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“Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated”*…

 

Picnic season is upon us.  One might wonder whither the ubiquitous design, illustrated above, adorning paper cups and plates in parks and backyards across the nation– Solo’s highest-grossing design ever…  In fact, many did wonder, and took to the web to investigate.  The crowd made some headway– they discovered it was created by a designer named “Gina”– but it took an intrepid reporter, Thomas Gounley of the Springfield (MO) News-Leader, to get the whole (and fascinating) story.

Read it at “The Internet is looking for who designed this cup. What does Springfield have to do with it?

* Paul Rand

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As we have some more potato salad, we might recall that it was on this date in 1880 that O Canada, the song that would become our northern neighbor’s national anthem (de facto by 1939; officially in 1980) was first performed, in French, at the the Congrès national des Canadiens-Français.  Commissioned by Lieutenant Governor of Quebec Théodore Robitaille for the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day ceremony, Calixa Lavallée composed the music, after which words were written by the poet and judge Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier.  English lyrics were created in 1906; but the second English version, created in 1908 by Robert Stanley Weir, were more popular and became the official English lyrics.

 source

Written by LW

June 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The camera is an instrument of detection. We photograph not only what we know, but also what we don’t know”*…

 

When top chemists and engineers at Harvard and MIT are preparing to reveal new research in the world’s premier journals, they call Felice Frankel.  For over two decades, Frankel has had a front-row seat at some of the biggest discoveries emerging from both ends of Cambridge, photographing experiments within the labs that created them.

Read her extraordinary story in “Photographer has front-row seat for big scientific discoveries“; and check out her work– from daisy-colored yeast colonies through rainbow-colored quantum dots to soft. flexible electronics that can be tattooed onto the skin– on her site.

* Lisette Model

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As we find focus, we might remark that today is the birthday of not one but two extraordinary mathematicians:  Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646; variants on his date of birth are due to calendar changes), the German  philosopher, scientist, mathematician, diplomat, librarian, lawyer, co-inventor, with Newton, of The Calculus, and “hero” (well, one hero) of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy…  and  Alan Turing (1912), British mathematician, computer science pioneer (inventor of the Turing Machine, creator of “the Turing Test” and inspiration for “The Turing Prize”), and cryptographer (leading member of the team that cracked the Enigma code during WWII).

Go figure…

Liebnitz (source: UNC)

Turing (source: Univ. of Birmingham)

Written by LW

June 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The score never interested me, only the game”*…

 

The story of the exotic Belgian import that is the most mystical, magical sport on Earth…  and of the Detroit lifer who became its King… and of an art heist:  “Believe in Featherbowling.”

* Mae West

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As we take our seats, we might recall that it was on this date in 1947 that Holt, Missouri set the world’s record for the fastest accumulation of rainfall: 12 inches (300 mm) of rainfall in 42 minutes.

 source

 

Written by LW

June 22, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians”*…

 

Nathan Yau, the force behind the fabulous Flowing Data, was lamenting the loss of a classic resource, when he decided to take on the challenge himself:

Ever since I found out about the Statistical Atlas of the United States, historically produced by the Census Bureau, it annoyed me that there wasn’t one in the works for the 2010 Census due to cuts in funding. The last one was for 2000. Actually, the 2000 edition was called the Census Atlas, but whatever. With more data than ever, it seems like there should be one.

Maybe that’s why there’s isn’t one. Too much data, too much of an undertaking, and too many bureaucratic decisions to make.

The first Atlas, by Francis A. Walker, was published in 1874 using the data from the prior 1870 Census. Counting cover, credits, and all that, it was 56 pages.

I got to thinking, hey, I could do that. And if I did, I wouldn’t have to be annoyed anymore. So I recreated the original Statistical Atlas of the United States with current data. I used similar styling, and had one main rule for myself. All the data had to be publicly available and come from government sites

See the stunning– and stunningly useful– results (with larger versions of each chart) at “Reviving the Statistical Atlas of the United States with New Data.”

* “I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. People think I’m joking, but who would’ve guessed that computer engineers would’ve been the sexy job of the 1990s?”  – Hal Varian, The McKinsey Quarterly, January 2009

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As we discriminate between the median and the mean, we might spare a thought for Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson; he died on this date in 1948.  A classics scholar who was also an accomplished biologist and mathematician, Thompson is best remembered for On Growth and Form (1917, new ed. 1942), a profound consideration of the shapes of living things, starting from the simple premise that “everything is the way it is because it got that way.”  Thus one must study not only finished forms, but also the forces that molded them: “the form of an object is a ‘diagram of forces’, in this sense, at least, that from it we can judge of or deduce the forces that are acting or have acted upon it.”

The book paved the way for the scientific explanation of morphogenesis, the process by which patterns are formed in plants and animals.  Thompson’s description of the mathematical beauty of nature inspired thinkers as diverse as Alan Turing and Claude Levi-Strauss, and artists including Henry Moore, Salvador Dali, and Jackson Pollock.  Peter Medawar, the 1960 Nobel Laureate in Medicine, called On Growth and Form “the finest work of literature in all the annals of science that have been recorded in the English tongue.”

 source

 

Written by LW

June 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Waterloo – Couldn’t escape if I wanted to”*…

 

On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo** this week, The Bodleian Library is featuring it’s Curzon Collection of political prints from the period of the Napoleonic wars– including several British and French cartoons depicting Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo.

Most are available online in the Oxford Digital Library.

* Abba

** Napoleon wasn’t actually in Waterloo when he met his Waterloo. Most of the battle had occurred in Braine-l’Alleud and Plancenoit, just a few miles south of the town (the Lion’s Mound, the most iconic symbol of the battle, is located in Braine-l’Alleud). [source]

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As we retreat to Paris, we might recall that it was on this date in 1782 that Congress adopted the Great Seal of the United States and, effectively, the bald eagle as the national symbol.  Benjamin Franklin, who had been a member of one the four committees charged with developing a design for the seal and had proposed an allegorical theme from Exodus, later wrote to his daughter,

For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on…

 source

 

Written by LW

June 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I find it soothing, the thought of a movie theater”*…

 

 

Saubine Haubitz and Stefanie Zoche are intrepid photographers of thought-provoking things.  Here, they discuss their series on movie theaters in India…

In three journeys between 2010 and 2013 we have photographed movie theatres from the ‘Thirties to the ‘Seventies in South India. The photos of these buildings give eloquent testimony to the rich cinematic culture of those times. We are particularly interested in the culturally influenced reinterpretation of modern building style apparent in the architectural style, which displays an unusual mixture of Modernism, local architectural elements, a strong use of colour and, in the case of some older cinema halls, of Art Deco…

Many movie theatres in South India are left in their original state. Nonetheless, remodelling into multiplex cinemas is already underway, in particular in major cities, and will result in these buildings’ disappearance as witnesses to their times. The photographs document a part of cinema culture that has already largely vanished in Europe and the USA, and is increasingly being supplanted by commercial interests and technical developments in India, as well.

Take the tour at here.

* Theophilus London

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As we lounge in the loge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1915 that Vitagraph released Miss Jekyll and Madame Hyde, a retelling of Stevenson’s famous tale in which Helen Gardner played the lead role(s).  Ms Gardner, whose career consisted mostly of portrayals of strong women (Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, Cleopatra, et al.) was herself a formidable player in the film industry, one of the first actors to form an independent production company (The Helen Gardner Players).

Helen Gardner, c. 1912 (the time of her break-out role, Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair)

 source

 

Written by LW

June 19, 2015 at 1:01 am

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this”*…

 

Certain scientific circles of the nineteenth century were home to a rather unexpected preoccupation: the dropping of cats. While at university in Trinity College, Cambridge, James Clerk Maxwell, who would go onto become arguably the greatest theoretical physicist of the nineteenth century, was reportedly well known for the activity. In a letter to his wife reflecting on this reputation he’d earned, Maxwell wrote, “There is a tradition in Trinity that when I was here I discovered a method of throwing a cat so as not to light on its feet, and that I used to throw cats out of windows. I had to explain that the proper object of research was to find how quick the cat would turn round, and that the proper method was to let the cat drop on a table or bed from about two inches, and that even then the cat lights on her feet.” He was not the only prominent scientist to be intrigued by the question of how cats, when falling from a height, seemingly were able to defy the laws of Newtonian physics and change motion in mid air to land on their feet. At around the same time, the eminent mathematician George Stokes was also prone to a spot of “cat-turning”. As his daughter relates in a 1907 memoir: “He was much interested, as also was Prof. Clerk Maxwell about the same time, in cat-turning, a word invented to describe the way in which a cat manages to fall upon her feet if you hold her by the four feet and drop her, back downwards, close to the floor.”

Despite the many falling cats, neither Maxwell nor Stokes made much headway in their investigations. It wasn’t until some decades later, with the invention of chronophotography (which allowed many photographs to be taken in quick succession), that a more rigorous study could be applied beyond the limitations of the human eye. The man to do it was the French scientist and photographer Étienne-Jules Marey who in 1894 created a series of images from which he was able to make some important deductions. The images pictured below, captured at 12 frames per second, debunked the idea that the cat was using the dropper’s hand as a fulcrum in order to begin the motion of turning at the beginning of the fall. Rather, the pictures showed that the cat had no rotational motion at the start of its descent and so was somehow acquiring angular momentum while in free-fall. Marey published these pictures, and his investigations, in an 1894 issue of Comptes Rendus, with a summary of his findings published in the journal Nature in the same year. The latter summarises Marey’s thoughts as follows:

M. Marey thinks that it is the inertia of its own mass that the cat uses to right itself. The torsion couple which produces the action of the muscles of the vertebra acts at first on the forelegs, which have a very small motion of inertia on account of the front feet being foreshortened and pressed against the neck. The hind legs, however, being stretched out and almost perpendicular to the axis of the body, possesses a moment of inertia which opposes motion in the opposite direction to that which the torsion couple tends to produce. In the second phase of the action, the attitude of the feet is reversed, and it is the inertia of the forepart that furnishes a fulcrum for the rotation of the rear.

In a rather humorous turn the author of the article also states that “The expression of offended dignity shown by the cat at the end of the first series indicates a want of interest in scientific investigation.”…

See the series of photos and read the whole account at “Photographs of a Falling Cat (1894)“; and see how the riddle was finally solved, 70 years later, Kane and Scher’s 1969 paper “A dynamical explanation of the falling cat phenomenon” (and in this Wikipedia article).

* Terry Pratchett

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As we adjust our attitudes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1993 that the first lab test was released in Arizona confirming a bee involved in a fatal on attack on a small dog at a Tucson home was an Africanized honey bee. Because of their more intense defensive swarming behavior, such non-native bees earned the name “killer bee” in the media.

Arizona was the second state to be invaded, less than three years after this species spread north into Texas from Mexico. Six years later, the bees claimed their first human victim in California: Virgil Foster, an 83-year-old bee-keeper, was mowing his lawn in Los Angeles County when he was stung at least 50 times by the highly-aggressive bees.  Foster’s three hives had been taken over by wild Africanized honey bees. Originally hybridized in Brazil in the 1950s in attempt to increase honey production, the killer bees had migrated north through Central America.

 source

 

Written by LW

June 18, 2015 at 1:01 am

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