This battered bit of wood was once a ubiquitous piece of schoolroom equipment. Can you guess what it was used for? On first look, taking the terrible beating it seems to have suffered into account, it’s tempting to guess “A paddle for spanking the little brat’s backsides!”(yes, the good ol days ay?) Though I have zero doubt that this item did speed through the air only to come to rest on naughty backsides, repeatedly, punishment was not in fact its primary function. It was actually a simple primer used for teaching children their alphabet. It was called a “hornbook” and was used in classrooms for at least 400 years. The letters on the model above have long since disappeared, obviously, but take a look below for some more representative models and some accompanying history.

08.28. filed under: books. history. 9

Excuse me Mr. Andy Rooney, for furrowing my unkempt eyebrows, and muscling in on your turf here, but- I’d like to ask a silly question to the world at large… Why is it the purveyors of movie magic, who have mastered all facets of genetics and technology, who can mold flesh like clay, who can mutate and evolve creatures at will, who plumb deep space and animate alien life, who can set loose all manner of creeping death and leaping horror, who can obliterate planets, set hordes in motion, bring the dead to shambling life, who hold sway over the cataclysmic forces of nature, who have dominion over the very fabric of space and time itself and can as such pretty convincingly re-shape reality in any manner necessary… why can’t people with these incredible powers manage to composite a single believable looking family photo?

08.27. filed under: inquiries. 5

There is Yet Another Hell

Mention historical Japanese painting to a westerner and certain images involuntarily leap to mind- Hokusai’s great wave, an idyllic nature scene, an elegant Geisha, a sparrow perched on an inky branch… even Tales of the Genji or an explicit bit of Shunga perhaps. I imagine one thing which does not readily spring to mind is H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks, with its demons and leaping flames and pestilence and writhing souls. After all, that’s our thing! Isn’t it?

08.26. filed under: art. belief. history. 9


Came across this hypnotic video of master hand engraver Steve Lindsay completing an engraving from start to finish. It’s pretty amazing. As a designer (with the prerequisite appreciation of typography) watching someone carve perfect, beautiful letter forms from metal, and so handily, is both humbling and fun. As a (lapsed) painter I can certainly appreciate the brute hand-skill involved. Beyond that there is a definite Zen quality inherent, I’d say, to any work which denies the luxury of an eraser or undo button. Pour yourself a glass of something (the vid is accompanied by an urbane soundtrack of classical and jazz) and enjoy.

For more videos, images, and information on hand engraving see the following:
Engraving, Lindsay, and Master

08.25. filed under: art. design. people.

Polynesian Stick Charts

The Polynesians, scattered as they were over 1,000 islands across the central and southern Pacific Ocean, were master navigators who tracked their way over a huge expanses of ocean without any of the complex mechanical aids we associate with sea fairing. They didn’t have the astrolabe or the sextant, the compass or the chronometer. They did however have aids of a sort, which though seemingly humble, were in fact the repositories of an extremely complex kind of knowledge. Called Rebbelibs, Medos. and Mattangs, today we call them simply “Stick Charts.”

08.23. filed under: design. history. science. 8

“There were only occasional cigarette wrappers or paper towel like toilet paper with no pencils or ink available for communication. You could manufacture ink out of brick dust and sundry such elements and use bamboo slivers for pens. The only sure way of communicating thusly was to drop a note in an emptied toilet bucket, float a note out on your manure, hide a note at a wash trough, or scratch a message on the bottom of a rice bowl. But you had to contact the guy first to tell him all this. The preferred, most secure and most reliable method was to tap on the walls or floor pad in a rhythmic code known to us as the Tap Code.”

TALK TO ME! or The Origins of the Prison Tap Code.

08.23. filed under: history. humanity. people. 1

Juice of Cursed Hebenon

History of Poison. Poisoning in Ancient Times. Poisoning in the Middle Ages. Poisons in the Renaisance. Poisoning in the 16th, 17th and 18th Century. Poisoning in the Victorian Times. Poisoning in the 20th Century. Don’t Chew the Wallpaper: A History of Poison. A Brief History of Poison. Folklore Poisons. List of Poisonings. A Brief History of Poisoning. The Elements of Murder. The Fine Art of Poisoning.

The one conclusive argument that has at all times discouraged people from drinking a poison is not that it kills but rather that it tastes bad. -Nietzsche.

What is the Most Deadly Poison in the World? A Poison Tree. Illustrated Index of Poisionous Plants. Poisonous Plants Database. Poison Apple. Wild Inedible and Poisonous Mushrooms. Mushroom Poisoning. Poisonous Plants, Animals, and Arthropods. Poison Harpooned Cone Snail. Poison in a Cone. Poison Frogs. Poison Dart Frogs. Poison Powder. Poison Cups. Drink Me. Poison Jewelry. Poison Arrow. Arnesic in the Eye. Antique Poison Bottles. Collecting Poison Bottles. Antique Poison labels. Mr. Yuk. About Mr. Yuk. And Finally…


08.22. filed under: death. history. link dump. 6

Quote: “In one of history’s more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is “an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation.” And you thought the wheel of samsara was complicated now! Ha. Wait and see what some good ‘ol fashioned bureaucracy can do… A lifetime of karmic actions in triplicate anyone? The Pope may have to rethink his stance on purgatory… The real punchline though is less amazingly and perfectly hilarious. Ah well.

08.22. filed under: belief. headlines. politics. 3

...He advised me not to worry about lice. “You’ll soon get used to ‘em, not feel ‘em biting at all. All you have to do is ‘boil up’ once in a while”—that is, take off your clothes and boil them, a piece at a time, to kill the vermin. These and other personal chores the well-groomed tramp more or less regularly performs, were usually attended to during stop-overs in camps and jungles. It was here I learned to shave with the aid of a broken bit of whiskey glass. The toughest method of shaving I ever saw, though, was when one old veteran of the road rubbed another’s face with the rough side of half a brick!

-Harry Kemp (footnote to history, tramp poet, author, dune shack dweller, village bohemian, home wrecker, hanger on to giants, and purportedly a “lecherous and lazy man who committed as many wrongful acts as a man can safely commit”) from the the Federal Writers’ Project American Life Histories.

08.21. filed under: history. people. 1

Beautiful Specimens

Wikipedia tells us: “A microscope slide was originally a ‘slider’ made of ivory or bone, containing specimens held between disks of transparent mica. These were popular in Victorian England until the Royal Microscopical Society introduced the standardized microscope slide in the form of a thin sheet of glass used to hold objects for examination under a microscope.”

I’d like to add the following: Antique microscope slides, looked at from a strictly aesthetic standpoint (egged on by a design obsessed brain obviously) are some of the most elegant and perfectly beautiful human artifacts on planet earth. You can quote me on that. See below for irrefutable scientific aesthetic evidence.

08.19. filed under: art. design. science. 8

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