Monday 31 December 2018

Some Do, Some Don't: There's not much Difference: It's more complicated that that (2018)

Many of the founding principles of physics as a science are built on frameworks and ideas that have been around for hundreds of years. These 'laws of nature' and working principles, along with much more recent speculation, theory, observation and experiment are so attractive as a body of human knowledge that for science, we often try to read physic(al) science. Researchers in other fields often show signs of physics envy - with biologists and social scientists being most guilty of this type of behaviour (it is interesting perhaps to note that chemists, though less in the limelight these days that they used to be, on the whole are rarely envious of physicists).

Physics envy is a most wasteful emotional condition. The simple fact is that no other scientific field will have the same structure or dynamics as physics, because they study different phenomena, subject to different laws. In addition, many of the other sciences are so very young compared with physics that their relative immaturity does not help. I suspect that time, and the application of serious levels of effort and hard work, will be one of the most important factors required to create more solid foundations for psychology, sociology, ecology, biology and genetics. Unfortunately for everyone, including the tax-payers who fund the majority of scientific research, modern science is performed in a state of perpetual hyper-competitiveness. Although this is an understandable need from the point of view of the career development of individual scientists, for the overall health of human knowledge it is corrosive.

As an example, HERE, is a summary by Ed Yong in The Atlantic of the results of ManyLabs 2 - a serious attempt to replicate the findings of 28 well known psychological experiments. Unsurprisingly, half of them are not-reproducible. What is perhaps more interesting, is the author's take on the study: 
Ironically enough, it seems that one of the most reliable findings in psychology is that only half of psychological studies can be successfully repeated.
From this, I suggest that it is clear enough that we might want to formulate Yong's Law of psychology:
No more than one-half of the results of published psychological studies will ever be replicated.



The Colour of London, Historic, Personal, & Local. By William J Loftie & Yoshio Markino (1910)

In June 1892, Arthur Conan Doyle published The Adventure of the Copper Beeches in the Strand Magazine. The tale is set in the early 1890's and features his famous detective Sherlock Holmes. The story begins in 221B Baker Street: 
It was a cold morning of the early spring, ... A thick fog rolled down between the lines of dun-coloured houses, and the opposing windows loomed like dark, shapeless blurs through the heavy yellow wreaths. 

Thick pea-souper fogs were a common experience in London throughout the Victorian and Edwardian eras. They formed when natural mists and  fogs from the Thames estuary mixed with the smoke from millions of domestic and industrial coal fires. The distinctive colouring of the fogs is thought to be due to the dissolution of coal tars from smoke that is typical of incomplete coal combustion. 

London fog gave rise to a range of unique and dynamic optical experiences, many of which were commented on, or recorded by, artists and writers. The French impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) often mentioned in his letters the unique optical effects of London fog. Although his multiple paintings of the Houses of Parliament, Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge were reworked for many years after he first painted them, they remain important visual records of his attempts to capture the fleeting effects of colour and light caused by London fog.  Monet commented that `... objects change in appearance in a London fog more and quicker than in any other atmosphere'. Other artistic responses to British fog include the Manchester cityscapes that were painted by the French impressionist Pierre Adolphe Valette (1876-1942), who taught at the Manchester School of Art between 1906 and 1920. 

The Japanese artist Yoshio Markino (1869-1956) arrived in London in 1897, after having spent four years studying art in San Francisco. Markino was captivated by the mist and fog he found in both San Francisco and London and developed a technique for soaking his paper prior to watercolour painting,  so that he could paint the backgrounds of his pictures whilst the paper was still damp: 
London in mist is far above my own ideal ... Whether it is unhealthy or not, is not the question for me. The colour and its effect are most wonderful. I think London without mists would be like a bride without a trousseau .. The London mist attracts me so that I do not feel I could live in any other place but London.
Markino stayed in London for forty years and became well known in artistic and bohemian circles. He used his outsider's view of London to render even the most ordinary of scenes as mysterious and beautiful. In this painting, the structure of London's Tower Bridge is shown at high tide with a colour contrast softened by evening light and London fog. 

The Japanese essayist and poet Yone Noguchi (1875-1947) became an important bridge between the traditions of Japanese literary culture and the West. Noguchi lived in New York for a number of years before visiting London in 1903 where he stayed with Yoshio Markino. He shared with Markino a keen appreciation of London fog: 
I do not quarrel with the Englishmen when they hate the fogs; but I should like to impress on them their strange beauty ... I often thought of the London fogs as of a great artistic problem ... The beauty of the fogs can only appeal to one whose aestheticism is older than life; their grey effect is a far more living thing than darkness or death.
Yoshio Markino created a large body of work based on his life in London. His watercolours are recognisably of London landmarks, but rendered with an aesthetic reminiscent of Japanese wood block prints.

Scanned copy of Original HERE.

Image Caption: The Tower Bridge


Noguchi, Y. (1915). The story of Yone Noguchi. G.W. Jacobs. Philadelphia.

Novakov, A. & Novakov, T. (2006). The Chromatic Effects of Late Nineteenth-Century London Fog. Literary London Journal. Vol. 4 Number 2.

Rodner, W.S. (2011). Edwardian London through Japanese Eyes. Brill,  Leiden.

Sunday 30 December 2018

Engraving and Etching: a handbook for the use of students and print collectors. By Friedrich Lippmann (1907)

Engraving is a print making technique, in which the artist cuts their design into the smooth, flat surface of a metal plate or woodblock. There are two related techniques. In relief printing, the uncut surface of the engraved block is inked and these areas transfer ink onto the final print. The material that was cut away by the engraver does not accept any of the ink and so these areas of paper in the final print remain without ink.  The intaglio technique is the direct opposite of relief printing. This method also uses a line cut into a metal surface, but now it is the cut line that accepts the ink. After the surface has been wiped with a cloth and the palm of the hand, an impression of the cut design is then made onto dampened paper. Impressions taken from either of these methods are usually called prints or engravings. 

Intaglio printing is a technically demanding process. The engraver sketches out a mirror image of the composition onto a prepared copper plate with an engraving needle. The final engraving is then created on this drypoint sketch with a burin or graver -  a sharpened tool of square or diamond shape that creates a v-shaped groove in the metal surface. Mistakes are removed using a burnisher.  

Two related techniques are used in intaglio engraving to create texture and shade. Hatching involves the cutting of closely spaced parallel lines. Cross-hatching involves the cutting of lines at an angle to a set of hatched parallel lines. By varying the length, width, angle and closeness of the lines that are hatched or cross-hatched, an engraver can create brightness, texture, form and volume. The intaglio technique can be used to create exquisite details as it allows a much finer line to be printed than is possible from a relief printed wood block. 

Claude Mellan (1598-1688) was born in Abbeville in Picardy. As a youth, Mellan was sent to Paris by his father to study drawing with the artist Simon Vouet (1590-1649). However, Mellan became increasingly interested in the art of  engraving and at 16 he went to Rome to further his study of Italian engraving techniques. By the time he was in his early twenties, Mellan had developed a new technique for creating shade in his engravings. Instead of using cross-hatching with lines of equal thickness, he developed a way of regulating tone simply by varying the breadth and closeness of a system of undulating parallel lines. Joseph Strutt describes his technique as follows;  
... he adopted a new mode of working with single strokes only, without any second strokes laid upon them; and the shadows are expressed by the same strokes, being made stronger, and brought nearer to each other. The effect, which he produced by this method of engraving, is soft and clear.

One of Claude Mellan's most celebrated works is the Sudarium of Saint Veronica which he engraved in 1649. Although a sudarium was originally a `sweat-cloth' used for wiping the face, it is better known as a religious image that bears the likeness of the face of Jesus Christ. The Sudarium image by Mellan shows the face of Christ, with long flowing hair, a beard and wearing a crown of thorns. What is extraordinary about this engraving is that Mellan has created the whole image by unfurling a single line that spirals outwards from the tip of Christ's nose. The contrast in the image is created solely by varying the thickness of this single line and the distance between lines. The author of this volume notes that: 
His technical skill is so extraordinary that the bravura of his style almost drives into the background his undeniable artistic talent. He expresses form by bold, sweeping lines, without the aid of cross-hatching, and obtains his modelling merely by widening his lines in the shadows and making them finer towards the light.

Between 1635 and 1637, Claude Mellan worked with the gentleman scientist Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637) and the astronomer Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655) to make a detailed lunar map based on observations made through Gassendi's telescope. This was part of a larger project to make a detailed annotated map of the Moon's surface.  The technical difficulties in this endeavour were substantial. 

The three engravings that resulted from this collaboration were finalised in 1637. They were the clearest and most detailed observational records of the moon then available. In part, their quality was due to the high quality optical components from Galileo that they had used for the observations. Scott Montgomery describes these images as follows:
Mellan's images, with their near-photographic precision, are such a startling leap beyond everything that had gone before -- even Galileo's pictures -- that we are left almost breathless ... Gassendi, Peiresc, and Mellan presented art as a domain of expertise within science.    
The exquisite quality of these images of the Moon's surface was primarily due to the artistic skills and superb engraving technique of Claude Mellan. This was high art in the service of high science.

Scanned copy of Original HERE.

Image Caption: A detail from a portrait of Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc that was engraved by Claude Mellan in 1637.


Montgomery, S.L. (1999). The Moon and the Western Imagination. University Arizona Press.

Strutt, J. (1785). A biographical dictionary: containing an historical account of all the engravers, from the earliest period of the art of engraving to the present time. Robert Faulder, London.

The Excellency of the Pen and Pencil (1668)

In September 1940,  several young lads and a dog stumbled upon a remarkable cave near Montignac, a small village in the Dordogne region of France. The walls of the cave were full of beautiful pre-historic images depicting animals, humans and abstract symbols. The animal depictions in the Lascaux caves are stylish and accomplished and some of the symbols include non-figurative dot clusters that may be rudimentary star charts. 

Lascaux is a rare time capsule of human mark-making from about 20,000 years ago. The images are beautiful evidence of the sophisticated mark-making skills of the Homo sapiens who had come from Africa and who were living in Europe from about 40,000 years ago.  To modern humans the antiquity of the Lascaux images is daunting. Although the images were made at least 1,000 generations ago they show that our ancestors had cognitive capabilities that were essentially identical to our own. 

Even more daunting is the fact that the Lascaux images are relatively modern examples of human symbolic mark making. The oldest known evidence of deliberate human mark making is a 70,000 year old piece of ochre from South Africa that was polished and then engraved with a distinctive, angular geometric pattern. 

The abstract representations engraved into these Blombos ochres are composed of fine geometric patterns. They are the product of manipulative skills and fine motor control that is essentially the same as that of any modern engraver, calligrapher, typographer, watchmaker, artist or scientific instrument maker.

As a species humans are blessed with exquisite manual dexterity, in the form of a tightly integrated eye-brain-hand system. Because we are dominated by our visual sense, it is easy to make the assumption that within the eye-brain-hand system, the eye guides the hand. However, this assumption underestimates the importance of the hand. In some specific and important instances we find that the hand guides the eye.  

Humans naturally use a number of different hand grips. A range of power grips are useful for holding on to an object whilst forcefully hammering or throwing. More important for mark-making is a range of specialised, precision grips. These are not used to deliver force, but rather to exploit the very fine control our hands are capable of. 

An immediately recognisable and distinctive human precision grip is the pen-hold grip which is shown most clearly in the top-right panel of the image. This grip is the most important precision grip that we habitually use for mark-making. Using this grip, humans can delicately control a sharpened stick, pen, pencil, burin or brush. Historically, this grip has allowed medieval scribes, ancient Chinese calligraphers and modern engravers to create exquisitely controlled movements that were recorded onto parchment or paper or into blocks of wood or metal. 

It is easy to be tricked by the ubiquity of this grip into thinking that it is commonplace, it is not, this is a uniquely human grip; 
In particular, the way one holds a pen (and other, similar objects) is known as the precision grip - and even our closest primate relatives cannot manipulate objects with such delicacy and skill.

This book was published in 1668 in Little Britain, an area at the north of the City of London that is close to the Lame Hospital (St. Bartholomew's) and the Aldersgate within what remained of the city's Roman walls. It was published soon after London's Great Plague (1665, 1666) and the Great Fire of London (1666).  

In the 17th Century, Little Britain was dominated by booksellers. In 1664 alone, nearly five hundred pamphlets were published there. The writer Roger North describes Little Britain in the reign of Charles II as;
... a plentiful and perpetual emporium of learned authors, and men went thither as to a market. This drew a mighty trade, the rather because the shops were spacious, and the learned gladly resorted to them, where they seldom failed to meet with agreeable conversation. 
Two editions of this anonymous volume were published in 1668. It is a disjointed collection of illustrations and passages that explain a wide range of mark-making techniques: Drawing; Etching; Engraving; Painting in Oyl; Washing of Maps & Pictures; Limning (painting miniatures); copper plate etching with Aqua Fortis and in the second edition an explanation of mezzotint.

Scanned copy of Original HERE.

Image Caption: Clockwise from top left the panels show: an artist sketching a foot; an engraver copying an image; a painter working at an easel with a palette and mahl stick and a cartographer finishing a map using pots of ink or colour.}


Breuil, H.(1941). `A Remarkable Painted Cave on the Estate of Lescaux.'  Nature. 147, 12-13.

North, R (1984). General Preface & Life of Dr. John North. Ed. P. Millard. UTP, Toronto.

Staski, E. & Marks, J. (1992). Evolutionary Anthropology. Harcourt Brace, Fort Worth, Texas.

The Social Life of Animals by Warder Clyde Allee (1938)

On the west coast of Mexico, between the mainland and the Baja peninsula, is a long narrow body of water known variously as the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez, Mar de Cortes and the Vermilion Sea. This narrow sea has a coastline of about 2,500 miles and a number of major rivers run into it, including the Colorado river that runs through the Grand Canyon. It is home to a unique marine ecosystem with an incredible variety of species. 

Although there were earlier expeditions, the first thorough ecological study of this sea was a trip made in 1940 by a famous author and his marine biologist friend;
... modern marine biology in the Gulf of California had its birth with the remarkable pioneering expedition of Ed Ricketts and John Steinbeck aboard the Western Flyer.

Ricketts and Steinbeck began their six week trip from Monterey and passed key points at San Diego, Point San Lazaro, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Refugio. During the trip Ricketts, Steinbeck and the crew collected from 24 sites and catalogued more than 400 species. A year after their trip they published their findings in Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research. One expert on the marine biology of the area says; 
For more than thirty years, their expedition report was the only place anyone could turn for a synoptic view of invertebrate life in the Sea of Cortez.

Ed Ricketts (1897-1948) was born and brought up in Chicago. In 1917, towards the end of the first world war, he was drafted into the Army Medical Corps. After the war he was discharged and then attended a wide range of classes at the University of Chicago including zoology, philosophy, Spanish and German. However, it was the ecology lectures of Warder Clyde Allee that had the most profound impact on him. The last formal college class that Ricketts  took was Allee's course in animal ecology in 1922. Soon after, Ricketts left Chicago for the Monterey peninsula on the California coast. 

Warder Clyde Allee (1885-1955) was a pioneering ecologist who made a number of detailed studies of the causes and types of animal aggregation and cooperation.  One of his seminal observations in the late 1920's was that goldfish grew faster in water that had previously held goldfish than in fresh water. This observation and later experiments became known as the Allee Effect, a counter intuitive effect in which there is a positive correlation between population density and individual fitness. 

In a recent monograph dedicated to the Allee Effect, it is defined as the idea that `the more individuals there are (up to a point), the better they fare'. The authors of the monograph explain that;
The Allee effect is an ecological concept with roots that go back at least to the 1920s, and fifty years have elapsed since the last edition of a book by W.C. Allee, the `father' of this process. Throughout this period, hardly a single mention of this process could be found in ecological textbooks ... The situation has appeared to change dramatically in the last decade or so, however, and we now find an ever-increasing number of studies from an ever-increasing range of disciplines devoted to or at least considering the Allee effect.

This volume is a transcription of a series of lectures that Allee gave at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1937. It is an attempt by this pioneering ecologist to present in plain language the results of his long term research project on animal co-operation, social behaviour and aggregation.

Scanned copy of Original HERE.

Image Caption: One of Allee's original figures: a Brittle starfish aggregate readily when put into a bare vessel of sea water. b shows conditions ten minutes after a was taken.


Brusca, R. C. (2007). 'Invertebrate Biodiversity in the Northern Gulf of California'.  pp. 418--504, in, R. S. Felger & W. Broyles (Eds.), Dry Borders. Great Natural Reserves of the Sonoran Desert.  University of Utah Press.

Courchamp, F., Berec, L.\& Gascoigne, J. (2009). Allee Effects in Ecology and Conservation. Oxford University Press.

Rodger, K.A. (2006). Breaking Through. Essays, Journals and Travelogues of Edward F. Ricketts. University of California Press, Berkeley.

The Colour-prints of Japan: an Appreciation and History (1906)

Woodblock printing has been used in China since at least the fourth century AD.  The earliest Japanese examples of block printing dates from several hundred years later in the reign of Empress Shiyau-toku (764-770). 

The woodblock technique reached its highest level of excellence and popularity in the Ukiyo-e style of prints that were popular from the 17th century until the early 19th century. These popular prints depict actors, sumo wrestlers, beautiful women, landscapes, trees, flowers, erotica and scenes from folk history. The prints were created by a collaborative quartet: the artist who conceived the composition and drew the image; the engraver who carved the design into multiple blocks of wild cherry wood, one block for each colour; the printer who inked the blocks and made the printed impressions and the publisher who financed the work and marketed the results.  

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was an artist who painted more than thirty thousand designs. He was also a master designer of Ukiyo-e prints. One of his favourite subjects was the distinctive peak of Mount Fuji. This was painted from different vantage points, in different seasons and under different weather conditions. Sometimes the mountain completely dominates the scene. In others, it almost disappears into the background behind an old man working on a barrel, or a busy river crossing or an agricultural activity.  Even the best known of Hokusai's prints, the The Great Wave off Kanagawa, although dominated by a huge okinami wave that is threatening to engulf several boat loads of sailors, has in the background the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji. 

The image shown here, Hodogoya on the Tokaid0, is from the set of 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai that was first published in 1830.  This original series of prints was so popular that Hokusai later added another ten views of Mount Fuji to the series. 

This scene shows a small group of travellers who are making their way along a tree lined avenue near to Hodogoya on the Tokaido highway, leading away from Edo.  At the left is a traveller being carried in a litter or kago, who is waiting for one of the bearers to mop his brow and the other to tie his sandal.  At the centre of the composition the man who is leading the horse is pointing his herding stick towards Mount Fuji in the background. The form of the horse borne passenger with a domed hat mirrors the peak of Mount Fuji and the horse blanket incorporates designs derived from the seal of the publisher.  At the right is an itinerant monk wearing a sedge hat and bearing a flute in his clothing. Behind this scene of everyday movements on the road sits the imperious and immobile Fujiyama.   

During his long artistic career Hokusai used thirty-one pen names (including: Katsukawa Shunro, Gummatei , Tawaraya Sori, Hyakurin Sori, Kako, Tokimasa, Taito & Manji). By his mid seventies he called himself Gwakio-rojin, the old man, mad about drawing and he wrote the following:
From the age of five I have had a mania for drawing the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of great note. At the age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true quality  of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees.  Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvellous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own. I only beg that gentlemen of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words. 
Hokusai was one of Japan's most prolific artists, but until recently only a small number of his preparatory sketches and drawings for illustrations were known.  The recent discovery by M. Bertrand Rousseau of a private European collection of 24 sheets of preparatory sketches and drawings for illustrations printed between 1807 and 1815 has filled a void. Meticulous examination of these works has shed some light on the period when Hokusai was at the peak of his artistic mastery, and has led to a series of striking discoveries about his working methods. Hokusai developed a visual shorthand to indicate to the engraver how they wanted particular details, such as the decoration of items of clothing or clumps of pine needles, to be rendered.  For me one of the most interesting aspects of this study is a series of very detailed comparisons between the published prints and corresponding preparatory sketches. 

This book was written by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Fairbrother Strange CBE (1862-1929) a British civil servant who worked at the South Kensington Museum from 1889, where he headed the department of Engraving, Illustration and Design for a long period and later became Keeper of Woodwork.  Strange was an expert who wrote numerous museum catalogues and popular books on Japanese arts and crafts.

Scanned copy of Original HERE.

Image Caption: Hodogoya on the Tokaido by Katsushika Hokusai.


Amsden, D. (1905). Impressions of Ukiyo-ye. Elder & Co. San Francisco.

Lane, R. (1978). Images from the Floating World. Putnam, New York.

Rousseau, B. (2009). `Drawings by Hokusai: Groundbreaking discoveries'. Orientations Magazine Vol. 40. No. 6.

The Crayfish; an Introduction to the Study of Zoology (1880)

The remarkable English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) was a self-taught comparative anatomist, paleontologist and geologist. He published widely the results of his own technical work on the anatomy and physiology of both vertebrates and invertebrates and their evolutionary relationships. He also become known as Darwin's Bulldog due to his robust public defence of Charles Darwin's work, whilst remaining critical of some aspects of Darwin's theory. Once Huxley had understood the theory of Natural Selection, he remarked; `How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!'  

Huxley was a well known public intellectual who actively tried to educate the Victorian public about  the methods and joys of natural history and biology. In this volume he gives a detailed examination of the crayfish, a class of common freshwater invertebrates related to the lobster, as a means to illustrate his approach to science;
Many persons seem to believe that what is termed Science is of a widely different nature from ordinary knowledge, and that the methods by which scientific truths are ascertained involve mental operations of a recondite and mysterious nature, comprehensible only by the initiated, and as distinct in their character as in their subject matter, from the processes by which we discriminate between fact and fancy in ordinary life.

But any one who looks into the matter attentively will soon perceive that there is no solid foundation for the belief that the realm of science is thus shut off from that of common sense; or that the mode of investigation which yields such wonderful results to the scientific investigator, is different in kind from that which is employed for the commonest purposes of everyday existence. Common sense is science exactly in so far as it fulfils the ideal of common sense; that is, sees facts as they are, or, at any rate, without the distortion of prejudice, and reasons from them in accordance with the dictates of sound judgment. And science is simply common sense at its best; that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.

Huxley tried to show that science was simply common sense at its best by delivering public lectures, many of which were later published. His method was to take an apparently obscure or abstract issue and explain it using commonplace objects that ordinary readers might reasonably be able to relate to. In 1868 he delivered a lecture On a piece of Chalk to the working men of Norwich. In 1870 he spoke at the Philosophical Institute in Bradford On the Formation of Coal.  In 1861 he gave a lecture to the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum) on A Lobster; Or, the study of Zoology, which was both a precursor to this volume on the crayfish and an explanation of how the various elements of the physical and biological sciences were related. 

In this beautifully illustrated volume, Thomas Huxley aimed;
... to show how the careful study of one of the commonest and most insignificant of animals, leads us, step by step, from every-day knowledge to the widest generalizations and the most difficult problems of zoology; and, indeed, of biological science in general.  
Between 1862 and 1884 Huxley served on eight Royal Commissions, including; trawling, contagious diseases, scientific instruction, vivisection and medical law. Huxley is often referred to as a loyal supporter of Darwin, but he was an outstanding comparative anatomist in his own right.

Scanned copy of Original HERE.

Image Caption: The Australian crayfish. Huxley does not give the full latin name for this specimen, but indicates it is probably Astacoides nobilis or Astacoides armatus.


Holdich, D.M. (Ed.) (2001). Biology of Freshwater Crayfish. Blackwell Science. London.

Huxley, T.H. (1896). Discourses Biological and Geological. Appleton and Company, New York. 

Apollo Mission 17 Lunar Photography Index Maps (1973)

Just after midnight on December 7th 1972, the Apollo 17 mission launched from the  Kennedy Space Center in Florida with three crew; Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt. The launch was the first to be made during the night. The science fiction writer Isaac Asimov was watching the launch from a cruise liner off the coast of Florida;
It lit the sky from horizon to horizon, turning the ocean an orange-grey and the sky into an inverted copper bowl from which the starts were blanked out.
The 12 day long Apollo 17 mission was the sixth and final mission to land humans on the surface of the Moon. In total only 24 people have ever left Earth orbit, and of those only 12 have stepped on the surface of the Moon. Since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 nobody has ventured further from the Earth's surface than low Earth orbit (160-2,000 kilometres). 

One of the lasting legacies of the Apollo missions is the huge archive of high quality photographic images - over 30,000 in total. Apollo missions 15,16 and 17 deployed a high quality Panoramic camera, that could obtain pictures of narrow strips of the Moons surface as the service module orbited the Moon. At the scale of the Moon's surface, these images were 20 kilometers wide and nearly 320 kilometers long,  with high resolution that could be used to identify features down to about 2 meters in size. During Apollo 17, the panoramic camera was used on nine orbits and obtained nearly 1600 usable images. 

The Panoramic camera automatically recorded images, but the Apollo 17 crewmen could intervene to control the camera power and operational modes. The film cartridges were retrieved from the external location. 

The image shown here is part of an index map, on which the locations of the image strips were plotted. This index map shows the Moon's surface close to the crater Copernicus (which can be seen on a clear night from the Earth using binoculars). The crater is located slightly left of and above 20° W, 10° N, which is at the centre of the side of the Moon that faces the Earth. Further south is the Mare Cognitum (literally the Sea that has become known). Several spacecraft have landed on, or near to, Mare Cognitum, including; Luna 5, Ranger 7, Surveyor 3, and Apollo 12. The landing site of Apollo 14, the Fra Mauro formation, is also close to Mare Cognitum.

Many of the features on the surface of the moon are named after pioneering astronomers or optical scientists. These names are not well known outside of astronomy, but when the names of these pioneers are collected together they form surprisingly lyrical stanzas; 
Kepler, Flamsteed, Wolf.Marius, Milichius.Lalander, Loewy. Gassendi, Euclides.Gambart, Lippershey, Kies.

In the the early 1990's the American landscape photographer Michael Light obtained permission from NASA to work with the archive of original photographic negatives from all of their Moon missions. The result of this collaboration included the publication of a book by Light called Full Moon in 1999. This was his imagined photographic narrative of a single Moon mission created by composite. Light also created very large digital prints from the images and made a travelling exhibition of them. A selection of these prints are on permanent exhibit at the America Museum of Natural History in New York.

Scanned copy of Original HERE.

Image Caption: Part of sheet 2 of the Apollo Mission 17 Lunar Photography Index map. This map provides a spatial index of the strips of large format black and white images that were taken by the 610 mm focal length ITEK panoramic camera used on the mission. The high-resolution panoramic photographs were recorded in stereoscopic and monoscopic modes. The orbital altitude for the panoramic images was 111 kilometres above the moon's surface.


Asimov, I. (1975). The tragedy of the Moon. London.

Light, M. (1999). Full Moon. Jonathan Cape Ltd. London.

Smith, A. (2005). Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth. Harper Collins. London.

Apples & Pears (1911)

The  American writer Henry Thoreau (1817-1862), once listed the items he thought he would need for an expedition to the Maine woods; pins, needles, thread, matches, soap, old newspapers, cord, a blanket, bread, a spyglass, a tape measure, paper. As the engineer Henry Petroski later pointed out, in his history of the pencil, one of the few things that Thoreau forgot to include in this list was a pencil; 
Perhaps the very object with which he may have been drafting his list was too close to him, too familiar a part of his own everyday outfit, too integral a part of his livelihood, too common a thing for him to think to mention.

One object that is even more common than a pencil is an apple. Globally, more than 500 billion apples (about 70 million tonnes) are harvested every year. It is the main fruit crop of the temperate regions of the world.  Apples are part of the large Rosaceae family of flowering herbs, shrubs and trees, which also includes other common fruit crops such pears, plums, cherries, apricots and walnuts. Doctor Robert Hogg, a leading Victorian expert on fruit cultivation and a secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society, pointed out in his book The Apple and its Varieties;
There is no fruit in temperate climates so universally esteemed, and so extensively cultivated, nor is there any which is so closely identified with the social habits of the human species as the apple.

The modern apple has been created by thousands of years of selective cross breeding and cultivation of the ancestral wild apple Malus sieversii.  This species is the only wild species of apple that shares all the qualities of the domesticated apple in terms of fruit and tree morphology. The near universality of apple cultivation is reflected in the thousand's of different apple varieties that are known worldwide;
Alkmene, Ballyfatten, Catshead, Dumelow's Seedling, Empire, Fuji, Glockenapfel, Hawaii, Idared, Jonathon, Kerry Pippin, Lodi, Mantet, Nickajack, Orin, Peasgood's Nonsuch, Rajka, Santana, Topaz, Uland, Vernajou, Wealthy, Yamborka, Zhigulevskoe.

The most remarkable feature of this richness and diversity is that these are not separate species of apple: they are all varieties of the domesticated apple species, Malus domestica.

It is likely that wild apples originated somewhere in the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains of central asia. At the south-east corner of Kazakstan, close to the borders of Kyrgyzstan and the westernmost provinces of China, is the city of Almaty (sometimes translated as Father of the Apple).  The globe trotting Soviet botanist Nikolai Vavlilov (1887-1943) visited Almaty in the 1920's and saw;
Thickets of wild apples stretch out through an extensive area around the city and along the slopes of the mountain ... here we were in a remarkable centre of origin of apples, where cultivated forms did not rank noticeably above wild ones...

The mixed forests around Almaty, and further into the Tien Shan range, are full of wild apples and pears with an enormous natural diversity of shape, colour, size and taste.

The author of this volume, George Bunyard, was the third generation owner of a famous orchard in Maidstone, Kent that had been founded in 1796. His son, Edward Ashdown Bunyard (1878-1939), came into the family business in 1896 and eventually took over the orchard from George Bunyard. Edward Bunyard became famous as a nurseryman, an epicure, a writer (one book was a celebration of fruit called The Anatomy of Dessert) and, almost inevitably perhaps, a student and critic of apples.

Scanned copy of Original HERE.

Image Caption: Left: Cox's Orange Pippin. The best dessert Apple. Right: Cox's Pomona Apple. Ripens in October; suitable for the dessert or for cooking.


Morgan, J.,  Richards, A. & Dowle, E.  (2003). The New Book of Apples: The Definitive Guide to Over 2,000 Varieties. Ebury Press, England.

Petroski, H. (1989). The Pencil. A History of Design and Circumstance. Faber & Faber, London.

Vavilov, N. (1997). Five Continent. International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy.

Wilson, E. (Editor) (2007). The Downright Epicure. Prospect Books. Trowbridge.

Velasco, R., Zharkikh, A., Affourtit, J. et al. (2010). 'The genome of the domesticated apple (Malus x. domestica Borkh.)'. Nature Genetics. 42, 833-839.


An empty field. The nearest house is 1km away. It’s freezing cold. What I am doing here?

Every place has a memory. Perhaps dreams. This one has nightmares.

Nearly a hundred people were massacred right on this spot. I am possibly the very last person to know that it happened.

A fantastic series of Tweets by Fran├žois Chollet on the history of a now deserted field in France, and how 80 people came to perish there in a Roman villa.

Image from HERE

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Wendy McNaughton NYT

HERE is the website of Wendy MacNaughton a best-selling illustrator and graphic journalist who works for the New York Times

Eric's, Probe And The Armadillo: The Story Of Liverpool Music (1976-1988)

A superb feature in the Quietus on the Liverpool music scene from 1976. The central triangle of venues was the Club Eric's, the record shop Probe, and the Armadillo tearooms. I was a regular at all three venues, and this is the best article I have read on the heady creativity that was created in this small part of Liverpool at that period.

Artificial Intelligence has all the rigour of Alchemy (2018)

In what some people might see as 'news', and others see as a statement of the screamingly obvious, Science magazine reports that some AI researchers are concerned that Artificial Intelligence has now achieved the status of alchemy (which the Merriam Webster dictionary helpfully defines as 'a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life.')

The AI researcher who has blown the whistle is Ali Rahimi, who is concerned that researchers do not know why some algorithms work and others don't, nor do they have rigorous criteria for choosing one AI architecture over another. 


Science article HERE. Cited paper HERE

Monday 24 December 2018

On Alan Booth's Protestant Walk Ethic (2018)

Here is a review in the Japan Times of This Great Stage of Fools - a collection of previously hard to track down writings by the British writer Alan Booth (1946 - 1993). 

Booth wrote two travel books on Japan that are easier to find - The Roads to Sata, a description of a 2,000-mile walk he had made from the top to the bottom of Japan, and Looking for the Lost, a collection of writings on smaller journeys he had made. 

Review HERE.
Image from HERE

Charles Darwin’s Voyage on the Beagle

A map from an unbelievable resource on the History of Ecological Sciences by Frank Egerton, a great 35 page synopsis of the work that Charles Darwin did on the voyage of the HMS Beagle (1831-1836) and the subsequent use of the work by Darwin across his whole career.