Clips from The Illusionist


Hot Pockets!

via GetJustin


Necktie Mathematics

About a week ago, I realized that I didn't know how to tie a tie. I mean, I did something to the tie when I put it on, but I'm not sure what. It ended up looking alright though. Anyhow, I decided enough was enough, so I went online to learn for myself the full range of tie knots, expecting maybe three or four. I soon discovered that two physicists, Yong Mao and Thomas Fink, had set out in 2001 to unravel a mathematical model for understanding tie knots. Based on the supposition that there are three different moves one can make with a tie (cross to the left, right or go down through the top) and the two possible directions a tie can face, they figured out that there are exactly 85 different ways to tie a tie, about a dozen of which are really aesthetically pleasing.

I take a weird delight in seeing an element of fashion reduced down to mathematical principles to be dissected. By denoting each move by a pair of letters (Li, for instance, means go to the Left, facing In) Mao and Fink are able to set out the instructions for a tie knot simply and concisely. For instance, the Windsor knot is Li Co Ri Lo Ci Ro Li Co T, which translates to:

For a full explanation, plus how to tie all 85 knots, go to Fink's homepage, or buy his book The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie (not cheap; I recommend looking for it used). If you are further intrigued, read his summary Designing Tie Knots by Random Walks, or the full paper that inspired the book, Tie Knots, Random Walks, and Topology.

(I do not endorse the ad at top in any way, other than that I think it's funny.)


Hell of Sand

A strangely addicting sandbox-type game. Play around with it to get the idea. To start out with, try making a line of "Spout" all along the top, and then a line of "Plant" all along the bottom. Wait and see what happens.

Thanks to Kate for the tip.


Visual Poetics

Some beautiful examples of typographic expression from the late 1800s and early 1900s can be found in the essay Typographic Innovation in Visual Poetry and Advertising by Vicki Litvinov. Just seeing the tricks typographer and advertisers came up with back in the days of text-only printing is stunning and inspiring.


Magazine Titles

People still say that print magazines will be dead within a decade. These people are wrong. Print magazines will be around probably forever, for the same reason that books will be. People like carefully-made, individual instances of things, even things that could be abstracted to their forms. What this will mean, of course, is that any magazine people were buying just for its content will be moved online. This has been happening for a while. On the other hand, the magazines (and books) that survive will do so with an increased attention to design and tactile beauty.

A few of the magazines that especially intrigue me are the culture magazine The Believer, the literary magazine McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, and the just-founded culinary journal Fire and Knives. This last has an amazing name, by the way. Superbly concrete and expressive. Instead of calling it Food or Kitchen, or some such, it simply names two of the most ancient and essential implements for making food. From reading the title, you know that it must concern food, but the way that it moves around the subject hints that it will be about more than just recipes. And it is. Plus, it's fun and dangerous to say. Try it. Fire and Knives. Awesome.

The Believer and McSweeney's, of course, boast catchy and memorably names as well, and are distinguished by excellent, highly varied writing and gorgeous, ever shifting covers. The Believer's cover art is done by illustrator and graphic novelist Charles Burns, and McSweeney's changes entirely with each publication. They're all certainly worth a look. I especially love that the page for ordering the first issue of Fire and Knives informs its audience that the magazine is set in Perpetua and Gill Sans. Who does that? A magazine that knows its audience.

Via Magculture

Old Spice Manmercial

Genius. Sheer sidesplitting genius. Don't smell like sunsets and baby powder. Smell like jet fighters and punching. Ad by Portland agency Weiden and Kennedy.


Most people have noticed by now that the FedEx logo has a negative space arrow tucked between the E and X. This is a neat touch, and one that would seem unique to the Roman alphabet. I was amused to notice, however, that the Arabic version of the logo also had the same symbol, going from right to left of course. I don't enough about the Arabic alphabet to know if they had to mangle the letters to get it in there, but it looks as if they did, which is too bad. It ought to be natural or not used at all. Now let's see them do it in Japanese kanji!

T-Shirt War



Out of a Forest

A magical stop-motion short by Tobias Gundorff Boesen. Music by The National - "Slow Show."


Sylvain Chomet - La Vieille Dame Et Les Pigeons

Sylvain Chomet's trademark blend of humor, absurdity, and the grotesque is in full swing in this 1998 short. The attention to detail in environment and character approaches Miyazaki.

The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello

Adventure, skyships, evil scientists, Lovecraftian monsters...what more could you ask for?


Winter Solstice, Camelot Station

Here is a poem by SF master John M. Ford. It won the World Fantasy Award for short fiction in 1989. The image of Arthur in the age of rail is burned in my mind now, and the sounds of strange engines pulling into the station at Camelot amid the snow, on the longest night of the year...

Popcorn Clouds

It's hard to believe these photos aren't paintings. I only wish there were more of them, and at a higher resolution, so I could use them as my desktop background. See the photostream here.


A slick, stylish, and surreal film from the Netherlands.

Paul Dempsey - Bats

Great song, beautiful images.


Analog Music

There's something magical about vinyl records. I've begun, for the first time, to listen to classical recordings in our music room on a record player instead of CD player. I love the experience of it, the physicality of the interaction between needle and wax, the very idea of analog recording. Digital recording feels false, somehow. To take one form, (the unique vibrations in the air that make up a piece) and then to scramble it into an artificial language that needs to be reinterpreted again to be played...I feel like something is lost in between.

To be sure, playing a vinyl is not the same as listening to music live. But the process is far more unified. Every indentation on the record has a direct correspondence to a particular sound. You can see the music there, etched into the surface. It keeps the music as it should be, a physical thing, as opposed to an ethereal digital code, teeming and multiplying on the internet.

With the demise of the CD, vinyl records are making a major resurgence. Consider: people can now essentially get any piece of music they desire for free, and yet they pay good money for a record. This, I think, is to be expected. I believe that it is only when the form of a thing becomes liberated that people begin to realize that it was exactly the limitedness, the scarcity of the thing in its embodied state that gave it is value. Matter imposes restrictions on how art can be experienced, and in the long run, we prefer it that way, because the restrictions of matter are fundamental to the human experience of life.

Having music and movies in digital form on my computer makes it tempting to skip through it, listen to a snippet here, a scene there. This sort of interaction is extremely destructive to the artistic experience. It encourages, as so much technology does, an ever increasing level of ADD in daily life. Facebook is bad enough, and things like Twitter make me sick. The notion that one day you will need nothing but your computer for entertainment, and that it will simply transform itself into what ever you wish as you need it strikes me as something horrible and very non-human. One of the reasons that philosophers and the Church have fought so hard to defend the right to private property is that they realize that the appropriation of the physical world to oneself is a very natural and human action. Our clothes, our land, our houses are an extension of ourselves, and I believe that when we begin to transform our possessions into immaterial shapes, we do injury to our own nature.

There is an analogy of sorts between this and other destructive trends in our century, such as contraception. The need for convenience and immediacy above all else blinds us to the fact that inconvenience and the limited nature of our lives, both in space and time, are what give rise to our richest experiences. Try to grow a plant in a space station and it will be a monster; grow it under the constraints of gravity and it takes on form, and resonates with purpose. Or look at the way we play games; the games in which one has the fewest kinds of moves, such as Go, provide the deepest and most rewarding experience.

This is one reason why I am so in favor of liberating music, books, and such on the internet. Reason and experience have both shown that doing so will only increase the exposure and appreciation for live concerts, physical records, and the beauty of the written and printed word. In the end, however much our Platonic urge flees from the physical, our material nature takes hold.

Note: Do you want a vinyl record player/recorder that's as beautiful as it is gloriously low-tech? Look no further.


and now for something completely different

Given Ben's positively ferocious amount of recent activity, I feel as though I'm coming out of cybernetic hibernation! I am about to make a comeback; which means this blog will once again be split between fascinating offerings from the internet and long winded complaints about the various things in life that irk me. With any luck, my interruptions will not be completely irritating.

Issue of today is my run in with an articulate and polite person possessed of the most shocking opinions I've encountered in real life.

Opinion #1: Alexander VI was preferable to John Paul II in terms of damage done to the Church during stay in papal office.

It's even more ridiculous seeing it written out than hearing it in person, but this person was quite adamant...and quite sane. His argument, as far as I could tell, was that the damage done by John Paul II was of a less obvious nature than that exacted by Alexander VI. Apparently John Paul is responsible for ecumenism of an unconscionable degree (the Day of Prayer in Assisi incident), scandal (kissing the Koran), and yet more scandal (topless women at Mass in certain African countries).
Considering these two pontiffs together, it seems strange to me to disregard the fact that one gave only evidence of a debauched and deranged spirit, while the other gave every proof of holiness and divine favor. From his miraculous escape from assassination to his moving forgiveness of the man who tried to kill him, he constantly provided an example of virtue and blessedness that amazed and inspired the world.
Nor can we ever forget the tremendous role he played in toppling Communism, that most heinous of the 20th century's crimes. If that were the only contribution he gave to history, it would be enough to merit encomiums and monuments for decades to come.
Yet his most profound gift was the gift he gave of himself to Catholics around the world. He preached Christ's message in unceasing eloquence to all the nations of this world, and traveled to nearly every continent to spread the Gospel in a manner reminiscent of the original Apostles. He reached over the heads of bureaucratic bishops to reach his flock and touched the hearts of all to whom he spoke.
Administration may not have been his strength; in fact, I doubt there are many who would make that claim. He allowed other men to make appointments, send invitations, and make arrangements, which may explain the presence of Animists at the Day of Prayer. His focus was not on the liturgy, which partially explains the widespread downward trend in liturgical excellence during his pontificate.
But as little as I care for practices such as the Sign of Peace during the Mass, John Paul gave me a reason to reconsider my position on that. During his requiem Mass the world saw the Ayatollah of Iran turn round and clasp the hand of the Prime Minister of Israel. In that moment, the departed pontiff seemed powerfully present.

I do not feel that I can make a judgment concerning the kissing of the Koran. Somehow, a college student taking it upon himself to criticize a man of that stature does not sway me much. I cannot say it was the best idea, but I have never heard the Pope's reasons for taking that action.

As for topless ladies at Mass, I find that argument entirely irrelevant. Catholic missionaries never demanded European standards of modesty from the native cultures they evangelized. That's one of the reasons they were so markedly more effective than Protestant missionaries. In quite a few African cultures, that woman's attire would have been considered completely modest and appropriate. Of course, if it had happened in America, that would be a reason for outrage. But it didn't, and it should not be a cause of undue choler.

There is a consistent group of Catholics who find John Paul problematic; they tend to fall in the SSPX camp or be of that ilk. And to them I say this: You may feel confident that you have the authority to defy the Vicar of Christ, but let's take a little trip down memory lane. Remember Savanarola? Dominican Friar unpopular with complacent Christians because of his hellfire and brimstone attitude toward vice? He's a little like Lefebvre, in his "against the world" attitude. But when he was reprimanded by his Pope, he did what Lefebvre found so impossible. He bowed his head and submitted. He stopped preaching (I'm from the crowd that fully believes he only recommenced preaching because he thought the Pope had lifted the ban) and obeyed that profligate Pope, Alexander VI. Obedience can be a bitter thing, but it's what gave Christ "the name above every other name." We would do well to continue to imitate the only begotten Son of God.

Don't you think?


Bon Iver - The Wolves


The Morae River was my first introduction to the concept of artificial ecosystems, but now I keep finding more and more about it. Apparently the internet is swimming with sites dedicated to things like alternate evolution, extrapolations of dinosaur development had they not gone extinct, and just full fledged alien worlds. Of course, a great deal of these are terribly illustrated, which, it seems to me, takes the whole fun out of it. There are a couple of bright spots though. The biggest is Snaiad, an alien world with a far greater catalog of fauna than the Morae River, with stunning and often disturbing illustrations, and a laboriously worked out anatomy. More so than the Morae River, it attempts to give a consistent and rational explanation for how unique evolutionary forces guided the creatures to where they are.

Other interesting works include After Man: A Zoology of the Future, and Expedition, which features the artwork of Wayne Barlowe. Of course, Avatar also features an extensive and detailed collection of original fauna, which you can watch on the big screen.

Best Animated Short: Oscar Nominees

The fifth nominee is called Logorama, but it was a bit too R rated to post. Clever idea though.


Dear Mr. Watterson

It's been fifteen years since Calvin and Hobbes ended. Since then, there have been other decent comic strips in newspapers: Mutts, Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine, but none have come close to touching the pinnacle of cartooning excellence that Calvin and Hobbes represented. That's right, Calvin and Hobbes was the best thing that has ever been printed on a comics page. It's better than Windsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland, better than Walt Kelly's Pogo, and better that Georg Heriman's Krazy Kat. Bill Waterson, C&H's author, has remained reclusive, and has several times published papers or given talks on why he ended the strip after only ten years, and why he prefers to remain out of the public eye. Recently, however, he gave a short interview to the Cleavland Plain Dealer, which you can read here.

Also, watch the trailer above for the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson, a project in production on the creation and cultural impact of the work.

A great compilation of Watterson's writings can be found here, including his thoughts on Little Nemo, a review of Berke Breathed, and his now famous manifesto The Cheapening of Comics, where he tears into the current syndicate system, and presents his thesis that currently, cartooning is regressing into a more and more inane and primitive form. What Watterson could not have predicted, of course, was webcomics, which give their creators total control over their creations and unlimited space to do it in. Still, webcomics have a ways to go before they start producing really memorable work. At the moment, really exceptional series are few and far between, such as Buttercup Festival, Copper, and Rad Sechrist's Beneath the Leaves and Wooden Rivers.

The Nietzsche Family Circus

The great epochs of our life come when 
we gain the courage to rechristen our 
evil as what is best in us.

Every time you refresh it, it gives you a new random pairing of a Family Circus image and a Nietzsche quote. It's about time someone found a use for that cartoon. Try it here.



An unusual and cleverly made French animated short, made using both CG and 2D animation. Shortlisted for an Academy Award a few year ago.