Monday, 29 December 2014

Where did this year go?

We are constantly comparing ourselves with others. The old adage that "the other man's grass is always greener" atests to this and to how misleading such comparsons can be. Consider then, the following:

"There can be no jealousy or discontent if you do what you know you must do. And if you do it to the best of your ability, you can do no more. If you do neither of these, then you should dissatisfied."

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A Thought

Christmas time is associated with much that comes from the artistic imagination: works of pictorial art, music and drama - even the humble school nativity play counts as such. Although Christmas is a time for celebration, it should also be a time for reflection. In keeping with the following quote from Hebbel, maybe there will be some piece of art this Christmas that causes you to ask questions.

"In a work of art the intellect asks questions; it does not answer them."
(Christian Friedrich Hebbel (1813-1863) German poet and dramatist.)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

"Life is a game missing its rules. Our job is to work them out - and then to live by those rules."

(Found somewhere I forget and altered somewhat.)

Thursday, 11 December 2014

In Memoriam - Werner Callebaut (1952-2014)

This blog is really about the marginalia of life. However, every so often something of particular seriousness arises.

Somebody I admired very much - Werner Callebaut - died a few weeks ago. Tomorrow (12th December 2014), his ashes will be interred at Unterer Stadtfriedhof, Vienna. He was, at the time of his death, scientific director of the Konrad Lorenz Institute. I wanted to note here how much he will be missed, not only by me but by all those who knew him. He was an intellectual of a kind that is very rare both for its incisiveness and its generosity. From both of these I was fortunate enough to benefit.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? ... Is it a fly?

Whenever I am trying out a new camera setting, I point my camera out of the window and take an image of the chimney pots across the road. This must place them among the most photographed chimney pots there are.
Below is an image I took in just that way. When I came to look at it I noticed something I hadn't noticed when taking the picture. There was a dark spot next to the cage on the chimney pot to the far left. What it was is not entirely clear. My initial reaction was that it was a fly with its wings in mid-buzz close to the cage. On reflection, it could be a swallow much further away in line of sight of the cage - although it lacks a clear head. I will never know for sure.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Pauline Pratt's Mass

I found this online having glimpsed it on a television programme.

This image combines my fascination with right angles with my being an anatomist.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Two quotes: On knowledge, thinking and living

The purpose of knowledge is for it to be a servant and helpmate to humanity not the means by which one man might lord it over another.

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.
Christopher Morley

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Big Bang Theory - 3

The third of my Big Bang Theory quotes, demonstrating the rivalry between different branches of science.

Sheldon: I brought Amy here to show her some of the work I’m doing.

Amy: It’s very impressive, for theoretical work.

Sheldon: Do I detect a hint of condescension?

Amy: I’m sorry, was I being too subtle? I meant compared to the real-world applications of neurobiology, theoretical physics is, what’s the word I’m looking for? Hmm, cute.

Leonard and Howard together: Oooh!

Sheldon: Are you suggesting the work of a neurobiologist like Babinski could ever rise to the significance of a physicist like Clarke-Maxwell or Dirac?

Amy: I’m stating it outright. Babinski eats Dirac for breakfast and defecates Clarke-Maxwell.

Sheldon: You take that back.

Amy: Absolutely not. My colleagues and I are mapping the neurological substrates that subserve global information processing, which is required for all cognitive reasoning, including scientific inquiry, making my research ipso facto prior in the ordo cognoscendi. That means it’s better than his research, and by extension, of course, yours.

Leonard: I’m sorry, I’m-I’m still trying to work on the defecating Clark Maxwell, so…

Sheldon: Excuse me, but a grand unified theory, insofar as it explains everything, will ipso facto explain neurobiology.

Amy: Yes, but if I’m successful, I will be able to map and reproduce your thought processes in deriving a grand unified theory, and therefore, subsume your conclusions under my paradigm.

Sheldon: That’s the rankest psychologism, and was conclusively revealed as hogwash by Gottlob Frege in the 1890s!

Amy: We appear to have reached an impasse.

Sheldon: I agree. I move our relationship terminate immediately.

Amy: Seconded.

From: The Zazzy Substitution
BBT Transcripts
Wikipedia Episode Guide

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Cubes etc

Having commented upon my discovery of Kazimir Malevich's work depicting squares in my previous blog post, I should also comment on an extension he made to his work into three dimensions by inventing architectons such as this:

Gota (1927)
The following video celeverly links his two-dimensional and three-dimensional work and reminds me of the book Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott (1838-1926).

Universe of Malevich -  Макс Семаков

Wednesday, 5 November 2014


I only recently came across the painting Black Suprematic Square by Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935).

While doing so, I also came across White On White:

Whatever one thinks of the artistic merit of such work, I certainly find such explorations fascinating. (I have even made some explorations of my own elsewhere.)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


Today - give or take a day or two - I will have lived in Wales for half of my life. By a calculation I did sometime ago - and which I have now lost - that's a total of 10867 days. I don't know if that makes me 'half-Welsh' or not but while I don't mind being considered a Londoner since I was born there, I'm not particularly keen on being considered 'English'. I don't hold to the values or attitudes that characterise the typically 'English'. If I could be naturalised, I'd happily become Welsh.

(NB So that I wouldn't lose the note I'd made about this and so forget, I wrote and scheduled this post to appear today on Wednesday, 13th July 2011. Over three years ago! I wonder what has happened between then and now?)

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Tracks on Mars

Like others, I am getting used to pictures from the robotic explorers Spirit and Opportunity as they explore Mars. I was very struck though by this picture when I first saw it on Astronomy Picture of the Day.

I think I am struck because of seeing something that is so mundane in an Earthly context - wheel tracks - left on the pristine Martian surface. Sometimes the mundane becomes fascinating when it is encountered out of its usual context. (By now the Martian winds will have erased these tracks.)

Friday, 17 October 2014

Door? What door?

This picture was taken at work a couple of years ago. There is a glass door here and people did walk into it without seeing it. The things stuck to it were very much an afterthought. (How a door can be 'automatic' if one must press a button to open it is puzzling.)

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Barcode - 17

A micro QR code saying Marginalia55.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Off to university? Why?

I'm not asking 'Why go to university?'. I am asking 'Why does one choose to go to university?' It is about this time of year that students in Britain are returning - or going for the first time - to university. (I would have put the less cumbersome '...are going up to university' but sadly that isn't phraseology that one tends to hear these days. I say sadly because there is a sense of gravitas in 'going up'.)

My question is prompted by something I remember Rabbi Lionel Blue saying many years ago on a television programme about his life. Reviewing his student days at Oxford, he said...

'I went to university seeking wisdom but all I found was cleverness.'

In going (up) to university, is one seeking wisdom? Will cleverness suffice? And if one is seeking neither wisdom nor cleverness, what else is there? Then perhaps one might legitimately ask 'Why go to university at all?'

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Den

When I was a boy, I was given one of my uncle's old Eagle annuals. One fullpage picture has stuck in my mind ever since. It was a picture of every 1950s boy's dream: a place of one's own where one could do the things that boy's found interesting. One day some months ago, I thought I'd do a web search and try to find out if it were possible to determine which annual 'The Den' was in. Maybe there was a cheap copy somewhere that I could buy. I found out that it was from an Eagle annual published around 1957. More than that I found a copy of the very picture. On the contents page it was called 'A Den of Your Own' but the page itself was simply labelled 'The Den'. It is very much as I had remembered it.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Big Bang Theory - 2

This is the second of my collected Big Bang Theory quotes. It demonstrating seeing and thinking about things in somewhat different ways.

Leonard: All right, well, let me see if I can explain your situation using physics. What would you be if you were attached to another object by an inclined plane wrapped helically around an axis?

Sheldon: Screwed. 


Sheldon: ... and I don’t want to be joined to another object by an inclined plane wrapped helically around an axis.

Amy: In what way are you screwed?

From: The Desperation Emanation
BBT Transcripts
Wikipedia Episode Guide

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Some unattributed quotes

The following are quotes that I have collected but for which I cannot provide a source. I think that they are thought-provoking nonetheless.

"If I were to gain the status to which others aspire, I would have failed to do what I should do."

"What people tend to forget is that there is a huge difference between fame and fortune gained from mere notoriety and that achieved by doing something worthwhile."

"One of the most subversive things that somebody can do is be generous."

Friday, 5 September 2014


I had one of those annoying cold calls - even though I am registered with the Telephone Preference Service and am not supposed to keep getting pestered. The man 'phoning was trying to get me interested in claiming for compensation for hearing damage caused by working in a noisy environment. 'Is that you?' he asked wondering and expecting that to be a description of my work experience. 'No,' I said. 'I have always worked in quiet places.' And that was that.

Here is a picture of a place where I have conducted a lot of my work.

(St. Deiniol's Library is now known as Gladstone's Library (and Hawarden is pronounced 'Hard-en').)

Friday, 29 August 2014

Prayer Stone

I previously mentioned my daughter's happy stones. I also found in my collection of curios a prayer stone. This is something I bought at Pennant Melangell, a tiny church tucked away in a Welsh valley.

This church has been an important focus of pilgrimage for many centuries. Nowadays, the place is perhaps not so well known (probably to its advantage). It was once deemed to be a site of great spiritual importance. In the Middle Ages, a certain numbers of pilgrimages to Pennant Melangell, were deemed to be the equivalent of pilgrimages further afield to the better known sites such as Canterbury, Rome etc. To have completed such pilgrimage earned one remission of one's sins.

Today there are still those to whom this site holds a personal significance - although it should be noted that it no longer has anything to do with the penance system operating in the past.

Pilgrimages have also changed. They are nothing like the journeys one associates with the Canterbury Tales. When I went to Pennant Melangell, the word pilgrimage was used by some. In that case, the pilgrimage, if that is really the right word, simply entailed driving to the pub - about a mile away - and then walking to the church and back. There was hardly time to tell a tale, although the odd funny story was possible. (I can't see that as worthy of being forgiven any misdemeanour at all!)

The idea of the prayer stone, if I remember correctly, is to pray with something tangible in one's hand thereby making the act of prayer more concrete and real and having something by which to remember the prayer. I simply liked the image of the cross in the form of a Celtic knot.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Mathematics of University Entrance

It is at this time of year that many young people are scrambling to get into university. Some will jump at any opportunity. Don't!

What seems to have been overlooked is that with around 50% of young people going to university, many gaining admission will be of lower than average intelligence. Not everyone from the top 50% does go to university. Many take other reputable career paths straight from school. This leaves vacancies to be filled and means that below average applicants are successful. There are institutions that take such people and then find themselves catering for them by making the work less academically rigorous.

My advice when assessing whether a university is worth attending is: the harder it is to get in, the better it is. Any institution can have an open door policy but very few can be choosey about who they let in. It may take an extra year but only go to an institution worth attending.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Remembering World War I

In World War I, one of my great grandfathers and a great uncle died. My maternal grandfather, whose age mirrored the year of the century, was in the navy. So, when the war ended in 1918, he would have been just a few months past his 19th birthday. If like his brother he had died, I would not be here to write this.

I have a few mementoes of him and that below is also something from the WWI period: a spoon which I understand may have been widely on sale to help pay for the war.

The spoon depicts Earl Kitchener (1850–1916). As a child, I always found it somewhat amusing that a spoon we used in the kitchen had the face of a man on it called kitchener.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Losses that outweigh gains

Although I read a book about the American Christian missionary Jim Elliot (1927-1956) some years ago, I remember very little about him - save that he died at the hands of a South American tribe while on a missionary expedition. However, there is something he said that I have occasionally heard quoted and which often comes to mind. That being the case, I searched for it and found the following. The first quote is the one I often remember; the other two I think are worth including.

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose."

"When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die."

"I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you Lord Jesus."

Thursday, 7 August 2014

A Diversion

Everybody fiddles with paperclips from time to time. Some people seem compelled to straighten them. I remember reading in a biography about George Thomas, former Speaker of the House of Commons, that this seems to have been something he frequently did. One afternoon, I had a fiddle with a couple of paperclips and a spring and took this image of the product (which can mean something or nothing):

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Barcode - 16

This is MaxiCode (ISO 16023) - as created and used by UPS - spelling out Marginalia55.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Before Photoshop

Here's something I found in a book some years ago and kept as a scan. Even before Photoshop was available it was possible to enhance the appearance of a model - although the methods were more cumbersome. I remember seeing the album Island Life - for which this was the cover picture - advertised on the London underground and marvelling at Grace Jones's physique. It seems that she wasn't quite as I'd been led to believe. (We were less aware, if not completely unaware, of what was going on back then.)

The Concept

The Reality

The Reconstruction

The Outcome

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Big Bang Theory - 1

Every so often there one of the characters on The Big Bang Theory says something that is concise and insightful; something that no academic could possibly say about their own field quite so well: it has to be left to a comdey character instead. I have started collecting such quotes. In no particular order, here is the first:

Stephanie: ... So, how was your day?

Leonard: Oh, you know, I’m a physicist, so, I thought about stuff.

Stephanie: That’s it?

Leonard: Well, I wrote some of it down.

From: The Lizard–Spock Expansion
BBT Transcripts
Wikipedia Episode Guide

Friday, 11 July 2014

Happy Stones

Many years ago, when my daughter was at junior school, she came home with a stone with a smiley face on it. She had had a trainee teacher and his parting gesture, I seem to remember, was to give all the children in the class one of these.

Later, at the local church fete, my daughter set up a stall selling stones that (I had collected from a North Wales beach and) she had decorated with smiley faces. She called them 'Happy Stones'. She raised quite a bit for church funds and provided a lot of people with something that would remind them to be happy.
Some time later, in September 2001, I went away to a conference at the University of Cambridge. When I was unpacking, I found the happy stone above secreted in my bag. It is almost impossible not to smile when looking at and handling one of these things.

Monday, 7 July 2014

The old advertising campaign used to extol...

"Lip-smacking, thirst-quenching, ace-tasting, motivating, good-buzzing, cool-talking, high-walking, fast-living, ever-giving, cool-fizzing, Pepsi."
(The hyphens are mine but seem appropriate. The original campaign text had no hyphens, commas or spaces. This was all one word!)

This image suggests that they forgot to add "mind boggling".

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Clean Daleks

It seems that even Daleks need to shower. I found this image somewhere on the web - can't remember where or when; it was some time ago. (I seem to remember that this may have been taken at Paddington Station in London, though.)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Right Angles in Perspective

I've called this post 'Right Angles in Perspective'. It took some thinking about. It's another webfind that I remember nothing else about. (These things get saved to the camera roll on my iPod and that's that.)

Needless to say, it appeals to my fondness for right-angles, rectangles etc although, if you look closely, there are no right angles per se in the whole image!
It is not difficult to guess how this 'impossible' (Escher-like) image was staged but it is impossible (I find) to see the overlap. (I have a suspicion but I'm just not sure.)

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Ripon Cathedral

In 2013, my wife and I went to Ripon and stayed near the cathedral. While visiting the cathedral, I was struct by this statue. It depicts the Virgin Mary swinging the infant Jesus by the arms. The symbolism should be lost on no one.

Images of the Madonna and Child are usually quite staid and - dare I say - unimaginative (at least to my mind). This statue shows playfulness and vitality; it shows a genuine mother-child relationship that I have never seen depicted before.
Unfortunately, there was only one postcard of this statue and it did not show the vitality of which I speak. Neither, I fear, does this image which I found online somewhere.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Some quotes

Here are a couple of brief but interesting quotes:

"If you were somebody else, you'd be jealous of who you are."

"There are things to see but more importantly things to think."

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Wotruba Church, Vienna

Nearly a decade ago, I spent the summer working just outside Vienna (my favourite European city). What I didn't know at the time, having found this out only recently, is that there is a church that is constructed in such a way that appeals to my love of rectangles and right angles. It is called the Wotruba Church - named after the designer Fritz Wotruba, rather than a saint. More can be seen at the church's official website.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Matter Of Perspective

I found this online. It brings to mind the visual cliff experiment devised by Eleanor Gibson (1910-2002). If I were walking along not paying much attention and at the last moment glimpsed the painting on the floor when just about to step on it, like many I'm sure that I would try to avoid falling down to the 'street' below - and then breathe a hearty sigh of relief that I was still alive.

Friday, 23 May 2014

At An Intersection

I found this quote from C.S. Lewis's 'Mere Christianity':

"... what I proudly call 'Myself' becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop."
(I can't remember which edition I read but this quote was on p225 of it.)

I read this book about nine years ago at a time when I had more pressing things on my mind. Unsurprisingly perhaps, I didn't get as much from it as I had hoped but the general idea that there is a form of Christianity that is acceptable to all Christians regardless of their (man-made) religious traditions is one that keeps coming back to me.

I do not remember the context within which this quote was written. At a conference, I once surprised a rather staid professor when I told her that I did not just read books for the content but for the ideas they generate in me. She had dismissed a book that somebody had written because there were factual errors in it. My response was, to the effect, "So what, there were interesting ideas in it nonetheless". Thus, context isn't always important to me.

This quote concerns something about which I think daily: our very existence. I am at a point that intersects with a miriad other "trains of events", it suggests. Alternatively, I could write that as: 'I' am at a point that intersects with a miriad other "trains of events". What is more, I have little or no control over these trains. There are things that impinge upon me without my permission and I have no power over them - I certainly can't get all of them to go away when I want them to.

These trains of events are not necessarily all bad though; they may even work out to our good. However, I tend to resent all forms of external interference forgetting, when they occur, that that may be the case. (I can, on reflection, even think of cases of this from the last week!) In the content of Lewis's book, we can either trust God that these trains of events will have some benefit or we can just soldier on, on our own.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Happy (Pharrell Williams)

I loved Happy by Pharrell Williams from the moment I first heard it during a TV ad break. It had me driving for my iPod to find it within seconds.

You can't help but be happy when listening to it. How anybody can give it a thumbs down on YouTube I just don't understand but at the time of writing nearly 47,000 people have! The number of thumbs up and views tell a completely different story.

I then found out that there is a 24 hour video version. This is a very clever and impressive idea. The song is played 360 times with the video moving seemlessly from happy person to happy person. You can't help but be happy to see people so happy.

I wonder if anybody has been sponsored to watch the whole 24 hour video at one go?

I can't get the version to work but 24 Hours of Happy at YouTube works just fine.

Just click: 'Play all' and get happy!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Stuttgart City Library

Having come across a picture of the city library on Mailänder Platz in Stuttgart on the web, I find that it appeals to my love of straight lines and right angles. A couple of pictures below show what I mean. (A Google image search shows it in numerous many ways.) The drawing at the bottom shows how it has a cube within a cube structure.  However, I wonder how I could possibly work in such a building. I prefer dark, enclosed corners in which to study and write rather than the bright, open spaces provided here.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Barcode - 15

Haven't had a barcode since 'Barcode Extra' (or should that be since Barcode - 14?) and there are not that many left in my collection (probably enough for a scattering over the next couple of years). This is a LOGMARS barcode spelling out, as always, Marginalia55. (Where the 'D' at the end came from, I don't know.)

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Newspaper Lady

Last week I went to a craft fair at Gladstone's Library and came across The Newspaper Lady. Her real name is Sarah Wilson and she takes old paper - books, sheet music etc. - and recycles it into something aesthetically pleasing. Her passion for paper recycling immediately appealed to me but so too did her use of straight lines and right angles, as can be seen below. Judging from her Diary and Events page, she is very busy and a pleasing amount of paper recycling is being done.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Why Write?

I found this unattributed quote which offers some raison d'être for the enterprise of writing - even when nobody other than oneself will ever get to read one's words:

'Writing is a means of clarifying to oneself one's own ideas.'

To this one can add something from another note that I found stashed away, that the point or use of poetry is to explore ideas that cannot be expressed in any other way. Different forms of language not only allow different forms of expression, they delimit and confine as well. Different types of ideas need these different forms of expression in order to be fully realised.

The two separate ideas above combine in the writing of poetry. Poetry is popular but perhaps not popular enough. There is perhaps not enough poetry in daily life; one does not encounter it by accident often enough. If one did, perhaps we might be a more thoughtful and richer society.

Thursday, 17 April 2014


This is merely to note that this is my 300th blog on Marginalia55.

Friday, 11 April 2014


I haven't played it (I'm not really a computer games playing person these days) but I was intrigued by it - given my love of right-angles, rectangles etc - when I saw something about it on television some months ago. The game Fez presents a three dimensional world built-up primarily from cubes - as the image below shows. One can then move through this world panning and rotating as one goes.

For a review of Fez that explains more than I can, watch:

To watch actual Fez gameplay, see:

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Price of Education

In the 1950s linking money and education was the basis for humour - as can be heard here on Hancock's Half Hour. Now the primary focus of some newer UK universities is on their finances rather than enhancing and maintaining their academic standards.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Letters to a Young Poet

I recently read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. These consisted of 10 letters that the Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) wrote between 1902 and 1908 offering advice to the aspiring poet Franz Xaver Kappus (1883–1966). They were collected by Kappus and published in 1929.

As somebody who likes solitude and quiet, I was particularly struck by the following passages taken from Letter 6.

...What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours - that is what you must be able to attain. To be solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grownups walked around involved with matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn't understand a thing about what they were doing.

     And when you realize that their activities are shabby, that their vocations are petrified and no longer connected with life, why not then continue to look upon it all as a child would, as if you were looking at something unfamiliar, out of the depths of your own world, from the vastness of your own solitude, which is itself work and status and vocation? Why should you want to give up a child's wise not-understanding in exchange for defensiveness and scorn, since not understanding is, after all, a way of being alone, whereas defensiveness and scorn are a participation in precisely what, by these means, you want to separate yourself from.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Barcode - Extra

Just to show that barcodes can be more interesting than they appear, here are two videos from Computerphile:

The Penguin Barcode

EXTRA BITS: More on Barcodes

Monday, 17 March 2014

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three,
of whom all nature hath creation;
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

(From the culmination of St Patrick's Breastplate - Fifth century trans. C. F. Alexander, 1889.)

(Visit the above, to hear the hymn and for a full transcript of the words)

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

On being remembered

In my previous blog, I mentioned being remembered by God as the basis for existence - perhaps persisting even into eternity. I should also note, in a similar vein, that the moto of the Worshipful Company of Scriveners is Littera Scripta Manet. This translates as The Written Word Remains. There is a certain immortality of sorts in this notion.

It is sometimes said that once something goes on the web it cannot be removed; it is there - somewhere - forever. I don't know how true that is but if it really is the case, one must be very careful - not least with spelling and grammar!

Another unattributed expression (or perhaps it is a quote, I don't know for sure) also springs to mind: Better dead than unread. A moto that seems to derive from a writer. This obviously plays upon what some Americans used to state during the cold war: Better dead than red (i.e. under communist rule). (NB This is a phrase whose provenance is not entirely clear. Click the phrase to read more. It will, in fact, take you to the inverse: 'Better red than dead'.)