perfectly polite

Posted by Ed Thu, 13 Sep 2007 22:24:00 GMT

Here’s a funny cartoon from this week’s Private Eye:

and a couple of other ones from the scrapbook:

learning the epistemology of loss

Posted by Ed Tue, 11 Sep 2007 10:11:00 GMT

There’s something about the clipped and refined tones of the poet John Berryman which makes me laugh, particularly when he’s describing the existential anguish of a young boy coming to terms with the loss of a ball.


What is the boy now, who has lost his ball,
What, what is he to do? I saw it go
Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then
Merrily over–there it is in the water!
No use to say ‘O there are other balls’:
An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy
As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down
All his young days into the harbour where
His ball went. I would not intrude on him,
A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now
He senses first responsibility
In a world of possessions. People will take balls,
Balls will be lost always, little boy,
And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.
He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,
The epistemology of loss, how to stand up
Knowing what every man must one day know
And most know many days, how to stand up
And gradually light returns to the street
A whistle blows, the ball is out of sight,
Soon part of me will explore the deep and dark
Floor of the harbour . . I am everywhere,
I suffer and move, my mind and my heart move
With all that move me, under the water
Or whistling, I am not a little boy.

Listen to the recording of John Berryman reading this poem if you like, and have a laugh at the expense of all little boys.

If you like jigsaws then why not try shreds 1

Posted by Ed Thu, 08 Feb 2007 10:51:00 GMT

I once heard a paleontologist boast about how she liked to do jigsaws in her spare time. Not normal jigsaws mind you – her spatial abilities being so superior – she liked to do her jigsaws with the pieces upside down, picture facing down.

If you like the idea of such challenge then consider this piece in which Robert Fisk (from his book The Great War for Civilisation) recounts a woman’s report of how in 1979 a young Iranian called Javad started reconstructing shredded documents recovered from the sacked US embassy:

He was a study in concentration: bearded, thin, nervous and intense. These qualities, combined with his strong command of English, his mathematical mind and his enthusiasm, made him a natural for the job …

One afternoon he took a handful of shreds from the barrel, laid them on a sheet of white paper and began grouping them on the basis of their qualities … After five hours we had been able to reconstruct 20-30 per cent of the two documents.

The next day I visited the document centre with a group of sisters. ‘Come and see. With God’s help, with faith and a bit of effort we can accomplish the impossible’ he said, with a smile.

Fisk goes on:

A team of twenty students was gathered to work on the papers. A flat board was fitted with elastic bands to hold the shreds in place. They could reconstruct five to ten documents a week.

They were carpet weavers, carefully, almost lovingly re-threading their tapestry. Iranian carpets are filled with flowers and birds, the recreation of a garden in the desert; they are intended to give life amid sand and heat, to create eternal meadows amid a wasteland.

The Iranians who worked for months on those shredded papers were creating their own unique carpet, one that exposed the past and was transformed into a living history book amid the arid propaganda of the revolution.

High-school students and disabled war veterns were enlisted to work on this carpet of papers.

It would take them six years to complete, three thousand pages containing 2,300 documents, all eventually contained in 85 volumes.

the muppet-savvy robot army is coming

Posted by Ed Sun, 04 Feb 2007 07:17:00 GMT

When the computers turn against us, Terminator-style, we may find out, amongst much else, that they know more about the Muppet Show than we expected.

This is because of the Muppet Wiki made possible through the work of Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales, interviewed by Paul Marks for the New Scientist

This resource is really useful. Remember seeing Billy Joel on the Muppet Show but have no idea which episodes to seek out? Muppet Wiki:

Billy Joel (b. 1949) appeared on Sesame Street during Season 20 (1988), singing “Just the Way You Are” with Oscar the Grouch.

He also sang “The Alphabet Song” to the Anything Muppets.

His song, “New York State of Mind,” was sung by Floyd in episode 209 of The Muppet Show and by Rowlf on the album Ol’ Brown Ears is Back.

Not that we should be surprised when intelligent computers seek to out-compete us as this will surely represent just another day in earth’s evolutionary story. The fact that the “wedging out” of our species is being performed by machines may make interesting but probably incidental news around the galaxy and beyond.

21st century origami

Posted by Ed Fri, 02 Feb 2007 17:23:00 GMT

how to fold a T-shirt the easy way, or at least the Japanese way: