Wednesday 28 March 2012

The Wondergraph (1913)

The recently created turntable driven Drawing Machine HERE, reminded me of an image from an article on making a "wondergraph" which appeared in Windsor, H. H., Ed. The Boy Mechanic. Chicago: Popular Mechanics Press, 1913.

It was a precurser to the Spirograph

Tuesday 27 March 2012

More songs about...

The front cover of the album  More Songs About Buildings and Food (Talking Heads' second album) was  conceived by the lead singer David Byrne and executed by artist Jimmy De Sana. It is a mosaic image of the band comprising 529 close-up Polaroid photographs. 

This cover preceded by a few years the series of Polaroid montages made by David Hockney. In fact Hockney's series of images are better than this cover image, but the principle idea is the same.

Hockney says that these are "pictures that describe how we see - not all at once, but in discrete, separate glimpses... to synthesize a living impression."

This album title was mocked by the Undertones on their second album Hypnotized with a song titled "More songs about Chocolate and Girls". 

Sunday 25 March 2012

Elements of Intense Seeing

The seven elements of Intense Seeing.

The intense seeing assumption is that if we can add, by some means, additional discriminatory power to seeing, then intense seeing is what results. This is the basis of both excellence and innovation in art and science.  

There are seven discrete conceptual elements of intense seeing and often with each concept there is an appropriate law of parsimony that can be applied and these often provide practical benefits and ensure intense seeing. 

To provide an easy way to remember these seven elements each has been given an object to represent the element.  

The Eye. All seeing uses the human eye. It is a wonderful foundation for intense seeing and it has four qualities that are of particular importance; acuity, sensitivity, colour and registration of movement.

The Hand. The hand guides the eye when it has a pencil in it and an intent to record an impression of what is being seen. What is seen when using a pencil is demonstrably different from what is seen otherwise.

The Pencil. Is an archetype of a device for capturing important morphological information. It is one half of the most rudimentary of recording devices. It has some unique properties.

The Dice. Sometimes for intense seeing a controlled amount of chance is useful.

The Notepad. Setting out to observe with the intent to make any kind of notation or  record changes what you see. This is also the second half of the most rudimentary of recording devices.

The Ruler. Introducing a formal means of dividing space or time is one of the core design steps we can take to get improved discrimination and quantification.

The Magnifier. A magnifier provides a real increase in the resolving power of the eye. But all real magnifiers have issues and they must be used with caution.

Icons from

Thursday 22 March 2012

How long is the Mississippi - the 1933 Longimeter

The Steinhaus longimeter was patented in Germany in 1933 by the the Polish mathematician Professor Hugo Steinhaus (1887 – 1972) , it is simple instrument that can be used to estimate the length of a complex curved feature on a map, e.g. a river. 

The instrument consists of a transparent sheet with three perpendicular grids spaced by 3.82 millimetres and each turned by 30 degrees. The length estimate is made by counting the crossings of the curve with the grid lines. The number of crossings is the approximate length of the curve in millimetres.

Steinhaus was sufficiently taken with this excellent idea that he filed a German patent to protect it in 1933, patent number DRGM 1241513.

An explanation of how the Longimeter works was given by Steinhaus in his book Mathematical Snapshots published in 1950 by Oxford University Press

Perhaps unsurprisingly, with Steinhaus' interest in measuring complex linear geographical features, he was the peer reviewer of Benoit Mandelbrot's landmark paper on fractal geometery; How long is the coast of Britain? Statistical self-similarity and fractional dimension. Science156, 1967, 636-638.

[The British cartographic society estimate that the coastline of Britain is about 31,368 km.]

Wednesday 21 March 2012

What kind of mind?

Due to the internet and web there is now a great deal of difference between how we can learn about things that already exist in our scientific and artistic culture and how we used to - it is a difference as great as that between the library of Alexandria and the World brain of H.G. Wells.
What kind of mind is needed to make sense of the way we can access this interconnected and sometimes unreliable information? In the book Five Minds for the Future Howard Gardner calls this the “synthesizing mind” : 

The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons. Valuable in the past, the capacity to synthesize becomes ever more crucial as information continues to mount at dizzying rates.

Friday 9 March 2012

Thynnus Thunnina


Wednesday 7 March 2012


The tiny fishing village of Craster lies on the North East coast of the UK in Northumberland. It is famous locally for its kippers. From the village you can walk along the shore to the ruins of Dunstanborough castle. The building of the castle was started by the Earl of Lancaster in 1313 and is the largest in Northumberland.

Below is a painting of Dunstanborough by J.M.W. Turner from his book of landscape studies Liber Studiorum (1806-1819), which was donated to Oxford by John Ruskin. Image from HERE

Sunday 4 March 2012

Birds Eggs

From James Fisher and Roger Tory Peterson's World of Birds

Roger Tory Peterson (Illustrator)
Maurice Chandler (Editor)
Susan Tibbles (Designer)
James Fisher (Author)
Crescent Books; New York, NY
191 p.
27 x 20 cm.

Scale bar added by MGR 4th March 2012, based on average length of Emu egg from Wikipedia article.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Drawn by Ingold

The world of mycology, the study of the biology of fungi in all of its various guises, is a relatively cloistered one and is rarely in the forefront of peoples minds (though without fungi we would not have bread, beer, wine or soy sauce). Fungi have for centuries been treated as part of the plant kingdom and most breakthroughs historically have been by botanists. More recently there has been a change and from an evolutionary point of view fungi are classified as a separate kingdom, that are genetically closer to the animal kingdom than they are to plants. 

Pioneering mycologists have included the Swede Elias Magnus Fries (1794-1878), the South African Christian Hendrik Persoon (1761-1836), the German Anton de Bary (1831-1888) and the German-American Lewis David von Schweinitz (1780-1834). In the past 100 years or so British mycologists have had a major impact worldwide on this field of science and the British Mycological Society, which was founded in 1896, has been a key learned society in mycology for over a hundred years. The BMS has had many notable members, but perhaps the most interesting of all of these mycologists to non-experts, was the incredible Anglo-Irish scholar Prof. Cecil Terence Ingold (1905-2010).

Ingold was born in Blackrock, Dublin in 1905, the son of an English born National Education Officer Edwin George Ingold and his wife Gertrude Ingold. By 1911 Ingold and his family (including his sister Kathleen and their servant Isabella Hawthorne) were living in Donaghodee Road, Bangor County Down.  

Ingold attended Queen's University Belfast and graduated with a first-class honours degree in Botany in 1926. He then took up a one-year scholarship at the Royal College of Science in London, studying with Sir John Farmer in the school of botany. By 1929 he had completed a PhD and been appointed a lecturer at Reading University, then lecturer in charge of botany (1937-44) at University College, Leicester. It was whilst he was in Leicester that Ingold found a form of water borne fungi in a foam that he found in the brook near his house. This discovery led him to write a paper in 1942 that described 16 species and 13 genera, in total he discovered hundreds of species of these fungi. They are now known as Ingoldian fungi in his honour. 

For 28 years (1944-72), he was professor of botany at Birkbeck College, London, where he was vice-master from 1965 until 1970.

Ingold formally "retired" from his University post at age 67, but just carried on working at home. When he was 80 he had a festscrift in his honour that listed 174 publications. But he still hadn't finished, in fact he carried on to publish another 100 papers after this and his last scientific paper was published when he was 93. 

Above all else Ingold was a phenomenal field observer and experimentalist. Many of his papers and books are illustrated with his own line-drawings, both macroscopic and also microscopic camera lucida derived images. He also used a water drop technique in which he observed the spore development of a fungi of interest over time and he made repeated drawings to illustrate the course of development.    

The figure below is a re-coloured and slightly modified line drawing made by Ingold that shows a Gyoerffyella craginiformis, a conidium from ditch scum at Wheatfen Broad (Ingold & Ellis 1952). Notice the carefully hand drawn 50 micron scale bar. This is the sign of careful camera lucida observational technique. Assuming the scale of an image, or reporting the magnification of the optical set up used to make the image, do not pin down the observed conidium to a real-world scale.  These are two ways of de-quantifying a scientific image.  Ingold doesn't do this. His observations, as recorded with these simple and elegant line drawings, are images that have been created with Intense Seeing


Obituaries of C.T. Ingold in the Guardian and Independent

Ingold, C.T. & Ellis, E.A. (1952). On some hyphomycete spores including those of Tetracladium maxilliformis, from Wheatfen. Transactions of the British Mycological Society, 35, 158-61.

My involvement with aquatic hyphomycetes. C.T. Ingold Chapter 2 of A Century of Mycology. Editor Brian Sutton. Cambridge University Press 1996.