Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Pablo Picasso on art

EDIT: Apparently this quote is apocryphal. Thanks to Harriet coleman for her correction, in the comment section.

"In art the mass of people no longer seeks consolation and exaltation, but those who are refined, rich, unoccupied, who are distillers of quintessence’s, seek what is new, strange, original, extravagant, scandalous. I myself, since Cubism and before, have satisfied these masters and critics with all the changing oddities which passed through my head, and the less they understand me, the more they admired me. By amusing myself with all these games, with all these absurdities, puzzles, rebuses, arabesques, I became famous and that very quickly. And fame for a painter means sales, gains, fortunes, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term. Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt were great painters. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and exploited as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than it may appear, but it has the merit of being sincere."

Pablo Picasso (Interview with Giovanni Papini in Libro Nero, 1952)

Friday, September 26, 2008

For food and for fun

There are 10'000 edible dormice in the UK, and the all live within about 200 square miles between Beaconsfield, Aylesbury and Luton.

Nowadays we are most likely to hear the name "dormouse" in what is known as the "dormouse test"; as explained by The Guardian's Tom Holland: "the principle that the longer it takes for the delicacy to be mentioned in a drama set in ancient Rome, the more authentic the reconstruction is likely to be".
The juicy meat of the dormouse was considered good food in ancient Rome.

The animal was introduced to England in 1902, through the second Baron Rothschild's collection. Apparently some or all of his dormice escaped, and established themselves in farm houses in the surrounding areas.

Although they can cause great damage to woodwork, wires, and water vats, I imagine that seeing one run up a glass window and slide down - just for fun - would almost make us forgive them.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

London 2012...?

Chinese Olympics Official, as quoted on BBC News:

"London will nevery be able to put on a show like ours, because they only work 4 and a half days a week, with one hour lunch breaks, you can not expect hard endeavour because of human rights and you can not criticise anyone because of their unions"

Monday, August 11, 2008

Il vecchio e il bambino (Francesco Guccini)

Un vecchio e un bambino si preser per mano
E andarono insieme incontro alla sera.
La polvere rossa si alzava lontano
E tutto brillava di luce non vera.
L'immensa pianura sembrava arrivare
Fin dove l'occhio di un uomo poteva guardare,
E tutto d'intorno non c'era nessuno
Solo il tetro contorno di torri di fumo.

I due camminavano, il giorno cadeva
Il vecchio parlava e piano piangeva.
Con l'anima assente, con gli occhi bagnati
Seguiva il ricordo di miti passati.
I vecchi subiscon le ingiurie degli anni
Non sanno distinguere il vero dai sogni,
I vecchi non sanno, nel loro pensiero
Distinguer nei sogni il falso dal vero.
E il vecchio diceva, guardando lontano,
``Immagina questo coperto di grano,
Immagina i frutti, immagina i fiori
E pensa alle voci e pensa ai colori.
E in questa pianura fin dove si perde
Crescevano gli alberi e tutto era verde,
Cadeva la pioggia, segnavano i soli
Il ritmo dell'uomo e delle stagioni.''

Il bimbo ristette, lo sguardo era triste,
E gli occhi guardavano cose mai viste,
E poi disse al vecchio con voce sognante
``Mi piaccion le fiabe, raccontane altre.''

Monday, July 28, 2008

Robert's Skateboarding Law

When skateboarding, before performing a trick, if your board is pointing in a certain direction and you have a certain foot forward (initial stance), you can perform the same trick two times in a row, and after landing the second trick (final stance), your board will be pointing in the same direction and you will have the same foot forward as before you started the first trick.

This law holds true whether the second trick is performed exactly the same as the first, in switchstance or in fakie.

Therefore: Assuming Trick 1 = Trick 2, given an initial stance, an intermediate stance and a final stance:
Initial stance = Final stance

Further Assumptions:
- A wheelie (tail or nose) does not constitute a landed trick
- This must be performed while street skating (continuously going in the same direction). If this is performed on a halfpipe it still holds true if each trick is performed at each end of the halfpipe with no tricks in between.

Example A:
Initial Stance: Nose pointed forward, left foot forward (regular stance)
Trick 1: ~360 varial kickflip is performed~
Intermediate stance: Nose pointed forward, left foot forward (regular stance)
Trick 2: ~360 varial kickflip is performed~
Final stance: Nose pointed forward, left foot forward (regular stance)

Example B:
Initial Stance: Nose pointed forward, right foot forward (goofy stance)
Trick 1: ~Backside kickflip 180 is performed~
Intermediate stance: Tail pointed forward, left foot forward
Trick 2: ~Backside kickflip 180 is performed~ (fakie or switchstance)
Final stance: Nose pointed forward, right foot forward (goofy stance)

Example C:
Initial Stance: Tail pointed forward, right foot forward
Trick 1: ~Backside 180 varial heelflip 360 is performed~ (The body moves 180 degrees, while the board 360)
Intermediate stance: Tail pointed forward, left foot forward
Trick 2: ~Backside 180 varial heelflip 360 is performed~ (fakie or switchstance)
Final stance: Tail pointed forward, right foot forward

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th

George Washington. President of the United States of America:-May the Supreme Executive of every nation, be, like him, the friend, as well as the Magistrate of the People. Song, “God save Columbia’s son,” &c. By N. Fosdick, Esq. Eastern Herald, 6 July 1793, 3. Portland, ME

Taken from James R. Heintze's 4th July Celebrations Database, on the American University website.

Friday, May 30, 2008


I was recently in the Lake District of England, where I learned that the nearest airport to the region is in Blackpool. I had not been aware Blackpool even had an airport.

Before the rise of the "package holiday", the British had to get their beach fun in the northern (and cold and rather damp) city of Blackpool. But the interesting part is that the city's name is thought to come from an old drainage channel which ran over a peat bog (an accumulation of partially decomposed plant material), and thus flowed black water in to the sea. On the other side of the sea we find the city of Dubh Lihn - Gaelic for "black pool".

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Age: 4.5 Billion years
Orbit: 88 days
Rotation: 58.6 days
Surface temperatures: −180 to 430°C
Equatorial Circumference: 15,329.1 km

Age: 4.5 Billion years
Orbit: 224.7 days
Rotation: 243 days
Surface temperatures: -45° C to 464° C
Equatorial Circumference: 38,025 km

Age: 4.5 Billion years
Orbit: 365 days
Rotation: 1 day
Surface temperatures: -88.3 °C to 57.7 °C
Equatorial Circumference: 40,075 km


Age: 4.5 Billion years
Orbit: 687 days
Rotation: 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds
Surface temperatures: −87 °C to -5°C
Equatorial Circumference: 21,343 km

Age: 4.5 Billion years
Orbit: 11.86 years (4333 days)
Rotation: 9 hours 56 minutes
Temperatures: −130 °C to 30°C
Equatorial Circumference: 449,197 km

Age: 4.5 Billion years
Orbit: 29.5 years (10759 days)
Rotation: 10 hours 39 minutes to 45 minutes
Temperatures: −184 °C Average
Equatorial Circumference: 236,672 km

Age: 4.5 Billion years
Orbit: 84.01 Years (30,685.4 days)
Rotation: 17.23 Hours
Temperatures: −224 °C to -216.15 °C
Equatorial Circumference: 160,592 km

Age: 4.5 Billion years
Orbit: 164.79 Years (60,190 days)
Rotation: 16 hours 6 minutes 36 seconds
Temperatures: -223 °C to 480 °C
Equatorial Circumference: 155,597 km

Friday, May 02, 2008

London elects

Yesterday London residents went to the polls to vote for their next Mayor. (NOTE: this role not to be confused with the Lord Mayor of the City of London).

The Mayor of London - a role that has existed since 2000 - makes major decisions for planning and budgeting of governmental functions - transport, protection, culture and sport, etc. - across Greater London. He works with an elected Assembly, whose job it is to scrutinise his decisions, and the Greater London Authority who then implement the policies.

This year's 3 main contenders are Ken Livingstone, standing for the Labour Party, Boris Johnson as Tory candidate and Brian Paddick for the Liberal Democrats. Livingstone has been mayor for 8 years, so his record and policies are well known to all. Paddick was headed up the Metropolitan police in Lambeth, and was a cop for many years before entering the political arena. Johnson is best known for his appearances as guest-presenter on Have I Got News For You. I know where my vote lies...

At the same time as the yesterday's mayoral election, the UK saw many local council elections throughout England and Wales. Preliminary results from these are showing huge shifts of power to the Tory party, with many boroughs abandoning Labour governance all together. Is this a sign of what is to come in the London results? Or will London prove to be distinct from the rest of the country and want to hold forth with the "devil you know"?

Blogs from the three sides:
The Liberati Blog
The Daily Telegraph Blog
The Guardian

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Henry Suso

Henry Suso (1300-1366). Sublime mystic. Craved for hallowing every action of daily life and verged on the ridiculous. Following usages of profane love, he celebrates New Year’s Day and May Day by offering a wreath and a song to his betrothed, Eternal Wisdom (Divine Essence), or when, out of reverence for the Holy Virgin, he renders homage to all womankind and walks in the mud to let a beggar woman pass. At table Suso eats three-quarters of an apple in the name of the Trinity and the remaining quarter in commemoration of “the love with which the heavenly Mother gave her tender child Jesus an apple to eat”; and for this reason he eats the last quarter with the paring, as little boys do not peel their apples. After Christmas he does not eat it, for then the infant Jesus was too young to eat apples. He drinks in five draughts because of the five wounds of the Lord, but as blood and water flowed from the side of Christ, he takes his last draught twice. Over a period of 25 years he never bathed.

Monday, April 14, 2008

American and Irish

From the British Library:

Linguists can use comparative information between accents to help us understand how and when language change occurs. It should, for instance, come as no surprise to discover that some aspects of pronunciation in the USA resemble speech patterns in Northern Ireland, as the English Language arrived in both places at a similar point in time. The varieties spoken in Ireland and the USA clearly retain some of the features of seventeenth-century English that have subsequently disappeared from many accents in England. Yet if we consider Australian, New Zealand or South African English, they are all noticeably non-rhotic — that is 'R' is not pronounced after a vowel in words like farm, corn and better.

Large numbers of English-speaking colonists arrived in the southern hemisphere around the beginning of the nineteenth century — some two hundred years after English was transported across the Atlantic. We can probably assume, therefore, that the vast majority of the emigrants to those countries at that time were speakers from parts of England that were already non-rhotic. In other words, we can infer that speakers in South East England, the East Midlands and East Anglia began to omit the sound after a vowel some time in the eighteenth century. The fact that even in England there remain ‘relic’ areas, such as Bristol, where 'R' is still pronounced shows just how long it takes for a sound change to work its way through a language as a whole.

To hear all the different English accents, click here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Banana. A history.

On this day, in 1633, a London shop window displayed the first ever banana to be seen in the UK.

Until the advent of refrigerated ships bananas were not widely sold in northern Europe. But in 1633 an enterprising herbalist and merchant by the name of Thomas Johnson managed to bring the first bananas to London where he displayed them in his Snow Hill shop window. It is believed he brought them from Bermuda, though we do not know how he managed to get them to destination in a fit state for display.

Bananas are the fruit of Musa Acuminata: musa being the genus, and acuminata meaning a long-pointed or tapering, not referring to the fruit, but to the related flowers. The original banana - of the raw cooking variety rather than the yellow sweet on - has been cultivated and used since ancient times, pre-dating the cultivation of rice.
As far as we know bananas originated in Malaysia around 4000 years ago, and they are mentioned for the first time in Buddhist texts, around 600 B.C. In the following centuries various examples of bananas were brought to southern Europe from the far East, and in 1502, the Portuguese brought the first banana root stocks to the Western Hemisphere, where Thomas Johnson found his examples to bring back to the UK.

However: an archaeological dig along the river Thames recently unearthed a banana skin dating to about 1500, found in what seems to have been a fish pond. This seems to prove stories that around this time a Chinese variety if the fruit was sent to England, where it was named "Cavendish" after the Duke of Devonshire's family.

Whatever the true journey of the banana, it is today a very loved fruit in the UK, with an annual per capita consumption of 12kg. And, we are glad to see, the sweet yellow fruit continues to make headlines.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Coatlicue was impregnated by a ball of feathers that fell on her while she was sleeping. Her daughter, outraged that she was pregnant without a known father, rallied 400 of her brothers to slay her. Coatlicue, however, gave birth to a fully grown warrior, whose name was Huitzilopochtli. Huitzilopochtli then slew the daughter, dismembered her, and sent her body rolling down the hill, which in turn sent the 400 brothers into a panicked retreat.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Martin Waldseemüller

Martin Waldseemüller was a German cartographer who owns the distinction of naming America. He had read journals by Amerigo Vespucci, a merchant who, in 1499, retraced the itinerary Columbus had followed. These journals talked of a "New World". On April 25th, 1507, Waldseemüller created the first map with the new continent called "America" (from the latinized version of Amerigo, Americus, made feminine, as all continents were feminine).

The choice of America as a name was contested from the beginning, with many journals calling it simply "Indies". Even Waldseemüller, by 1513, seemed to question his choice and thereafter referred to it as "Terra Incognita". But by this time it was too late and the "New World" was standardized as "America".

This is not the curious part. What is strange is that Waldseemüller's map contains a Pacific Ocean off the Western Coast of America, before anyone had any notion of its existence.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Romance of English

English is a Germanic language, deriving from the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, and having its formal roots in what we now call Frisian. However it is also as Latinized as any of the formal Romance languages, and for this we can thank the Normans.

When William the Conqueror conquered and took the reins of England in 1066, he made sure that the nobility was gentrified with people from Normandy, his home country. All of the royal houses, upper classes and clergy were taken over by Normans, who all spoke French.

This is a normal modus operandi for conquering nations. The interesting fact was how the English language managed to persist (unlike Celtic five hundred years earlier) and absorb the French terms. What came about were dual terms which, at first, meant the same thing, but as time passed came to represent minor differences in meaning that are not found in most languages, and that have made English as descriptive as it is.

A few examples are the French derived 'demand', and the English 'ask', which at first had the same meaning, but have diverged throughout the years. The same occurred with 'bit' (English) and 'morsel' (French), 'look' (English) and 'regard' (French), 'wish' (English) and 'desire' (French).

It is also possible to see linguistically what position in the social hierarchy the English and the Normans occupied. For example, the English lower classes raised 'pigs', while the Norman upper classes ate 'pork'; the English had 'cows', 'deer', 'hides' and 'sheep', while the Normans had 'beef', 'venison', 'skin' and 'mutton'.

We can only assume the Normans didn't enjoy chicken, or the United States might have now be strewn with Fast food restaurants called KFP and Poul-Fil-A.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

He died before he was born

From a tombstone in the floor of the North Choir Aisle of Salisbury Cathedral in England:


The boy was born on May 13th and died on February 19th of the same year.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Louisiana Purchase – Jefferson’s worst success

The Louisiana Purchase has long been considered one of the greatest achievements of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, as well as the first step in the expansion of the United States and what directly lead to Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the West. However, Thomas Jefferson, the president under whom it was negotiated, was greatly troubled by this treaty and came very close to not ratifying it.

In 1802, Jefferson asked James Monroe and Robert Livingston to negotiate with the French regarding access to the Mississippi ports, which had recently been revoked to the United States. This resulted unexpectedly in a diplomatic triumph for the new country: the purchase of the Louisiana territory, which doubled the area of the United States. Jefferson, however, almost tried a rapprochement with Great Britain rather than accept this purchase.

He thought (correctly) that the constitution did not give the president the power to expand the territory of the country. Even after having negotiated the treaty, he wanted to pass an amendment in order to allow it, but was ultimately convinced by his ministers that there was no time for this. This was not an empty fear, since the power to extend territory could lead to tyrannical behavior by heads of state, through the encroaching of the federal government upon states’ rights.

Although the Louisiana Purchase was overwhelmingly popular at that time in the United States and it lead to Jefferson’s handy reelection, its ratification was seen as the deathblow to strict constructionism. And despite his joy at reading about Lewis and Clark’s discoveries, Thomas Jefferson, to his dying day, looked back at the purchase with little pride.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

(1756-1791). Austrian composer of Genius, taught music by his father Leopold from the age of five, and displayed in the courts of Europe playing the harpsichord blindfold and performing other tricks. He composed string quartets, symphonies, piano sonatas, a concerto for the glass organ and several operas including Don Giovanni and the Magic Flute. His sister Nannerl received identical training and was not a musical genius.