some good news for a change

A heartening article from the Wildlife Conservation Society:

A recent census of the Virunga Volcanoes mountain gorilla population has found that the great apes have increased their numbers by 17 percent, according to conservation authorities in Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other groups. The results indicate a total of 380 gorillas, up from 324 individuals in 1989, the last time conditions were stable enough to conduct such a census. […] Another population of 320 mountain gorillas exists in Uganda

a tradition lives on

I only just thought to check whether the Poe Toaster (oh how I wish I’d thought of that) made his visit this year. Sure enough, he did. That link goes to the full version of AP writer Brian Witte’s coverage, which (apart from a couple of dismal local attempts) seems to be the only version making the media rounds this year.

Continue reading

copyright, copyleft, copy whatever you want

As I expected, it’s taking me longer than I expected to get the rest of the site (bio, non-blog writing, etc) up, so I thought I should address the issue of copyright. I’ve just gone back and added links for all the unattributed pictures except the Hubble one (I can’t remember which news story I got that from, but it’s almost certainly a stock beauty shot from the telescope’s home page). So without further ado:
Copyright Notice
Case 1: If I didn’t make it, it belongs to someone else and you should respect their rights and wishes. I certainly will: all legitimate requests regarding intellectual property and the content of this website will be speedily obliged. By “legitimate” I mean either “made by the owner of said property” or “reasonable, as determined by me”.
Case 2: If I did make it, take anything you want, and do with it as you please. I reserve no rights bar this: if you alter something I made in any way, do not identify me as the author of the altered work. I’d love to hear back about anything you do with something you found here.

Update: as discussed here, I intend that this blog should be part of the public domain. You can take anything you find here (so long as I made it) and do anything with it that you like. I’d love to hear about it, but you’re under no obligation whatsoever.

he found it

shitty old chair, nothing moreThat’s art — sorry, Art — you’re looking at there. Dave Barry came across it at a Miami Beach art show, and he couldn’t make any more sense of it than I can:

…a ratty old collapsed armchair – worn, dirty, leaking stuffing, possibly housing active vermin colonies. I asked the gallery person if the chair was art, and she said yes, it was a work titled “Chair.” I asked her what role the artist had played in creating “Chair.” She said: “He found it.”    [pic]

Dave further notes that “Chair” (actually “chair”, otherwise known as “Untitled (ellipses) II”), by brilliant scam artist Rodney McMillian, is for sale: a mere $2800. I wouldn’t touch the feculent thing for twice that, but here is one James Scarborough blurbing in

Rodney McMillian’s work limns absence as an unmitigated presence. His take on absence is more sensuous than cerebral. He doesn’t deconstruct the idea of absence and then rebuild it as a dialectical opposition which posits that what’s not seen, felt, experienced is as significant, perhaps moreso, as that which is. […] The subject… is not our reaction to a void but our innate tendency to venerate the void itself as something sacred and iconic. […] As a repository and sum of former posteriors that have dented its cushions, of previous elbows that have grazed the armrests, the chair offers not a weedy patina of desuetude but an apotheosis of its former occupant.

Uh, what? I’d get those innate tendencies looked at, mate. The comedy just writes itself here, and I don’t care if I am shooting fish in a barrel: these idiots are funny. My hat’s off to your man Rod, though; he’s found some festering piece of crap in a bin somewhere and he’s conned these wankers into putting it in a gallery. I bet some fool will even buy it.


Metafilter’s signal:noise ratio renders the comment threads a waste of time, but with the magic of RSS I can scan the front page for old school posts like these:
From magullo, a link to this polished amateur continuation of the Library of Congress’ exhibit and project on the pre-WWI work of Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Prokudin-Gorskii took three black and white exposures of each scene he shot, using a different filter for each; then, by projecting the plates back through the same filters he could create a single colour image on a wall. The LoC, and now Addison Godel and friends, have used modern image manipulation to reproduce some of these extraordinary images. [pic ; I made the grayscale one in Photoshop.]
   Russian settlers ca 1910, black and white image    Russian settlers ca 1910, colour image
Godel has it exactly right:

…I’d always felt that the past was somehow obscured by being viewed solely through a greyscale window. To see places, buildings, and especially people in color was to understand, on a very deep level, that they had at one time really, truly existed – that the “Typical Russian Peasant of Figure 32” was not merely some gaunt presence in the side of a textbook, but a genuine person who, if not for temporal chance, could have been my neighbor or my friend.

Shibori is a labour intensive Japanese textile dyeing method, and this is a labour intensive post from user lobakgo. Techniques similar to tie-dyeing are used to create patterns like those on the left,from which extraordinarily detailed images like the one on the right are built with months of painstaking effort. [pic 1, pic2]
   selection of Shibori patterns    Shibori image of house in winter landscape
This also ended up on MeFi, but I got it from jwz: the industrial photography of Edward Burtynsky.
   oil refinery image by Edward Burtynsky    mine tailings image by Edward Burtynksy

no spin zone

Rebecca keeps a useful list of antidotes to the special-interest spin in which everything seems to be drenched these days:
Snopes is an old favourite, hunters of urban legends (now in 41 flavours) since 1995. They include “common fallacies, misinformation, old wives’ tales, strange news stories, rumors, celebrity gossip, and similar items” in their expansive definition of “urban legend”. The site is maintained as a hobby by Barbara and David Mikkelson; they take some advertising (they say they have no direct contact with the advertisers, and appear to take ads only through Burst!Media) and accept donations. Of particular interest in these days of Democratic Primaries and Looming Federal Elections is their politics page.
Spinsanity is the creation of Ben Fritz, Bryan Keefer and Brendan Nyhan, all of whom disclose activity and affiliations with “Democratic and progressive politics”. It’s not clear where (other than their own pockets) they get the money for the site; the site is an Amazon affiliate and they accept donations. is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and accepts no funding from “business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals”. Their mission is to “monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.”
The Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk offers political reality checks by medium, angle (Fact Check, Hidden Angle, Local Story, Echo Chamber, Money Trail, Spin Reducer, Distortion, Tip of the Hat and Cheap Shot), issue or candidate. Their stated goal is “to straighten and deepen campaign coverage almost as it is being written and produced” and they focus “not on what politicians say and do, but on how the press is presenting (or not presenting) the political story”. No mention of funding sources.

interesting feller

I suspect that I might not hate advertising, at least not with a passion so far beyond reason, if more advertising execs were like David Ogilvy, whom Doc Searls says “was to advertising what Shakespeare was to theatre”. There are online bios here and here. There are Ogilvy quotes all over the place, and they paint a picture of that rara — indeed I’d have said extinct — avis, an honest advertiser:

The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife.
I always use my clients’ products. This is not toady-ism, but elementary good manners.
If you tell lies about a product, you will be found out – either by the Government, which will prosecute you, or by the consumer, who will punish you by not buying your product a second time.

Of course, some of them suggest that he came from a time when television was not so dominant a cultural force:

Advertising reflects the mores of society, but it does not influence them.
Does advertising corrupt editors? Yes it does, but fewer editors than you may suppose… the vast majority of editors are incorruptible.

If this piqued your interest, Ogilvy wrote three books, Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963), Ogilvy on Advertising (1983), and Blood, Brains and Beer (1978, reissued 1997 as An Autobiography). The first two are apparently classics in the field.


Over at Alas, A Blog, bean is beginning a series of “on this day” posts highlighting the history of the women’s movement. If, like me, you were none from six on this short quiz, you might want to pay attention.


Hubble space telescope
(Via PZ Myers’ Pharyngula) Bruce Garrett, a software engineer at the Space Telescope Science Institute reports (with an update here) on the first casualty of Preznit Dimwit’s determination boldly to go where, er, we’ve already been:

No more servicing missions to Hubble, as per the directive of the current head of NASA, Sean O’Keefe.
Hubble has six guidance gyros. But they fail at fairly regular and now predictable rates. Nearly every servicing mission to Hubble has replaced gyros as part of the work done. It needs three to do most of the science it now does, although there is a scheme in the works to do a greatly attenuated kind of science with two. We currently have four working gyros. Expectations were that we would almost certainly be down to two by the time the next servicing mission occurred, and possibly even down to one. So, figure, at around the time of what would have been the next servicing mission, Hubble will probably be no more, or soon, very soon, to expire.

Mainstream news (1, 2) also has the story.
the Little Ghost nebula
That’s the Little Ghost nebula, the remains of a dying star called NGC 6369. I swiped it from the images gallery at Hubble’s homepage. Read, er, view ’em and weep. Deep space exploration just got deep-sixed for the time being.

that settles it, no iPod for me

In comments on portable music, Ralf writes I guess this won’t whet your appetite for the iPod or its little sibling:

During his regular evening walk, software executive Steve Crandall often nods a polite greeting to other iPod users he passes: He easily spots the distinctive white earbuds threaded from pocket to ears.
But while quietly enjoying some chamber music one evening in August, Crandall’s polite nodding protocol was rudely shattered.
Crandall was boldly approached by another iPod user, a 30ish woman bopping enthusiastically to some high-energy tune.
“She walked right up to me and got within my comfort field,” Crandall stammered. “I was taken aback. She pulled out the earbuds on her iPod and indicated the jack with her eyes.”
Warily unplugging his own earbuds, Crandall gingerly plugged them into the woman’s iPod […]

Oh dear Ghod. Don’t we have a social contract, and laws, and rules, and mores, specifically to keep us safe from things like this? Get away from me, you freaks!