Crate of Curios part 28

Another beautiful blooming Sunday, slightly chilly, albeit the cold-resistant people are already out in shorts and short sleeves. Jewelry sellers were out in Thiseio, people taking Sunday walks and queuing in the coffee shops to get their takeaways, so except for the still-ubiquitous masks life felt almost… normal. As the Sufi poet said – “This too shall pass”. The same, however, goes for this evening hour and as I need to get up early tomorrow, let’s get to opening this week’s Crate without further ado.

  1. We like to pooh-pooh selfies as a modern malady that our forebearers supposedly were blessedly free from. As it shows, what kept them from plastering their visages everywhere was rather a lack of finances, proven by the Countess da Castiglione, a famous socialite of 19th century, who bankrupted herself paying for her over 700 portrait photos.

2. Why do we consider people with a negative outlook more intelligent than their counterparts with a sunnier disposition? There are a few theories about that.

3. The English language has a funny feature – it uses a number of animal names as verbs. Not all of those verbs do justice to the creature in question.

4. The feel-good feline for this week is Smol Paul, the wobbly tuxedo kitten (by now more of a cat though), living his best life and getting up to shenanigans in Holly’s Home for Manky Moggies. (Paul is wobbly due to cerebellar hypoplasia, a type of inborn brain damage to the part of the brain that controls motor impulses.)

5. Ever wondered how low we can go in Europe in terms of temperature? Find all the answers on this map.

6. And to finish off for this week – a little comic from Nathan W. Pyle for the introverts among us.

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 26

Lockdown lasts, but since yesterday night we’ve been granted an extra hour of daylight to enjoy and luckily spring added a gorgeous sunshine to it today. Athenians are out to walk and have their obligatory coffees, showing that some customs are just too ingrained to fade even at the face of hindrances and life goes on, simply and enjoyably in its small moments. And with this little reflection, let’s proceed without further ado to opening this week’s Crate.

  1. In case you haven’t yet heard about Afrofuturism – the branch of science fiction that has given us a number of gems including, but not limited to the movie “Black Panther”, the funkadelic tunes of George Clinton and the Parliament and the novels of Octavia Butler, it about time you did. The term itself dates from 1993, but the works covered by it go back considerably longer. And as a word of note – Afrofuturism is also strongly present in contemporary African design.

2. We might consider “The Bionic Man” purely an old fantasy series, but real life is approaching the concept fast. In 2020 Robert “Buz” Chmielewski became the first person to have electrodes implanted into his brain that will allow him to control a pair of prosthetic arms with his mind only.

3. The meaning of life is, as we all know, 42. However, just in case you need some help in reaching that conclusion, Mark Manson has listed 7 questions that will help you closer to the answer. (Yes, the image is from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life”)

4. Having a bad day? Surely a capybara in a pool with an orange on its head can fix that.

5. Sailors were some of the people who were sporting tattoos way before they became mainstream trendy. Back then those tattoos also had particular meanings. (Click on the link to see the whole chart)

6. And a little comic by Hannah Hillam describing a typical post-pandemic condition to finish off for today.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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If you want to receive the Crate to your mailbox, you can subscribe here at Substack.
The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 25

Spring is definitely here with the moody weather, blossoming trees and resulting allergic sneezing that adds additional spice to the pandemic atmosphere. However, looking back now at the 1-year anniversary of the pandemic, things have improved at least to a degree – the behind-the-mask sneezes that a year ago aroused visible panic in the nearest vicinity now barely raise an eyebrow. And on this stoically optimistic note, let’s proceed to opening this week’s Crate of Curios.

1. One of the best things you can do for yourself if you happen to be a) even vaguely interested in history and/or fiction and b) using Facebook, is to check out the page of Victorians, Vile Victorians, as their morning posts are a delight to read next to your morning beverage of choice.

2. Continuing on the note of delightful things – good art is definitely one of them. And yet… there are occasions when bad art is even better. Peruse the collections of the Museum of Bad Art and you’ll see what I mean.

3. You know these foggy mystical forests of fairy tales where any number of magical creatures can pop up at any moment? At least one of those actually exists in Devon, England and it’s called Wistman’s Wood.

4. How to find out your job description based on the type of writing you do? Take the test.

5. There are admittedly different ways to read a book, but one of the most useful ways seems to be to read it as a writer.

6. And as I started this Crate with talking about the weather, it seems to be only appropriate to finish it on the same note.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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If you want to receive the Crate to your mailbox, you can subscribe here at Substack.
The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 24

Spring is approaching with mighty steps and the weather is typically moody, alternating between windy, sunny, and mildly chilly. I wish I could say that lockdown is finally about to end, but as everything else it’s floating in the air like the kites of Clean Monday will be tomorrow. And as technically it already is Clean Monday, let’s get to opening this week’s Crate without delay.

  1. My personal history with detective stories goes a long way back, and I remember coming across the name of Pinkerton Detective Agency in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Valley of Fear”. However, Mr. Doyle never mentioned the agency also employing the first female detective Kate Warne, who after convincing Allan Pinkerton to hire her, went on to have a stellar career as a private investigator.

2. In some countries one can flush toilet paper. In others one really shouldn’t. And then there’s Greenland.

3. Artists and novel writers have a prevailing reputation for eccentricity, but as it seems children’s book authors are no exception.

4. Ex-communist project buildings don’t carry much of a reputation of cosiness or homeliness, yet when you’ve grown up in one, you know that there’s something there – a special atmosphere you can’t really find elsewhere.

5. There are virtue and vice, light and dark, high and low, yin and yang – and then there are the Ancient Greek concepts of sophrosyne and hubris.

6. And to finish off, a nod towards the seemingly eternal lockdown from Tom Gauld.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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If you want to receive the Crate to your mailbox, you can subscribe here at Substack.
The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 23

It’s yet again a slightly chilly Sunday evening and we’re still in lockdown which now has taken inception-like features (lockdown in a lockdown in a lockdown). However, spring is approaching, days are getting warmer and bitter orange trees are getting rid of their last fruits whenever a gust of wind happens to rattle them. That’s enough for a smile. And now without further ado, let’s proceed to open this week’s Crate.

  1. It might often seem that grass is greener elsewhere, but occasionally it doesn’t hurt to remind oneself that things could also be worse. These 12 most radioactive spots on Earth are a pretty good example of that.

2. Rolling your eyes at yet another book blurb promising literary delights by a stellar author? No fear, here’s all you need to decode the jargon.

3. Most people don’t like change. Our brains in general don’t like change. So the little grey cells have come up with five different ways to resist it.

4. What do you do when you’ve been a victim of petty theft, but you happen to live in Ancient Rome where police doesn’t exist yet? You write a proper nasty curse tablet to get even.

5. The bridges on euro banknotes are fictional in order to avoid squabbles between member countries. Or at least they were fictional until a Dutch designer decided to build a replica of them all in Spijkenisse.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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If you want to receive the Crate to your mailbox, you can subscribe here at Substack.
The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 22

There is a sole reason why I’m late with opening the Crate today. Namely when I sat down at the computer to start writing it, I thought to myself – ‘I’ll just see this one Graham Norton show video clip and then I’ll start.’ It was a lie and I knew it – there’s no way to see just one, it snowballs. Unsurprisingly it also snowballed this time… and hence, let’s get to opening the Crate without any further ado.

  1. It is somewhat comforting to see that the process of creation is no easier for those who have reached some of the highest peaks of achievement within their field. Hayao Miyazaki is as familiar with the creative struggle as anyone, as witnessed by these screengrabs from the documentary about his creative process.

2. A team of researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found that a plain boiled potato can make for a decent battery, especially if cut into several pieces. Naturally my first question after reading this was – ‘Hasn’t MacGyver done it at some point?’ As it turned out, not exactly, but the potato-battery hack was already floating around Youtube before the researchers went about their project.

3. The awkward situations where scientist friends or relatives want to celebrate their career milestones that nobody else understands? Tom Gauld has got you covered.

4. Kowloon Walled City was demolished in 1992. At its peak it was the densest place of human habitation on Earth at that time, housing 33,000 people on 2 hectares of land (approximately 5 football fields). It was possible to cross the entire complex without touching the ground once.

5. Our brains are not great at accepting new information that conflicts with our existing beliefs. This is a confirmation bias known as ‘Semmelweis reflex’ and its origin dates back to the tragic story of the Viennese physician Ignaz Semmelweis.

And as a final touch – a little slightly bleak poem by Aleksandr Blok from 1912.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

_________________________________________________________

If you want to receive the Crate to your mailbox, you can subscribe here at Substack.
The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 21

It’s already past midnight, Cinderella has left the ball and the realization that this week’s Crate is late is slowly dawning upon me. However, an effort of willful ignorance overpowers the embarrassment and the process commences. Hence, albeit slightly late, the Crate will be opened as if nothing had happened and as if it were still Sunday.

  1. It’s just about to be the time of the year that during “normal” times is one of the few occasions when one can legitimately sport a mask – indeed it’s Carnival time! And in Japan it’s possible to get a mask that’ll take one directly to the Uncanny Valley.

2. Walking is good for many reasons – not only for physical exercise, but it’s now been scientifically proven that walking also makes one more creative. The Dadaists also dedicated a lot of thoughts to the poetics and politics of walking in a city and seemingly got up to some rather surreal shenanigans themselves while practicing it.

3. As I already mentioned in connection with Ig Nobel prizes in the previous Crate, science when it’s done right involves great opportunities for laughter and wonder. A good example being the Nautilus Ocean Exploration team observing a gulper eel.

4. We all know that friends are important – but what about acquaintances, casual mates or the local newsagent? As it turns out, they are much more important for our mental welfare than we’ve ever realized.

5. The UK is a home to a great number of charming oddities and one of them is a crinkle crankle wall. As unusual as it looks, in fact it has a greater stability and strength than a regular straight brick wall.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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If you want to receive the Crate to your mailbox, you can subscribe here at Substack.
The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 20

Athens was cold on this Valentine’s Day, and if the weather forecast is to be believed, it will get colder still. So it’s all about layers, layers, layers, warm food and rejoicing in the pleasures of a warm heater. But all this is just to keep the body temperature stable. In order not to have the mind go into hibernation state, let’s go ahead and open this week’s Crate without further ado.

  1. Why do we actually consider steak to be ‘manly’ and ‘salad’ to be feminine food? Well, it’s actually an oddity that we owe to the Victorians.

2. Continuing on the subject of food, it’s estimated that there are about 350 types of pasta. This rather extensive infographic shows about a half of them.

3. Would we have chairs if we had tails? How would a nursery look like if we laid eggs? How do science fiction writers come up with all this stuff? Unsurprisingly, it depends on the particular writer. (On the photo – Nnedi Okafor)

4. The famous quote attributed to Isaac Asimov goes something like “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny …”. Science is generally considered a serious business, but Ig Nobel prizes are awards celebrating precisely this sentiment – or as they themselves put it – they are all about research that makes people laugh and then think.

5. The limelight has finally started to seek out female artists who for different reasons have not made it to the mainstream art curricula. Gabriele Münter, one of the initiators (although not a full-fledged member) of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter deserves every bit of it.

6. And, just because it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll throw in an extra poem. This one by Edith Wharton and dates all the way back to 1909.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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If you want to receive the Crate to your mailbox, you can subscribe here at Substack.
The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 19

It’s Sunday again and our weekend curfew has been moved up to 6 pm, but the weather gods have somewhat ironically been kind this weekend – the Halcyon Days are in full force, so we’ve enjoyed delightful spring temperatures. However, now it’s time to open the new Crate.

  1. Everyone needs to see Shetland ponies being dressed in hand-knitted jumpers.

2. Generally we think of depression as something entirely negative and disabling, but could there be an evolutionary upside to it? A new theory argues that it could have evolved as a survival technique. (Comic by the brilliant Hannah Hillam).

3. Mold is by and large a good sign that something is no longer fit to eat. Yet it’s an integral part of some delicacies like the Hungarian Tokaji wine where the botrytis fruit fungus is the component giving the wine its characteristic sweet taste and mild antiseptic properties.

4. Every creative person knows how difficult in can be to get started with a new project – and I mean really started, besides the preparation and research phase. Yet there’s no way around it – Khe Ky gives some very workable tips on how to get around the typical excuses. (Cartoon by the amazing Gemma Correll)

5. Art and science are usually not considered to be bedmates, yet they have had their moments. One of those involves the skeleton of a stegosaurus and Gary Larson’s ‘thagomizer’.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

_________________________________________________________

If you want to receive the Crate to your mailbox, you can subscribe here at Substack.
The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 18

This week has passed rather fast, mostly with rather miserable winter weather. There was a little hope for more things opening up from the starting week, but that didn’t last long – at the moment we can feel lucky for not having the evening curfew changed to 6pm in stead of 9pm. As there are only counted minutes left of this Sunday, let’s get right to it and open this week’s Crate.

  1. Fairy tales (at least in their original form) can be rather sordid affairs, but now it turns out that some of them might also hide a grain of historical truth. The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin who, after not getting his due payment, led the all the children of Hamelin out of the village never to return, seems to point to a real historical event from 26 June 1284. What exactly transpired in Hamelin on that date is still a target of much speculation among historians.

2. Our current obsession with too much screen time is apparently just another one in a long line of historical grievances – as documented by Pessimists Archive. In 1898, it’s ‘too much reading’, in 1938 ‘ too much radio’ that might cause ‘boiler factory ears’ and in 1956 ‘too much TV’.

3. Snoozing, as these candle clocks show, is definitely not a new phenomenon either.

4. Artists tend to think that eventual fame is only dependent on the quality of their work, but research has shown that it -surprise, surprise – also comes down to who they are acquainted with. (Photo from 1911,
from left: Maria and Franz Marc, Bernhard Koehler sen., Heinrich Campendonk, Thomas von Hartmann, sitting: Wassily Kandinsky.)

Wassily Kandinsky with group of artists from the Blue Rider. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

5. Cars can be used for showing off many things, starting with one’s self-esteem and ending with other products. The practice of using cars as marketing vehicles in fact, dates back all the way to 1920’s and a number of these curious vehicles are still out and about.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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If you want to receive the Crate to your mailbox, you can subscribe here at Substack.