Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Saturday, 27 July 2013


Our buddleia has sprouted an excellent crop of butterflies.

two Peacock butterflies
more than two Peacock butterflies

Friday, 26 July 2013

sequestering carbon, several books at a time VI

The last few weeks have seen the arrival of only a trickle of books. This week, however, due to a birthday, recommendations from a workshop, and statistical fluctuation, we see a healthy crop.

guess which ones are the birthday presents!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Typography in ten minutes

Yesterday I came across Butterick’s Practical Typography. It promises to make you “a bet­ter ty­pog­ra­ph­er than 95% of pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers and 70% of pro­fes­sion­al de­sign­ers” in ten minutes, by reading 5 rules (and, presumably, then following them). I instead read the whole thing – it’s fascinating (if you are fascinated by typography).

At one point, when advocating using wider margins, and making better use of white space, he sets an exercise, of making 2 documents with the same text.

Document A is the usual default style, and has the following format: “page mar­gins of one inch per side, font is Times New Roman, point size is 12, line spacing is “Double” [...], first-line indent is half an inch, and no space be­tween para­graphs.”

Document B follows Buttericks strictures, and has the following format: “page mar­gins of two inch­es per side, font is still Times New Roman, point size is 11, line spac­ing is ex­act­ly 15 points, first-line in­dent is still half an inch, and still no space between para­graphs.”

He claims that B looks more like a professionally typeset book, is more comfortable to read, and contains more words per page. And he's right. Here are A and B (using Lorem Ipsum, so neither is particularly comfortable to read!).

(left) document A, default margins, double spaced; (right) document B, wider margins, better spaced, more text
Then today I had to write a 250 word “vision” document. I heeded what I had learnt. I initally wrote the text in the Word default layout. Then I tweaked it, by changing the font, and increasing the margins and linespacing. I made the margins as wide as I could, and still get all the text on one page. The result:

(left) 250 words in Word default format; (right) the same words, after some minor formatting tweaks
Im sold!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

over 10,000 times larger than the Library of Congress

How many photos have ever been taken?
Every 2 minutes today we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800s. In fact, ten percent of all the photos we have were taken in the past 12 months.

For all my social networking posts, see my Google+ page

Monday, 22 July 2013

unreliable narrator

The Story Coaster

Too simple to narrate complex systems, though.

What is the pencil made of?

Back in 2011, Scientific American discussed the statement "It would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran Wrap."

But what I want to know -- just who are those people holding the sheet?!

For all my social networking posts, see my Google+ page

hearing temperatures

An interesting "sonification" of data: converting a graph of temperatures into musical notes.

For all my social networking posts, see my Google+ page

Sunday, 21 July 2013

44 years, and counting

The loneliness of Michael Collins:

Only one human being alive on July 21, 1969 is not in this picture

For all my social networking posts, see my Google+ page

Monday, 15 July 2013

academic paper typesetting

Following up on Matthew Collins note about Paperpile, I went to their site. They have started a blog, and their first entry is a fascinating look at academic paper typesetting design styles through the ages.

For all my social networking posts, see my Google+ page

Sunday, 14 July 2013

that really brought it home

The BBC reports on a special Dr Who Prom last night, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the TV show.

50 years ago the part of Susan Foreman, the Doctor's granddaughter, was played by Carole Ann Ford.
Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman, in 1963

Carole Ann Ford was a surprise special guest at last night's prom, and the BBC reported it thus:

That puts the "50 years" into stark perspective.

the individual v the commons

The twin prime conjecture, a famous open problem in mathematics, states that there are an infinite number of pairs of primes of the form \(p, p+2\).  Earlier this year, Yitang Zhang made a great breakthrough, publishing a proof that there are an infinite number of pairs of primes of the form \(p, p+H\), where \(H \leq 70,000,000\).

I've been watching what happened next with interest. Some people quickly seized on the result, and found better bounds. The encouraged Terrence Tao to propose a Polymath project, Polymath8,  to help coordinate efforts to understand Zhang's proof, and to reduce the bound on \(H\). Subsequent progress has reduced \(H\) considerably, with it currently standing at \(12,006\), and with as yet unconfirmed results of \(5,414\).

That's an amazing 4 orders of magnitude reduction, in just a couple of months.  To appreciate the progress, it's useful to look at a couple of graphs (based on that PolyMath wiki data). Here's how the best bound for \(H\) has fallen over the eight weeks since Zhang's paper was accepted:

best known value for \(H\), linear scale (diamond, confirmed result; +,  unconfirmed result)

best known value for \(H\), log scale (diamond, confirmed result; +,  unconfirmed result)
Here we see a fascinating synergy between individual and group efforts.  Zhang came up with the first, qualitative, breakthrough: a technique for providing a bound, and got a first (and now we see, rough) estimate.  Then the community gathered round, and through a process of cooperation (and presumably, a degree of competition, too), chipping away at the various definitions and terms, have quantitatively improved the technique.

So, to all those administrators trying to force us to work individually, or in groups, depending on the current fashion at headquarters -- the answer is clear: diversity works!  Some of the time progress is made by individuals, sometimes by groups, even on the same problem.  Don't assume one size fits all.

Progress here appears to have tapered off recently, with no new results reported in the last few days.  Is this due to the improvements having been pushed as far as possible (not likely, as there are several unconfirmed results yet), to enthusiasm having flagged (also unlikely, as the results are getting ever closer to the ultimate value of \(2\)), or due to it being vacation time? I'll continue watching with interest.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

waspish caterpillar

I read recently, in the "Last Word" section of New Scientist, a piece asking for help to identify an Italian butterfly-like creature.  The questioner couldn't identify it because "it doesn't seem like any butterfly I've seen, nor is it in any of my insect books".  What caught my eye was the implication of ownership of at least three insect books.  We have only the one insect book.  And two butterfly books.  Oh, and a dragonfly book.

Yet none of our books could help us to identify this splendid caterpillar we found in the garden today.
at least it's on a weed
The reason I know that none could have helped is that I looked it up in them, after I had identified it using the web.  To identify it in the first place, I googled "caterpillar black yellow stripes", and got

it seems there are rather a lot of caterpillars using a yellow and black colour palette
Looking through the results identified several promising candidates.  The respective source pages all identified it as the caterpillar of the Cinnabar moth.  The wikipedia page has more details, confirming the identification.  But our insect book doesn't have it.  Neither do our butterfly books (well, it is a moth, I suppose).

Back in the garden, the spiders (which will obviously not be in our insect book) have been busy wrapping up the plants in a dense web.

And the patio roses we bought back in early May are now blooming their hearts out.
The labels must have lied about the colours.  I think we are going to have to separate these!

The weeds are growing apace, but it's way too hot at the moment (28°C) to garden.  So I'm blogging about the garden instead.

eye patches

Boing Boing has recently pointed out the "best opening paragraph in wikipedia", on Lieutenant-General Adrian Carton de Wiart.
Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart
I wonder if he was related to Nicholas Courtney?
"evil"  Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

tablet communities

I just got a new toy today -- a Samsung Galaxy Tab.  Smooth.  I loaded the Google+ app, naturally.  But when I try to find the "communities" icon -- there's no menu item for it!  There's a menu item on my PC in Chrome, and on the app on my Android phone -- so what I am (or the app?) doing wrong on the tablet?

UPDATE: Well, I don't know if someone is watching, but my tablet just informed me that a Google+ update was available.  So I updated.  And lo and behold!  Communities! 

For all my social networking posts, see my Google+ page

Monday, 8 July 2013

Unconventional Milan

I'm back from the conference on Unconventional Computation and Natural Computation (UCNC) in Milan. Excellent conference, with lots of great presentations, conversations, and food.

My Evernote experience was a success.  I managed to take the notes I wanted, using my Netbook.  Fortunately, the venue being a university, the rooms had suitable benching for resting the Netbook on -- no more bruises where the computer's little feet dig into my legs.  And there were enough power sockets around that I could recharge as necessary.

When there was a particularly useful or interesting figure on a slide, I took a photo of it, and added "[photo]" to my notes at that point.  Then, when I got home, I downloaded the photos, straightened them up, cropped them, adjusted the contrast, and pasted them into Evernote in the right places.  That worked even better than scribbling down a diagram.  But it did mean that I had to remember to sit near the front.

So now I have enough trials to be convinced Evernote is the right approach, for SF conventions, for seminars, and for conferences.  Legible, searchable notes are a boon.