Thursday 1 February 2024

Hooton Tennis Club (31-1-2024)


A superb poster for a brilliant gig last night at Future Yard.

Friday 12 January 2024

Iechyd Da


Bill Ryder Jones is a West Kirby based singer, guitarist and song writer. He co-founded The Coral when he was 13 and has been making great music ever since. Last summer he organised and headlined Yawnfest at Future Yard in Birkenhead (his set is easily in my top 10 gigs of all time -  along with The Coral's gig at Future Yard in May last year). 

He has just released his latest album, Iechyd Da, and it is his best yet. The album has had a slew of excellent reviews in The Guardian, The Times, NME, etc, but perhaps the most insightful is the 4 1/2 star review by Laura Barton in Uncut magazine.   

... Iechyd Da feels a culmination of all he set out to do. It’s a record that beckons you over and invites you in, that rewards your faith and careful listening with moments of extraordinary beauty, unflinching honesty, a sonic exchange of love. 


Human Cumulative Culture & Innovation


After a long break...

This paper (HERE) by Maxime Derex is the best academic paper I have read for a very long while. It explains in the context of human cultural evolution the difference between the optomisation of shared human cultural activities and innovation in them.  


Wednesday 4 January 2023

Back on the Vinyl (2023)

At the tail end of last year I got myself a simple vinyl set-up - a Dual 505 deck and a Cambridge Audio amp. Both items were in excess of 35 years old and they were bought from eBay. 

I was a bit surprised to find that with some new cables both items worked perfectly and they worked very well with some old Wharfedale speakers I had been gifted.

It's the first time for about 20 years that I have played any vinyl LPs or singles - of which I used to have hundreds and now have less than 12.  I sold them all about 15 years ago on eBay, so perhaps it is fitting that I am spending some of that money on eBay to get started again.  



The Third Magic (2023)


I have read quite a few pieces about so-called Artificial Intelligence over the past few years. Most of them have been quite unsatisfying. The best, by which I mean most thought-provoking, is an essay I have just read on the topic which was  published on 1st January this year by Noah Smith called "The third magic. A meditation on history, science, and AI" (HERE). 

An extract:

Humanity’s living standards are vastly greater than those of the other animals. Many people attribute this difference to our greater intelligence or our greater linguistic communication ability. But without minimizing the importance of those underlying advantages, I’d like to offer the idea that our material success is due, in large part, to two great innovations. Usually we think of innovations as specific technologies — agriculture, writing, the wheel, the steam engine, the computer. The most important of these are the things we call “general purpose technologies”. But I think that at a deeper level, there are more profound and fundamental meta-innovations that underlie even those things, and these are ways of learning about the world…

Friday 16 December 2022



 On 29th April 2023 West Kirby legend Bill Ryder-Jones presents the YAWNFEST at Future Yard, an all day celebration of the wonderful sonic world of Yawn Studios in West Kirby, curated and headlined by Ryder-Jones. Tickets HERE.

Monday 14 November 2022

What You Can Learn from Beowulf (1998)

From one of Anthony Madrid's reviews (HERE).

What You Can Learn from Beowulf

Cliff Fyman. Fatstick Magazine Spring 1998, p. 39.

 How to accept a compliment
 If you undertake a voyage to save someone
 you don’t need to tell him in advance you’re coming
 Don’t use a weapon for what you can do by hand
 When in trouble look up
 If a king’s wife gives you a necklace for a gift
 give it away quickly to someone else
 If your rival offers you his sword to do battle with
 don’t borrow it
 If you have any doubts
 don’t say them
 If it’s going to be your day
 you don’t even need to bring an oxygen tank
 to fight a battle below a lake
 & if it isn’t going to be your day
 nothing you bring would matter anyway
 When traveling to learn to sleep with one eye open
 If you sleep in a hall with forty men
 a monster’s bound to eat the hell
 out of at least one of you
 When you meet the person who insists you borrow his sword
 which splits in half & almost gets you killed—?
 act like it’s nothing
 In fact nod like you’re honored
 when he presents you with the snapped off handle
 as a token of admiration of your strength
 No matter how many dragons you slaughtered today
 there’s one more out there waiting for you
 Stand on ceremony if that’s what the scene says
 Which means not taking anyone or any gesture lightly
 Don’t get married if you’re an athlete warrior hero
 because it’ll take away your crazy courage
 yet through fifty drifting winters
 you’ll long for the warm
 dry sleep of dreaming lovers
 Don’t let success go to your head
 but take what’s coming to you
 Enjoy your presents while they last
 Remember the names of your ancestors
 If someone wants to reward you with seven horses
 even if you have a small ship
 take them anyway
 to your tiny goat farm in the snow
 Learn to voice your direct love for men and women
 Take on every challenge no matter how mammoth the scale
 Work through the night
 Remember the names of people you meet once
 If a dragon grabs you by the neck see it
 as an opportunity to establish yourself

Friday 4 November 2022

The Future is Birkenhead

Monday 25 July 2022

Letterpress Printing (2022)


I spent a brilliant afternoon on Saturday with my brother on a Letterpress printing workshop in Bristol (HERE). The output is above.

Thursday 9 June 2022

Compared with what? (2006)


The fundamental analytical act in statistical reasoning is to answer the question “compared with what?”.  

Page 127 of Beautiful Evidence Edward Tufte (2006)

Friday 13 May 2022

An intelligent mechanic (1941)

 Before today, I had never read this quote of George Orwell's from The Lion and the Unicorn

Right through our national life we have got to fight against the notion that a half-witted public schoolboy is better for command than an intelligent mechanic.

As the son of an intelligent mechanic, I found this a wonderful thought.

Thursday 5 May 2022

How a watch mechanism works (2022)


HERE is a superb website that explains very simply and clearly all of the key parts of a mechanical watch movement.

Monday 18 April 2022

Rip it Up and Start Again (2009)

Rip it Up and Start Again is an excellent book by Simon Reynolds about post-punk music between 1978-1984. It covers the bands and musical movements that dominated my teenage years and is very well researched and written.

The following excerpt rings very true for me. At the time, even though The Beatles had only fallen to pieces less than 10 years previously, no-one was bothered about their music.  There was too much other music to find.

'The prime years of post-punk - the half decade from 1978 to 1982 - were like that: a fortune. I’ve come pretty close since, but I’ve never been quite as exhilarated as I was back then. Certainly, I’ve never been so utterly focused on the present.

As I recall it now, I never bought any old records. Why would you? There were so many new records that you had to have that there was simply no earthly reason to investigate the past. I had cassettes of the best of The Beatles and the Stones taped off friends, a copy of The Doors’ anthology Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine, but that was it. Partly this was because the reissue culture that inundates us today didn’t exist then; record companies even deleted albums. As a result, huge swaths of the recent past were virtually inaccessible. But mainly it was because there was no time to look back wistfully to something through which you’d never lived. There was too much happening right now.'

Sunday 17 April 2022

A present of things past, a present of things present, a present of things to come.

One of the most thought provoking passages in Lewis Hyde's book A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past, is about time and St Augustine's Confessions. Here it is:

He moves then to thinking of these temporal categories as existing not by themselves but as human mind-states, all of them taking place in that fleeting present. His boyhood lies in the past, but when he recalls it, he is “looking on its image in present time.” To speak of time with any exactness, we need to say that “there are three times: a present of things past, a present of things present, a present of things to come.” And we have a name for each of these: “The present considering the past is the memory, the present considering the present is immediate awareness, the present considering the future is expectation.”

And time? Time is the experience of simultaneously holding two of these states in mind. When we do so, the mind gets stretched out just as the body gets stretched out when touching two separate spots in space. Augustine’s name for this mental stretching out is “distension”, a term he probably borrowed from Plotinus, who also speaks of time as a “spreading out (diastasis) of life.” Says Augustine, “I have come to think that time is simply a distension. But of what is it a distension? I do not know, but it would be surprising if it is not that of the mind itself.”

Wilko dreams of dashi (2022)

The documentary, Jiro dreams of Sushi, focuses on the 85 year old sushi chef Jiro Ono, doing what a Preserver of Important Intangible Cultural Properties is supposed to do, that is to demonstrate such intense dedication to their craft that they completely transcend what the basic version of the same craft is capable of delivering.  In the case of Jiro, his sushi is so good that his tiny (10 seat) Tokyo subway sushi shop repeatedly won 3 Michelin stars. He is widely recognised as a ‘living national treasure’.

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, the UK does not have any equivalent way of conferring high status on outstanding craft practitioners.  However, such levels of craft do exist. A few weekends ago, my son and I experienced something similar to the experience that Jiro delivers to his customers, when we spent more than three hours in a tiny one Michelin star restaurant called Fraiche in Oxton, Birkenhead (on the night we were there, only 4 customers were eating, but more frequently there  are 8 - 10 customers). 

The restaurant is owned and run by the chef Marc Wilkinson. On the night we went, there  were only two members of staff, Wilkinson, and a waitress/sommelier. The food was exceptionally good, delivered in about 13 tiny ‘courses’, each of which came with an explanation of where the ingredients had come from and what was special about the dish. The experience was wonderful, because it was an immersion into the complete dedication that Wilkinson has to his craft. As he has said:

Fraiche is a very personal journey for me, building a modern cuisine on a classical trained foundation to keep my sensibilities in check. My expanding cooking techniques and cutting edge preparations help me to express myself, thus enabling me to offer our guests a complete "experience", taking them on both a culinary and visual journey.

On reflection, although his customers are of very high importance to Wilkinson, I got the impression that he may have been almost as happy cooking all of the food he made without any customers being present. His focus and drive to create the food that he sees and tastes in his minds eye, is the primary thing, and the fact that he has paying guests who want to eat his food, helps to subsidise and validate his efforts.

And yes, having spent an evening with Wilkinson, I am convinced that he does dream of dashi (a Japanese broth which is most commonly made from an edible kelp called kombu).

Wednesday 13 April 2022



HERE is a superb piece by James Parker in The Atlantic on Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five.  

Fifty years have passed since the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s the same age as me. And the older I get, and the more lumps fall off my brain, the more I find that rereading is the thing. Build your own little cockeyed canon and then bear down on it; get to know it, forward and backward; get to know it well. So I don’t know how many times I’ve read Slaughterhouse-Five. Three? Four? It never gets old, is the point. It never wanes in energy. This book is in no way the blossom of a flower. Slaughterhouse-Five is more in the nature of a superpower that the mutant author had to teach himself to master—and then could use, at full strength, only once.

What I love about this is Parker's acceptance as he gets older that 'rereading is the thing'. It's what I have been doing for years: Slaughterhouse-Five, Catch-22, Cannery Row, The Old Ways, Popper. But I have never thought of this habit of mine as building '...your own cockeyed canon' and bearing down on it. I will now. 

So it goes.

Friday 8 April 2022

Two Legs, Thing Using and Talking (1998)


This paper by Francis Evans is one of the best things I have read about the interaction of our human capacity to walk, talk, make things, and technology. In Google Scholar it has just 9 citations, which means that in the past 20+ years it has been cited in other scientific papers less than once per year. 

The Abstract Reads:

Instead of seeing technology as outside ourselves, it is argued that it is an innate human function and the main driving force in human evolution. Opportunistic ‘thing using’, long before stone tools appeared, was the likeliest cause of bipedalism. It also forced brain development and the emergence of creativity. The neural basis for this creative technical activity later provided the brain functions on which language could develop. This simple unifying hypothesis has interesting implications for the way that we see technology in history, and for determinist theories of the future. It also bears on the way engineers are trained, and more important, the human faculties which need to be fostered in children.

It can be downloaded HERE.



Wednesday 26 January 2022

Revealed (1977 - 1982)

A friend has very kindly just given me a signed copy of Revealed by Francesco Melina (HERE).
Melina was an Italian who travelled across Europe and ended up in Liverpool (he's still there) and he made friends with artists, musicians and other Liverpudlian creatives. The book is fantastic - it contains dozens of photos taken in Liverpool in the late 70's - just as Matthew Street in Liverpool was coming to life (again).

The photos brilliantly evoke their time. For me this was the backdrop to my late teen years. Many of the bands pictured in the book played at our local pub (the Bulls Head) or at Erics in Matthew Street. We saw these bands, bought their records from probe Records on Button Street, and had tea in the Armadillo tea rooms. 

Image Above: Echo and the Bunnymen at a rehearsal in Liverpool in 1980. Copyright F. Melina.


Tuesday 11 January 2022

Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1940 - 2020)


The Sea of Cortez

In March 1940 Ed Ricketts and John Steinbeck chartered the Western Flyer, a 75-foot purse seiner built in Tacoma in 1937, and sailed from Monterey to the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California. This unique marine environment is located between the mainland coast of Mexico and the coast of the Baja peninsula. The Sea of Cortez is one of the most ecologically diverse seas on the planet and is home to more than 5,000 described species. Ricketts and Steinbeck had an ambition   to undertake the first serious scientific study of the Sea of Cortez as an ecological whole. They aimed to emulate the voyaging style of Charles Darwin on their trip and this is reflected in the full title of the book Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research. The first portion of the book is a log written by Steinbeck, but based closely on the Verbatim Transcript that had been written by Ricketts from the contemporaneous notes he had kept during the voyage.  In addition to the narrative Ricketts had compiled an extensive phylectic catalogue describing the species that they had found, with full cross-references to the known literature on the marine fauna of the region.  The full book is about 600 pages long and was never commercially succesful. In later editions the publishers completely dropped the phylectic catalogue and the log portion was published under the title Log from the Sea of Cortez under Steinbeck’s sole authorship.


Now Arion Press has composed a new edition in celebration of the 80 years since the voyage of the Western Flyer. It has very high craft production values, and a sky-high price (HERE).  This new edition includes limited edition wood engraved prints by Richard Wagener, including a multi-colour print of the Western Flyer itself.  

Thursday 6 January 2022

Why do we love books so much? (2020)


This is one for my wishlist. Ex Libris. 100+ Books to Read and Reread By Michiko Kakutani.

In it, Kakutani critiques a long list of books that she feels are worth reading and rereading. And I guess she would know - she was formerly the chief book critic for The New York Times, and has won a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. What shocked me is how few of these books I have read. 

As to why we love books so much, this is what she has to say:

These magical brick-sized objects—made of paper, ink, glue, thread, cardboard, fabric, or leather—are actually tiny time machines that can transport us back to the past to learn the lessons of history, and forward to idealized or dystopian futures. Books can transport us to distant parts of the globe and even more distant planets and universes. They give us the stories of men and women we will never meet in person, illuminate the discoveries made by great minds, and allow us access to the wisdom of earlier generations. They can teach us about astronomy, physics, botany, and chemistry; explicate the dynamics of space flight and climate change; introduce us to beliefs, ideas, and literatures different from our own. And they can whisk us off to fictional realms like Oz and Middle-earth, Narnia and Wonderland, and the place where Max becomes king of the wild things. 

Image from HERE.


Saturday 1 January 2022

HNY 2022


Thursday 30 December 2021

Get Back (1969)

What Brain Eno calls scenius emerges within human groups who share a common space and understanding of how to make a particular type of artefact. They share traditional knowledge, but are not limited by this tradition. The group uses the tools and techniques which their wider peer group also use, but they push at the boundaries and one or more of the individuals in the group begin to modify and change what they have inherited. 

From my own experience of innovation in science and technology, Eno’s idea of scenius rings true, and others with hands-on experience of innovation will also recognise what Eno describes. Whilst in the midst of making an innovation there is chaos and frustration, but also a palpable energy, and a feeling that something useful and new is in the process of emerging. The group responds positively to these attempts to change a shared tradition, and a creative energy is unlocked. The peer pressure acting within the group is not constrictive, acting to keep everyone within the bounds of traditionally accepted norms, but expansive. 

In Eno’s letter about scenius, he describes a set of ethnographic observations he would like to make: ‘...I would love to be involved in making something to explore this idea - to support my thesis that new ideas come into being through a whole host of complicated circumstances, accidents, small incremental contributions made in isolation (as well as gifted individuals, of course) that in total add up to something qualitatively different: something nobody has ever seen before and which could not have been predicted from the elements that went to make it up’.

It is only with the development of film and audio recording technology that this idea of Eno’s has been possible. One unusually well documented example of the innovations made by a mature scenius was recorded early in 1969. The Beatles had decided to create and rehearse 14 songs to play in front of a live audience for a TV special. They planned to record the whole process on film and began on 2nd January 1969. The original deadline for the TV special was 24th January. The filmmaker they worked with, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, recorded extensive film and audio footage of this period of work by the Beatles, which he used for his 1970 documentary Let It Be. The full archive of more than 60 hours of film and 150 hours of audio tapes has recently been remastered and edited into an 8 hour long 3-part documentary called Get Back by Peter Jackson. This film is a remarkable document of the interpersonal dynamics of creativity and innovation within the scenius that surrounded the Beatles. 

The rehearsal sessions began at Twickenham Studios on 2nd January. After a few days of desultory progress, early on the 7th January, we see a seated Paul McCartney in a yellow sweater begin to strum his bass guitar as if it was a six string rhythm guitar. George and Ringo are sitting very close to him, and John Lennon has yet to arrive for the rehearsal. While McCartney is playing the riff, he is tapping his left foot to keep time, and he then starts to accompany himself with a vocal melody made up of indistinct, and maybe nonsense lyrics. In response to what McCartney is doing, Ringo looks bemused and George yawns. Around this tight inner circle of three Beatles, studio technicians, the band’s road manager and roadies are wandering about plugging in equipment. 

After a minute and a half of strumming and warbling, Paul pauses for a few bars whilst he keeps his foot tapping, and then he restarts the riff. He now begins to sing that in hindsight sound like one of the early verses in their song Get Back. George Harrison begins to tentatively play along. Over the footage, we hear George commenting on what Paul has been doing: ‘Yeah it’s good, it’s you know, musically man it’s great’. 

Within two minutes of Paul starting, Ringo begins clapping along and George more enthusiastically strums his guitar. Just then, Paul begins singing ‘get back, get back to where you once belonged’. Moments later, Ringo begins to harmonise and George is now adding guitar motifs in time with Paul’s riff. The footage cuts to what seems to be just a few moments later. Ringo is now playing a beat on the drums and George is adding guitar stabs. At that point, John Lennon arrives at the rehearsal in a fur coat, jeans and tennis shoes, sits down and begins playing along. All of a sudden, as observers we realise that surprisingly we have just witnessed the very first stages of the spontaneous composition of Get Back

Later that January, after they have moved rehearsals to a makeshift studio in the basement of the Apple corporation building in Saville Row, we see Lennon and McCartney iteratively develop the lyrics of the song. They incorporate elements of nonsense, play with different phrasing, modify the guitar accompaniment, include a protest song element as a response to a speech by Enoch Powell's. Yet the core of the song remains the same. One of the takes from these sessions is included on the Let it Be album and released as a single, on 11 April 1969. 

Remarkable as it is to see Get Back conjured from thin air, the band also either freshly composes or substantially develops more than a dozen songs in the three weeks work that is documented on the Get Back film. These songs include 11 that are on the Let it Be album, songs on their Abbey Road album and songs on solo albums by each of the individual Beatles. The Get Back footage also shows that the Beatles’ working milieu included a wider set of influences. It included the pianist Billy Preston who dropped in to say hello, and stayed to play on many of the tracks, the engineer Glyn Johns, their long term road manager Mal Evans, the roadie Kevin Harrington, their regular producer George Martin, and their partners Yoko Ono, Linda Eastman, Pattie Harrison and Maureen Starkey. 

There has been much written about this period in the Beatles’ history. Yet what this film shows is the incredible creativity and productivity of a band that was both close to splitting up and with a mature, almost familial set of relationships. It is a masterclass in how scenius can lead to innovation. 

Videos of the emergence of Get back can be found HERE and HERE

An excellent article about this documentary by David Remnick is in The New Yorker HERE.



Monday 27 December 2021

After Dark (2021)


Keita Morimoto is a Japanese painter. He recently held an exhibition of his night time paintings at Kotaro Nukaga in Tokyo. More HERE.

Friday 24 December 2021

Wordle (2021)

Wordle (HERE) is a simple interactive word game. You have six attempts to guess a 5 letter word. Ideal for the 2021 Xmas break.  

Wednesday 22 December 2021

What are working professionals missing in their AI education? (2021)

Peter Norvig is the co-author of a very widely used AI textbook. HERE is an interview with him about AI, including AI education. 

It includes the following Q&A.

What are working professionals missing in their AI education?

In AI education teachers assign a simple well-defined problem with a given dataset and a pre-defined objective. Students then see their job as building a model that maximizes the objective function. But in a real world project, professionals need to define the objectives and collect or generate the data on their own. You don’t get credit for choosing an especially clever or mathematically sophisticated model, you get credit for solving problems for your users. 

In my own experience, you could take out "AI" and replace it with "Data Analysis", and the statement would remain 100% true. 

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Instead of shaking all over, I read the newspapers. (2019)


Colm Tóibín is an Irish writer. He has a monumental work ethic and has created a slew of best sellers and also won a long list of literary awards since 1993. In 2018 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and he got better. HERE is his essay describing his experience. It is a great read.

I blew $720 on 100 notebooks from Alibaba and started a Paper Website business (2021)

 This is a brilliant idea and story - that came from a simple question: Can you build a website from a piece of paper?

Wednesday 8 December 2021

How will the Business of Innovation become Business as Usual? (2013)

Heseltine Institute Fresh Thinking session 15th October 2013

Over the past 25 years I have been lucky enough to have worked on the ‘business of innovation’ and have been paid to do it.

Although I have specialised in technological innovations, what I have learnt is that innovation is not mainly about university science labs or high-technology or patents or start-up companies or venture capital investment. Innovation is mainly about taking seriously what you already do today and believing that: There must be a better way

This thought process can be applied to each and every aspect of your daily life:

  • On a ward in a national health service hospital
  • On a factory floor
  • At the forecourt of a car showroom
  • At a University chemistry lab
  • At a call-centre
  • Whilst greeting a new visitor to the city
  • Whilst visiting an elderly person or their carer in their home in Anfield.

You can define what these places and activities are for your work and home life.

Innovation is about identifying the thing that nags you most and finding a weak link. And once you see this weak link, a way that things really could be better, innovation is about using your native smarts and your networks and their networks to get other people to help you define what that better way is and then making it a reality.

The particular innovation I am now working on is called The Materials Innovation Factory.

This is a hugely ambitious project the University of Liverpool in partnership with the UK government and Unilever believes that there must be a better way of doing materials science that can simultaneously have an academic, commercial and societal benefit. We all believe that Liverpool is the right place to do this.

The project has attracted £55 million in funding and it has a vision that will ensure it can create innovation after innovation over decades. But the existence of this project is itself founded on an innovation.

More than 10 years ago two early career scientists, Andy Cooper and Steve Rannard, believed that there must be a better way to do chemistry. They created a vision on a whiteboard of a new way for a University and commercial organisation to collaborate and they spent about 4 years convincing people that this idea of theirs was the right way to do things. They were right. The Centre for Materials Discovery that they had imagined became a reality and the number and breadth of innovations delivered from that centre have exceeded all the expectations of both Unilever and the University of Liverpool.

The Materials Innovation Factory takes their idea and turbo-charges it. Within this institute about 300 academic scientists and commercial technologists will be mingling together and using the latest robotic equipment and high-tech methods to create a ‘production line’ of innovations. Over the next 10 years Liverpool will become known as one of the key innovation centres for new materials in Europe and perhaps the World.

But no matter how exciting the Materials Innovation Factory and other projects like it appear, they are not the whole answer. Any city or region that believes its future prosperity requires innovation has to create a culture of innovation amongst its citizens. All of its citizens. Not just the people at the Universities or science parks or incubators who declare themselves as innovators.

This is one of the most pressing imperatives I see for Liverpool City Region. How do we make the spirit that motivates innovators into a commonplace?





Individually we each need to look at what we do on a daily basis. Find the things that aren’t great and decide to find a better way. And because most of you in this room are lucky enough to have a big influence, the innovations that come directly from you, or from your instigation, are likely to have a significant impact in Liverpool.

Collectively we have to create an ethos that says the future can be built through innovation. To encourage our young people to see innovation as a way to create their own future and a future for their generation.

To help them understand that they can be an innovator - the kind of person who believes that there must be a better way, and that Liverpool is a place where innovations thrive. This will I believe also allow Liverpool to attract even more innovators, people who want to share with us both the journey and the destination.


2021 Dimbleby Lecture


Sarah Gilbert is a Professor at the Jenner Institute of Oxford University. She leads a team of scientists who have over the past few years developed a vaccine innovation platform that allowed them to very rapidly design a new vaccine against the Covid-19 virus. 

Gilbert gave the 2021 Dimbleby lecture this week (HERE).  It is a wonderful piece of writing, and an even better lecture. Without any slides or visual aids, Gilbert explains with humility, humour and extreme lucidity what she had to do from January 2020 onwards to make the Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine in record breaking time. I don't think I have ever seen the human drama and effort that is involved in making a major scientific breakthrough described so well. Gilbert calls out by name those people who made specific contributions to the breakthrough, she highlights the risks and the decisions that were made. She illustrates the contingent, unpredictable and quite remarkable set of conditions that needed to drop into place to achieve what they did. It is also an unaffected, but nonetheless convincing, lesson in the impact that publicly funded University research at its very best can have on the world.   

For those people who feel that they don't understand science, I would recomend listening to Sara Gilbert. I have no doubt they will feel inspired both by the story she has to tell, and by the way she tells it. 

The BBC iPlayer has the talk HERE.



Monday 29 November 2021

But Beautiful. A Book about Jazz (1991)

But Beautiful is a book by Geoff Dyer about jazz. It is neither fiction nor non-fiction, but a brilliant blend of the two. Dyer imagines some of the key events and processes in the lives of jazz musicians Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Art Pepper, Lester Young, Bud Powell, Chet Baker, Ben Webster and Thelonious Monk.  

He also includes a more traditional piece of criticism - an Afterword on Tradition, Influence and Innovation which talks about the way that jazz musisians have played with tradition and improvisation to innovate in a unique way.

Because jazz has continued evolving in this way, it has remained uniquely in touch with the animating force of its origins. From time to time in his solos a saxophonist may quote from other musicians, but every time he picks up his horn he cannot avoid commenting, automatically and implicitly, even if only through his inadequacy, on the tradition that has laid this music at his feet. At its worst this involves simple repetition (those interminable Coltrane imitations); sometimes it involves exploring possibilities that were previously only touched upon. At its best it expands the possibilities of the form.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Walk Tall (1967)


On top of a stately Hammond organ and drum shuffle, the jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley (1928 –  1975) introduced his 1967 Hollwood California live recording of Walk Tall by saying: 

Here we go. 

Like I said before, there are times when, there are times when things don't lay the way they're supposed to lay. 

But regardless, you're supposed to hold your head up high and walk tall. 

Walk tall.

Image Copyright M.G. Reed 1987 - 2021



Monday 22 November 2021

Tiny Barber, Post Office (2021)


Craig Mod is at it again. His latest walk is called Tiny Barber, Post Office. In it he plans to visit 10 “mid” to “smallish” sized cities around Japan's main islands, and spend 3 nights in each city. Once he is in a city, only walking is allowed. More details and how to subscribe to his newsletter on the walk are HERE.

Image Copyright M.G. Reed 2021

Monday 8 November 2021

Methodology over metrics (2022)


Many people who are not involved in scientific research might be forgiven for thinking that the quality of science that goes on today is as good as it has ever been. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be the case, particularly in bio-medical research. 

A new paper by Van Calster and friends HERE, explains what they think the problem is, and the solution. 

The Abstract in full is as follows:

Covid-19 research made it painfully clear that the scandal of poor medical research, as denounced by Altman in 1994, persists today. The overall quality of medical research remains poor, despite longstanding criticisms. The problems are well known, but the research community fails to properly address them. We suggest that most problems stem from an underlying paradox: although methodology is undeniably the backbone of high-quality and responsible research, science consistently undervalues methodology. The focus remains more on the destination (research claims and metrics) than on the journey. Notwithstanding, research should serve society more than the reputation of those involved. While we notice that many initiatives are being established to improve components of the research cycle, these initiatives are too disjointed. The overall system is monolithic and slow to adapt. We assert that top-down action is needed from journals, universities, funders and governments to break the cycle and put methodology first. These actions should involve the widespread adoption of registered reports, balanced research funding between innovative, incremental and methodological research projects, full recognition and demystification of peer review, improved methodological review of reports, adherence to reporting guidelines, and investment in methodological education and research. Currently, the scientific enterprise is doing a major disservice to patients and society.

Sunday 17 October 2021

Mount Otensho (1926)



A write up HERE on Hiroshi Yoshida (1876 - 1950) and above his wood block print Mt. Otensho from 'Twelve Subjects of the Japan Alps' (1926). 

Image from HERE.

Thursday 30 September 2021

The Art of Non-fiction (2014)


Adam Phillips is a Welsh psychoanalyst and essayist. I have never read anything by him, and until today had never heard of him. Yet this extended interview with him in The Paris Review makes me want to read his books. 

It ends as follows:

Often one hears or reads accounts in which people will say, Well, he may have treated his children, wives, friends terribly, but look at the novels, the poems, the paintings. I think it’s a terrible equation. Obviously one can’t choose to be, as it were, a good parent or a good artist, but if the art legitimates cruelty, I think the art is not worth having. People should be doing everything they can to be as kind as possible and to enjoy each other’s company. Any art, any anything, that helps us do that is worth having. But if it doesn’t, it isn’t.

Friday 20 August 2021

Miniature Calendar


An incredible calendar of minitaure scenes - made by Tatsuya Tanaka (since 2011). One for every day of the year. Each day there is a scene of daily life with miniature people interacting with objects that stand in for full-scale objects. HERE

Image Copyright Tanaka Tatsuya