Thursday, April 28, 2011


It can be quite difficult to determine plants by their vegetative parts. In the botany course I followed I was taught to only look at the reproductive parts of the plant, because the other parts were quite hopeless in trying to determine a species and all professional plant guides were based upon reproductive parts.
  • Sexual reproductive parts are those involved in the production of seed. They include flower buds, flowers, fruit, and seeds.
  • The vegetative parts include leaves, roots, leaf buds, and stems.
And it is even harder to determine plant species of seedlings, because they have not reached their final shape yet. But this one was easy because I could cheat:
27 march 2011 - photograph
4 april 2011 - photograph
I know the place where this plant grows and I know what kind of plant it is. It is made easy because this is part of my nature near home:

After long experience I am convinced that the best place to study nature is at one's own home. [...] The wild creatures about you become known to you as they cannot be known to a passer-by. [...] You will find she has made her home where you have made yours, and intimacy with her there becomes easy.

So I know from personal experience that this seedling is Impatiens parviflora - Small-flowered Touch-me-not).  

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hopeless geology 2

I very much like geology. I am impressed by the huge timescales the massive forces and all the detective work involved. I have read a lot of books and know the basic science. But out in the field I'm powerless. I notice phenomena but do not have the tools and knowledge to interpret them. This is frustrating but I am just an amateur so I need not be ashamed.

During a walk with my father in Switzerland I came across these reddish rocks. I have noticed them in many places in Switzerland - especially in areas with Flysch and limestone. The material is different from the limestone, very solid and difficult to break.

My hypothesis is that it is younger than the limestone and that it has filled cracks in the original rock - like quartz veins - but it does not have the look and feel of quartz. More like very solid sandstone. Colour might be caused by iron minerals. It could be a solution of minerals from the Flysch sand and mud which lies on top the limestone. But the story could be totally different, because the local geology is much more complicated than that.

I cannot search for it on the Internet, because I do not have the faintest idea what keywords I should search for. Most probably it will remain a mystery forever.

Les Diablerets - Google maps

Hopeless geology

I very much like geology. I have read many books including Earth by Frank Press and Raymond Siever which is a study book at the academic level. But out in the field I'm unable to interpret anything. It is clear that reading books is not sufficient. You need a guide to explain things in situ.

Take this for example. On a walk with my father I came across these concretions. They are tiny, a few centimetres at most.

I think it is dissolved limestone that precipitates in this manner, like horizontal stalactites. Maybe this happens because the area is often covered by snow and ice. Today these parts are bare but until 1860 they were under the glacier. It is plausible that they were formed by water flowing between the glacier bottom and the rock. A kind of horizontal flowstone.

Unfortunately I did not measure the direction and slope of the formations. Bloody amateur!
Les Diablerets, Switzerland
Les Diablerets - Google maps

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Line of sight exploration

Exploration of unspectacular space
The view from one of my favourite Rotterdam places, the Laplace restaurant opposite the Donner bookshop. From here you look down into a chaotic backyard, with trees, cars, benches and a playground. As I was looking into this quiet urban backwater I wondered: How is it down there? And how does this place look from down there? I could not resist this call of the unspectacular and I went to explore.

Foreground - between the silver cars
Down there the place feels quite different than you would expect from up there. The trees are more present and the place feel much greener. And it is tidier and feels less chaotic than one would expect. Also it is quiet, traffic noise does not penetrate here.

Background - under the big tree
It's a miracle that such big trees - poplars - still exist in the city. Otherwise the place is pleasantly bland. Children are playing football in the playground. A man is eating his lunch on a wooden bench. A calming, unplanned and undesigned oasis in urban space.

It's hard to understand - even for myself - why I find such a micro-exploration so satisfying. Claiming this part of urban space for myself? Mapping a place in my city I had never been before? Discovering how different the two endpoints of a line-of-sight feel? Doing something unpredictable, free from commercial consumption pressures?

Maybe it's just like Nick Papadimitriou says: ... for me such things are psychedelic ...

Nick Papadimitriou - Ventures and Adventures in Topography
Between the silver cars - Google street view
Under the big tree - Google street view

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday for non-Christians

I had a day off from work and went for a random walkabout through Rotterdam. Beforehand I had decided  to visit any open church and to meditate upon today being Good Friday. I was in the neighbourhood of the Eendrachtskerk and I thought this could be the right place and time. I sat down and waited for the service to start.

It was a very traditional Catholic service, quite different from the one in our, more progressive, parish. But it felt very appropriate with the Stations of the Cross, the kneeling, the prayer, the meditation and the Veneration of the Cross. An unexpected blessing.

Later I started thinking about ritual and symbolism. In our modern secular world there exists nothing comparable with the Station of the Cross - no secular equivalent that combines movement through physical  space with movement through a symbolic, spiritual realm. Nothing with the symbolic power of the Veneration of the Cross - the kissing of the feet of Jesus. A respectful, but very intense and intimate act - which gets deeper under the skin than words ever could.

I like modern, innovative art and I know a lot of great artworks in the conceptual style. But very few have this strange  power, depth and simplicity. At this moment - Good Friday - I cannot think of any comparable secular examples.

I fear that most religious people don't appreciate the innovative energy and spiritual power of art. And I fear most modern artists do not register the power and depth of traditional symbolism.  Have these two realms grown too far apart? Have they nothing to say to each other? Is there any way to restore a connection that once existed?

One artwork that crosses the line (no pun intended) is Bill Viola's Room for St. John of the Cross. The artist writes:

I was in a bookshop, there's this little thin paperback, Poems of St John of the Cross and I picked it up and I read the introduction, about this man's life and I was just so touched and I was shaken because it was so much like the experiences that I had had and so deep in a human way for all of us. And I was working on this piece about inside and outside and I had this plan to build this room within a room and very quickly it became this, I mean it was like a flash... it was like the whole piece was there in front of me and I didn't know what to call it, and so I just one day, the little voice in my head says, "well just call it what it is", so I titled it, Room for St John of the Cross, and in 1983 and probably even now you just did not make works of art for Christian Saints, I mean this was very uncool.

Bill Viola interview - BBC Radio 3
Video of artwork - Youtube

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Shopping mall contrast

My mother got two free tickets for the Primavera Art Fair at Ahoy in Rotterdam. So we went to take a look. The experience was unique and surreal - especially when seen in it's spatial context. Two shopping malls connected by destroyed urban space.

Recognizable subjects - easy on the eyes and mind.
Art photographs by the famous Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf .
 The art fair specializes in expensive art in the "hotel lobby" style. Easy impressionism, simple expressionism, elegant abstraction. The style you find in stores selling upper-middle class furniture. Very inoffensive. I would never buy it - even if I had the money. The visitors were upper-middle class of the "I drive a vintage car" category. Couples between 50 and 60 years of age, men in leisure suits with stylish wives. I liked the antique wooden boxes and the Czech glass art - honest workmanship worth the money.

As you exit this warm cultural bath you are thrown in a cold shower of modernistic city design. The Zuiderparkweg and the Vaanweg are busy roads connecting Rotterdam to the highway. And they connect the Ahoy fairgrounds to the huge Zuidplein shopping centre. No effort has been spared to make the landscape as unattractive as possible. Visions of Northern Italy around Milan.

This could be Utrecht - Hoog Catharijne shopping mall.
This could be Berlin - Alexa shopping mall.
The Zuidplein mall is one of the largest indoor shopping centres in the Netherlands. With a surface area of 55,000 square meters, this is the main shopping centre for the South of Rotterdam and the municipalities on the southern edge of Rotterdam. In 2004, the mall had about 150 shops. The shopping centre attracts approximately 10 million visitors per year.

Still it looks like any other shopping center. There is no sense of locality. It could be anywhere. There is just a persistent negative aura that distinguishes it from other malls:
  • Through strenuous efforts of the municipality, the police, the transport company RET, monitoring services and shop owners from 2006 onwards have made it the safest shopping centre in the Netherlands. It is the only mall with a 3-star score for safety. Nevertheless feelings of insecurity remain and are caused by the metro and bus stations and by the stray youths from the surrounding poor area who hang around in the mall. In March 2007 a 20-year-old boy was shot dead in the metro station. 

But aren't all shopping malls sinister and threatening? Even if they sell expensive art.

Zuidplein - Wikipedia
Zuidplein - official website
Zuidplein - Google maps

Space and distance

assel - don bosco
assel - don bosco


I didn't know there still was so much empty space in the Netherlands.
These are the lands of the Salesians of Don Bosco in Assel. The brothers of this religious order have grown old and they don't work the land anymore. They lease the land to local farmers:
  • "And the farmer planted maize and we had no view the whole summer."

Distance mind game

If you're bored in the outdoors - for example while waiting for the bus to arrive - try this simple mind game:

  • "What is the most distant object that I can see from here? How far away is it?"
  • Then go home and check on the map. Often you will be surprised. 
I tend to overestimate the distance, just like in this case. Standing in the empty fields the horizon looks extremely distant. The same effect occurs in the panorama pictures. But in reality the horizon is only 1.5 kilometer away. And the trees in the foreground are only 300 meters away. Even so the view is much deeper and wider than in the city.

Assel - Google maps

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cross reference

Usually I'm reading several books at the same time. Most of the time they do not "interact". But these two books  enter each other's territory in interesting ways.

Speculative Capital: The Invisible Hand of International Finance by Nasser Saber describes how this new form of capital is taking over the world and reshaping it for it's own uses. The fact that the book was written in 1999 - long before the financial crisis - makes this even more chilling. But the book contains an interesting historic observation, that merits further research:
  • Credit capital in the form of money provided by usurers and money-changers has a constant presence on the early economie scene. The money-changers whom Jesus drove away from the temple come back in the Middle Ages as usurers. Their demand for high interest rates played an important role in driving the landed aristocracy to bankruptcy and paving the way for the rise of capitalism. With the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, credit capital came of age.
The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages by Norman Cohn describes the itinerant preachers and messiahs that roamed medieval Europe in the time of the crusades and the hordes that followed them. (It is also the book that Milgrim is reading in William Gibson's Spook country.) The book describes economic phenomena that are also visible in this modern age:
  • Merchants wanted to be rid of laws which, originally formulated for a population of dependent peasants, could only impede commercial activity. They wanted to escape from dues and levies which had once been the price of protection but which seemed mere arbitrary exactions now that burghers were able to defend themselves. They wanted to govern their towns themselves and according to laws which recognized the requirements of the new economy. In many cases these aims were achieved peacefully; but where the suzerain or lord proved intransigent, the merchants would organize all the men of the town into an insurrectionary society to which each member was bound by solemn oath. Insurrections occurred chiefly in episcopal cities. Unlike a lay prince, a bishop was a resident ruler in his city and was naturally concemed to keep his authority 'over the subjects in whose midst he lived. Moreover the attitude of the Church towards economic matters was profoundly conservative; in trade it could for a long time see nothing but usury and in merchants nothing but dangerous innovators whose designs ought to be firmly thwarted.
Both these books deserve 5 stars (*****) and I will write more about them in future posts. Especially the Nasser Saber book, because that is dedicated to an "invisible" phenomenon.

Speculative Capital: The Invisible Hand of International Finance, Nasser Saber
The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, Norman Cohn
Spook country, William Gibson

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Receipt numerology 2

I've collected more receipts and I have stronger hypotheses than in my previous post about this subject.

The coding of V&D is complex and I only have vague hypotheses. I will need more receipts to verify them:
  • segment 1 ~ receipt number
  • segment 4 ~ cash register + 19 / 29
  • segment 5 ~ date
  • segment 8 ~ store number
The coding of the Bijenkorf receipt is much more simple and the decoding is obvious:
  • segment 1 = store number
  • segment 3 = date
  • segment 4 = time
  • segment 6 = register
  • segment 7 = receipt number
  • rest = padding
Hema also has a bar code, but I only have one receipt and will have to wait for more to start decoding.

Register Receipt Store Date Time # Barcode
31 7729 46 05 03 11 17 16 231967 876 5 53 50 618 9263 927 28 4 8 78
60 1176 46 05 03 11 15 32 251059 211 2 53 89 618 9263 371 28 4 8 78
60 1177 46 05 03 11 15 33 251059 211 3 53 89 618 9263 446 28 4 8 78
48 1799 46 05 03 11 15 26 12606 273 5 53 67 618 9263 991 28 4 8 78
2 8920 450 27 02 11 14 36 252058 996 6 53 21 022 9263 506 40 4 7 78

Register Receipt Store Date Time # Barcode
119 9666 3 24 02 11 13 40 302149 3 910 110224 1340 003 119 9666
10 1091 3 02 03 11 18 18 8031060 3 910 110302 1818 0003 10 1091