1. When striving to re-form the pattern of our own way of life, we often invoke Nature as our great teacher, seeking to justify man’s actions by arguments based on what happens in nature. We strive after ‘organic creation’, ‘form production from within’, ‘functional forms’, all of them aims which man believes he can find realized in works of nature. Using such slogans, our spirit protests against the artificiality of outward show; it demands ‘essentials’ instead of ‘façades’, and thinks that the very observation of nature should make us proof against false appearances and superficiality.

    But what do we see in natural objects which are said to be examples for us? The functional form pure and simple, so much extolled by some as befitting Nature, is a rare and special case. How much more often do we find in animal forms just what is not comprised in these concepts? And what about ‘form production from within’, which is supposed to be Nature’s way of salvation, which should be the aim of Art? The inside of an animal does remind us of really ingenious man-made apparatus, and a machine-like interpretation does explain some of its functions. But against this, the covering of such ‘apparatus’ always stimulates us to compare it with those kinds of human artistic creations which are farthest removed from any purposive conception. How often does it seem to us as if roving fancy had been at work; sportiveness, the capricious free play of creative force, comes to mind rather than a technical necessity.


    Adolf Portman, Animal Forms and Patterns: a Study of the Appearance of Animals (Faber, 1952).

    The Oblique Strategies card I turned over today tells me to “discard an axiom,” and of the day’s reading this comes the closest to meeting the obligation.

  2. 12:17

    Notes: 1

    Reblogged from issheever


    From the curators: Animal rights activist and scientist Temple Grandin created the serpentine ramp to ensure the humane treatment of cattle. The first ramps that Grandin designed, in 1974, were used during vaccinations of the herd and then, within the same year, for slaughter plants. Grandin designed the ramp so that it prevents cattle from being spooked by the workers or the abattoir up ahead. Semicircular turns take advantage of the movement cattle naturally make in groups. Walking nose to tail, the cows march their way through to the kill floor without the use of prods or noise, and without panicking and injuring themselves. Grandin observed cattle in pasture, in her vaccinating chutes, and in her designs for slaughter houses. By taking blood samples from cattle she was able to show that using her design meant that cortisol levels (a stress hormone) were comparable in all three locations. She believes that design is never a substitute for livestock managers who support low-stress handling, and she advocates for video auditing to prevent employees from abusing animals. In her own words, “People forget that nature is very harsh, especially when predators attack. The big cats kill their prey first, but the canids (wolves and hyena) may rip the guts out of a live animal. We owe the animals we use for food a life worth living and a painless death.”

    Be sure to check out all of the remarkable pieces on the Design and Violence site.

  3. Winsor McCay’s astonishing Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), an early combination of animation and agitprop. It contains engrossing making-of scenes, and expresses a remarkable materiality, with a wooden frame (of the animation stand?) visibly setting off the animated sequences.

  4. 13:46

    Notes: 2

    Masterworks and facial detection.

  5. 05:58 1st Apr 2014

    Notes: 13

    We want a ground to which people may easily go after their day’s work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets, where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them. We want the greatest possible contrast with the streets and the shops and the rooms of the town…. We want, especially, the greatest possible contrast with the restraining and confining conditions of the town, those conditions which compel us to walk circumspectly, watchfully, jealously, which compel us to look closely upon others without sympathy. Practically, what we most want is a simple, broad, open space of clean greensward, with sufficient play of surface and a sufficient number of trees about it to supply a variety of light and shade. This we want as a central feature. We want depth of wood enough about it not only for comfort in hot weather, but to completely shut out the city from our landscapes.
    — Frederick Law Olmsted, “Public Parks” (1902). The quintessence of Olmsted’s vision, the glades and turfs of Central Park glimmer here. I’m struck, however, to think how many other ways trees have of being in the city—not as decoration or obscuring screen, but as residents in dialogue with buildings, infrastructure, and people.
  6. 08:34 21st Mar 2014

    Notes: 10

    Reblogged from ayjay

    Technology comforts, surrounds, and confounds us. When we argue about MOOCs, hydraulic fracturing, NSA surveillance, or drone warfare, we’re arguing about technology. Unfortunately, the conversation is impoverished by the absence of a robust cadre of scholars who can engage with and critique the role of technology in society. Instead, we have the glib boosterism of tech intellectuals like the former Wired editor Chris Anderson, the media gadfly (and CUNY journalism professor) Jeff Jarvis, the British writer Andrew Keen, and the Google executive Eric Schmidt. A fairly homogenous group of white men with elite degrees inclined to champion innovation, disruption, and the free market, these tech intellectuals have usurped the role of explaining technology to policy makers, investors, and the public. Their arguments and advocacy are too often a tepid substitute for robust analysis and honest critique.
    — The Technologists’ Siren Song - The Chronicle of Higher Education. My recommendation to W. Patrick McCray: before you declare that “a robust cadre of scholars” does not exist, you should probably make a point of reading around to see if that’s true. It’s not as though fierce critics of contemporary technocracy like Evgeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier are obscure figures; and, as Matthew Battles points out in a comment to this post, there are many others (“Laura Kurgan, Lisa Gitelman, Gabriella Coleman, Natasha Dow Schüll, Beth Coleman”) who are neither white nor male. Honestly, what an absurd thesis. (via ayjay)
  7. 08:54 20th Mar 2014

    Notes: 2

    Montfort’s involuted, single-line programs give BASIC something of the tang of the Old English of Beowulf—sharp and shorn, barbed and battered by the harsh economies of its habitat. Perl, by contrast, might be the programmer’s version of Occitan, the language (a cousin to latter-day Catalan) of the medieval troubadors, whose poems chimed with the decadent elaborations that flavored courtly life in medieval southern Europe—a fanciful dichotomy, which manages to caricature both the software and the vernaculars in question. Programmers of philological bent will find the comparison to Occitan especially laughable, given Perl’s cobbled-together nature and its reputation for clunkiness; a better example might be the macaronic jargon of the later middle ages, of which Pig Latin is an impoverished descendant.
    — From my post about “Programs at an Exhibition,” a show of art-inspired works in BASIC and Perl by Nick Montfort and Pall Thayer. 
  8. 08:09 1st Mar 2014

    Notes: 87

    Reblogged from laughingsquid

  9. 15:50 25th Feb 2014

    Notes: 1

    The Taiyi summit nears the seat of heaven;
    linked mountains stretch to brink of sea.

    Looking back, see white clouds combining;
    Entering the green haze, it becomes nothing.

    Seen from the middle peak, the sectioned fields change;
    Shadowed and sun-splashed, the many gorges vary.

    Looking for human lodging for the night—
    Query the woodcutter over the water.


    Wang Wei (699–759), “Zhongnan Mountain.” The original poem was composed in the lüshi verse style of the High Tang; the lines were strongly divided into two- and three-syllable feet with an implied caesura, running in couplets linked by rhyme, logic, and enjambment. I’m accessing the original via How to Read Chinese Poetry: a Guided Anthology, ed. by Zong-Qi Cai; my version is informed by his lovely and illuminating commentary.

    The poem struck me forcibly a couple of years ago, after a weekend spent on Maine’s Mount Katahdin. In it I found echoes of the work the mountain did on me: the braided vistas merging, the gulfs and drops seducing, the patterns of forest succession merging and disappearing into one another. Wang Wei catches a patterning that is always at work in us and around us, but which a mountain often brings into focus: combination, nothingness, change, and variation. Zong-qi Cai points out that the two middle couplets in fact end in he, wu, bian, and shu—the words for these four concepts, which buttress Chinese Buddhist cosmology. 

    Our haze on Katahdin was different from Wang Wei’s, however: on an otherwise clear day frenzied by a warm wind„ apparent only once we were high of the mountain shoulder,  a brown haze blown up from the cities to the south hung on the horizon.

  10. 14:44 20th Feb 2014

    Notes: 159

    Reblogged from theartofgooglebooks


    Neon moiré.

    Throughout Ranch Life and the Hunting-trail by Theodore Roosevelt (1888). Original from the New York Public Library. Digitized May 15, 2007.