Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pyrard de Laval says in 1616: ‘(in Goa) they have no glass windows, instead very fine and straight oyster shells are used, inserted into wooden frames, allowing the light to come in as if it was of paper, as they are not as transparent as glass.'
Photographer Rajan Parrikar has some pictures of Goan nacre windows, though only from the outside, alas. I imagine that accurately rendering the quality of interior light filtered through the shells would be a consummate challenge for any photographer. It brings to mind the large sheets of mica used for window panes in Spanish missions in California, another effect I would love to see in person.

I highly recommend a look at Parrikar's blog and photo galleries. The twin poles of his world seem to be Goa and Iceland, an unusual combination to say the least, but he does excellent justice to both.
It's good to have projects. And while documenting every bridge over the Rio Grande would not be my project, I wish Mr. Baca all the best in his endeavor. Seems like a relatively healthy monomania for a former Albuquerque mayor, certainly a more laudable habit than politics. I recommend that he also try and visit the source.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Massive new arch discovered in Afghanistan, one of 14 natural spans in the world over 200 feet. Very cool, even if it does bump Dinosaur National Monument's Outlaw Arch a notch down the list. Complete list of 200'+ arches here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Musical oddity: Performance Today has the Concerto for Oboe, Eight Timpani, and Orchestra by Georg Druschetzky. Lest you fear that this must be some ghastly 20th Century thing, take heart: it was composed in 1800 and apart from its bizarre set of soloists is straight-laced late Classical period stuff (one should note that it's eight timpani, not eight timpanists; now that would be something!). I really enjoyed the first movement cadenza. 'Bout time the timpanists get to have some real fun!

I'm not sure that PT is archiving shows indefinitely anymore, so if you're interested, listen soon!
Biggest bear ever:
A prehistoric South American giant short-faced bear tipped the scales at up to 3,500 pounds (1,600 kilograms) and towered at least 11 feet (3.4 meters) standing up, according to a new study.

The previous heavyweight was a North American giant short-faced bear—a related extinct species—that weighed up to 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms). The largest bear on record in modern times was a 2,200-pound (998-kilogram) polar bear shot in Alaska in the 19th century.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Did the immigration of bison from Eurasia cause large mammal extinctions in the late Pleistocene? An interesting line of inquiry, though I'd definitely want to see a good account of the effects of another immigrant from Eurasia, one with two legs, taken into account.

Hat tip: Skolai Images.

Update: Or did it have something to do with a comet shower?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Poaching on Larissa's preserves:
"Keep smiling!" could be a good slogan for the American lifestyle. "Why would I smile?" - this could be a slogan for the Russian lifestyle.

From a Russian source, no less. Rather interesting thoughts.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A fascinating read about cave art of the Mississippian Culture. If our archaeologically informed readers know of a readable and tolerably up-to-date book about the Mississippians, I'd appreciate a recommendation.

Hat tip to Chas.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Very cool graphic presentation of the history of science fiction. I note with pleasure that Kepler's Somnium is included, but will admit to some disappointment at the oversight of Berlioz's Euphonia, or The Musical City. But it's always easy to pick nits with anything aspiring to be comprehensive; still very cool.

Via Strange Maps.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What happens if you stick your head into a running particle accelerator? Apparently some Russian found out empirically.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Devoutly to be wished:
The movie that he most longs to make is an adaptation of a grandly ridiculous H. P. Lovecraft novella, “At the Mountains of Madness,” in which explorers, venturing into Antarctica, discover malevolent aliens in a frozen, ruined city. Some of the aliens mutate wildly, which would allow del Toro to create dozens of extreme incarnations. He said, “If I get to do it, those monsters will be so terrifying.”
Looks like a serious longshot, though, as what he's talking about will cost the earth (insists on two weeks of on-location filming in Antarctica). Read the whole thing, and don't miss the ancillary video as a reminder of why del Toro might be the guy who could pull it off. There's a lot of interesting stuff about The Hobbit movie as well. Reading it, I'm not too upset that he's off the project, but I sure hope some of his designs make it onto the DVD special features.

Hat tip to Steve.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Here's more on the revisionist-history Lord of the Rings (which Smartdogs mentioned in the comments a few posts back). Sundry observations:
  • Somehow, this brings strongly to my mind the more paranoid stories on modern-day Pravda. Something to do with that Slavic soul we hear so much about, I guess.

  • I find the excerpts barely readable, in the stylistic sense. Substantial (though far from total) blame can go to the translator. But it makes me wonder how Tolkien comes across in translation. I can't imagine these stories without his philologist's pen evoking all those pre-1066 ancestral memories buried in our dictionaries. I suppose it likely does well in the Germanic languages.* Yet another big score for us native English speakers!

  • On a similar note, ever a borderline Luddite and nature Romantic, I still find myself siding with Gandalf in excerpted dialog. Who cares if Mordor may eventually produce the iPad?

  • Many things indicate that the author is not a very serious Tolkien fan. I leave their identification as an exercise to our nerdy readers.

Needless to say, I'm in no rush to read the whole thing.

*Also Finnish, maybe? I have the sense, almost totally derived from folk music, that there are certain vocabulary and idioms, mostly Ingrian- and Karelian-oriented, that hint at a more tribal, barbaric, pagan past. What other languages have such a tension? Maybe the Turkic tongues, when they prefer old steppe vocabulary over other terms. The Turks seem to do this when they use ak and kara in lieu of beyaz and siyah (white and black). The latter are the dictionary words, but the former show up in the family names, toponyms, songs, strong idioms and such, from Turkey to Mongolia. (Digression: karakurbağası="dark frog" i.e. "toad.") I suppose their equivalents of Latin and French are Arabic and Persian; no doubt the tension was much stronger before Atatürk's linguistic reforms (makes you wonder what we'd be speaking had Tolkien been to England as Mustafa Kemal was to Turkey). But nothing's even in the same league as English for this stuff. Hooray for us!