1. Terra Infirma: Republic of Mainz


    If I were pressed to come up with a guiding principle for my curiosity about the ungainly beast commonly called ‘History’, it’d be that history has margins and a good amount of the interesting stuff is scribbled there, though hastily erased.  Hence, my interest in what could be called ‘ephemeral places,’ that is, geographic entities whose existence was brief, disputed or is often overlooked.

    Here’s a softball: a German democratic state that existed for less than four months in the late 1700s.  The Republic of Mainz was created by a counterattack of the free French army against the Prussians and Austrians, driving out Mainz’s ruler and leading the way tothe first democratically-elected parliament in Germany.

    Like many other statelets allied and/or established by revolutionary France, Mainz soon got trounced by the re-invading forces of the old order, finally being completely snuffed out in July 1793.

    So it goes, but what piques my interest in this brief flash of a republic is what it must have been like to be breathing in those heady Jacobin fumes rolling in over the border in the wake of every big man of the Church-Monarch syndicate taking to their heels.  What a microculture!  Living in an entirely experimental way, figuring out how life works out of the suddenly evaporated old order, first within the borders of the Mainz Republic and then finally just withing the walls of the besieged stronghold of Mainz.

    And all this, never mentioned–probably because it was the sort of thing that gave East German intellectuals a hard-on— in my high school tour of the French Revolution, best summed up as “THANK GOD THAT ENDED!!! THEY WERE RUNNING OUT OF PLACES TO PUT THE SEVERED HEADS!!!”

    image via wikipedia

  2. Carl Jung's The Red Book

    Last week the New York Times published an article by Sara Corbett on Carl Gustav Jung’s unpublished The Red Book entitled “The Holy Grail of the Unconscious.” Corbett’s article covers all of the story from how Jung created the book to its secrecy and ultimate shelving in a safe so there is no need to repeat it here. 9780393065671-3

    The book is the outpouring of Carl Jung’s exploration into his own psyche. The few who have read it said they either read with bated breath or felt it the ramblings of a psychopath.

    The illustration and typography of the book from scans looks amazing, as in these full color scans of The Red Book. Reminds me of the Voynich manuscript— a mysterious illustrated work from the Renaissance filled with peculiar imagery.

    Though unlikely to live up to the hype of those who have read it, The Red Book promises to be a substantial work by one of the twentieth century’s great minds.

  3. For Writers/Obsessives: Names and Weather

    In the realm of fiction, the concept of ‘plausibility’ is a tricky little bastard.  Unless you’re writing about dimensionless plasma dragons beyond all mortal physics and continuity, it’s going to be a sticky wicket to lie just right so that your reader swallows it while still being swept away in the unique fantasy world you’ve crafted.

    Even real life often comes off unlikely on the page.  Who among us young, shiftless, creative types has not tried to shoehorn into a plot some personally lived-through story that began with neutral spirits and come away muttering “Naw…. bullshit”?

    As I said, a sticky wicket.  I’ll say it again if pressed.

    Point being, it’s important to give some air of real life to your stories by recreating the milieu they take place in.  Character and setting greatly factor into this.  A couple of resources for this I came across tonight:

    Weather History: The Weather Underground kindly provides historical weather information.  Punch in city, state (or zipcode or airport code) and the date you’re looking for and they’ve got what the weather was like clear back to the 1940s.  This is clutch for scenarios which integrate historical events.  Never again begin your lone gunman love story in Dealy Plaza with “It was a dark and stormy night…”

    Popular Names Since 1879: Sure, everyone is named Jaden or Braden or UltraPeanut these days but naming an old guy ‘Tyler’ is going to fall flat and drag your story down with it.  Look up the top 200 from the approximate date of birth of your characters and pull from there.  It all feels less stalkery than combing through friends’ Facebook friends.

    Both resources are fairly U.S.-centric but, well, tough luck, Nigel.  Post what you use that delivers more Basils and rainfall over Slough in the comments.

  4. 12 Lies Every Douche in a Bar Insists Are True

    There are many, many lies we all believe. Every douche at a bar will swear these 12 fictoids are true despite science– As everyone know these things to be ‘true’. Here are twelve of the most common that I have heard recently.

    Ostriches put their head in sand.

    If you have seen it, it’s called “Photoshop” as in the case of a recent Newsweek cover. We can all blame Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) who attempted to catalog all knowledge of the Roman Empire. In Book 10, Chapter 1, he wrote “…they imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed.” Thanks, Pliny. In fairness animals are hard to categorize; for some time it was thought a kangaroo had two heads due to the young baby in tow.

    Disney is frozen

    Disney maintained an extremely private life leading to rumors that he was a harsh anti-Semite, a puppet of Zionists, a Communist and a Fascist. One confirmed fact is his remains were cremated at Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, California– much more prosaic than cryogenic suspension. Very few have taken the leap to become a cryonaut, most notably baseball legend Ted Williams, Williams’ son John Henry Williams, and futurist FM-2030.

    Sugar causes hyperactivity

    Sugar is called empty calories for a clear reason: its just calories without vitamins, proteins, or lipids. Our bodies need calories for energy, but we can find them in every food we consume. Sugar is no different than any food with calories and does not provide any excess energy. Excess amounts of oranges, pork, or even burgers provides the same if not more for bouts of energy.

    Every seven years your cells regenerate

    Do you remember any event from seven or more years ago? Good, as that means a neuron in your head has survived  seven years. Brain cells– among other cells– last longer than seven years. It’s nice to think that every seven year your body gets a refresh but unfortunately that’s not the case. We just get seven years older.

    You only use 10% of your brain

    The origin of this myth is dubious but perhaps stems from upstate New Yorker Orson Squire Fowler a proponent of the pseudoscience phrenology, life-style pundit, and inventor of the octagon house. Phrenology claimed the brain was divided into neat platonic sections controlling “friendship,” “love,” and “ailments.” It’s a soothing idea to think that 90% of your brain remains untapped of potential. Perhaps one we could utilize that, and realize our dream as a 6 year old of being the greatest person, ever. CAT scans and logic tells us we use that 90% all the time– and you don’t want to part with that 90%.

    We lose 90% of heat through our head

    So what does that 90% of your brain do? According to suburban mom wisdom it is where 90% of the heat in your body escapes. The ancient Greeks among others thought of the brain as simply a cooling mechanism for the body. For 90% of the heat in your body to escape from your body, 90% would need to be in your head. If you want to do an experiment, walk around with a hat but completely naked in the dead of winter. Chances are you will be arrested and pretty damn cold.

    Drink 8 glasses of water a day; coffee causes you to lose hydration

    Though not recommended, you can get daily requirements for liquid from daily food intake. Many will insist though that water is a cure-all, able to solve any and all problems. They will also insist that beverages such as coffee, soda, or tea are a diuretic meaning a net-loss of water. Though coffee and soda are not as efficient as water, they do not cause a loss of water.  While drinking eight glasses might not be necessary, it is not a requirement.

    Lemmings jump off a cliff

    Uncle Walt may not wait in cryogenic suspension. His company did force numerous lemmings to die and create the myth of lemming suicide. Lemmings do on occasion fall into the ocean from cliffs, as do people on occasion. However, it is not a habit and not the norm. While filming the nature documentary White Wilderness the set staff pushed the poor critters off a cliff dramatically. Killing the lemmings but a myth was born. [Edit: Let’s go to tape on this one: lemmings getting White and Wild]

    Tequila worms

    Tequila does not have a worm in it. Mezcal, however, does. Tequila, by definition, is made exclusively from blue agave. According to liquor standards in the US and Mexico tequila cannot contain insects or larvae.

    More importantly though eating the worm will not provide any additional inebriate, aphrodisiac, or any effects. It’s just a gimmick.

    Cow tipping

    Cows do not sleep standing up. Period. Nor do they lock their legs. Period. Approaching a field for cow-tipping has simply become a faux right-of-passage for hick high school students in the US. While cows are docile, tipping them is physically impossible.

    Purple cloud in a pool when you pee

    Many even recall seeing a cloud of purple or red around someone in a public pool indicating that person was urinating. There is no such chemical. Though this discouraged youths from peeing in the pool, this chemical cannot be purchased and does not exist. How often urination in pools happens would require constant draining and refilling of every public pool which is beyond budgets or feasibility. Discouraged from swimming yet?

    Water spins in a different direction in the southern hemisphere

    The Coriolis effect does have a weak force on objects on Earth. That force is too weak to effect water or any other liquid. Water spins both clockwise and counterclockwise on both sides of the equator. Movement in water from origin will dictate its direction regardless of hemisphere. Try it in your sink by pushing water one way or another. This will not even require a trip across the hemisphere to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, etc.

  5. Raw Materials: Free Stock Photos & Textures

    The Internet is full of places for finding those stock photos of overly happy women working customer support and businessmen striking a deal for serious business. However, maybe you need an image or texture for your blog, reference, design work, or art work.

    Fortunately there are plenty of places online for free stock images and textures. Always make sure to check licensing as perhaps an image is free but might require permission or may not be available for commercial use.

    One of the oldest resources for free stock images. Relatively recently acquired by Getty Images many budding would be stock photographers cut their camera and illustration chops here.

    A growing gallery of images some with restrictions and some without. Many of the images are out of focus or require some Photoshop tuning, but the range is stunning.

    A great collection of images for reference, remixing, or backgrounds. The images tend to be less people based than stock.xchng and focused towards artists and designers.

    Mayang’s Textures
    I’ve used this site for years for creating 3D textures, backgrounds, and textures. The images are high resolution so are ideal for creating seamless tiles. The limit is 20 images per day, per IP address. You can buy a DVD for a mere $40 USD containing all the images if you hit the limit often.

    CG Textures
    Like Mayang’s, this site is designed and organized primarily for use as textures. The images are primarily of flat textures such as rust, steel, and organic fauna.

    It’s no secret that Flickr has many, many images– but many of them are vacation shots or drooling babies. Those vacations shots can be useful sometimes– like this quite elaborate use of a vacation shot in the film Iron Man. Just make sure its okay to use the image according to the creator’s wishes.

  6. The Backroads of Eating at Taco Bell


    Mental Floss drags ten secret menus out from the memory hole of fast food legend.  While I’m a card-carrying fancy Dan who only eats triple organic sustainably grown congealed oxygen from Williams-Sonoma, something about fast food ‘secret menus’ really get me going in that James Bond of the Strip Mall sorta way.  Plus, animal style s a genius term to name anything.

    Also: word from The Underground indicates Taco Bell offers more than just that mythical green sauce for breast-men in the know.