Monday, 13 August 2018

Eliminative Induction (2012)

From a textbook by Arial Caticha, Entropic Inference and the Foundations of Physics (HERE).

The framework for inference will be constructed by a process of eliminative induction. The objective is to design the appropriate tools, which in our case, means designing the theory of probability and entropy. The different ways in which probabilities and entropies are defined and handled will lead to different inference schemes and one can imagine a vast variety of possibilities. To select one we must first have a clear idea of the function that those tools are supposed to perform, that is, we must specify design criteria or design specifications that the desired inference framework must obey. Finally, in the eliminative part of the process one proceeds to systematically rule out all those inference schemes that fail to comply with the design criteria — that is, that fail to perform as

There is no implication that an inference framework designed in this way is in any way “true”, or that it succeeds because it achieves some special intimate agreement with reality. Instead, the claim is pragmatic: the method succeeds to the extent that the inference framework works as designed and its performance will be deemed satisfactory as long as it leads to scientific models that are empirically adequate. Whatever design criteria are chosen, they are meant to be only provisional — just like everything else in science, there is no reason to consider them immune from further change and improvement.

The pros and cons of eliminative induction have been the subject of considerable philosophical research. On the negative side, eliminative induction, like any other form of induction, is not guaranteed to work. On the positive side, eliminative induction adds an interesting twist to Popper’s scientific methodology. According to Popper scientific theories can never be proved right, they can only be proved false; a theory is corroborated only to the extent that all attempts at falsifying it have failed. Eliminative induction is fully compatible with Popper’s notions but the point of view is just the opposite. Instead of focusing on failure to falsify one focuses on success: it is the successful falsification of all rival theories that corroborates the surviving one. The advantage is that one acquires a more explicit understanding of why competing theories are eliminated.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Les Poissons (1876)

A Crucian carp (Carassius carassius) from Les Poissons : synonymie - description - mœurs - frai - pêche -iconographie, des espèces composant plus particulièrement la faune française

By H. Gervais, and R. Boulart. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Keswick Codlin (1876)

A Keswick Codlin, from The Herefordshire pomona, containing coloured figures and descriptions of the most esteemed kinds of apples and pears.

Bull, Edith G. 
Bull, Henry Graves, 1828--188 
Ellis, Alice B. 
Hogg, Robert, 1818-1897 
Jakeman and Carver. 

Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club. 


Coloured figures of English fungi or mushrooms (1797)

Coloured figures of English fungi or mushrooms. 
James Sowerby (1757-1822)

Publication info London,Printed by J. Davis,1797-[1809]
BHL Collections:
New York Botanical Garden


Saturday, 21 July 2018

W. G. Sebald, Humorist (2017)

A great piece about the work of W.G. Sebald in the New Yorker by James Wood (HERE).

Friday, 20 July 2018

Your whole being rests lightly on your float, but not drowsily (1994)

Below is a wonderful description by the poet Ted Hughes, of the meditative state that you can slip into when float fishing.

Settling the mind is a valuable thing to be able to do – but something you are never taught in school and not many people do it naturally. I am not very good at it, but I did acquire some skill in it. Not in school, but while I was fishing. I fished in still water, in those days, with a float. As you know, all such a fisherman does is stare at his float for hours on end. I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours staring at a float – a dot of red or yellow the size of a lentil, ten yards away. Those of you who have never done it, might think it a very drowsy past time. It is anything but that.

All the little nagging impulses, that are normally distracting to your mind dissolve. They have to dissolve if you are to go on fishing. If they do not, then you cannot settle down: you get bored and pack up in a bad temper. But once they have dissolved, you enter one of the orders of bliss.

Your whole being rests lightly on your float, but not drowsily: very alert, so that the least twitch of the float arrives like an electric shock. And you are not only watching the float. You are aware in a horizonless and slightly mesmerized way, like listening to the double bass in orchestral music, of the fish below there in the dark. At every moment your imagination is alarming itself with the size of the rings slowly leaving the weeds and approaching your bait. Or with the world of beauties down there, suspended in total ignorance of you. And the whole purpose of this concentrated excitement, in this arena of apprehension and unforeseeable events, is to bring up some lovely solid thing, like living metal, from a world were nothing exists but those inevitable facts which raise life out of nothing and return it to nothing.

Winter Pollen, Occasional Prose. Faber (1994). 

Image from the oldest surviving fishing manual in English, Dame Juliana Berners Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle, published by Wynkyn de Worde in Westminster in 1496

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Patience (After Sebald) - (2012)

Here is the full version of Grant Gee's wonderfully haunting documentary film Patience (After Sebald), built around the ideas and places which run through W.G. Sebald's book The Rings of Saturn. 

Monday, 16 July 2018

Experimental Wood Type Prints of Jack Stauffacher

From the excellent Letterform Archive (HERE). Wood Type Prints by Jack Stauffacher.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

A Life in Design

W.A. Dwiggins, A Life in Design. From HERE.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Rings of Saturn

Below an amazing thematic map of W.G. Sebald's Rings of Saturn - from HERE.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The symmetrical foundation of Measure, Probability and Quantum theories (2017)

A short, but foundational paper by John Skilling and Kevin Knuth (HERE). The abstract reads:

Quantification starts with sum and product rules that express combination and partition. These rules rest on elementary symmetries that have wide applicability, which explains why arithmetical adding up and splitting into proportions are ubiquitous. Specifically, measure theory formalises addition, and probability theory formalises inference in terms of proportions. 

Quantum theory rests on the same simple symmetries, but is formalised in two dimensions, not just one, in order to track an object through its binary interactions with other objects. The symmetries still require sum and product rules (here known as the Feynman rules), but they apply to complex numbers instead of real scalars, with observable probabilitiesbeing modulus-squared (known as the Born rule). The standard quantum formalism follows. There is no mystery or weirdness, just ordinary probabilistic inference.

Thomas Bayes and the crisis in science (2018)

It is improbable, but nonetheless true, that one of the most entertaining and informed articles I have yet read about how the avoidance of Bayesian methods has contributed to the much discussed "crisis in science", has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement. The article is by David Papineau and it is HERE.  

Saturday, 23 June 2018

The Ends of the World (2017)

Above, an incredible descriptive re-imagining of the enormous asteroid that ended the dominance of  the dinosaurs, from Peter Brannen's book The Ends of the World (HERE).

Friday, 22 June 2018

Letters to A Young Poet (1903)

Leave to your opinions their own quiet undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be pressed or hurried by anything. Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.

By Rainer Maria Rilke

Coloring Sudokus (2018)

From the great Fronkonstin blog of experiments in the R language. By Antonio Sánchez Chinchón (HERE)

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Seven Deadly Sins of AI Predictions (2017)

I hear a lot about Artificial Intelligence (AI) these days. Much of it is ill informed nonsense. This superb piece by Rodney Brooks (HERE) is required reading for anyone who really wants to get a realistic grasp on what AI may or may not do, anytime soon.

Are We All Joyceans Here, Then? (2018)

James Joyce's vast, and almost impossible to imagine reading, epic Ulysses, has been read by some people. This short piece (HERE) in the Paris Review by Frankie Thomas is her story of how she read it in a seminar group at City College, New York.    

Ulysses itself begins:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called out coarsely:

—Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!

Friday, 15 June 2018

The Whole Art of Storytelling (2014)

Michael Dirda is a Pultizer prize winningAmerican critic. His writing is superb - he describes it as often achieving a Shaker like simplicity - which is about right. On Conan Doyle Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling is a slim, very well written and made, book by Dirda on his love of the books of Conan Doyle. (HERE).  

How to spot a perfect fake (2018)

A very interesting piece in the Guardian by Samanth Subramanian about the current state-of-the-art in Old Master forgery and forensics. (HERE)   

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Great Tidepool: the story of Ed Ricketts' scientific system (2014)

The Great Tidepool: the story of Ed Ricketts' scientific systemFrom a film of the same name by Steven and Mary Albert, here are a series of annotated diagrams that the filmmakers brought together from an analysis of Ed Ricketts' approach to ecological science. (HERE)

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Last Launch (2015)

Encounters with Goodness.
Yi-Fu Tuan

I was in Panama in 1959 studying the coastline. I needed to go to a sandbar separated from the mainland by a stretch of mangrove swamp. I waited for the tide to withdraw, so I could walk across. Hours later, having competed my survey of the sandbar, I packed my notebooks, camera, and compass for the return trip. 

To my surprise, I was confronted by an unfamiliar landscape. A rising tide had covered the swamp in one-to-two feet of water, and I would have to wade through the water and mud to get back to solid land. 

As I reluctantly prepared myself to take on the tide, a young fisherman approached, pushing an old bike. On its handlebar was a row of fish, which he no doubt intended to sell on the mainland. He spoke a language I didn't understand. His gestures, however, made it clear that he wanted me to sit on his bike so that he could push me through the swamp. 

He had to push hard. I could see his strained muscles and smell his sweat. As soon as we reached dry land, I got off the bike and dug into my wallet for a few dollars to give him. I looked through the sheaf of bills to find the right amount. When I turned around, he was nowhere to be seen. I have never forgotten his kindness. He was doing good. 

From The Last Launch By Yi-Fu Tuan (HERE).

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Étienne Léopold Trouvelot (1827-1895)

A piece on the French astronomical artist Étienne Léopold Trouvelot  (HERE)

Saturday, 2 June 2018

...prose written with the kind of attention you expect from a fiction writer or poet (2014)

In the simplest sense, what one learns by writing poetry is to pay attention to every word and to the cadence of every sentence - the shape of things. A paragraph is made not unlike the way you make a stanza of a poem. Literary nonfiction is prose written with the kind of attention you expect from a fiction  writer or poet.

From Radcliffe Magazine 2014 profile of Lewis Hyde (HERE).

Friday, 1 June 2018

The Gift

The Stones of Venice (1890

By John Ruskin. 

Image from HERE.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Sweet Cork of Thee (1951)

On the anniversary of Robert Gibbings death this year a piece in the Irish Times by Alannah Hopkin:
People often forget that Gibbings was Irish. Brian Lalor, author of Ink-stained Hands, the definitive history of Irish print-making, was challenged by an English academic at a conference in Dublin in 2007, who refused to believe that Gibbings was Irish, as he had produced archetypal English landscapes.

More images HERE.

Growth and Interaction in the World Economy: The Roots of Modernity (2002)

Angus Maddison (1926-2010) was a British economist who specialised in systematically collating detailed quantitative data on long term global economic history. His magnum opus is Contours of the World Economy, a sweeping 450 page summary of the growth and dynamics of the world economy from 1 AD to 2030, published in 2007 by Oxford University Press. In 2001 he had estimated that the world's output in the year 1 AD was $105.4 billion in 1990 prices.

A shorter, but similar and equally rigorous essay, by Maddison called Growth and Interaction in the World Economy: The Roots of Modernity is available HERE. The image above shows his Table 1. 


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Orange Trapper (2013)

A superb piece by John McPhee HERE about golf, golf balls and the Orange Trapper:
What came in the mail was only twenty-one inches long, with an orange head, a black grip, and a shaft that consisted of ten concentric stainless tubes with a maximum diameter of five-eighths of an inch. You could conduct an orchestra with it. It was beautiful. The orange head was a band of industrial-strength plastic, as obovate as a pear and slightly wider than a golf ball. A depression in its inside top was there to secure one side of a ball, but the genius of the device was in a working part, a bevelled “flipper” that came up through the throat and would waggle into place on the other side of the ball. The Orange Trapper worked two ways. It had no upside or downside. You could surround a golf ball with either side, then lift it up as if you were playing lacrosse with no strings. You could turn the head over—a hundred and eighty degrees—and the ball would generally stay put. But flip the thing over once more and the ball would always roll free. Made by JTD Enterprises, it could have been designed by Apple.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Dog and the Frisbee (2012)

An interesting paper by a couple of economists trying to understand how financial regulators can apply simple heuristics to avoid another financial crisis. Gerd Gigerenzer's fingerprints are all over it. 


Saturday, 26 May 2018

...prisoner to a seemingly endless supply of hype

HERE is a great article by Dr Micheal Moyner,  an anesthesiologist and physiologist at the Mayo Clinic in the US. Ostensibly about the collapse of Theranos, it is a damning indictment of how desperately hyped the world of biomedical innovation is. 

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


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