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.