Monday, 11 November 2019

Milestones in the development of symbolic behaviour (2009)

HERE is an excellent paper by two archeaologists, Michael Chazan & Liora Kolska Horwitz, which describes a large and complex cave structure called Wonderwerk Cave, in Northern Cape Province, South Africa. The cave has thick deposits which have built up over about 2 million years, and it has clear evidence of human symbolic activity dating from about 180,000 years ago up until the present day. 

The 3D image is from a comprehensive 3D mapping made of the cave in 2005 (HERE).

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

In the presence of ancient living beings...

Last weekend I spent a few hours with my wife at Croft Castle in Herefordshire. This is a unique fortified house that has been occupied since 1066 by the Croft family. The views out from the house are over wooded hills and valleys towards the Brecon beacons. 

At the castle is a long avenue of ancient sweet chesnut trees, at least four hundred years old. It is humbling to walk down the avenue past living beings which were planted about the same time that a leading renaissance explorer, mathematician and natural philosopher was observing the surface of the moon at Syon Park in West London (this observer was the Englishman Thomas Harriot who drew what he saw of the moon through his telescope a few months before Galileo used his telescope to look at the surface of the moon and record what he saw). 

Image copyright Henk van Boeschoten from HERE.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Pulitzer prize advice for science writing (2019)

Here is some very useful advice for science writers from Pulitzer prize winning novellist Cormac McCarthy.

The Tyranny of Merit (2018)

An animated portion HERE of a longer talk by Michael Sandel - for the RSA.

A lively sense of the contingency of our lot conduces to a certain humility. The idea that ‘there but for the grace of God, or the accident of fortune, go I’. But a perfect meritocracy banishes all sense of gift or grace or luck; it diminishes our capacity to see ourselves as sharing a common fate. And so, it leaves little room for the solidarity that can arise when we reflect on the contingency of our talents and fortunes. This is what makes merit a kind of tyranny.

Monday, 30 September 2019

The War Stories of Evacuated Children (2019)

Eighty years ago, in September 1939, nearly 1.5 million children from cities across the UK were evacuated to safer towns and villages. This was a massive undertaking. And for children who were evacuated it has a massive impact on their lives. HERE in the New York Review of Books is a piece by the Brooklyn based illustrator Aubrey Nolan.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

The Public Life of Monkeys (2013)

A great site HERE by Zoe Sadokierski on the snow monkeys of the Nagano region of Japan.

Image Copyright Zoe Sadokierski.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Posters from Paddington Printshop (2019)

A good article in the Guardian on the Paddington Printshop (HERE).

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

The Problem With Sugar-Daddy Science (2019)

Oh dear. Yet another load of over-hyped nonsense. HERE is an excellent insider account and wider analysis by a crop scientist called Sarah Taber. Its funny, but one of the foundational problems that led Ronald Fisher to develop statistical experimental design was to disentangle the underlying factors leading to different levels of agricultural plant growth rates (see for example HERE).

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Ethical choices of problems (2019)

Work in progress from Edward Tufte.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Hear, All Ye People: Hearken, O Earth’ (2012)

An so-called experiment in the readability and trustworthiness of different font faces - regardless of the seriousness of the work, this reprinting of the essay is beautifully designed - HERE.

The Disruption Machine (2014)

People are fond of telling me that the pace of innovation today is faster than it has ever been. If your yardstick of innovation is the pace of change in smartphone design, then this is what it must feel like. I believe that really deep innovation, in common with many other creative human arts, has not improved. As the Canadian writer Robert Bringhurst once said about typography; ‘…like all the arts it is basically immune to progress, though it is not immune to change’. 

Innovation and tradition are equally vital aspects of human social life. They have existed as intertwined facets of human history for millenia. Edward Shils (1910 - 1995), was an American academic sociologist, who spent decades researching tradition. From one of his earlier papers, he says this:

All existing things have a past. Nothing which happens escapes completely from the grip of the past; some events scarcely escape at all from its grip. Much of what exists is a persistence or reproduction of what existed earlier.
Tradition is an idea we use to explain generally how things continue as they are. How things endure. Within our social setting, one of inertia and habitual behaviours, it is interesting to think about innovation – about human activity that leads to non-traditional action.  And the process of change that allows a new action to take hold, to become a new form of tradition. Shils goes on to explain: "All novelty is a modification of what has existed previously; it occurs and reproduces itself as novelty in a more persistent context".

One of the consequences of the way that humans change artefacts through history, is that nothing we create can be completely new. Every idea or object we conjure up is built upon what we have already learned socially. We can never go back to an imagined state of ignorance before we begin to innovate. 

HERE is an excellent, well researched and written, article that takes apart the "theory" of disruptive innovation. It is a superb antidote to the concept that disruption = innovation = progress. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Words Divide, Pictures Unite

Here are details of a new exhibition on the work of Marie Neurath - co-founder of Isotype graphic language. A nice write-up on Neurath and the exhibition HERE.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Version Galore

In 1978, I bought an album of Rocksteady songs that had been recorded in 1970 at the Treasure Isle Studios in Kingston Jamaica. This album, Version Galore, was by a legendary performer known as U-Roy, who used a mix of singing and chanting over existing musical tracks to raise the interest of the people attending the huge open air Sound System parties that are a core part of Jamaican city life. To me this music was almost literally from another planet.

Later, in the mid 1980s, I attended St Pauls Carnival in Bristol, and Notting Hill Carnival in West London. A core part of the experience is to be shaken by the massive custom built sound systems speaker stacks (which are called House of Joy).

Here, is a celebration in The Guardian of the role that sound systems play in Notting Hill Carnival - and a map of where to find them. 


Saturday, 17 August 2019

The Earth Rotating Beneath a Stationary Milky Way


A timelapse video that shows the Earth rotating beneath a stationary Milky Way from HERE.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Your letter was most welcome! — loaded with friendliness and with no requests or demands.

A brilliant form letter created by Robert Heinlein. From Craig Mod's Roden newsletter (Subscribe Here).

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

New Year's Eve Foxfires at the Changing Tree, Ōji (1857)

New Year's Eve Foxfires at the Changing Tree, Ōji by Utagawa Hiroshige. From the Met Museum (HERE).

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Vorticity 2 (2019)

The American photographer Mike Olbinski chases storms. Here is a fantastic compilation of his time lapse videos of wild stormy weather from spring 2018 and 2019.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

On the Humanities (1978)

At their most vivid, the [humanities] are like the arts as well as the sciences. The humanities are that form of knowledge in which the knower is revealed. All knowledge becomes humanistic when this effect takes place, when we are asked to contemplate not only a proposition but the proposer, when we hear the human voice behind what is being said. 

Charles Frankel, speech in Austin, Texas, December 1978.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

The one and only master of train station packing-tape calligraphy (2016)

The tale of the Japanese underground rail employee, Mr Shuetso Sato, who is an expert at creating beautifully finished signs for use in the train stations using as his major material a range of packing tapes of different colours (HERE).

Monday, 29 July 2019

African Shores (2019)

The latest album from the 70 year old Jamaican trombonist Vin Gordon is out now (HERE).

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Ease and Cheer (1927)

I have been reading A Primer for Forgetting by Lewis Hyde. It is superb. It is structured in four Notebooks, each of which is a collection of pieces by others that Hyde has found, or autobiographical sequences, or connecting prose. Here, is one of them:

"EASE AND CHEER." Emanuel Lasker was one of the greatest chess players of all time, holding the world championship for a full twenty-eight years beginning in 1894. His classic Manual of Chess, published in 1927, ends with some "final reflections on education in chess" that include this remark: "Chess must not be memorized. ... Memory is too valuable to be stocked with trifles. Of my fifty-seven years I have applied at least thirty to forgetting most of what I have learned or read, and since I succeeded in this I have acquired a certain ease and cheer which I should never again like to be without."

Copyright Lewis Hyde 2019.
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