Friday, July 17, 2015

Beach phenomena - Maasvlakte

Usually I encounter mysterious and frustrating phenomena on the beach. Here are examples from The Netherlands and from Spain. But today I visited the new artificial land created at the Maasvlakte and I found some mysteries that proved easily solvable.
The Maasvlakte is a fascinating moonscape at the outer edge of the Rotterdam harbor. It is far from the city and I don't come there often. But each time I visit I return inspired, enlightened and relaxed. The total strangeness and emptiness of this artificial landscape are strangely soothing.
Today I discovered a beach at the edge of the Maasvlakte. It is unexpected, in between the heavy industry and the logistic installations. A strong wind, warm sea and sunshine made for a beautiful walk. The ice-cream afterwards made it extra interesting.
I enjoyed the seascape but I looked down much too often. The beaches of the Maasvlakte have been dredged from deep sand beds dating to the ice ages. This means that you can find fossil teeth and bones there. I'm addicted to that kind of thing. There is a whole website that catalogues and identifies the finds from this beach.
I was not looking for fossils, I was looking for ventifacts. I was triggered by the sand blowing in the wind at ankle height, stinging my bare feet. And indeed I found many wind-polished stones, with a shiny top and a matte bottom. Strange stones I had never seen before. The size, colour and sheen of fresh chestnuts. The weight, feel and sound of flint.
At first I thought they might be fossilized bones, vertebra, teeth or something similar. But after breaking two specimens with a hammer I saw that they had the colour and consistency of sandstone, not of bone, and also not of flint.

Finally I got a hint from the beach find website: nodules of the mineral limonite. It fits all the criteria: it breaks in a shell-like manner and produces a yellowish mark when scratched against a rough surface. It contains a high concentration of iron. Excellent pictures can be found here. Limonites are often erroneously identified as meteorites. But not by me!


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ephemera experiment - pre-zine

I'm thinking about publishing a one-page zine. But this raises some questions:
  1. Why would someone pick up a zine?
  2. Why would someone keep a zine?
I have no fact-based answer for question 1. But I can try to answer question 2.
Through the years I have collected two boxes of ephemera. Mostly they're brochures I picked up during my holidays. This is a good opportunity to go through them and clean out a lot of paper. These are the first results:
  • Approximately 50% of my collected ephemera will be thrown away because they have lost relevance and interestingness.
What kind of ephemera have lost interestingness? These are the first raw data:
  1. Envelopes containing other ephemera - these contain no useful information.
  2. Receipts from shops and restaurants - most of the text has disappeared from this cheap thermal paper - most of these places have been forgotten, they don't bring back any memories.
  3. Events I didn't visit - these were picked up just in case.
  4. Exhibits I didn't visit - these were picked up just in case.
  5. Hyper-local information brochures - like a list of sermons from a local church - these seemed interesting at the time because of their hyper-locality, but I don't see how I could use this information.
  6. Maps of large areas - these are less interesting because I didn't visit most of the area and they don't add interesting context. Most likely I will not return there soon.
  7. Non-informative brochures of events I visited - these are not very interesting or special - they don't bring back memories.
  8. Maps of cities I passed through - here in St.Vith I just stopped and drank coffee, I had no time to visit the Ardennes battle memorials.
  9. Local curiosities - like this reproduction of the Asterix&Obelix village, it seemed weird then, but now it feels uninterestingly commercial.
  1. Transport tickets - bus, train and even plane tickets don't bring back so many memories as they should.
Thinking economically - as a hypothesis:
  • Value of ephemera - memories, reminders, souvenirs, curiosities, useful (shareable) information.
  • Cost of ephemera - storage space, time spent looking at them.

Don DeLillo on modern surveillance

Last week I read the book "Running Dog" by Don DeLillo and I was surprised how contemporary these paragraphs sound. It's as if he's describing our current surveillance situation. And this is from 1978, long before anyone heard of smartphones or the Internet.

He describes the chilling effect of surveillance:
"When technology reaches. a certain level, people begin to feel like criminals," he said. "Someone is after you, the computers maybe, the machine-police. You can't escape investigation. The facts about you and your whole existence have been collected or are being collected. Banks, insurance companies, credit organizations, tax examiners, passport offices, reporting services, police agencies, intelligence gatherers. It's a little like what I was saying before. Devices make us pliant. If they issue a print-out saying we're guilty, then we're guilty. But it goes even deeper, doesn't it? It's the presence alone, the very fact, the superabundance of technology, that makes us feel we're committing crimes. Just the fact that these things exist at this widespread level. The processing machines, the scanners, the sorters. That's enough to make us feel like criminals. What enormous weight. What complex programs. And there's no one to explain it to us."

And the modern panopticon:
"Go into a bank, you're filmed," he said. "Go into a department store, you're filmed. Increasingly we see this. Try on a dress in the changing room, someone's watching through a one-way glass. Not only customers, mind you. Employees are watched too, spied on with hidden cameras. Drive your car anywhere. Radar, computer traffic scans. They're looking into the uterus, taking pictures. Everywhere. What circles the earth constantly? Spy satellites, weather balloons, U-Z aircraft. What are they doing? Taking pictures. Putting the whole world on film." "The camera's everywhere." "It's true."