Sunday 29 December 2019

News from Nowhere (1890)

Masterworks of the Japanese Gardener's Art (2015)

Above Tofuku-Ji Zen Garden. Kyoto.


The potter's brush: the Kenzan style in Japanese ceramics (2001)

From a prospectus published to accompany an exhibition held at the Freer Gallery of Art, Dec. 9, 2001-Oct. 27, 2002. (HERE).

Snow Crystals (2019)


Kenneth G. Libbrecht
This monograph reviews our current understanding of the physical dynamics of ice crystal growth, focusing on the spontaneous formation of complex structures from water vapor (called snow crystals) as a function of temperature, supersaturation, background gas pressure, and other extrinsic parameters. Snow crystal growth is a remarkably rich and rather poorly understood phenomenon, requiring a synthesis of concepts from materials science, crystal-growth theory, statistical mechanics, diffusion-limited solidification, finite-element modeling, and molecular surface processes. Building upon recent advances in precision measurement techniques, computation modeling methods, and molecular dynamics simulations of crystalline surfaces, I believe we are moving rapidly toward the long-sought goal of developing a full physical model of snow crystal formation, using ab initio molecular dynamics simulations to create a semi-empirical characterization of the nanoscale surface attachment kinetics, and then incorporating that into a full computational model that reproduces the growth of macroscopic crystalline structures. Section 1 of this monograph deals mainly with the material properties of ice Ih in equilibrium, including thermodynamics quantities, facet surface structures, terrace step energies, and crystal twinning behaviors. 

This 525 page monograph is HERE.

Wednesday 25 December 2019

On the Mysteries of Swordsmanship (c. 1768)

Everything written symbols can say has already passed by. They are like tracks left by animals. That is why the masters of meditation refuse to accept that writings are final. The aim is to reach true being by means of those track, those letters, those signs - but reality itself is not a sign, and it leaves no tracks. It doesn't come to us by way of letters or words. We can go toward it, by following those words and letters back to what they came from. But so long as we are preoccupied with symbols, theories and opinions, we will fail to reach the principle. 

- But when we give up symbols and opinions, aren't we left in the utter nothingness of being?
- Yes.

KIMURA KYŪHO, Kenjutsu Fushigi Hen [On the Mysteries of Swordsmanship]

Cited in Robert Bringhurst The Elements of Typographic Style.

Image from HERE.

Saturday 21 December 2019

The Elements of Typographic Style (1992 - 2012)

The design and typesetting of a large quantity of written material into a book is a difficult task. It requires a design mind-set and a detailed understanding of the technical details of typography and text composition. Nowadays, all of these things can be done on a standard issue PC. However, they still require a high level of skill. Before embarking on such a difficult task, it is wise to learn how uninformed and unskilled you are. To wallow in your ignorance. 

There is only one book that you need to read to teach yourself how little you know about typography and the book-arts, and how much there is still to learn - The Elements of Typograpic Style by Robert Bringhurst.

The History of the English paragraph (1894)

An essay on the history and usage of paragraphs in English writing by Edwin Herbert Lewis, submitted as his PhD thesis to the University of Chicago.

The first pararaph reads:  
Historically considered, the word paragraph means (a) a marginal character or note employed to direct attention to some part of the text; (b) a character similar to (a), but placed in the text itself; (c) the division of discourse introduced by a paragraph mark or by indentation, and extending to the next paragraph mark or the next indentation; (d) the rhetorical paragraph, that is, (c) developed to a structural unit capable of organic internal arrangement.
 The name of the typograpical mark used to indicate a paragraph is the Pilcrow:  

More HERE.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Glastonbury Festival 1987

Half a Million views

Since June 2009, I have been posting short pieces to The original aim of the blog was to find a way for me to store the web links for interesting web pages and sites. But over time, the blog has grown to be a personal idea-hoard. It is a way for me to store interesting things outside of my own head. I can then go back to the complete collection of posts for inspiration and ideas. 

I have only a few rules for my posts. Firstly, that I choose an image or illustration that I feel somehow fits the post. Secondly, that I don’t try and tag the post or categorise it in any way. It merely has to be of interest to me in the moment. And finally, that the post should include a link to an online source for further information. 

The blog now has more than 1,400 individual posts. I no longer have an overview of the themes, or ideas, which are represented in those posts. When I search the blog, I am always surprised.  I very often find multiple posts about a single search term, and almost always, I have no memory of why I created the post. As George Moore once said: "...I stumbled on the reflection that perhaps after all happiness is no more than a faculty for being surprised".

This blog has just hit 500,000 page views across the 1,400 posts and the ten years. So a big, big Thank You to all my Readers.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Late December afternoon, Herefordshire (2019)

Image Copyright M.G. Reed 2019

Friday 6 December 2019

A shimmer of warm air - Rises up from the shoulders - Of my paper robe (1689)

The following is a well-known adage about exchanging things: If you and I have an apple each and we exchange them, then we will still have one apple each. But if you and I both have ideas and we exchange them, then each of us will have two ideas. I love apples and I love ideas. But this saying reminds me that exchanging ideas is often more interesting than exchanging apples.

When I share my idea with you, then not only do I keep hold of my idea, but you also get access to it. And vice-versa. Or at least, that’s what the saying suggests will happen. The reality is of course more complex. We will more likely end up with at least four ideas after this type of exchange rather than two. Even if an idea is written down, it cannot be shared exactly with someone else. In its simplest form then, idea-exchange must involve translation. We exchange ideas all the time, and we are therefore translating ideas all the time. Idea exchange and translation are two of the basic operations on which all knowledge economies are built.

Translation is real work. It is always creative, and it is often difficult. Very often translation is asymmetrical, in a specific idea exchange, one of the two people involved will put more energy into the exchange and translation than the other.

One way to think about the quantity of work that is involved in translation is to use an idea developed by the American anthropologist David Graeber. He defines Interpretive Labour as, ‘…equal to the energy put into explaining an idea, plus the energy needed to understand it’. These amounts of energy cannot be quantified precisely, but some of the factors influencing the quantity of interpretive labour involved in a specific translation include: the level of fluency each person has in the different languages, the acceptability of a partially formed or tentative translation, and the distance between the source and destination.

Poetry is the most enigmatic of literary forms. It often relies on layers of allusion and linguistic sophistication for its emotional and aesthetic power. Poetry is rarely unambiguous, even for languages that share common roots, such as English and French. Translating poetry between languages with much larger structural differences, such as from Japanese to English, or vice-versa, is much more difficult.

The celebrated Japanese writer Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) took a long trip across Japan in May 1689. This trip gave rise to his most celebrated travel journal, Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道), a title usually translated as Narrow Road to the Deep North. Earlier in the same year Bashō had been staying with a friend when he wrote the following fragment of poetry:


This verse was composed by Bashō on February 7th 1689 as the opening hokku in a linked set of verses. He and other poets, including Tanzan, Sora, Shikin, and Ranran were gathered at an inn in Edo where a poet from Õgaki called Tōzan was staying.

A full translation of this short poem requires work at multiple levels of complexity. Much of the following has been guided by the translation given by Oshiharu Oseko from his wonderful book Basho’s Haiku: Literal translations for those who want to read the original Japanese text, with grammatical analysis and explanatory notes.  (1990).

Firstly, the poem’s form. Although this type of poem is now known generically as a haiku, it was classically known as a hokku. It usually included a season word to indicate when it was written, and was composed of 17 Japanese on – discrete short syllables such as ka, ri, and to. These syllables are shorter and more similar in length than many English syllables. Barnhill describes the hokku structure as a rhythm of five-seven-five Japanese on.  

When rendered into a form that an English reader can begin to engage with (Romaji script), Bashō’s hokku now reads as:

Kagerō no / waga kata ni tatsu / kamiko kana.

An English reader can use this transliteration from Kanji to Romaji to hear an approximation of what the original Japanese might have sounded like. The vowels and consonants are pronounced much like in English, with little or no emphasis on different syllables within the words. So the sounds that Bashō first captured with his poet friends in Edo in 1689 can, to some extent at least, be brought back to life with our own voices today.

But what does it mean? Oseko’s translation into a three line verse, is as follows:

A shimmer of warm air

Rises up from the shoulders

Of my paper robe

Other translations largely agree with this rendering. Barnhill translates this hokku as:  

heat waves

shimmering from the shoulders

of my paper robe

In one sense then, we have a translation. But even this translation may best be thought of more accurately as a compound of two translations: firstly from the original Kanji into a roughly phonetic form in Romaji, and then into English. For many readers of English, the full meaning of this poem is still obscure. What is a paper robe?  Why would Bashō comment on the warm air? What does he mean by shimmer? And how does this succinct poem reflect on the cultural and personal context in which it was composed? These levels of translation remain unexplored.

The beauty of Oseko’s book is that he describes the meaning of each Japanese word in each line in the poem. So we learn that the second line of the Romaji version -  waga kata ni tatsu is word by word equivalent to:

    waga: my

    kata: a shoulder or shoulders

    ni: a particle meaning: at, on, or from

    tatsu […]: to stand, or rise

And Oseko’s translation of this portion is now clear Rises up from the shoulders (of my…). 

The last line – Of my paper robe, elicits a question from a modern reader. It implies that a Japanese traveller like Bashō would have worn paper clothing to keep warm in winter. Surprising though this may seem to a modern reader, it is true. At the time that Bashō was writing this poem, the use of Kamiko – paper clothing such as the washi paper made from kozo (mulberry) fibres in Shiroishi, was widely worn as clothing.

One final thing to keep in mind in reading translations of hokku is that the abbreviated form of the original inevitably left some room for the reader to infer what was missing – based on cultural allusions or their own preferences – meaning these short poems can create multiple interpretations. Translations of hokku do not generally benefit from the insertion of explanatory extra words. Not only is this approach clumsy, but as Barnhill notes: ‘We should not be in a hurry to eliminate ambiguity if it is part of the poetry of the original text.’

Arthur Waley (1889 – 1966) was an English translator of classical Chinese and Japanese literature. He was very highly educated and cultured, but fundamentally not an academic. He taught himself classical Chinese and Japanese, yet never visited either country. He translated for nearly sixty years and wrote prolifically. His translation of the eleventh century Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji, runs to more than 700,000 words in 6 volumes. His highly regarded, Monkey, was an abridged translation of the sixteenth century Chinese classic Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en. It is more than 320 pages long. Waley was both a translator, and a poet, one recent critic notes that:

There are many westerners whose knowledge of Chinese or Japanese is greater than his, and there are perhaps a few who can handle both languages as well. But they are not poets, and those who are better poets than Waley do not know Chinese or Japanese.

In a fascinating article in The Atlantic Monthly (1958), called Notes on Translation: Unlocking the Chinese Poets, Waley makes detailed comparisons of different attempts to translate from Chinese and Japanese classics, and the Bhagavad Gita. He describes his own experiences, and how best to translate. One especially clear lesson from Waley is that, ‘The translator must use the tools that he knows best how to handle’. By way of illustration he describes the translation career of a Chinese translator Lin Shu (1852 – 1924). Once, Lin Shu was asked why he had translated the works of Charles Dickens into ancient Chinese, rather than into a more modern and colloquial Chinese, he replied: ‘Because ancient Chinese is what I am good at.’

Lin Shu translated more than 160 translations into Chinese over a twenty five year period. Waley re-counts that in 1907 he published translations of Walter Scott’s The Talisman and The Betrothed, both The Old Curiosity Shop and Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, and works by Washington Irving, Arthur Morrison, and Conan Doyle.  The most remarkable aspect of Lin Shu’s career as a translator is that he didn’t know any of the European languages he was translating from. Instead, for each of his translations he worked with a young collaborator who was able to directly translate orally into colloquial Chinese, from which Lin Shu would create a work of literary Chinese. In Lin Shu’s preface to Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, he describes his method:

I have no foreign languages. I cannot pass for a translator without the aid of several gentlemen, who interpret the texts for me. They interpret, and I write down what they interpret. They stop, and I put down my pen. 6,000 words can be produced after a mere four hours' labour. I am most fortunate to have my error-plagued, rough translations kindly accepted by the learned.

This method, unusual though it sounds, created good results. Waley is complimentary about Lin Shu’s translations of Dickens: ‘… the results are not at all grotesque. Dickens, inevitably, becomes a rather different and to my mind a better writer’.

Perhaps the most profound lesson that Arthur Waley communicates in his article about translation is included as an aside close to the end of the piece: ‘…it is almost always better for the translator to be writing in his own language’. 


Portrait of Bashō, by Ichijun HERE.
An article on Growing paper clothes in rural Japan HERE.
Bashō's Haiku - David Landis Barnhill - HERE.

Thursday 5 December 2019

The Snail

HERE are dozens of restored illustrations by the French naturalist Paul Sougy.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Innovation is a controlled chain reaction (2019)

Innovation is a never ending cycle which started deep in our pre-history. It proceeds in a controlled chain reaction. The  fuel for this reaction is our instinctive need to tinker with what we find, and to share with others what we know. There are also factors which slow down this chain reaction. These include the energy needed to translate an idea or invention into an innovation, and the morass of human tradition.

(a) A simple chain reaction, where each yellow box spontaneously gives rise to two new boxes. Very rapidly, the number of new boxes completely fills the space. This is an uncontrolled, or explosive, chain reaction. (b) Here the same chain reaction interacts with a set of control factors. Where a reaction is inhibited (when an arrow crosses a blue circle) the chain of reactions on that path stops and is shown greyed out. The degree of control on the chain reaction can be altered by varying the spacing between the blue control circles.   

Saturday 23 November 2019

“It ain’t the melodies that’re important, man, it’s the words.” (1971)

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 2016 for "... having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." 

In 2007 the journal Oral Tradition dedicated an issue to the performance artistry of Bob Dylan. The issue is available free online - and the article by Gordon Ball called Dylan and the Nobel is a wonderful read (HERE). 

It is a clear and persuasive argument that Dylan fully deserves a Nobel prize in literature. Although it took nine more years for him to get the award, it seems right that there were people like Gordon Ball, and Allen Ginsberg, arguing passionately and cogently for the Nobel foundation to do what they thought was the right thing.  


Wednesday 20 November 2019

Head Hunters (1973)

Herbie Hancock (b. 1940), is an outstanding jazz piano player. In 1973 he created a new direction for jazz, influenced by James Brown and Sly Stone. The album was Head Hunters. It had four long, outstanding tracks, Chameleon, Sly, Vein Melter and a re-working of Watermelon Man. I discovered Head Hunters in about 1976 and fell in love with it. In particular I loved the full 15 minute Chameleon - the bass line remains my favourite non-reggae bassline. Easily found and great to listen to. 

Some nice write-ups HERE, HERE and HERE.

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Monday 18 November 2019

Late autumn evening (2019)

Image Copyright M.G. Reed 2019

Thursday 14 November 2019

Newfoundland is at the end of the line...

The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould famously made three one hour long "documentaries" for canadian radio  station CBC, which were then collected as the Solitude Trilogy

The Inner Eye is a series of collages created by the Vancouver-based artist Joan McCrimmon Hebb as attempts to "...visually portray or interpret various underlying themes", explored by Gould in the Solitude Trilogy. 

This image is associated with a short phrase from the second documentary, known as The Latecomers. Gould made this in 1969, and it described life in Newfoundland outports.

More HERE.

Monday 11 November 2019

Milestones in the development of symbolic behaviour (2009)

HERE is an excellent paper by two archeaologists, Michael Chazan & Liora Kolska Horwitz, which describes a large and complex cave structure called Wonderwerk Cave, in Northern Cape Province, South Africa. The cave has thick deposits which have built up over about 2 million years, and it has clear evidence of human symbolic activity dating from about 180,000 years ago up until the present day. 

The 3D image is from a comprehensive 3D mapping made of the cave in 2005 (HERE).

Wednesday 6 November 2019

In the presence of ancient living beings...

Last weekend I spent a few hours with my wife at Croft Castle in Herefordshire. This is a unique fortified house that has been occupied since 1066 by the Croft family. The views out from the house are over wooded hills and valleys towards the Brecon beacons. 

At the castle is a long avenue of ancient sweet chesnut trees, at least four hundred years old. It is humbling to walk down the avenue past living beings which were planted about the same time that a leading renaissance explorer, mathematician and natural philosopher was observing the surface of the moon at Syon Park in West London (this observer was the Englishman Thomas Harriot who drew what he saw of the moon through his telescope a few months before Galileo used his telescope to look at the surface of the moon and record what he saw). 

Image copyright Henk van Boeschoten from HERE.