"Patterns"

May. 2nd, 2013 04:54 pm
rhythmaning: (Saxophone)
I have blogged elsewhere about some of the events I went to in the Edinburgh Science Festival this year, but the first talk I went to seemed to fit better here than there.

It was about "Patterns in Nature", though it was more about how we use nature's patterns to create non-natural forms in art and engineering. As Neil Cooper, the chair, said, humans are pattern recognising creatures, and pattern is fundamental to the way we interpret the world. (Indeed, we are so good at recognising patterns that we see them when they are not really there...)

Peter Randall-Page is an artist (predominantly but not solely a sculpture). Many of his pieces are based around phyllotaxis - the patterns made by leaves, flowers and buds in plants. Phyllotaxis itself commonly follows the Fibonacci series, which includes the golden ratio, which itself was the basis for a lot of design in art and architecture. For instance, the Palladian architecture of Georgian Britain (including much of Edinburgh) is based around the golden ratio.

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I had seen Randall-Page's work, though I hadn't recognised his name before he showed some examples of his work. His biomorphic shapes, based on Fibonacci spirals but cut into naturally occurring rocks, and hence imperfect, reflect the shapes found in pine cones and the heads of sunflowers (and many other plant forms). He described the spiral pattern as efficient - the optimal way to organise plant structures.He views the spiral as the theme, and the imperfections as variations on a theme - indeed, much of what he said sounded like improvisation around the theme, with a tension between the randomness of the imperfections and repetitive pattern.

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Alistair Elfick is an engineer who works in "synthetic biological engineering". He was quite critical of engineers, believing that they had forgotten how to play, being constrained by professional standards and an avoidance of failure. It has to be said, though, that for most engineers, an avoidance of failure is a good thing - I'm not sure I'd want to cross the bridge built by an engineer who was happy playing - and failing...

For Elfick, bioengineering and "synthetic aesthetics" involves biomimicry - learning (and stealing!) from the natural world. The user of synthetic materials, he felt, created a whole new taxonomy - a new branch to the tree of life: the ability to develop synthetic biology. (He pointed out that much of this ability is based on our use of organic chemistry to make and manipulate synthetic, organic compounds; many of which our derived from or based on compounds made by organisms long ago in the earth's history. Not so novel, then!)

Like Randall-Page, the patterns discussed by Elfick are based on simple models: chemical diffusion and reaction can create complex, chaotic patterns using very simple formulae.

The debate after their presentations came up with some interesting topics. Many interesting things happen at the edges - the liminal is an interesting place to be. But the scientific method is reductive in its approach - it is linear. Science works on the differences between things, not the connections that can be made.

Man, however, is a pattern recognising creature: we look for meaning in things, including art, science - and religion! Ancient people looked at the night sky and joined the dots, turning the stars into pictures and giving the constellations names. We look at clouds and can see pictures in them. Music is attractive because of the patterns we hear (and exciting because of the surprise when the unexpected happens!).

For all the examples they used, I've occurred to me that something went unmentioned. Man has been stealing fron nature's patterns for a long, long time: it isn't new. The roof of the large, newly renovated Victorian main hall of the museum resembles nothing so much as a vertebrate ribcage from their collection!

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rhythmaning: (sunset)
I spent several days down south this month – in London and Oxford. On two different visits – so I am concatenating them

The first was a very good, though very emotional, visit.

For starters, I was met at King’s Cross by [livejournal.com profile] frankie_ecap, which was very good indeed.

After dropping my stuff off at the hotel, we decided to pay a visit to the Natural History Museum – or, if the last time you visited was in a professional capacity in the mid-1980s (to talk about ferns, if you are interested), the British Museum (Natural History). It is the same place, anyway.

DSC_0037 DSC_0034 DSC_0033

DSC_0035 DSC_0032
Lots of pictures and words behind the cut... )

rhythmaning: (sunset)
I spent several days down south this month – in London and Oxford. On two different visits – so I am concatenating them

The first was a very good, though very emotional, visit.

For starters, I was met at King’s Cross by [livejournal.com profile] frankie_ecap, which was very good indeed.

After dropping my stuff off at the hotel, we decided to pay a visit to the Natural History Museum – or, if the last time you visited was in a professional capacity in the mid-1980s (to talk about ferns, if you are interested), the British Museum (Natural History). It is the same place, anyway.

DSC_0037 DSC_0034 DSC_0033

DSC_0035 DSC_0032
Lots of pictures and words behind the cut... )

rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
David Aaronovitch has done some digging on a commonly quoted fact and discovered it is actually a fiction.

Excellent stuff - and a warning not to believe everything one reads - anywhere.

(via @bengoldacre on Twitter.)
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
David Aaronovitch has done some digging on a commonly quoted fact and discovered it is actually a fiction.

Excellent stuff - and a warning not to believe everything one reads - anywhere.

(via @bengoldacre on Twitter.)
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
There have been lots of reports linking an increase in a range of cancers in women with drinking even small amounts of alcohol - a glass or two of wine a day.

This must have been worrying.

The blog Pyjamas in Bananas has taken the data and analysed it (via @BenGoldacre on Twitter - he runs the blog Bad Science).

To quote from their analysis:
I think it is clear that the difference between a drink a day and less than 2 drinks a week (this was the reference group because non-drinkers often includes ex-alcoholics or those who have given up because they are already sick) is less than convincing.
Looking at their analysis, it seems to make sense. It is so long since I have done that kind of stats that I couldn't challenge it, but based on the graphs they present, any increase in risk at low level of alcohol is not statistically significant.

I'll drink to that!
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
There have been lots of reports linking an increase in a range of cancers in women with drinking even small amounts of alcohol - a glass or two of wine a day.

This must have been worrying.

The blog Pyjamas in Bananas has taken the data and analysed it (via @BenGoldacre on Twitter - he runs the blog Bad Science).

To quote from their analysis:
I think it is clear that the difference between a drink a day and less than 2 drinks a week (this was the reference group because non-drinkers often includes ex-alcoholics or those who have given up because they are already sick) is less than convincing.
Looking at their analysis, it seems to make sense. It is so long since I have done that kind of stats that I couldn't challenge it, but based on the graphs they present, any increase in risk at low level of alcohol is not statistically significant.

I'll drink to that!
rhythmaning: (cat)
Last week, [livejournal.com profile] frankie_ecap and I visited the Natural History Museum to wish Darwin a happy 200th birthday.

I will write a bit more about my trip to London some other time, but [livejournal.com profile] frankie_ecap particularly liked this cartoon...

DSC_0013 copy

rhythmaning: (cat)
Last week, [livejournal.com profile] frankie_ecap and I visited the Natural History Museum to wish Darwin a happy 200th birthday.

I will write a bit more about my trip to London some other time, but [livejournal.com profile] frankie_ecap particularly liked this cartoon...

DSC_0013 copy

rhythmaning: (whisky)
Charlotte Gore has linked to a post on News Geeks which critically looks at the facts of the Government's Change4Life campaign, and concludes that they really don't stack up. It's worth reading.

By the way, the home page of Change4Life is patronising as fuck. I won't be going back there.
rhythmaning: (whisky)
Charlotte Gore has linked to a post on News Geeks which critically looks at the facts of the Government's Change4Life campaign, and concludes that they really don't stack up. It's worth reading.

By the way, the home page of Change4Life is patronising as fuck. I won't be going back there.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
Ben Goldacre, who writes the Bad Science column in the Guardian and has a blog of the same name, takes a critical and sceptical look at the way the media treat scientific topics. He looks at the original data, testing and challenging popular views, and generally tackling - well, bad science.

One of his bugbears is, understandably, the misinformation about the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine. Some people have supposed a link between MMR and the onset of autism, which is not supported by the evidence. As a result, the uptake of MMR has declined, and this may be one reason for the worrying rise in measles in England that was announced today.

Earlier this week, Goldacre posted an analysis of a programme broadcast on LBC, a London radio station, which was full of misreprentations and - well, bad science.

Goldacre has now posted about contact from LBC's lawyers:
"LBC’s lawyers say that the clip I posted is a clear infringement of their copyright, that I must take it down immediately, that I must inform them when I have done so, and that they “reserve their rights”...

The clip I posted was, to my mind, hideous and unremitting: it went on for so long.

In fact it was so long, so unrelenting, and so misinformed that I really couldn’t express to you how hideous it was. If I tried, without the audio, you might think I was exaggerating.
"

Such bullying by a large corporation implies that their representatives can say what they want, without factual backing or concern for the effect of actions. I am all for free speech; but also for such speech to be challenged.

Edit: Cory Doctorw has written an account of what the threat of measles means in his part of London, over on Boing Boing.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
Ben Goldacre, who writes the Bad Science column in the Guardian and has a blog of the same name, takes a critical and sceptical look at the way the media treat scientific topics. He looks at the original data, testing and challenging popular views, and generally tackling - well, bad science.

One of his bugbears is, understandably, the misinformation about the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine. Some people have supposed a link between MMR and the onset of autism, which is not supported by the evidence. As a result, the uptake of MMR has declined, and this may be one reason for the worrying rise in measles in England that was announced today.

Earlier this week, Goldacre posted an analysis of a programme broadcast on LBC, a London radio station, which was full of misreprentations and - well, bad science.

Goldacre has now posted about contact from LBC's lawyers:
"LBC’s lawyers say that the clip I posted is a clear infringement of their copyright, that I must take it down immediately, that I must inform them when I have done so, and that they “reserve their rights”...

The clip I posted was, to my mind, hideous and unremitting: it went on for so long.

In fact it was so long, so unrelenting, and so misinformed that I really couldn’t express to you how hideous it was. If I tried, without the audio, you might think I was exaggerating.
"

Such bullying by a large corporation implies that their representatives can say what they want, without factual backing or concern for the effect of actions. I am all for free speech; but also for such speech to be challenged.

Edit: Cory Doctorw has written an account of what the threat of measles means in his part of London, over on Boing Boing.
rhythmaning: (violin)
Walking beside the Water of Leith – and last week on the canal, too – I have often seen large ducks with a somewhat vicious look hooked beak. I know these ducks are either goosander or merganser, but I can never remember which.

Instead I just call them “funny ducks”.

P1290005



After taking this picture last Thursday, I once more had to look them up in my bird book to see if they were goosander or merganser.

I realised why I find it so hard to remember. They are goosander; the latin binomial for which is Mergus merganser.

So goosander are M. merganser.

Just to make sure we’ve got this straight, merganser are M. serator.
rhythmaning: (violin)
Walking beside the Water of Leith – and last week on the canal, too – I have often seen large ducks with a somewhat vicious look hooked beak. I know these ducks are either goosander or merganser, but I can never remember which.

Instead I just call them “funny ducks”.

P1290005



After taking this picture last Thursday, I once more had to look them up in my bird book to see if they were goosander or merganser.

I realised why I find it so hard to remember. They are goosander; the latin binomial for which is Mergus merganser.

So goosander are M. merganser.

Just to make sure we’ve got this straight, merganser are M. serator.
rhythmaning: (Default)
I have been playing jazz on the iPod through the hifi.

I just recognised a tune from the first note: a cymbal crash. I heard the sound and started singing (well, I call it singing…) the theme as it came in.

From that simple sound, I knew the tune and all its parts – the tempo, mostly – and knew all the rest.

It was of course a tune I knew well, and particularly like: Spiritual, by John Coltrane, from the Afro Blue Impressions album (which you can listen to for free on Last.fm: all of it. If you don’t know it, it is a brilliant album, full of exciting, life-affirming music. Go listen!)

I am pretty good at recognising artists from tunes, and often early on into a tune: a couple of notes in to what is playing now I knew it was Colin Steele – a trumpeter.

But I am still surprised that I recognised Spiritual from the first cymbal beat.

My last partner used to quiz me repeatedly on how I recognised pieces of music. I could never say; it annoyed the hell out of her. How do I know Coltrane when I hear him? How do I know that the saxophonist I’m listening to now is Andy Sheppard? (The really interesting thing is that I have just realised it is Andy Sheppard; but it is not an Andy Sheppard CD, which I had thought it was – it is a Gil Evans’ big band CD.)

Part of it is down to recognising the tune; a lot of it is down to recognising the style - but I don’t know how I recognise a musicians’ style: I know it’s Sheppard, but I can’t say why. Yesterday, shuffle threw up a piano trio piece, and I knew the bassist was Charlie Mingus. But I couldn’t say how I knew. Miles stands out on trumpet.

Part of it is in the music, too. I have little early jazz, so it is either going to be Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington – easy to tell apart. Small group 1940s jazz – either Lester Young (Count Basie) or Ellington again. The main practitioners of bebop are pretty easy to identify, too. Jazzrock? I have only a handful of jazzrock CDs, and they are ok to tell apart.

I suppose I should be good at recognising drummers, anyway. Art Blakey is a dead giveaway – something in the way he did his fills: there is something instantly recognisable about Blakey. Elvin Jones – the drummer most associated with Coltrane – had a unique style, too.

But I am still surprised to identify him off a single cymbal beat.

The human brain is really rather remarkable.

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