1 february 2010


Robert Bresson,  Diary of a Country Priest

What wonder, that one can give what one doesn't possess!

Oh, miracle of our empty hands!

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19 february 2010

The Formal Scientific Method

You know what I like about our kind of work? You can be happy or unhappy; it makes no difference. It doesn't matter if you like what you find or hate it. You look at it and say, So that's how it is. Sometimes I feel like an archaeologist, breaking into a sealed tomb. I don't want to touch anything, I just want to look.

Look, you may be guessing right and you may not. We won't know until we've done the work, and when we've done the work we won't need the guesses because we'll know the answer. So what's the point of guesses? Being able to say later you were right all along.

- Rosalind Franklin in the film Life Story

A rook should be shot weekly the year thro', & its crop examined; hence perhaps might be discovered whether in the whole they do more harm or good from the contents at various periods. Tho' this experiment might show that the birds often injure corn, and turneps; yet the continual consumption of grubs and noxious insects would rather preponderate in their favour.

- Gilbert White, Journal 1775

To be cranked up, as Pirsig said, when all else fails. But I often prefer to start with it because of the looking. Both the above quotes stress the need for disinterested observation, which is ideal because it's a) lazy and b) automatically feeding into the next stage of things, data analysis. I love a nice graph, too. White is usual is punching above his weight - no-one else had come up with these kind of ideas since Aristotle, maybe. The Life Story film is really all about different ways of applying the method: slow and steady versus lightning one-shot apprehension, but ultimately my sympathies lie with Rosie. After all, I do like to see them wriggle.


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24 february 2010

nostalgia is even better than it used to be

It's back! After an absence of six years, this much-loved landmark has been restored to us. Thanks to whoever made that decision.

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28 february 2010

without him no Einstein


Carl Friedrich Gauss, portrait by Christian Jensen

Leader of ideas in number theory, statistics, analysis, differential geometry, geodesy, geophysics, electrostatics, astronomy and optics. Claimed to be the first to apply geometry to curved surfaces rather than to the Cartesian Plane, and therefore the thought-father of Cézanne's pears, of Einstein's universe. Jensen's portrait shows him bright-eyed and interested in everything.
Someone else to regret never having met.

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