Disease

Vanity Fair (December 2009) had an intersting insight into the rise of “cuteness” in modern culture, more so the last few yearas. Obviously written from an American perspective it makes some observations regarding the growth of cute in the US after Obama took the reigns. The article sees it as an attempt to discard the harder, almost less human, image of America ciculated during the Bush era. It’s worth a quick read anyway, though I would like to point out that he makes a fleeting reference to the influences of Studio Ghibli on Pixar, which he can’t expand on so doesn’t and completely misses the point of Astro Boy. His understnading of animated film is clearly limited as this quote shows:

There has also been a sharp rise in cute movies. For the past decade, the annual list of the 50 highest-grossing films has included between 7 and 13 productions with adorable cartoon heroes (among them Up, Wall-E, Kung Fu Panda, Ratatouille) or lovable animals (Marley & Me, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Hotel for Dogs). There have always been movies for kids, but in the 1990s, by contrast, there were four or five cute movies per year among those cracking the top 50. And when critics review films like Up or Wall-E, their tone suggests they’re dealing with something like The Seventh Seal rather than movies designed to exploit our caretaking instinct.

A nice combination of cultural snobbery (mentioning The Seventh Seal as a reference to high art is always suspiciously pretencious) and basic ignorance of the animated media/genre (since when is a fucking rat cute?. Walt Disney probably originally had the idea for Randolph Rat). The rest of the article is interesting, but I’m really not aware of cuteness being as major an issue as the author suggests.


Interesting LA Times article on the later years of Philip K Dick and his life in Orange County here.

Garry Kasparov on intelligence in the New York Review of Books here.

Just so I don’t forget to show something mechanical, here’s a video of the 1929 Fordson Snow Machine Concept:

The danger of creating idols

19 11 2009

Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky is probably one of the people whose opinions on the Internet and knowledge sharing I take more seriously. I’m interested in the emphasis he puts on those elements of modern media and communication which are more beneficial to society as a whole, than the more myopic “Make your fortune from the Internet and only work for 4 hours a week” commentators. His piece I read today takes on the concept of smaller local bookshops, who are more and more threatened by massive online sellers. Though he doesn’t agree with some organisations seeking governmental intervention on the issue, nor their arguments for seeking this intervention, his final comments are crucial for many commercial enterprises. In criticising the comments of the American Booksellers Association, he also criticises many of the reasons put forward over the last, maybe, 15 years of the development of the Internet. However, at this stage any references the ABA make to themselves as some kind of guardians of culture, ring hollow to anyone who can see through them to the obvious commercial elements of their arguments. His article can be found here: Local Bookstores, Social Hubs and Mutulization

I don’t really take issue with anything he says, but I find his comments on social hubs etc very interesting. The idea of bartering, co-operatives, social hubs etc as part of cities’ social systems needs to be investigated more by individuals, the concepts themselves exclude any government or state involvement, which may be why I find them so attractive. In my experience such concepts exist quite freely in rural areas or put in place by NGOs and community groups in working class areas and have worked successfully in many cases. They are concepts which really should spread to all parts of society in all areas. The argument that these movements allow for too much localisation, doesn’t allow for the development of an interlinking system of local organisations.

One of the best articles I read is an interview in the Columbia Journalism Review and was a better insight into the changes the Internet has made and a perfect counter to those who argue that modern society cannot cope with the level of distraction and knowledge created this new flood of information. His points about information filtration are particularly apt

Obama, just another politician?

I have been cynical form the very beginning about how much hope and “a new beginning” would have to do with Barack Obama’s reign. Of course, I was remorsefully whipped by his enthusiastic followers anywhere I ever mentioned it. They obviously never read Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White, an interesting argument for abolishing the “white race”, what it stands for, not the people. There was plenty of horror here in Ireland when it was mentioned that more and more Irish-Americans were voting Republican, conservatism follows wealth.

So far my cynicism re-Obama still stands, bearing in my mind I am an outsider and judge him more on his foreign policies than his domestic ones. I have yet to see a substantial change in attitude from the last 15 years. A change yes, but not enough to convince me he’s not another patsy to corporate lobbying.

Aside from my own misgivings, I still find disparity in reporting on his speeches, talks etc fascinating. Two pieces from 18 November, writing on the same visit to China. One from the New York Times: During Visit, Obama Skirts Chinese Political Sensitivities where the only mention of Tibet is Bill Clinton’s speaking to President Jiang Zemin in 1998. The article is simply a list of failings in Obama’s approach to Eastern Asia. However, The Irish Times runs an article Obama’s remarks on Tibet tempered by praise for China commenting on how Obama made the US’s position on human rights and equality clear to President Hu. Yes there’s a level of hypocrisy in his comments, but why did the NY Times omit referring to them altogether? What gives?

Hitler’s hidden bunkers and Mao’s massive one

Anyone wondering about life in China and how it manages to compete so strongly against the US, almost on salary alone should read through Viceland’s feature on the “hidden city” built by Mao under Beijing. It’s a pretty alternative and specific view of the city, but there are some insights into the poverty and squalor that exist in the country as more and more people are pushed towards the cities: Chairman Mao’s Underground City

Of course Mao wasn’t the only dictator who like his tunnels. This video posted on is pretty interesting, plus it features Anthony Beevor whose book Stalingrad is a great read, my fondness for references aside.

Megacity One Children

Funnily enough I cam across this article in New Scientist which put forward some evidence that children who show less fear are more prone to taking a criminal path later in life. Fortunately, the article recognises that the evidence is relatively weak, but believes the conclusions warrant further investigation. Every time I read anything proposing the possible early detection of traits in humans images of Judge Dredd flash through my mind. However, again, the same article does mention that such results can really never be properly followed through on because a child’s environment can still draw them away from criminality and vice versa.


This piece in Gizmodo was just a nice nostalgia trip for me, hope it’s the same for you!

References, or lack thereof

18 11 2009

I intend on giving my fist impressions of books and final reviews, rather than giving a step by step break down. Makes more sense to me.

Crimson Book of Pirates
Last night I started the Crimson Book of Pirates by Peter Newark. So far, it’s been quite entertaining. Starting off with a general run down of pirate history. He makes some interesting points which he obviously swoops over as they have no major relevance to the topic he is discussing, such as the benefits to Western architecture and culture as influenced by the East during the crusades, but it did make me more aware of the fact that he references no secondary material whatsoever. I greatly dislike reading history books which don’t give proof/reference for the points they are making. I find them more difficult to take seriously. Anyone who has read Noam Chomsky’s work will know that he uses a mass of precise and full references, but every so often he skips a reference and I have always found that irritating (along with his occasionally overly dramatic language, which I feel has no place in “objective” political and historical writing). So much so that I eventually stopped reading his work. Crimson Book of Pirates, as a result, despite its references to rampant pirate homosexuality during long sea voyages, reads more like a child’s book on “Pirateology”, but has so far been an enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to getting into the individual pirate biographies. My short time studying journalism and history has given me ideas about myself and I shouldn’t really allow those aspirations to come between myself and a good book. Mind you the fact that I found it impossible to find any images of the cover of the book anywhere on the Internet may attest to how it could be ignored.

Mind you it isn’t all about history, the Somali coast, a couple taken from their yacht last week and now this: Piracy off the Seychelles

If you’d like to see how common modern-day piracy is have a look at this: Map of Piracy

I Served the King of England

I also began reading I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal, after receiving it as part of a nifty little book swap with a friend. I didn’t get a chance to get into it properly as I had begun falling asleep, but love the lack of paragraph breaks and dialogue punctuation which allows the reader to flow more easily through the book and reads more like stream of conciousness than anything I have read before, including Kerouac. More importantly Hrabal is able to communicate dialogue without its punctuation a lot more clearly than Cormac McCarthy, whose writing I find unnecessarily difficult to follow at times.

Hrabal, a Czech writer, brings me to the celebration of the Velvet Revolution which was also in the news today Celebrating Revolution with Roots in Rumour

Classical Liberalism vs. Anarcho-Capitalism

Nick P. over at Black Sun Gazette has written a very interesting critique Jesus Huerta de Soto’s Classical Liberalism vs. Anarcho-Capitalism. His blog usually makes for interesting reading, as many of his beliefs would reflect my own. I don’t want to group either party’s political leanings, but quite a bit left should suffice. Nick’s article makes good reading as in discussing De Soto’s points he also allows for a criticism of anarcho-capitalism and the many failings of its political theories. However, I personally wouldn’t agree with all of Nick’s points, bearing in mind that my ramblings are not as coherent or well thought throw as his. Though both Nick and De Soto agree in that an end to the nation-state is required, De Soto obviously believing it necessary to allow freer capitalism (mentioning more road tolls as a “good” example of what this would allow), their reasoning for this is obviously very different. De Soto argues that government “infantilizes” population so as to allow them to be ruled over more easily, which may have an element of truth in it. He believes people are too quick to idolise government, but is way off in stating that it is the “most serious and dangerous social disease” affecting the modern world. But if you read Nick’s article you’ll find a better run down of all his points that I could currently give.

My issue with both pieces is that they tend to, like Marxism and most political theory, patronise those which they write about and for whom they believe they are seeking a better word, usually written by a relatively wealthy intellectual who seems somewhat removed from the situation about which they discuss. On top of that over 160 years after The Communist Manifesto was written those class boundaries which Marx talked about are not as clear as before. Capitalism has allowed for a blurring of distinction between the “boss” and “the worker”, but those who support its original tenets can easily fall back on the usual “capitalist” and “worker” labels when it suits them. Nick P. falls into the trap of referring to McDonald’s workers, which has really become a cliché at this point. What is working class anymore? Who is bourgeois? What defines these labels, pay, location, education? Again, political theory falls short of taking human nature into consideration and in attempting to create equality does more to divide. In saying all that De Soto does seem more out of touch with the real world than most commentators I have come across.

Sometimes I wonder if the more basic ideas, based almost purely on positive human nature are the more worthwhile, like this video from NURU International (Vimeo, so can’t embed): Jake’s Story

Mere ramblings on my part again, but for a greater insight have a look at Black Sun Gazette.

How to Use a Multimeter

On a more practical level, having just managed to get one of my bangers through their road worthiness test, I have yet to fix/destroy my other. Lack of money has meant attempting to take this on myself, which doesn’t sound too bad, but after plenty of scraped knuckles and rants verging on tears I realised and accepted that I need to read a bit more before continuing, so yesterday i read up on how to use a multimeter, after a couple of difficult to follow sites, I found this nice and handy PDF which is quite basic, but definitely easier to follow: MULTIMETER GUIDE

Typography, again

Those of you who read yesterday’s Mistakes in Typography Grate the Purists may be interested in the response on Bookninja: On typographic fetishism as mental illness

John Murray, Publishing House: The History

A friend recently mentioned John Murray to me and I confess I had never paid much attention to them, but after looking through their back catalogue found that they have definitely been a strong contender in the field and I fell I really should have given them a little more credit. Interesting article at The Fiction Desk discusses the role of the bookseller publisher after the publication of the house’s history earlier in the year, The Seven Lives of John Murray.


History Doesn’t Always Forget

New York Time’s article about recent prosecutions of Nazi war criminals in Germany

Rwandan Hutu Rebels arrested in Germany

Final Flourish

Takashi Furuya Illustrations

Image taken from the brilliant Retro To Go

Brainpickings have a nice piece on the book which chronicles Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, which he obviously never made, mostly due to finances, it’s clear from the book why: Kubrick”s Napoleon, The Greatest Film Never Made

The Beginning

16 11 2009

Today, was quite a busy day in work, so I didn’t get through my usual amount of reading, and only really visited YouTube once (or twice). Most of my best reading was done last night.

Firstly I managed to finish Mandroid by John Wagner


Wagner really shows his genius in this story, exactly what you’d expect from the creator of Dredd himself. The tale takes the usual war trauma story line and basically gives it the Megacity One twist. A soldier whose body has all but been destroyed is given powerful cyborg limbs. While attempting to readjust to civilian life with his wife and child he is slowly drawn back to violence by confused morality and a battle against insanity, his own and that of others around him. It’s one of the few graphic novels I have read of late with some good twists in it, fine dialogue and some interesting insights into Dredd, though sometimes I missed the more humorous crims with the funny hair dos and the weird drug names. I’m guessing we’re going to see more of these types of stories over the next few decades with the levels and types of wars being fought out there at the moment. We learned nothing from Siegfried Sassoon nor Wilfred Owen.



I had borrowed last May’s issue of Vanity Fair from the library. It wasn’t the picture of Giselle on the cover that caught my eye, but a reference to Bohemian Grove. Naive and as fond of conspiracy theories as I am, I have found any references to the Grove to link back to the more “crackpot” politics of the likes of Alex Jones. So an opportunity to read something a bit more mainstream was promising. It was, however, a let down. The article itself was concerned with the Grove members’ harvesting of the Redwoods on their property, and as horrifying as I found the fact that they were willing to cut down possibly 3,000 year old trees for the sake of about $850, the article itself was filled with references to laws and edicts I was not familiar with. Even the reporter’s description of breaking into the Grove, how he managed to sneak around and his eventual capture didn’t thrill me. The revelation that Nixon (who was a member) referred to the Grove as ” the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine” thrilled me though. I find everything the man said even more hilarious since discovering he was a Quaker. That probably says more about me than him though. Actually, here’s the recording of him saying it.

All was not lost with Vanity Fair though, as they have a decent piece on the stealing of the Mona Lisa in 1911. (I haven’t posted a link for this as there are too many out there to trawl through to find the best quality, have a look.)


The BBC World Service has been running a series of programmes about the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago. The Berlin Wall was the first political presence in my life. I was even taught German at a Summer Camp by a man who claimed to have stood on the wall the day its destruction began and there he was in the photo on the front of one of my Junior Cert books as he had told us. It was the most physical a representation possible for oppression and dominance a child’s mind could comprehend. I can still remember it coming down and that says a lot, my only other memory of a great event is the Freddie Mercury memorial concert. Years later I read Fuhrer-Ex by Ingo Hasselbach which really brought home how life was in the DDR at the time. I also read of many of the escape attempts and successes of the time as a child and accepted the “happy ever after” ending given in each case. The picture above, as dramatic as it was then, was the beginning of a very sad ending for Conrad Schumann, who is worth reading about simply to show and question the price of freedom.

I picked up this link on Twitter.

Which reminded me of this (it’s a long one)

I’ve always found how they can destroy something they have given so much of themselves to create fascinating. Obviously the final destruction is the point. Our own inability to realise that things are transient and nothing is permanent. I always think of my son when he was really small and just learning to draw. He’d spend maybe 10 minutes (a long time for a 3 year old) drawing something indecipherable (but interesting), look at it for awhile and then scrawl through it like some demented Pollock-possessed child until all that was left was a black mass. Now he’s possessive of everything and I wonder if he let that almost libertine trait go because of his environment or simply because he got tired. Reminded of a quote from Deconstructing Harry, “Tradition is the illusion of permanence”. But maybe that’s a discussion for another day.

Out of interest, could anyone who has read this tell me if it’s worth it?

I’m of a mindset of late that makes me think that his writing might make a lot of sense to me. If it’s in audio book form on which I can listen to his lisp while he reads all the better, I find it gives his work a little more drama.

I did not get a chance to read much news or design sites today, but the best bits for each I read were How Right-Wing Cult Leader Sun Myung Moon Bought Washington


Mistakes in Typography Grate the Purists.