Sunday 30 January 2011

My first computer

Yep I had a Sinclair ZX81. It had BASIC and a cassette tape for storage. But not much else.


One of the examples of technical drawing methods that are used as documentation that I have experienced in my professional life is Quickfit a brand of borosilicate laboratory glassware that is joined by tapered ground glass joints. All students of practical organic synthesis in chemistry will be familiar with these pieces of apparatus. The really nice thing is that they are very standardized and a simple sketch and/or list of the part numbers is a very accurate documentation of exactly what combination was used. 

A researcher in another part of the world, or decades later, can build an identical piece of complex glassware and follow exactly the same methods to achieve a synthesis.

An image is shown below of a Soxhlet assembly from the Sigma-Aldrich catalogue (

There is a short Wikipedia article on Quickfit here (

400 Years after Galileo

400 years after Galileo's sunspot explorations - the first high-resolution images of the Sun have been returned from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which was launched in February 2010.

A filament at a wavelength of 304 angstroms from HERE.

Minards Wine export Map

Evidence, Inference & Enquiry

Here is a group at UCL who are asking some very interesting questions of inference and evidence;

For example;

  • Is there a concept of evidence that applies universally? 
  • Are there specific or generic techniques for manipulating evidence that can be applied across disciplinary boundaries?

They also provide quite a bit of material on evidence in complex legal and/or forensic cases and use of Wigmore charts.

A small clever thing

Here is a small clever thing. A paper by J. Adler (2008) called "The unitary scale bar: human and machine readable" which appeared in Journal of Microscopy, 230 No 1. 163-166.

[Personally I would always add text for humans but the idea is still clever]


A format is described for a scale bar that encodes the length represented within the structure of the bar itself, thereby removing the need for any supporting text. Although the 'unitary' scale bar has a conventional appearance it is also machine readable and therefore retains information about the scale even when the file format is changed. The format is based on the metre and is suitable for all terrestrial applications.

Saturday 29 January 2011

The Map That Came to Life

Here is a childrens geography book by Ronald Lampitt published in the UK in the 1948. The book uses a mix of maps and scenes - segments of Ordance Survey type mapping in one-to-one correspondence with the 3D scene they represent.

The complete book is here (

ArtSpace Tokyo

Some beautfiul maps of 12 favourite art galleries in Tokyo from the book ArtSpace Tokyo


This NYT article gives a slideshow about a Natural history of Manhattan over the past 400 years. The new map-based exhibit opened at the Museum of the City of New York. It is called, "Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City." The exhibit consists of historical accounts, maps and computer models that explore the ecology of Manhattan from the time before it became a city.

The project has also its own website HERE and a book. This is a pretty good multi-media site that gives layers of meaning to those who now live in Manhattan.

Rockwell Kents Candide

Here the New York public library has a superb multi-media exhibition on Voltaire's Candide. The small multiple is a navigation device for accessing the rare illustrations from 1928 by Rockwell Kent - Random House had commissioned the great American artist Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) to illustrate Voltaire's Candide as the first book under its imprint.

A plan for arranging elements...

From the 1989 book Eames Design; The Work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames, is a 1969 Q & A session with Charles Eames and Madame L'Amic of the Musee des Arts Decoratifs.

Here are three questions and Eames' answers that refer directly to his understanding of design.

Q: What is your definition of design?
A: A plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.

Q: What are the boundaries of design?
A: What are the boundaries of problems?

Q: Does the creation of design admit constraint?
A: Design depends largely on constraints.

The Cells of Hooke

The Rare Book Room  website has a great collection of high resolution images of rare books covering arts, history and science. For each book there is a viewer with thumbnails that allow you to browse through two page spreads. You can then zoom in to quite a high resolution. The books are phtographed from start to finish so you can appreciate the bindings, frontispiece, diagrams and text and how thay all interrelate.

This is quite a treasure trove. As an example, you can find a complete set of page view images from Robert Hookes splendid book on microscopy, Micrographia, which was published in London 1664.

I have seen some of the images from this book before, but never in their proper context, nor at such high resolution. The images below show the spread of pages 114 and 115. The text on page 115 shows some of his explanation of how he obtained these images of cork cells.The figure on page 114 shows Hookes drawings of longituidinal and transverse sections through cork and where he obtained the sample (Hooke found these small separated structures reminded him of the cells of monks and he used that term to describe them - they have been called cells ever since).

When Euclid meets Mondrian

TASCHEN has published a facsimile edition of Oliver Byrne's 1847 The Elements of Euclid, which was discussed in detail by Edward Tufte in Envisioning Information. The Taschen edition is in a boxed set with a separate commentary by art historian Werner Oechslin.  HERE

Nova Stereometria

Here is a very detailed collection of images from the Posner collection of books at the Carnegie Mellon University .

"The Posner Memorial Collection of six hundred twenty-two titles includes landmark titles of the history of western science, beautifully produced books on decorative arts and fine sets of literature. Mr. Henry Posner, Sr. formed the collection from 1924 to 1973, starting with literature and decorative arts and, after 1950, focusing on the history of science. When possible, books are in electronic format with text and images and accompanied by a Collector's File of Mr. Posner's records."

One of the books in the collection is a very rare book by Johannes Kepler. Kepler was a brilliant mathematician and mathematical physicist who is chiefly remembered for discovering the three laws of planetary motion that bear his name. However, Kepler also did important work in optics, close packing of spheres, logarithms and solid geometry.

One of his lesser known works was prompted by a problem he had encountered whilst buying wine after his second wedding celebration in 1613. Kepler noted that the vintner measured the capacity of the wine barrel by putting a stick into the bung hole and measuring the distance to the bottom of the barrel. It struck Kepler that the crude `dipstick' method of estimating the volume of the barrel wouldn't take into account the curvature of the barrel and would thus give an inaccurate estimate of the volume. 

Prompted by this observation Kepler made a careful study of the general problem of accurately estimating the volume of wine barrels and other solids of revolution. Kepler's solution was to divide the barrel into a large number of slices and estimate the total barrel volume by summing the volumes of the individual slices. Kepler's work was published in 1615 as Nova Stereometria Doliorum Vinariorum, which roughly translates to `New Measurements of Wine Barrels'.

The Nova Stereometria is a rarity and has never been translated into English. However, although it's technical content is little known to non-specialists it has become a sought after commodity amongst book collectors; a mint condition copy of Kepler's book in its original binding will sell for upwards of $30,000.

Keplers work was an important precursor to the calculus.

Here is the title page of the Posner copy of Nova Stereometria.

Book Autopsies

HERE is a collection of incredible 3 dimensional 'autopsies' carved out of books by Brian Dettmer. 

Frank Kiely

HERE is the website of print maker Frank Kiely.

On Growth & Form

D'Arcy Thompson's classic On Growth and Form looks at the way things grow and the shapes that they take.  Peter Medawar, the 1960 Nobel Laureate in Medicine, called it "the finest work of literature in all the annals of science that have been recorded in the English tongue".

Thompson argues that biological structures not only reflect evolution but must also of necessity reflect the influence of physical laws. 

On the concept of allometry he wrote:

"An organism is so complex a thing, and growth so complex a phenomenon, that for growth to be so uniform and constant in all the parts as to keep the whole shape unchanged would indeed be an unlikely and an unusual circumstance. Rates vary, proportions change, and the whole configuration alters accordingly."

Friday 28 January 2011

A clock

Daniel Weil's deconstruction of a clock. 


What works good is better...

From HERE 

The Joy of OS

Since I first began programming in C, one of the biggest changes to have happened is the incredible impact of open source software. For example, I have just found, downloaded and installed a completely free C compiler and development environment called Pelles C. 

It seems to be as good, if not better, than the commercial and rather expensive compilers that I used to use. The program is actively being developed and is available HERE.  A screenshot of the source editor is below.

Space Syntax

The previous post highlighted the book Space is the Machine. The group that was at UCL are a fully fledged practice now and combine architectural creativity with rigorous computational and graphical analysis tools. Their website is HERE

A frontage survey mapping of the Aldwych area of London

Space is the machine

About 10 years ago I did quite a bit of reading on the impact that spatial layouts of laboratories had on the way human beings carried out innovations in those spaces. By far the most interesting work I found was that of Alan Penn and co-workers in the Space Syntax lab in University College London (UCL). 

One of the seminal books in this field was Space is the Machine written by Bill Hillier of UCL.  

The whole book is now available for downloading HERE

Below is one of their graphical analyses of the space between the buildings in the City of London today and in 1677. 

The phrase 'Space is the machine' arose in the following manner (reported in the beginning of the book). 

‘A house is a machine for living in…’ Le Corbusier (1923)

‘But I thought that all that functional stuff had been refuted. Buildings aren’t machines.’ 

‘You haven’t understood. The building isn’t the machine. Space is the machine.’
Nick Dalton, Computer Programmer at University College London (1994).

Wednesday 26 January 2011

No cloud Britain?

Below is a rarity - a satellite image of the UK with hardly any cloud - from before 1993 and I forget when. 

Which half?

Here is a great anecdote that highlights the perhaps counter intuitive reality of using a control group in medical interventions.

Found in Edward Tufte's  book Data Analysis for Politics and Policy published by Prentice-Hall in 1974

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Pollen grain images

A while back I spent a lot of time trying to understand and then improve a low-cost form of 3D microscopy that had been invented by Prof Tony Wilson and co-workers at Oxford University.  The method projects a finely ruled grid onto, or into, the object of interest. The areas of the object that are at the focal plane of the objective show the ruled pattern in sharp focus. 

To cut a long story short I think that with a few colleagues we did find a way of improving on Tony's method. We had good experimental data but due to rapidly changing jobs and my inability to fully master the Fourier mathematical techniques  used in this field I never quite got the paper finished or published. 

Nevertheless I think the idea has merit - certainly we were able to obtain experimental images with impressive optical sectioning - as an example here is one of the experimental images we took of microscopic pollen grains in 3D.

hello, world

Further to my piece below about Kernighan and Ritchie. Their example of the minimal C program prints hello, world to the terminal when it is run. It is so stripped back that it is almost a Haiku;

Saturday 22 January 2011

Space Junk Diagrams

The image below was posted by Robert Simmon on Edward Tufte's site - the image shows the objects orbiting the Earth on August 25, 2009. As of July 2009, there were 19,000 objects larger than 10 cm orbiting the Earth—more than 95% of them debris or dead satellites. 

See also the Catalog of Earth Satellite Orbits

Florence Nightingale's Polar Area diagram

Friday 21 January 2011

Hirst & Mandelbrot

I used to work with a physicist - photographer called Bill Hirst. Bill had become interested in Fractals and eventually published a book of black & white photos of landscapes that were fractal. 

The book had an introduction by the father of fractals Benoit Mandelbrot. 

Kernighan & Ritchie

Many years ago I taught myself how to program in the C programming language - after I had played with BASIC and got fed up with FORTRAN. I  used a couple of books to learn about C and a couple of compilers.  Kernighan & Ritchie was the best book, followed closely by The C Book by Mike Banahan (I also remember that there was a really good thick volume on Turbo C by the gloriously named Herb Schildt).  Learning C was a great lesson in logical thinking. Breaking down a problem into the discrete logical steps required for a successful programme is both rigorously analytical and curiously creative and liberating.  I would recommend it to anyone.

I went on to write quite a few programmes, some of them were deliberately tiny and others  quite complex and powerful. Much of the time I spent on my PhD was in writing C code to implement the maths I wanted to apply to data. 

The C Book is HERE to download and no doubt K&R is still available. 

Below is a function that was at the heart of a programme to calculate the Fractal dimension of a stream of data from a flame detector. At the time I was really proud of it - it was written in 1993.  

void calc_fr(int ndata,int data[],int wid[],int dig,int len,FILE *fp)

float tal[13];
struct cover cov[15];
div_t xtil,ytil;
int loop,dp,c,curr_d,w,idata;

xtil=div(ndata,len);     /* Calculate number loops to run */
loop=xtil.quot;          /* loop is number of loops       */

idata=data[1];               /* Data value */
for(w=0;w<=dig;w++) tal[w]=0;   /* reset tally to zero     */
for(dp=1;dp<=loop;dp++)   /* Main loop */
idata=data[curr_d];            /* Get next data point */
for(w=0;w<=dig;w++)            /* For each tile width */
   xtil=div(c,wid[w]);        /* Calculate x direction tile */
   ytil=div(idata,wid[w]);    /* Calculate y direction tile */
   cov[w].lo=(int) min(cov[w].lo,ytil.quot);
   cov[w].hi=(int) max(cov[w].hi,ytil.quot);
    data_out(fp,wid,tal,dig);       /* Calc slope and results  */
    for(w=0;w<=dig;w++) tal[w]=0;   /* reset tally to zero     */

Kernighan and Ritchie had a refreshing and very straightforward style. In the second edition, where they expanded on the material that had been developed as part of the ANSI C standard they state that;

We have tried to retain the brevity of the first edition. C is not a big language, and it is not well served by a big book. We have improved the exposition of critical features, such as pointers, that are central to C programming. We have refined the original examples, and have added new examples in several chapters. For instance, the treatment of complicated declarations is augmented by programs that convert declarations into words and vice versa. As before, all examples have been tested directly from the text, which is in machine-readable form.

The most famous programme described by K&R is hello.c - which just prints out the text "hello, world" to the terminal. It is the K&R example of a minimal working C program. Almost all computer programming handbooks use a similar programme as a  conventional first programme. 

First example of a bug in a computer

Here is a photo of the moth that Grace Hopper found in an early computer in 1947.

The First "Computer Bug" Moth found trapped between points at Relay # 70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator while it was being tested at Harvard University, 9 September 1947. The operators affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: "First actual case of bug being found". They put out the word that they had "debugged" the machine, thus introducing the term "debugging a computer program". In 1988, the log, with the moth still taped by the entry, was in the Naval Surface Warfare Center Computer Museum at Dahlgren, Virginia, which erroneously dated it 9 September 1945. The Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History and other sources have the correct date of 9 September 1947(Object ID: 1994.0191.01). The Harvard Mark II computer was not complete until the summer of 1947.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Eric Eley drawings

Some great stuff here - an example below.

Glimpse Journal Issue 7

Sunday 16 January 2011

Preface to Intense Seeing

The question is not what you are looking at - but how you look & whether you see.  

Henry David Thoreau. A year in Thoreau's Journal 1851. Penguin Books 1993.

THE English writer, poet, social thinker and art critic John Ruskin (1819--1900) had enormous intellectual range and was extremely prolific - in total producing over 250 works during his lifetime. One of the most intriguing of Ruskin's books is his introductory art book, The Elements of Drawing, which was published in 1857. This book is addressed to the artistic beginner and it formed part of Ruskin's larger personal crusade to teach ordinary working people how to draw. However, Ruskin was not motivated by a desire to recruit an army of professional artists from the ranks of the British working classes, but rather by a desire to teach ordinary people how to   see  in order to enrich their lives;  

My efforts are directed not to making a carpenter an artist, but to making him happier as a carpenter.

Report, Proceedings and Minutes of Evidence of the Royal Commission of 1857 on the Site for the National Gallery . Vol. XIII p. 553. 

Ruskin believed that drawing, and in particular the purposeful observation required to create a drawing, was the best way he knew of teaching people to see what was in front of their eyes. The presentation in   The Elements of Drawing  uses drawing as the framework within which the reader will learn how to observe nature. The book is still in print after more than 150 years and although  we live in a completely different age perhaps Ruskin still has something relevant to say about observation.   

My motivation  for writing Intense Seeing is far less grandiose than Ruskin's, but it is not dissimilar. Professional scientists and artists undergo long periods of intense specialised study and on-the-job training to achieve the levels of observational acuity required for their success. This book cannot hope to replace that study or experience, but by outlining and illustrating for the lay reader how observational acuity works in practice in the sciences and applied arts it perhaps can highlight how important acuity is for artists and scientists. Perhaps the book can help the average reader become more aware of the elements of acuity and help make them happier as a consequence.   

Much of my own professional life has been gainfully spent as a specialist in quantitative scientific imaging. This book therefore inevitably reflects many of the concerns and prejudices that I have developed by following a rather narrow and focused program of personal research, work experience and reading. However, the specific catalyst for writing this book arose from my habit of broad, and rather unfocused reading   away from the subject , in this case a casual re-reading of an Edward Tufte book   Beautiful Evidence , in early 2010. I enjoy flicking through the pages of Tufte's books to see what catches my eye. On this particular occasion my attention was drawn to the following passage; 

Science and art have in common intense seeing, the wide-eyed observing that generates empirical information. 

The phrases intense seeing  and wide-eyed observing  in particular resonated within me; these were great descriptions of what I had been trying to do in my professional work for years, this is what I thought imaging science was about and what I guessed art was also about. 

If Edward Tufte was correct, that artists and scientists share something in common in the manner in which wide-eyed observing  is used, then it must also be true that some components of their training and practice would be common and also some   common principles of intense seeing  could be described and illustrated by examples from art and science. This hunch has been the motivational force behind collecting the principles and examples that make up the book. The collection of material has therefore come together by a process of accretion - it records a very personal exploration of what intense seeing  means, what it requires and what it is capable of. 

My exploration has resulted in a collection of chapters that are, to my mind at least, thematically coherent -- they were created expressly to address and explore the idea of   intense seeing . But given the length and nature of this book, I do not expect many readers will begin at the beginning and work their way through all of the chapters in order to the end. I would encourage readers to read the individual chapters that most interest them - I have tried to make sure that the chapters are independent enough that they can each be read and studied individually. In many of the chapters I take a rather oblique view on my subject matter and try and tie together historical material with modern practice in a way that I hope illuminates and entertains. But these chapters are not entries in an encyclopedia and I do not pretend that they are full historical studies.

Visual thinking  has consistently driven my curiosity over the past 25 years - in particular quantitative scientific imaging and visual analytics. Both of these are   intensely visual . My scientific work has been focused on the interesting technical issues that arise when images are used as the basis for quantification. Initially, I  was wholly concerned with the processing and analysis of two-dimensional images. Latterly, I have specialised in the analysis of the two-dimensional images that are obtained when a three-dimensional biological structure is sectioned; a field of measurement science known as   stereology (the word  Stereology  was coined in 1961 by a cross-disciplinary group of scientists -- they defined it as `the spatial interpretation of sections').  My interest in quantitative 3D imaging has also led me to study a number of specialised microscopy techniques that are used to obtain fully three-dimensional images; for example confocal and two-photon microscopy. 

Running parallel to my scientific studies in image analysis, stereology and three-dimensional microscopy, has been a growing desire to learn how to communicate scientific results in an optimal manner. The main stimulus and guide to my study of scientific data visualisation and presentation has been the series of four self-published books by Edward Tufte; The Visual Display of Quantitative Information  [2nd  Edition 2001],   Envisioning Information  [4th  Edition 1990],   Visual Explanations  [1997]  and   Beautiful Evidence  [2006].  I first picked up   The Visual Display of Quantitative Information  in about 1997 and I have returned to it, and the other three books by Tufte, to read and re-read ever since. 

These two concerns provide the thematic underpinnings of much of my published scientific work and the lecture material I have developed over the years. Now both of these threads come together in this book - it is a scientific and visual record of the journey I took to explore the  intense seeing  hypothesis.    

Prior to  writing this book I spent time teaching myself how to use the LaTeX typesetting system created by Donald Knuth and Leslie Lamport. In the process of teaching myself LaTeX I also learnt a lot about the ancient art and craft of typography. Robert Bringhurst describes typography as, ` art where the microscopic and macroscopic constantly converge' (see his book,   The Elements of Typographic Style).   This software has allowed me to take complete control of the design and typesetting of the book and I have designed the page layout so that the main body of the text, with the main figures and images, can be read straight through -- the mathematical and technical material included in the main text has been minimised and my target was zero equations. The page layout from   The Feynman Lectures on Physics  by Richard Feynman, Robert Leighton, and Matthew Sands has been a guiding example of what I wanted to achieve. The sidenotes are provided to give interesting technical details to those who appreciate them, they also indicate my sources and show where additional reference material and website links can be found. The side notes also occasionally include good examples or images that would otherwise break the flow of the main text. Therefore on the whole the side notes can be blithely ignored by most readers (an avid scholar of   intense seeing  will be kept busy for quite some time following up on them). 

Because I have written, designed and typeset the book literally all of the mistakes are my own. A full list of acknowledgements is given on page 300.  I hope that you enjoy reading this book as much as I have writing it.

Saturday 15 January 2011


Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
The book that defined the term and set the standard for bizarre black humour. Still as acerbic and brilliant reading today as it must have been when it first came out. I must have read and re-read this a dozen times and each time I get more out of it. Some of the characters are immortal. Check out Milo Minderbender.
An extract:
Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. “Is Orr crazy?”
“He sure is,” Doc Daneeka said.
“Can you ground him?”
“I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That’s part of the rule.”
“Then why doesn’t he ask you to?”
“Because he’s crazy,” Doc Daneeka said. “He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he’s had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to.”
“That’s all he has to do to be grounded?”
“That’s all. Let him ask me.”
“And then you can ground him?” Yossarian asked.
“No. Then I can’t ground him.”
“You mean there’s a catch?”
“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

Iggy Pop's Jacket

When I was young there was a local Liverpool band called Those Naughty Lumps (1978-1980) that I was fond of. They were part of an explosion of creativity in Liverpool based around the now legendary Erics club (other bands from that grouping included Echo & the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes etc - see the Pete Frame rock family tree for the full messy detail). 

Those Naughty Lumps put out a few tracks on 7" vinyl. One was the song "Iggy Pop's Jacket" which came out on Zoo records (Cage 002). The sleeve design was by Bill Drummond and Dave Balfe.

Here  is a piece of the illustration from the original artwork, cropped and recoloured in tribute to both Those Naughty Lumps and Iggy Pop's album Raw Power.

Craig Mod's Infinite Canvas

Craig Mod is based in Japan and is a writer, designer and book publisher.  He has written two really interesting pieces on how books may be designed in the future and the opportunities that the iPad platform offers to authors, designers, publishers and readers. 

This piece - Books in the age of the iPad is a very thought provoking article on the difference between formless and definite content and the implications of this difference for e-readers, iPads and physical (i.e. paper) books. 

This piece - A Simpler Page is his latest and uses a concept that Scott McCloud invented - the Infinite Canvas, illustrated below. Craig then uses this as the basis for a new set of open source libraries he calls Bibliotype that allow HTML to be used as the basis for any long-form text project that needs good design and typography and to be able to handle iPad and browsers and three viewing distances that he calls bed, knee and breakfast.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Hooke's Razor

Here are the first two pages of a chapter of Intense Seeing called Hooke's Razor. It deals with some of the dilemmas that are found when you use a lens to magnify a region of an object or 

Eyestorm Illustration

Eyestorm have just opened an online illustration store (here) - slightly less pricey than the art on their main site. 

Here is an example of a piece of work by Susie Wright called HoneyThief.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Antony Micallef - Tokyo Girl

One of the prints that we bought a few years ago when we had a splash of buying art. 

Moxons Perspective

Here is an image from the 1670 book by Joseph Moxon, Perspective made Easie.

Saturday 8 January 2011

California in Relief

California in Relief

Richard Wagener
San Francisco, California: The Book Club of California, 2009

A superb woodcut - typical in the book California in Relief - limited edition HERE