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The Astounding Case of the Unequal Equals

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — how two ideas beget a third ]

I’m a Brit, so the motto Mind the Gap is familiar to me — it warns people not to step between platform and train when entering or exiting the Tube

underground_2504657b mind the gap

— as is the London Underground symbol — and for that matter, the glyph for female, earlier the alchemical symbol of Venus.


Today’s Telegraph contains a graphic that interests me a whole lot, under the title Equal Pay Day: 14 ways to visualise the gender pay gap:

telegraph mind the gap


Does it interest me because I’m a fan of the London Underground? Not exactly. The Underground’s graphics, then? I’ll admit to an admiration for the Underground’s justifiably celebrated map


— which I’ve long thought would make a superb extended HipBone Game board, shown above in its 1968 incarnation. But that’s not it either. And although I don’t think gender should influence the pay a person receives for a given quantity or quality of work — Quant and Qualit again, one of the weirdst paradoxes my min d has ever encountered — it’s not the politics of the sign that interests and delights me.


It’s the way two disparate elements — tube and gender graphics — are combined to create a remarkably powerful third:

SPEC DQ mind the gap

It’s a simple, elegant illustration of the intersection of two sets of ideas that Arthur Koestler talked about and that I’m constantly drawing on in my own work:

And yes, I’m aware that technically the equation I’m pointing to happened in two stages, with the substitution of the phrase “mind the gap” for the word “underground” in the blue bar of the tube logo — but the bar was also used, among other things, for the names of individual stations, so I don’t consider that much of a creative leap.

No, it’s the juxtaposition of underground logo with the gender sign by means of a conflation of their respective circles that’s impressive, coupled with the pun on the gender-specific and underground meanings of “mind the gap”.

That’s the very essence of the intersections Koestler was talking about, and illustrates as vividly as I know how, the power released by such an intersection.


Oh, and yes — fair play clearly requires fair pay.

And it’s Hedy Lamarr‘s birthday, dammit.

On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Hofstadter Langdon Kim — for Gabi Nasemann, & in recognition of Gödel Escher Bach ]

My friend the photographer Gabi Nasemann recently inquired whether I knew John Langdon‘s book, Wordplay, and I responded, DoubleQuote-style, with Scott Kim‘s Inversions:

SPEC kim langdon

I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Kim lo these many years past at the Computer Game Developers Conference, and he was kind enough to say of my HipBone Games:

Your game does seem to really call to mind the Bead Game. Almost a divination system, much more metaphorical than most games.


Scott Kim and his friend Doug Hofstadter both have a keen interest in Bach, so I thought it might be neat to see Scott’s treatment of the name — an ambigram, lower panel below — and how John Langdon might treat it — upper panel:

SPEC bach

Langdon’s Bach I assembled from his own typeface, Biform, which apparently seeped from his grasp into the wider world under the entirely irrelevant name Lampoon.


Of all Langdon’s ambigrams, the one that’s no doubt best known — since Dan Brown used it in one of his execrable books — is his square of the four elements, upper panel, below:

SPEC langdon oronce

It was a nice touch, though, that Brown offered Langdon an hommage by naming his professor of symbiology after him. No doubt the fictional Robert Langdon would be familiar with the glorious diagram of the elements created by Oronce Fine, which he’d have run across in a 1549 Harvard Houghton Library volume, Le Sphere du Monde, and which I have elsewhere compared with Jewish and Christian diagrams:

Sembl and HipBone gameboards are in the same genre.. being games of linkage that you play with your mind:

games you play in your mind


Sources and further readings:

  • John Langdon, Ambigrams
  • Scott Kim, Ambigrams on Google Search

  • Scientific American, Remembering Martin Gardner, with Douglas Hofstadter
  • Slate, Can You Really Be a Professor of Symbology?
  • The New Yorker, Harvard_ No Symbology Here
  • Wikipedia, Robert Langdon
  • Random House, The Official Website of Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon

  • John Langdon, Biform
  • John Langdon, Lampoon

  • Triple Canopy, This is your brain on paper
  • DoubleQuote as Match Cut

    Monday, October 12th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — further passing notes in the virtual music of ideas, including meditations for glass bead game players ]

    From the agile algorithmic eyes at Archillect:

    A match cut or graphic match in cinema is, in Wikipedia’s words,

    a cut in film editing between either two different objects, two different spaces, or two different compositions in which objects in the two shots graphically match, often helping to establish a strong continuity of action and linking the two shots metaphorically.


    Perhaps it’s time to post my Meditations for Glass Bead Game Players:


    First, I ask you to consider the rhyme of “womb” with “tomb” — which has the delicious property that these two words describe, if you will, the two chambers from which we enter this life and through which we leave it. Not only do the two words rhyme on the ear, in other words, they can also be said to rhyme in meaning. Meditation: if you were wearing headphones, and these two words were spoken, what would the stereophony of their meanings be?


    Next, I would invite you to consider visual rhymes — known as “graphic matches” in film studies. Take, for instance, lipstick and bullet. To rephrase the opening of a book I am still working on:

    The conjunction comes from a Yardley’s cosmetic advertisement of a few years back: a woman model wearing a leather bandolier with a variety of lipsticks in place of bullets. It is a powerful image partly because it plays on the visual similarity of bullets and lipsticks, each in their own metal jacket. Indeed, the visual match between them is astonishing — and the lurking Freudian visual pun only adds to our delight.

    The juxtaposition of lipstick and bullet I take to be an example of a certain kind of visual logic, a visual kinship. Transposing their relationship from visual to verbal terms, one might say that lipstick and bullet “rhyme.”

    But there is more than the purely visual here too… There is also a meaning rhyme that echoes in Freud’s pairing of Eros and Thanatos, in Wagner’s Liebestod, in Woody Allen, and in the opening sentence of Bedier’s Tristan and Iseult:

    My Lords, if you would hear a high tale of love and death…

    Meditation: what is the stereophany (by analogy with epiphany, theophany — neologism intended) of the meanings of lipstick and bullet?


    Consider next musical rhymes — fugal treatment of a theme — and if you have the means, play yourself Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903, or Passacaglia and Fugue, BWV 582…


    Next I would ask you to consider — briefly — rhymes between ideas themselves… Ponder, for instance, the twin themes of the myth of Narcissus, and the rhyme that exists between the idea of “echo” and that of “reflection”…


    Consider rhymes between things, between names and the things they name (onomatopoeia), and between ideas and names and things and musical themes and images:

    Seen together, aerial maps of river estuaries and road systems, feathers, fern leaves, branching blood vessels, nerve ganglia, electron micrographs of crystals and the tree-like patterns of electrical discharge-figures are connected, although they are vastly different in place, origin, and scale. Their similarity of form is by no means accidental.

    G Kepes, New Landscapes of Art & Science

    When the surf echoes and crashes out to the horizon, its whorls repeat in similar ratios inside our fleshåWe are extremely complicated, but our bloods and hormones are fundamentally seawater and volcanic ash, congealed and refined. Our skin shares its chemistry with the maple leaf and moth wing. The currents our bodies regulate share a molecular flow with raw sun. Nerves and flashes of lightning are related events woven into nature at different levels.

    Grossinger, Planet Medicine

    The links of association that are possible between one thing and another are extraordinary, and rhymes of the sort we have been discussing are just the beginning… On being asked:

    What is the intersection of fish and flames?

    my list-colleague Barbara Weitbrecht responded:

    Fish being cooked … flame-colored fish … fish flickering through sunlit water like flames … things to do with water: one in it, one antagonistic to it … fish and flames both images of sleep, of subconscious ideas surfacing, of revelation … fish and flames both images of the Deity ….


    Consider all things as the calligraphy of a god or gods…


    Consider, finally, the stereophany between these two elegant paragraphs, one written by the contemporary American poet and naturalist, Annie Dillard, and the other by her compatriot Haniel Long:

    My friend Jens Jensen, who is an ornithologist, tells me that when he was a boy in Denmark he caught a big carp embedded in which, across the spinal vertebrae, were the talons of an osprey. Apparently years before, the fish hawk had dived for its prey, but had misjudged its size. The carp was too heavy for it to lift up out of the water, and so after a struggle the bird of prey was pulled under and drowned. The fish then lived as best it could with the great bird clamped to it, till time disintegrated the carcass, and freed it, all but the bony structure of the talon.

    Haniel Long, Letter to Saint Augustine


    And once, says Ernest Seton Thompson–once, a man shot an eagle out of the sky. He examined the eagle and found the dry skull of a weasel fixed by the jaws to his throat. The supposition is that the eagle had pounced on the weasel and the weasel swiveled and bit as instinct taught him, tooth to neck, and nearly won. I would like to have seen that eagle from the air a few weeks or months before he was shot: was the whole weasel still attached to his feathered throat, a fur pendant? Or did the eagle eat what he could reach, gutting the living weasel with his talons before his breast, bending his beak, cleaning the beautiful airborne bones?

    Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk

    These are the rhymings of the ten thousand things. It is with such meditations as these that we may build the “hundred-gated cathedral of Mind” to which Hesse refers…

    And that “brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back” to my post, DoubleQuotes — origins, of just a few days ago.

    A binary engineering worldview, DoubleQuoted with Explanation

    Thursday, October 8th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — humor, and please forgive me if you have have seen it before ]

    Here’s the DoubleQuote:

    SPEC WD-40 Duct tape

    And here’s the expanation — you may of course have seen it, but hey, anyway:


    via Frank Loveless


    It never occurred to me before, but maybe, just maybe, I could get a doctorate in engineering?

    Ya think?

    An amazing parallelogram of a paragraph

    Sunday, May 31st, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — or if not, a single sentence paragraph about politics that Levi-Strauss would have loved to diagram, plus Yikes ]

    Orin Kerr, writing in WaPo today for the Volokh Conspiracy, in a piece titled If I understand the history correctly… wrote:

    If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.



    I’ve provided the full text of the piece so you’ll get the links Prof. Kerr included.

    What interests me here, though, is the elegant concision of the piece, with its four parallels and various antitheses or oppositions.


    It begins with a frame:

    If I understand the history correctly,

    It then offers its prime example of an errant politician:

    in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair

    followed by its reversal, as the antagonist takes on the protagonist’s role:

    by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair

    followed by a third exemplar of political purity, his ascent to power aborted under parallel circumstances:

    who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair,

    and a fourth, parallel both by succession and similarity of (alleged) conduct:

    which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.

    — with the frame closing on the one-word paragraph:



    Between the careful formality of “If I understand the history correctly” and the squeal of “Yikes” we see the distance this recital of, yes, historical events has taken our good professor: from mind to emotion, observation to morality, head to heart.


    And the (non-partisan) moral of this story is?

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