Man Made

We Build Automata So to
Mend Our Broken Dreams

‘We’re not computers, Sebastian, we’re physical,’ says Replicant Roy Batty to the brilliant but emotionally stunted genetic designer J.F., in Blade Runner, after he asked Roy and Priss to ‘do something.’
We’ve been asking these quasi-beings that we create to ever so closely resemble our own likeness, to do things for us since at least the 300s BCE, when mathematician Archytas built his steam powered dove.
From that first artificial bird to today’s wonders of modern animatronics on the screen, and Japanese robots all around, we’ve built a hefty utopian timeline of artificial bodies, made of assorted materials or other body parts. No wonder, they also litter the stuff of our nightmares.
Designed to obey, first, then to go where no human could possibly survived, as Philip K. Dick envisioned, we seemed to have this immemorial angst of beating god at his own game and develop a more faithful companion than our own kind, only to get frustrated, if they’d grow too loyal, or killed, if they’d turn on us.
Fictionally, of course. Even though we should’ve known better by now, we still pursue a variety of traditions of supernatural beings doing things for us or to us, creating and destroying our world at will, acting just like summarized versions of the supreme invisible deity billions believe controls our every move on this planet.
From the Golem to Godzilla, from Adam to Frankenstein, we’re transfixed by the thought of being capable of creating or even conceiving another animated body, made out of mud and plastic, to sooth our desperate loneliness in a vast, totally indifferent universe.
It could as well be that we’re just bored, or no longer can stand any of the other 6,999,999,999 bodies cramped and imprisoned in this tiny rock, swirling steadily but completely out of our control, and dream of one day be on the other side of the puppeteering strings.

PROMETHEUS’S FAILED DELIVERANCE
Curiously, in our millennial zeal of building the perfect beast, never mind the billions around us we care little about, we got no close to breathe life into any of them. At the most, we may’ve perfected yet another almost obsolete obsession in the process: the clockwork.
Thus the centuries-old automata, marvels of mechanical prowess, and the industry that once thrived manufacturing them, may have reached flights of imagination and promise across time, but are now all but reduced to that wonder of functionality and futility: the Roomba.
About those exquisite androids of yore, The Writer is in a particular time capsule all of its own. Designed by Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot, it’s a bundle of 6,000 programmable moving pieces, wrapped within the wooden body of a boy.
It looks like a vintage toy but it’s way more than that. (more)
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* Second Variety
* Not Human
* Babies Are Us

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Split Ends

A Brush of Fresh Hair or How
Pubic Curls May Save Your Life

Few things resemble more our evolutionary pedigree than body hair. Culturally, having a ‘full head’ of it means being young, beautiful, healthy, even powerful. Until it departs on its own, we spent years combing it, cutting it, shaving it, dying it, and splitting it with aplomb.
It’s another story, though, with hair elsewhere but on top of the head. A reminder of how fast we went from furry animal to naked ape, we’ve set strict, and clearly gender-biased, social codes to dealing with its appearance. For ear and nose strays, though, antipathy is genderless.
The inconvenient truth about hair is that it’s easily matted with sexism, racial intolerance, and political and religious oppression. It can get greasy with prejudice, scorched dry with the dust of old traditions, and offensively malodorous, reeking of staled rites and bad blood.
In other cases, the way we look at hair or lack thereof reveals the huge gap between our general perception of what each gender is supposed to look like, and what evolution has determined was the best way to cope with changing climate and environmental conditions. We adapted and changed to survive, but often still carry the phantom of an obsolete, long discarded psychological association.
Chest hair, for example, long thought to be a symbol of manhood and testosterone dominance, has recently been found to actually be a deterrent for potential female mates. Scientists long knew that women’s preference for hairlessness may have been a way to avoid lice and other tiny mites that would enjoy the comfort of chest hair in unkempt males of yore (read, all males born some 10,000 years ago).
Even though that’s hopefully no longer the case (as hygiene habits have evolved), the pattern is still present: a paper, published on the Archives of Sexual Behavior journal, shows that women still prefer ‘relatively hair-free guys,’ over hirsute types, even in areas where that kind of parasite is not a realistic threat to humans. Would skinny Williamsburg hipsters chuckle at this notion too?

THE BRAZILIAN RAPUNZEL
For a while, Natasha Moraes de Andrade had one of the longest hairs in the world, which caught the skittish eye of international tabloids. But when the shantytown girl from Rio sold her most marketable asset at 12, she felt relieved. Easy to see why: some things can make anyone drunk with big dreams. Like her, there are many whose dreams haven’t yet been crushed, bless her souls.
China’s Xie Qiuping, for instance, whose hair measured at one point 18ft 5in – still far from Guinness Record material –  also sold it. With the proceeds, she got to do things many 12-year-olds take it for granted, like riding a bike, or not having to spend hours (more)
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* Neverlands
* Show it, Grow it

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Museums of Something Else

Looking for Van Gogh
in a Roomful of Clicks

You’re about to fulfill a lifelong dream: getting up close with your favorite masterpiece. This painting’s haunted your memories for years, and it’s now about to make living in this city all the worthier. But when you’re finally ready for its close up, your reverie suffers a low blow.
Between you and the frame, a phone-picture-taking crowd is busy, turning your dream into a blurry background to their selfies. Miffed, you swear never to come back again. Which brings us to today’s offering: museums are important, but don’t have to suck. Here’s why.
As depositories of humanity’s cultural and artistic achievements, museums have been incomparable. Often the sole local well of knowledge, they anchor communities around a shared past. No wonder they’re also useful for tyrants to stake a claim into the future.
Besides displaying disturbing mementos of our brutal heritage, and the vanquished civilizations we’ve helped destroy, these warehouses of memory and fractured narratives also face crushing competition of the present day’s increasing obsession with accessibility.
Round-the-clock knowledge at one’s fingertips is rendering irrelevant the need for an actual physical place to house art and the past. But the Internet has potential to turn voyeurism into something intimate and personal, in ways that museums seem to be faltering at.
We’re not ready to give up on them just yet, though; just pointing to alternatives that may enhance their mission. Read and click on the illustrations to open up new possibilities. It may sooth your soul and give you a healthy reason to skip that rude crowd this weekend.

THE MOURNING ART COLLECTION
For a place displaying death-inspiring art objects in its galleries, and housed next to a cemetery, the possibility of sudden demise should be never too far. But since its 1990 inception, the Museum of Mourning Art has thrived, even if it had to auction some of its artifacts to survive.
It sits next to Arlington Cemetery (no, not that Arlington), Philadelphia, and it did have to close briefly, while it sold some items. But unlike its neighbors, it’s bound to come back to life, and in line with Americans’ peculiar taste for anything related to the departed.
Its art focus is distinct from similarly lugubrious institutions such as New Orleans’ Museum of Death, Houston-based National Museum of Funeral History, and New York’s Morbid Anatomy Museum. Step into these places for a glance of what’s literally coming next.

POP-UP FEELINGS & BROKEN HEARTS
For an unfortunately brief time, New York had its throbbing pulse measured by art. The pop up Museum of Feelings mixed ‘social media and real-time data from local news, weather reports, flight delays’ and even the Stock Exchange, and translated them into colors.
It was the kind of tactile, refreshing experience traditional museums have to avoid these days, lest not give ideas to deranged minds. It’s now limited by the Web, but it still suggests an alternate reality (more)
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* Scary Night
* Broken Hearts

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Seen From Above

Pictures of Earth at Night From
Space: Stunning Beauty & Concern

Watching Earth from 199 miles up has changed how we see ourselves, our cities and the planet, thanks in part to photos taken from satellite and by the astronauts at the International Space Station. As they’re staying ever longer up there, aerial photography has greatly improved.
All that these recent photos have in common is that they’re all night pictures, but boy, aren’t they striking. They’re also surprisingly revealing and instructive about what’s going on down here. Hopefully, they’ll become valuable tools for raising awareness and change.
Credit should be given to NASA which, despite its current shoestring budget, still manages to wow us with some of their ongoing projects. One such program is the Earth Observatory, which is a comprehensive six-month study, using high-resolution night images of Earth, to ‘gain insight on human activity and poorly understood natural events.’
The now little government agency that still can often works in conjunction with other scientific research teams, such the National Geophysical Data Center, NOAA, as well as the European Space Agency. The ISS is also an integral part of such programs, as it orbits through different patches from satellites.
Whereas the Earth Observatory is a set study, the astronauts are free to photograph Earth following their own instincts. And photograph away they do, to stunning and quite meaningful results. Whether they direct (more)
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* Up, Up & Away

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Hallow Talk

Dolls, Dummies & Porcelain Gore: the
Unsinkable Allure of the Talking Dead

Most people would never admit it, but there are no two ways about it: we like Halloween because it’s creepy. We like the gore associated with it, the scary stuff, and the lure of death, breathing coldly upon our neck. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.
What’s curious in American culture, however, is that even talking about death and the departed and what happens to decaying bodies and what we’re supposed to tell our child about their deceased relatives remains taboo for the whole year, except on October 31.
We use the children’s still unguarded approach to the world as a perfect Trojan horse of an excuse for peeking into the depths of our dark corners, where fears reign supreme, and the sun never shines. And tell everyone that it’s all for their own good.
But heaven forbid if they’re to inquiry about the finality of death, or the possibility – fiercely denied by billions but ever and again confirmed by all the evidence anyone can come up with – that this is it, there’s nothing beyond the Big Sleep, and one’d better making it count while it lasts.
We entrust the wee ones with the task of facing the most terrifying recesses of our psyche, while at the same time disenfranchising them from developing a critical mind about, say, coma, or rigor mortis, embalming, or cremation, and all fun things in between. No wonder they place so much currency on material goods these days.
Whether there’s a point in this cheap thrill of vicariously exposing children to dread towards the unknown, which we all share throughout life, just so they get use to feeling frightened, is truly up to discussion.
For what we, grownups, get out of Halloween is so rewarding to that nook within us which enjoys being spooked that all damage it may inflict on tender minds seems negligible. After all, we tell ourselves, soon enough, they’ll have to handle all of that on their own.
We’d have no problem assuming whole heartedly that we love Halloween. Even as memories of spending those hot South American days of our youth at cemeteries, visiting families and friends who went before, are not our particularly favorite recollections.
We still treasure that we did the time, and remember the smells of fresh flowers and sweat, mixed with a faint scent of recently dug up graves still encrusted deep in our brains. Not quite like the Mexicans, who actually party and camp at the gravesite on the Dia de los Muertos, but still a day to honor all souls, specially the finados.
So we could now proceed to tell rehashed tales about ghosts, goblins, strange apparitions and odd Jack O’Lanterns, stories about unexplained occurrences supposedly told to trustworthy people, rumors from the friend of a friend who’s heard an eerie chime echoing somewhere, perhaps even a dead celebrity sighting or two. But we’d rather not.
As usual, we’ll divert, digress, er, depart from that general theme and find our own niche to mark the date. We’ll focus, (more)
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* The Flours of Evil
* All Hallows Eve
* Hallow Ground

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El Caganer

The Stinky Twist of a
Catalan Nativity Scene

A quirky centuries-old tradition is an integral part of every nativity scene worth its hay in parts of Spain. Somewhere behind Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus himself, there’s the none-too-holy figure of a paesano, relieving himself with not a worry in this world.
The Caganer, a bare-botton icon that originated in Catalonia, is now a familiar sight this time of the year in Portugal and Italy too. And unlike other oh so pious Christmas symbols around the world, it never ceases to draw a little smile from tourists.
It’s no wonder. Most celebrities – not just Spaniards – have their own, and love it too. President Obama has it. The Pope? Sure. Queen of England? Definitely. And, we suspect, a certain vomit-yellow haired American lout may soon be getting one too.
Artists, politicians and footballers, they all have their own little squatting clay statues, sold in souvenir shops. And those who don’t, well, they may be wondering just why not, or whether there’s something terribly wrong with their agents, right Justin?
You better believe it. Even though, the Caganer may be a tad too anarchic for the sanitized tastes of contemporary culture. The social and political subtext that the figure came to evoke may be completely lost for mainstream artists and typical crowds of our times.
The Caganer also conveys fertility and good fortune, as insurance for plentiful produce crops for those who keep one at home. That could be the context connecting such a rich, secular tradition to the Christmas lore and its rural tale of a dispossessed boy born in a manger.
Its addition to a Middle-East religious representation is also a throwback to Spain’s Muslim past, but in the form of some kind of social, almost satirical commentary. And as such, the contrast (more)
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* St. Nick of Time
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Hairy Halloweeners

Zombies Are no Match to
People’s Phobia of Spiders

Halloween is upon us, and the walking dead continue to bury the traditional cast of goblins, ghosts, vampires and werewolves that used to dominate the season, in the hallowed ground of popular imagination. Only one creature packs a bigger fright punch than zombies: spiders.
They’ve been around for millions of years, more species are discovered every day, and unlike all other scary monsters, they’re very much real. And guess what? they’re growing bolder, scarier, and all research done lately has only increased our paralyzing fear of them.
For however beautiful creatures spiders may be, with their intense maternal feelings, their amazing stronger-than-steel silk-making abilities, and their endearing habit of liquefying their prey, they still can’t shake their reputation as overlords of both the crevices of the real world and of our most intimate nightmares.
Science has often come to the rescue of arachnophobes everywhere, who’re helpless to ward off their deep-seated fear of these crawlers. Discoveries in medicine and promising psychological therapies have been developed in order to find ways of soothing such fears, to not much avail, we must say.

For example, the lethal poison of the Brazilian Wandering spider, for which there’s no antidote, may one day replace Viagra-like therapies in the treatment of erectile dysfunction, according to a recent study. Great, right? But then, along comes the Trogloraptor Marchingtoni, or ‘cave robber,’ a recently discovered species with a horrendous set of claws, and we’re back into our fetal position.
CAN’T SHAKE THAT FEELING
Two separate studies about our fear of spiders and snakes, have concluded that, first, it may date back to early mammals, who had to (more)
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Read Also:
* Hallow Talk
* The Flours of Evil
* All Hallows’ Eve
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