Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Intellectual Freedom

Once again the Piled Higher and Deeper (PhD) website has said something very profound via something seemingly as trivial as a cartoon. This cartoon entitled 'The Evolution of Intellectual Freedom' is not far off the situation one finds in many universities. Talking to colleagues in different universities, I find that, rather than being encouraged to do work that is of fundamental interest, many are under pressure to produce work that is publishable just for the sake of publication. Publications show departments and institutions in a good light. There is also pressure to apply for grants and to bring-in money. Upon this money these institutions then perform a clever bit of accountancy. The researcher granted the money, spends it for the work being supported. This sometimes means buying new equipment upon which VAT is levied. The institution then reclaims the VAT but doesn't give it back to the researcher in order to promote their work - they keep it for themselves. This practice seems to go on everywhere and not only in Britain. I've here of it in other countries across Europe. The financial undercurrents are mentioned only once in this cartoon. However, these tend to be much more prevasive in reality and lie behind much, if not all, of this cartoon.

Friday, 23 September 2011

String Art

I came across a link to a site called 'Virtual String Art' some time ago and filed it away. I came across that file and visited the site again, recently. It doesn't seem to have been updated lately - the front page seems to wish us 'Happy Holidays 2000'! However, it can still be used to produce some interesting patterns. It is a way of experimenting with Bézier curves.

String art might be seen as somewhat childish. It has been used as something that children can play with to produce interesting patterns. However, it does have a more serious artistic pedigree. It was used by Naum Gabo (1890-1977) who used nylon thread and fishing line over a perspex frame. Some of his work can be found at the Tate Gallery. See, for example, Linear Construction No.1 (1942-3).

Although the curves produced by straight lines are now named after Pierre Bézier (1910-1999), Gabo's work obviously predates his association with these curves which only dates from the early 1960s. (Whatismore, Paul de Casteljau (1930- ) also seems to have had priority over Bézier in terms of having produced the original algorithms still used to produce these curves mathematically.)