Archive for 'Arts and Science'

Recalling Experiments Past – Reciting poetry to a flame to see what happens

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Somewhere round or about the late 1850s, John Tyndall FRS [* see note below] was developing and perfecting his experiments with “Sensitive Flames”. He describes one such experiment in his book ‘Sounds’ (p. 238). In which he reads a passage of poetry from Edmund Spenser’s ‘Belphœbe the Huntress’ to the flame (which he calls The Vowel-flame) and finds it to respond :

“The most marvellous flame hitherto discovered is now before you. It issues from the single orifice of a steatite burner, and reaches a height of 24 inches. The slightest tap on a distant anvil reduces its height to 7 inches….The creaking of my boots puts it in violent commotion, or tearing of a bit of paper, or the rustle of a silk dress, does the same. It is startled by the patter of a raindrop….From a distance of 30 yards I have chirruped to this flame, and caused it to fall and roar. I repeat a passage from Spenser:

Her ivory forehead full of bounty brave,
Like a broad table did itself dispread;
For love his lofty triumphs to engrave,
And write the battles of his great godhead.
All truth and goodness might therein be read,
For there their dwelling was, and when she spake,
Sweet words, like dropping honey she did shed;
And through the pearls and rubies softly brake
A silver sound, which heavenly music seemed to make.

The flame picks out certain sounds from my utterance; it notices some by the slightest nod, to others it bows more distinctly, to some its obeisance is very profound, while to many sounds it turns an entirely deaf ear.”

Tyndall’s book can be read in its entirety here courtesy

* Note: John Tyndall remains the only person in history to have been awarded the ‘Royal Medal’ from the UK’s Royal Society (of which he was a member) and to have turned it down. And in a ‘prickly’ manner no less. See:John Tyndall and the Royal Medal that was never struck’ in Notes and Records – The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science.

[ Research research by Martin Gardiner ]

Many Words about Silent Books

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Silent books are books meant to be shared with people who may not share a language—people who are refugees, people who are young children, people who wonder how the world might seem in places and cultures about which they themselves know nothing.

Drama teacher Rose-Marie Lindfors wrote a pamphlet—that does have words—for the Silent Books project in Sweden, explaining what silent books are, and some ways they can be useful and used. The image you see here is the cover of the English language version of that Swedish pamphlet about books that have no words and so are tied tightly to no one particular language.

Jennifer Farrar talks about how she and other researchers and teachers and students at Glasgow University’s School of Education look at silent books.

The Silent Books Project began as one attempt to deal with a seemingly-unsolvable problem:

In response to the waves of refugees from Africa and the Middle East arriving in the Italian island, Lampedusa, IBBY launched the project “Silent Books, from the world to Lampedusa and back” in 2012. The project involved creating the first library on Lampedusa to be used by local and immigrant children.

The second part required creating a collection of silent books (wordless picture books) that could be understood and enjoyed by children regardless of language. These books were collected from IBBY National Sections, over one hundred books from over twenty countries. This set of books was deposited at the documentation and research archive in Rome (Palazzo della Esposizioni), a set delivered to the library in Lampedusa and a further set was part of a travelling exhibition.

There are, to date, three collections of Silent Books: the Silent Books Collection 2013 (110 books), the Silent Books Collection 2015 (51 books) and the Silent Books Collection 2017 (79 books).


A Parking Pass All Scientists (of any age and profession) Can Envy

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

Sally Shelton says” I don’t care who you are; I got a cooler parking pass than you did today.

Here is that parking pass:

BONUS: Mastodon tusk

Analysing Pointless Banter

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

‘Pointless’ is a popular TV quiz-show series currently aired in the UK by the BBC. It’s hosted by Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, whom, along with the contestants, often engage in a spot of banter. [If you’re not familiar with the show, here’s an episode.]

This banter specifically features in (what the publishers say is) the first book-length study analysing irony and banter together The Pragmatics of Irony and Banter [purchasing details below]. Chapter 8 is devoted to an analysis of the banter in Pointless, and is entitled : ‘The point of banter in the television show Pointless’. It’s written by professor Linda Pillière of Aix Marseille University, Le Laboratoire d’Études et de Recherche sur le Monde Anglophone (LERMA), Aix-en-Provence, France.

“This paper explores banter within the television quiz show Pointless. Building on previous theories of banter, I suggest that the composite nature of the phenomenon can usefully be analysed within an interactional pragmatic model, such as that proposed by Lecercle (1999). Using this model to analyse various episodes of Pointless, I seek to demonstrate that banter is created within a dynamic interpersonal process. I focus on the sequential interaction between speaker and the various hearers involved in the exchange, as opposed to isolated utterances. I propose that any analysis of banter needs not only to study the linguistic aspects of a series of utterances, but also the sociocultural context and the encyclopaedic knowledge that each participant brings to the exchange.”

The book is currently available from John Benjamins Publishing Company, at $143.00, in hardbound or e-book formats.

[ Research research by Martin Gardiner ]

Clicker Training for Surgeons and Other Animals, and other surprises about surgeons

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

A medical report about using clickers to train surgeons (rather than other kinds of animals) is one of several studies featured in the article “Surprises About Surgeons,” which is one of the articles in the special Medical Surprises issue of the Annals of Improbable Research, which is one of the 143 issues published so far!

Subscribe to the magazine, and a new batch of fresh-cooked improbable research will come your way every two months! A subscription also makes a lovely gift, for certain personality types, we are told.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!