Sunday 30 September 2018

Equatorie of the Planetis (1393)

The Equatorie of the Planetis  describes an instrument for calculating the positions of the planets. It was probably composed in 1393, and is remarkable for being written in English, not in Latin. It was found accidentally by the historian of science by Derek J. de solla Price in 1951.  The writer was John Westwyk, a Benedictine monk of Tynemouth Priory and St Albans Abbey.

It is  HERE in its entirety as a high resolution digital scan.

Friday 28 September 2018

Reconsidering the West Kirby Hogback (2016)

I live within 250 metres of an ancient stone, known locally as a Hogback Stone, that dates from 900 or 1,000 years ago. The stone is kept in St Bridgets church in West Kirby, on the Wirral peninsula. 

Here is a fascinating paper by Prof Howard Williams that re-considers what this stone is and what it was used for. It exhumes the stone from hundreds of years of previous archaeological consideration and "...reconsiders the commemorative significance of this recumbent stone monument for the locality, region and understanding of Viking Age sculpture across the British Isles. As a result, West Kirby’s importance as an ecclesiastical locale in the Viking Age is reappraised".

Why scatter plots suggest causality, and what we can do about it (2018)

Carl T. Bergstrom, Jevin D. West


Scatter plots carry an implicit if subtle message about causality. Whether we look at functions of one variable in pure mathematics, plots of experimental measurements as a function of the experimental conditions, or scatter plots of predictor and response variables, the value plotted on the vertical axis is by convention assumed to be determined or influenced by the value on the horizontal axis. This is a problem for the public understanding of scientific results and perhaps also for professional scientists’ interpretations of scatter plots. To avoid suggesting a causal relationship between the x and y values in a scatter plot, we propose a new type of data visualization, the diamond plot. Diamond plots are essentially 45◦rotations of ordinary scatter plots; by visually jarring the viewer they clearly indicate that she should not draw the usual distinction between independent/predictor variable and dependent/response variable. Instead, she should see the relationship as purely correlative.


Thursday 27 September 2018

The life and letters of Charles Darwin : including an autobiographical chapter (1896)

From HERE.

How Nature Defies Math in Keeping Ecosystems Stable (2018)

I have quite enjoyed reading Quanta Magazine, it is generally well written and illustrated, and it has interesting science topics. However, one of the things that I consistently don't like about the magazine and similar brands of science journalism is epitomised by one of their latest articles How Nature Defies Math in Keeping Ecosystems Stable (HERE).

It is all wrong. And what is wrong with it is obvious in the title. Nature is a lot of things, but it is definitely not a conscious being that defies anything. It just is. But worse than the  anthropomorphism, is to consider what Nature is defying? It is defying the conclusions of flimsy human made mathematical models. If this title was re-written in a non-Quanta Magazine way, it might best be phrased: How profoundly poor our current mathematical models of real ecosystems still are. This is not so news worthy. 


Tuesday 25 September 2018

The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle (1973)

I was never a mad keen Bruce Springsteen fan. But his second album -  The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle, released in 1973, was always my favourite and still to my ears is his masterpiece. I first heard it in 1975 or 1976 - I was 14 or 15. This album, played repeatedly on a cassette was my introduction to what rock and roll songs could be, with complex poetic storytelling and his ever best band.

The opening 30 seconds of E Street Shuffle are his best writing ever.

HERE is a review of the album from Rolling Stone magazine in 1974.  

Sunday 23 September 2018

The portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt (c. 1225)

From the sketch-book of Villard de Honnecourt (HERE).

Google (1998)

This is what the Google home page looked like when I first used it in 1998. From (HERE).

Why Love Generative Art? (2018)

Above Schotter (Gravel) by George Nees (1968). From a guide to generative art by Jason Bailey (HERE).

Curve fitting methods (2018)

Above a re-done Python version of this XKCD comic on curve fitting (HERE) by Douglas Higinbotham (HERE).

Saturday 22 September 2018

The Sentence is a Lonely Place (2009)

Here is a superb piece in the Guardian on how to write the perfect sentence. It references a piece by Gary Lutz - The Sentence is a Lonely Place - part of which is below. 

The sentence, with its narrow typographical confines, is a lonely place, the loneliest place for a writer, and the temptation for the writer to get out of one sentence as soon as possible and get going on the next sentence is entirely understandable. In fact, the conditions in just about any sentence soon enough become (shall we admit it?) claustrophobic, inhospitable, even hellish. But too often our habitual and hasty breaking away from one sentence to another results in sentences that remain undeveloped parcels of literary real estate, sentences that do not feel fully inhabitated and settled in by language. So many of the sentences we confront in books and magazines look unfinished and provisional, and start to go to pieces as soon as we gawk at and stare into them. They don’t hold up. Their diction is often not just spare and stark but bare and miserly.

More HERE.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

The Shed Project (2018)

Lee John Phillips is cataloguing the entire contents of his late grandfather's tool shed. He estimates that the project will take around 5 years and will involve him hand drawing in excess of 100,000 separate items (HERE).

Image Copyright Lee John Phillips.

Monday 17 September 2018

Study for the Marriage of the Virgin (1566)

By Luca Cambiaso (1527-1585). Pen and brown ink, with brown wash, over black chalk, on paper. From the Morgan Library (HERE). 

Sunday 16 September 2018

Look at your Fish (1999)

From an interview in The Paris Review HERE.


Would you tell us about the motto tacked over your desk? 


It says, “Look at your fish.” It’s the test that Louis Agassiz, the nineteenth-century Harvard naturalist, gave every new student. He would take an odorous old fish out of a jar, set it in a tin pan in front of the student and say, Look at your fish. Then Agassiz would leave. When he came back, he would ask the student what he’d seen. Not very much, they would most often say, and Agassiz would say it again: Look at your fish. This could go on for days. The student would be encouraged to draw the fish but could use no tools for the examination, just hands and eyes. Samuel Scudder, who later became a famous entomologist and expert on grasshoppers, left us the best account of the “ordeal with the fish.” After several days, he still could not see whatever it was Agassiz wanted him to see. But, he said, I see how little I saw before. Then Scudder had a brainstorm and he announced it to Agassiz the next morning: Paired organs, the same on both sides. Of course! Of course! Agassiz said, very pleased. So Scudder naturally asked what he should do next, and Agassiz said, Look at your fish.

Saturday 15 September 2018

Cybernetic Serendipity (1968)

From the press release for the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition, ICA London, 1968. 

Cybernetics - derives from the Greek «kybernetes» meaning «steersman»; our word «governor» comes from the Latin version of the same word. The term cybernetics was first used by Norbert Wiener around 1948. In 1948 his book «Cybernetics» was subtitled «communication and control in animal and machine.» The term today refers to systems of communication and control in complex electronic devices like computers, which have very definite similarities with the processes of communication and control in the human nervous system. A cybernetic device responds to stimulus from outside and in turn affects external environment, like a thermostat which responds to the coldness of a room by switching on the heating and thereby altering the temperature. This process is called feedback. 

Exhibits in the show are either produced with a cybernetic device (computer) or are cybernetic devices in themselves. They react to something in the environment, either human or machine, and in response produce either sound, light or movement. 

Serendipity – was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. There was a legend about three princes of Serendipity (old name for Ceylon) who used to travel throughout the world and whatever was their aim or whatever they looked for, they always found something very much better. Walpole used the term serendipity to describe the faculty of making happy chance discoveries. Through the use of cybernetic devices to make graphics, film and poems, as well as other randomising machines which interact with the spectator, many happy discoveries were made. Hence the title of this show.

More HERE and HERE.

The New York Times reviewer in 1968 noted that Cybernetic Serendipity, “... is an interim report on investigations in progress”, and that, “The computer is a tool to extend our intelligence.” 

Monday 10 September 2018

Basic Ideas of Scientific Sampling (1976)

This is a short book by Alan Stuart that describes very simply the concepts of random sampling needed for statistical analysis with unbiased estimators (such as the sample mean).

It defines the Central Paradox of Sampling:

Once a sample has been obtained it is impossible to tell by inspection of the sample whether it has been obtained by a simple random sampling mechanism or not.

Design for an Audience (2018)

Here is a masterclass in designing visual information displays for the results of serious scientific studies - by Jonathan Corum of the New York Times. Above a set of the headings that Corum talks about. 

The Rougeux - Syme - Werner Nomenclature of Colours (2018)

Here is a superb re-animation of the Werner/Syme colour classification classic from 1821 - by Nicolas Rougeux (who calls himself a Designer, Data Geek and Fractal Nut). 

Sunday 2 September 2018

Data! Data! Data! (1892)

An entertaining piece by D.L. Dusenbury in the Times Literary Supplement on the data obsessed (but sadly fictional) detective Sherlock Holmes (HERE).