Wednesday, 23 May 2018

All the impressive achievements of deep learning amount to just curve fitting.

A piece on the AI expert Judea Pearl HERE in Quanta Magazine.

Data science is science’s second chance to get causal inference right (2018)

Data science is science’s second chance to get causal inference right. A classification of data science tasks

Miguel A. Hernán, John Hsu, & Brian Healy


Causal inference from observational data is the goal of many health and social scientists. However, academic statistics has often frowned upon data analyses with a causal objective. The advent of data science provides a historical opportunity to redefine data analysis in such a way that it naturally accommodates causal inference from observational data. We argue that the scientific contributions of data science can be organized into three classes of tasks: description, prediction, and causal inference. An explicit classification of data science tasks is necessary to describe the role of subject-matter expert knowledge in data analysis. We discuss the implications of this classification for the use of data to guide decision making in the real world


Thursday, 17 May 2018

A Tribute to the Printer Aldus Manutius and the Roots of the Paperback Book (2015)

A great piece HERE in the New York Times on an exhibition at the Grolier club about Aldus Manutius.

New York. A Series of Wood Engravings in Colour (1915).

New York. A Series of Wood Engravings in Colour (1915). Rudolph Ruzicka & Walter Eaton. (HERE)

One of the most celebrated book collectors of all time was Jean Grolier de Servieres (1490-1565), a one time Treasurer General of France and a Renaissance scholar of broad humanist interests. Grolier sought out the best quality printed books on fine paper and then had  the volumes finished in exquisitely tooled leather bindings. Famously, he was an important patron of the Italian printer Aldus Manutius, who had founded the Aldine press in Venice in 1494.  

In April 1518, after some prompting from the bookseller Fancesco Giuilo Calvo, the Dutch humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote a flattering letter to Grolier, in which he said;
You owe nothing to our books; it is our books that are in debt to you, for you will secure them an undying name among posterity ,, with all your encouragement of literary men, you are at the same time yourself the most literate of them all. 

The Grolier club of New York was founded in 1884. It's aim is to celebrate all of the graphic arts involved in making high quality books: page design, typography, illustration and book binding. The current home of the club is in an affluent district of Manhattan, it has a museum and large research library and is an important venue for talks and seminars. The club has also throughout it's history published limited editions of exquisitely designed, illustrated and printed books. 

This book was published by the Grolier club in 1915. It captures New York in a period of rapid transition. Skyscrapers were transforming the city's skyline as it became one of the most populous and economically powerful cities in history. The prose was written by Walter Eaton and the book was designed and illustrated by the type designer and wood engraver Rudolph Ruzicka (1883-1978).  The ten colour woodblock engravings that had been made by Ruzicka were printed from his blocks by Emile Fequet in Paris.  

One of the chapters celebrates the efficiency and beauty of the bridges of New York.
So the bridges which handle with the greatest ease the greatest traffic, which fling the longest spans from the flanks of the tallest city, will ultimately be judged by their efficiency. They have risen to meet a new condition, on a new continent, born of the dreams of a new nation. Why should they not possess a new beauty? To the eye which sees New York steadily and sees it whole, they do.
This image shows the Queensboro Bridge, which spans the East River in New York city. It has a double cantilever steel design with five spans and a total of more than 1,000 metres of suspended roadway.  The bridge was opened to traffic in 1909 to connect midtown Manhattan with Queens via Roosevelt Island.  In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses this bridge to note an arrival to New York City from Long Island: 
The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.
Rudolph Ruzicka was born in Kourim, Bohemia in 1883. He moved with his parents to Chicago in 1894 and by 1897 he was an unpaid apprentice in a wood engraving workshop. He studied at the Chicago Art Institute and New York School of Art and also worked for the American Banknote Company.  Ruzicka was well known as a type designer and worked for the Mergenthaler Linotype company. He designed the typeface Fairfield in 1940 and used the face in his redesign of the Harvard Business Review in the early 1950's. 

In 2002, the Grolier club published New York Revisited - in many ways a follow-on volume to this book (in the world of fine art printing, things can often take some time). The text in the book was written by Grolier club member Kenneth Auchincloss, and the book was designed, typeset, illustrated with colour wood engravings and hand printed by the fine-art printer Gaylord Schanilec. 

The publication of New York Revisited shows that even in an age of digital publishing, the book as a beautiful artefact is alive and well. In the Foreword, the author refers back to the New York volume that had been published by Grolier in 1915;
The highlight of the book is the wood engravings by Rudoph Ruzicka. Their muted colors and delicate line partially disguise the artist's reaction to the city, which one suspects was primarily alarm ... His images are deceptively light, but what they convey is the enormous vertical weight of the city.   
A total of 250 copies of New York Revisited were printed. The first 50 of these were specially bound and each of them contained a portfolio of Ruzicka engravings that had been newly printed by Schanilec from the blocks that Ruzicka had cut in 1915. These original blocks still existed and had been found in good condition in an old box in the Grolier club premises by their librarian.  


Elton, C.I. & Elton, M.A. (1893). The Great Book Collectors.
Scribners, New York.

Andrews, W.L. (1892). Jean Grolier de Servier, viscount d'Aguisy. Some account of his life and of his famous library. DeVinne Press, New York. 

Auchincloss, K. & Schanilec, G.  (2002). New York Revisited. Grolier Club, New York.

Bietenholz, P.G. & Deutscher, T.B. (1985). Contemporaries of Erasmus. Toronto University Press.

Hofer, P. (1978). Rudolph Ruzicka. Proc. Mass. Historical Society. Vol. 90, pp. 143-145.

Mynors, R.A.B., Thomson, D.F.S. & Bietenholz P.G. (1979). The Correspondence of Erasmus. Letters 594 to 841.  p. 403. Toronto University Press.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Thomas Newcomen's Engine (1717)

Henry Beighton's engraving of Thomas Newcomen's steam engine. From HERE. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2018


The graph scan algorithm traverses all reachable nodes in a graph. Its behaviour can be changed by plugging in different datastructures: Using an unordered set results in a random search, using a stack yields depth-first search, and using a queue gives breadth-first search.

From HERE.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky (2008)

View of Oia, Santorini
Watercolor, pencil, and gouache on paper. 
Bernard Rudofsky 1929.

From Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky - an exhibition held in 2008 at the Getty Center - website images and brochure HERE.

The Classical Vernacular (1964)

The Armenian-American architect Bernard Rudofsky (1905-1988) trained as an architect at the Technische Hochschule in Vienna between 1922 and 1928. After graduating in 1928 with two master level degrees – one in English, and one in Architecture – Rudofsky then spent 3 years combining practical architectural work in Berlin and Vienna with the preparation of a doctoral thesis. 

Rudofsky’s research methods for his thesis reflected two of his lifelong habits - extensive travelling, and intense experiential - observational work. An important part of Rudofsky’s understanding of architecture came from an incessant need he had to travel. From 1923 onwards, Rudofsky spent his summers travelling south from Vienna, visiting Bulgaria, Turkey, Istanbul, Asia Minor, the Black Sea, and Italy. In 1929 he re-visited the Black Sea and Istanbul, and also travelled around Greece. One of the places that he visited that had a profound impact on Rudofsky was the Greek island of Thira (Santorini), and in particular, the traditional architecture of the cliff-top village of Oia (formerly Apanomeria). 

‘I learned a great deal by travel... The acquaintance with foreign countries; with foreign towns, dead and alive, early became a habit for me. Every year, at the end of June I would depart for points south, and not return before the last days of October’. [1]

During his visit to Oia in 1929, Rudofsky made multiple water colour and pencil studies, and took multiple black and white photos, of the vernacular buildings in Oia, that seem to pile one on top of another. Rudofsky had an omnivorous approach to observation – it was not just the architecture that was of interest, but also local culture, food, clothing, art, both historical and modern. He made notes, sketches, paintings, took pictures, to create his own collages of what he had seen and heard. His photos from Santorini show the interiors of simple cave dwellings, with elegant barrel vaulted internal ceilings, and local workmen using traditional wooden supports to create distinctive arches. 

He submitted, and successfully defended, his doctoral dissertation in 1931 on, A primitive type of concrete construction in the southern Cyclades. The thesis described how the scarcity of timber on Thira, and the ready availability of volcanic pumice stone, had influenced the vernacular architecture. He commented on the pumice construction that: ‘I don’t know of any other building technique that achieves such simplicity as these chambers in terms of the construction, the materials, and the color scheme’.  [2]  

In 1964, Rudofsky curated an exhibition called Architecture without Architects at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He later published a book of the same name. [3] In it he makes the following assertion:

Vernacular architecture does not go through fashion cycles. It is nearly immutable, indeed unimprovable, since it serves its purpose to perfection. As a rule, the origin of indigenous building forms and construction methods is lost in the distant past.

The book was a companion volume to an exhibition that Rudofsky had helped organise at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Several of the photos in the book came from Rudofsky’s visit to Thera in 1929.

The buildings that Rudofsky documented are superb examples of improvised human artefacts. Rudofsky notes that the untutored builders of the structures he admires: ‘... demonstrate an admirable talent for fitting their buildings into the natural surroundings. ...they welcome the vagaries of climate and the challenge of topgraphy’

For Rudofsky: ‘… the most decisive perceptual quality of an architectural space was its being enclosed by walls’ – including ‘outdoor rooms’, which are enclosed by walls but without roofs. 


[1] Rudofsky, B. (1980). A lecture given at the IDCA Aspen, 1980. Cited in Bocco Guarneri, A. (2003). Bernard Rudofsky: A Humane Designer. Springer. New York pp 226-230.

[2] See Platzer, M. (2007). ‘Introduction’ in Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky: Life a Voyage. Edited by Architekturzentrum Wien. Birkhauser Verlag.

[3] Rudofsky, B. (1964). Architecture without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-pedigreed Architecture. MOMA, New York.

[4] See Bocco Guarneri, A. (2010). ‘Bernard Rudofsky and the Sublimation of the Vernacular’. In Modern Architecture and the Mediterranean. Edited by Jean François Lejeune and Michelangelo Sabatino. Routledge, London. 

Image: The village of Oia (formerly Apanomeria) - from Architecure without Archtects by Bernard Rudofsky.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Roofs and chimneys in Oia, Santorini (1929).

Photo of Roofs and chimneys in Oia, Santorini, 1929, by Bernard Rudofsky.

Hokusai and the Blue Revolution in Edo Prints (2005)

The impact of the synthetic blue pigment Prussian Blue on Japanese art is substantial - including the work of painter and print-maker Hokusai. From HERE.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Julian Opie (2018)

An illustrated piece by Julian Opie HERE in the Guardian. His landscapes, people, birds, train scenes. 

Looking directly at something is not always the best way to see it. Look straight at a dim star and it disappears. If you look down the centre of your train carriage and become aware of the landscape outside the windows, you can see it better, not the details but the shape and colour, the way the hills roll and the fields shift shape as you pass. You can move an object in your hands to understand its shape but you must pass through a landscape to see it properly. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Things That Make Us Smart (1994)

Things That Make Us Smart (1994)
Donald Norman.

The power of the unaided mind is highly overrated. Without external aids, memory, thought, and reasoning are all constrained. But human intelligence is highly flexible and adaptive, superb at inventing procedures and objects that overcome its own limits. The real powers come from devising external aids that enhance cognitive abilities. How have we increased memory, thought, and reasoning? By the invention of external aids: It is things that make us smart. Some assistance comes through cooperative social behavior; some arises through exploitation of the information present in the environment; and some comes through the development of tools of thought – cognitive artifacts – that complement abilities and strengthen mental powers.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

The case for open computer programs (2012)

The case for open computer programs - a piece in Nature in 2012 by Darrel Ince, Leslie Hatton, and John Graham-Cumming (HERE).


Scientific communication relies on evidence that cannot be entirely included in publications, but the rise of computational science has added a new layer of inaccessibility. Although it is now accepted that data should be made available on request, the current regulations regarding the availability of software are inconsistent. We argue that, with some exceptions, anything less than the release of source programs is intolerable for results that depend on computation. The vagaries of hardware, software and natural language will always ensure that exact reproducibility remains uncertain, but withholding code increases the chances that efforts to reproduce results will fail.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Machine Art (1934)

In 1938, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York put on an exhibition called Useful Household Objects under $5.00. The curator of the exhibition, John McAndrew, had chosen, ‘…approximately 100 articles of household use selected on the basis of good modern design and available at retail stores’. Amongst other things, the following artefacts where exhibited;

adjustable towel rack - $3.50,
aluminum tea kettle - $3.00,
salt and pepper shakers - $0.10,
glass pitcher - $1.50,
steel pocket knife - $1.00,
orange juicer - $4.60,
travelling iron - $3.95,
can opener - $0.18

The press release for the exhibition explained that: ‘The purpose of the exhibition is to show that it is possible to purchase everyday articles of excellent design at reasonable prices’. This was not the first time, nor the last, that MoMA had paid serious attention to mass produced artefacts. Some of the earliest examples of industrial design that the Museum acquired came from an exhibition they held in 1934 called Machine Art (March 6 to April 30, 1934). 

This was a ground-breaking exhibition that treated mass produced objects of a wide variety as beautifully designed objects in their own right. The exhibition catalogue signalled this seriousness, through two opening epigraphs in Greek from Plato and in Latin from Saint Thomas Aquinas respectively. 

The quotation from Plato’s Philebus 51 C, read as follows:

By beauty of shapes I do not mean, as most people would suppose, the beauty of living figures or of pictures, but, to make my point clear, I mean straight lines and circles, and shapes, plane or solid, made from them by lathe, ruler and square. These are not, like other things, beautiful relatively, but always and absolutely.

The catalogue for the Machine Art exhibition is HERE

Image: Laboratory microscope ESA-105. Carl Zeiss, Inc. $159.00

Monday, 2 April 2018

Products of a Thinking Hand (2018)

An exhibition of the work of American type designer Cyrus Highsmith at the Royal Academy of Art, Den Haag (HERE). 

Sunday, 1 April 2018

A Modified Ouchi Illusion (2016)

Above a variant of an Ouchi visual effect image by Jacques Ninio - part of a wonderfully chatty chapter - Contributions to Contrast and Motion Visual Illusions that is HERE.  When the page is moved with back and forth translations in the ascending diagonal direction, the central red disk appears to move independently of the background.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Lucida Calligraphy

Lucida is a large and diverse family of digital fonts created more than 30 years ago by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes. Notes on their Lucida designs are HERE. The image above shows one of their original drawings for Lucida Calligraphy on the left and an f  from the font to the right. 

Monday, 26 March 2018

Paleontology and Cornets (2011)

Here is a great paper by the evolutionary biologist Niles Eldredge, on the evolution of cornets (trumpet like brass instruments). Eldredge uses his own expertise as a cornet player and collector to illustrate how human artefacts evolve, but in a different way to biological evolution. 


Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Long Game (2018)

For more than 200 years, geologists have been trying to build a clear understanding of the processes that have built the physical geography of the Earth since it formed about 4,500 million years ago. Some of these processes are very gradual, such as the deposition of sedimentary rock, and others such as volcanic eruptions are catastrophic. The timescale over which these geological processes happen are long. Really long. Our common language is not good at describing things that are much bigger, smaller, longer or shorter lived than we can directly experience as humans. We have no adequate language for the inordinately long time scales of the Earth's history. 

To deal with this, geologists have developed the concept of deep time: an extended time scale in which the smallest unit of time is a million years. One of the most memorable metaphors that relates deep time to the full extent of human existence was provided by the American writer John McPhee (b. 1931) in an essay in The New Yorker magazine, later published in book form as Basin and Range:

Consider the Earth's history as the old measure of the English yard, the distance from the King's nose to the tip of his outstretched hand. One stroke of a nail file on his middle finger erases human history.

Within the minuscule portion of time that humans have been alive on Earth, how can we orient ourselves? 

One way is suggested by an American not-for-profit organisation called the Long Now Foundation, which seeks ` provide a counterpoint to today's accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common'. As part of this mission, they define three time scales. Now; yesterday, today, tomorrow, Nowadays; last decade, this decade, next decade and, The Long Now, which is twenty thousand years long, from 8,000 BC to 12,000 CE (HERE).  

Unfortunately, The Long Now is much too long to relate to the important processes of human social life such as innovation (and births, marriages and deaths).  It is useful to have a more natural unit of time for human processes that are longer than a year, yet shorter than a century. A decade is almost useful, but ten years has no particular resonance with human lives, Nowadays is good, but is unfamiliar. A better, more human centred, and well understood unit of time for human social activities like innovation, is a generation. A simple way to define a generation is the average age of a woman at the birth of their first offspring. This varies, but the traditional figure of 25 years is not far off. Deep time for human social activity is not measured in millions of years, but in tens, hundreds or thousands of generations. Writing was first developed 200 generations ago. Modern humans first developed objects with symbolic meaning nearly 4,000 generations ago. 

The span of modern human existence. The largest square is the 4,000 generations since humans invented personal ornaments. The next square down is the 240 generations of the long lasting myths that are still known today. The next down is the 16 generations of the scientific revolution. The smallest square is a single generation of 25 years.}

Text & Image Copyright M.G. Reed 2018.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Google Map's Moat (2017)

HERE is an incredibly detailed comparison between the latest Google Maps and Apple Maps offerings - by Justin O’Beirne. 

Tulip Mania? (1637)

Here is a great article on the Conversation website about the realities of the often mentioned, but little understood, tulip mania seen in Holland in the 1630s. In fact, the author argues, there was little in the way of mania, but nonetheless a fascinating story. (HERE)

Friday, 9 March 2018

Emily's Numbers (2018)

Joss Langford is a friend of mine, he is a great inventor and innovator, and a long term collaborator. He has just published a wonderful book for children called Emily's Numbers. The creation of the book become part of his treatment for throat cancer after being diagnosed in 2017. 30% of the publisher’s proceeds will be donated to a cancer treatment charity.  

One of the reasons that Joss wrote the book is his belief that:
Maths is highly creative, but the full wonder of numbers can be difficult to convey in a formal syllabus. This simple and engaging narrative shows how, using just our imagination, we can discover endless possibilities in maths.
Available to buy HERE, and more on the background and code HERE.  

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Robert Bringhurst Interview (2017)

An interview with the Canadian writer Robert Bringhurst by Evan Jones (HERE) in The Manchester Review. 

Good carpenters get interested in wood. They stop thinking of it as board feet of lumber and start to see it as tissue – living tissue whose life has been arrested and whose form has been, for a while at least, preserved. They start to collaborate with the wood instead of simply sawing it up and nailing it back together. That’s how I try to work with wood myself, and that’s the way I like to work with language. Few things interest me less than regular picket fences or purely formalist verse, but sensual and intellectual pleasure both interest me a lot. A good piece of carpentry makes you want to reach out and touch it. A good piece of writing makes you want to say the words aloud, to feel them in your mouth and in your mind. That’s not everything in life, but it’s a part of what I’m after.

Image shows Left: A Haida wooden comb representing the bear. Top Right: A Tlingit wooden pipe in the form of a Killer whale. Bottom Right: A Haida `soul-case' carved from bone and inlaid with abalone shell. From HERE.

Manchester’s Irish Connection (2012)

Courtesy of The Manchester Review, the transcript of a brilliant speech by the Irish President Michael Higgins at Manchester University in 2012 - on connections, both historic and personal, between Ireland and Manchester (HERE). 

IMAGEManchester Ship Canal: The Making of Eastham Dock by Benjamin Williams Leader. 

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Classification of Everyday Living (2018)

For the past 3 years or so I have been actively involved in developing the Classification of Everyday Living Open Standard with the OASIS organisation. The Committee Specification for this standard has just been published (HERE).  

The Objective of the standard is as follows:

The COEL Specification provides a clear and robust framework for implementing a distributed system capable of capturing data relating to an individual as discrete events. It facilitates a privacy-by-design approach for personalised digital services, IoT applications where devices are collecting information
about identifiable individuals and the coding of behavioural attributes in identity solutions. The COEL Specification contains an extensive and detailed taxonomy of human behaviour. The taxonomy allows data from different systems to be encoded in a common format, preserving the meaning of the data across different applications. This ability to integrate universally at the data level, rather than just the technology level, is known as semantic harmonisation and provides full data portability. The communication protocols needed to support system interoperability across a wide range of implementations are also included. Central to the specification is the separation of static and dynamic personal data. Static data are those pieces of information about an individual that do not change or change very slowly or infrequently which are often used as direct identifiers. Dynamic data are those that describe the sequence of behaviours of an individual over time. This separation of data types provides many advantages for both privacy and security; it is known as pseudonymisation. The COEL Specification provides the means to achieve this separation of data as it is collected rather than as a later operation (pseudonymisation at source).

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Vector Control (1997)

From a well written and freely available handbook on how to control the vectors of insect borne disease such as malaria. (HERE). 

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Little Science, Big Science ...and Beyond ( 1986)

Above is a typical quantitative analysis by the physicist and social historian of science Derek J. de Solla Price (1922-1983). This is from Little Science, Big Science ... and Beyond published by Columbia University Press in 1986. The complete PDF is HERE.  

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Gears from the Greeks. The Antikythera Mechanism: A Calendar Computer from ca. 80 BC (1974)

A long and detailed description of the reconstruction of an antique mechanical calculator by the science writer Derek de Solla Price. (HERE

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Illustrated Dust Jacket: 1920–1970

A collection of illustrated book jackets selected by Martin Salisbury (HERE). Above an illustrated jacket by Rockwell Kent for a John Buchan novel.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Gary Lichtenstein Editions (2018)

Silk screen printing is a fine art technique that is widely used to make limited editions of artworks - derived from paintings, graphic art or photography. HERE is a wonderful short video on the work of the Gary Lichtenstein Editions studio in Jersey City. The studio is open to the public. 

Sunday, 18 February 2018

True Blue (2015)

A great, short essay, on the blue pigment ultramarine by Ravi Mangla - in The Paris Review (HERE). 

On a transcendental `law of logistic growth’ (1971)

The quote above from William Feller, called out recently by Edward Tufte, on the Law of Logistic Growth reminds me of what is sometimes called Kaplan's Law of the Instrument, which he formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. (Here).

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Mount Joyce, USGS Map

Above a detail from a high resolution topographic reconnaissance map of Mount Joyce Antarctica. More HERE.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Hans Rosling (1948-2017)

Hans Rosling (1948-2017), a Swedish medic and statistician, and most recently a professor of international health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, died a year ago. Rosling made superb presentations that combined animated data visualisations with humour and deep humanitarian compassion. With his son and daughter in law he built Gapminder - a software and institute with a focus on tools for showing development data.  

Saturday, 20 January 2018

The background colours of On Kawara’s Date paintings (1987)

More HERE.

Snail Pyramid – Study for Self-Contained, Self-Supporting City Dwelling (1988)

Snail Pyramid – Study for Self-Contained, Self-Supporting City Dwelling – A Future Habitat. 
Agnes Denes. 

Pascal's Perfect Probability Pyramid & The People Paradox (1980)

Pascal's Perfect probability Pyramid & The People Paradox a lithograph from 1980 by the artist Agnes Denes. From HERE

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Don’t You Weep (2018)

A superb piece in The Paris Review (here), on the first person experience of Tom Piazza hearing Bruce Springsteen at a concert in New Orleans in 2006.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Preparation of Chlorine, Potassium Chlorate and Sodium Hypochlorite (1948)

Illustration by Roger Hayward for General Chemistry by Linus Pauling. More HERE.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Toy Building Block invention (1945)

A great piece about Lego in the Guardian (HERE)

The diagram at top is from a patent filed by Harry Fisher Page in 1945. The diagram to the bottom was filed by G.K. Christiansen in 1958. 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Coastal Geometries (2016)

Coastal Geometries is a superb series of photographs by Tugo Cheng of traditional Chinese aquaculture structures off the coast of Fujian (HERE).

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Pendant Droplet (1991)

Shown above is an experimental apparatus that I built for my BSc Chemistry degree project in 1991.  It shows a droplet of n-decane oil that is hanging "upwards" in water. The front of the lens and video camera that is being used to image the droplet is shown, and on the monitor at the back is the live video image of the droplet. The project involved building this apparatus, implementing an image analysis method to capture the co-ordinates of the shape of the drop, and writing a non-linear least squares fitting code in C to take the shape of the drop and estimate the interfacial tension between oil and water using the method of Jennings & Pallas (1988).

Jennings, J.W. & Pallas, N.R. (1998). `An efficient method for the determination of interfacial tensions from drop profiles.' Langmuir, 1988, 4 (4), pp 959–967

Below is a visual summary of some of the data from the project. 

Monday, 1 January 2018

Every Crafter has an Obligation (2017)

By Mr Gray Parrot (Here).

Happy New Year (2018)

Fishing the Shropshire Union Canal (1974)

LEFT: A basic rig for still water fishing using a light peacock quill float. Re-drawn from  World Class Match Fishing by Kevin Ashurst (1977). RIGHT: Three different styles of float that can easily be made from peacock quill, bamboo, brass rods, and balsa wood.  The floats are shown submerged to the level required for use. 

Between 1974 and 1979, I spent many of my Sunday afternoons trying to catch fish from the Shropshire Union Canal near Chester. This stretch of canal was completed in 1797. It forms part of an extensive network of canals in the North-West of the UK that were built at the start of the Industrial Revolution. By 1974 the Shropshire Union Canal was no longer used for trade - it was a quiet waterway used by a handful of canal boat enthusiasts, and those local fishermen who couldn't afford to fish anywhere better.  

Canals are static. Unlike a river, a canal does not flow anywhere. For that reason, they don't usually contain river loving fish such as barbel, dace, chub, trout, grayling, or salmon. The still waters of a typical canal are home to small coarse fish such as roach, rudd, perch, tench, bream, and carp. It takes dedication and skill to successfully catch fish from these canals. The match fisherman Kevin Ashurst (b. 1939) has been fishing these waterways all of his life:
A whole lot of good anglers are, figuratively speaking, at each other's throats every week of the season, trying to sift a little gold from the clapped-out canals which criss-cross the entire region. It is hard fishing. Only the good and dedicated survive to perfect skills requiring very little adaptation to work successfully elsewhere. [1]
I was never a match fisherman. I was not fishing to win anything, for me a good day of canal fishing would involve me in four or five hours of intense, quiet concentration, during which I would be happy to catch five or ten small fish. I once caught a tench from the Shropshire Union canal that weighed just over a kilogram. It was by some way the largest fish that I ever caught. 

My favourite fish were  crucian  carp (Carassius carassius).  These beautiful fish are closely related to goldfish (Carassius auratus), and range in colour from silver to greeny - bronze. Crucian carp are native to the UK, and are also found widely across northern Europe and into the arctic circle.  They cross-breed and hybridise readily with goldfish and both species have evolved the ability to survive for extended periods of time in severely oxygen depleted water, such as that found in ponds and lakes that have been frozen over for months. [2]

Crucian carp are not only beautiful to look at, but also relatively easy to catch.  They take a baited hook in a gentle but determined manner that causes the float to dip slowly and purposefully beneath the surface of the canal in a distinctive bobbing manner. When crucian carp are released back into the murky waters of a canal, their coloured flanks leave a metallic gold after-image that lingers long after they have disappeared. [3]             

Many of the specialised float fishing techniques that are used on rivers, such as trotting and waggler fishing, have been designed to make use of the river's flow to present bait in an attractive way to the target fish. These techniques are not applicable on lakes, ponds, slow moving rivers, and canals. Here, the need is for a float set-up that can signal to the fisherman that the hook has moved, while minimising the resistance the fish feels as it takes the stationary baited hook. 

A basic still water float fishing rig is shown in the Figure above.  The fishing line is usually attached to the base of the float using a small rubber band. This is a flexible arrangement that allows the fisherman to easily adjust the length of line between the float and the hook. The float is weighed down using small round split lead shot of standard sizes; No. 10 (0.04 gram), No. 8 (0.06 gram), No. 6 (0.1 gram) and No. 4 (0.2 gram) are typical for canal fishing. A number of different float designs are shown also in the Figure . In each case the float is designed to support a certain amount of shot and to provide the most stable flotation, unperturbed by wind or surface ripples, but requiring the minimum amount of force to register a bite.      

Although professionally made floats were widely available when I was fishing the Shropshire Union canal, I taught myself how to design and make a wide range of my own floats. I had no interest in match fishing, but from Kevin Ashurst's book, World Class Match Fishing, I learnt how to make my own floats.  The raw materials required to make fishing floats were widely available - and could be bought cheaply; bamboo cane, sarkanda reed, balsa wood, crow quills, copper wire, porquepine quills, whipping thread, plastic tubes, cork, fine tying wire, and peacock quills. 

My favourite material for float making was peacock quill.  These could be bought cheaply from most fishing tackle shops - complete with their iridescent plumage. Peacock quill is light weight, highly buoyant and naturally water resistant. Before using as a float, the feather's barbs were stripped off with a craft knife and the remaining shaft was lightly sanded. Small inserts of brass or copper wire were added to the base of the float to provide ballast and lower the centre of gravity of the float, and small lengths of bamboo cane or sarkanda reed were inserted into the top.  My floats were finished in dark brown or black paint, finely sanded to remove gloss finish, and the tips painted in white and fluorescent yellow, orange or green. I implemented a simple a coding scheme of small coloured dots painted on the floats to indicate the amount of lead shot that they each one needed, to be perfectly set in the water. 

I  no longer make floats, or fish in canals, but I do still invent and innovate. I can no longer remember what drove me to begin making my own floats. It certainly wasn't so that I could win fishing matches, and whether my own floats gave me any real advantage in catching fish from the Shropshire Union canal is hard to tell. What float-making did do, was to provide me with my first real experience of the pleasure that can be found in tinkering for a purpose.  This wasn't based on an artistic creative urge to express myself without constraint, to create artistic originality. I had simply set myself the target of catching fish from the canal using my own floats. Guided by Kevin Ashurst's words and diagrams, I learnt how to experiment and play with a range of simple raw materials to make the artefacts that I needed, to my own design.

Image & Text Copyright M.G. Reed 2018


1. Ashurst, K. (1977). World Class Match Fishing. Cassell, London. 

2. Fagernes, C.E., Stensløkken, K., Røhr, Å.K., Berenbrink, M., Ellefsen, S. & Nilsson, G.E. (2017). `Extreme anoxia tolerance in crucian carp and goldfish through neofunctionalization of duplicated genes creating a new ethanol-producing pyruvate decarboxylase pathway'.  Scientific Reports.  7, Article number: 7884.  

3. Rolfe, P. (2012).  Crock of Gold: Seeking the Crucian Carp.  MPress, Essex.


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