Thursday 30 December 2021

Get Back (1969)

What Brain Eno calls scenius emerges within human groups who share a common space and understanding of how to make a particular type of artefact. They share traditional knowledge, but are not limited by this tradition. The group uses the tools and techniques which their wider peer group also use, but they push at the boundaries and one or more of the individuals in the group begin to modify and change what they have inherited. 

From my own experience of innovation in science and technology, Eno’s idea of scenius rings true, and others with hands-on experience of innovation will also recognise what Eno describes. Whilst in the midst of making an innovation there is chaos and frustration, but also a palpable energy, and a feeling that something useful and new is in the process of emerging. The group responds positively to these attempts to change a shared tradition, and a creative energy is unlocked. The peer pressure acting within the group is not constrictive, acting to keep everyone within the bounds of traditionally accepted norms, but expansive. 

In Eno’s letter about scenius, he describes a set of ethnographic observations he would like to make: ‘...I would love to be involved in making something to explore this idea - to support my thesis that new ideas come into being through a whole host of complicated circumstances, accidents, small incremental contributions made in isolation (as well as gifted individuals, of course) that in total add up to something qualitatively different: something nobody has ever seen before and which could not have been predicted from the elements that went to make it up’.

It is only with the development of film and audio recording technology that this idea of Eno’s has been possible. One unusually well documented example of the innovations made by a mature scenius was recorded early in 1969. The Beatles had decided to create and rehearse 14 songs to play in front of a live audience for a TV special. They planned to record the whole process on film and began on 2nd January 1969. The original deadline for the TV special was 24th January. The filmmaker they worked with, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, recorded extensive film and audio footage of this period of work by the Beatles, which he used for his 1970 documentary Let It Be. The full archive of more than 60 hours of film and 150 hours of audio tapes has recently been remastered and edited into an 8 hour long 3-part documentary called Get Back by Peter Jackson. This film is a remarkable document of the interpersonal dynamics of creativity and innovation within the scenius that surrounded the Beatles. 

The rehearsal sessions began at Twickenham Studios on 2nd January. After a few days of desultory progress, early on the 7th January, we see a seated Paul McCartney in a yellow sweater begin to strum his bass guitar as if it was a six string rhythm guitar. George and Ringo are sitting very close to him, and John Lennon has yet to arrive for the rehearsal. While McCartney is playing the riff, he is tapping his left foot to keep time, and he then starts to accompany himself with a vocal melody made up of indistinct, and maybe nonsense lyrics. In response to what McCartney is doing, Ringo looks bemused and George yawns. Around this tight inner circle of three Beatles, studio technicians, the band’s road manager and roadies are wandering about plugging in equipment. 

After a minute and a half of strumming and warbling, Paul pauses for a few bars whilst he keeps his foot tapping, and then he restarts the riff. He now begins to sing that in hindsight sound like one of the early verses in their song Get Back. George Harrison begins to tentatively play along. Over the footage, we hear George commenting on what Paul has been doing: ‘Yeah it’s good, it’s you know, musically man it’s great’. 

Within two minutes of Paul starting, Ringo begins clapping along and George more enthusiastically strums his guitar. Just then, Paul begins singing ‘get back, get back to where you once belonged’. Moments later, Ringo begins to harmonise and George is now adding guitar motifs in time with Paul’s riff. The footage cuts to what seems to be just a few moments later. Ringo is now playing a beat on the drums and George is adding guitar stabs. At that point, John Lennon arrives at the rehearsal in a fur coat, jeans and tennis shoes, sits down and begins playing along. All of a sudden, as observers we realise that surprisingly we have just witnessed the very first stages of the spontaneous composition of Get Back

Later that January, after they have moved rehearsals to a makeshift studio in the basement of the Apple corporation building in Saville Row, we see Lennon and McCartney iteratively develop the lyrics of the song. They incorporate elements of nonsense, play with different phrasing, modify the guitar accompaniment, include a protest song element as a response to a speech by Enoch Powell's. Yet the core of the song remains the same. One of the takes from these sessions is included on the Let it Be album and released as a single, on 11 April 1969. 

Remarkable as it is to see Get Back conjured from thin air, the band also either freshly composes or substantially develops more than a dozen songs in the three weeks work that is documented on the Get Back film. These songs include 11 that are on the Let it Be album, songs on their Abbey Road album and songs on solo albums by each of the individual Beatles. The Get Back footage also shows that the Beatles’ working milieu included a wider set of influences. It included the pianist Billy Preston who dropped in to say hello, and stayed to play on many of the tracks, the engineer Glyn Johns, their long term road manager Mal Evans, the roadie Kevin Harrington, their regular producer George Martin, and their partners Yoko Ono, Linda Eastman, Pattie Harrison and Maureen Starkey. 

There has been much written about this period in the Beatles’ history. Yet what this film shows is the incredible creativity and productivity of a band that was both close to splitting up and with a mature, almost familial set of relationships. It is a masterclass in how scenius can lead to innovation. 

Videos of the emergence of Get back can be found HERE and HERE

An excellent article about this documentary by David Remnick is in The New Yorker HERE.



Monday 27 December 2021

After Dark (2021)


Keita Morimoto is a Japanese painter. He recently held an exhibition of his night time paintings at Kotaro Nukaga in Tokyo. More HERE.

Friday 24 December 2021

Wordle (2021)

Wordle (HERE) is a simple interactive word game. You have six attempts to guess a 5 letter word. Ideal for the 2021 Xmas break.  

Wednesday 22 December 2021

What are working professionals missing in their AI education? (2021)

Peter Norvig is the co-author of a very widely used AI textbook. HERE is an interview with him about AI, including AI education. 

It includes the following Q&A.

What are working professionals missing in their AI education?

In AI education teachers assign a simple well-defined problem with a given dataset and a pre-defined objective. Students then see their job as building a model that maximizes the objective function. But in a real world project, professionals need to define the objectives and collect or generate the data on their own. You don’t get credit for choosing an especially clever or mathematically sophisticated model, you get credit for solving problems for your users. 

In my own experience, you could take out "AI" and replace it with "Data Analysis", and the statement would remain 100% true. 

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Instead of shaking all over, I read the newspapers. (2019)


Colm Tóibín is an Irish writer. He has a monumental work ethic and has created a slew of best sellers and also won a long list of literary awards since 1993. In 2018 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and he got better. HERE is his essay describing his experience. It is a great read.

I blew $720 on 100 notebooks from Alibaba and started a Paper Website business (2021)

 This is a brilliant idea and story - that came from a simple question: Can you build a website from a piece of paper?

Wednesday 8 December 2021

How will the Business of Innovation become Business as Usual? (2013)

Heseltine Institute Fresh Thinking session 15th October 2013

Over the past 25 years I have been lucky enough to have worked on the ‘business of innovation’ and have been paid to do it.

Although I have specialised in technological innovations, what I have learnt is that innovation is not mainly about university science labs or high-technology or patents or start-up companies or venture capital investment. Innovation is mainly about taking seriously what you already do today and believing that: There must be a better way

This thought process can be applied to each and every aspect of your daily life:

  • On a ward in a national health service hospital
  • On a factory floor
  • At the forecourt of a car showroom
  • At a University chemistry lab
  • At a call-centre
  • Whilst greeting a new visitor to the city
  • Whilst visiting an elderly person or their carer in their home in Anfield.

You can define what these places and activities are for your work and home life.

Innovation is about identifying the thing that nags you most and finding a weak link. And once you see this weak link, a way that things really could be better, innovation is about using your native smarts and your networks and their networks to get other people to help you define what that better way is and then making it a reality.

The particular innovation I am now working on is called The Materials Innovation Factory.

This is a hugely ambitious project the University of Liverpool in partnership with the UK government and Unilever believes that there must be a better way of doing materials science that can simultaneously have an academic, commercial and societal benefit. We all believe that Liverpool is the right place to do this.

The project has attracted £55 million in funding and it has a vision that will ensure it can create innovation after innovation over decades. But the existence of this project is itself founded on an innovation.

More than 10 years ago two early career scientists, Andy Cooper and Steve Rannard, believed that there must be a better way to do chemistry. They created a vision on a whiteboard of a new way for a University and commercial organisation to collaborate and they spent about 4 years convincing people that this idea of theirs was the right way to do things. They were right. The Centre for Materials Discovery that they had imagined became a reality and the number and breadth of innovations delivered from that centre have exceeded all the expectations of both Unilever and the University of Liverpool.

The Materials Innovation Factory takes their idea and turbo-charges it. Within this institute about 300 academic scientists and commercial technologists will be mingling together and using the latest robotic equipment and high-tech methods to create a ‘production line’ of innovations. Over the next 10 years Liverpool will become known as one of the key innovation centres for new materials in Europe and perhaps the World.

But no matter how exciting the Materials Innovation Factory and other projects like it appear, they are not the whole answer. Any city or region that believes its future prosperity requires innovation has to create a culture of innovation amongst its citizens. All of its citizens. Not just the people at the Universities or science parks or incubators who declare themselves as innovators.

This is one of the most pressing imperatives I see for Liverpool City Region. How do we make the spirit that motivates innovators into a commonplace?





Individually we each need to look at what we do on a daily basis. Find the things that aren’t great and decide to find a better way. And because most of you in this room are lucky enough to have a big influence, the innovations that come directly from you, or from your instigation, are likely to have a significant impact in Liverpool.

Collectively we have to create an ethos that says the future can be built through innovation. To encourage our young people to see innovation as a way to create their own future and a future for their generation.

To help them understand that they can be an innovator - the kind of person who believes that there must be a better way, and that Liverpool is a place where innovations thrive. This will I believe also allow Liverpool to attract even more innovators, people who want to share with us both the journey and the destination.


2021 Dimbleby Lecture


Sarah Gilbert is a Professor at the Jenner Institute of Oxford University. She leads a team of scientists who have over the past few years developed a vaccine innovation platform that allowed them to very rapidly design a new vaccine against the Covid-19 virus. 

Gilbert gave the 2021 Dimbleby lecture this week (HERE).  It is a wonderful piece of writing, and an even better lecture. Without any slides or visual aids, Gilbert explains with humility, humour and extreme lucidity what she had to do from January 2020 onwards to make the Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine in record breaking time. I don't think I have ever seen the human drama and effort that is involved in making a major scientific breakthrough described so well. Gilbert calls out by name those people who made specific contributions to the breakthrough, she highlights the risks and the decisions that were made. She illustrates the contingent, unpredictable and quite remarkable set of conditions that needed to drop into place to achieve what they did. It is also an unaffected, but nonetheless convincing, lesson in the impact that publicly funded University research at its very best can have on the world.   

For those people who feel that they don't understand science, I would recomend listening to Sara Gilbert. I have no doubt they will feel inspired both by the story she has to tell, and by the way she tells it. 

The BBC iPlayer has the talk HERE.



Monday 29 November 2021

But Beautiful. A Book about Jazz (1991)

But Beautiful is a book by Geoff Dyer about jazz. It is neither fiction nor non-fiction, but a brilliant blend of the two. Dyer imagines some of the key events and processes in the lives of jazz musicians Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Art Pepper, Lester Young, Bud Powell, Chet Baker, Ben Webster and Thelonious Monk.  

He also includes a more traditional piece of criticism - an Afterword on Tradition, Influence and Innovation which talks about the way that jazz musisians have played with tradition and improvisation to innovate in a unique way.

Because jazz has continued evolving in this way, it has remained uniquely in touch with the animating force of its origins. From time to time in his solos a saxophonist may quote from other musicians, but every time he picks up his horn he cannot avoid commenting, automatically and implicitly, even if only through his inadequacy, on the tradition that has laid this music at his feet. At its worst this involves simple repetition (those interminable Coltrane imitations); sometimes it involves exploring possibilities that were previously only touched upon. At its best it expands the possibilities of the form.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Walk Tall (1967)


On top of a stately Hammond organ and drum shuffle, the jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley (1928 –  1975) introduced his 1967 Hollwood California live recording of Walk Tall by saying: 

Here we go. 

Like I said before, there are times when, there are times when things don't lay the way they're supposed to lay. 

But regardless, you're supposed to hold your head up high and walk tall. 

Walk tall.

Image Copyright M.G. Reed 1987 - 2021



Monday 22 November 2021

Tiny Barber, Post Office (2021)


Craig Mod is at it again. His latest walk is called Tiny Barber, Post Office. In it he plans to visit 10 “mid” to “smallish” sized cities around Japan's main islands, and spend 3 nights in each city. Once he is in a city, only walking is allowed. More details and how to subscribe to his newsletter on the walk are HERE.

Image Copyright M.G. Reed 2021

Monday 8 November 2021

Methodology over metrics (2022)


Many people who are not involved in scientific research might be forgiven for thinking that the quality of science that goes on today is as good as it has ever been. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be the case, particularly in bio-medical research. 

A new paper by Van Calster and friends HERE, explains what they think the problem is, and the solution. 

The Abstract in full is as follows:

Covid-19 research made it painfully clear that the scandal of poor medical research, as denounced by Altman in 1994, persists today. The overall quality of medical research remains poor, despite longstanding criticisms. The problems are well known, but the research community fails to properly address them. We suggest that most problems stem from an underlying paradox: although methodology is undeniably the backbone of high-quality and responsible research, science consistently undervalues methodology. The focus remains more on the destination (research claims and metrics) than on the journey. Notwithstanding, research should serve society more than the reputation of those involved. While we notice that many initiatives are being established to improve components of the research cycle, these initiatives are too disjointed. The overall system is monolithic and slow to adapt. We assert that top-down action is needed from journals, universities, funders and governments to break the cycle and put methodology first. These actions should involve the widespread adoption of registered reports, balanced research funding between innovative, incremental and methodological research projects, full recognition and demystification of peer review, improved methodological review of reports, adherence to reporting guidelines, and investment in methodological education and research. Currently, the scientific enterprise is doing a major disservice to patients and society.

Sunday 17 October 2021

Mount Otensho (1926)



A write up HERE on Hiroshi Yoshida (1876 - 1950) and above his wood block print Mt. Otensho from 'Twelve Subjects of the Japan Alps' (1926). 

Image from HERE.

Thursday 30 September 2021

The Art of Non-fiction (2014)


Adam Phillips is a Welsh psychoanalyst and essayist. I have never read anything by him, and until today had never heard of him. Yet this extended interview with him in The Paris Review makes me want to read his books. 

It ends as follows:

Often one hears or reads accounts in which people will say, Well, he may have treated his children, wives, friends terribly, but look at the novels, the poems, the paintings. I think it’s a terrible equation. Obviously one can’t choose to be, as it were, a good parent or a good artist, but if the art legitimates cruelty, I think the art is not worth having. People should be doing everything they can to be as kind as possible and to enjoy each other’s company. Any art, any anything, that helps us do that is worth having. But if it doesn’t, it isn’t.

Friday 20 August 2021

Miniature Calendar


An incredible calendar of minitaure scenes - made by Tatsuya Tanaka (since 2011). One for every day of the year. Each day there is a scene of daily life with miniature people interacting with objects that stand in for full-scale objects. HERE

Image Copyright Tanaka Tatsuya

Thursday 19 August 2021

Addressing The Threat That R Poses To Reproducible Research (2021)


Data Colada is an excellent blog published by three behaviourial scientists: Uri Simonsohn, Leif Nelson and Joe Simmons.

HERE is a wonderful solution to a common problem. The problem is for users of the open source statistical software called R. Millions of people rely on this software for statistical analysis - and although it was developed by academic statisticians, it is now very widely used. 

Here is Data Colada's explanation of the problem:

R itself has some reproducibility problems..., but the big problem is its packages: the addon scripts that users install to enable R to do things like run meta-analyses, scrape the web, cluster standard errors, format numbers, etc. The problem is that packages are constantly being updated, and sometimes those updates are not backwards compatible. This means that the R code that you write and run today may no longer work in the (near or far) future because one of the packages your code relies on has been updated. But worse, R packages depend on other packages. Your code could break after a package you don't know you are using updates a function you have never even used.


An elegant solution to a real problem. 




Saturday 7 August 2021

How my farmer friend Wilf gave me a new perspective (2021)


An excellent piece by Kiran Sidhu in The Guardian:

My younger self would never have understood Wilf. We would never have found each other. I would have asked: what can you learn by standing still? The philosopher Immanuel Kant lived his entire life in Königsberg and barely travelled outside the city. He would wake at 5am every day, he’d have lunch at the same restaurant at the same time every day, he’d go for a walk in the same park on the same route, every day. Perhaps a myopic existence for many, but a life no less full. I was beginning to appreciate lives lived like this, as if under a microscope. I began to understand the beauty of a microscopic life. The thing with life is that it’s not stagnant, we give meaning to whatever we choose to assign meaning to. It felt freeing to know this.



Thursday 22 July 2021

Green Road (2021)

Copyright M.G. Reed 2021


Wednesday 14 July 2021

Beyond Caring (1985 - 2021)


From a re-issue of a self-published book of photos taken by Paul Graham in the 1980s (HERE):

Along with many, if not most, of my friends, I was unemployed in the early 1980s. There were no jobs to speak of, and none to be found. Claiming unemployment benefit required that you attend the local Department of Employment office in person to sign paperwork in front of them confirming you were unemployed. As the number of people without work increased dramatically, the queues to ‘sign on’ lengthened, then lengthened again. Waiting times moved into hours, mornings, afternoons, then whole days. Scheduled interview appointments meant waiting beside a partitioned cubicle to be summoned, or for a staff member to randomly appear. It took a long while for me to realise precisely what it was I was witnessing here: these offices were where political ideology and citizens’ lives collided.

In early 1980’s Britain, workers became poker chips in a strategic game, as Margaret Thatcher enacted an agenda to reshape British society, abandoning the ‘postwar consensus’ and asserting the political class as the sole arbiter of power. Her ruling Conservative government forced through policies privatising state industries, engaging in direct confrontation with the unions, and redefining the UK’s social and economic priorities.

Thatcher triumphed on all fronts — major industries like steel, coal, and the railways were sold off to corporate interests at a discount, and union power was vanquished as an effective counterweight. The main weapon was the threat of mass unemployment. Never overtly stated, it was the bludgeon that hung over every negotiation, every worker, every regular life. The consequence of this radical agenda was literally millions of unemployed, sluiced into an unprepared Department of Employment, and Department of Social Services, who never got the memo, and weren’t supposed to, anyway.

Text & Image Copyright P. Graham

How a Sharp-Eyed Scientist Became Biology’s Image Detective (2021)


A brilliant write-up in The New Yorker on the work of Elisabeth Bik, who finds and exposes image manipulation in bio-medical journal articles. She has a remarkable talent for recognising matching portions of images, even when one of the images has been re-scaled or otherwise edited. HERE 

Friday 2 July 2021

Now Then: Chris Killip and the Making of In Flagrante (2017)


Chris Killip is a British photographer. He was born in Douglas, Isle of Man in 1946, and after training as a hotel manager decided in 1964 to become a photographer. In the 1970s he took a series of photos in the north-east of England. HERE is an exhibition of these photos that was held at the the J. Paul Getty Museum in LA in 2017. 

The photo above was taken in Skinningrove, a small fishing village. Killip says that “... it was very difficult to gain access to photograph there. Simon’s father had drowned in an incident at sea. They had this ritual where they came out and took Simon out to sea so that he wouldn’t become fearful of it. It’s very formal. He’s dressed very formally. I was on the boat and nobody spoke.”


Image copyright C. Killip.

What Big Media Can Learn From the New York Public Library (2011)

An excellent, but now quite old, analysis in The Atlantic about how the New York Public Library has embraced digital innovation. Well written and engaging throughout.

I'm going to give you the conclusion to this article here to solve the tl;dr problem. There are two things the library has done to create such cool projects. First, I'm convinced the NYPL is succeeding online because of desire. The library's employees care about the digital aspects of their institution, and the institution supports their innovation. I mean this in the most fundamental way possible and as a damning critique of media companies. Second, the library sees its users as collaborators in improving the collections the library already has. While serving them online costs the library some money, they are creating value, too, by opening up conduits into the library for superusers.

Wednesday 30 June 2021

Work in private, and reveal everything (2021)


Way back in 2011 Robin Sloan had a brilliant insight into what was good about good blogging (HERE). His idea is that the secret to blogging is to work in public, but reveal nothing

But that can't be all of it. In my opinion another great thing to do is to find a way to share with readers what you have learnt through both public and private work. So it is also great to work in private, and reveal everything.  

Recently I have published a new book with my long term collaborator Joss Langford (HERE). It explains pretty much everything that Joss and I have learnt over the years about how to build strategic research relationships with universities. The book has been written for practitioners, and is designed to help innovators develop more effective approaches to benefitting from early stage university research.

In my experience, I have found that the knowledge of how to successfully partner with universities was held by individuals as part of their personal skill set. They knew what to do, but it was hard to figure out how they did what they did. This knowledge was quite volatile as most companies didn’t have the equivalent of a Tech Transfer Office.

This means that the individuals who were given the task of extracting value from university projects often needed to learn through their own experience and mistakes. Even if you have been successful at running small PhD projects with universities it doesn’t mean that you will be successful at larger strategic collaborations. There are published case studies in the academic literature that people can read, but many of these are complicated by explanations of a theoretical framework. There are also edited volumes of case studies on successful academic-company partnerships, these explain the What, When and Why of the partnerships, but they do not generally address the How.  

What Joss and I thought was missing was a cheap, plain English guide for practitioners. A PlayBook is by construction not academic, so our definition of success is that the books become well thumbed working tools - they are kept on the desks of practitioners, and end up full of highlighted passages and annotations.

Tuesday 15 June 2021

The Silicon Valley of Turf (2021)

A delightful piece HERE in The Guardian about the role the UK has played in recent decades revolutionising the quality of the World's football pitches. The top groundsmen are British, the best place to study 'turf science' is at Myerscough College in Preston, and the reserach knowledge base is centred at STRI (the Sports Turf Research Institute) in Bingley West Yorkshire, close to Bradford.   

Friday 11 June 2021

Notes on Craft (2021)

An excellent piece HERE in Granta by Jonathan Lee: How to Start a Novel.

The first sentence of a novel is an entryway. An open door. But how many doors have you seen in your life that you’ve actually wanted to walk through? It takes energy and trust to cross a threshold. You may have to take your shoes off. Stop fidgeting with your phone. Prepare. Be alert. Some clumsy fool with a baseball bat could be waiting on the other side, ready to clobber you to death with his unsubtle story.


Friday 21 May 2021

The Record Library


YouTube is a million and one things, both good and bad. But one of the good things is that it is host to videos of full albums of music, that would otherwise be difficult to track down. HERE is the collection of music videos hosted by The Record Library

Huh (2021)

From the latest newsletter by Craigmod. Huh. (HERE)

Consider the washbasin, underloved or disregarded, but here, huh, lots of detail, understated love: delicate tile, two styles — square and tall — with subtle color offsets, well-worn texture of wooden wall beams (high-quality?), pleasing natural color of wall itself (earthen, no wallpaper), wooden window frame with wooden slats mirroring vertical tiles (old screen, endearing), non-fussy containers for soap and hand sanitizer, paper towels in acrylic box prepped and ready to be pulled on (so often not the case), and then the metal washbowl propped against the corner, rubber circular base, the circle of the base connecting to the circle of the soap dispenser to the circle of the fūrin bell hanging off to the left pulling the whole scene together, ending, finally, with the eyes finding the spigot, bottom right, gleaming and polished and clean and clearly adored in the simple way a spigot can be adored, late evening light, the whole scene seemingly acrostic, spelling out: come traveler, brush your teeth in this fine space.

Image & text Copyright Craig Mod 2021

Wednesday 28 April 2021


I have read quite a bit about information over the years (and entropy and noise and inference, all of which are related). It's a tricky thing to understand and there are not so many plain English descriptions of what information, bits and Claude Shannon are about.  James Gleick's book The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood is very good. But also pretty long. 

HERE is a very well written and readable shorter piece by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni that explains the early work of Claude Shannon and his 'invention' of information theory.

Tuesday 27 April 2021

My father was famous as John le Carré (2021)

A wonderful piece HERE by David Cornwell, on the deeply affectionate collaboration between his parents Jane and David - who wrote as John le Carré.

Very few, very wise people saw through them both, of whom the most recent and the most absolute is Richard Ovenden, who examined the papers my father loaned to the Bodleian library in Oxford and observed a “deep process of collaboration”. His analysis is a perfect match for my recollection: “A rhythm of working together that was incredibly efficient … a kind of cadence from manuscript, to typescript, to annotated and amended typescripts … with scissors and staplers being brought to bear … getting closer and closer to the final published version.”





Friday 2 April 2021

The 3.5% Rule (2019)


Berelson & Steiner (1964) Human behavior: An inventory of scientific findings, is a classic of social science research. It offered a threefold grand summary of all of the social science research they had analysed: (1) Some do, some don't. (2) The differences aren't very great. (3) It's more complicated than that.

HERE is a summary article about a wonderful piece of social science research which stretches the third of the classes of study in this 3 fold summary. In short it shows that nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and those which have engaged more than 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change.  

Thursday 1 April 2021

The Lab-Leak Hypothesis (2021)


A thought provoking and non-hysterical article by Nicholson Baker in the New York Magazine about how the Covid-19 virus came to be. The introductory paragraph summarises his story:

What happened was fairly simple, I’ve come to believe. It was an accident. A virus spent some time in a laboratory, and eventually it got out. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, began its existence inside a bat, then it learned how to infect people in a claustrophobic mine shaft, and then it was made more infectious in one or more laboratories, perhaps as part of a scientist’s well-intentioned but risky effort to create a broad-spectrum vaccine. SARS-2 was not designed as a biological weapon. But it was, I think, designed. Many thoughtful people dismiss this notion, and they may be right. They sincerely believe that the coronavirus arose naturally, “zoonotically,” from animals, without having been previously studied, or hybridized, or sluiced through cell cultures, or otherwise worked on by trained professionals. They hold that a bat, carrying a coronavirus, infected some other creature, perhaps a pangolin, and that the pangolin may have already been sick with a different coronavirus disease, and out of the conjunction and commingling of those two diseases within the pangolin, a new disease, highly infectious to humans, evolved. Or they hypothesize that two coronaviruses recombined in a bat, and this new virus spread to other bats, and then the bats infected a person directly — in a rural setting, perhaps — and that this person caused a simmering undetected outbreak of respiratory disease, which over a period of months or years evolved to become virulent and highly transmissible but was not noticed until it appeared in Wuhan.

Tuesday 23 March 2021

To Speak of the Sea in Irish


Here is a wonderful piece on a dictionary of coastal irish words and expressions which have been collected by Manchán Magan.

A coastal Irish speaker, walking the beach at night, might have equally expected to hear stranach (the murmuring of water rushing from shore), or the whisper of caibleadh (distant spirit voices drifting in over the waves). They knew the ceist an taibhse (the question for the ghost)—a riddle used to determine if someone they met along the way was human or supernatural. Many words describe ways of predicting the weather, or fishing fortunes, by paying attention to birds or wind direction; to the sea’s sounds; or to the colors in a fire.

Thursday 18 March 2021

Green Caterpillar (1975)


This is an excellent album: particularly the first track. 

Bass – Isoo Fukui
Congas, Percussion – Yuji Imamura
Drums – Tetsujiro Obara
Guitar – Kazumi Watanabe
Piano – Masaru Imada

Easy to find on YouTube. 


Wednesday 17 February 2021

Is This Home? (2020)


A great piece HERE in the Oxford American magazine on an extended series of gigs that the jazz pianist Thelonious Monk played in his home state of North Carolina in 1970.

Monday 1 February 2021

A Poet's Glossary (2014)


The poet and advocate for poetry, Edward Hirsch, published a best-selling book in 1999 called How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry. That book had an addendum of poetic terms, which he later expanded to be a book of its own - A Poet's Glossary, published in 2014.  Here is Hirsch's entry for  Filídh.

The filídh were a professional caste of poets in early Ireland who were often credited with the supernatural power of prophecy. The words fili and filídh are etymologically connected to “seer.” These poets, who were the successors of the druids and could practice divination, were magicians and lawgivers. They were the highest-ranking members of a group called the áes dána  (literally, “the people of skill, craft”). In English, the word bard usually denotes a Celtic poet, but the filídh were in fact more aristocratic and enjoyed greater privileges than the bards. Their poetry is nonetheless called bardic, since they were entrusted with an oral tradition, the full knowledge of the tribe, which predated Christianity. Their education was daunting and they spent years at a dedicated school where poetry was studied as a craft. There were seven orders of filídh; the highest grade, the ollamh, studied for twelve years. The filídh practiced an elaborate form of syllabic poetry and mastered complex metrical forms, which employed both internal and end-rhymes, consonance, alliteration, and other devices of sound. They learned by heart at least 300 poetic meters, 250 primary stories, and 100 secondary stories. They recited traditional tales and topographical lore. They also served as crucial advisors and historical chroniclers, who remembered the genealogies of their patrons. They were so bound by tradition that there is little change in their work for the four centuries from 1250 to 1650. The poet Giolla Bríghde Mac Con Midhe explained in the thirteenth century:

     If poetry were to be suppressed, my people,

     if we were without history, without ancient lays,

     forever, but the father of each man,

     everyone will pass unheralded.

Ted Hughes said that the fili “was the curator and re-animator of the inner life which held the people together and made them what they were.”