Maps, Rocks, and Places

Geography is about more than the capitals of countries you’ve never heard about.  Geography is about place, and anything that has a place is geography.  Geographers study the distribution and spread of disease.  They study how landforms are changed by the forces of man and nature.  They study the diffusion of slang terms.  They look at the distribution of particular styles of architecture within a community as a surrogate for the origin and culture of the people who live there.  Anything that has a place or a distribution in space is fair game.  Geography is about us and our world.  And most of all, geography is about maps.  Beautiful maps.

Geography is deep in our roots at the Turtlshel Project.  Come in and find out more than you ever knew there was.  And maps.  Beautiful maps.

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Nerd Fashion

Sometimes there’s just nothing better than jeans and a pair of Chucks.  Or a good jacket.  A fine Oxford shirt.  Or a bow tie.  Bow ties are cool.  We’re not high fashion here – we just like to look and feel good.

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Learn Something New, Be Something More

Version 3.1 of YOU is just around the corner.  Maybe they’ll be announcing it at the next MicroApple Developers’ Conference.  I wonder what kind of FEATURES it will have.  Maybe a new degree, or a bunch of new skills?  Or maybe YOU 3.1 is just totally badass.  Upgrading YOU is up to YOU.  Be what you want to be.

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Introducing Nerd Q&A

You have questions.  You do, really, I promise.  Or somebody had a question.  We have answers.  Lots of answers.  We have answers in search of questions.  We have answers in search of answers.  We even have answers that like foreign films and long walks on the beach.

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Sliding Down the Rabbit Hole with Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus

Sliding Down the Rabbit Hole with Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus

Today I fell into a rabbit hole, down through the center of the beautiful, crazy wonderland that is the Internet, into something even stranger and amazing still. I was sitting at my desk, eating my lunch, and reading and article from on my phone, as is my habit at such times. I was about halfway through the most recent description of the unfolding telenovela love affair between the Kremlin and the White House, when I came across an ad from Abe Books for something called the Codex Seraphinianus XXXIII. I was intrigued by the interesting illustrated cover of what appeared to be a book (that being a fairly safe guess, as books is the bulk of what Abe Books sells), as well as the fairly hefty $75.60 price tag. I am a fairly regular customer of Abe Books*, but my purchases tend to come with price tags that look more like $0.99 and $1.19. Something in the several tens of dollars has to be either new (which this particular copy is, although the used copies were even more expensive), rare, famous, out of print, or a textbook. I had to find out, and so took the red pill.

On the Codex Seraphinianus XXXIII product page on Abe Books I found a description of the book (which appears to be from GoodReads, although the provenance is unclear). I read such phrases as “An extraordinary and surreal art book…” and “it is a most exquisite artifact.” The description presents the author, Luigi Serafini as an architect, ceramist, glazier, painter, sculptor, designer, opera director, set designer, and critic (sounds like my type of person). I had to find out more about this book. At least see some of the pages to get an idea of what was being talked about. And that is when the rabbit holing started.

It turns out that I was able to find images of the pages. In fact, I happened to find several entire copies of the book online.** There have been several printings of the book dating back to a first edition of two volumes printed in 1981. The version that I came across was printed in 1991 and has on its cover a series of illustrations showing the gradual transformation of a couple having sex into a crocodile. This reminded me of the M.C. Escher illustrations that I spent hours and hours staring at as a child, and then again hours and hours staring at as an art student, and then again hours and hours staring at as a parent, sharing the images again with my children. One of the things I loved about Escher’s drawings was the way he seemed to capture a dimension of space that the rest of us are unable to see with our eyes. In an illustration style that brought up a lot of the feelings of Escher, Serafini seems to go even one step further in that 1991 cover, capturing the dimension of time as an added element. And that was just the cover.

The book reads like an encyclopedia of some fantastic world. That is, the book would read like an encyclopedia if you could read it. But you can’t, because it’s written in a language that doesn’t exist. I haven’t been able to find anything about whether the pages are filled with nonsense, or whether the mysterious script (which looks a little bit like a very ornate obfuscated roman alphabet) actual spells out the words of some language real or manufactured. Or rather, perhaps I should say that I have found all kinds of claims, opinions, theories, and such. There are claims to have translated the entire book. There are analyses as to why the translation claims are bogus, and counter analyses that bogussify the bogussing. I found folks who believe that the book is an effort by Sarafini (often referred to as Don Luigi) to communicate information he received from aliens. Other, more tempered writers suggest that perhaps the writing was not intended to be interpreted at all, but was instead meant to draw attention to Sarafini’s art. Generally uninformed me tends to believe this later claim. Regardless of the various claims, what I did find was the outer edges of what appears to be a wide and deep community of fans of the book. I just barely scratched the surface, and there are certainly many, many more people who know more about the book than I do.

Language aside, the illustrations are strange and beautiful and magical and weird. I read an article that suggested Sarafini’s intention was to recreate the experience an invading Hun would have upon storming a monastery and finding a beautifully illustrated work, written in what would have been to him a very foreign Latin or Greek. Or the experience of a young child, not yet learned to read, unencumbered by the meaning attached to the illustrations by adults who have long since lost the capacity for imagination (This statement may actually come from Serafini himself, at a talk at the 2009 Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles (or so says Wikipedia, which I have to rely on because I have been unable to re-find the article in which I read the statement). I certainly felt like a little kid, looking at the pages of the Codex, wondering what they illustrations were supposed to mean, and then supplying my own meanings in the face of the knowledge that nobody else was going to supply them for me.

In all, the Codex Seraphinianus is an amazingly beautiful book filled with mystery, and strangeness. I was left, at the end of my lunch time, in a place that I have found myself many times before – entirely unsure of what I had experienced, but sure that at least in some small way my life will never be the same for having come through it, and now not being entirely the same person I was beforehand. Find your own copy at Amazon, Abe Books, your local book shop, or a local library, and check it out.

*Being a fairly frequent customer of Abe Books is my only relationship with them, and this post does not constitute either a review or a promotion of Abe Books and its services, either paid or unpaid (although it is a pretty neat place to find books, just saying).
** Like teenage sex, the Turtlshel Project does not intentionally endorse piracy in any way, but knows that in the era of Google you are going to do whatever you want anyway. So please at least use some common sense and be careful. Also, like teenage sex and condoms, YMMV.

For more information about the Codex Saraphinianus:

Where is my future?

Where is my future?

As a kid I never expected to see the year 2000. Especially just before the end of the Cold War, when it seemed like the stalemate with the U.S.S.R. would continue for millennia, and knowing that the missile base just miles from our house was a prime target for a nuclear strike.*

My lack of expectations for the new century were so low, particularly when you add in the vague but ominous threat posed by Y2K, that I remember saying goodbye before going to bed early on December 31, 1999. I fully expected that whatever came next would be in a new, different world. I woke up in the dark of the early morning on January 1, 2000, surprised that death didn’t look much different than life had, and then further surprised that the world hadn’t ended, that Chinese and old Soviet missiles had not struck Japan, where I was living at the time, when their controller computers failed (an event that appears to never have happened – maybe the old communist programmers were smart enough to avoid the kinds of programming shortcuts that resulted in the whole Y2K disaster).

I think that the morning of Y2K may have been the start of a new world for me – one that I hadn’t expected would exist. Because the world was supposed to end before the year 2000 (at least that was how I thought it in my head), I hadn’t expected that I would really have to plan for my future, that I would never have a chance to finish college or have a career, because I would only be 20 at the end of the world.

Apparently, these were all the same feelings that were shared by the captains of our global science-industrial complex, the ones responsible for making the things that make the future. Today is Marty McFly day. But it is a very special Marty McFly day. As you have doubtless seen all across the Internet today, October 21, 2015 was the date that Marty and company went forward, riding in a flying Delorean, into the future in the movie Back to the Future II. In that movie, we are introduced to all of the great things that the future has to offer – flying cars, self-lacing shoes, sweet futuristic 80s clothes, instant biofuel, and most importantly: hoverboards.
So my question on this High Holy Day of geekdom is this:** Where is my hoverboard? What have the captains of industry been doing the last 25+ years? Did they believe, like me, that there never would be a year 2000, let alone a year 2015? Did they think that there would be no reckoning and that no one would think to ask them what they had been up to instead of creating our future, all the while that our future was slowly creeping up on us?

It seems to me that perhaps this recent fascination with all things vintage and retro (think the hipster styles that are the very image of rockabilly) is just a cover by science and industry, a distraction, to keep us looking backwards so that nobody ever realizes that nobody was looking forward. If you can’t have the future in your future, just fill it with the past?

Whatever the answer, I guess I will have to make do for now with my trusty longboard and hope for a future of our future where hoverboards really are a thing.***


*It really is true that I never expected the world to continue past the year 2000

**It is not really true that I blame industry alone for the lack of future in our future – there are so many awesome things in 2015 that go beyond even what was imagined in back to the Future II. Internet, smart phones, stuffed-crust pizza, no long distance on calls in North America (depending on your service plan). Life isn’t too bad. It just isn’t very futury.

*** And by I thing, I don’t mean those fake hoverboards that have to run on a super special track with super magnets underneath. I’m talking about hoverboards. That hover.

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