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  • feedwordpress 07:01:08 on 2019/03/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Genevieve von Petzinger, , , , , , Worsaae,   

    “We communicate through art with symbols that transcend the boundaries of time and culture”*… 


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    consistent-doodles

     

    While studying some of the oldest art in the world found in caves and engraved on animal bones or shells, paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger has found evidence of a proto-writing system that perhaps developed in Africa and then spread throughout the world.

    The research also reveals that modern humans were using two-thirds of these signs when they first settled in Europe, which creates another intriguing possibility. “This does not look like the start-up phase of a brand-new invention,” von Petzinger writes in her recently published book, The First Signs: Unlocking the mysteries of the world’s oldest symbols (Simon and Schuster). In other words, when modern humans first started moving into Europe from Africa, they must have brought a mental dictionary of symbols with them…

    A painstaking investigation of Europe’s cave art has revealed 32 shapes and lines that crop up again and again and could be the world’s oldest code– its ur-language: “Stone Age Cave Symbols May All Be Part of a Single Prehistoric Proto-Writing System.”

    * Richard Clar

    ###

    As we honor ancestral accomplishment, we might send carefully-excavated birthday greetings to Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae; he was born on this date in 1821.  An archaeologist and historian, and the second director of the National Museum of Denmark, he played a key role in the foundation of scientific archaeology.

    Worsaae was the first to excavate and use stratigraphy to prove C. J. Thomsen’s sequence of the Three-age system: Stone, Bronze, Iron.  He was a pioneer in the development of paleobotany through his excavation work in the peat bogs of Jutland. And he contributed to the discussion of the origins of human populations around the world.  He proposed a route by which prehistoric people spread from Africa, through Asia, across the Bering Strait to the Americas, and from South America to Australia and the South Sea islands.  (Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition a century later [see here and here] proved the latter voyage to be possible.)  He suggested that Europe was populated later, with Scandinavia one of the last areas to be reached by humankind.

    220px-Jens_Jacob_Asmussen_Worsaae_from_Familj-Journalen1885 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 07:01:36 on 2019/03/13 Permalink
    Tags: Fatebenefratelli hospital, , Hindenberg, , , K Syndrome, Nazi, ,   

    “Great necessities call out great virtues”*… 


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    ksyndrome

    Fatebenefratelli Hospital, Tiber Island, Rome

     

    Behind the closed doors of the Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome was a ward filled with patients being treated for K Syndrome. This new and unfamiliar disease – whose name evoked Koch Syndrome (tuberculosis) – was a strong deterrent to the occupying Nazi soldiers who carried out routine searches of the hospital for Jews, partisans and anti-fascists. Fearing infection, the Nazis did not dare enter the ward, turning their attention elsewhere.

    Patients in this ward had been hospitalised and classified as suffering from K Syndrome in late 1943. On 16 October of that year, the Nazis combed the Jewish ghetto and other areas of Rome, deporting about 1,200 Jews. Only 15 survived the camps. After this, the hospital’s doctors and friars welcomed ever-increasing numbers of patients. These patients were, however, refugees. K Syndrome was an invented illness…

    The remarkable story of hundreds hidden from the Nazis: “K Syndrome, the Disease that Saved.”

    * Abigail Adams

    ###

    As we admire audacity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1932 that Germany held a Presidential election.  With six million unemployed, chaos in Berlin, starvation and ruin, the threat of Marxism, and  a very uncertain future, the German people turned to Hitler by the millions.

    Incumbent President Paul von Hindenburg was 84 years old and in poor health. Never enthusiastic about the presidency (or public office in general), Hindenburg had planned to stand down after his first term. But the prospect of Adolf Hitler being elected President of Germany persuaded the reluctant incumbent to seek a second term.  In the first round of voting, Hindenberg received 49.6% of the vote, just shy of the majority necessary to avoid a run-off.  Hitler polled 30%; Thälmann, the Communist candidate, 16%, and other candidates, 7%.

    Hitler took to the skies, criss-crossing Germany by airplane in the run-off campaign.  He raised his total to 37% of the vote.  Although Hitler lost the presidential election of 1932, he achieved his goals when he was appointed chancellor on January 30, 1933.  Then on February 27, Hindenburg paved the way to dictatorship and war by issuing the Reichstag Fire Decree which nullified civil liberties.  Hitler succeeded Hindenburg as head of state upon Hindenberg’s death in 1934, whereafter he abolished the office entirely, and replaced it with the new position of Führer und Reichskanzler (“Leader and Reich Chancellor”), cementing his rule.

    170px-Reichspräsidentenwahl_1932_-_1._Wahlgang

    1932 Ballot

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 07:01:27 on 2019/03/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , emotion, facila recognition, , , , , ,   

    “Outward show is a wonderful perverter of the reason”*… 


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    facial analysis

    Humans have long hungered for a short-hand to help in understanding and managing other humans.  From phrenology to the Myers-Briggs Test, we’ve tried dozens of short-cuts… and tended to find that at best they weren’t actually very helpful; at worst, they were reinforcing of stereotypes that were inaccurate, and so led to results that were unfair and ineffective.  Still, the quest continues– these days powered by artificial intelligence.  What could go wrong?…

    Could a program detect potential terrorists by reading their facial expressions and behavior? This was the hypothesis put to the test by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in 2003, as it began testing a new surveillance program called the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program, or Spot for short.

    While developing the program, they consulted Paul Ekman, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco. Decades earlier, Ekman had developed a method to identify minute facial expressions and map them on to corresponding emotions. This method was used to train “behavior detection officers” to scan faces for signs of deception.

    But when the program was rolled out in 2007, it was beset with problems. Officers were referring passengers for interrogation more or less at random, and the small number of arrests that came about were on charges unrelated to terrorism. Even more concerning was the fact that the program was allegedly used to justify racial profiling.

    Ekman tried to distance himself from Spot, claiming his method was being misapplied. But others suggested that the program’s failure was due to an outdated scientific theory that underpinned Ekman’s method; namely, that emotions can be deduced objectively through analysis of the face.

    In recent years, technology companies have started using Ekman’s method to train algorithms to detect emotion from facial expressions. Some developers claim that automatic emotion detection systems will not only be better than humans at discovering true emotions by analyzing the face, but that these algorithms will become attuned to our innermost feelings, vastly improving interaction with our devices.

    But many experts studying the science of emotion are concerned that these algorithms will fail once again, making high-stakes decisions about our lives based on faulty science…

    “Emotion detection” has grown from a research project to a $20bn industry; learn more about why that’s a cause for concern: “Don’t look now: why you should be worried about machines reading your emotions.”

    * Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

    ###

    As we insist on the individual, we might recall that it was on this date in 1989 that Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal to CERN for developing a new way of linking and sharing information over the Internet.

    It was the first time Berners-Lee proposed a system that would ultimately become the World Wide Web; but his proposal was basically a relatively vague request to research the details and feasibility of such a system.  He later submitted a proposal on November 12, 1990 that much more directly detailed the actual implementation of the World Wide Web.

    web25-significant-white-300x248 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 07:01:12 on 2019/03/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , madness fo crowds, networks, Nicky Case, , Tasso, , wisdom of crowds   

    “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one”*… 


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    Networks

     

    You’ve probably heard of the wisdom of crowds. The general idea, popularized by James Surowiecki’s book, is that a large group of non-experts can solve problems collectively better than a single expert. As you can imagine, there are a lot of subtleties and complexities to this idea. Nicky Case helps you understand with a game.

    Draw networks, run simulations, and learn in the process…

    Spend an extremely-fruitful half hour with “The Wisdom and/or Madness of Crowds.”

    [via Flowing Data]

    * Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

    ###

    As we contemplate connection, we might compose a birthday rhyme for Torquato Tasso, the 16th Century Italian poet; he was born on this date in 1544.  Tasso was a giant in his own time– he died in 1595, a few days before the Pope was to crown him “King of the Poets”– but had fallen out the core of the Western Canon by the end of the 19th century.  Still, he resonates in the poems (Spencer, Milton, Byron), plays (Goethe), madrigals (Monteverdi), operas (Lully, Vivaldi, Handel, Haydn, Rossini, Dvorak) , and art work (Tintoretto, the Carracci, Guercino, Pietro da Cortona, Domenichino, Van Dyck, Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Tiepolo, Fragonard, Delacroix) that his life and work inspired.

    220px-Torquato_Tasso source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:45 on 2019/03/10 Permalink
    Tags: , clothes, , , fast fashion, George James Symons;, , , , , ,   

    “You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap”*… 


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    Fast Fashion

     

    Remembering that the world has roughly 7.7. billion inhabitants…

    In 2015, the fashion industry churned out 100 billion articles of clothing, doubling production from 2000, far outpacing global population growth. In that same period, we’ve stopped treating our clothes as durable, long-term purchases. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has found that clothing utilization, or how often we wear our clothes, has dropped by 36% over the past decade and a half, and many of us wear clothes only 7 to 10 times before it ends up in a landfill. Studies show that we only really wear 20% of our overflowing closets.

    For the past few years, we’ve pointed the finger at fast-fashion brands like H&M, Zara, and Forever21, saying that they are responsible for this culture of overconsumption. But that’s not entirely fair. The vast majority of brands in the $1.3 billion fashion industry–whether that’s Louis Vuitton or Levi’s–measure growth in terms of increasing production every year. This means not just convincing new customers to buy products, but selling more and more to your existing customers. Right now, apparel companies make 53 million tons of clothes into the world annually. If the industry keeps up its exponential pace of growth, it is expected to reach 160 million tons by 2050….

    Churning out so many clothes has enormous environmental costs that aren’t immediately obvious to consumers. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the fashion industry is contributing the the rapid destruction of our planet. A United Nations report says that we’re on track to increase the world’s temperature by 2.7 degrees by 2040, which will flood our coastlines, intensify droughts, and lead to food shortages. Activists, world leaders, and the public at large are just beginning to reckon with the way the fashion industry is accelerating the pace of climate change…

    It’s not just our closets that are suffering: “We have to fix fashion if we want to survive the climate crisis.”

    The apparel industry is not, of course, unaware of all of this.  For a look at how they are responding, see Ad Age‘s “How Sustainability in Fashion Went From The Margins To The Mainstream“… and draw your own conclusion as to efficacy.

    [photo above: Flickr user Tofuprod]

    * Dolly Parton

    ###

    As we wean ourselves from whopping-great wardrobes, we might spare a thought for a man who contributed t our ability to measure our progress (or lack thereof) in addressing climate change: George James Symons; he died on this date in 1900.  A British meteorologist who was obsessed with increasing the accuracy of measurement, he devoted his career to improving meteorological records by raising measurement standards for accuracy and uniformity, and broadening the coverage (with more reporting stations, increasing their number from just 168 at the start of his career to 3,500 at the time of his death).  The Royal Meteorological Society (to which he was admitted at age 17) established a gold medal in his memory, awarded for services to meteorological science.

    150px-GeorgeJamesSymons(1838-1900) source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:10 on 2019/03/09 Permalink
    Tags: Albert Potts, , , letter boxes, , , mail boxes, pallets, , transport,   

    “Liest thou in smoky cribs, Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee”*… 


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    pallets_0

     

    What’s the most important object in the global economy? The classic answer… is the shipping container, which carries just about every type of object you can think of through the arteries and veins of global trade.

    But let’s drill down a little further. How do those boxes of grapefruits and scissors and puffer jackets get into the containers in the first place, and then get offloaded at their destinations? The answer, most commonly, is an even more humble and ubiquitous technology: the pallet.

    “The magic of these pallets is the magic of abstraction,” Jacob Hodes writes at Cabinet. “Take any object you like, pile it onto a pallet, and it becomes, simply, a ‘unit load’—standardized, cubical, and ideally suited to being scooped up by the tines of a forklift. This allows your Cheerios and your oysters to be whisked through the supply chain with great efficiency.”

    But this simple tool, precisely because of its essential role in the global supply chain, comes with unexpectedly complex logistics…

    From Quartz Obsessions, the story of the world’s lo-fi load bearers: “Pallets.”

    * Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part II (Act 3, Sc 1)

    ###

    As we pile it on, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that Philadelphia iron products manufacturer Albert Potts patented his design for a lamppost-mounted collection mailbox (U.S. patent #19,578).  His box was designed to be affixed to a lamppost so that people could drop their letters into the box instead of making a special trip to the post office to mail their letters.  While Potts was a pioneer in America (anticipating the demand for letter boxes that expanded when City Free Delivery– the delivery of letters to addressees’ doors– was introduced), his were predated by the “pillar box” (introduced in the UK in 1852 by novelist Anthony Trollope, in has day-job capacity as Postal Surveyor) and by a short-lived postal system using collection boxes on street corners around Paris that was set up by  Renouard De Valayer in 1653.

    potts letter box source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:17 on 2019/03/08 Permalink
    Tags: , , genres, George Martin, , , , , , ,   

    “I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours”*… 


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    Lyrics

     

    From Glenn Macdonald (in his capacity as Spotify’s genre taxonomist– or as he put’s it “mechanic of the spiritual compases of erratic discovery robots that run on love”)

    This is a mapping of genres to words, and words to genres, using words that are used distinctively in the titles of songs. A genre’s words are ranked by how disproportionately they appear in that genre’s songs’ titles compared to all songs. A word’s genres are ranked by the position of that word in each genre’s word list. 1525 genres and 4712 words qualify.

    Visit “Genres in Their Own Words”  And while you’re there, explore the genre map and the other nifty resources at Glenn’s site, Every Noise At Once.

    * Bob Dylan

    ###

    As we slip on the headphones, we might spare a thought for Sir George Henry Martin; he died on this date in 2016.  A record producer, arranger, composer, conductor, audio engineer, and musician, Martin began his career as a producer of comedy and novelty records in the early 1950s, working with Peter SellersSpike Milligan, and Bernard Cribbins, among others.  In 1962, while working at EMI/Parlophone, Martin was so impressed by Brian Epstein’s enthusiasm, that he agreed to record the Beatles before seeing or hearing them (and despite the fact that they’d been turned down by Decca).

    Martin went on to produce 23 number ones on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, 19 of which were by The Beatles.  Indeed, Paul McCartney referred to Martin as “the fifth Beatle.”  He also produced chart topping hits for McCartney (“Say Say Say” with Michael Jackson and “Ebony and Ivory” with Stevie Wonder), Elton John (“Candle in the Wind”) and America (“Sister Golden Hair”).

    220px-Beatles_and_George_Martin_in_studio_1966

    George Harrison, Paul McCartney, George Martin, and John Lennon in the studio in 1966

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:42 on 2019/03/07 Permalink
    Tags: , Harriet Ann Jacobs, , Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Slave Voyages, , triangle trade, , William Wilberforce   

    “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong”*… 


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    slave canoe

    In West Africa, canoes were the main vehicles for transporting slaves from the coast to the transatlantic vessel. According to The Illustrated London News, during the 1840’s, in Sierra Leone, such canoes could carry 200 slaves in their bottom. The dimensions of these canoes were “about 40 feet long, 12 broad, and seven or eight feet deep”

     

    This digital memorial raises questions about the largest slave trades in history and offers access to the documentation available to answer them. European colonizers turned to Africa for enslaved laborers to build the cities and extract the resources of the Americas. They forced millions of mostly unnamed Africans across the Atlantic to the Americas, and from one part of the Americas to another. Analyze these slave trades and view interactive maps, timelines, and animations to see the dispersal in action.

    The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database now comprises 36,000 individual slaving expeditions between 1514 and 1866. Records of the voyages have been found in archives and libraries throughout the Atlantic world. They provide information about vessels, routes, and the people associated with them, both enslaved and enslavers. Sources are cited for every voyage included. Users may search for information about a specific voyage or group of voyages. The website provides full interactive capability to analyze the data and report results in the form of statistical tables, graphs, maps, a timeline, and an animation…

    The Trans-Atlantic and Intra-American slave trade databases are the culmination of several decades of independent and collaborative research by scholars drawing upon data in libraries and archives around the Atlantic world. The new Voyages website itself is the product of three years of development by a multi-disciplinary team of historians, librarians, curriculum specialists, cartographers, computer programmers, and web designers, in consultation with scholars of the slave trade from universities in Europe, Africa, South America, and North America…

    Explore one of the two darkest chapters in American history: “Slave Voyages.”

    (For the other, start here… and for a sense of scale: “European colonization of Americas killed so many it cooled Earth’s climate.“)

    To paraphrase William Wilberforce, we may choose to look the other way but we can never say again that we did not know.

    * Abraham Lincoln

    ###

    As we face history, we might spare a thought for Harriet Ann Jacobs; she died on this date in 1897.  An escaped slave who was later freed, she became an abolitionist speaker and reformer.  Jacobs wrote an autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, first serialized in a newspaper, then published as a book in 1861 under the pseudonym “Linda Brent.”  It was one of the first books to address the struggle for freedom by female slaves, and to explore their struggles with sexual harassment and abuse, and their efforts to protect their roles as women and mothers.

    220px-Harriet_Ann_Jacobs1894 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:25 on 2019/03/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand, , honesty, , , PT Barnum, ,   

    “It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit”*… 


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    Barnum

     

    “Business is the ordinary means of living for nearly all of us,” P.T. Barnum wrote in his 1865 book The Humbugs of the World: An Account of Humbugs, Delusions, Impositions, Quackeries, Deceits and Deceivers Generally, in All Ages. “ ‘There’s cheating in all trades but ours,’ is the prompt reply from the bootmaker with his brown paper soles, the grocer with his floury sugar and chicoried coffee…the newspaper man with his ‘immense circulation,’ the publisher with his ‘Great American Novel,’ the city auctioneer with his ‘Pictures by the Old Masters’—all and everyone protest each his own innocence, and warn you against the deceits of the rest.”

    But…

    The greatest humbug of all is the man who believes—or pretends to believe—that everything and everybody are humbugs. If you can imagine a hog’s mind in a man’s body—sensual, greedy, selfish, cruel, cunning, sly, coarse, yet stupid, shortsighted, unreasoning, unable to comprehend anything except what concerns the flesh, you have your man. He thinks himself philosophic and practical, a man of the world; he thinks to show knowledge and wisdom, penetration, deep acquaintance with men and things. Poor fellow! he has exposed his own nakedness. Instead of showing that others are rotten inside, he has proved that he is. He claims that it is not safe to believe others—it is perfectly safe to disbelieve him. He claims that every man will get the better of you if possible—let him alone! Selfishness, he says, is the universal rule—leave nothing to depend on his generosity or honor; trust him just as far as you can sling an elephant by the tail. A bad world, he sneers, full of deceit and nastiness—it is his own foul breath that he smells; only a thoroughly corrupt heart could suggest such vile thoughts. He sees only what suits him, as a turkey buzzard spies only carrion, though amid the loveliest landscape. I pronounce him who thus virtually slanders his father and dishonors his mother, and defiles the sanctities of home, and the glory of patriotism, and the merchant’s honor, and the martyr’s grave, and the saint’s crown—who does not even know that every sham shows that there is a reality, and that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue—I pronounce him—no, I do not pronounce him a humbug, the word does not apply to him. He is a fool…

    Via Lapham’s Quarterly, “The Great American Humbug.”

    * Noël Coward, Blithe Spirit

    ###

    As we honor honesty, we might send licentious birthday greetings to Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac; he was born on this date in 1619.  While he was a bold and innovative author in the 17th century libertine literary tradition, he is better remembered as the title character he inspired in Edmond Rostand’s noted drama Cyrano de Bergerac, which, although it includes elements of the real Cyrano’s life, is larded with invention and myth.

    Cyrano was possessed of a prodigious proboscis, over which he is said to have fought more than 1,000 duels.  Surely as importantly, his writings, which mixed science and romance, influenced Jonathan Swift, Edgar Alan Poe, Voltaire– and Moliere, who “borrowed freely” from Cyrano’s 1654 comedy Le Pédant joué (The Pedant Tricked).

    220px-Savinien_de_Cyrano_de_Bergerac source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:02 on 2019/03/05 Permalink
    Tags: aggression, , domestication, , , , human species, , Richard Wrangham, Samuel Colt,   

    “To paraphrase several sages: Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time”*… 


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    Beast within

    “Stranded on the Island of Circe” by Paul Reid

     

    What was the driving force that made us human, akin to but separate from other apes and our evolutionary cousins such as the Neanderthals? In The Goodness Paradox, the anthropologist Richard Wrangham approvingly quotes Frederick the Great in pointing to “the wild beast” within each man: our nature, he argues, is rooted in an animal violence that morphed over time to become uniquely human. When male human ancestors began to plot together to execute aggressive men in their communities, indeed to carry out such killings through what Wrangham calls “coalitionary proactive aggression”, they were launched towards full humanity…

    At some point after the evolutionary split from the non-human ape lineage – probably around 300,000 years ago, Wrangham thinks – our male ancestors began to do what the chimpanzees could not: plot together to execute aggressive males in their own social groups. How do we know this? Because we see evidence of “the domestication syndrome” under way in our ancestors at this time, indicating that they were becoming less in thrall to reactive aggression…

    During human evolution, of course, no other more dominant species controlled the process: instead, we domesticated ourselves by eliminating the most aggressive males in our social groups. Our bodies did signal what was happening. Around 315,000 years ago, for example, “the first glimmerings of the smaller face and reduced brow ridge [compared to earlier human ancestors] that signal the evolution of Homo sapiens” began to show up. Sex differences in the skeleton soon began to diminish. Our species was set apart from all other human-like ones, including the Neanderthals, who did not self-domesticate…

    How the human species domesticated itself: “Wild beast within.”

    * Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

    ###

    As we take it easy. we might recall that it was on this date in 1836 that Samuel Colt and a group of financial backers chartered that Patent Arms Manufacturing Company of Paterson, New Jersey, a company formed to produce what became the first commercially-successful revolvers.  The revolver was pioneered by other inventors; Colt’s great contribution was the use of interchangeable parts.  He envisioned that all the parts of every Colt gun would be be interchangeable and made by machine, to be assembled later by hand– that’s to say, his goal, later realized, was an assembly line.

    220px-Samuel_Colt_engraving_by_John_Chester_Buttre,_c1855 source

     

     
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