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18 Dec 22:44

T-Mobile wins fight against AT&T and Verizon over data roaming charges

by Jon Brodkin

T-Mobile US has won a declaratory ruling that could force AT&T and Verizon Wireless to charge lower prices for data roaming.

T-Mobile argued in a petition to the Federal Communications Commission that the biggest carriers charge their smaller competitors artificially high prices. The petition asked the commission to offer specific guidance and enforcement criteria for determining whether any given data roaming agreement is commercially reasonable.

The FCC granted T-Mobile’s request today, rejecting arguments made by AT&T and Verizon. The ruling by itself doesn’t lower the rates that T-Mobile has to pay AT&T and Verizon. However, T-Mobile could now challenge the rates it pays those companies and have a better shot at winning because the commission largely accepted T-Mobile’s proposed guidance. The greater possibility of FCC intervention could also improve T-Mobile's leverage in negotiations.

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17 Dec 13:41

Billion Dollar Surveillance Blimp to Launch over Maryland - The Intercept

by overbey

Is the Raytheon Surveillance Zeppelin steampunk? Y/N

Built by the Raytheon Company, the JLENS blimps operate as a pair. One provides omnipresent high-resolution 360-degree radar coverage up to 340 miles in any direction; the other can focus on specific threats and provide targeting information.
16 Dec 20:10

Kyrgyz kolkhoz farmer, 1937.

Kyrgyz kolkhoz farmer, 1937.

16 Dec 15:49

T-Mobile Unveils New 'Data Stash' Program That Allows Unused Data to Roll Over Each Month

by Kelly Hodgkins
As part of its new Un-carrier 8.0 announcement, T-Mobile today unveiled its new "Data Stash" program that allows consumers to roll over their monthly unused data. At the end of the month, consumers will be able to store their unused data without limit for the next 12 months.

"Can you imagine your gas station siphoning unused gas from your car each month? The US wireless industry is even worse," said John Legere, president and CEO for T-Mobile. "Americans have been gamed by the carriers into buying huge data plans – all to avoid getting screwed with overage penalties. Only to find out they bought more than they need which is then confiscated by the carrier. For the consumer it’s lose, lose."

"That data is rightfully yours," added Legere. "And, we’re putting an end to this appalling industry practice today. With Data Stash, when you buy additional high-speed data, there’s no need to lose what you don’t use."
To kick start the program, T-Mobile will provide 10GB of free 4G LTE data to customers as a starting stash. This free 10GB data stash is not shared, but will be allotted to each line in a family or business plan. The new Data Stash program will be available starting in January 2015 and will be applied to every individual, family and business plan automatically.

16 Dec 17:28

Regional Implications of the Russian Currency Crisis

by tompepinsky

Unless something changes dramatically in the next couple of days, we will code this week as the onset of the 2014-15 Russian currency crisis. Using Quantmod, I’ve plotted below the evolution of the ruble-dollar exchange rate since 2010 along with 180-day Bollinger bands.
The Indonesians have a verb for this kind of currency movement: anjlok, which my Echols and Shadily dictionary defines as “to plummet,” or figuratively, to “jump the rails.”

One interpretation of the unfolding currency crisis is that this is bad news for Putin, and hence good news for US/Western foreign policy. Here are two reasons to be circumspect, at least at this stage.

Recent History

First, the historical context. Let’s look back another decade, shall we?

Russia managed to ride out the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis pretty well. One might look to this as evidence that Putin has the “room to move” to withstand an external shock of this sort, although I’d add two caveats to this view. For one, the ruble depreciation of 2008-09 looks a lot like a return to trend than a departure from trend (as it does now). But also, and the 2008-09 depreciation is probably a consequence of a flight to liquidity during the Global Financial Crisis, which is not true today.

Regional Context

A second reason to be skeptical is the external implications of a Russian ruble crisis. Let’s also look at XR movements in the Ukraine over the same time period.
Just eyeballing this, it looks like the same pressures affecting Russia will be affecting the Ukraine too, which would mean that any harm that comes to the Russian economy would also spill over to its neighbors too, including those neighbors that are seen as friends of the U.S.

Fortunately, we know that we should not just eyeball our time series, because non-stationary time series can be misleading. I’ve plotted below the daily changes in hryvnia/USD (blue) and ruble/USD exchange rates (red).
XR changes line
It’s not so clear that they are related. We can also look at a scatterplot of day-on-day changes.
xr changes scatter
There is only the slightest positive relationship here between hryvnia-USD movements and ruble-USD movements.

So why write about this at all? Because it is also possible to show you this figure, from a time in which Ukrainian-Russian ties were not marred by invasions and things.
xr changes 2010-13
The t-stat on the line of best fit is 5.6, and remains unchanged when controlling for lagged levels of each country’s exchange rate.*** This reflects the fact that during normal times, we expect there to be spillover effects from the Russian economy to the Ukrainian economy. (This figure is all the more striking given that the Ukraine was maintaining a quasi-fixed exchange rate during this period.) The economies are really tightly integrated: Russia is the Ukraine’s largest trading partner, after all.

The takeaway thought is that currency crises have external consequences. Russia’s will too, and they might lead analysts to be careful of what they wish for, even as many of them happily watch the markets hammer Russia.


*** Of course, I’d be curious to see a full ARIMAX/VECM model, and will post the R code to get all the data together in the first comment on this post.

15 Dec 20:50

Driving While Playing NWA

by Josh Marshall

Florida cop pulls over and tickets driver for playing NWA's "F#$k the Police".

The officer in question has reportedly had 16 internal offices cases in the 17 years he's been on the force. So he may not be the best of the best.

15 Dec 22:12

Oakland cops disciplined 24 times for failing to turn on body-worn cameras

by Cyrus Farivar

OAKLAND, Calif.—Over the last two years, the Oakland Police Department (OPD) has disciplined police officers on 24 occasions for disabling or failing to activate body-worn cameras, newly released public records show. The City of Oakland did not provide any records prior to 2013, and the OPD did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.

The records show that on November 8, 2013 one officer was terminated after failing to activate his camera. Less than two weeks later, another resigned for improperly removing the camera from his or her uniform. However, most officers received minor discipline in comparison.

The OPD has used Portable Digital Recording Devices (PDRDs) since late 2010. According to the department's own policy, patrol officers are required to wear the cameras during a number of outlined situations, including detentions, arrests, and serving a warrant. At present, the city has about 700 officers.

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15 Dec 19:37

Tornado as realistic transportation option

Dorothy left home in a more believable way. She didn’t do it by going through a piece of furniture like it was a street.

12 Dec 15:37

Mark Bittman, Claus Meyer and other food luminaries to teach at Berkeley Food Institute

by Tara Duggan

The air will be thick with self-righteousness.

Mark Bittman will be a "distinguished visiting fellow" when he teaches about food at UC Berkeley this spring.

Mark Bittman will be a “distinguished visiting fellow” when he teaches about food at UC Berkeley this spring.

Protests and submerged cars are the biggest news coming out of Berkeley this week, yet UC Berkeley has food news too. It turns out that the spring lineup at the Berkley Food Institute will include several big names in the food and restaurant world, led by Mark Bittman, Noma co-founer Claus Meyer and Marion Nestle.

Michael Pollan co-founded the Berkeley Food Institute two years ago, and visiting professors are usually spread across the campus. Bittman, a “distinguished visiting fellow,” will co-teach Edible Education 101: The Rise and Future of the Food Movement, along with UC Berkeley professor Garrison Sposito in the Environmental Science department. Pollan used to co-teach the class, which has been open to both Berkeley students and the general public on and off since 2011, in collaboration with Alice Waters. It has become so popular that the university plans to live-stream it next spring on the Edible Schoolyard website.

Meyer will teach in the business department, with a focus on his restaurant and cooking school in La Paz, Bolivia, which give jobs to impoverished local residents, and his Melting Pot Foundation. Nestle, a long-time San Francisco Chronicle Food Section columnist, will teach journalism, while food activist Saru Jayaraman will continue her work on restaurant and other food-related labor issues.

Bittman explained why he decided to take the opportunity this way: “Well, Berkeley’s obviously good, and the Bay Area’s obviously appealing. And not only that, Berkeley has the Berkeley Food Institute, so it’s super-compelling.” Makes sense.

10 Dec 10:13

Turkish & Mongolian Loanwords

by Dan
The Tibetan words here are, to transcribe them into Wylie, in order:  sku-bde-rigsgang-zag, chol-kha, 'jam, thu-lum, na-so, no-kar, pag-shi, beg-tse, sbe-ka, tshan, she-mong, hor-dud, and am-chi.
In times gone by, musk was the most popular Tibetan product in the whole world. Now that the musk deer is considered endangered it’s been replaced by synthetics, so much so that now Tibet’s biggest money maker is Buddhism, which seems to be facing the same fate. The Mongolian is kuderi, and the Tibetan borrowing of it gives it Tibetanizing spellings that make it seem to mean family of healthy bodies, but using very honorable language. Why would Tibetans ever think to borrow yet another word when they already had such a perfect one of their own for it, gla-ba? I have no idea.

Gang-zag is a tricky word, since its usual meaning is person (Sanskrit pudgala), not pipe.

I know I once claimed that sbe-ka had something to do with the Sanskrit word for frog, and now all of a sudden I’m contradicting myself finding an Old Mongolian origin for it in a word for wrestler. I admit I was probably wrong, although come to think of it I could have been right. More on the frog below.

You may well wonder what metal ingots might have to do with whole animal pelts. Well, even if you weren’t wondering: In ancient times in the Middle East and elsewhere, there was a practice of pouring molten metal into whole animal skins immersed in water. The result would be an ingot with four short legs that made the very heavy objects a lot easier to for two people to handle.

Emchi is nowadays a most common Tibetan word for physician, entirely suitable for addressing your doctor in person. Goldstein's dictionary even records the spelling em-rje, one of those cute Tibetanizing spellings since the 2nd syllable means lord, making it all that much more respectful.

I imagine all, or at least most, of these loanwords from Mongolian entered Tibetan during the time of the Mongolian Empire and not before. I doubt you will find any of them in the Dunhuang documents or other pre-Mongol period sources, but you can test this for yourself at the OTDO.

Here is a photo of a horse-hair thug, a traumatic symbol of Mongolian terror in the late 12th-13th centuries that we mentioned in an earlier blog. Still today, Tibetans use it to mark the location of gönkhang chapels where fear is (ideally) taken onto the Path.

The Tibetan words here are, to transcribe them into Wylie, in order:  khol-po, cog, chu-ba (or phyu-ba), 'cham, thug, sbal-kha, yol, gshang, and sag-ri.

Many of these words are not commonly encountered in Tibetan and a few are extremely rare (the names of Turkic gods, cog and yol only occur in long-forgotten Old Tibetan documents), although others such as chu-ba and 'cham are everyday words.

The gshang bell, used primarily by followers of Bön, but also by some Kagyü Lamas and spirit mediums, looks like this:

For the Tibetan word for that shagreen that helps keep a tight grip on knives and swords, have a look at this March 2009 blog entry of Sitahu where C.C. and I had a lot of fun discussing it. I must say, I have nothing more to say about it, much to my chagrin.

I’ve found that you can find a lot more Tibetan words taken from Mongolian in a convenient list — with discussion — in the 2008 doctoral dissertation of Tóth Erzsébet (Elisabeth Toth), Mongol–Tibeti Nyelvi Kölcsönhatások(found online here), pp. 13-34. It’s interesting that the Tibetan word used in recent times for Russia, ཨུ་རུ་སུ་, was taken from Mongolian. It would appear that Rgya-ser/ རྒྱ་སེར་ ['Yellow Expanse'?] is the more genuinely Tibetan name for it, but it too doesn’t seem to date back more than a few centuries, so I very much doubt it could have anything to do with the Khazars.

All these vocabulary connections are provisional and merit prolonged study, reflection and discussion.
This comes from Dan's Tibeto-logic blog located at
09 Dec 19:30

Escape goat

Music is my passion, my escape goat, and my life.

07 Dec 22:46

Jeff Fisher trolls Redskins during opening coin toss

by Hanzus, Dan
The St. Louis Rams acquired six contributors in the blockbuster RGIII trade with the Redskins. Rams coach Jeff Fisher sent all six players to midfield for the pregame coin toss on Sunday.
05 Dec 21:36

Source Han Sans Development: Archaic Hangul

by Dr. Ken Lunde

One of the reasons why Source Han Sans—and obviously the Google-branded Noto Sans CJK—can be considered the world’s first Pan-CJK typeface family is due to its support for Korean hangul. While it is common to support modern hangul in Korean fonts, supporting archaic hangul is relatively uncommon. One of the more challenging aspects of developing Source Han Sans was implementing support for archaic hangul, which also included handling 500 high-frequency archaic hangul syllables. This article will thus detail what went into supporting archaic hangul in Source Han Sans. I’d like to once again thank our talented friends at Sandoll Communication for designing the glyphs for these characters.

Modern Hangul

Modern hangul includes 11,172 syllable-like characters that have been encoded in Unicode since Version 2.0 (July 1996). While 2,350 of them are considered higher-frequency and correspond to those specified in Korea’s KS X 1001 standard, it is common for today’s Korean fonts, especially commercial ones, to support all 11,172.

Archaic Hangul

Archaic hangul is a different matter altogether, mainly because the individual graphemes are encoded separately, and three particular OpenType GSUB features—’ljmo‘ (Leading Jamo Forms), ‘vjmo‘ (Vowel Jamo Forms), and ‘tjmo‘ (Trailing Jamo Forms)—are orchestrated to combine them into a rectangle that represents a grapheme cluster. Supporting 500 high-frequency archaic hangul syllables further complicates the matter.

In terms of supporting archaic hangul via combining jamo, Source Han Sans includes six sets of leading consonants (L), two sets of vowels (V), and four sets of trailing consonants (T) that are used to support LV and LVT sequences that correspond to archaic hangul syllables. When you figure in the number of L (125: U+1100 through U+115F and U+A960 through U+A97C), V (95: U+1160 through U+11A7 and U+D7B0 through U+D7C6), and T (137: U+11A8 through U+11FF and U+D7CB through U+D7FB) components, along with the fact that both LV and LVT sequences are valid, the number of possible combinations is thus a staggering 1,638,750 (125 L × 95 V = 11,875 LV plus 125 L × 95 V × 137 T = 1,626,875 LVT). Of course, the 11,172 modern hangul syllables represent a (very small) subset of this large figure. (For those who care, modern hangul syllables are calculated as 19 L × 21 V = 399 LV plus 19 L × 21 V × 27 T = 10,773 LVT.)

In terms of the OpenType implementation, a total of 1,488 glyphs are used, and correspond to 6 × 125 L plus 2 × 95 V plus 4 × 137 T. This figure, of course, ignores the 357 (125 L + 95 V + 137 T) nominal (encoded) forms of these characters. Each set is handled as a separate “lookup” that is referenced in the corresponding GSUB feature. The 750 (6 × 125) L glyphs have 920-unit widths, and the 190 (2 × 95) V and 548 (4 × 137) T glyphs have zero-unit widths and are shifted 920 units to the left, which allows them to overlay the L glyphs.

High-Frequency Archaic Hangul

Things get perhaps a bit more interesting when we start exploring what went into implementing the 500 high-frequency archaic hangul syllables. The purpose of these glyphs, as the name sort of suggests, is to provide hand-tuned (or pre-composed) versions of archaic hangul syllables that have been deemed higher-frequency, and thus look better. The ‘ccmp‘ (Glyph Composition/Decomposition) GSUB feature is used for this purpose, and one discovery that I made just prior to the mid-July launch was that the two-character (LV) sequences that correspond to one of the high-frequency archaic hangul syllables were blocking three-character (LVT) combining jamo sequences: the initial LV sequence was rendered as a pre-composed high-frequency archaic syllable, and the final T was, well, trailing, not combining. The solution was to use the “ignore substitute” construct in the ‘ccmp’ GSUB feature to ignore LVT sequences whose LV subsequence corresponded to one of the 500 high-frequency archaic hangul syllables.

The image below shows the <1140 1175 11D9> sequence in pre-composed and combining forms, which clearly illustrates that the pre-composed form is more visually appealing, in terms of the balance of the components, than the combining form:

Included in the Source Han Sans project are Glyph Complement PDFs for each weight that show the 500 high-frequency archaic hangul syllables, and provide the two- or three-character jamo sequences that are used to enter them. Below is an excerpt:

I have never implemented archaic hangul prior to developing the Source Han Sans and Noto Sans CJK fonts, so it was a good learning experience for me.

In closing, I should mention that the model for combining jamo is defined in the KS X 1026-1:2007 standard whose (unofficial) English translation is available via WG2 N3422.

01 Dec 19:05

Seed + Salt brings gluten-free vegetarian food to the Marina

by Paolo Lucchesi

Just start feeding Soylent smoothies to your customers and be done with it already.

The S+S Beet Burger ($14) Beets, walnuts, lentils, mushrooms, brown rice, raisins,  spices + smoked sea salt served on a GF burger bun. Photo via Seed + Salt

The S+S Beet Burger ($14)
Beets, walnuts, lentils, mushrooms, brown rice, raisins, spices + smoked sea salt served on a GF burger bun. Photo: Aubrie Pick

Seed + Salt is now open on Chestnut Street, bringing a gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian option to the Marina.

There are smoothies and juice drinks. There are freshly baked goods. Sandwiches come on either a springy, gluten-free baguette or in a collard green wrap. There are a medley of spreads, served with a seed and nut bread. There are several salads premade in the glass deli case. And there is a rather delicious and genius eggplant bacon, which isn’t as eye-rolling as it sounds.

The tiny 825-square-foot spot is a quick-service affair (see menu below), and it is the brainchild of first-time restaurateur/owner Mo Clancy and chef Ariel Nadelberg.

Clancy’s background is in the beauty and fashion industry, as well as marketing. Seed + Salt arose from her own need: Compared to New York and Los Angeles, she says that she saw a dearth of Bay Area options in this genre.

“We’re a little different. We’re the next wave. We don’t use gluten, and we don’t use cane sugar, meat, or dairy,” Clancy says. “This is a different wave that consumers, as they get more educated, are understanding that they want it to be a little more granular in what is good for you.”

Hours are Monday – Saturday, 7am– 8pm, Sunday, 10am – 8pm. Takeout and eat-in available.

The menu:

Seed + Salt: 2240 Chestnut Street, between Pierce and San Francisco. (415) 872-9173 or

05 Dec 15:41

Alma Gluck & E. Zimbalist (LOC)

by The Library of Congress

Shared for hat & for fly dress.

The Library of Congress posted a photo:

Alma Gluck & E. Zimbalist (LOC)

Bain News Service,, publisher.

Alma Gluck & E. Zimbalist

[between ca. 1915 and ca. 1920]

1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in. or smaller.

Title from unverified data provided by the Bain News Service on the negatives or caption cards.
Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

Format: Glass negatives.

Rights Info: No known restrictions on publication.

Repository: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA,

General information about the Bain Collection is available at

Higher resolution image is available (Persistent URL):

Call Number: LC-B2- 4102-1

04 Dec 06:18

Sleater-Kinney | New Song, “Surface Envy”, Released

by overbey
Yesterday the band sat down to answer questions on a Reddit AMA (AUA in this case) and, per request, released another song from their upcoming album No Cities To Love. You can hear the song, “Surface Envy,” below.
04 Dec 00:40

Apple Deleted iPod Owners' Songs Downloaded From Competing Music Services Between 2007 and 2009

by Juli Clover
Between 2007 and 2009, Apple stealthily deleted content that iPod owners had downloaded from rival music services, reports The Wall Street Journal. The information came to light during an ongoing class action iPod lawsuit that Apple is fighting in court this week, where the Cupertino company is accused of having violated antitrust law by locking its original iPods to the iTunes ecosystem.

According to plaintiff attorney Patrick Coughlin, a user who downloaded music from a competing music service to iTunes and then tried to sync the content to an iPod would receive a nondescript error message. The vague message would advise the iPod owner to restore the device to its factory settings, deleting the music that had been downloaded from a rival service and preventing it from being played.

Apple security director Augustin Farrugia defended the vague error message, stating that Apple didn't want to "confuse users" by providing them with too much information. Farrugia also said the company's efforts to delete music acquired from third-party sources was done in an effort to protect consumers from hackers and malicious content.

Yesterday, lawyers for the plaintiffs shared both a videotaped deposition and emails written by Steve Jobs as evidence that Apple had deliberately stymied competing music services after the launch of the iPod. In the correspondence, the former Apple CEO hatched a plan to accuse competing music service RealNetworks of hacking the iPod when it offered song downloads that could be played on the device.

The class action lawsuit began on Tuesday of this week and is being heard in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California. Both Apple marketing head Phil Schiller and iTunes chief Eddy Cue are expected to testify during the court proceedings.

03 Dec 22:00

Cal students launch headphone start-ups, raise big bucks

by Kate Darby Rauch
Accent Wear headphones

Axent Wear headphones: the startup, launched by Cal graduates, rapidly raised more than $2.9 million on crowd-funding site Indiegogo, far exceeding its goal of $250,000. Photo: Axent Wear

It may be happenstance, or the sign of a specialized talent pool, but Berkeley is home to two new innovative headphone start-ups, both of which have made their debuts via crowd-funding sites.

One company was started by Cal graduates, and the other by Cal dropouts who left to pursue their acoustical dream.

If high-tech feline attire is your music-listening thing, take a look at Axent’s Wear Cat Ear headphones, which launched on Indiegogo a little over a month ago.

“The latest fusion of fashion and functionality with external cat ear speakers and LED lights,” reads the description. “Presenting Axent Wear, glowing, badass headphones that let you blast your music and express your style.”

The headphone company were started “by two UC Berkeley alum with an idea,” the site says.

That idea seems to have hit a chord. In just a few weeks, Axent raised more than $2.9 million, far exceeding its stated goal of $250,000.(...)

Read the rest of Cal students launch headphone start-ups, raise big bucks (756 words)

By Kate Darby Rauch. | Permalink | 5 comments |
Post tags: Axent, UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley startups, Wearhaus

03 Dec 19:00

Big Screen Berkeley: ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’

by John Seal

“Arguably the best ‘art-house vampire’ flick since Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night also features the most remarkable screen performance I’ve ever seen by a cat. Chubby short-haired tabby Masuka is a complete cutie who steals every scene he’s in, and seems to love being in the limelight.”


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night can be described as an ‘Iranian diaspora romantic vampire drama set in the western United States’

Is A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Dec. 5) truly ‘the first Iranian vampire western’, as its promotional material claims? Sadly, no – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing, assuming you can forgive the untruthful tagline.

First, however, let’s take a brief moment to dissect that impressive piece of ballyhoo. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is actually an American film, not an Iranian one, and it is not a western, though it was filmed in Bakersfield. Thankfully, there is a vampire… but this is no ordinary bloodsucking saga, and anyone anticipating a routine horror movie is in for further disappointment.(...)

Read the rest of Big Screen Berkeley: ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ (448 words)

By John Seal. | Permalink | No comment |
Post tags: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Ana Lily Amirpour, Landmark's Shattuck CInemas

03 Dec 17:21

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: A Farewell to Hemnes: Ernest Hemingway Assembles an IKEA Daybed Frame With Three Drawers.

by overbey
“I envy you,” he said to me. “You are a builder. You see results of your efforts.” “I am a drinker of beer,” I told him. “I am no builder.”
03 Dec 08:03

▶ The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride - 3/1/2008 - Independent - YouTube

by overbey
The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride Recorded Live: 3/1/2008 - Independent (San Francisco,CA)
01 Dec 23:01

WSJ Reports That Intel Will Supply Chips for Next-Gen Google Glass

by John Gruber

I want these people’s faces to make a startup noise all like “DGHNG, duh duh-duh DGHNGG.”

Alistair Barr and Don Clark, reporting for the WSJ:

Intel Corp. will supply the electronic brains for a new version of Google Inc.’s Glass device expected next year, people familiar with the matter said, part of a push by the semiconductor giant into wearable technology. An Intel chip will replace a processor from Texas Instruments Inc. included in the first version of Glass, the people said.

Intel plans to promote Glass to companies such as hospital networks and manufacturers, while developing new workplace uses for the device, according to one of the people.

Just the thing Google Glass needs to jump-start sales: blue “Intel Inside” decals on the frames.

01 Dec 21:21

NFL will not discipline Rams for pregame gesture

by Hanzus, Dan
The NFL will not discipline the St. Louis Rams players who held up their hands as a gesture of solidarity with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, prior to Sunday's win over the Oakland Raiders.
27 Nov 09:03

The Emperor's Beer Jug

by Dan

<3 Dan Martin

Quoted from the Dutch painter Jan Havickszoon Steen (1626-1679 CE)

I just noticed an interesting thing in a drawing I had looked at very many times over the years. I was following up on a reference from Michael Henss’s new book. While looking at that sketch again with the beer jug of Songtsen Gampo on my mind,* I couldn’t help but be impressed at how well Haarh had so long ago caught the shape of this horse-headed (camel-headed?) vessel, especially since I believe he could not have known about the actual one kept in the Jokhang unless Hugh Richardson told him about it. That’s possible, I suppose, although I do doubt it.**
(*Go back to this post if you can't remember what that is. **I should check if Grünwedel could have mentioned it in his German translation of the Fifth Dalai Lama's guide to the Jokhang. Oh well, some other time.)

As you can see in the scan just below, Haarh's version deviates toward an oblong canister shape in place of the near-spherical, but we can overlook that with ease and still remain impressed. The words you see here labeling it, dngul-gyi bum-pa rta'i mgo-can - དངུལ་གྱི་བུམ་པ་རྟའི་མགོ་ཅན་ - may be translated silver vessel having head of horse.

A chart reconstructing a royal cenotaph of Songtsen Gampo.
The text that forms its basis speaks of three silver vessels having horse heads.  Haarh, p. 355.*

*Erik Haarh, The Yar-luṅ Dynasty: A Study with Particular Regard to the Contribution by Myths and Legends to the History of Ancient Tibet and the Origin and Nature of Its Kings, G.E.C. Gad's Forlag (Copenhagen 1969), illustration on p. 355. An amazing accomplishment in its day, Haarh's book is awesome still (and awesomely hard to find; my copy, fast falling out of its cover, is an ex libris of an early Tibetanist now turned Methodist preacher), although today we see faults here and there, especially in the translated passages. Haarh made this work of criticism easy for us by supplying side-by-side paralleled Tibetan texts for all these passages, and for that, too, we have to thank him.

In case you are too tired to look back at the earlier blog, I put a photo of the jug here for you. Now compare the two.

See the resemblance?

Was the Jokhang jug itself just a funerary offering object? If so we would have to wipe out from our imagination any scenes of the living emperor enjoying a beer from it, and that would be more than a little sad and a bit of a shame. Instead we would have to imagine his ghostly spirit doing the same. I think we should keep faith, and regard it as an object meant to be used for its intended purpose, to dispense mildly intoxicating beverages to the Emperor and his most honored guests.

There seems to be ample testimony in the post-imperial accounts of his reign that Songtsen Gampo enjoyed beer drinking. While he and his magically projected puppet-automatons were doing the construction work on the Jokhang his wife or her servant every afternoon brought him a beer snack.* If hard pressed, I could come up with more stories about his drinking, but leave it at that for now.
(*Beware, that unusual word for snack bsang-bu is often disguised under the spelling gsang, that you had always thought means secret)

And even more surprising news awaits you. Among the votes for this or that country of provenance for the imperial jug — Scythian, Greek, Iranian, Tibetan and Sogdian — nobody* has ever mentioned the Uighur Turks. The Uighurs had kingdoms both impressive and prosperous, but bear in mind that the wall painting we will look at in a second could not have been painted before 856 when the Uighur kingdom of Kocho (Qočo) began. Before that their power center was much further north, in the Orkhon River Valley of Mongolia, and that kingdom, too, only formed a century after Songtsen's death.

 (*Except A.H. in an email, which definitely counts)

It was Amy Heller who alerted me to the pictorial evidence that follows, although I extracted it from my copy of Emel Esin's book, A History of Pre-Islamic and Early-Islamic Turkish Culture (Istanbul 1980), and not from her article.

From murals of the palace of the Uighur Rulers in Koco.  Drawn from Grünwedel.

Taking a slow and patient look at it, you will gradually make out a fancy table with small drinking vessels on top of it. Behind the table, and mostly hidden by it, are taller vessels for holding a sufficient amount to serve one table. And there next to the upper human figure are two still-larger vessels with animal heads (which animals do you see?) standing ready to pour into and refill the taller vessels. Observe the transition, the fluid transmission so to speak, from larger to smaller vessels: keg to pitcher to flask, and finally, not least of all, to mouth and stomach and so on.

Well, this is the point where I ought to drop a surprising conclusion, but I'm not sure enough where we stand. My impression is that the Tibetan vessel has enough foreign and primarily Uighur or more broadly Turkic elements in it, that we would be justified in claiming it was brought to Tibet from there. Of course, the Uighurs were living much further from Tibet in the century of Songtsen than they would be in subsequent centuries, but I don’t regard the distance as an insurmountable obstacle, do you? In any case, let’s hold off on strong judgements until more information can make us feel more secure in them. A sense of certainty can often conceal deeper insecurities, certainly if it’s premature.

Here, in what follows, I’ve collected for comparison several important quotes that concern Emperor Songtsen Gampo’s beer flask. On the basis of these, Tibetanists ought to be able to form their own conclusions, not forgetting there are some references to Tibetan-language sources we ought to look up, too. That means especially the ones supplied by Roberto Vitali.

I won’t take any of these people to task for not seeing things my way. Anyway, my way is (I know I just said it, but repeat to be sure of not being misrepresented) to wait and see what more connections will be made in the future. I may venture some tiny criticisms here and there that don’t amount to much. Personally, I am more and more willing to see Eurasian luxury trade items in imperial Tibet. At the same time I would wish certain people in the art world would give up their erstwhile assumptions that Tibet did not have worthwhile artists and had to bring artists from abroad (that they did in imperial times and later on make use of foreign artists, Khotanese and Newar artists in particular, and that those artists had a strong impact on local styles is beyond dispute). There are Uighur Turkic and Dunhuang connections not only in the general shape of the jug, as I believe was made clear above, but also in some of the main details of its decoration. I will leave it up to Amy Heller to go into that further since she is the one who pointed the main connections out to me. I just think in upcoming discussion of the jug people ought to concentrate on precisely these issues, and not (or not yet on) the nationality of its makers. We wouldn't want those judgements to be based on ruling assumptions about who was capable of producing what, when it is precisely this kind of ruling assumption that requires reassessment. It isn’t as if we have a tremendous amount of material to work with for these earliest phases of Tibetan artistic history. There are practically no well-established artistic benchmarks from so early on. As far as general history is concerned, we know when Songtsen died, but practically everything else about him is arguably up in the air or at least elusive and shadowy.

The most important available writing on the subject by far is the online article of Amy Heller that we’ve mentioned before,* and there was also a short online reaction to her essay that mainly disputes her ideas about the national identities of the artists, arguing they were Sogdian, not Tibetan. Amy wrote more on early Tibetan metalwork here, and an even more recent and important article available online in PDF here. It appears that Veronica Ronge of Bonn presented a lecture entitled “Srong btsan sgam po's Beer Jug in the Jokhang, Lhasa” at the Tibetan Studies conference in Fagernes, Norway in 1992, although I’m sure I missed the chance to hear it and it was not published in the proceedings. I would have quoted from Ulrich van Schroeder’s book (Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet), but it’s beyond my purchasing power. I know you can find it in a local library if you live in London, but I don’t. Much less expensive, but still expensive, is Michael Henss's very new 2-volume book The Cultural Monuments of Tibet, published by Prestel  (Munich 2014). This is clearly the author’s magnum opus, a labor of love, the work of a lifetime, and one he will be remembered for far into the future.**

(*Amy's essay is beautifully illustrated, just click on the small photos and large ones appear. **Henss's discussion, in vol. 1, pp. 77-79, is a lengthy one, and my keyboard fingers are aching for a rest, but for a little more on it, see below.)

Here are the quotes:

Victor Chan, Tibet Handbook: A Pilgrimage Guide, Moon Publications (Chico 1994), p. 91, in its description of Chogyal Songtsen Lhakhang (a chapel in the Jokhang, one level up from the ground floor):

"Next to the east wall (between the two entrances, on a wood stand in a cabinet) is the Chögyal Trungben, the king's beer container, a round, potbellied silver vessel with a long spout. A horse's head with protruding ears is the terminal decoration. Notice the exaggerated, drunken figures at the bottom of the pot. The workmanship is clearly not Tibetan. The repoussé decorations (garments, boots, hair styles) show a possible Indo-Iranian influence and are often seen in Kushan artwork (late 1st-3rd century). One source suggests a Scythian origin for this vessel. Tradition asserts that this chang bowl was concealed in a gorge of the Kyere Valley in west-central Tibet. Tsongkhapa later discovered it and brought it to the Jokhang."
My note:  Amy Heller — in her online article on the Jokhang jug — quoted from Situ's guide for its 1920-ish description of the same temple chamber, but there it says it was taken as a treasure (gter), meaning it was unearthed, at the intermediate entrance (bar sgo or bar so?) into Yerpa. The Yerpa Valley is a wonderful place rich with historical associations, blessings of holy people and meditation caves just a short drive upstream from Lhasa. This pilgrimage place holds a special connection with the Jokhang and with Lhasa as a whole. Sometimes Lhasa is said to have its life-wood (srog-shing) in Yerpa. I guess Chan means by Kyere Valley, a place southeast of Lhasa called Gye-re. That’s quite a distance from Yerpa and in the opposite direction from Lhasa, so there is some conflicting information to deal with here. I have the feeling someone misspelled Gye-re as, and then misheard it as the Yer in Yerpa, or is that too farfetched? One problem with this idea is I’ve never been able to come up with an instance of the spelling, except as a misspelling noted below.

I’m not sure “exaggerated, drunken figures” is quite right. Only one figure is drunken, the others are either helping the poor drunken man over to the couch or playing musical instruments (drunk or not). Also, I’m unclear on what exactly is exaggerated. What would they have looked like if they were unexaggerated, Any idea?

~ ~ ~

Hugh Richardson, High Peaks, Pure Earth: Collected Writings on Tibetan History and Culture, Serindia (London 1998, but originally published in 1977), p. 254:

"The chang-snod rta-'go-can, or dngul-dam rta-mgo-ma (DLV, p. 59) is a round-bellied silver jar with a long neck surmounted by a horse's head.  DLV states that it was discovered by Tsong-kha-pa in a hidden treasure. The jar, as seen in recent years, bore the date of the fire-dog year of the 16th rab-byung — i.e. 1946 — a new covering in exact replica having been put over the original jar for its protection. The skill of Tibetans in the sixth and seventh centuries in making animal figures of precious metal is attested in several passages in the T'ang Annals (see my 'Early Burial Grounds in Tibet,' [Ch. 28 above]). Another reputed relic of Srong-brtsan Sgam-po is an earthenware beaker, now protected by a silver case, which is taken ceremonially to the bka'-shag and to the houses of the old noble families early in the sixth month."

~ ~ ~

Hugh Richardson, Ceremonies of the Lhasa Year, Serindia (London 1993), p. 96 (with reference to annual observances held early in the sixth month):
"This day [the 4th day of the 6th month] is also associated with King Songtsen Gampo who is said by tradition to have introduced Buddhism to Tibet in 642 A.D., although the manner of this connection seems fairly inappropriate. A drinking mug, trungben, which he is said to have thrown from the roof of the Potala in a drunken frolic and which survived unbroken, is ceremonially taken to the Dalai Lama's morning reception for officials and offered to those present, who ritually flick a drop of its contents into the air. On the following two days it is taken round by its custodians to the houses of the Shappés and other high officials. One year a friend among the custodians brought it to me as a great honor so that I could make the ritual offering. It was a simple earthenware mug in a protective silver cover. It is said that the mug was concealed after the end of the kingdom and recovered by Tsongkhapa in a hillside near Lhasa, where its imprint is still to be seen."

~ ~ ~

Gyurme Dorje, “Zhakabpa's Inventory of the Great Temple of Lhasa,” contained in: G. Dorje, et al., eds., Jokhang: Tibet’s Most Sacred Buddhist Temple, Hansjorg Mayer (London 2010), pp. 47-121, at p. 81 (with small sized photo):

"A cabinet resting on a wooden stand in front of the main image still contains an original silver wine flask which may well be of Scythian or Kushan origin, and which is known as 'khrungs ban rta mgo ma. This was reputedly the wine flask used by King Songtsen Gampo himself. It had been inserted as treasure in the fissure of a rock within the Gye-re (Drakral) Ravine, and later, in the early fifteenth century, it was extracted by Tsongkhapa and presented to this chapel as an offering. The fissure is said to have subsequently assumed the shape of the wine flask. Some reports also suggest the flask has been silver plated in recent centuries. Like the ring, the wine flask appears to have been employed only once a year during the dPal lha ri khrod ceremonies, at which time it is said to have been filled quickly and easily by those of greater merit but slowly by those of feeble merit."  

— Note that there are more references to the beer jug in this same book, just look in the index under "Wine flask of King Songtsen Gampo."

~ ~ ~

Roberto Vitali, Early Temples of Central Tibet, Serindia (London 1990), p. 84, note 4:

“The rGyal.po bKa'.thang (see GPKT&LPKT, 157) gives a review of such concealed treasures [] and their hiding places in the Jo.khang. Of particular note is that the king hid several silver chang pots. The Srong.btsan sgam.po chapel on the upper floor today houses a chang pot whose rediscovery tradition attributes to at dBus.stod in the sTod.lung valley (5DL KCh, 36; ZKCh, 64). It is said that he brought it back to the Jo.khang. The latter two sources describe it as a horse-headed pot, though personal inspection suggested a camel’s head, which means that it could be one of the three camel-headed silver chang pots mentioned in the rGyal.po bKa'.thang together with ten other silver pots bearing duck heads.”

~ ~ ~

Michael Henss, The Cultural Monuments of Tibet, vol. 1, pp. 77-79.  Here are a few notes on the content of his relatively lengthy discussion:  

He says in the picture caption, with apparently strong conviction, that the “Wine jar of King Songtsen Gampo,” is “Work of a Central Asian artist in Tibet, c. 8th century.” I wonder about the “c. 8th century,” since it seems to suggest it comes from the time of Trisong Detsen, rather than Songtsen Gampo, but I see no discussion, so perhaps it's just a slip. He says the silver was hammered in repoussé technique in four parts. I thought the figures were made separately and then attached, so I confess a little confusion. In his footnote 215 (at p. 198) he supplies an impressive set of references to the discovery of the jar, with the various sites of discovery that have been mentioned, and its presentation to the Jokhang by Tsongkhapa. Here I notice the spelling (i.e. གཡེ་རེ་) for the site name, which is of course quite different from Gye-re (i.e. གྱེ་རེ་), the usual spelling. And there is further discussion of stylistic questions that may argue for the national identity of the artists. 

I have no final or even semi-final judgement of my own to offer about the jug, but I’m quite sure there was a lot of trade in foreign luxury goods in the imperial period. If anyone makes a judgement about this object because they believe Tibet did not participate in international trade in those times, then my feeling is they ought to look into the matter further and change their minds. Not to get into it too deeply, we could just ask, Weren’t Tibetans getting something back in return for all that musk the rest of Eurasia was so eager to obtain? 

The larger photograph on p. 78 of Henss’s book is especially interesting, since it shows the decoration of the upper part of the pot very clearly. You can even make out words from the recently added inscription on the neck, including the date it gives for something or another (what?). One possibility I believe has not yet been offered: the jug was made by local Tibetan artists of the imperial era as a copy of a much-admired foreign object, perhaps one looted through foreign conquest, even if the northern conquests of the Silk Routes seem to have begun only a decade or so after Songtsen Gampo’s time, which is to say in around the 660’s CE. We may have to give up the idea that it belongs to Songtsen Gampo’s time, I’m not sure.


What do we call it?

I suggest in future when discussing this object we use either the word jug or the rather antiquated flagon.  I haven’t noticed anyone so far using flagon, but I think it suits the object well, just that it isn’t used nowadays. In current English the word flask (although it does share its Germanic etymology with flagon) is used for small containers, especially invoking images of hip flasks or pocket flasks used to carry small amounts of alcohol for discrete imbibing in public places. That’s why flask isn’t appropriate for our Tibetan Emperor, if you ask me. But then flagon, a larger container in any case, may be inappropriate just because most people believe a handle and spout to be among its defining characteristics. Did the Jokhang flagon once have a handle that was broken off? While it does appear to have a spout of sorts, the main way of accessing the liquid is via a spigot. Well, yes, I wonder if the spigot wasn’t added later (to be used for more easily and quickly dispensing drops for pilgrims), but if it is an integral part of it we might have to call the whole thing a keg. Trouble is, a keg we imagine as quite a large and even barely liftable object. Kegs would be used to fill flagons. What do you think about all this? And what’re your views on ewer?


Afterword:  An earlier blog “In Praise of Beer” really went off the charts, as the most-accessed Tibeto-logic blog in recent times. I’m positive this one won’t be read nearly as much. That’s entirely okay. I’ve made a decision to make Tibeto-logic less and less popular, and the only way to gauge my success is to see there are fewer and fewer visitors. I’m not the only blogger to notice that in recent times there have been hardly any comments, which is a little sad. I once dreamt of Tibeto-logic becoming a kind of wide-open sounding board for significant Tibetological issues. Should I sign up for Facebook? Shy and antisocial as I am, I dread going there. Instead I’ll make videos of Tibetological celebrities busy about their work and upload them to YouTube. You may think I’m serious. No, I’m just nervous. And for no reason... I think I’ll have a beer.

This comes from Dan's Tibeto-logic blog located at
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