Wednesday 2 December 2015

Oldest known time-series


Monday 9 November 2015

Britannia depicta, or Ogilby improv`d; being a correct coppy of Mr. Ogilby`s Actual survey of all ye direct & principal cross roads in England and Wales (1720)

From 1720, the road from Lempster (now spelt Leominster) to Ludlow.

 Image from HERE.

A very high resoultion scan of this book is available HERE.

Monday 19 October 2015

The Story of the Season

Some excellent Data visualisations HERE by Anna Powell-Smith.

Below an interactive of the UK Football season, game by game and season by season  1993-2013.

Image copyright Anna Powell-Smith

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Henry Ospovat

Farewell sweet lass,Thy like ne'er was. For a sweet content, the cause of all my moan: Poor Corydon must live alone; Other help for him I see that there is none.

The artist and illustrator Henry Ospovat (1877-1909) was born to orthodox Jewish parents in Dvinsk, Russia (Daugavpils, Latvia), one of the most important centres of Jewish commerce and culture in the Russian Empire. The family moved to Manchester when Henry was 14 and he was apprenticed to a local commercial lithographer.  A wealthy member of the local Jewish community paid for Henry to attend evening classes in design and figure drawing at the Manchester Municipal School of Art.
With extreme enthusiasm he supplemented his class work with sketching in the street, tram and elsewhere, filling book after book with character studies, and making astonishing progress. Being of a retiring disposition, he mingled but little with his fellow students.
During the six years he studied in Manchester, Ospovat gained a local reputation for his book-plate and certificate designs. After completing his art exams with honours, he won a scholarship in 1897 to continue his studies at the National Art Training Schools (now the Royal College of Art) at South Kensington. At the Art Training School, Ospovat was `... subjected to unpleasant treatment by his fellow students'.

After about a year at the Art Training School, Ospovat left to work on a number of illustration commissions for publishers such as John Lane and J.M. Dent. Over the course of a few years he provided illustrations for volumes of Shakespeare's Sonnets (1899), Poems by Matthew Arnold (1900), Shakespeare's Songs (1901) and Robert Browning's  Men and Women (1903).  Later Ospovat became known in London for his caricatures of celebrities, including: Enrico Caruso; Harry Lauder; Kier Hardie and the strongman Georg Hackenschmidt. Ospovat also worked with Robert P. Gossop (1890-1922) who was studio manager for the publisher W.H. Smith. 

Henry Ospovat died of stomach cancer in 1909. On his death the writer Arnold Bennett wrote:
The death of that distinguished draughtsman and painter, Henry Ospovat, who was among the few who can illustrate a serious author without insulting him, ought not to pass unnoticed ... I never met Ospovat, but I was intimate with some of his friends while he was at South Kensington. In those days I used to hear `what Ospovat thought' about everything.
In 1911, a handsome limited edition portfolio of Ospovat's illustrations, caricatures, sketches and portraits were published with an appreciation written by his friend, the novelist Oliver Onions (1873-1961).  The volume included reproductions of many of his well known book illustrations and previously unpublished portraits and studies for portraits. This volume is the only substantial collection of Ospovat's work that is widely available. It is unburdened with even the most basic of Ospovat's biographical details. Onions wrote that:
There is no formal `Life' of him to be written. Any other record than this contemplated projection would be largely a record of inessentials, and a page would suffice for the unnecessary facts of his life.
Ospovat worked mainly in black & white, but Onions recounts that Ospovat;
... did, apparently miraculously, one day take a brush into the hand that cannot have been familiar with the feel of it, and produce a portrait that was an astonishment to those who had considered him to be a worker only in another medium.
A striking colour reproduction of this work, Portrait of a Musician, is included in the 1911 portfolio.


Bennett, A. (1917). Books and persons: being comments on a past epoch. 1908-1911 Chatto & Windus,  London.
Cadness, H. (1922). Some Modern Local Book Illustrations. Paper of The Manchester Literary Club. Vol. XLVIII. pp 154-155.
Onions, O. (1911). The Work of Henry Ospovat. Saint Catherine Press, London.
Rubinstein, W.D., Jolles, M.A. & Rubinstein, H.L. (Eds.) (2011) The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History.  London.

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics

Why is it that mathematics, which is a human construct in the form of theorems and equations, can possibly be so successful at describing in a quantitative manner the physical world?

Here are a couple of attempts at answering this:

Eugene Wigner: The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.

Richard Hamming: The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics.

and more recently.

Kevin H Knuth: The Deeper Roles of Mathematics in Physical Laws.

Time reflects the fact that everything does not happen at once. Space reflects the fact that everything does not happen to you.

At the far outer edges of my own knowledge, based on work that I did decades ago, I occasionally check out what the Information Physics community are up to. 

HERE is a presentation by Kevin H. Knuth (Information-Based Physics: An Intelligent Embedded Agent's Guide to the Universe) from a few years ago which shows you how deeply this community think about the foundations of physics, how we know about the world, why physical law is so closely connected to maths, how to make logical inferences about the world based on information. I will not pretend that I understand this, much less try and explain it. But somehow somewhere the principles that Knuth enunciates in English (before he goes on to explain in maths) appeal to my view of science.


I know about the universe because it influences me.
In fact, everything I know about the universe is conveyed via such influences.
Moreover, I cannot come to know about what does not influence me.


Everything I can know is completely describable in terms of how it influences me .


Information acts to constrain our beliefs You can believe anything you want… until you obtain information.


The nature of influence.
Constraints on the quantification of such influences.
Inferences that can be made from the information obtained via influences.

I know about the Universe, because it influences me.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

The Social Life of Animals (1938) - Warder Clyde Allee

On the west coast of Mexico, between the mainland and the Baja peninsula, is a long narrow body of water known variously as the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez, Mar de Cort├ęs and the Vermilion Sea. This narrow sea has a coastline of about 2,500 miles and a number of major rivers run into it, including the Colorado river that runs through the Grand Canyon. It is home to a unique marine ecosystem with an incredible variety of species.

Although there were earlier expeditions, the first thorough ecological study of this sea was a trip made in 1940 by a famous author and his marine biologist friend;
... modern marine biology in the Gulf of California had its birth with the remarkable pioneering expedition of Ed Ricketts and John Steinbeck aboard the Western Flyer.
Ricketts and Steinbeck began their six week trip from Monterey and passed key points at San Diego,    Point San Lazaro, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Refugio. During the trip, Ricketts, Steinbeck and the crew collected from 24 sites and catalogued more than 400 species. A year after their trip they published their findings in Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research. One expert on the marine biology of the area says; 
For more than thirty years, their expedition report was the only place anyone could turn for a synoptic view of invertebrate life in the Sea of Cortez.
Ed Ricketts (1897--1948) was born and brought up in Chicago. In 1917, towards the   of the first world war, he was drafted into the Army Medical Corps. After the war he was discharged and then attended a wide range of classes at the University of Chicago including zoology, philosophy, Spanish and German. However, it was the ecology lectures of Warder Clyde Allee that had the most profound impact on him. The last formal college class that Ricketts  took was Allee's course in animal ecology in 1922. Soon after, Ricketts left Chicago for the Monterey peninsula on the California coast.

Warder Clyde Allee (1885--1955) was a pioneering ecologist who made a number of detailed studies of the causes and types of animal aggregation and cooperation.  One of his seminal observations in the late 1920's was that goldfish grew faster in water that had previously held goldfish than in fresh water. This observation and later experiments became known as the    Allee Effect , a counter intuitive effect in which there is a positive correlation between population density and individual fitness.

In a recent monograph dedicated to the Allee Effect, it is defined as the idea that `the more individuals there are (up to a point), the better they fare'. The authors of the monograph explain that;  
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 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.
This volume is a transcription of a series of lectures that Allee gave at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1937. It is an attempt by this pioneering ecologist to present in plain language the results of his long term research project on animal co-operation, social behaviour and aggregation.  

The Social Life of Animals (1938) - Warder Clyde Allee

Brusca, R. C. (2007). Invertebrate Biodiversity in the Northern Gulf of California.  pp.  418-504, in, R. S. Felger  & W. Broyles (Eds.), Dry Borders. Great Natural Reserves of the Sonoran Desert. University of Utah Press. 

Courchamp, F., Berec, L.  & Gascoigne, J. (2009). Allee Effects in Ecology and Conservation. Oxford University Press.

Rodger, K.A. (2006). Breaking Through. Essays, Journals and Travelogues of Edward F. Ricketts.  University of California Press, Berkeley.  

The Stagnation of Digital Books

Craig Mod has been writing and publishing thoughtful essays on books and digital books for years now. Recently, he has published an essay on Aeon on his personal experience of trying to read books exclusively on Kindle for a number of years. The short answer is he has given up and gone back to real books. The long answer is here.

Thursday 24 September 2015


Sunday 13 September 2015

Obata's Yosemite

More on Chiura Obata HERE.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Scientific Fraud - Peter Medawar

A great piece HERE - an old one - by Peter Medawar on scientific fraud.

"The number of dishonest scientists cannot, of course, be known, but even if they were common enough to justify scary talk of ‘tips of icebergs’ they have not been so numerous as to prevent science’s having become the most successful enterprise (in terms of the fulfillment of declared ambitions) that human beings have ever engaged upon."


Monday 31 August 2015

Edward Tufte Graphics in R

R is one of the worlds most widely used statistical analysis and visualisation packages.
It is flexible and robust.
It is also freely available and has a broad and generous user community.
There are now a number of IDE's for working with the program (e.g. HERE).

Lukasz Piwek has just written some R code to implement the graphic layouts and design of Edward Tufte. HERE.


Sunday 16 August 2015

Sunset August 2015

Bardsey Island 2015

Sunday 9 August 2015

Hells Mouth

Monday 3 August 2015

Panorama from Rhiw, Llyn July 2015


 Image Copyright M.G. Reed 2015

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Chinese philosophy by Paul Carus (1902)

A comparison of the binary numbers of Liebniz and those of the Chinese Sage Zhou Dunyi  [in older romanisations also known as Cheu-tsz'] who lived in the Song dynasty 1017-1073.

Further insights in The History of Binary by Anton Glaser  HERE.

From Chinese philosophy. An exposition of the main characteristic features of Chinese thought by Paul Carus (HERE).

Sunday 12 July 2015

Tuesday 2 June 2015

The Atoll of Funafuti (1904)

Volume available HERE

Delle case de' contadini : trattato architettonico (1770)

Ferdinando Morozzi was a hydraulic engineer, mathematician, architect and cartographer who was born in 1723 in Sienna.  In 1766 , he studied of 'basin Arno and its devastating floods and in 1768 drew an accurate map of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany .

This volume from 1770 is a treatise on the homes of peasants

A full biography is HERE.

Image from HERE

Buttons & Pockets

Bernard Rudofsky was an American architect and observer of everyday life more HERE

Drawings by Bernard Rudofsky, 1940s. From HERE.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

The Early History of Personal Ornaments

Here is a great paper with detailed archeology of beads used for personal ornaments from 82,000 years ago!

Recent investigations into the origins of symbolism indicate that personal ornaments in the form of  perforated marine shell beads were used in the Near East, North Africa, and SubSaharan Africa at least 35 ka earlier than any personal ornaments in Europe. Together with instances of pigment use, engravings, and formal bone tools, personal ornaments are used to support an early emergence of behavioral modernity in Africa, associated with the origin of our species and significantly predating the timing for its dispersal out of Africa. Criticisms have been leveled at the low numbers of recovered shells, the lack of secure dating evidence, and the fact that documented examples were not deliberately shaped. In this paper, we report on 25 additional shell beads from four Moroccan Middle Paleolithic sites. We review their stratigraphic and chronological contexts and address the issue of these shells having been deliberately modified and used. We detail the results of comparative analyses of modern, fossil, and archaeological assemblages and microscopic examinations of the Moroccan material. We conclude that Nassarius shells were consistently used for personal ornamentation in this region at the end of the last interglacial. Absence of ornaments at Middle Paleolithic sites postdating Marine Isotope Stage 5 raises the question of the possible role of climatic changes in the disappearance of this hallmark of symbolic behavior before its reinvention 40 ka ago. Our results suggest that further inquiry is necessary into the mechanisms of cultural transmission within early Homo sapiens populations.

Monday 30 March 2015

Contemporary Chinese Seals

 Copyright Li Lanqing

From an exhibition at the British Museum (now closed) on Contemporary Chinese Seals (HERE)

Sunday 29 March 2015


A piece HERE on Robert Bringhurst and Mythology.

A myth is a theorem about the nature of reality expressed not in algebraic symbols or inanimate abstractions but in animate narrative form.... It is a means of understanding and elucidating the nature of the world.

Mythology. Robert Bringhurst p 791

Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada 2002
Edited William H. New
University Toronto Press

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Henry Ospovat

Henry Ospovat (1877-1909) was a little known painter and illustrator of Russian extraction. He died at 31. He was noted for his illustrations of the poems of Matthew Arnold and Shakespeare's Sonnets and Songs.  

From Shakespeare's Songs 1901.  HERE

Sunday 22 March 2015

The Nature & Art of Workmanship

From David Pye. The Nature and Art of Workmanship. CUP 1968.
If I must ascribe a meaning to the word craftsmanship, I shall say as a first approximation that it means simply workmanship using any kind of technique or apparatus, in which the quality of the result is not pre-determined, but depends on the judgment, dexterity and care which the maker exercises as he works. The essential idea is that the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making; and so I shall call this kind of workmanship 'The workmanship of risk': an uncouth phrase, but at least descriptive.

More on Pye HERE  and HERE

Photo:  David Pye/ Crafts Council 

Saturday 14 March 2015

The Scythe and the Rabbit

Just got a copy of The Scythe and the Rabbit (Simon de Colines and the Culture of the Book in Renaissance Paris) by Kay Amert, with an introduction by Robert Bringhurst (HERE). In addition to the great introduction, essays and details analysis, the book is beautifully designed and typeset in DF Rialto, designed by Giovanni di Faccio & Lui Karner in 1999 (HERE).

Below the frontispeice of Horae in laudem beatiss. semper virginis Mariae, published by Simon de Colines in Paris in 1525 from HERE


Tuesday 10 March 2015

Rue de la Sardine

 From Steinbeck, on writing.

In writing, habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. Consequently there must be some little quality of fierceness until the habit pattern of a certain number of words is established. There is no possibility, in me at least, of saying, “I’ll do it if I feel like it.” One never feels like awaking day after day. In fact, given the smallest excuse, one will not work at all. The rest is nonsense. Perhaps there are people who can work that way, but I cannot. I must get my words down every day whether they are any good or not.

John Steinbeck, Journals of the Grapes of Wrath

Below, cover of translation of Cannery Row.

Image from HERE

Interference Pattern 1958

Berenice Abbot (1898-1991) was an American photographer from Ohio, who was famous for her cityscapes (Penn Station, Manhattan Bridge, th Flatiron Building). In the 1950's she spent two years at MIT creating beautiful black and white photographs of basic physics experiments. Her images were displayed at MIT in 2012 in an exhibition HERE.

Also a write up in the Guardian HERE.

The image below is an interference pattern from 1958.

Friday 6 March 2015

Seven Ravens (2)

Wednesday 4 March 2015

The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood

Folklorists have a complex and internationally recognised system for classifying different folk tales - the ATU type index. This index has behind it the assumption that there are a discrete number of motifs from which different tales are constructed. For example, there are numerous folk tales based around the motif of brothers who were turned into birds (type 451).
Although there are commonalities between tales, a particular tale must begin somewhere. Told for the first time by someone. Because these tales are oral and have moved, diffused, changed, we will never know who. Or when. Or where.

The following paper uses advanced phylogenetic analysis, developed to analyse evolutionary relationships between species from molecular biology data, to analyse Little Red Riding Hood.

Researchers have long been fascinated by the strong continuities evident in the oral traditions associated with different cultures. According to the ‘historic-geographic’ school, it is possible to classify similar tales into “international types” and trace them back to their original archetypes. However, critics argue that folktale traditions are fundamentally fluid, and that most international types are artificial constructs. Here, these issues are addressed using phylogenetic methods that were originally developed to reconstruct evolutionary relationships among biological species, and which have been recently applied to a range of cultural phenomena. The study focuses on one of the most debated international types in the literature: ATU 333, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. A number of variants of ATU 333 have been recorded in European oral traditions, and it has been suggested that the group may include tales from other regions, including Africa and East Asia. However, in many of these cases, it is difficult to differentiate ATU 333 from another widespread international folktale, ATU 123, ‘The Wolf and the Kids’. To shed more light on these relationships, data on 58 folktales were analysed using cladistic, Bayesian and phylogenetic network-based methods. The results demonstrate that, contrary to the claims made by critics of the historic-geographic approach, it is possible to identify ATU 333 and ATU 123 as distinct international types. They further suggest that most of the African tales can be classified as variants of ATU 123, while the East Asian tales probably evolved by blending together elements of both ATU 333 and ATU 123. These findings demonstrate that phylogenetic methods provide a powerful set of tools for testing hypotheses about cross-cultural relationships among folktales, and point towards exciting new directions for research into the transmission and evolution of oral narratives.

Friday 20 February 2015

The Seven Ravens

The Seven Ravens is a fairy tale that was re-told by the Brothers Grimm. The synopsis from Wikipedia is as follows:
A peasant has seven sons and no daughter. Finally a daughter is born, but is sickly. The father sends his sons to fetch water for her to be baptized. In their haste, they drop the jug in the well. When they do not return, their father thinks that they have gone off to play and curses them and so they turn into ravens.

When the sister is grown, she sets out in search of her brothers. She attempts to get help first from the sun, which is too hot, then the moon, which craves human flesh, and then the morning star. The star helps her by giving her a chicken bone and tells her she will need it to save her brothers. She finds them on the Glass Mountain. She has lost the chicken bone and chops off one of her fingers to use as a key. She goes into the mountain, where a dwarf tells her that her brothers will return. She takes some of their food and drink and leaves in the last cup a ring from home.

When her brothers return, she hides. They turn back into human form and ask who has been at their food. The youngest brother finds the ring, and hopes it is their sister, in which case they are saved. She emerges, and they return home.
The tale also inspired an early German stop motion animated film (Die sieben Raben) that was created by the Diehl brothers in 1937, shortly before Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Image from Dan North's blog  HERE.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Saturday 7 February 2015

Profile of the Industrial Revolution

By the incomparable Buckminster Fuller - Profile of the Industrial Revolution as exposed by the chronological rate of acquisition of the basic inventory of cosmic absolutes - the 92 Elements.

The Long Now

The Long Now Foundation is an American not-for-profit that seeks "to become the seed of a very long-term cultural institution. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide a counterpoint to today's accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common".

The visualisation below shows their concept of now, nowadays and the long now (+/- 10,000 years from the present day - the year 02015).

Image Copyright Long Now Foundation.

On Kawara: Silence

A great review of an On Kawara exhibition called Silence at the Guggenheim in the Guardian HERE.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Pirates 1916

By Kendall Banning and Gustave Baumann

The Central Paradox of Data

The Central Paradox of Data states:

It is impossible to assess whether a given piece of data is any good or not, simply by inspection of the data alone.
In fact Data only has value when at least the following are true

It comes from a trusted source

You know how and why it was generated

It has not been corrupted

It is relevant to you

You are legally entitled to use it

If these are true then Data can become Information.

Saturday 17 January 2015


By John Milton 1634
Illustrated by Arthur Rackham 1921

Sunday 11 January 2015

Tom Dixon Bookmark

A very cool, gold anodised digitally cut bookmark by Tom Dixon.

Thursday 8 January 2015

The Earliest Ever Slopegraph? (1883)

Prompted by my digging on Slopegraphs, I have pushed even further back than 1914 and found this - from Scribner's statistical atlas of the United States, showing by graphic methods their present condition and their political, social and industrial development by Fletcher W. Hewes and Henry Gannett. Published in 1883. 

The Statistical Atlas for the previous census, published in 1870, did not have a plot like this. 
Available on the Library of Congress website (HERE).

A low resolution version of the whole plot is shown below.

A high-resolution portion of the plot is shown below.

 This is a far more accomplished Slopegraph than Willard Brinton's simplified version from 1914. 

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts (1914)

An early example of a slopegraph, designed to highlight changes in population over time, created by Willard Cope Brinton - in his book Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts (HERE).

Edward Tufte has a discussion on this type of graphic HERE. According to Tufte a slopegraph; "compares changes over time for a list of nouns located on an ordinal or interval scale".


Tuesday 6 January 2015

Empire Bolt, Nut and Rivet Company

HERE is a hand illustrated history of the Empire Bolt, Nut and Rivet company. Below is a hand rendered and washed image of a Large Semi-Finished Nut.

The Uncommon Life of Common Objects

Akiko Busch is a writer on design, architecture and the everyday items that we live with. her 2005 book The Uncommon Life of Common Objects: Essays on Design and the Everyday has chapters on the design of everyday items; video camera, mobile phone, vegetable peeler, chair, a refrigerator. 

Here is a two-page spread from the book on the backpack.

Image Copyright Akiko Busch.


Monday 5 January 2015

A Hand Illustrated Walt Whitman by Allen Crawford

A great piece in the Guardian about a hand illustrated and lettered version of Walt Whitman's long poem Song of Myself by Allen Crawford.

Image Copyright A. Crawford.

Thursday 1 January 2015

Happy New Year

George Bickham (Snr) Sot's Paradise 1707.


A great write up HERE on this type of Medley Print.