Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things

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Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things is a tiny book of big ideas. It’s 336 pages of objects ranging from bird houses to sheds to temporary art installations. The unifying theme is clever design and a less than house sized scale.

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This is the kind of book to thumb through if you’ve got a creative block, are curious about materials or just looking for inspiration.

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And there’s lots of dog and cat architecture.

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And saunas, like the bike propelled mini sauna above.

I don’t know if I need to own a copy of this book (I’ve got a library copy), but I’ve spent a many evenings leafing through the pages. On a side note, many of the objects in this book are temporary outdoor art installations, something you see a lot of in Northern Europe in the summer. I don’t know why we don’t see more of these types of art and design shows in the U.S. They’re popular and a nice use of public space.

The book has inspired me this morning to cut the blogging short and head to my workshop and build something.

086 The Connection Between Cats and Grain

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Why is it that cats come from the same part of the world where people first figured out how to grow and store grain? Would we have bread if we didn’t have cats? In this podcast Kelly and Erik explore the ancient history, famous cats and take a detour into the world of distillery cats and ship’s cats.

Special thanks to Paul Koudounaris, whose lecture inspired this podcast, and the website Purr-n-Fur for information on ship’s and distillery cats.

Many thanks to our Patreon subscribers for making this podcast and blog possible.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

A Lecture on the Connection Between Cats and Grain

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If not for cats would we have bread? On Saturday June 4th at 2 p.m. at the Los Angeles Bread Festival at Grand Central Market I’m going to deliver a talk on the connection between cats and grain. The connection is a basic one: store grain and you get vermin. Then you need cats.

But, in the course of preparing for this lecture, I discovered that the commonly held narrative of cat domestication is an unsubstantiated fiction. That narrative goes something like this: in a golden, ancient time Egyptians revered cats, Medieval folks persecuted them and enlightened 18th century philosophers rediscovered them. This is the feline version of the myth of progress whose ultimate destination is a world in which we spend all our hours spinning around in self driving cars while watching, on our virtual reality glasses, an endlessly looped 3D version of Nyan Cat.

Islam tells a much more succinct and, I think, more accurate version of cat domestication. An Islamic legend holds that Noah’s ark was overrun with mice and rats. God instructed Noah to pet the nostril of a lion, whereupon the lion sneezed out two house cats. Noah’s vermin problem was solved. The story highlights the two ways in which humans actually interacted with house cats for thousands of years: as rodent control and as the occupants of ships.

In my talk I’ll discuss what we know about early cat domestication in the Fertile Crescent (not much, but cat domestication predates Egyptian civilization by several thousand years). Then I’ll show how our feline grain guardians became ship’s cats and spread all around the world. Lastly, I’ll take a detour into the lives of famous distillery cats.

Hope to see you at the Bread Fest!

Picture Sundays: Famous Cat Statues

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Hint to public artists–the people want a good cat statue not some plopped down abstract thingy. They’d take a dog statue or some old dude on a horse too, but that would be the subject of another blog post. Today, we celebrate two famous feline statues. Above is a statue of Trim, the first cat to circumnavigate Australia and the subject of a book by the ship’s captain Matthew Finders.

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Next is a statue of Samuel Johnson’s cat Hodge sitting on top of a dictionary and pondering some oyster shells. It’s located just outside Johnson’s house in London and is inscribed, “a very fine cat indeed.”

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UPDATE: Root Simple reader Peter noted a glaring feline statue omission on my part: the statue of Mrs. Chippy (who should have been named Mr. Chippy) that sits atop the grave of Harry McNeish, ship’s carpenter of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. McNeish carried a lifelong grudge against Shackleton for having shot Mrs. Chippy along with the expedition’s dogs. Yet another strike, in my opinion, against the Shackleton-as-model-CEO cult that got going just before the 2008 economic meltdown. By way of contrast, please ponder the lengths that the crew of the Karluk went through to save the ship’s cat Nigeraurak during a disastrous 1913 arctic expedition. Read that story here.

Picture Sundays: Kiddo the Airship Cat

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A delightful lecture by Paul Koudounaris on the history of ship cats tipped me off to the story of Kiddo, the airship cat. Kiddo went aboard the ill-fated airship America in an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Atlantic in October 1910. Kiddo did not enjoy the experience, at first, and led to what may have been the first air to ground radio transmission, “Roy, come and get this goddamn cat!”

After a journey of over a thousand miles, inclement weather led to the abandonment of the airship. Kiddo and crew were rescued by a British steamship (Kiddo was found snoozing in the back of the lifeboat).

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The story is proof that the celebrity cat phenomenon pre-dates the interwebs. Kiddo, renamed Trent after the rescue ship, was welcomed back to New York where he spent a period on display in a gilded cage at Gimbel’s department store. Postcards of Trent went all over the world. He spent the rest of his life with the daughter of the airship’s owner.

For more details of the story see Purr n’ Furr Famous Felines.