Jack Horner is a paleo-dude of the purest water. He is funny, knowledgeable and loves dinosaurs so much he wants to build one. And it is actually feasible. Chickens are basically altered dinosaurs, and fiddling with switching on and off genes will give you a chickenosaurus. See the TED talk. Best dude around.


Early utopian imagery, memories of no places


Utopias. The no-places.

I’ve always been attracted by them. The first utopia ever written could have been Plato’s Republic. Or the Genesis. However, the first one I discovered was Thomas More’s Utopia. I still can’t believe it was written 498 years ago, in 1516.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, inner left wing (Paradise). Date: between 1480 and 1505. Source: Wikipedia

The Garden of Earthly Delights, inner left wing (Paradise).
Date: between 1480 and 1505. Source: Wikipedia

Utopia is a strange book. Most scholars agree it’s a satire, a criticism of contemporary European society. However, there is something that puzzles everyone: Thomas More was a devout member of the Catholic Church, but his Utopian views on divorce, euthanasia and priests marriage all contradict these beliefs.

The word itself is a treat: Utopia (Οὐτοπία) means good (ευ), not (οὐ) and place (topos, τόπος), but it also has the suffix -iā (-ία) that is used in toponyms (names of places). So it’s “good-no-place” as well as “good-place-land“… and my favourite: “no-place-place”.

More’s Utopia is placed in the New World, and is told through a traveller named Raphael. Here’s something interesting about it, especially if you consider the time: There is no private property on Utopia. Well, except for slaves. Everyone (else) works and lives equally (and women mostly do household chores…). People seem to live together in harmony, though. Hospitals are free, there is no unemployment. There are multiple religions in Utopia, although atheists are allowed but despised: “They don’t believe in any punishment or reward after this life, they have no reason to share the communistic life of Utopia, and will break the laws for their own gain”.

More’s work gave utopias a name. After him came many more. Sir Francis Bacon wrote New Atlantis in 1624, and described a future for humanity of discovery and knowledge. Bacon’s Utopia is about generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendour, piety and public spirit.  In 1602, an Italian philosopher, theologian, astrologer, and poet called Tommasso Campanella described his City of the Sun, a theocratic society where goods, women and children are held in common.

There are all kinds of utopias. Scientific and technological ones often refer to the absence of death and suffering, and to changes in human nature (Star Trek is one of them!). There are also feminist utopias, and religious utopias. And there are dystopias, undesirable or frightening societies.

Most of the early utopian books mentioned before were accompanied by beautiful illustrations. Illustrations were, after all, a way of visualizing imaginary worlds.

Some utopian imagery of these intriguing no-place-places:


Fritz Kahn: the human as industrial palace


(I was horrified to discover that Wikipedia does not have an entry on Fritz Kahn in English. I was utterly unaware of how deep into obscurity this multitalented man had fallen. Update: my pigheaded ability to pester strangers have resulted in an solid entry on Kahn on Wikipedia. Many thanks to Yngvadottir ).

Man_as_machine_high_resFritz Kahn (1888-1968) was one of those annoying renaissance men I cannot help to admire. He was a German science writer, gynaecologist, doctor, surgeon, anthropologist, art director, artist and creator of information visualisation par excellence.

He is by some considered the father of modern data and information visualisation. Though to us some of his illustrations/works of art/scientific insights into the human body might look like  the work of da Vinci on Ritalin, they do convey an amazing amount of information. As well as conceptualising ideas about the world around us and inside us. For this I doff my hat. Further, he was not afraid of controversial subjects. One of his bestselling works of the time was titled Our sex-life. 

His books were burned by the Nazis. He fled Germany, and ultimately ended up in USA.

Thomas Alva Edison believed that inside our heads, there were little people scuttling around controlling our memory. Dr. Kahn had no such notions, he was a different man of a different scientific mind. But by using that metaphor he certainly visualised important concepts. He published a large amount of work, but is maybe most famous for Das Leben des Menschen (The life of humans), a five volume series. Though, as it seems, he has fallen so deeply into obscurity, that “most famous” means almost nothing.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 14.47.09I have for a long time looked longingly at a book containing his work called Fritz Kahn: Man Machine/Maschine Mensch, but at a whooping price of GBP 270-300 (! about USD450) I would at least like to see it before I starve myself, saving up for this. I am happy to report, though, that a much cheaper book is available, simply called Fritz Kahn.

There is a site called Go forth on your own adventure and find out about this remarkable man and his work.

Here is a very small collection of his stunning work.



Hackers and painters


Paul Graham has a background in computer science and art. He wrote on the connection between the two in the essay Hackers and painters. It begins:

When I finished grad school in computer science I went to art school to study painting. A lot of people seemed surprised that someone interested in computers would also be interested in painting. They seemed to think that hacking and painting were very different kinds of work– that hacking was cold, precise, and methodical, and that painting was the frenzied expression of some primal urge.

Both of these images are wrong. Hacking and painting have a lot in common. In fact, of all the different types of people I’ve known, hackers and painters are among the most alike.

Here is where you will find it in its entirety, I urge you to read the whole thing.


Smarties and the shape of the earth


oblate spheroid

The sphere is, according to wikipedia a reasonably correct model for earth. But mathematically the earth is  an oblate spheroid. An example of that would be smarties and M&Ms, spheres squished at the poles.

As a result of gravitation and the rotation of earth, it is about 21 km longer than the Earth’s polar radius. This is of course a tiny amount, but according to NASA, it is increasing at a surprising speed. Our little planet are becoming more oblate.


Why? Gravitational pull varies geographically, and are affected by shift in mass, such as ice melting increases water in the oceans, tectonic shifts, and probably a lot more we do not understand. But it is changing. Water is on the move in a big way. This will have consequences for the rotation, and will affect the correction of time. This again, affects space exploration and satellites. So you could say: climate change will alter time.

Chew on that.


gravitational map

Why do I bother with this ludicrously nitpicking geoscience? I am not a mathematician, astrophysicist, oceanographer, climate researcher. But ever since I discovered the problem of map projections as a child, I have scratched my head over this. I then assumed that I was too stupid to understand something that was surely simple. It is nice to know that it is incredibly complex. And that makes it endlessly fascinating.



The difference between science and engineering


In science if you know what you are doing you should not be doing it. In engineering if you do not know what you are doing you should not be doing it. Of course, you seldom, if ever, see the pure state.

– Richard W. Hamming




Visual Italian Wikipedia use


I do not read Italian, but I can certainly appreciate these wonderful multivariate visualisation. Valerio Pellegrini made this gorgeous visual representation of Italian Wikipedia use for 2013.

Months are distributed clockwise with Italian initial for each month. It has three layers of information and data: the inner level; overall top edits, the second it is drilled down to the five pages with most edits, and the outer level simply the most visited.

It is colour coded by categories: cinema, politics, current events, sport, music and culture, miscellaneous, history.

To quote the data artist himself:

What emerges from the Italian version of Wikipedia is a pattern of current events, tv series, famous deaths and –believe it or not: Google Doodles topics.

la_lettura 02 02 2014


January starts at about half past twelve.







I love the fact that The great Gatsby makes the list.







Most visited sorted by category.








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