Tuesday 29 March 2011

What It's Like, Sometimes, To Be A Scientist

Gordon Lynn Walls publication from 1956 - describing his attempts at tracking down an early pioneer of studies in colour and colour vision.

Gordon Lynn Walls. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
1956. XI (1) pp 66-96. 


The author of this blog unashamedly echoes these words. Even after extensive efforts digging into the life of Gordon Walls, it is still not clear what his roots were. I own up myself to being bumblesome and I second Gordon Walls' warning that it isn't wise to attempt historical research without training. In other words what Gordon Walls had to say about the mysterious G. Palmer, could also be said about Gordon Walls himself.  

More here;

From a talk given to the Colour Group of the Physical Society on February 20, by R. A. Weale, and published in Nature, March, 1957.

The Australasian Journal of OptometryVolume 40Issue 9pages 414–417September 1957.

First page of Trichromatic Ideas in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries*

Sunday 27 March 2011

Carmel Beach 1905.

Swedish Rune Stone


Friday 25 March 2011

James Joyce's Dublin

HERE is a superb book integrating text, maps and photos. James Joyce's Dublin: A Topographical Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses by Ian Gunn & Clive Hart. 

James Joyce's Dublin: A Topographical Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses

Below is a two-page spread from the book very kindly sent to me by Ian Gunn. 

Thursday 24 March 2011

An Honorary Count of Messina

The recent earthquake in Japan has made me think again about my Grandads experiences in 1908 when he was a junior rating on the HMS Sutlej. On the 28th December 1908 a massive earthquake of magnitude 7.5 hit the Messina Straits, a narrow channel that separates Sicily from southern Italy. 

area of 12-28-1908 quake in Italy

The  earthquake  had a catastrophic effect at its epicentre and was followed by fires and a tsunami. Both Messina in Sicily and Reggio Calabria in Italy were almost completely destroyed.  A  shocking number of people were killed, estimates vary but it may have been up to 140,000  at Messina and 45,000 at Reggio Calabria. This earthquake was almost surely the the deadliest European earthquake ever it still ranks as one of the deadliest worldwide. 

Many nations came to the aid of the survivors and a number of Royal Navy and British Merchant Navy vessels landed men at Messina, which was the worst affected population centre. These men including my Grandad, Herbert James Lowe,  from the HMS Sutlej. He was born in 1891 so was just 17 years old when he landed to see the devastation of Messina after the earthquake. 

Whilst my Grandad was there he helped a young Sicialian woman have a baby. Along with many other British sailors he was awarded an honour. Family lore has it that because of his young age and the particular help he had given the frightened girl as he helped deliver her baby he was made an Honorary Count of Messina, this may or may not be true, but I have always believed it. 

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Zero as a most natural Number - Dijkstra 1982

Computer Scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra's argument that counting for computer scientists should always start at zero = Here

Note that the classic book on the C computer programming language by Kernighan and Ritchie (Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie The C Programming Language, Prentice-Hall 1978; ISBN 0-113-110163-3). Has a zeroeth Chapter - before Chapter 1. 

Monday 14 March 2011



Penguin Classics

Penguin Classic Book Cover Designs by Coralie Bickford-Smith

A Sneaker colouring Book


My long time personal favourites are Adidas Samba - as coloured in by me above.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Latest Design of Intense Seeing layout

Latest iteration of design elements for Intense Seeing.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

House of Illustration

THE House of Illustration will be the world’s first centre dedicated to the art of illustration in all its forms. For the first time, there will be a home for illustration past and present, international and British, where visitors will be able to see and experience this most accessible and popular art form in a new and a wide variety of ways. It will be a unique cultural centre in central London.


A big K - by Jan Chrystian Bierpfaff.

Peter Arms Wick Collection from Ars Libri: slide 5

Peter Arms Wick Collection from Ars Libri
Jan Chrystian Bierpfaff. Libellus novus elementorum Latinorum cum aeneis picturis usui aurifabrorum inservientib. Hamburg, Germany, 1656

A Cajal image from Carl Schoonover: Portraits of the Mind

Portraits of the Mind: slide 2
Portraits of the Mind
Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1901), courtesy of Dr. Juan A. de Carlos, Cajal Legacy, Instituto Cajal (CSIC)

Drawing of the neuronal circuit found in the eye’s retina by Spanish scientist, Santiago Ramón y Cajal. By applying Golgi’s tissue-staining method with patience and virtuosity, he laid the foundations for the modern field of neuroscience.

Images de Pensée

A Stamp of Thoreau

Postage Stamps by AIGA Medalists: slide 15

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.

1934- James Joyce Ulysses

Here is a piece on the 1934 US edition of Ulysses by James Joyce, published by Random House, with four page spreads below. 

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Monday 7 March 2011

Gordon L Walls

I have continued digging around to see if I can find anything else about Gordon Walls. 

Here is a photo of him - from the System of Opthalmology written by  Sir Stewart Duke-Elder (1898-1978) and published in 1958.  The whole book is available HERE.

A Penguin

Here is Jan Tschihold's re-design of the Penguin for Penguin Books.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Everything in the vertebrate eye means something.

If the comparative ophthalmologists of the world should ever hold a convention, the first resolution they would pass would say: 

          `Everything in the vertebrate eye means something.' 

Except for the brain, there is no other organ in the body of which that can be said. It does not matter in the least whether a liver has three lobes or four, or whether the tip of the heart points north or south, or whether a hand has five fingers or six, or whether a kidney is long and narrow or short and wide. But if we should make comparable changes in the makeup of a vertebrate eye, we should quite destroy its usefulness. Man can make optical instruments only from such materials as brass and glass. Nature has succeeded with only such things as leather and water and jelly; but the resulting instrument is so delicately balanced that it will tolerate no tampering. 

The Vertebrate Eye and its Adaptive radiation. G.L. Walls

Acuity, Sensitivity, Color and Movement

"If asked what aspect of vision means the most to them, a watchmaker may answer 'acuity', a night flier 'sensitivity', and an artist 'color'. But to the animals which invented the vertebrate eye, and hold the patents on most of the features of the human model, the visual registration of movement was of the greatest importance".

Walls, G.L. (1942). The vertebrate eye and its adaptive radiation. p342.

A Typical Vertebrate Eye

Here is a superb 700+ page treatise on the structure, function and evolution of the eye. The book The Vertebrate Eye and its Adaptive Radiation was written by Gordon Walls and published in 1942. The book is beautifully designed and typeset and includes dozens of very clear and well thought out illustrations. 

In a recent paper by Ronald Fernald on the Evolution of eyes (Eyes: Variety, Development and Evolution Russell D. Fernald. Brain Behav Evol 2004; 64: pp141–147 DOI: 10.1159/000079743) he describes the book as;

In his landmark book, Walls (1942) provided remarkable insights about all aspects of the vertebrate eye. This 785-page classic has numerous illustrations, many drawn by Walls, that provide details about the range and variety of evolutionary outcomes to be found in vertebrate eyes. Indeed, the variety of eyes is astonishing, reflecting the staggering range of adaptations produced by selective
pressures for vision in different habitats.

Gordon Walls was something of a renaissance man of 20th century vision science. Initially trained as an engineer, he took a masters degree in zoology, was an accomplished histologist and illustrator and taught visual physiology at Berkeley. Quite early in his career he wrote The Vertebrate Eye and its Adaptive Radiation. It is still the most comprehensive review of comparative anatomy of the eye. 

The following obituary of Gordon Walls was written at the University of California:
1963, University of California: In Memoriam 

Gordon Lynn Walls, Optometry; Physiology: Berkeley
Professor of Physiological Optics and Optometry

Gordon L. Walls died of a heart attack on August 22, 1962, at the age of fifty-seven in the midst of an active and unique career in science. He was writing a popular book, Everyman's Color Vision, had just finished a chapter on genetics for a book on children's vision (now to be dedicated to his memory), had at least two papers in progress (one of which was entitled Lightness, Darkness, Blackness, and--What's That Behind You?), and was validating his inexpensive version of an instrument for the diagnosis of color vision defects.
His latest interest, genetics and color vision, stands at the end of a varied and illustrious scientific trail that started with a bent for engineering at his graduation from Boston English High School in 1922. Although he earned his B.S. from Tufts in mechanical engineering (1926), he had exhibited unusual proficiency in biology as an undergraduate and was awarded both the Goddard Prize and the Olmsted Scholarship in Biology. He did not pursue a career in engineering because of a self-claimed difficulty with mathematics ("I flunked every math course I ever took!") and because of a fascination with zoology that he developed during a summer course at Woods Hole. He entered Harvard on a graduate scholarship intending to study wheel animalcules but one of his teachers arbitrarily gave him a problem concerning the photomechanical changes in the retina--thus, Gordon Walls' career in vision was launched. (He, nevertheless, authored a chapter on "The Rotifers" in a book on the microscopy of drinking water while working toward his A.M. degree, which he earned in 1927.) He continued his study of the retina as a graduate student (Sc.D. in zoology, 1931) and Postdoctoral Fellow (1931 to 1934, Alfred G. Lloyd and National Research Council Fellowships) at the University of Michigan and as an Associate in Zoology at the State University of Iowa from 1934 to 1937. For a short time he was a histologist for a biological supply house in Chicago and during the summers of 1937 and 1938 he was a nature-study leader for the North Shore Area Council. It was probably this latter work that prepared him to become in later years an unofficial guide and discussion leader at almost any zoo, aquarium, park, or observatory that he happened to visit. (Several of his colleagues visiting Mount Palomar a few years ago were astonished to find him guiding a sizable group of spellbound visitors on an impromptu lecture-tour of the observatory.)
His interest in vision was confirmed during a four-year Research Associateship in Ophthalmology at Wayne University College of Medicine and culminated with the publication in 1942 of his book The Vertebrate Eye. This 785-page classic contains about 200 illustrations, many of which Gordon Walls drew himself. The Cranbrook Press printed only 1,000 copies, about 200 of which were given to him to cover some of his publication expenses. By 1950 the supply was exhausted and much in demand. Today it is an expensive collector's item, still the most authoritative reference on the subject.
In 1942 Gordon Walls accepted a "war job" with Bausch and Lomb Optical Company doing research on vision with military optical instruments such as stereo-rangefinders. After the war he spent most of his time writing, ghost-writing and lecturing, all of which he enjoyed and did with excellence--but he longed to return to academic life. Ever since co-authoring a comprehensive monograph on intra-ocular color-filters of vertebrates in 1933 with Dr. Harold Judd, a leading Michigan optometrist, Gordon Walls had hoped some day to become associated with a university-affiliated school of optometry. Thus, his wish was fulfilled when Dean Kenneth Stoddard asked him in 1946 to join the Faculty of the School of Optometry at the University of California. He came to Berkeley as an Associate Professor of Physiological Optics and Optometry and Lecturer in Physiology and was made responsible for the graduate program in physiological optics. He also taught courses in morphology and physiology of the eye, physiological optics, evolution of the visual system, and color vision. With this position came tenure and the long-awaited opportunity to work in sportshirt without tie--he disliked formality and conformity. He was appointed Professor in 1952. During his fifteen and one-half years in Berkeley he established himself as one of the University's most engaging and enthusiastic lecturers, as one of the world's leading scientists in vision, and as a wonderful personality.
His students and colleagues will find it impossible to forget him. Memories will persist--trying to win an argument with him; finding him in the student machine shop late at night making a fifteen-cent bracket; seeing him answer a graduate student's question with a two-hour lecture of unbelievable clarity; watching him drive his red Triumph with beret slightly askew; meeting him in the library when he was searching for a reference in response to a casual inquiry; noting the sparkle in his eyes when he spoke of his daughter, Istar; stepping around him on the stairs near the departmental mailbox as he sat reading his daily mail. Basically, he was kind and warm, but he was at great pains to conceal it. He transported hitchhikers, often rerouting for their convenience. He was a meticulous cook and solicitous host; ask almost any lonely graduate student. When one of his students was stricken with tuberculosis, he arranged for the collection of funds, but contributed most of them himself, to buy a television set for her convalescence.
He loved to write, his personality as well as his scientific contribution was always obvious. In his 1938 paper on the reflecting properties of animal eyes he wrote:

"Perhaps you will ponder for a moment the antiquity of vanity. Even if you are not so philosophical, you will at least dwell upon the antiquity of mirrors. Perhaps you will wonder what clever swain it was who first delighted his lady by bringing her a polished piece of metal, sparing her thereafter those frequent hurried trips to the glassy pool among the lotuses behind grandfather's tomb.
" But the inventor of the mirror was no hawk-nosed youth dreaming in the shadow of a half-built pyramid. Indeed, no man at all, but an armored shark gliding over the bottom ooze of the warm Devonian seas."
In all, he published more than sixty journal papers and monographs, one book, and chapters to three other books. He was manuscript referee for three scholarly journals and sub-editor of one. He was a member of nine learned societies.
Gordon Walls' standing in the history of science is perhaps anticipated by the fact that his portrait introduces one of the chapters in Sir Stewart Duke-Elder's 1958 book, System of Ophthalmology, Vol. I, The Eye in Evolution. The book begins with a frontispiece of Charles Darwin and elsewhere includes Johannes Müller, Casey Wood, Ernest Starling, and René Descartes. Like his famous company, Gordon Walls possessed a rare appreciation for the organization and beauty of nature. If, in the course of history, he fails to make the frontispiece, it will surely be a near miss.
In many ways his life was like his own book. He said in the preface, "My conscience will be easier if most of my readers are glad that the book was not smaller."

M. C. Flom
C. Stern
H. E. White

Friday 4 March 2011

An Edward Tufte classic

One of Edward Tuftes re-designs. 

Thursday 3 March 2011

Ed Ricketts Lab

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, 'whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,' by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, 'Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,' and he would have meant the same thing.
Cannery Row - John Steinbeck 1945.

Original image copyright thenormaleye (HERE).

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Sizing the Horizon

Here is a paper  on a form of time series plot called a horizon.

Sizing the Horizon: The Effects of Chart Size and Layering on the Graphical Perception of  Time Series Visualizations

Jeffrey Heer, Nicholas Kong, Maneesh Agrawala


We investigate techniques for visualizing time series data and evaluate their effect in value comparison tasks. We compare line charts with horizon graphs -- a space-efficient time series visualization technique -- across a range of chart sizes, measuring the speed and accuracy of subjects' estimates of value differences between charts. We identify transition points at which reducing the chart height results in significantly differing drops in estimation accuracy across the compared chart types, and we find optimal positions in the speed-accuracy tradeoff curve at which viewers performed quickly without attendant drops in accuracy. Based on these results, we propose approaches for increasing data density that optimize graphical perception. 

ACM Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), 2009. pp. 1303 - 1312. 

Awarded a Best Paper Award.

Below are a few images from the paper. 

An example of this technique in ProtoVis is also available.