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I’m always thrilled when Czech stuff makes it on to Boing Boing. The latest item is the excellent media prank that took place yesterday, in which pranksters from zhotoven inserted footage of a nuclear blast explosion into the regular broadcast of Panorama, where they usually run usual live camera footage from ski areas and other points of interest.

I’m almost sure the hack happened at the cameras physical location. My theory is this: While the Panorama broadcast looks like webcams, I know for a fact that at least as late as 2001 they were analog, and I have no reason to believe they have changed to a digital transmission system. Getting a system in place with enough bandwidth to allow for full-screen broadcast-quality video from remote mountain locations would cost an awful lot of money.
The portal I used to run in the Czech Republic wanted to do a deal with Panorama’s producers to run live content from the Panorama cameras all day, but we were floored to find out that the system is analog, and has to run from 8 to 8:30 am because that is the only time when Ceské Radiokomunikace (the company with a virtual monopoly on radio/tv transmissions in the Czech Republic) has enough analog bandwidth to enable the transmissions. Needless to say we didn’t do a deal.

I only wish the media pranksters at Zhotoven would do something about the gawdawful music Panorama plays to accompany the strangely hypnotic pictures. I am deeply convinced that it Panorama’s music is what they play in the seventh circle of hell.

Interesting stuff. I return home from Africa to find that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have taken up residence in my neighborhood.

While I’d like to think I’d bump into them at Delvita or maybe getting a beer at Na Slámníku, somehow I just don’t think that’s going to happen.

Evan Rail wrote a pretty interesting article in the NY Times about seeking the ultimate Czech beer on a tour. I’ve gone with my dad on one of these trips – one of the best vacations I’ve ever had.
As usual, such articles are prone to provoke debate about which beers are really, in the words of my good friend Denis Faye, “all that and a ham sandwich.”

The article points out a few of the Czech Republic’s great beers and a couple of microbreweries to boot, but as usual, people’s tastes differ, so I figured I’d add a couple of my favorite off-the-beaten-path beers to it, just to mix it up a little:

  • Žatec – Žatec is the Czech hops capital, so it isn’t much surprise that beer brewed there would be excellent. The trouble – or perhaps the challenge – is to get it on tap locally because it doesn’t seem to travel well. I tend to prefer dvanactkas myself (that’s how I roll), so I really liked their “Baronka”
  • Pivovarský dvůr, ChynÄ› – just outside of Prague, out near the airport, lies the village of ChynÄ› and the excellent, almost criminally overlooked Pivovarský dvůr. Great food, excellent kvasnicový pivo and proximity to Prague (maybe 10km from Prague 5 and 6) make this a great destination for a bike ride. Getting back, however, is always more difficult.
  • Holba – out in the Beskydy Mountains, they serve a lot of Holba. The Beskydy are a beautiful destination, regardless, but getting Holba on tap is a pretty good additional reason to go.
  • Platan – The town of Protivín owns the Platan brewery, which makes a tasty desítka. The thing about Platan is that it really travels poorly, so bottled Platan or even when it’s served on tap in Prague is a pretty bad calling card for the beer. Served locally, it’s one of my favorites. Another plus is that you can go from Plzeň to ÄŒeské budÄ›jovice via Protivín by taking the scenic route through the mountains and Strakonice.

Man, talking about all these beers makes me thirsty. And it makes me want to go on another one of these “Beer Hunter” tours.

My mobile phone died yesterday. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it’s a Nokia 6210 from 2000. It was a pretty slick phone at the time, and when I got it as a perk from the Large Foreign-owned Telecom I was working for at the time, I was pretty happy.

When I was stressed out at work, I’d play a game of Opposite to get my head cleared. When I needed to settle a bet on, say, the other works of Joyce DeWitt, I’d use Google via WAP. I used the train schedules and the calendar, and for a while even synced my calendar with Outlook. (Again, this was back in the days before seeing The Light and moving to Linux).

The phone worked great for me all over the world: South Africa, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Russia. It was in Domododevo Airport that it got a cracked display: they use a pretty high-powered body scanner that involves stepping on a sliding platform that takes you through the scanning tunnel. I had the phone in my pocket, and when I stepped out of scanner, I noticed the display had cracked.

I dropped the phone in the bath. Twice. Both times it came back. My tip: Take off the batter, set it on a heater and let it sit for a day or so.

The microphone stopped working. So I remembered that I had an old-school hands-free earpiece, and it continued on.

The charger stopped working. But I figured out that if you held just enough force on the charger tip, it would charge.

Until yesterday.

When I went to check it in the morning, the display was dead and wouldn’t come up. I tried repeatedly to get it to work, but it wouldn’t. So I finally gave it up for dead.

I checked Alzasoft for the new Nokia N93, which I swooned over for a while. But CZK 20K for a phone is a bit much, unless it’s a gift from someone ;-).
I walked around the neighborhood to a couple of mobile phone ‘bazar’/pawnshops where second-hand phones are sold alongside strange switchblades, obviously-legitimately-obtained TVs, bicycles and VCRs, as well as your typical offering of military surplus items. Under the glass counter, I even noticed a Swiss Army knife that included a full-size hammer head; “Please Hammer don’t hurt ’em” was all I could think. A sketchy-looking Czech guy who smelled bad and spoke worse Czech than even I do tried to sell me a 6310. But like the scene in Star Wars where the first droid Luke Skywalker picks blows up, the guy couldn’t get the phone to power up. So I left.

Last night I decided to give my phone one more try. And of course it started up.

Back from a relaxing week in the ski town of Harrachov. Quite nice out there, with lots of snow and sunny weather.

I’ve been to Harrachov quite a few times in the past, and was always underwhelmed, but this time around was a pleasant improvement. The funnest thing was riding the bobsled track there; it’s a year-round track on wheels, but is more like a roller coaster than anything. It seriously reminded me of my days as a kid haunting the waterslides in Southern California.
The other excellent thing was checking out the Novosad microbrewery, which is built into a glass factory; you can swig some excellent microbrew while watching people on the factory floor make all kinds of different glasses, vases and whatnot.

Anyway, now that I’m back, it seems all heck is about to break loose. We’ve got the first case of bird flu reported in Hluboka, in southern Bohemia, plus flooding on the way; it’s something like 18 degrees and sunny right now in Kafkaville. The rather large snowpack up in the mountains is likely to come right down.

Happy Saint Patrick’s day, for those of you who celebrate such things. I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but Saint Patrick’s great addition to Irish and world culture was not his invention of green beer or of driving the snakes out of the Emerald Isle.

A few years back, Jasper Bear, one of The Globe’s founders (I designed their logo), gave me a wonderful book called “The 26 Letters” by Oscar Ogg, which was all about the development of the 26 letters of today’s alphabet. Jasper knows I’m a font geek (ahem, “letterforms enthusiast”) from way back.

Anyway, the book’s retelling of St. Patrick’s story was interesting, not only because of his escape from his Roman captors, but because of his invention:

St. Patrick invented lower case letters.

In Ireland, a Celtic land, people used an uncial alphabet. It kind of looks like the writing on the Lord of the Rings cover. When the Christians came with the Bible, it was written in a Roman alphabet, which at the time was all upper-case, like the writing you see on buildings.

St. Patrick devised a transitional alphabet designed to serve between the Roman and Uncial alphabets. Today we call it lower case.

The lower case alphabet, combined with the publication of a bible using it, was one of the major factors in spreading Christianity in Ireland.

The great Czech typographer Oldřich Menhart made a Czech uncial typeface called “Česká unciala,” which was his effort to tie in to the Czechs’ Celtic traditions as well. Veronika Burian’s masters’ dissertation on Menhart includes a lot his gorgeous letterforms (and don’t get me started about my admiration for Menhart!), but go to Page 52 to see Unciala.

Many great leaders brought about huge change through the invention of letterforms. Saints Cyril and Methodius brought Christianity to the Slavic world through the invention of the Cyrillic alphabet, and I’ve been told that Jan Hus developed the system of hačeks and čarkas used in Czech, Slovak, Slovenian and Croatian.

I’ve recently finished Saki Mafundikwa’s “Afrikan Alphabets: The Story of Writing in Afrika,” which was one of the best and most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. It took Mafundikwa, who lives in Harare, Zimbabwe, 20 years to write his overview of African letterforms, but he has weaved it into an amazing travelogue.

For example, he goes in search of Nsibidi, a secret form of writing used by the Secret Societies of the Ekpe in Nigeria and Cameroon. Then he traces it to Cuba as Ekpe religion becomes Abakua and Nsibidi becomes Anaforuana there. It’s an outstanding book and worth picking up.

Not all efforts at creating letterforms become wildly popular. Mafundikwa tells the story of Shu-mom, a writing system devised in 1896 by King Njoya of the Bamum Kingdom in Cameroon. King Njoya was a renaissance man who wanted not only to preserve his people’s heritage but devised a system for doing so.

As Mafundikwa writes:

“King Njoya not only invented a writing system at the age of 25, he also left behind a huge collection of his manuscripts detailing the history of his people. He compiled a pharmacopoeia, designed a calendar, drew maps of his kingdom, kept administrative records and legal codes, and wrote a Kama Sutra-like book – all this in the Shu-mom writing which he had invented. …”
“Not long after he had built a magnificent palace and built schools for his people, the French took control of Cameroon. Their power was threatened by his achievements. They destroyed the printing press that he invented, destroyed his libraries, and burned many of the books he had written. The French soldiers threw Bamum sacred objects into the street. And finally, in 1931, they sent him into exile in the capital of Yaoundé where he died a broken man in 1933.”

Who knows where we’d be without St. Patrick’s lower case letters? The Romans could have crushed his efforts as the French crushed King Njoya’s. Luckily they didn’t, which is reason enough to toast him tonight with a pint of green beer.
As for my copy of “The 26 Letters,” I don’t know where it ended up. I lent it to someone, and, as with many beloved copies of albums, people are loathe to give them up. I don’t know how many copies of XTC’s “Skylarking” or Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” I’ve lost this way, but I digress.

If you should happen to come across a copy of “The 26 Letters,” though, I’d highly recommend it. I just found one on Alibris and snatched it up.

Last week I was at dinner with a friend who said “you don’t update your blog anymore, and I feel stupid for going back to check it.”

I’m all apologies for that, as if apologies somehow help. I just hit a dry spot, then thought, “well, the next post I have will have to knock it out of the park! in order to make up for the gap. And then the gap grew, and the pressure to knock it out of the park! kept growing too. A circle of the damned grew and grew. And the silences grew longer and longer.

I should know better. After graduating from college, I stopped doing one of the things I loved in this world the most – making books. I stopped for many reasons – a broken heart, a move to Prague, a lack of workspace, equipment and time – but the main reason was that after the time away, I felt like the next thing absolutely had to kill.
As usual in situations like this, advice from the good Reverend Tony Pierce’s advice was crucial. Basically, the trick is to get back on the horse, regardless of what people will say (or not say).

Regardless, one piece of advice I’d have for any blog-reader is to make good use of an RSS aggregator. Personally, I use Bloglines and love it. I’m subscribed to something like 30 blogs and another 20 news sites, and what’s nice is that they only show up if there’s something new posted, saving me the time and effort of going to the sites and feeling stupid when they’re not updated.

So here’s to getting back to it.

Oh, and speaking of long-ass delays, did I mention that Guns ‘n’ Roses are playing Sazka Arena June 13th? Could this mean that we’ll see Chinese Democracy sometime soon, or is it the next Smile?

Man, I just looked outside, and the thermometer is showing minus 15 Celsius on my balcony. It’s probably a couple of degrees colder on the streets. And there was a pretty good breeze going, which is always great.

I saw a kid on the tram today who had frozen drool on his scarf. It’s that cold.

It’s kind of cold here in Kafkaville at present (my car’s thermometer showed 7 degrees, which translates to ‘butt-cold’ in California terms), and it’s pretty obvious now that the three-week stretch of Indian Summer, or as the Czechs call it, ‘Babí leto’ (false summer) is now coming to a close. I don’t know what Indians or babičky have to do with the onset of winter, but vatevr.

It’s getting cold. Cold enough to leave drinks out on the balcony again.

Looking out of my office’s window today, though, I saw an unexpected sight: a dead duck hanging from its feet from the windowsill of the apartment building across the street. It hasn’t been dressed yet, so I guess the people in the apartment are leaving it out until they get around to doing the dressing. That’s another oddity, what ‘dressing’ has to do with the fact that you’re actually undressing a bird isn’t clear to me either.

As I looked out at the duck, I wondered if it’d be the last one I’d see for a while, what with the impending onslaught of H5N1 and all.

A little while later, my colleague brought in a postcard announcing what may be a truly short-lived endeavor: Perpetuum Prague Duck Restaurant. the proprietors of Perpetuum Prague Duck Restaurant also run the excellent Červená Tabulka, I can only wonder how long they can continue; when bird flu hit in Asia in 2004, even KFC had to switch to fish.

To follow up on the dead Ixus story, here’s what happened when we took the camera in for service. The service guy takes it in, goes into his room, and comes out a couple of minutes later.

“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do,” he said. Then he gets a pie-eating grin and says, “actually, you can turn it on.” And it was back to normal, good as new.

What’s even cooler is that he didn’t charge anything for fixing it. How cool is that?

So here’s a big thank you to the excellent people over at AWH Servis off námÄ›stí Jiřího z PodÄ›brad. They should be your go-to people when you need a camera serviced.