In praise of experiencing underwear.

Fifi, by Strumpet & Pink

Willow, by Strumpet & Pink

Hunting Through the Ruffles, by Strumpet & Pink

Garden of Delights, by Strumpet & Pink

From the Strumpet & Pink website, a goal I can get behind:

Our knickers are experiential and focus
on feeling rather than objectification.

Years ago, my friend Logan talked so much about wanting velvet underwear with the pile facing inwards that someone finally made him some. Fuzzy on the inside.

Apologies for all the skinny, pale-skinned bums. I thought the ruffles were worth it. I am imagining my future undercrafts.

Ernst Haeckel, categorization, sets of sets, primary colours, dog tv

Ernst Haeckel, Kunstformen der Natur

I fell into a bit of a well of naturalism and anatomy links, and ended up wanting to read Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums, although I’m pretty sure it isn’t as critical or curious as I want it to be. One review quotes this tedious oversimplification as a “philosophical insight into the scientific and human impulse to categorize.”

“To have a concept… is to have its negation already in tow…. There is a class of things called ‘dog,’ and there is a class of things (quite substantial, in fact) that are ‘not-dog.’… Language and thought cannot really function without this most basic tool for carving up reality.”

Never heard of fuzzy continuums and the rewards of using them, I guess? Odd, since natural history museums are full of ambiguous specimens (two headed mutant dog, alleged dog-cow hybrid, newly discovered tentative dog, etc) that illustrate quite nicely the space between dog and not-dog. Sort of dog. Possible dog. Both dog and yet not dog. Natural history museums are pretty much ground zero for failed categorization schemes and fuzzy margins, sets that are more complicated than somebody was hoping they would be. Maybe the quote is just out of context. There are a lot of ellipses in there.

To balance out the sad saga of binary categories in science, I like to think about primary colours. These seem like a life-affirming, pro-ambiguity, scientific success. Primary colours are sets of colours that are chosen to maximize the usefulness of the spectrum between them. A noble, everybody-wins way to think about categorization, and also an easily visualized example of information organized into multiple overlapping continua. Wikipedia points out that “Any choice of primary colors is essentially arbitrary; for example, an early color photographic process, autochrome, typically used orange, green, and violet primaries.” Concrete! Maybe this is because colour science is so bluntly tied up in perception and perspective. It has to be aware of observer bias and intention, because it is about observing. My favourite bit of that Wikipedia page:

If a human and an animal both look at a natural color, they see it as natural; however, if both look at a color reproduced via primary colors, for example on a color television screen, the human may see it as matching the natural color, while the animal does not; in this sense, reproduction of color via primaries must be “tuned” to the color vision system of the observer.

I wonder how long it will be before someone makes a TV for dogs, with two kinds of pixels instead of RGB. Or TV for bees, with four kinds.

7 wrens, sets of sets

seven wrens

I was thinking about sets of sets when I came across this set of similar wrens, discussing the collections of identifying marks that make up a distinguishable bird species.

The same site has a lovely little discussion of preparing the mind to see birds.

Experts say that when we lose something, before we begin our search to find the lost thing we should picture the object in our minds. This kind of “visualization” causes the brain to do something wonderful. On the one hand, it appears to filter out many unnecessary sightings but, on the other, if something even remotely resembling the lost object comes into view, the mind seems to “jump” at it.

Power of pattern matching.


I went to the Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh, which is the original home of the Royal College of Surgeons. These days it contains three creepy museums on the history of surgery, pathology, and dentistry. It gave me lots of ideas relating to my indie thesis, but more on that later.

Rubber tooth forms, from the Museum of Dentistry in Edinburgh

Right now, teeth! The Museum of Dentistry was all about collections of things. Sets of antique drill bits, sets of ornate knives, sets of tooth brushes, sets of teeth. I’ve always liked collections of many objects that are similar but not exactly the same.

I remember at the Mendel Museum of Genetics in the Czech Republic, they had all these framed collections showing different phenotypes— 64 similar leaves arranged in a matrix, 25 drawings of similar feathers, 4 types of pea plants in square garden plots. I almost had a seizure, from glee.

Rubber tooth forms, from the Museum of Dentistry in Edinburgh

I don’t know exactly why I enjoy similar sets so much, but I suspect you’ll just know what I mean. Similar-but-not-the-same objects are so common in nature, and so commonly considered beautiful, that there are whole design books on the topic. (My favourite discussion is in Christopher Alexander’s The Timeless Way of Building. Repetition with variation was a big part of his rationale for pattern languages.)

A set of teeth, from the Museum of Dentistry in Edinburgh

So these dentistry sets would have made my day no matter what, but the teeth were off the scale. I had never thought about it, but a mouthful of teeth is a similar-but-not-the-same set to start with, and then setting up grids of multiple mouthfuls in different sizes… my mind reels.

Crown former set, from the Museum of Dentistry in Edinburgh

Furthermore, some of these tooth sets— which were blanks meant for casting false teeth— were arranged in cases. They were a lot like type cases— if I had a tooth case I would definitely keep the top teeth in the upper case and the bottom teeth in the lower case, like letters in a printing font. Thinking about uppercase and lowercase teeth has multiplied my affection for my mouth, because now it is not just a mouth but a printing press for bite marks.