All posts made in Jan. 2016:

Vincent van Gogh on the stars

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh Arles, c. 9 July 1888:

That brings up again the eternal question: is life completely visible to us, or isn't it rather that this side of death we see one hemisphere only?


For my own part, I declare I know nothing whatever about it. But to look at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots of a map representing towns and villages. Why, I ask myself, should the shining dots of the sky not be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? If we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. One thing undoubtedly true in this reasoning is this: that while we are alive we cannot get to a star, any more than when we are dead we can take the train.

So it doesn't seem impossible to me that cholera, gravel, pleurisy & cancer are the means of celestial locomotion, just as steam-boats, omnibuses and railways are the terrestrial means. To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.

Which, to me, puts his Starry Night on a bigger canvas than it had before.

Filtered for background


Time-lapse of scenery in Red Dead Redemption.

Western video game. Keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel.


Homo erectus made world's oldest doodle 500,000 years ago.

Art by non-humans would make me feel we had more company in the universe. I'm not quite sure this counts, but it's close.


The art of viewing moss.

Microscopic rainforests.


The colour of e-ink... that grey screen that goes back to the first Amazon Kindle.

Or these new London bus stops using e-paper, the same.

Web pages used to always have a grey background -- inherited from the grey used by Mosaic in 1993.

The other day I stepped out of the tube and the sky was this medium grey -- not matte, not dark, not bright, not quite pearlescent, just... there. The colour of an e-ink screen before the words arrive.

See also, blue.

Filtered for historical facts


The beautiful Crab Nebula... 6,500 light years away, 10 light years across. In the nebula's very center lies a pulsar: a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town.

The supernova that caused the nebula was visible from Earth in 1054 AD. There's a rock carving of it, made at the time, in a canyon in New Mexico.

See also: An eclipse mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey has been precisely dated. We now know that Odysseus returned home, 10 years after the sacking of Troy, on April 16, 1178 B.C., close to noon local time.


Archimedes was a weapons inventor who lived in Sicily, a battleground between Rome and Carthage in the Punic Wars. To protect his city, he invented heat rays and a giant hook called the Claw of Archimedes that was used to lift the enemy ships out of the sea before dropping them to their doom.

He was killed by a Roman soldier at the end of the Siege of Syracuse during the Second Punic War.

The Second Punic War is the one that started with Hannibal (a Carthaginian commander) crossing the Alps to invade Rome, spending 15 years traipsing round Italy with his army, generally causing havoc.

Something about connecting the dots between these historical characters makes them more alive for me.

See also: John Milton (author of the poem Paradise Lost) visited Galileo in Florence in 1638.


We know who invented paper.

Cai Lun: In A.D. 105, Cai invented the composition for paper along with the papermaking process.

In ancient times writings and inscriptions were generally made on tablets of bamboo or on pieces of silk called chih. But silk being costly and bamboo heavy, they were not convenient to use. Tshai Lun [Cai Lun] then initiated the idea of making paper from the bark of trees, remnants of hemp, rags of cloth, and fishing nets. He submitted the process to the emperor in the first year of Yuan-Hsing [+105] and received praise for his ability. From this time, paper has been in use everywhere and is universally called 'the paper of Marquis Tshai'.


How Little Richard found God:

At the height of his fame, on tour in Australia in October 1957, he saw a big ball of fire in the sky above the stadium. ... The message, to Little Richard, was clear. He had to leave show business ... He enrolled at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, to study to become a minister.


What Little Richard saw overhead in Australia was in fact Sputnik, the Russian satellite traveling 18,000 miles an hour in the night sky.

See also...

In 1899, in Colorado, Nikola Tesla heard a signal from Mars. He wrote in 1921:

the signals consisted in a regular repetition of numbers, and subsequent study convinced me that they must have emanated from Mars


Marconi was transmitting messages hundred of miles across Europe and the English Channel during the summer of 1899 and was using as a signal the Morse-code letter S (dot-dot-dot), which precisely corresponds to the three beats Tesla said he intercepted

I prefer to believe that Tesla heard Mars, and that Little Richard saw God.