Off the Top: Science Entries

May 17, 2012

The Natural Progression of the Thought of Man

In an attempt to try and remember (still flailing) the rhetorical and or narrative style that James Burke uses in Connections I was also recalling other times I heard the same or similar style used. One of them was by a tutor/lecturer in Oxford, Dr. Allan Chapman, with whom I took “The Natural Progression of the Thought of Man” lecture class from at The Centre for Medieval & Renaissance StudiesThe Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in 1988. ()Dr. Chapman has also been on James Burke’s Connections talking about inventions and discoveries in astronomy during the early renaissance).

The class was a once a week amazing hour (or so) of Dr. Chapman laying out the drastic shift between medieval understandings and the more enlightened renaissance approach across a wide swath of subjects, from medicine, populations studies, war craft, astrology, and much more. One of the amazing things was there were no questions allowed mid-lecture, as he had structured and memorized the lectures verbatim. After the hour lecture of so he would take questions and often he would recite exactly what he had stated in the lecture. He would not let on to the method of how he did the memorizations, but his method allowed him to roll the lecture off with ease and at a rather quick pace.

This class is one of many in undergrad that deeply changed how I saw the world, but also how I saw the potential and the collection of all the things happening as fodder for more optimal ways of doing things. Seeing pitfalls and gaps at the same time as advancement and improvements. Seeing the shifts in underlying understandings and grasping the echoing across its own and other disciplines it will have in a relatively short time, when taking the long view.

In my search to see what Dr. Allan Chapman was up to these days I found his joint address to the Royal Society and Gresham College Annual Lecture on the subject of “History, Science, Religion: Capturing the Public Imagination” on Vimeo.

Dr. Chapman’s lecture style is much the same as I remember and much more enjoyable not taking notes as fast as one could (his lectures were the only source of information for our one and final exam).

October 1, 2010

Where Good Ideas Come From - Finally Arriving

I don't think I have been awaiting a book for so long with so much interest as I am for Steven Berlin Johnson's (SBJ) new book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.


Ever since I read SBJ's book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software I was impressed how he pulled it together. I was even more impressed with how the book that followed, Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life (my notes from one piece of this book that really struck me is found in the post The User's Mind and Novelty). During all of this SBJ was writing about how he was writing and pulling notes together. On his personal blog he has talked often about DevonThink and how he uses it (this greatly influenced my trying it and purchasing it many years back and is the subject of a recent post of mine As If Had Read). This sharing about how he keeps notes of his own thoughts and works though ideas that go from tangents and turn into solid foundations for great understanding. It was this fascination that I included Steven as one of the people I would really like to meet, with the reasoning, "I like good conversation and the people that have provided great discovery through reading their writings often trigger good conversation that drives learning." (from Peter J. Bogaards interview with me for InfoDesign in July 2004).

The Sneak Preview Webinar

Today (Thursday 30 September 2010 as of this writing) Steven provided a webinar for those who had pre-ordered copies of his new book. It contains everything I have been expecting the book to have and have wished he would right up and put in a book over the last 6 to 7 years of wishing. He brings into the book the idea of the commonplace book, which I have been mulling over since I read it (I may be a bit obsessed with it as it ties in neatly with some other things I have been mulling about for a long time, like the Personal InfoCloud as written up in It is Getting Personal and many presentations going back into 2003, if not farther).

One of the great ideas that came out in the webinar was the idea of taking reading vacations to just take time off and read and focus on the reading and the ideas that come out of that reading and the ideas that are influenced by it. Steven talked about companies like Google and their 20% projects. But, what if companies gave employees paid time to read and focus on that. Read, learn, challenge what you know, expand your own understanding, mix what you have known and challenge it with new ideas and challenges and viewpoints. I think this is not only a good idea, but a great idea. Too many ideas have yet to be born and far too many "thought leaders" haven't evolved or challenged their thoughts in a long long time.

Yes, I can not wait to get this book in my hands and read. I am hoping the webinar will be made available more broadly as it is a gem as well.

September 1, 2004

Gordon Rugg and the Verifier Method

In the current Wired Magazine an article on Gordon Rugg - Scientific Method Man (yes, it is the same Gordon Rugg of card sorting notoriety). The article focuses on his solving the Voynich manuscript, actually deciphering it as a hoax. How he goes about solving the manuscript is what really has me intrigued.

Rugg uses a method he has been developing, called the verifier approach, which develops a means critical examination using:

The verifier method boils down to seven steps: 1) amass knowledge of a discipline through interviews and reading; 2) determine whether critical expertise has yet to be applied in the field; 3) look for bias and mistakenly held assumptions in the research; 4) analyze jargon to uncover differing definitions of key terms; 5) check for classic mistakes using human-error tools; 6) follow the errors as they ripple through underlying assumptions; 7) suggest new avenues for research that emerge from steps one through six.

One area that Rugg has used this has been solving cross-discipline terminology problems leading to communication difficulties. He also found that pattern-matching is often used to solve problems or diagnose illness, but a more thorough inquiry may have found a more exact cause, which leads to a better solution and better cure.

Can the verifier method be applied to web development? Information Architecture? Maybe, but the depth of knowledge and experience is still rather shallow, but getting better every day. Much of the confounding issues in getting to optimal solutions is the cross discipline backgrounds as well as the splintered communities that "focus" on claimed distinct areas that have no definite boundaries and even have extensive cross over. Where does HCI end and Usability Engineering begin? Information Architecture, Information Design, Interaction Design, etc. begin and end. There is a lot of "big umbrella" talk from all the groups as well as those that desire smaller distinct roles for their niche. There is a lot of cross-pollination across these roles and fields as they all are needed in part to get to a good solution for the products they work on.

One thing seems sure, I want to know much more about the verifier method. It seems like understanding the criteria better for the verifier method will help frame a language of criticism and cross-boundary peer review for development and design.

December 1, 2003

September 9, 2003

I see Mars

Tonight I got a very good glimpse of Mars. It was the moon peaking through the blinds in the office that caught my eye, but right next to it was a bright orange-red star. I went out the front door and turned off our lights to get a better look with binocular assistance. The moon and Mars were stunning.

This site made me feel small at first, but then apart of something so much larger. The moon and stars know no politics, no killing for ego or pride, no political boundaries, no foolishness. These objects in our sky, in our orbit and solar system know far more time and remind us to take the long view.

Maybe one day I will get a telescope, but looking to the stars through binoculars seems to only draw on a desire to get up on the roof to get closer to the stars and have a better look. I know that this would do little to assist my view, nor would getting on top of a tall building. There is great beauty in the heavens that are beyond our arms length, but still drive the desire to see and get beyond the petty temporal issues of the day. (Fortunately NASA site offers some solace.)

February 2, 2003

Cell phones burn holes in brain cells

Cell phones cause brain damage? This has long been a discussion, but until know is has been a subjective argument. A new study examines cell phones burning holes in rat's brains. Humans don't have the brains of rats, but our grey cells are very similar.

Me, I perfer my speaker phone on my cell phone for driving and general conversation as it keeps my hands free to do other things. It seems I may be keeping other things safe also. I do have friends that that have developed tumors on their head near their ear and jaws, and yes they were regular users of cell phones. The type of cell phone seems to play a role also.

February 1, 2003

January 14, 2003

Cab driving makes bigger brains

Cab driving enlarges brain the Beeb reports from the scientists of University College London.

January 6, 2003

A peek in to Feynman

Thanks to Mr. Blackblet Jones I have stumbled across Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine over at the Longnow site. This article pull enought snippets about Richard Feynman to get a very good understanding of who he was. Feynman was a great thinker, to me much along the lines of an Alan Turing. Understaning how to approach problems is often the key to solving many problems.

December 23, 2002

Emergance finally makes my reading list

My other reading on my quick trip to Spokane, Washington included Stephen Johnson's Emergence, which I am finally getting around to. It is a wonderful book that cuts across many fields of expertise and ties them together in a well thought through manner. Not much in the book is really new, but the connections of the cross-currents makes a fun read. It has sparked the Alan Turing interests in me again and has me looking for my Metamagical Themas by Douglas Hofstadter, which must still be in a box. Metamagical opened many of the doors Johnson opens in Emergence, but is a more approachable manner. I will hopefully finish Emergence on my next quick jaunt.

June 1, 2002

Cities of Ideas

Today's New York Times provides Creative Cities and Their New Elite, which theorizes that cities with higher than normal gay and bohemian populations are fertile grounds for economic sustainability, innovation, and technical growth. There seems to be a strong correlation between open accepting environments that recognize the importance of creativity and intelligence and the other measures of successful city cores that are economically viable. The article focuses on Robert Florida's "The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life", which fully fleshes out these discussions. The Austin American-Statesman expounds on the Cities of Ideas in their series. The core of growth is based on knowledge and ideas that provide the fuel for the local economy. The precept seems to account for the cities I truly enjoy, including Amsterdam and Paris.

May 28, 2002

Inuit see negative change in environment

The Washington Post covers the Inuit's concern for changes in the environment. This is one of the more disturbing articles I have read on the environment in years.

March 12, 2002

The mind is functioning and also completely blown from watching and listening to Josh Davis. The world of visual, digital, mathematical, and relational information has broken more synapses than I new were functioning today and seemed to have spawned new channels for information to flow and be processed. In other words, my mind and concept of the world has just been altered again. Not only do I know have an understanding of what somebody means when they say the words that comprise the name Josh Davis, but I have a whole new way to look at information and human responses.

One of the items presented was a visual and audio presentation of network activity. Not only could one visually watch the activity and interaction of those on the network and watching what activities the users on the network were performing and showing their IP address. This visual presentation was augmented with audio that dynamically corresponded to the actions. A sys admin could sit and monitor a network aurally and not watch a monitor. Like a mother and a child, a sys admin could emotively interact with the sounds of the network. A user on the network has saturated the bandwidth the downloads, and the sounds emitted could trigger and emotive response from the sys admin to nurse the network back to a healthy state for all users. As many of us hear our cars and listen to the pitch the subway train makes pulling into the station, which indicates how full the train is so we know where to position our selves on the platform (usually lower tone>es indicate fuller trains and the lowest rumble on a seemingly empty train is the money car on the money train).

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