Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘bizarre’

04 NOVEMBER, 2011

Science Ink: Carl Zimmer Catalogs the Tattoos of Science Nerds

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An anthropology of the geek-rebel, or what astrophysics has to do with the delicacies of the dermis.

Brain Pickings is all about cross-disciplinary curiosity and the unexpected pollination of ideas across different fields. Nowhere does that cross-pollination get more unexpected than between popular science and tattoo culture. That’s exactly what celebrated curiosity monger Carl Zimmer explores in Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed — a weird and wonderful almanac of the lovable geek who immortalized passion for science on their living flesh. Zimmer divides the book into sections around each of the major sciences — math , chemistry, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, astronomy, and even an entire chapter on DNA — and uses each tattoo as a meditation pillow from whence to reflect on the science in question with his unmistakeable essay style of intelligent wit.

A foreword by Mary Roach adds the ultimate cherry on top.

The concept for the project was born in 2007, when Zimmer asked his blog readers whether scientists were hiding tattoos of their science. A surprising number stepped up, and Zimmer began posting images of their ink on his blog for Discover Magazine. The rest was history.

Without intending it, I became a curator of tattoos, a scholar of science ink. I began giving people advice about how to best photograph a tattoo. Rule one: don’t take a picture right after you get the tattoo. Shiny, puffy skin does not please the eye. Tattoo enthusiast magazines called to interview me. All in all, it was a strange experience; I have no tattoos of my own and no intention of getting any. But the open question I posed brought a river of pleasures.” ~ Carl Zimmer

Images courtesy of Sterling Publishing

Tasteful, thoughtful, and tantalizing, Science Ink will make you reconcile your inner geek and rebel, then dust off your old science textbooks for mischievous inspiration.

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13 OCTOBER, 2011

Complaints Choir: The World’s Mundane Grievances Set to Song

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Rent is too damn high, the global musical.

One cold winter night in 2005, while strolling through Helsinki, Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen had an epiphany — what if they could transform the daily grievances people complain about en masse into a source of surprise and joy? In Finnish, there’s an actual word for those mass complaints — “Valituskuoro,” which translates roughly to “complaints choir.” So the duo set out capture the world’s everyday rants in actual choirs and Complaints Choir was born — a traveling record of the world’s grievances, crowdsourced from citizens and set to song.

We defined complaining as “dissatisfaction without action,” nevertheless behind most of the complaints there is an idea or a belief or a value that a person is committed to. Complaints have therefore inbuilt the potential of being a transformative power. The truth about the revolution in East Germany is, that it only happened because a critical mass of people was dissatisfied with and complained about everyday life issues.

There is another fundamental aspect to the culture of complaining. Why do people complain about things they have not the slightest influence upon, for example the weather? Here complaining is not at all about changing things, but rather to build a communal feeling: I am not alone with my little problems, we share the same burden – of an total in-acceptable climate for example.”

From Birmingham to Budapest, Helsinki to Hamburg, Jerusalem to Chicago, the choirs cover everything from the petty and mudane (job resentment, traffic, bureaucracy, the weather) to the amusingly specific and offbeat (neighbor holding Hungarian folk dance classes above bedroom, being ignored by friend’s cat, racist grandmother)

Got the itch for communal ranting? Here’s the DIY guide to orchestrating one in your city. (Did someone say Occupy Wall Street Choir?)

via Deafening Silence HT GMSV

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10 OCTOBER, 2011

Poets Ranked by Beard Weights

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Calculating aptitude by way of facial hair, or what Walt Whitman’s “hibernator” has to do with phrenology.

It’s common knowledge that a poet is only as good as his beard. Or so went the wisdom of Poets Ranked by Beard Weight, a privately printed subscription leaflet authored by Upton Uxbridge Underwood and distributed by the Torchbearer Society of London across the reading bins and cocktail tables of turn-of-the-century parlor cars and smoking lounges to keep the era’s literati informed and entertained. The exceedingly rare work eventually became a prized collector’s item for bibliophiles and beard-historians alike, and inspired many of today’s beard-grooming competitions.

Poets Ranked by Beard Weight: The Commemorative Edition, flagged by the ever-fascinating 50 Watts, collects the best of this Edwardian esoterica in an entertaining volume based on the original 1913 edition, resurrecting the seminal text from out-of-print obscurity and into hipster-readiness. From comparing how Walt Whitman’s “Hibernator” beard stacks up against Henry David Thoreau’s “Wandering Jim” to perusing the code of beard poses and gestures found in the Fundamentals of Beard Flirtation, the tome even peeks inside Underwood’s curious beard-sorcery. Critic and literary historian Gilbert Alter-Gilbert writes in the preface:

The Language of the Beard [...] vaunts the premise that the texture, contours, and growth patterns of a man’s beard indicate personality traits, aptitudes, and strengths and weaknesses of character. A spade beard, according to Underwood’s theories, may denote audacity and resolution, for example, while a forked, finely-downed beard signifies creativity and the gift of intuition, a bushy beard suggests generosity, and so on. Moreover, in keeping with the tenets of such sister systems as palmistry, numerology, and phrenology, Underwood posits the power of the ancient art of pogonomancy, or divination by beard reading, to foresee future events.”

The beards are ranked on Underwood’s Pogonometric Index of 0 (“Very very weak”) to 60 (“Very very heavy”), which attributes numerical values to “poetic gravity” and relative “beard weights,” citing 10 to 24 as the normal range for the average person, with the exceptionally gifted scoring upwards of forty. Though the book features only black-and-white illustrations, 50 Watts’ Will Schofield, whose 2009 post on beard weights inspired the book, has culled some photographic examples of the beards in Underwood’s ranking.

Samuel Morse (1791 – 1872)

Beard type: Garibaldi Elongated

Typical opus: What Hath God Wrought

Gravity (UPI rating): 58

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)

Beard type: Italian False Goatee

Typical opus: The Blessed Damozel

Gravity (UPI rating): 38

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

Beard type: Wandering Jim

Typical opus: Within the Circuit of This Plodding Life

Gravity (UPI rating): 29

Sidney Lanier (1842 – 1881)

Beard type: Spade

Typical opus: The Song of the Chattahoochee

Gravity (UPI rating): 41

William Cullen Bryant (1794 – 1878)

Beard type: Van Winkle

Typical opus: To a Waterfowl

Gravity (UPI rating): 43

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 – 1618)

Beard type: Van Dyke

Typical opus: The Lie

Gravity (UPI rating): 27

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

Beard type: Hibernator

Typical opus: O Captain! My Captain!

Gravity (UPI rating): 22

As for the obvious “What about the lady-poets?” question, lest we forget what era we’re dealing with here, here’s a proper map of woman’s heart to remind us.

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