Saturday, 28 December 2013

Liverpool 1680

From Bygone Liverpool (1913) HERE.

Saturday, 21 December 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, 20 December 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, 17 December 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, 16 December 2013

A perambulation of the Hundred of Wirral...


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



Sunday, 8 December 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.


Xmas Eve 1968

Image from NASA (HERE).

Thursday, 5 December 2013

State of the art topgraphic images of the Moon 1805 & 2013

The image below shows two state of the art topographic images of the moons surface. 

The image to the left is a Lunar Planisphere engraved by John Russell RA in 1805 based on almost 40 years of detailed sketching and manual measurements using a micrometer and telescope. It is the Moon viewed in full sunlight

"This plate exhibits an accurate view of the lunar disk in a state of direct opposition to the sun, when from the absence of shadow the eminences and depressions are undetermined, and every intricate part arising from local colour or other hitherto inexplicable causes is developed and fully expressed. In a mean state of libration".
It is an incredible feat of scientific imagination.

The image to the right is from NASA in 2011 - it is an image created from detailed altimetry data and application of information about the phase and libration of the moon (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio). 

Two hundred years separate these two images. It is remarkable how similar in detail both images are and also remarkable that neither are directly captured images of the moon. The first took Russell upwards of 20 years to engrave and the second is based on a lunar elevation map captured from amongst other things by the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter LOLA


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Forum Inscription

Talking of a boustrophedon below is a stone rubbing of the Forum inscription taken from the Epigraphy to John Edwin Sandys A Companion to Latin Studies. Cambridge University Press, 1913; p. 732, plate 107. This, in turn, credits Domenico Comparetti (1835-1927), Iscrizione arcaica del Foro Romano, Firenze, 1900. The full book is available HERE

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Libration & Phases of the Moon

NASA have an incredible depth and breadth of image data that they allow people to use pretty freely in various ways. For example, I had been reading up on the libration of the moon (the observed 'wobble' it undergoes as part of its normal orbit. This means more than 50% of the moons face is seen from Earth - in fact about 60%) and wanted to create a day-by-day sequence of images that showed what you would observe of the moons surface from Earth as both phase and libration changed. It so happens that NASA have a nice web interface that allows you to create hour-by-hour visualizations of the phase and libration of the moon based on their detailed moon surface topographic data. They also have nice video visualisations of these images.

Above is a series of these images from 9th May 2011 to 17th May 2011. Each image is at 0 hours UT. I have arranged the images in boustrophedon fashion beginning top left. I found that this was the best way I could find so that each step in the image sequence is immediately 'adjacent' to the previous step and the next one.

Note that these are not images captured from a ground based telescope, they are visualisations of data collected from a diverse set of experimental data - such as LOLA the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter measurements of moon topography. 

Created from NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio images from HERE.

German Printing 1485

The Vatican and Bodleian libraries have launched an online archive of ancient religious texts scanned at high resolution. Below is an image from a German bible printed in 1485. This is the first volume of a German incunable Bible, printed in Strasbourg in 1485 by Johann Gruninger. It contains a number of woodcuts painted in full colour, as well as decorated initials and rubrication.

Image from HERE

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Wells of Bolonchén, Campeche (1844)

More on Catherwood HERE and Bolonchén HERE.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The birth of scientific measurement

Early in 1609 a leading Renaissance explorer, mathematician and natural philosopher turned his recently acquired optical device skywards to study the surface of the Moon. The observations he recorded are the first ever to be made with a technology that could extend the natural resolution of the naked eye. The observer was a relatively little known Englishman called Thomas Harriot (ca 1560 - 1621). Just a few months after Harriot made his observations, the much better known Renasissance natural philosopher Galileo Galilei turned his telescope to look at the surface of the moon and recorded what he saw. Harriot and Galileo were not the first astronomers, but they were the first to show how the naked eye could be definitively outclassed in observational power by an eye that was equipped with a magnifier.  Although measurement per se is thousands of years old, Harriot was the first to use measurement in a distinctively modern and scientific manner. 

Images from HERE

Scientific measurement is defined by the use of specialised instruments that extend our innate human capacity to resolve differences. In the case of the telescopes used by Harriott and Galileo the improved resolution led them to see features on the surface of the moon that simply could never have been seen before by human beings. Improved optical resolution led directly to scientific discovery.

The relationship between scientific measurement and resolution is not just nostalgic and historical, there is an integral connection between the two:
The history of science over the centuries can be written in terms of improvements in resolution... Scientific resolution has increased an average 10,000,000 to 100,000,000 times per century in each of the 4 centuries since Galileo. (Edward Tufte -  Visual Explanations 2003)

The pursuit of resolution drives science on today. The Large Hadron Collider search for Higgs Boson and the Map of the Universe are examples.

Within a matter of months of each other, and completely independently, Thomas Harriot and Galileo began the scientific study of the surface of the moon, more broadly observational astronomy and also scientific measurement. 

Although Harriot has priority over Galileo for this landmark in human history, he did not publish his observations as rapidly, coherently and comprehensively as Galileo did.  Thomas Harriott was known by his contemporaries to be both brilliant and seemingly uninterested in claiming priority for his work, much of which was later re-discovered by others. He left a disorganised but rich legacy of work in optics, astronomy, exploration and mathematics. It is only over the past few decades that a fuller appreciation has developed of the quality of his scientific and mathematical work. 

A taste of more recent scholarly interest in Harriot can be gleaned from the articles and bibliography in the volume edited by Robert Fox Thomas Harriot and His World: Mathematics, Exploration, and Natural Philosophy in Early Modern England.

Sunday, 24 November 2013


 Image Credit NASA - From HERE

Michael Light is an American photographer who published a book called Full Moon in 1999. Light had obtained permission from NASA to work with the original photographic master negatives from the Moon missions. He created very large digital prints from the images and made a traveling exhibition of them. A selection of the prints are on permanent exhibit at the America Museum of Natural History in New York.

From Lights website:

FULL MOON offers a single composite journey to the Moon and back comprised of imagery from the 9 actual Apollo missions, along with Earth orbital imagery from the Gemini missions.  One of the primary goals of the project was to think about the some 33,000 Apollo images in terms of the traditions and meanings of landscape representation, rather than science, cold-war politics, and exploration alone.

The site is here - FULL MOON

A pocket Map of the Universe

One of my favourite artefacts is the set of pop-out maps made by PopOut products. They have cleverly identified both a need - high resolution spatial data in a pocket friendly format without the need for connectivity or power (i.e. a map) with a way of packaging it into a pocket sized unit.

The company was founded in 1992 - according to the company history:
1992 - Having spotted a need to cure what he calls 'Map Stress Syndrome' after watching numerous tourists around the City of Bath, England, battling with oversized maps, founder Derek Dacey recalls the invaluable miniature charts he used during his days as a commercial pilot. Aiming to bring this level of usability to the city map market, a small team of designers is recruited to realise what would soon become the PopOut.
Here is an example of the PopOut map of London UK showing the cunning folding mechanism that allows the centre of London to be packed into the pocket sized format. Good old fashioned ingenuity, high quality printing, paper and card put to great use. 

Copyright Compass Maps Ltd.

Pretty cool - but not expansive. 

Below is the Mother of all Pocket Maps. Created in 2005 it shows the whole of the known Universe. Moving out from the centre of the Earth in powers of ten multiples of the radius of the Earth (6371 Kilometres). 

 Further details can be found in the paper HERE.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The first recorded observation of the moons surface in 1609

On the evening of July 26th 1609 the Englishman Thomas Harriot made a sketch of the surface of the  moon as he had observed it through a telescope. This was four months before Galileo did the same.

Copyright Lord Egremont, Petworth House Archives HMC 241/9 fol 26. West Sussex Record Office, Chichester

More HERE.

The Face of the Moon

John Russell (1745 –  1806) was an English painter and member of the Royal Academy who specialised in oil and pastel portraits. He was also a gifted amateur astronomer who worked to make an accurate record of the lunar surface he was observing through his telescopes. 

One of Russell's masterpieces is a detailed pastel of the moons surface measuring 5ft that he completed in 1795.

More detail HERE.

Below is one of Russell's observational drawings, from July 10th 1787 (from HERE).

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Things exist whole and entire within it...

Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) was an English engraver who used metal-engraving tools on boxwood that was cut across the grain - a major innovation in how illustrations were printed.

Bewick is best known for his illustrated volumes on the History of British Birds. Along with the main subjects of the book, the birds, Bewick also included numerous tiny and beautifully engraved vignettes which helped pad out the visual space of the pages.
"The crucial point about Bewick's vignettes is that they don't have a defined edge. They're not bounded by a formal rectangle or oval... The image's edge is the edge of a rock, a hill, a bush, a tree. Or sometimes, with a stretch of ground or water or sky, the image just fades out at the margin.
Either way, unlike most pictures, these vignettes lack a window frame. The picture is just an extract. The scene continues off-picture. Not so the vignette. In the vignette, the scene does not lead off-picture. You notice how, in Bewick, things like trees and houses are never half-cutoff by the edge of the image, to suggest that the world goes on. Things exist whole and entire within it".
Tom Lubbock The Independent 15th December 2006 (HERE).

Below, one of Bewick's Vignettes, apparently of Bewick himself, as a thirsty traveler drinking from his hat, drawn and engraved by Bewick (1797) from HERE.

One of the remarkable features of these Vignettes is how small they are - in 1971 the Black Cat Press published a limited edition miniature book containing fifteen vignettes printed from original Bewick blocks on Japanese paper. The book was bound in red Moroccan leather and measured just 66mm x 54mm.

Dynamic projections of 3D onto 2D (or a Bird Ballet)

The French film maker Neels Castillon has made a beautiful short film on the movements of thousands of starlings in the evening in the skies around Marseille.

The film is a series of images of a complex and dynamic three dimensional structure - the flock of individually moving starlings - projected onto a two dimensional plane - the CCD chip of the (mainly) stationary video camera.

Below is a set of stills from the video and below that the original film.

All images Copyright N. Castillion.

More background on the animal behaviour studies around this type of flocking (HERE). 

Friday, 15 November 2013

It's that time of year...

 Copyright M.G. Reed 2010

Saturday, 9 November 2013

"Emma, please insert NMR data here! where are they? and for this compound, just make up an elemental analysis … "

More rather bleak stuff on the state of scientific publishing - Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications. F.C. Fang, R. Grant Steen & A. Casadevall. (2012) PNAS. 109 No 42 17028-17033.

Casadevall and co-authors looked hard at more than 2,000 retracted biomedical research papers since 1977. Of the papers they looked at more than two-thirds were retracted because of fraud, suspected fraud, duplicate publication or plagiarism. Only a fifth of the retractions were the result of error. They estimated that the percentage of scientific papers being retracted due to fraud had increased about 10-fold since the early 1970's.
And some good pieces in the Guardian on the ongoing debates around post-publication peer review - enabled by blogs and sharp eyed readers of scientific journals.

Accusations of fraud spur a revolution in scientific publishing.

Not breaking news: many scientific studies are ultimately proved wrong!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Ninety Percent of everything is crud

Sturgeon's Law of Quality states that: 'Ninety percent of  everything is crud'. 

The last few posts here have shown that there is compelling evidence that Sturgeons Law of Quality applies to the peer reviewed papers that appear in our finest scientific journals.  

The original statement of this Law is below:

"... they say 'ninety percent of science fiction is crud.' Well, they're right. Ninety percent of science fiction is crud. But then ninety percent of everything is crud, and it's the ten percent that isn't crud that is important. and the ten percent of science fiction that isn't crud is as good as or better than anything being written anywhere."

Theodore Sturgeon 1953


Note that the Wikipedia article on Sturgeon's Law refers to this Law as 'Sturgeon's Revelation' with an additional adage being listed as Sturgeon's Law - Nothing is always absolutely so.

See also the OED entry HERE

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Science at-Large on Planet F345, Andromeda Galaxy, Year 3045268

John Ioannidis is on a roll. Ioannidis is a professor at Stanford School of Medicine who does a number of things - one of which is to expose what is wrong with current approaches to publishing science. In particular he enjoys finding methodological weaknesses and flaky statistics. He is the author of the excellent Why Most Published Research Findings Are False (HERE). 

Recently Ioannidis published a paper called Why Science Is Not Necessarily Self-Correcting HERE. The asbtract of this  paper begins "The ability to self-correct is considered a hallmark of science. However, self-correction does not always happen to scientific evidence by default". He goes on to describe a speculative future of science on Planet F345...

"Planet F345 in the Andromeda galaxy is inhabited by a highly intelligent humanoid species very similar to Homo sapiens sapiens. Here is the situation of science in the year 3045268 in that planet. Although there is considerable growth and diversity of scientific fields, the lion’s share of the research enterprise is conducted in a relatively limited number of very popular fields, each one of that attracting the efforts of tens of thousands of investigators and including hundreds of thousands of papers. Based on what we know from other civilizations in other galaxies, the majority of these fields are null fields—that is, fields where empirically it has been shown that there are very few or even no genuine nonnull effects to be discovered, thus whatever claims for discovery are made are mostly just the result of random error, bias, or both. The produced discoveries are just estimating the net bias operating in each of these null fields. Examples of such null fields are nutribogus epidemiology, pompompomics, social psychojunkology, and all the multifarious disciplines of brown cockroach research—brown cockroaches are considered to provide adequate models that can be readily extended to humanoids. Unfortunately, F345 scientists do not know that these are null fields and don’t even suspect that they are wasting their effort and their lives in these scientific bubbles.

Young investigators are taught early on that the only thing that matters is making new discoveries and finding statistically significant results at all cost. In a typical research team at any prestigious university in F345, dozens of pre-docs and post-docs sit day and night in front of their powerful computers in a common hall perpetually data dredging through huge databases. Whoever gets an extraordinary enough omega value (a number derived from some sort of statistical selection process) runs to the office of the senior investigator and proposes to write and submit a manuscript. The senior investigator gets all these glaring results and then allows only the manuscripts with the most extravagant results to move forward. The most prestigious journals do the same. Funding agencies do the same. Universities are practically run by financial officers that know nothing about science (and couldn’t care less about it), but are strong at maximizing financial gains. University presidents, provosts, and deans are mostly puppets good enough only for commencement speeches and other boring ceremonies and for making enthusiastic statements about new discoveries of that sort made at their institutions. Most of the financial officers of research institutions are recruited after successful careers as real estate agents, managers in supermarket chains, or employees in other corporate structures where they have proven that they can cut cost and make more money for their companies. Researchers advance if they make more extreme, extravagant claims and thus publish extravagant results, which get more funding even though almost all of them are wrong.

No one is interested in replicating anything in F345. Replication is considered a despicable exercise suitable only for idiots capable only of me-too mimicking, and it is definitely not serious science. The members of the royal and national academies of science are those who are most successful and prolific in the process of producing wrong results. Several types of research are conducted by industry, and in some fields such as clinical medicine this is almost always the case. The main motive is again to get extravagant results, so as to license new medical treatments, tests, and other technology and make more money, even though these treatments don’t really work. Studies are designed in a way so as to make sure that they will produce results with good enough omega values or at least allow some manipulation to produce nice-looking omega values.

Simple citizens are bombarded from the mass media on a daily basis with announcements about new discoveries, although no serious discovery has been made in F345 for many years now. Critical thinking and questioning is generally discredited in most countries in F345. At some point, the free markets destroyed the countries with democratic constitutions and freedom of thought, because it was felt that free and critical thinking was a nuisance. As a result, for example, the highest salaries for scientists and the most sophisticated research infrastructure are to be found in totalitarian countries with lack of freedom of speech or huge social inequalities—one of the most common being gender inequalities against men (e.g., men cannot drive a car and when they appear in public their whole body, including their head, must be covered with a heavy pink cloth). Science is flourishing where free thinking and critical questioning are rigorously restricted, since free thinking and critical questioning (including of course efforts for replicating claimed discoveries) are considered anathema for good science in F345."

Of course if science on Earth was performed today like it is on F345 it would be both depressing and very difficult to accurately discern the difference between real-science and psuedo-science.

 Image of Andromeda from HERE

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Current trends in the reliability of science

A nice paper HERE by  Björn Brembs, Katherine Button and Marcus Munafò called "Deep impact: unintended consequences of journal rank".  Go download it.

Their Abstract reads:

Most researchers acknowledge an intrinsic hierarchy in the scholarly journals (“journal rank”) that they submit their work to, and adjust not only their submission but also their reading strategies accordingly. On the other hand, much has been written about the negative effects of institutionalizing journal rank as an impact measure. So far, contributions to the debate concerning the limitations of journal rank as a scientific impact assessment tool have either lacked data, or relied on only a few studies. In this review, we present the most recent and pertinent data on the consequences of our current scholarly communication system with respect to various measures of scientific quality (such as utility/citations, methodological soundness, expert ratings or retractions). These data corroborate previous hypotheses: using journal rank as an assessment tool is bad scientific practice. Moreover, the data lead us to argue that any journal rank (not only the currently-favored Impact Factor) would have this negative impact. Therefore, we suggest that abandoning journals altogether, in favor of a library-based scholarly communication system, will ultimately be necessary. This new system will use modern information technology to vastly improve the filter, sort and discovery functions of the current journal system.

And their Conclusions

While at this point it seems impossible to quantify the relative contributions of the different factors influencing the reliability of scientific publications, the current empirical literature on the effects of journal rank provides evidence supporting the following four conclusions: (1) journal rank is a weak to moderate predictor of utility and perceived importance; (2) journal rank is a moderate to strong predictor of both intentional and unintentional scientific unreliability; (3) journal rank is expensive, delays science and frustrates researchers; and, (4) journal rank as established by IF violates even the most basic scientific standards, but predicts subjective judgments of journal quality.

The following Figure from their paper shows (A) Exponential fit for PubMed retraction notices (data from and (D) Linear regression with confidence intervals between Impact Factor and Retraction Index (data provided by Fang and Casadevall, 2011).

Friday, 4 October 2013

Cosmic View (1957)

Long before Charles and Ray Eames made 'Powers of Ten' (1968 & 1977) a Dutch writer called Kees Boeke wrote Cosmic View, it was published in 1957. It also inspired the computer game Spore.

The Introduction was by Arthur H. Compton:


What are we? Where do we live? Who are our neighbors? Children and grown-ups, we all ask these questions.

The answers that Kees Boeke gives are only the beginning of the story, but that beginning is straightforward and clear. The author shows us a series of pictures of a little girl as seen from different distances. Around her are the things that form her world. We see her also as it were from within, showing the parts she is made of. These various views present one school child in an immense range of perspectives. We begin to understand how big things are and how we are related to them.

It is not easy to do what the author has done so well, to tell accurately and in simple language what the world is like. Here is a reliable framework to which further knowledge can be added. In describing this framework, the author has gone as far as the present state of our knowledge permits. Fifty years ago our cosmic view would have been much more limited. Nothing could have been drawn with confidence in pictures 20 to 26 or in pictures -8 to -14. There is reason to question whether we shall ever be able to draw what would be the next pictures, 27 or -14.

So it is that only now, in our day, we can see ourselves so clearly. In this immense and varied universe we find ourselves indeed one with other boys and girls, other men and women. In showing us how we ourselves look in perspective, Kees Boeke as a skillful teacher helps us also to know how and what our neighbors are.

The author deserves our thanks for giving us his answers to our questions in this fascinating and understandable form.


A full set of the images and text are HERE.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Data to Life

I have just published a new book called Data to Life with  a long term collaborator and friend of mine Joss Langford. The back cover blurb:
Digital technologies are becoming ever more integrated into our daily lives. Wearable devices, big data and the Internet of Things are poised to create a myriad of personalised services in health, wellness, commerce and leisure. These will have the potential to deliver huge benefits to society, but there are real and growing concerns they could open the door to Big Brother. Starting with the simplest atoms of behaviour, Data to Life covers a remarkable breadth of topics: the significance of daily rituals, a taxonomy of everyday life and tools for behaviour change. It presents a radical new roadmap for collecting and handling personal data that protects the interests of both individuals and businesses. 

A typical two-page spread below.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Swiss Topographic Maps

Edward Tufte argues that the Swiss National mountain maps:  

"... provide a standard of excellence for serious information displays. Specifically:
- all about content
- high-resolution
- vigorous expression of third dimension
- local details always imbedded in larger context
- use of appropriate light colors to avoid optical clutter
- realistic, content-driven colors
- smart, graceful typography done by serious typographers
- size of type proportional to size of object labeled (type is quantified)
- intense quantitative data by means of contour lines (at sparkline resolution)
- contours = sparklines that flow in three dimensions!
- thorough, natural integration of words, numbers, depictions
- shows intense local data information in position without annoying pop-ups
- zero chartjunk, all pixels carrying content
- many exact numbers provided (labels for contour lines, and the height of mountain peaks)
- avoids dequantification found in much datviz stuff
- all about content
- great content (the Swiss Alps!)
- open-source, non-proprietary formats
- driven by content, a spirit of public service, pride in the forever craft of cartography
- not driven by marketplace ethics, not driven by focus groups".
They are available HERE including 1957 vintage topographic maps for purchase.

Thursday, 12 September 2013


ImageQuilts is a new site and Google Chrome App for creating 'Quilts' of images obtained from Google image searches. Some examples below.

Josef Albers

Sorting Algorithms

Monday, 2 September 2013

A Quincuncial Projection of the Sphere

The Quincuncial projection of the sphere is a way of projecting what is on the surface of a sphere (like the surface of the Earth) onto a square, or more accurately onto a tessellation of squares. 

It was invented in 1879 by the American polymath and measurement scientists Charles Sanders Peirce. His illustration of the projection is shown below.According to Peirce, his projection has the following properties:

1. The whole sphere is presented on repeating squares.
2. The part where the exaggeration of scale amounts to double that at the centre is only 9% of the area of the sphere, against 13% for Mercator's projection and 50% for the stereographic.
3. The angles are exactly preserved.
4. The curvature of lines representing great circles is, in every case, very slight, over the greater part of their length.

In addition it can be tessellated in all directions.
Image from HERE.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Heaney's Beowolf

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

An Oak Fern printed directly from Nature (1857)

Nature printing is a process whereby a natural object is somehow used directly to create a print (HERE).

Below is a nature printed image of an Oak Fern (Polypodium Dryopteris) from a book by Thomas Moore (1821-1887) - The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland; Edited by John Lindley. Nature-printed by Henry Bradbury. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1857. 

A digitised copy of the book is available HERE.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A Nearly perfect Book

A great piece HERE on the Arion Press in San Francisco - a fine art letterpress printer and publisher. 

In 1970 the Arion Press published an edition of Melville's Moby Dick:
To study the Arion Press edition of Moby-Dick today is to have an almost sacred experience of the power of physical print. Its ink is black, with wide margins and initial letters in a dark, aqueous blue. The paper is a faint blue-gray, like the surface of the ocean on a cloudy day. When the reader lifts a page to turn it, the watermark of a whale shimmers through. Because the letter w is particularly wide, Hoyem made the abutting spaces slightly narrower; every semicolon has a hairsbreadth gap before it, as if signaling the partial stop. The result is something that one would not think possible: a nearly perfect book.
an image from the book [HERE].

Friday, 23 August 2013

A New Candide

From next week the Royal Shakespeare Company are putting on Candide, a new play by Mark Ravenhill inspired by Voltaire's book of the same name.

 Image: Royal Shakespeare Company

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Structure, Substructure, Superstructure

Cyril Stanley Smith (1903-1992) was a historian of science and quantitative metallurgist. 

One of his classic books is Search for Structure: Selected Essays on Science, Art and History (1981, ISBN 0-262-19191-1, MIT Press).

The object stands at the very point where the structures and properties of matter resulting from forces between atoms are in visible interaction with man's ideas and purposes. An artists work preserves a record of both - one in the outer form and decoration, the other in the texture and color and fine contours that result from the interpley of atomic, molecular and crystalline forces.
Below is an image from one of his papers: Structure, Substructure, Superstructure published in the Rev. Mod. Phys. 36, pp 524–532 in 1964. The paper begins as follows:

Anyone who works with the microscope for an intellectual or practical purpose will frequently pause for a moment of sheer enjoyment of the patterns that he sees, for they have much in common with formal art.

CAPTION: Raft of tiny uniform soap bubbles showing 'grain boundaries' where zones of differing orientation meet.


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