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” ‘Opsimath’: a person who begins to learn late in life”*…

 

Words

Fun with words: dive into the Twitter thread

* Merriam-Webster Dictionary (entry for March 30)

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As we enlarge our lexicons, we might spare a thought for Noël François de Wailly; he died on this date in 1801.  A grammarian and lexicographer, he published Principes généraux de la langue française (1754) which revolutionized the teaching of grammar in France.  The book was adopted as a textbook by the University of Paris and then more generally used throughout France in an adapted form in primary education.

Wailly grammar

Title page of the 1757 edition

source

 

Written by LW

April 7, 2020 at 1:01 am

“It is necessary to keep one’s compass in one’s eyes”*…

 

rose1

 

A “compass rose” is a graphic device found on maps and nautical charts (as well as on the faces of compasses and some monuments) that displays the orientation of the cardinal directions (north, east, south, and west) and their intermediate points.

rose2

And as these examples from the collection of the The American Geographical Society Library demonstrate, they can also be fascinating– and beautiful– graphic elements in their own right.

See more at the AGSL’s Compass Rose Flickr page.  Browse the Library’s full digital collection here.

* Michelangelo

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As we find our way, we might spare a pining thought for Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca); it was on this date in 1327, after he’d given up his vocation as a priest, that he first set eyes on “Laura” in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon– an encounter that awoke in him a passion that spawned the 366 poems in Il Canzoniere (“Song Book”).

Considered by many to have been “the Father of Humanism,” and reputed to have coined the term “Renaissance,” Petrarch was most famous in his time for his paeans to his idealized lover (who was, many scholars believe, Laura de Noves, the wife of Hugues de Sade).  But Petrarch’s more fundamental and lasting contribution to culture came via Pietro Bembo who created the model for the modern Italian language in the 16th century largely based on the works of Petrarch (and to a lesser degree, those of Dante and Boccaccio).

Laura de Noves died on this date in 1348.

Lura de Noves

source

Petrarch

source

 

 

“I do not mind if you think slowly. But I do object when you publish more quickly than you think.”*…

 

open access

 

Each year, governments around the world pour vast sums of public money into scientific research — as much as $156 billion in the United States alone. Scientists then use that funding to further human understanding of the world, and occasionally to make compelling discoveries about everything from whale brains to dwarf stars to the genetic underpinnings of deadly cancers. But often, this research — despite being subsidized with taxpayer money — ends up being published in exclusive journals that sit behind steep paywalls with three- and four-figure subscription fees, accessible to only a tiny fraction of the public.

The power of these scientific publishers — with names even lay readers might recognize: Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, Elsevier, among a handful of others — is substantial. According to one estimate, just four corporations now publish close to 50 percent of scientific papers. Together, they control the copyright to much of the world’s scientific literature, charging billions of dollars each year for access to that body of knowledge — and securing hefty profits in the process.

Critics have argued for decades that this system is wasteful, and that the public should have access to the scientific literature that its tax dollars support. Scientists, scholars, and public institutions, they say — and not the private sector — should control access to this trove of knowledge. “The commercial interests of publishers trying to promote their brand should not be what determines what kind of scientific discipline becomes well-funded and well populated,” said Michael Eisen, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley and a vocal supporter of the alternative model of research distribution, broadly referred to as “open-access” publishing, which has long aimed to harness the internet to make research more widely available — at little to no cost. The current system, he said, gives a handful of publishers “a disproportionate power to shape the way that science is done.”

The ensuing decades have been, in certain respects, a triumph for supporters of open access. Research funders in the United States and Europe adopted policies to make more of the research they fund accessible to the public. Several open-access organizations now operate thriving journals, and pirating tools like Sci-Hub have made it easier than ever to sneak around publishers’ paywalls.

Meanwhile, a group of Europe’s largest scientific backers — including the funding agencies of France, Britain, and the European Union as a whole — will soon require all research they underwrite to be openly accessible to everyone. That scheme, called Plan S, may be the most ambitious government-sponsored open-access effort yet — though federal officials in the U.S. are considering a policy that would require immediate open-access publishing for all federally-funded research as well, potentially revolutionizing the publishing industry. “Open Access Is Going Mainstream,” The Chronicle of Higher Education announced in a headline last year.

These successes, though, have also revealed divisions within the open-access community over two now-familiar questions: Who should run the publishing houses? And who should pay for the whole system? Instead of an open-access commons run by scholars in the public interest, the new open-access revolution increasingly looks like it will depend on the same big commercial publishers, who, rather than charging subscription prices to readers, are now flipping the model and charging researchers a fee to publish their work. The result is a kind of commercial open-access — a model very different than what many open-access activists envisioned…

As it stands, all trends point to an open-access future. The question now is what kind of open-access model it will be — and what that future may mean for the way new science gets evaluated, published, and shared. “We don’t know why we should accept that open access is a market,” said Dominique Babini, the open-access adviser to the Latin American Council of Social Sciences and a prominent critic of commercial open-access models. “If knowledge is a human right, why can’t we manage it as a commons, in collaborative ways managed by the academic community, not by for-profit initiatives?”

Peer review, editorial prep: how should we manage–and pay for– the quality control that makes scientific discourse most effective? “A Revolution in Science Publishing, or Business as Usual?

(Coronavirus has led to an explosion of scientific publication… and it has amplified the debate over open access and how to accomplish it.)

* Wolfgang Pauli

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As we share and share alike, we might send healing birthday greetings to Hattie Elizabeth Alexander; she was born on this date in 1901.  A pediatrician, microbiologist, and educator, she won international acclaim for developing a serum to combat influenzal meningitis, a common childhood disease that is nearly always fatal to infants and young children, virtually eliminating the mortality rate.

When the advent of antibiotics made the antiserum obsolete, she quickly mastered their use against all the bacterial meningitides.  Late in her career–the 1950s and 60s–she became a pioneer in microbial genetics.  She pioneered the study of bacterial mutation and resistance to antibiotics, and in 1964, she became one of the first women to head a national medical association as president of the American Pediatric Society.

Over her career she published over 70 papers.

Hattie Alexander source

 

 

“When I feel like exercising, I just lie down until the feeling goes away”*…

 

exercise

 

The oldest film included on the National Film Registry of the US Library of Congress features a pale boy calmly swinging a pair of wooden clubs, apparently as part of an exercise routine. Approximately twelve seconds long, Newark Athlete was directed by the Scottish inventor and early associate of Thomas Edison, William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson, in collaboration with cinematographer William Heise at Edison’s laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, sometime in the late spring of 1891.

Though the wooden clubs brandished by the Newark athlete in this jumpy fragment are now a thing of the past, evidence of their influence can still be seen…

Though largely forgotten today, exercise by club swinging was all the rage in the 19th century.  Daniel Elkind explores the rise of the phenomenon in the U.S., and how such efforts to keep trim and build muscle were inextricably entwined with the history of colonialism, immigration, and capitalist culture: “Eastern Sports and Western Bodies– the ‘Indian Club’ in the United States.”

* Paul Terry (founder of the Terrytoons animation studio)

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As we revise our routines, we might send healthy birthday greetings to William Cumming Rose; he was born on this date in 1887.  After a grounding in the sciences at Davidson College, Rose became a biochemist and nutritionist whose work focused on understanding amino acids.  His research determined the necessity for essential amino acids (amino acids that the body cannot itself synthesize) in diet and the minimum daily requirements of all amino acids for optimal growth.  In the course of his work, he identified the amino acid acid threonine.

wrose source

 

“Results aside, the ability to have complete faith in another human being is one of the finest qualities a person can possess”*…

 

sfburning

Downtown San Francisco ablaze after the 1906 earthquake, from the slope of Nob Hill

 

Amadeo Peter Giannini was born in San Jose, California in 1870. The son of Italian immigrants had an outsized personality and unlimited faith in the American dream.

Giannini began by selling fruits and vegetables from a horse-drawn wagon. But he was made for bigger things. At age 34, he launched a small bank in the Italian neighborhood of North Beach, San Francisco. At the time, big banks lent only to large businesses, handled deposits of the wealthy, and frowned on aggressive advertising.

The novice financier knocked on doors and buttonholed people on the street. He persuaded “unbanked” immigrants that gold and silver coins were safer in vaults than under mattresses. Moreover, the money would earn interest at his “Bank of Italy.”

bankof italy

On the morning of April 18, 1906, a massive earthquake hit San Francisco. The ensuing fires burned down the large banks. Their superheated metal vaults could not be opened for weeks—lest the cash and paper records catch fire when oxygen rushed in.

As flames threatened his one-room bank, Giannini spirited $80,000 in coins out of town. He hid the precious metal under crates of oranges and steered his wagons past gangs of thugs and looters in the streets.

As other banks struggled to recover, Giannini made headlines by setting up a makeshift bank on a North Beach wharf. He extended loans to beleaguered residents “on a handshake” and helped revive the city.

APG

The innovative bank welcomed small borrowers who might otherwise have to use high-cost loan sharks. Most banks at the time regarded people with modest incomes as credit risks not worth the paperwork. But experience had taught Giannini otherwise: that working class people were no less likely to pay their debts than the wealthy.

Seeking more customers, the former produce salesman returned to his old haunts—the fertile valleys of California. He “walked in rows beside farmers engaged in plowing” to explain how bank branches make credit cheaper and more reliable. Town by town, he built the first statewide branching system in the nation.

On November 1, 1930, the Bank of Italy in San Francisco changed its name to Bank of America. The bank today has the same national bank charter number as Giannini’s old bank— #13044.

When A.P. Giannini died in 1949, the former single-teller office in North Beach claimed more than 500 branches and $6 billion in assets. It was then the largest bank in the world…

How a humane response to a community tragedy launched what became the biggest bank in the world: “Bank of America: The Humble Beginnings of a Large Bank.”

* Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

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As we learn from our elders, we might recall that it was on this date in 2006 that the first news stories based on the Panama Papers were published.  A cache of 11.5 million leaked documents that detailed financial and attorney–client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities, all from Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca, the Panama Papers chronicled tax evasion, money laundering and fraud involving 12 current or former world leaders; 128 other public officials and politicians; and hundreds of celebrities, businessmen, and other wealthy individuals from over 200 countries.

Panama_papers_sz_chat

An online chat between Süddeutsche Zeitung reporter Bastian Obermayer and anonymous source John Doe

source

 

“People have to live in it”*…

 

michael-sorkin

 

16. The rate at which the seas are rising.
17. Building information modeling (BIM).
18. How to unclog a Rapidograph.
19. The Gini coefficient.
20. A comfortable tread-to-riser ratio for a six-year-old.
21. In a wheelchair.
22. The energy embodied in aluminum.
23. How to turn a corner.
24. How to design a corner.
25. How to sit in a corner…

171. The view from the Acropolis.
172. The way to Santa Fe.
173. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
174. Where to eat in Brooklyn.
175. Half as much as a London cabbie.
176. The Nolli Plan.
177. The Cerdà Plan.
178. The Haussmann Plan.
179. Slope analysis.
180. Darkroom procedures and Photoshop…

220.  The acoustic performance of Boston Symphony Hall.
221.  How to open the window.
222.  The diameter of the earth.
223.  The number of gallons of water used in a shower.
224.  The distance at which you can recognize faces.
225.  How and when to bribe public officials (for the greater good).
226.  Concrete finishes.
227.  Brick bonds.
228.  The Housing Question by Friedrich Engels.
229.  The prismatic charms of Greek island towns.
230.  The energy potential of the wind…

Short excerpts from Michael Sorkin‘s “Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know“… indeed, two hundred fifty things most of us should know…

Sorkin was, as the New York Times observed, “one of architecture’s most outspoken public intellectuals, a polymath whose prodigious output of essays, lectures and designs, all promoting social justice, established him as the political conscience in the field.”  He died a week ago of coronavirus infection.

The whole list (from Sorkin’s 2018 book What Goes Up) is here.

[Image above, source]

* Michael Sorkin

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As we practice practice, we might send enlightening birthday greetings to Charlemagne; he was born on this date in 748.  A ruler who united the majority of western and central Europe (first as King of the Franks, then also King of the Lombards, finally adding Emperor of the Romans), he was the first recognized emperor to rule from western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier; the expanded Frankish state that he founded is called the Carolingian Empire.

In 789, he began the establishment of schools teaching the elements of mathematics, grammar, music, and ecclesiastic subjects; every monastery and abbey in his realm was expected to have a school for the education of the boys of the surrounding villages.  The tradition of learning he initiated helped fuel the expansion of medieval scholarship in the 12th-century Renaissance.

portrait-of-charlemagne source

 

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”*…

 

selectric

Selectric I Typewriter, 1961 aluminum, steel, molded plastic.

 

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s diverse collection, spanning thirty centuries of historic and contemporary design, includes the world’s coolest office, a large snail shell, snakes, a dragon and four bearded men, a cone propped up on a bench, a pair of colorful hands, a mysterious tv and a perpetual calendar.

The selection above is from the Digital Collection, which one can browse in full here… or just dive into the collection in full.

* Frequently attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, but likely first used by Clare Boothe Luce in her 1931 novel Stuffed Shirts

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As we let form follow function, we might recall that it was on this date in 1875 that the first “weather map” ran in a newspaper (The Times, London).  It was the creation of polymath Sir Francis Galton, an explorer and anthropologist who was also a statistician and meteorologist.

The map was not a forecast, but a representation of the conditions of the previous day. This is known as a synoptic chart, meaning that it shows a summary of the weather situation. Readers could make their own predictions based on the information it provided.

Galton’s chart differs from the modern version only in minor details. It shows the temperature for each region, with dotted lines marking the boundaries of areas of different barometric pressures. It also describes the state of the sky in each land region, with terms such as “dull” or “cloud,” or the sea condition – “smooth” or “slight swell”… [source]

weather source

 

 

 

Written by LW

April 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

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