Van Dijck in the Prado, a short note on blood, Habsburg jaws and ruthlessness

Some time ago now, I visited the Prado in Madrid.The young Van Dijck
There was a special exhibition on Van Dijck, called El Joven Van Dijck  – The Young Van Dijck.

An incredible assembly of masterpieces. The 2 hours I had in between other activities was massively insufficient.

My winner is The Lamentation over the Dead Christ is my winner. Blood drips from the canvas. The reflection of the light on the skin.  Lamentation Van Dijcke

It is full of Habsburg Jaws. In the paintings, in the sculptures. After a while this becomes corny and funny. All of these great emporers with theseThe Habsburg Jaw massive chins express an sickly absence of joy and compassion. If there is an emotion they express, it is one of detachment and ruthlessness.

El Greco shows he is an expressionist avant la lettre.

Velazquez is also greatly present. His monstrously large horses and people with far too small heads seems to be taken from the perspective of a child or a dwarf.diego-velazquez-horse

12 tomorrows from 2014

I ordered Twelve Tomorrows. I never really liked science fiction (excTwelve Tomorrows 2014eptions like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – not even sure even that would qualify for science fiction). But I wanted re-evaluate my taste.

The twelve futures in summary:

  1. Instead of getting electronic detention, limiting the freedom of movement, persistent criminals are blinded. as a replacement for their natural eyesight they get electronic glasses through which they can only observe a pre-filtered reality. In this augmented reality, criminals are tagged, or branded, and everyone can see these brands as a warning sign.
  2. Biological modification of humans, first under “acupuncture anesthesia”, then in next generations through DNA modification.
  3. Cybercrime 22h century. Electronically (remotely) scanning a person’s digital identity information to get access to a bank account.
  4. Genetically manipulated life forms start leading their own life and thus become a threat to human life.
  5. Modification of human behavior through electronics implants in the human brain, also allowing remote control over a person.
  6. Human life has moved into space, to other planet amongst which Mars and the Moon. Technology like human hibernation made possible.  (A bit of 2001 A Space Odyssee, hmm).
  7. The internet of stuff, a second internet smart devices, unregulated and avoiding dictatorial suppression (already exists).
  8. Cyborg man is synthesized with his intelligent leg and can survive his body. His personality is transferred to another computer by the soul of the leg.
  9. Man cures from a hyperactive damaged brain, chemical drugs (SMOOTH  TM) is surpassed by a nanotechnology that can enter the body through the skin when wearing a medical t-shirt.
  10. Talented, intelligent young girl in Afghan invents a new kind of semiconductor in a repressive Afghan society.
  11. Internet surveillance in hyperconnected world. Secret services can follow everything you see, through your eyes, extract experiences and take over control. Everybody is under this kind of surveillance.
  12. Gene modification aimed at producing fossil gas, turns out to thrive also in the human body. But not for long, people start exploding

I found it difficult to get through the stories. Most of them sketch a dark, unpleasant future. I am trying to understand why that is. Is it because we generally tend to expect the worst of the future? Or is it maybe simply because of the dramatic needs for a story or book. Also, the science factor was not very original, and the writing not very good.

If you like Science Fiction advanced, find the very latest on MIT’s twelve tomorrows web site.

I decided to not touch Science Fiction for some time.
While I got Frank Schatzing’s Limit as a present. More on that later. That’s a 1000+ pages book.

How I found Sei Shonagon and Pieter Steinz’ wordpress blog in the process

Not sure where I heard about Sei Shonagon first, but for sure the reason to go look for the works of this writer was a list or a book by Pieter Steinz (I do not believe that only now, while I am writing this blog post, I found his wordpress blog).

I found a second hand edition of Het Hoofdkussenboek / The Pillow Book on Marktplaats and within a few days the book arrived and I could undo it from it’s tightly wrapped cover of newspaper and brown tape.

The book immediately reminded me of the atmosphere that Cees Nooteboom creates in his writing on his travels through Japan (Van de lente de dauw / there is no english translation ?!), and the feel from the pictures of artists like Hokusai.

Shonagon sketches a unique image of the life of Japanese aristocracy in the 10th century. The book inspires you to take your notebook and go walk around and document everything that’s happening around you, and realize nothing is really as self-evident and mundane as you think when you are in the middle of it every day.

Metamagical Themas reread

Some time ago I wrote I was re-reading  Metamagical Themas from Douglas R. Hofstadter.

The last chapter of the book discusses the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and continues to reason basically how (super)rationalist reasoning would lead to better decisions, and ultimately a better world. Hofstadter applies his ideas to the cold war reality of those days (1980 thru 1984).

The text is wonderfully bright and one can only agree with him, but … as Hofstadter tells us, this is only true in the ‘iterated’ case, meaning consistent rational behavior pays off to everyone in the long term! I strongly believe self-enrichment, egotism, and other human vices, are all non-rational behaviors aiming at short-term satisfaction. Thus standing in the way of Doug’s better world. Anyway, these quality of the essays is outstanding and I found Hofstadter’s idealism still incredibly inspiring.

Kitten Clone and the Engineer’s Lost Soul

Coupland’s Kitten Clone is written in Coupland’s sort of nonchalant style. Entertaining and ironic, without giving the impression of not being serious. And it has a few typical nerdy typographical jokes like making a paragraph brake with


This very well written documentary (leave that up to Coupland), is beautifully illustrated with photo’s from Olivia Arthur, a famous Magnum photographer. A piece of art, this book. Coupland documents his thoughts as he travels over the globe, interviewing staff from the company Alcatel-Lucent, one of the few organizations providing the backbone technology for the Internet. Without this technology and maybe without this company our (cyber) lives would look quite different.

With Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine (“the original nerd epic”), I will add ano my earlier post on Kidder’s book here, and Coupland’s own JPod, one of the best books on the soul of engineers.

Kitten Clone is the most analytical and philosophical.

The zeitgeist of the twenty-first century is that we have a lot of zeit but not much geist. I’m appalled I just wrote that sentences, but it’s true;
there’s something emotionally sparse about the present era, and the world just keeps spinning faster and faster. Optical fibres carry forty billion phone calls at once, and soon ten terabits. And I want my Dexter, Season 4, and I want it now, and that’s what’s driving all of this: we want it and we want it now. And on top of that, it sort of feels like we’re all being chased by monsters.

I found the formulation smelling a bit like cultural pessimism, and it feels like every generation has developed this sort of fatigue. However this feeling of this ever increasing speed of need I definitely share, but still I am not convinced this may be a generational gap. And Coupland not just wonders what all this speed is necessary for. This company is mostly invisible to the public, while their product is so fundamentally changing society. It does continue to improve their technology, without seemingly wondering what this technology really enables.

“All of the scientists I spoke with were almost endearingly surprised even to be asked the question of how people will use what they invent.

And while the company does not bother much about the application of their technology, the people using their product create a complete new reality with it.

Right now, half of humanity – the younger half – believes the Internet is the reality.

This lack of apparent self reflection from the this technology company as well as from the people using their stuff, is what Coupland seems to fear most. And with that the conclusion of this documentary story is positive and alarming at the same time. Possibilities of people connecting globally are developing at an increasing speed, but this seems to develop on itself and there is a no grand plan, vision or idea guiding this advancement. Coupland for a moment even longs for religion.

What Is The What at Foyles Southbank

what is the what

One evening I was walking along the south bank of the Thames . Joggers, skateboarders, tourists and bussinessmen and women were trying to push me off the Thames Path.

At Foyles, the book shop on the south bank of the Thames, I stumbled in and browsed through

the shelves. I was surprised to find a new title from Dave Eggers, unknown to me until that moment: What Is The What.

I had read Moses Isegawa’s Abyssinian Chronicles and that is an incredible book, and when I had read a page in the shop, I was sold and bought the book for an amazing price of £13.

abyssinian chronicles

At the counter, the assistent (what do you call a person behind the counter in a bookshop) told me he had ordered only 10 copies because the book was not officially announced in the UK, or so. He complimented me on my choice and said half of the London underground literary books junks would now envy me.

I asked him what the street value of the book might be then; he said it could well be £50. I told him I’d give it a try then, after I finished reading it.

reading like a writer

No news that What Is The What is a incredibly great book (review by Francine Prose). I finished it in 2 days and probably could have sold it  for the amount if I would have hustled with one of the Eggers’ addicts. But I am too lazy for that – or probably do not need the money badly enough.

I looked online to read that book review by Francine Prose. It reminded me to finish her book Reading Like a Writer. I started off reading that enthusiastically but got distracted by some novels I was reading at the same time. Reading Like a Writer to me started off as a good book though so I will finish it. (I mean it is not of the category “book that does not hold my attention so not going to spend more time on it” (yet).)

Maybe more on that later.

Innovation: getting comfortable with chaos

First I got a bit irritated. Thought this is either beyond my intelligence, or it is BS with capital letters.

“People in Rainforests are motivated for reasons that defy traditional economic notions of “rational” behavior.”

Such sentences sound like religious crap in my mind. I hit a few more of these texts in The Rainforest, by Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt.
I was a false start. I admit. But now and then the writers fall in the trap of academic writing, and they follow the “misguided lessons you learn in academia” as Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson call it in “Rework” (more on that in another post).

The book looks at psychological, neurological context of forming innovation groups, and what to look at. It touches open many other aspects of inactive environments (rainforests).

There’s a sociological aspect to it that very much speaks to my heart.

“As veteran Silicon Valley venture capitalist Kevin Fong says, “At a certain point, it’s not about the money anymore. Every engineer wants their product to make a difference.” “

This reminds me of The Soul of a New Machine from Tracy Kidder. Excellent book by the way, a must read for (computer) engineers and other Betas. You will get your soldering iron out.
Anyway in this book also, the goal of money is way out of sight, it is the product that counts. Personal issues are set aside, esthetic issues with respect to the new machine prevail. The team is totally dedicated to creating the new machine. They are in the flow, very similar to the psychological flow that psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has described in “Flow”. The state in which people (typically athletes talk a lot about pushing themselves into a flow) where conscious thinking and acting disappear and a person gets totally submerged in the activity itself.

Back to the Rainforest, where the authors have found that a social context is key for a innovative rainforest to thrive. It’s not just about creating the brain power, but an entire entrepreneurial context that turns this brainpower into a innovative growing organism. The trick is to create a social environment where cross-fertilization takes place.

“Governments are increasingly seeking to spur entrepreneurial activity across the entire system, not just for large companies. Today, countries are ambitiously seeking to create entire innovation economies.”

“The biggest invisible bottleneck in innovation is not necessarily the economic desirability of a project, the quality of the technology, or the rational willingness of the customer. The real cost frequently boils down to the social distance between two vastly different parties.”

“Serendipitous networking is essential because, in the real world, it is impossible for a central agent to do everything.”

A lot of word and advice are spent on the topic. Tools are presented as guidelines for achieving such an environment.

“Tool #1: Learn by Doing Tool #2: Enhance Diversity Tool #3: Celebrate Role Models and Peer Interaction Tool #4: Build Tribes of Trust Tool #5: Create Social Feedback Loops Tool #6: Make Social Contracts Explicit”

I am not sure if Hwang and Horowitt prove in their work that a central organization (government) can really steer this. An analytical approach to culture change is something different from a (working) prescriptive culture change. I may be skeptical, but with me are the Fried and Heinemeier again in Rework about culture (in context of an organisation):

“Culture is the byproduct of consistent behaviour. 

It isn’t a policy. It isn’t the Christmans party or the company picnic. Those are objects and events, not culture. And it’s not a slogan, either. Culture is action, not words.”

The Rainforest continues and brings together Deming’s approach to maximize quality of product procedures by an organization with the entrepreneurial approach towards innovation. This so serve as a model to evolve innovative, informal and entrepreneurial spirited organizations, a kind of primordial soup into mature structured organization.
(In this soup of entrepreneurial elements, a “flow” should be created igniting an entrepreneurial life form.)

“We surmise that one of the major reasons large corporations often fail at innovation―whether they create venture arms, new product divisions, or otherwise―is because they typically create new business divisions in a formal sense without the “cultural walls” separating the Deming and the Rainforest communities.”

Interestingly this is also what Christensen speaks of in “The Innovators Dilemma”. Christensen makes a similar claim. Organizations fail at innovation because they manage innovation the same way as they do there mature business units. This inherently fails. There is a lot of similarity between the thinking of Christensen and Hwang here. These guys should talk. And invite Fried and Heinemeier to the party.

I conclude managing innovation in an existing (large) organizations can only be successful if it is operated in a completely separate entity. With their own culture that is free to grow, and in a social environment that is not constraint by bureaucratic “efficiencies”.

The greatest All American Guitar band of all times

In the car I listen to podcasts (James Altucher, Tim Ferriss, The Candid Frame, Freakonomics, …).

Or I listen to music. For that I have an SD Card that I load with a random “smart playlist” from my iTunes library. 8GB of musical history. (Spotify is for the gym.)

Today I hit this fantastic Thin White Rope song, It’s OK. I had not listened to them for quite some time. Somehow they must have been missed by the randomization algorithm in iTunes.

They are still fantastic to listen to. The greatest All American band of all times. Grungy guitar rock from the desert. John Wayne, Billy the Kid, saloons, cowboys, buffalos, oversized vehicles, overloads of street signs, New York, Lincoln, guns, George Bush, Apaches, Ernest Hemingway, hamburgers, Dear Hunter, slavery, baseball, Texas, NASA, the electric guitar, Rock & Roll, FDR, IBM, obesitas, white sneakers, kaki trousers, Elvis, Omaha Beach, Winnetou and Old Shatterhand (Karl May himself jawohl), revolver, Ford Mustang, getto’s, Fox News, CNN, every 10 minutes advertising on tv, Star Wars, Joseph Heller, John Irving, William Eggleston, You Kill It We Grill It, Apollo I, II, III and following, Tom Peters, J.D. Salinger, The Blues Brothers, Apple, Casablanca, … I give up, but sure there are a few others.

And Thin White Rope.

The Quietus has written a very good article about the band, and their music. Can’t improve upon that one.

“‘It’s OK’ blasts down the synaptic highways, a thing of both terror and awe, before locking into a monumental end groove that the band proceed to demolish with searing feedback and a hammering counter-riff. This is one of those tracks it’s simply not possible to play loud enough.”

Classic. Listen.

Badges of Horror in The Dutch Virgin

After all the reading of self help and entrepreneurial help type books see below, I felt a need to read something like a novel again. Too much self help can make you feel helpless, in the sense of: wow, I have a lot to improve. What have I done the past x years – thrown half my life away?

I tripped over Marente de Moor’s De Nederlandse maagd (The Dutch Virgin), and purchased it on my new kindle. The story plays largely in Germany, during the interbellum. The main person, a Dutch adolescent girl, is sent on a training camp for fencing in Germany. The training teacher is an German WW I veteran and the story plays against that background, and the approaching WW II.

Interesting setting that reminded me of Céline, whose work covers the same period. But what intrigued me especially in the book where the dark sides in this story.

One of the days during her stay, the girl attends a Mensur fight. I had never heard of such a ritual in Western civilisations, where opponents quite deliberately wound eachother in the face.
I got interested in this Mensur and it’s code honour. Did some research to find out where this came from. There is an excellent article on this topic that can be found on the internet, written bij the journalist Jonathan Green. It is here in the web archive.

So what is this Mensur. It is a odd kind of sword fight with swords practiced amongst student in a corps as a kind of bonding and building of character. All for self-conquest instead on winning from an opponent other than oneself.
The rules are such that there are limited defense options besides special protectives from eyes and nose and a sort of body armor. Participants typically end up with significant cuts on the face and wounds on the head, which are treated on the spot.
The remaining scars are sign of honor. An honorable practice you could easily argue is a rather brute and horrific initiation ritual.

Further down in the book there is the description of a ghostly appearance, the main characters experience. She sees the head of a wounded person, whose head is half gone.

“Zijn gezicht was maar aan een kant wet weefsel bedekt, de andere kant was een doodskop.” / “His face was only covered with tissue on one side, de other side was a skull.”

Mort a CreditThe description reminded me of the image in my head I have of the cover of Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Mort a Credit (Death on Credit/Dood op Krediet. (Guess I had unconsciously associated the story with Celine already, as we saw). The cover of the Dutch edition from Meulenhoff had a similar picture on the cover.
Now on my qui vive for disgust, I started noticing more of these horror references.
Description of decaying bodies killed or wounded in battle. Fermentation of animals, which makes meat tender. (Eskimo’s seem to fill seal carcasses with dead birds to enrich the fermentation process. Kiviak, I found. See I understand they eat the bird (not the seal meat) “fresh, right out of the seal-bag after a couple of months of breeding). Referred to as in the book as a decadent rotting. The doctor manufactures a hand from a foot and and nose out of cheek tissue. And there is a link to the Golem mentioned earlier in the book, created through a ‘Procedure (Mulsich Procedure), but here the doctor has taken an almost dead man from the battlefield and resurrected him through physical and mental patch work.

No I have arrived in this space, other linkages with other well known Dutch writers: one of the protagonists has suffered from a dissociative diaorder – he thinks he is doppelgänger of himself. Which of course is the main theme of Hermans’ De donkere kamer van Damocles / The Darkroom of Damocles. And twins (I don’t see a relation to the theme in Tessa de Loo’s De Tweeling), but the notion of a shadow-soul that follows us around, and after death passes on our experience to another body is interesting concept (and again may associates with Hermans, this time Engelbewaarder / Memories of a guardian angel). Not sure whether the writer has made it up or I can’t simply find a reference, but I could not validate it let alone find more information on that.

One last concept to touch on is the “Sippenhaftung”, horror of another kind another. I think this is the main theme for the book. The girl’s father has commited a sin, for which the girl is paying: Sippenhaftung. That’s Sippenhaftung: an honor is blemished, the relatives of the offender are paying for the sins of the offender. A concept Hitler reintroduced after the attack on his life by Von Stauffenberg. (By the way is seems Hitler opposed the practice of Mensur, it seems.) Other great nation states like North Korea and Chechnia are practicing this kind of right.

Lonely Island classic albums: Stranded

What album will you bring on your Robinson Crusoe adventure?

Greil Marcus let American rock writers chose their album and justify their choice in Stranded.

I can continue reading this type of literature forever. Or create a blog on it. Or a podcast. Or maybe there is one, but I don’t know about it. And I am too lazy to check it out.


The book describes a beautiful image of the 60s and 70s and of course specifically the rock scene at the time when vinyl was still mainstream. Some of the bands have become pretty obscure. The Ronettes, ok I still remember them and may kids may have heard a song from them once. But Little John Willie, Hugh Smith, … WTF, as they would say. I can’t even recall having heard of them. And I was into music, in my time (reading ferociously on the topic: Oor, Rolling Stone, NME, what had you).

The first one leaving a note, I will send the book for free (item condition: read).