Ramblings & ephemera

Umberto Eco on books

From Umberto Eco’s “Vegetal and mineral memory: The future of books” (Al-Ahram Weekly: 20—26 November 2003): Libraries, over the centuries, have been the most important way of keeping our collective wisdom. They were and still are a sort of universal brain where we can retrieve what we have forgotten and what we still do not […]

William Burroughs on the necessary changes in biology

From Conrad Knickerbocker’s interview of William S. Burroughs in “The Art of Fiction No. 36” (The Paris Review: Fall 1965, No. 35): Science eventually will be forced to establish courts of biologic mediation, because life-forms are going to become more incompatible with the conditions of existence as man penetrates further into space. Mankind will have […]

All about freezing to death

photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection From Peter Stark’s “As Freezing Persons Recollect the Snow–First Chill–Then Stupor–Then the Letting Go” (Outside: January 1997): There is no precise core temperature at which the human body perishes from cold. At Dachau’s cold-water immersion baths, Nazi doctors calculated death to arrive at around 77 degrees […]

Roger Ebert on death

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): What I expect will most probably happen [when I die] is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. Perhaps […]

The cochineal insect’s gift of red

From Allen Abel and Madeleine Czigler’s “Scandal, communism, blood” (National Post: 27 June 2008): The blood-red allure of lipstick is a gift of a parasitic insect that infests cactus plants, principally in Mexico and Peru. It has been known since Aztec and Mayan times that, when boiled, the body of the cochineal insect dissolves into […]

Gottman on relationships

From THE MATHEMATICS OF LOVE: A Talk with John Gottman (Edge: 14 April 2004): So far, his surmise is that “respect and affection are essential to all relationships working and contempt destroys them. It may differ from culture to culture how to communicate respect, and how to communicate affection, and how not to do it, […]

How it feels to drown, get decapitated, get electrocuted, and more

From Anna Gosline’s “Death special: How does it feel to die?” (New Scientist: 13 October 2007): Death comes in many guises, but one way or another it is usually a lack of oxygen to the brain that delivers the coup de grâce. Whether as a result of a heart attack, drowning or suffocation, for example, […]

Cheating, security, & theft in virtual worlds and online games

From Federico Biancuzzi’s interview with security researchers Greg Hoglund & Gary McGraw, authors of Exploiting Online Games, in “Real Flaws in Virtual Worlds” (SecurityFocus: 20 December 2007): The more I dug into online game security, the more interesting things became. There are multiple threads intersecting in our book: hackers who cheat in online games and […]

An elderly Eskimo & his unusual knife

From Wade Davis’ “Wade Davis: an Inuit elder and his shit knife” (Boing Boing: 26 September 2008): The Inuit didn’t fear the cold; they took advantage of it. During the 1950s the Canadian government forced the Inuit into settlements. A family from Arctic Bay told me this fantastic story of their grandfather who refused to […]

Interesting psychological disorders

From Lauren Davis’ “Delusion or Alien Invasion? Disorders That Make Life Seem Like Scifi” (io9: 27 September 2008): Capgras Delusion: You believe a loved one has been replaced with an exact duplicate. … Reduplicative Paramnesia: You believe that a place or location has been moved to another site, or has been duplicated and exists in […]

Somehow I don’t think she had

From Timothy Noah’s “Bush’s Fart-Joke Legacy” (Slate: 2 October 2006): Legend has it that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, once farted in the presence of Queen Elizabeth I, whereupon he went into exile for seven years. On his return, the queen reputedly greeted, “My lord, we had quite forgot the fart.”

History & numbers on prison rape

From Daniel Brook’s “The Problem of Prison Rape” (Legal Affairs: March/April 2004): In his 18 months at [the maximum-security Allred Unit in Iowa Park, Tex.], [Roderick Johnson, a 35-year-old African-American who is suing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice] did time as the property of the Bloods, the Crips, the Mandingo Warriors, and the Mexican […]

A brief history of American bodysnatching

From Emily Bazelon’s “Grave Offense” (Legal Affairs: July/August 2002): In December 1882, hundreds of black Philadelphians gathered at the city morgue. They feared that family members whom they had recently buried were, as a reporter put it, “amongst the staring corpses” that lay inside. Six bodies that had been taken from their graves at Lebanon […]

Court acceptance of forensic & biometric evidence

From Brendan I. Koerner’s “Under the Microscope” (Legal Affairs: July/August 2002): The mantra of forensic evidence examination is “ACE-V.” The acronym stands for Analysis, Comparison, Evaluation, and Verification, which forensic scientists compare with the step-by-step method drilled into countless chemistry students. “Instead of hypothesis, data collection, conclusion, we have ACE-V,” says Elaine Pagliaro, an expert […]

A living story, tattooed on flesh

From The New York Times Magazine‘s “Skin Literature“: Most artists spend their careers trying to create something that will live forever. But the writer Shelley Jackson is creating a work of literature that is intentionally and indisputably mortal. Jackson is publishing her latest short story by recruiting 2,095 people, each of whom will have one […]

A cared-for mummy

From “Mummified woman died naturally“: A woman whose mummified body was dressed in a white gown and placed in front of a television for 2½ years died from heart disease. … Officials never suspected abuse or foul play after finding Johannas Pope, 61, in her Madisonville home Jan. 4. Pope told her caretaker, Kathy Painter, […]

What would it be like to feel no pain?

From CNN’s “World without pain is hell, parent says“: Roberto is one of 17 people in the United States with “congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis,” referred to as CIPA by the few people who know about it. … Other abnormalities quickly surfaced. Roberto was severely susceptible to heatstroke on hot summer days. His parents […]

A man who loves his feet

From Ben Jones’ Benblog, in February 2003: My friend Ben Jones talks about his feet, back when he was a waiter: “My feet are my lifeblood. Even after I’m done waiting, I don’t think I’ll ever think of my feet the same way. They have been my best friends over the last year, suffering through […]