Monday, April 21, 2014

The Seat of the Soul

Here is the catalogue for an exhibition of da Vinci's anatomical drawings that was held at Meteroploitan Museum of Art in 1984. All of these drawings are from the Royal Collection of nearly 600 priceless da Vinci drawings that are held at Windsor Castle.

Da Vinci dissected about 30 humans and his method was almost forensic. He made detailed notes and illustrated them as he went, applying his formidable skills as a draughtsman as well as his unrivaled observational technique.  More here.

Image copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Country Life in a Big City

A panoramic view of New York from 1910, about twenty years prior to the completion of the Empire State Building.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Voyaging southward from the Strait of Magellan (1924)

Here is a copy of Rockwell Kents memoir of his sea journey in South America,Voyaging southward from the Strait of Magellan (1924).

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Golden Ratio (Divine Proportion)

The truncated octahedron is an Archimedean solid with 8 regular hexagon faces and 6 square faces.Here is Leonardo da Vinci's rendering of this shape in the 1509 treatise by Luca Pacioli De Divina proportione (divine proportion) including both mathematical and artistic proportion (HERE).


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Satsugu enso roku (1881)

The Internet Archive is an unusually rich source of high quality visual materials if you are prepared to search a little bit (I have found that using broad search terms such as "graphic" and "pictorial" uncovers the best material).

For example, here is Satsugu enso Roku, a stunning Japanese volume on tobacco growing from 1881.
The following notes are included in the volume:

Satsugu enso Roku (Tobacco Growing in Satsuma and Osumi Provinces).
5 vols in 1 (712pp). 156 figures in color, maps, charts, tables.  
Tokyo 1881.

This is a scientific work of that period and covers all phases of tobacco culture. It completely illustrates and discusses such subjects as morphology of the tobacco plant, planting, handling and care of seed beds, transplanting, weeding, use of wheat as a "nurse" crop, insect pests, tobacco diseases, harvesting, curing, etc. There is also an interesting illustrated section on the history of smoking.

The well known American botanist H.H. Bartlett says that "It is probably as interesting a monograph of a single crop plant as any nation could show at the same time."

It is lavishly illustrated with 156 figures in colour, most of which occupy a whole page, and many are tipped in and folded. Some of the illustrations of tobacco leaves are in natural size. Some of the illustrations are interesting from the view-point of printing. From a note by the author it seems that the outlines were printed from metal, colors were added with wooden blocks and some of these were overprinted by lithography for improvement. Bartlett says, "All in all, the printing of this copiously illustrated work with its effective coloring was a marvel of technical ingenuity".   

There is a ten - page English summary.

Friday, March 21, 2014

An Evening Walk in Ashton Park

The Brain of Hermann Von Helmholtz (April 14, 1899)

Original Science paper HERE.
Image of Brain from HERE
More on Helmholtz HERE.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Crayfish

Thomas Henry Huxley's monograph on the Crayfish HERE.

Dance of the Bumble Bee

Karl von Frisch (1886 – 1982) was an Austrian scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973 for his work on the sensory perception of the honey bee. One of the things he did was work out the meaning of the waggle dance by which bees indicate distance and direction of food. 

 A diagram from his book A Biologist Remembers (1957) HERE. And his Nobel prize speech.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The elastic skin which is water's epidermis.

Ordinary water displays a strange property which is known as surface tension - it is almost as if water has a 'skin' of its own. 

From the novel Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician by the French author Alfred Jarry (1873 - 1907), comes the following lyrical piece on the strange phenomena of  surface tension.  It is dedicated, quite rightly, to the English scientist C.V. Boys, who famously lectured on the science of surface tension and soap bubbles.
To C.V. Boys
It is probable that you have no conception, Panmuphle, writ-carrying bailiff, of capillarity, of surface tension, nor of weightless membranes, equilateral hyperbolae, surfaces without curvature, nor, more generally, of the elastic skin which is water's epidermis.
The novel features the pataphysician Doctor Faustroll, a Circassian scientist who was born in 1898 at the age of 63, and who died the same year at the same age. His sidekick is a lawyer, Panmuphle, who narrates their adventures as they travel over a sea that is superimposed over the streets and buildings of Paris. The above is taken from an English translation by Simon Watson Taylor (HERE).

The following images from C.V. Boys volume of lectures on Soap bubles, their colours and the forces which mould them (1916) HERE.

Laetoli Footprints

About 3.6 million years ago a small group of bipedal hominids walked across a thin layer of volcanic ash on a sandy surface in what is now Laetoli in Tanzania. Their tracks were preserved by a second layer of volcanic ash, that later turned into a cement. In 1976 these footprints were discovered by a team of paleontologists led by Mary Leakey. The actual find was made by Andrew Hill (original Nature paper here). 

The chances of the above sequence of events happening are remote. To say the least.

The discovery of the Laetoli footprints are an outstanding example of the power of simple scientific observation. There was no need for any of the high-tech gizmos associated with modern high-energy physics. No GPS. No fancy computer analysis. There was no 'experimental design' as the events were a one-off. These footprints were recorded by a team of scientists and field workers who were diligently working in blistering heat, notebook in hand. They found the footprints by looking through the blinding glare at the sandstone or tuff surface of the ground. It is a lovely example of the power of intense seeing.

The discovery of the Laetoli footprints does not answer any of the fundamental questions about nature that big experiments like the Large Hadron Collider do. Nevertheless, from a parochial human point of view, these footprints and what they imply are probably more fundamentally important. 

Over the past 40 years this set of footprints have continued to be of keen interest to a wide range of scientists who are seeking to understand how humans evolved from ape like ancestors via bipedal hominids.  

A recent paper by Raichlen, Gordon, Harcourt-Smith, Foster and Haas uses the Laetoli footprints to carry out a nice piece of experimental anatomy. They got modern humans to walk in a sand track with a normal gait (extended-limb bipedalism) and with a more ape-like gait (Bent Knee Bent Hip - BKBH) and then compared the 3D shape and depth of their footprints in the sand from these two different ways of walking with those from Laetoli. They conclude:
These results provide us with the earliest direct evidence of kinematically human-like bipedalism currently known, and show that extended limb bipedalism evolved long before the appearance of the genus Homo. Since extended-limb bipedalism is more energetically economical than ape-like bipedalism, energy expenditure was likely an important selection pressure on hominin bipeds by 3.6 Ma.

Figure 1. Three dimensional scans of experimental footprints and a Laetoli footprint.

Image from HERE.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Interference of Waves - 1807

The English polymath scientist Thomas Young (1773-1829) studied languages, medicine and physics and his name is immortalised in a series of experiments showing the interference of waves. He presented his work on the wave nature of light to the Royal Society in 1803.    

In a recent poll amongst physicists about which experiments they rated the most beautiful the following results were found:

1. Young’s double-slit experiment applied to the interference of electrons by Jönsson (1961).
2. Galileo’s experiment on falling bodies (ca. 1590).
3. Millikan’s oil-drop experiment (1909).
4. Newton’s decomposition of sunlight with a prism (1665–1666).
5. Young’s light-interference experiment (1803).
6. Cavendish’s torsion-bar experiment (1798).
7. Eratosthenes’ measurement of the earth’s circumference (ca. 250 BC).
8. Galileo’s experiments with rolling balls down inclined planes (ca. 1608).
9. Rutherford’s discovery of the nucleus (1911).
10. Foucault’s pendulum (1851).

Thomas was not well known as a communicator of his science, nevertheless he composed a two volume set - A course of lectures on natural philosophy and the mechanical arts- published in 1807 (HERE)

From Volume 1 is Thomas's description of a ripple tank demonstration of interference in water waves.


p. 289

Many of the phenomena of waves may be very conveniently exhibited, by means of a wide and shallow vessel, with a bottom of glass, surrounded by sides inclined to the horizon, in order to avoid the confusion which would arise from the continual reflections produced by perpendicular surfaces, the waves may be excited by the vibrations of an elastic rod or wire, loaded with a weight, by means of which its motions may be made more or less rapid at pleasure; and the form and progress of the waves may be easily observed, by placing a light under the vessel, so that their shadows may fall on a white surface, extended in an inclined position above. In this manner the minutest inflections of the surface of the water may be made perfectly conspicuous. 

p. 290

When two equal series of circular waves, proceeding from centres near each other, begin their motions at the same time, they must so cross, each other, in some parts of their progress, that the elevations of the one series tend to fill up the depressions of the other; and this effect may be actually observed, by throwing two stones of equal size into a pond at the same instant; for we may easily distinguish, in favourable circumstances, the series of points in which this effect takes place, forming continued curves, in which the water remains smooth, while it is strongly agitated in the intermediate parts. These curves are of the kind denominated hyperbolas, each point of the curve being so situated with respect to its foci, as to be nearer to one than the other by a-certain constant distance. (Fig. 267.) 

Fig. 267. Two equal series of waves, diverging from the centres A and B, and crossing each other in such a manner, that in the lines tending towards C, D, E, and F, they counteract each other's effects, and the water remains nearly smooth, while in the intermediate spaces it is agitated.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Royal Society of Arts

London is full of dozens of historical, cultural and architectural gems. The RSA is an example of all three. The RSA, or to give it its full title the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, is based in John Adam Street very close to Charing Cross station. It was founded in 1754 and has included amongst its Fellowship over the years Charles Dickens, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, William Hogarth, Stephen Hawking and Tim Berners-Lee.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Cabrera's Law 1932

Angel Cabrera Latorre (1879 - 1960) was a Spanish-Argentinian zoologist and paleontologist. He was born in Madrid in 1879 and emigrated to Argentina, becoming an Argentinian  citizen in 1925. 

Cabrera worked at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid from 1902 until 1925. He specialised in mammalian anatomy and led scientific expeditions to Rif in 1919 and Western Morocco in 1921. He also participated in 1923 in another expedition to the western part of the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco which was was led by Royal Navy Admiral H. Lynes.

He published Fauna Ibérica; Mamíferos in 1914 which included his own illustrations. The book is available HERE and an illustration of a Lynx from that volume is below.

Cabrera also illustrated and published volumes on Mamallian Genera (1919)

Cabrera emigrated to Argentina in 1925 and became an Argentine citizen that year. He worked at the Institute of the Museum of La Plata as head of paleontology. From 1930 he was professor at the Faculty of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine, University of Buenos Aires. He studied fossil fauna of Argentina including Megatherium, cetaceans, deer, camelids, Jaguars and marsupials. Cabrera also discovered the first Jurassic era dinosaur of South America in Patagonia.

Cabrera published extensively, including 27 books, over 200 scientific publications and more than 400 articles in national and international journals. Cabrera was a gifted scientific illustrator, often illustrating his own work and that of his colleagues.
In 1932 Cabrera published a paper on ecological incompatibility; La incompatibilidad ecologica una ley biologica interesante. Am. Soc. Cient. Argentina, 114(5/6) :243-260. (Biol.Abst.), that Ed Ricketts read and applied to the marine ecology he saw around him on the Monterrey peninsula. 

In the preface to his classic Between Pacific Tides Ricketts wrote a short Zoological Introduction that refers to this law; "In the same locality... directly related animal forms always occupy different habitats or ecological stations... Related animal forms are ecologically incompatible, and the incompatability is the more profound the more directly they are related."  The marine biologist Joel Hedgepath described it as a startling perception.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Animal Aggregations

Ed Ricketts attended the University of Chicago in the 1920's. One of the tutors he came into contact with was Warder Clyde Allee - a zoologist and ecologist who had a profound influence on Ricketts' approach to marine biology and ecology. Allee was the first to describe what has become known as the Allee Effect, defined as "the positive correlation between population density and individual fitness". 

In 2008 Franck Courchamp, Ludek Berec, and Joanna Gascoigne published a 270 page  monograph dedicated to the Allee Effect in Ecology and Conservation. In the preface they define the effect informally as the idea that "the more individuals there are (up to a point), the better they fare" and explain;

The Allee effect is an ecological concept with roots that go back at least to the 1920s, and fifty years have elapsed since the last edition of a book by W.C. Allee, the “father” of this process. Throughout this period, hardly a single mention of this process could be found in ecological textbooks. The concept lurked on the margin of ecological theory, overshadowed by the idea of negative density dependence and competition. The situation has appeared to change dramatically in the last decade or so, however, and we now find an ever-increasing number of studies from an ever-increasing range of disciplines devoted to or at least considering the Allee effect.
Warder Clyde Allee's classic from 1931 - Animal Aggregations. A study in General Sociology was published by the University of Chicago Press and is available to download in its entirety HERE.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Workman Keyboard

We all know that QWERTY keyboards don't help. Here are some alternatives.

Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight

At the British Library. Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight

20 February - 26 May 2014

The Folio Society Gallery; admission free


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

West Kirby Olives

Image taken 25th February 2014. 
Copyright M.G. Reed. 
All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

London Tube Vs Shanghai Metro

HERE is a detailed comparison of London Tube and Shanghai's metro, which is now longer than the London Underground system.

Below is a geographically accurate comparison of the two systems on the same scale.

On Bricolage

I first came across the word bricolage about 20 years ago from a French student who was working with me. He used it in an affectionate way to describe a piece of scientific equipment that he and I had put together from pieces of kit we had lying around the lab. It was his description of the process of tinkering around that we had used to make the thing work. 

The key characteristic of bricolage as a way of working is the use and re-use of materials that already exist to create something new. It is the recruiting of already available bits and pieces to solve the new and immediate problem. It is the opposite of top down, rational design, it is evolutionary and open-ended. It is also great fun. 

I was first taught how to do bricolage by my Dad who was by training a motor mechanic. He had learnt in the 1940's that in order to have a chance of mending a car, for which parts and spares may be non-existent or rare, one had better have a good odds & sods box of screws, springs, bushes, bolts, angle brackets and other assorted pieces of material that may be useful at some indeterminate point in the future. People with a more tidy cast of mind would describe the contents of a good odds & sods box as junk.

The French molecular biologist and Nobel laureate François Jacob (1920 - 2013) famously described evolution as bricolage. At the level of genes, evolution is surprisingly conservative and once a useful piece of biology has been obtained through natural selection it is used and re-used again and again. In The Sacred Depths of Nature (1998) Ursula Goodenough defines bricolage in this context as; the construction of things using what is at hand, the patchwork quilt.
The trader turned philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb also uses the idea of bricolage to describe his approach to optionality in research and investment.
Bricolage comes from the French word bricoleur. As far as I know there is no single english word that translates this word well. Candidates would include bodger and tinker, but both have a negative connotation or imply a low level of skill. Nevertheless, I think bodger is the best we have. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the earliest use of the word as:

1552   R. Huloet Abcedarium Anglico Latinum,   Bodger, botcher, mender, or patcher of olde garmentes.

This is close perhaps to the idea of patchwork, which is appropriate.

Once you have bricolage in mind, you can find examples everywhere. 

The public open space of the City of London as it is today, the result of nearly five hundred years of building, re-building, tinkering and bricolage. Original image from Space Is The Machine by Bill Hillier, cleaned up and re-coloured.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


The uARM is a fun robotic arm kit that is currently being funded on Kickstarter. 

The designs and software will be open-sourced after May 2014.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Anglo-Saxons of the Kentucky Mountains 1901

Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers has a chapter called Harlan, Kentucky, that describes the culture of honour that is found in the American South and Kentucky. 

In 1901 the American geographer Ellen Churchill Semple wrote a pioneering study called The Anglo-Saxons of the Kentucky Mountains: A study in Anthropogeography. It is a report of Semple's fieldwork and describes the cultural impact of the specific geography of Kentucky. 

It begins as follows:
In one of the most progressive and productive countries of the world, and in that section of the country which has had its civilization and its wealth longest, we find a large area where the people are still living the frontier life of the backwoods, where civilization is that of the eighteenth century, where the people speak the English of Shakespeare's time, where the majority of the inhabitants have never seen a steamboat or railroad, where money is as scarce as in colonial days, and all trade is barter. It is the great upheaved mass of the Southern Appalachians which, with the conserving power of the mountains, has caused these conditions to survive, carrying a bit of the eighteenth century intact over into this strongly contrasted twentieth century, and presenting an anachronism all the more marked because found in the heart of the bustling, money-making, novelty-loving United States. These conditions are to be found throughout the broad belt of the Southern Appalachians, but nowhere in such purity or covering so large an area as in the mountain region of Kentucky.
Originally published in the Geographical Journal (London) June, 1901.

Kentucky still has pockets of poverty. The per capita income of Harlan County is $18,665 and Kentucky as a state has 16 of the poorest counties in the US. One third of households in Harlan County have no indoor plumbing.

 For more on Semple see HERE.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Time Geography

The Swedish geographer Torsten Hägerstrand (1916-2004) was a pioneer in the study of Time Geography. A key part of his work was the development of methods for visualising worldlines. Most commonly he used three dimensional diagrams, with a 2D plane showing position on the ground, and the vertical axis time. 

He called these visualisations spacetime aquariums.

Both images from HERE

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Light Painting Worldlines

Whilst going about our daily lives we all leave behind worldlines in spacetime: the four dimensional blend of space and time within which events unfold. 

Worldlines are ghostly, insubstantial filaments, silken yarns that follow us through our lives forever. They cannot be seen or felt. If worldlines could be visualised then I imagine they would look like incredibly complex  versions of light paintings.

Below is a light painting by the american photographer and visual artist Barbara Morgan (1900-1992):  Pure Energy and Neurotic Man (1940).

And how the One of Time, of Space the Three, Might in the Chain of Symbols girdled be.

Perhaps the most notable of all the Royal Astronomers of Ireland, and Irelands greatest mathematician, was Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865).  In addition to his work on optics, mechanics and mathematics he invented quaternions in 1843, a key step in the development of modern ideas of four dimensional spacetime and quantum mechanics (a fundamental element in quantum mechanical calculations is known as the Hamiltonian). 

Hamilton was a child prodigy and he was appointed to the Andrews Professorship of Astronomy in the University of Dublin when he was just 22 (before he had even graduated). He moved to the Dunsink Observatory near Dublin  and lived there for the rest of his life. 

Dunsink Observatory is about four miles north-west of Dublin castle on a low limestone hill with a view south to the Wicklow hills; ...It is a handsome building, presenting in front a facade of two wings, and a projecting centre, crowned by a dome.  

Hamilton did not have the happiest of private lives and died in 1865 after a severe attack of gout.

Image from HERE

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Return of Pelican Books

Pelican Books is returning as an imprint (HERE).

Below from 1974. Five Hundred Years of Printing by S.H. Steinberg.

Image from HERE.

New edition by Oak Knoll Press HERE.
Oak Knoll Press & The British Library

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Process of Observation

From Abraham Kaplan's book  The Conduct of Inquiry (1964).
An observation in science is first of all something done, an act performed by the scientist; only thereby is it something seen, a product of the process in which the scientist is engaged. As process, observation is a part of what Nagel calls "controlled investigation". Scientific observation is deliberate search, carried out with care and forethought, as contrasted with the casual and largely passive perceptions of everyday life. It is this deliberateness and control of the process of observation that is distinctive of science, not merely the use of special instruments (important as they are) – save as this use is itself indicative of forethought and care. Tycho Brahe was one of the greatest of astronomical observers though he had no telescope; Darwin also relied heavily on the naked eye; De Tocqueville was a superb observer without any of the data-gathering devices of contemporary social research. 
Observation is purposive behavior, directed towards ends that lie beyond the act of observation itself: the aim is to secure materials that will play a part in other phases of inquiry, like the formation and validation of hypotheses. When observation is thought as passive exposure to perception, its instrumentality is left out of account. The scientist becomes a voyeur, finding satisfaction in the unproductive experience of just looking at nature. No doubt there is always some gratification in uncovering secrets, exposing what is hidden; but the scientific motivation is more mature in its demands. In science, observation is a search for what is hidden, not just because it is hidden, but because its exposure will facilitate an intimate, sustained, and productive relationship with the world.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Agnes Arber: The Mind and the Eye

Agnes Arber was an outstanding botanist, artist and biologist. Here is one of her microscopic drawings from her book on water plants (HERE).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

X-Ray Art

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Modest Proposal (1989)

In the late 1980's Tim Berners-Lee had a bright idea. He wrote a paper about the idea which he then sent to his boss (who called it Vague but exciting ...).

The idea was arguably the biggest that any physicist has had in the last 25 years, in terms of impact on the planet. It is nothing to do with science or physics. It was, of course, the basic architecture of the World Wide Web.

The diagram is wonderfully self-referential.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Physics Envy Unmasked

HERE is a very entertainingly written article in the Guardian about the de-bunking of a highly cited paper on positive psychology that had used Lorenzian complex dynamic maths. It is a textbook case of Physics Envy. The debunking paper is HERE

The 3 conclusions of the Berelson & Steiner Book on Human Behaviour are worth calling to mind in any quantitative study of humans:

- Some Do, Some Don't.
- The Differences Aren't Very Great.
- It's More Complicated Than That.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Across the Plains

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)  wrote novels, essays, letters and poetry. He is best known for classics such as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

In 1879 Stevenson began a romantic and adventurous journey to be united with his lover Fanny Vandegrift. After sailing in second-class on the Devonia from Scotland he traveled from New York City overland by train to California. The journey almost killed him. 

Stevenson recounts his journey across the US and his stay in Monterey in Across The Plains. He stayed in Monterey, California in the house below.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Smiths Map 1815

William Smiths Map of Geology 1815

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Map of the Gulf Stream 1871

In 1855 the American oceanographer Mathew Maury described the Gulf Stream in the following lyrical terms;  

There is a river in the ocean. In the severest droughts it never fails, and in the mightiest floods it never overflows. Its banks and its bottoms are of cold water, while its currents are warm. The Gulf of Mexico is its fountain and its mouth is in the Arctic Seas. It is the Gulf Stream. There is in the world no other such majestic flow of waters. Its current is more rapid than the Mississippi or the Amazon.
 Below is a map of the Gulf Stream presented in Light science for leisure hours. A series of familiar esays on scientific subjects, natural phenomena, &c., &c (1871) by Richard Proctor (HERE).The map is an isographic projection. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Foldscope

I met Manu Prakash last year at a TED conference in Edinburgh. He is a very smart young professor at Stanford University.

With a couple of co-workers he has invented the Foldscope. A folding, $1 microscope, that uses origami techniques to go from completely flat to functional. He has filed a patent (WO2013120091). An abstract of what it can do is below (with an illustration from the patent application indicating the Foldscopes response to being stomped upon by a person).

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cheshire - 1819

The history of the county palatine and city of Chester: compiled from original evidences in public offices, the Harleian and Cottonian mss., parochial registers, private muniments, unpublished ms. collections of successive Cheshire antiquaries, and a personal survey of every township in the county; incorporated with a republication of King's Vale royal, and Leycester's Cheshire antiquities. By George Ormerod (1819).


A detailed Bathymetric Map of the Dee estuary

The Dee Estuary is large and is dominated by dynamically changing sand bars and channels.

Figure 5.1 of Ramachandran, K. (2010): Tidal morphodynamic modelling in the Dee Estuary,UK., MSc thesis, University of Southampton, UK.

Earls of Chester

The History of the County Palatine and City of Chester. Vol III
George Ormerod, London 1819

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Liverpool 1680

From Bygone Liverpool (1913) HERE.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Nature Through Microsope and Camera

The image below shows Arthur E Smith, an expert at photo micrography, at work in his studio, and an example of his craft. 


Nature Through Microsope and Camera
by Richard Kerr
With photo-micrographs by Arthur E. Smith
Published 1909 by The Religious Tract Society. London.

From the Introduction:
Charles Kingsley has said, `I have seen the cultivated man craving for travel, and for success in life, pent up in the drudgery of London work, and yet keeping his spirit calm and his morals all the more righteous, by spending over his microscope evenings which he would too probably have been gradually wasted at the theatre'.

Available to download HERE.

...there are some things we can predict and others that we can only measure.

For my birthday I got a copy of Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society. Edited by Bill Bryson and published by HarperPress

All round it is a good read.

The Chapter that stands out for me is by John D Barrow, SIMPLE, REALLY: FROM SIMPLICITY TO COMPLEXITY - AND BACK AGAIN.  In it Barrow explains where we are at on the development of Grand Unified Theories (GUT's) & Theories Of Everything (TOE's) and how ordinary physical laws based on symmetries relate to Chaos. 

The following passage introduces a great distinction that on reflection is straightforward, but nevertheless very well expressed;
The simplicity and economy of the laws and symmetries that govern Nature's fundamental forces are not the end of the story. When we look around us we do not observe the laws of Nature; rather we see the outcomes of those laws. The distinction is crucial. Outcomes are much more complicated than the laws that govern them because they do not have to respect the symmetries displayed by the laws. By this subtle interplay, it is possible to have a world which displays an unlimited number of complicated asymmetrical structures yet is governed by a few, very simple, symmetrical laws. This is one of the secrets of the universe.  
He also goes on to explain that "it would be a strange (non-Copernican) universe that allowed us to determine everything that we want about it. We may just have to get used to the fact that there are some things we can predict and others that we can only measure".  

Barrow's piece also references the work of Mitchell Feigenbaum on the universal behaviour of non-linear systems (latterly often referred to as Chaos). The image above is from the front cover of the first issue of Los Alamos Science from 1980, showing a visualisation of some of Feigenbaum's work (HERE). 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Microscope teachings : descriptions of various objects of especial interest and beauty

From 1866 by Mrs Ward. Microscope teachings : descriptions of various objects of especial interest and beauty : adapted for microscopic observation.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Apollo 17 Moon Maps

Here are some incredible high resolution maps of the Moon's surface from Apollo 17 - this is an index map for the photos that were taken on that mission. 

Above is a full width Map and below that a portion of the map showing the Sea of Serenity and Sea of Tranquility.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A perambulation of the Hundred of Wirral...


A perambulation of the Hundred of Wirral in the county of Chester



Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Truncated Octahedron & Non-Overlapping Germ-Grain Model Light

Tom Dixon is a pretty cool British company that designs and manufactures lighting and furniture. The company was established in 2002. Tom Dixon launches new collections annually. One of his recent collections, launched at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, is Etch a collection of acid etched brass, copper and stainless steel lights. 

The Etch candle holder is in the form of a truncated octahedron about 13 centimetres in diameter. The truncated octahedron is an Archimedean solid with 8 regular hexagon faces and 6 square faces. In this candle holder one face is missing, but the others are pierced with a patterned array of circular holes. Multiple units can be bolted together with small brass nuts and bolts.

The image below shows:

TOP - Tom Dixon's Etch.
MIDDLE - The array of circular holes.
BOTTOM - A truncated Octahedron.

The Tom Dixon website says that these lights are "inspired by the logic of pure mathematics". Although this sounds like a bit of marketing hoopla it is not without merit. 

Archimedean solids, such as the truncated octahedron that is the basis of the Etch design, are a venerable subject for mathematical study. 

The pattern is a bit more tricksy. I don't have any idea of what, if any, mathematical method Tom Dixon used to create the piercing patterns, but they do remind me a little bit of 2D spatial patterns that can be created using a class of stochastic model known as 'non-overlapping Germ-Grain' models. For those interested Jenny Andersson has a doctoral thesis and published papers on these models including realisations of them (HERE). Another pertinent paper is available on arXiv HERE.

Below is an example of a realisation of a non-overlapping Germ-Grain model from Andersson's thesis. It's not quite the Etch pattern but I can convince myself that the Etch pattern may well be 'inspired' by the logic of this type of pattern.


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