My hovercraft is full of eels: English as she is spoke

My hovercraft is full of eels: English as she is spoke

Pedro Carolino of Portugal holds the record for unintentional humour: in 1883 he wrote and English-Portugese phrasebook, The new guide of the conversation in Portuguese and English. It is widely held that Pedro spoke no english and the book is a feast of hilarity with incomprehensible sentences such as: He has toast his all good Exculpate ...
Morocco, Tyrian purple, Phoenicians and snails

Morocco, Tyrian purple, Phoenicians and snails

CORRECTION: the green powder is not from the sea snail. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made. Hours of research threw up Gentian violet. And though this is far, far less interesting, it has the benefit of being true. I will leave this post as it is, though, as the story of Tyrian ...
Ressurecting the naturalist

Ressurecting the naturalist

Scientists don't pick flowers. They collect specimens. – myself :) Resurrecting the naturalist: Few people will identify with the term "naturalist". A lot of people love nature, go for walks, strolls, hike; do a little gardening. Gawking at majestic scenery; snowcapped mountains, endless deserts, dense rainforests. Munching on strawberries. Strawberries are not berries, by the way. Coffee ...
Luidia sarsi: sea star magic

Luidia sarsi: sea star magic

Here you are, minding your own business, and you come across a sea star (marine biologists will stab you in the hand with a fork for calling it a starfish). An orangy-white, five-armed rather unremarkable fellow, you might think. And you would be so, soooo wrong. Luidia sarsi turns sexual reproduction upside down. You might think: mammy-sea star, ...
14 Meters of Aztec Codice

14 Meters of Aztec Codice

The Codex Borbonicus (or Codex Cihuacoatl) is a divinatory almanac inscribed in a single 14.2m long sheet of bark paper. A masterpiece of Aztec style, the codice is believed to have been made after the arrival of the Spanish. Its first section is an intricate divinatory calendar, one of the few surviving. Each page represents one of the 20 trecena or 13-day periods, ...
Synthetic diamonds are for forever too

Synthetic diamonds are for forever too

– Synthetic diamonds are real. – Of course they are, I can touch them. –No, really real. They ARE diamonds. Geddit? They are structurally, chemically e-x-a-c-t-l-y the same as what comes out of the ground. They are lab-created. Lab "grown"; or nicer: cultivated gemstones. So the ruby IS a ruby, the emerald an emerald, the ...
Audubon's birds, up for grabs

Audubon’s birds, up for grabs

Audubon's birds have been released to Public Domain! John James Audubon's book Birds of America is usually listed among the rarest books in existence. The reason for this is that the French ornithologist used the laborious technique of hand-coloured etched and aquatint plates, which means that there only about 200 complete sets done. A set fetched £7.3m at auction ...
Collective delusions: pareidolia, religion and invisible pink unicorns

Collective delusions: pareidolia, religion and invisible pink unicorns

This site is pretty much dedicated to the things we see, touch, record and create. But there are plenty of things people "see" that are not there. In troubled individuals, we call it delusions, hallucinations and we medicate. If enough people "see it" (and construct elaborate narratives around it) we call it religion. To see the face ...
Blasphemous Theories About the First Americans

Blasphemous Theories About the First Americans

The ice bridge through which the first American settlers came from Asia was neither made of ice nor a bridge. And according to new evidence, it might have not been the only way in which the continent was populated. Previously dismissed blasphemous theories about the first Americans are enjoying a come-back, and it's finally time ...
The Painted Skulls of Hallstatt

The Painted Skulls of Hallstatt

In the town of Hallstatt there is an Ossuary called Beinhaus, or Bone House. Places of second burial were not uncommon in the Eastern Alps, but Hallstatt is special: It contains  the most remarkable collections of painted skulls, anywhere. The Beinhaus is located in the basement of the Church of Saint Michael, which stands high above ...
Weightless graffiti

Weightless graffiti

Graffiti – often seen as a bad thing; vandalism (I for one, am a fan for the most part). Then there is "non-intrusive" graffiti, that has a temporary, transient and digital component. Light painting. An act in space and time, that afterwards only lives digitally. The documentation of the act is the only evidence. So though ...
The Great Exhibition of 1851

The Great Exhibition of 1851

I was once walking around Crystal Palace Park, waiting for a movie festival to begin, when a man approached me and my friend and asked us if we had seen the dinosaurs. We were confused at first, but he quickly pointed at some massive and frankly strange-looking sculptures that were spread around the park. Only ...
The fabric of Africa

The fabric of Africa

In 2012, the New York times published an article called "Africa's fabric is Dutch". And although there is currently an intense relationship between African consumers and traders, the story of African textiles goes well beyond Vlisco's double-sided, wax-printed cotton fabric. This fantastic short article made me realize that the image of the "naked African" is one too common, ...
A creationist's toybox: The Acámbaro figures

A creationist’s toybox: The Acámbaro figures

In July 1944, a German merchant named Waldemar Julsrud announced he had discovered several thousands ceramic figurines in Mexico, representing everything from supposed dinosaurs to peoples from all over the world. Julsrud had an impressive collection: Over 32,000 original pieces. You can see a few of them here: When I read about this story, I was instantly ...
Celebration of Snails

Celebration of Snails

This article title is absolutely on point. About a year ago, I started a post but just filled in the headline. Naturally, I completely forgot about it until Bente asked me about the draft. What I didn't tell her was that by then I had no idea what the original intention had been, but I was pretty sure it wasn't ...
The network II: drawing meets laser

The network II: drawing meets laser

The network II: drawing meets laser: I made a drawing I told you about n another article, the network (it does not mean anything). The department head in my research group at uni expressed an interest in doing something lage scale on a rather empty wall. A fellow student took the idea and ran with ...
The art, design and architecture of birds

The art, design and architecture of birds

What is architecture? What is design? What is art? Conscious choices. Some kind of cognitive processes that says "naaah. that doesn't work" or "fabfunfantastic!" That is what bowerbirds do. I came across them for the first time as a child. A newspaper we subscribed to used to run a small "interesting-facts from the natural-world" section in a hidden ...
Stealing posters

Stealing posters

They say in art the greatest compliment is to be copied, and the greatest compliment for poster design is when your poster gets stolen. It seems that print posters are dying. Now we have digital screens that cycle – for the most part – commercials. Should we care? Are posters merely something arty people and graphic ...