Friday, 23 June 2017

On Travelling to Work - 2

Driving to work takes effort: concentration on the road and arriving safely. When one arrives at work this level of effort and concentration continues into the work of the day. At the end of the day, that effort and concentration continues as one drives home again. From leaving home to returning home again, one is expending effort and concentrating. The working day is extended as a result by the work that it takes to get to and from work.

Going to work by train or bus, if undertaken in the right frame of mind (and in the right circumstances: on trains and buses that are not overcrowded or uncomfortable) can (or perhaps should) be an extension of the leisure time one has at home.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Epictetus - 27

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

Asked, Who is the rich man? Epictetus replied, "He who is content."

It is hard to combine and unite these two qualities, the carefulness of one who is affected by circumstances, and the intrepidity of one who heeds them not. But it is not impossible: else were happiness also impossible. We should act as we do in seafaring.
"What can I do?"—Choose the master, the crew, the day, the opportunity. Then comes a sudden storm. What matters it to me? my part has been fully done. The matter is in the hands of another—the Master of the ship. The ship is foundering. What then have I to do? I do the only thing that remains to me—to be drowned without fear, without a cry, without upbraiding God, but knowing that what has been born must likewise perish. For I am not Eternity, but a human being—a part of the whole, as an hour is part of the day. I must come like the hour, and like the hour must pass!

Sunday, 11 June 2017


In my experience, centaurs are almost always represented as the head, arms and trunk of a male and the body of a horse (presumably also male!). I do not recollect ever seeing a female centaur. Looking into this, I find that they are not mentioned in early Greek mythology but that centauresses or centaurides are mentioned in later Greek literature. After all, without female centaurs, where would any centaurs come from? I found this image somewhere, some time ago. I doubt if the ancient Greeks had this sort of image in mind though.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Seeing things differently

In his Jayne Lectures of 1968 - which appeared as 'Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought' (which was later incorporated in 'Pluto's Republic') - and in his book 'Advice to a Young Scientist', the Nobel prize winning biologist Sir Peter Medawar (1915-1987) describes four types of experiment.

They are:

* Baconian (or Inductive) Experimentation.
This type of experimentation is typified by the phrase, "I wonder want would happen if … ?"
All investigations, Medawar suggests, begin this way.

* Galilean (or Critical) Experimentation.
This is the type of experiment where "actions are carried out to test a hypothesis or preconceived opinion by examining the logical consequences of holding it." Here Medawar's words reflect the ideas of Sir Karl Popper (1902-1994).

* Aristotelian (or Demonstrative) Experimentation.
This type of experiment is "intended to illustrate a preconceived truth and convince people of its validity."

and then there is...

* Kantian (or Deductive) Experimentation.
This type of experimentation is based on: "Let's see what happens if we take different view" and consists of "experiments in which we examine the consequences of varying [our] axioms or presuppositions."

Taking a different view is not just useful or important when it comes to scientific experiements. It makes a big difference when just looking at the world.

Here are some images to make one think (differently):

and what about this...?

Monday, 29 May 2017

Sun and Moon... and Mercury

The sun comes out during the day and the moon at night... well, not quite. Here is a picture I took of the moon late one afternoon. The colour of the sky and that of the moon are continuous with each other giving an interesting transparency effect. On another occasion, I took a photograph of the sun (using, of course, appropriate filters and precautions). I did so to catch the transit of Mercury on 9th May last year. It can be seen as the tidy dot in the lower left quadrant.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

On Travelling to Work - 1

There are two ways to get to work: by private transport or by public transport. Private transport usually takes the form of travelling by car; public transport, the bus or the train. Some, of course, choose different forms of cycling. If one can't afford a vehicle, one has little choice than to go by public transport. Those who can afford a car often buy one and drive themselves to work.

However, if one becomes very wealthy one may decide to hire a chauffeur so that one no longer has to drive oneself. Here I think that there is a sense of coming full-circle here. Doesn't a bus or train driver chauffeur those who travel by public transport? So, don't knock public transport; it's much the same, to my mind, as being chauffeur driven.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Epictetus - 26

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

Never call yourself a Philosopher nor talk much among the unlearned about Principles, but do that which follows from them. Thus at a banquet, do not discuss how people ought to eat; but eat as you ought. Remember that Socrates thus entirely avoided ostentation. Men would come to him desiring to be recommended to philosophers, and he would conduct them thither himself—so well did he bear being overlooked. Accordingly if any talk concerning principles should arise among the unlearned, be you for the most part silent. For you run great risk of spewing up what you have ill digested. And when a man tells you that you know nothing and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun the work.

At feasts, remember that you are entertaining two guests, body and soul. What you give to the body, you presently lose; what you give to the soul, you keep for ever.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Google Maps - Can be funny

Browsing through Google Maps can yield some interesting finding. The world is not a static thing. Least of al the human wolrd. Things are always happening, so taking an aerial photograph can produce some interesting and even funny effects. Here are a few I collected sometime ago:

Heathrow airport:

Gatwick airport:

Somewhere over SE England:

In North London (a split tube train):

Mancot, North Wales:

Friday, 5 May 2017

Aristotle trumps Rumsfeld

By comparison with the false truths, half-truths (and nothing like the truth) that is currently being pumped out by the White House, the pronouncements on February 12th, 2002 by Donald Rumsfeld about 'known knowns', 'unknown unknowns' (and any permutation thereof) sound decidedly philosophical. And perhaps, so they should. There is a sense in which Aristotle got there first.

In Part (Book) 24 of his Poetics, Aristotle talks of prefering "probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities". I'm not sure exactly what he means - nor, at this point, does it matter. It is certainly much more thought-provoking than the current White House drivel which could learn much from the erstwhile Donald.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Lost and Found

I use quotations quite a lot on this blog. I started collecting them for use in my lectures. I found them to be a convenient way of making a point. Not only was it me that was making the point but somebody else had made much the same point before me. The collection of quotations then became something of a minor hobby. When I read or heard something interesting, I simply wrote it down.

In those early days of quotation collecting for lectures, they were printed on acetates for projection using an overhead projector. It was very easy for acetates to get jumbled up and they had to be reorganised afterwards - or more accurately, the following year just before giving the lecture to the next batch of students. Eventually one of my favourite quotations got lost.

I couldn't remember where I first came across it (somebody other than the primary source had used it and I couldn't remember who), nor could I find it online, not least because I couldn't remember the wording well enough to make an accurate search - or perhaps it just hadn't be put online yet. Now all that has changed. I have found it again (on Wikiquote). It is this by Lawrence Durrell from his novel Clea (1960).

'Like all young men I set out to be a genius, but mercifully laughter intervened.'

I used to use it in the context of not taking oneself too seriously. Ideally, I would suggest being a genius and have a good laugh at the same time.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

These belong together

I believe that the following three quotations, from philosophers not unknown to each other, share something in common and should therefore be considered together:

The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

What we can't say we can't say, and we can't whistle it either.
Frank Ramsey (1903-1930)

To these may be added:

Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must write children’s books.
Francis Spufford (b 1964) (From: The Child Books Built, 2002)

Monday, 17 April 2017

Epictetus - 25

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

When you have decided that a thing ought to be done, and are doing it, never shun being seen doing it, even though the multitude should be likely to judge the matter amiss. For if you are not acting rightly, shun the act itself; if rightly, however, why fear misplaced censure?

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

What's in a Metaphor?

Like most people these days, I have thousands of computer files which I am careful to file away in folders. We don't usually stop to think about it but this notion of files and folders and filing things away in a computer or on a hard drive etc. is just a metaphor. There is no reason why the terms 'file' or 'folder' should be used in preference to other words. Other more technical words could be used. Alternatively, other more user-friendly words could be used.

Personally, I do not find the words 'file' and 'folder' user friendly. This is because I do not like the idea of being an office worker. Using an office-based set of metaphors does not suit me. I want to work my way; a way that is more productive and efficient: a way that is comfortable. That means NOT being office-like.

When I left school and was looking for my first job, the prospect of office-based work did not appeal to me. Not that I am an outdoors or particularly practical person but my first interim work, until I got a profession upon which to focus, was certainly not office-based.

When several years later I got an office it was one which had two sinks - one with a rack for draining test tubes - and a gas outlet for connecting a bunsen burner. I just thought of it as my room. It was only part office and, importantly, one could do scientific benchwork in it. I once heard it referred to as my 'lab.'

As time has gone by, my professional activities have become more and more office-based. It is only now that I am beginning to appreciate the insidious effect that this may have had on how I go about things. When I had just a multi-purpose room, I was much more content. I was able somehow to feel much less fettered and much more creative. In an office, one must behave in an office-like manner and do office things: one produces files that can be filed away in folders and cabinets. Very often all this filing is done just in case things need to be retrived; most of the time they do not. Things get filed away never to be seen again.

In my old room things were in piles; often untidy piles. This was not an uncommon practice. I remember one colleague with a room the same size as mine having virtually no space left in it at all due to it being piled full of papers and all sorts of things - some reputedly alive. Importantly, the environment was a very creative one. This is not one that I can say is typical of the offices with which I have been familiar.

To return to the question of metaphor as applied to computers.

If offices are not the best environments for creative and productive work and computers are set up so as to impose that metaphor upon their users, might it be that the productivity that using computers can certainly foster is being undermined to some extent?

I am much more at home in libraries. There everything has a place and is restored to that place after use. Arguably, libraries are more rigid about 'filing' than offices. Libraries give their books accession numbers and shelf marks and then they are put on shelves in alpha-numerical order. The big difference is that books are not hidden; they are not shelved-away (as a file might be filed-away inside a sometimes locked cabinet). Books are 'put out' so as to be easily accessible.

So why not such a metaphor for computers? Instead of a file being in a folder - which itself is often inside another folder which may well be inside another folder etc. (until the file system can't cope with the length of the path and directory names), what about a more library-like metaphor?

Alternatively, what about a computer file system that offers a choice of metaphor. Instead of files and folders, what about notes, scraps, jottings, leaflets, pamphlets, booklets, books as well as the documents we typically use?

In the extreme, one's computer could even be set up like the 'Library of Babel'!

In the meantime, recognising my dislike of offices and office practice and how it is ingrained in the way we interact with computers, I have begun something of a fightback. Realising all that I have said above, I am now using my laptop more like a library and an looking out for any evidence that my laptop is trying to inculcate in me an office mentality. Since doing this, I have found my working practices to be much more productive and certainly more enjoyable. (Don't tell my lap but I have even started using more paper in an effort to have tangible evidence of just how much I have been doing each day!)

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Make Your Own Landscape

I found this image online sometime ago and no longer have the link. No matter. I have also come across something like this in real (not virtual) life. Many year's ago, a friend's daughter had a set of these interchangable strips. They can be placed in any order to make a single landscape image. Based on nine strips, I calculate that there are 362,880 different combinations (to the mathematically-minded, that is, 9!) - unless I am much mistaken.

So far as I can ascertain, this seems to have been a Victorian children's plaything. With so many combinations, it must have keep the imaginative Victorian child entraced (and not heard) for hours - if not into advanced old age!

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Post-It Architecture

While rummaging through our stationery cupboard at work, I noticed that there was a wider range of 'Post-It' note sizes than I had previously realised. So I took a few of each and noticed later that they were in proportion to each other. Stacking them, I found that they could be built into differently shaped architectures (if that is the right word). Here is an example:

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Optical Confuion

We have all heard of optical illusions but what about 'optical confusions'? The first image below is physically impossible and can be described as an optical illusion. I do not know how the second image was created but it is not impossible as such. It can be classed as an illusion but I wonder if 'confusion' is not a more appropriate term.

Optical Illusion

Optical Confusion

Friday, 17 March 2017

Epictetus - 24

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

In company avoid frequent and undue talk about your own actions and dangers. However pleasant it may be to you to enlarge upon the risks you have run, others may not find such pleasure in listening to your adventures. Avoid provoking laughter also: it is a habit from which one easily slides into the ways of the foolish, and apt to diminish the respect which your neighbors feel for you. To border on coarse talk is also dangerous. On such occasions, if a convenient opportunity offer, rebuke the speaker. If not, at least by relapsing into silence, colouring, and looking annoyed, show that you are displeased with the subject.

Saturday, 11 March 2017


To put it bluntly, I have had to put up with other people's stupidity again recently. (I will not go into details but I have also had to do this in a university setting: the very setting were one would expect intelligence and open-mindedness to prevail.) This has brought to mind two pertinent quotations. One from the Bible, the other from an atheist. It seems that nobody can stand stupidity.

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding. (AV)
Proverbs 17: 28

A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he understands.
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

Sunday, 5 March 2017


I found an app - which I still have on an old ipod somewhere - that allows the user to make their own tartan. So I had a go with some of my favourite colours - aware that I also like right angles and rectangles. This is a result from my experimentation:

I'm sure that there are other tartan creation tools available elsewhere online. (I must seek them out sometime.)

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Let There Be Light

I cannot remember where I found this image but I clipped it because it sums up for me something of the importance I place in books. Books can, as image portrays, enlighten - and somethings in a most dramatic way.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Epictetus - 23

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

Take what relates to the body as far as the bare use warrants—as meat, drink, raiment, house and servants. But all that makes for show and luxury reject.

If you are told that such an one speaks ill of you, make no defence against what was said, but answer, He surely knew not my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these only!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Nothing Squared or Cubed

Nothing squared = 0x0 = Nothing

Nothing cubed = 0x0x0 = Nothing

and then there is boxed...

(By way of being a homage to the Oxo cube.)


Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Good Old (Maths) Days

We can all get nostalgic about the good old days but when it comes to certain things we did at school, what of the ones we did not enjoy? Are we still as nostalgic about the things we were only too glad to leave behind when the time came to leave? For example, a lot of people are only too willing to relate how they never liked - or even hated - mathematics and how they could never do it. (Perhaps the state of their personal finances now attests to this?)

I liked maths. In fact, I liked virtually everything. It was a shame that I ever had to leave school. (By going into academia perhaps I did not, in a sense, leave school at all. When I went for an interview at the university from which I got my first degree, as I walked onto campus I passed a mother and her young child. I heard the child ask about all those buildings. 'It's like a big school', the mother replied. True - if only it were 'truer'.) The things at school that I did not like so much or did not do so well at, I have come to like since as I have gone about studying them for myself.

In the context of good old maths, whatever happened to books of mathematical tables? They are still available but nowadays there is no need to work out answers using logarithms. Just as electronic calculators have meant that slide rules have largely disappeared (although I still have two which I salvaged from a garage sale), so too the use of mathematical tables has, it seems, declined considerably. This is a pity since working on the nuts and bolts of a problem and not merely reading off some numbers from a handheld device I believe to have had a subliminal teaching effect on me.

So here is a picture of some log tables. Can you remember how to multiply, say, 50284 by 324.65 and get back to the answer using just these tables. It can be done without resorting to antilog tables.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Bucket Lists

Is there a point to bucket lists? They seem to be lists of things to do before you die. Once you die though that list tends to evaporate with you.

January, being the start of a new year, it is the month of new year's resolutions and, I suspect, the formulating of new bucket lists - which like many (most?) resolutions will fall by the wayside.

A few years ago when I was in the Lake District, one could see lots of people walking up various fells and in so doing, ticking them off their list. So what? These are things one has done. They are of no relevance to anybody else. Unless one leaves something for others, what one does or did is pointless.

And yet, I have lists of my own (of sorts), so I should not sneer. Instead, I should offer a couple of relevant quotations that I have happened upon:

Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.
Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.
Robert Heinlein (1907-1988)

In which case, may your bucket overflow.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Blues Humour

Late one afternoon some years ago, I commented to a work colleague (I work in 'academia') that it said something about one's workplace when, at the end of the day, one goes home and relaxes by listening to the blues; a music at least orignally associated with repression and hardship.

That is not to say that the blues is all grim. There is humour but the two lyrics which immediately spring to my mind represent rather dark humour.

There is Seasick Steve's 'Started Out with Nothin' where the lyrics run:

I started out with nothing,
And I've still got most of it left.

and best of all, I think, is Albert King's 'Born Under A Bad Sign' where the lyrics run:

If it wasn't for bad luck,
I'd have no luck at all.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Epictetus - 22

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

Remember that thou art an actor in a play, and of such sort as the Author chooses, whether long or short. If it be his good pleasure to assign thee the part of a beggar, a ruler, or a simple citizen, thine it is to play it fitly. For thy business is to act the part assigned thee, well: to choose it, is another's.

Lose no time in setting before you a certain stamp of character and behaviour both when by yourself and in company with others. Let silence be your general rule; or say only what is necessary and in few words. We shall, however, when occasion demands, enter into discourse sparingly. avoiding common topics as gladiators, horse-races, athletes; and the perpetual talk about food and drink. Above all avoid speaking of persons, either in way of praise or blame, or comparison.
If you can, win over the conversation of your company to what it should be by your own. But if you find yourself cut off without escape among strangers and aliens, be silent.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Diary Habit

I was reminded recently that I had completely forgotten about even the concept of a 'New Year's Resolutions': I have certainly not made any. I do not feel the need for them. If I need to start doing something, I am usually disciplined enough to get on and do it; I don't need special or specific occasions upon which to start even though, I must admit, specified starting times or dates can be useful.

With this year nearly two weeks old, some who have resolved to keep a diary may be floundering. It is not necessary an easy thing to do. So the following, from Arnold Bennett's The Diary Habit may offer some encouragement to persevere.


But beware of that word "writing." Just as some persons are nervous when entering a drawing-room (or even a restaurant!), so some persons are nervous when taking up a pen. All persons, as I have tried to show, are nervous about the psychological effects of the written word, but some persons - indeed many - are additionally nervous about the mere business of writing the word. They begin to hanker, with awe, after a mysterious ideal known as "correct style" They are actually under the delusion that writing is essentially different from talking - a secret trade process! - and they are not aware that he who says or thinks interesting things can write interesting things, and that he who can make himself understood in speech can make himself understood in writing - if he goes the right way to work!

I have known people, especially the young, who could discourse on themselves in the most attractive manner for hours, and yet who simply could not discover in their heads sufficient material for a short letter. They would bemoan: "I can't think of anything to say." It was true. And, of course, they could not think of anything to say, the reason being that they were trying to think of something to write, and very wrongly assuming that writing is necessarily different from saying! Writing may be different from saying, but it need not be different, and for the diarist it should not be different. And, above all, it should not be superficially different. The inexperienced, when they use ink, have a pestilent notion that saying has to be translated or transmogrified into writing. They conceive an idea in spoken words, and then they subconsciously or consciously ask themselves: "I should say it like that - but how ought I to write it?" They alter the forms of their sentences. They worry about grammar and phrase-construction and even spelling. As for grammar and spelling, in the greatest age of English literature neither subject was understood, and no writer could be trusted either in spelling or in grammar. To this day very few writers of genius are to be trusted either in spelling or in grammar. As for phrase-construction, the phrase that comes to your tongue is more likely to be well constructed than the phrase which you bring forcibly into being at the point of your pen. If you know enough grammar to talk comprehensively, you know enough to write comprehensibly, and you need not trouble about anything else; in fact, you ought not to do so, and you must not.

Formality in a diary is a mistake. Write as you think, as you speak, and it may be given to you to produce literature. But if while you are writing you remember that there is such a thing as literature, you will assuredly never produce literature.

This does not mean that you are entitled to write anyhow, without thought and without effort. Not a bit. Good diaries are not achieved thus. Although you may and should ignore the preoccupations of what I will call, sarcastically, "literary composition," you must have always before you the ideal of effectively getting your thought on to the paper. You would, sooner or later, say your thought effectively, but in writing it down some travail is needed to imagine what the perhaps unstudied spoken words would be. And also, the memory must be fully and honestly exercised to recall the scene or the incident described. By carelessness you run the risk of "leaving out the interesting part." By being conscientious you ensure that the maximum of interest is attained.

Lastly, it is necessary to conquer the human objection to hard labour of any sort. It is not a paradox to assert that man often dislikes the work which he likes. For myself, every day anew, I hate to start work. You may end your day with the full knowledge that you have had experiences that day worthy to go into the diary, which experiences remain in your mind obstinately. And yet you hate to open the diary, and even when you have opened it you hate to put your back into the business of writing. You are tempted to write without reflection, without order, and too briefly. To resist the temptation to be slack and casual and second-rate involves constant effort. Diary-keeping should be a pastime, but properly done it is also a task - like many other pastimes. I have kept a diary for over twenty-one years, and I know a little about it. I know more than a little about the remorse  - alas, futile! - which follows negligence. In diary-keeping negligence cannot be repaired. That which is gone is gone beyond return.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Nineteenth Century Rabbit Stomach

Unlike some of my academic colleagues - who advocate reading only scientific literature that has been published within the last five years - I have been reading work from much further back. The detail and explanations may now seem rather outdated but the questions asked and the way in which those questions were asked is still very much valid. Indeed, some of the questions (and their possible answers) have fallen out of fashion without a conclusive answer being reached. While reading Rudolf Virchow's 'Cellular Pathology' (English trans. 1860) (originally published as 'Die Cellularpathologie in ihrer Begr√ľndung auf physiologische und pathologische Gewebelehre' in 1858), I happened upon the following illustration (Fig. 30 on p105) which fascinated my interest in straight lines and right angles.

The caption reads:
'Injected preparation from the muscular coat of the stomach of a rabbit magnified 11 diameters.'
I had not expected this appearance; it looks more like a micrograph of muslin than muscle or associated blood vessels. It was interesting that the magnification was described in terms of being '11 diameters'. I assume this to be the same as the '11x' (11 times) we use today.