Wednesday 18 April 2012

The Hand of God

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) was an outstanding German painter, draughtsman and printmaker. He was also very good at drawing hands. 

Here is one of his sketchs for the Heller Altarpiece -Hand of God the Father (Hände Gottvaters)


Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint.

Great piece on the distrortion of scientific publishing and increase in number of retractions of scientific papers HERE

Original paper HERE.

Their Figure shows that there is a correlation between journal impact factor and number of retractions; people are prepared to cheat more for bigger personal kudos.

Saturday 14 April 2012

The Camera Lucida

The camera lucida was invented by Dr William Wollaston and patented in 1806. They are less commonly seen and used these days but still play an important role in some observational sciences. 

For example, they are commonly used in palaeontology; Professor Harry Whittington, one of the lead academics on the Burgess Shale work of the three past decades, reflected on the methods he used on the occasion of the award of the Geological Society's Wollaston Medal to him in 2001;

I soon realised, in my work on Burgess Shale fossils, that explanatory drawings would be needed as well as photographs, to describe these fossils. This is where Dr Wollaston enters the scene -- a late 18th to early 19th Century physician, who practiced in London for many years, and made valuable contributions to chemistry and optics. He had a cracked shaving mirror, but instead of throwing it away he puzzled over the refractions and reflections of light caused by the cracks.

This led to his realising that by inserting a prism into a microscope tube, the image could be directed laterally, then down on to paper beside the microscope, and provide a way to draw an accurate picture. In much refined form this is his invention, the camera lucida, which I used to make my drawings.

Below is an artists using a camera lucida.

Artist Sketching With a Wollaston Style Camera Lucida. In: Dollond. George: The Camera Lucida. An Instrument for Drawing in True Perspective, and for Copying, Reducing, or Enlarging other Drawings. London 1830, frontispiece. Drawn by C. Varley for G. Dollond with the Camera Lucida. 


The Wasp

Wallchart from HERE

Friday 13 April 2012

High Speed Jelly Drop

Stills from the following movie of a block of jelly dropped onto a surface.

Saturday 7 April 2012

Steinbeck's Pencils

John Steinbeck famously drafted his books and stories in longhand in pencil (for example see The Paris Review). His choice of pencil was therefore something he worried about.  Here are his three favourites; the Eberhard Faber Mongol, the Blaisdell Calculator, and the Eberhard Faber Blackwing.

Image from HERE

If you are having trouble sharpening your pencils, then worry no more, a complete and authoritive guide has recently be published HERE.

Gopkin on Darwin

The writer Adam Gopkin describes a number of examples of the ‘excellent eye’ of Charles Darwin in his book  Angels and Apes. Quercus. London.

pg 64: ‘More than anything else in life, Charles Darwin liked to look at things. He liked to look at things the way an artist likes to draw, the way a composer likes to play the piano, the way a cook likes to chop onions: it is the simple root physical activity that makes the other, higher-order acts not just possible but pleasurable’.

pg 65: (Discussing the worm and orchid books).
‘He looks as hard as he can, and sees processes, not just plants—his worms are actors, makers of vegetable mold and capable of primitive conciousness and, as we’ll see, even an innate musicality—and this act of looking and organising is for him the probity of the intelligence. ’

pg 67: ‘And always he loved to look. As a boy he was obsessed with beetles in a way that other boys are obsessed with marbles. ’

‘Darwin always thought as he saw; “I am a firm believer that without speculation there is no good and original observation”.

‘Darwin’s turn of mind was encyclopaedically visual . . . ’

pg 69: Talking about The Voyage of the Beagle
‘But what really knocks us out now is how much pure observation, pure plain looking,
there is in Darwin’s book. e poetry lies in the sweep of the seeing. ’

pg 72: ‘As one reads  The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin’s Argus–eyed relentless sheer seeing—his endless observations of spiders and vultures and snakes and beetles, of what it takes to check on the fatness of a tortoise of a lizard’s method of swimming—is what is overwhelming. ’

pg 73: ‘. . .Darwin is, with Ruskin, the greatest pure observer and describer of his time.’

pg 80: From Darwins notebooks in 1830's;
“All science is reason acting / systematizing/ on principes which even animals know (art precedes science -art is experience & observation)"

Friday 6 April 2012

Intense Seeing in Nahuatl

The English language is enormously flexible, but in order to describe intensity we generally need to bring together two or three separate words; heavy rain, deafening roar, blinding light. Linguistically this is rather inelegant when we compare English with language systems that have special and direct ways of expressing intensity. 

For example, the Nahuatl languages and dialects of the Uto-Aztecan language family of Mesoamerica have an special `intensive' aspectual category in their language that indicates something has great intensity; 

Nahuatl, like many languages, employs reduplication to signal the intensive aspect ... the root itta means `see', but in reduplicated form, iita, means stare, as staring is equivalent to intense seeing. William Frawley. Linguistic Semantics. 1992. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Hillsdale, New Jersey. 
This Nahuatl word iita is a handy shorthand for intense seeing

An image of a Nahua woman from the Florentine Codex. The speech scroll indicates that she is speaking.

Anatomical Notes (c.1510)

HERE is a great piece in the Guardian on a very rare Leonardo da Vinci page of notes dating from 1510. The page is in the Royal Collection (this and many other rarities have been in the private collection of the English Royal family since about 1690 - it is thought that the papers were acquired by King Charles II from one of da Vinci's successors). 

The page describes all of the materials Da Vinci needed for his anatomical studies. 

A fragment of the page is shown below.