topic: future

the trouble with skeuomorphs

Apple's skeuomorphic calendar design

“Skeumorph” is a term I only came across recently – and like many such terms, once you learn of its existence, it ties up a set of things you already knew about, in a bundle that gives you a better grasp on that issue than you had before. Once aware of it, you start to see it everywhere. Skeumorph is defined by the online Oxford Dictionary as: an object or feature which imitates the design […]

competition versus brotherhood

A mania for competition so possesses our societies that it is hard to imagine any other way of being, and yet I think it is critical that we free ourselves from its grip. In the West, the Christian churches, from long habit, had an explanation for everything. Alas, with the rise of science, these churches chose to cling to Old Testament ‘certainties’, with the result that, when the cosmology of ‘Creation’ was overturned, the New […]

the experimental past

The study of the history of non-Western societies – especially those that have ‘failed’ – may be one of the most valuable resources that we have to help guide us through the coming ‘time of difficulty’ that we seem to be heading for. Watching a good BBC documentary about Tiwanaku, I was struck by how pertinent to our present climate change woes was the story of these people, not only surviving, but flourishing in an […]

the cherry on the cake

I have a notion as to why the Chinese authorities are delaying the opening of the tomb of the First Emperor, and it’s not the official reason given. I think I can also make a reasonable guess as to when it will be opened… In 221BC Qin Shi Huangdi became the first emperor of a unified China. Even though his dynasty collapsed shortly after his death, that unification has not been undone to this day. […]

an argument for scottish independence

(In the Autumn of 2014, the people of Scotland are going to vote in a referendum to decide whether they wish to separate from the UK. There are all kinds of arguments that can be made for and against this separation, I would like to add one of my own.) Humanity seems unable to focus on doing what would have to be done to head off global warming of 2ÂșC – and, the way things […]

vitruvian lobster

Thank you Darwin for liberating us from the absurd notion that Man is God’s ultimate and most beautiful creation. When this notion was generally believed – at least in the West with its obsession with Ancient Greece’s perfect white marble nudes (that we now know were painted as gaudily as the carvings that smother Hindu temples) – did no one actually bother to look at other living things? Did no one see butterflies, birds, mammals, […]

the retreat from reality

sanna, ardnamurchan, summer solstice 2011

For most of human history our facsimiles of reality were very clearly man-made representations: no colour we could produce or use could compare in subtlety or vibrancy to those in nature; no fabric could approach the glossy texture of a rose petal; nothing, not even the finest acted mimicry, could hope to capture an animal in motion. Reality in all its splendour remained unassailably enthroned beyond our attempts to emulate it. This hierarchy has, more […]

tablets and the cloud…

iPad being used as portable TV...

I’ve been hankering after a tablet computer for many years (I hope not as a result of having been brainwashed by Star Trek!?). Specifically I was wanting Apple to produce one. I have been using their computers since 1984 and supported them through the hard years before Steve Jobs returned – much in the way other people support a football team that keeps losing. Now that they are becoming masters of the galaxy I find […]

Ming vases…

Wen Zhengming painting

Even in childhood I was baffled as to why oil paintings sold in auction houses for countless millions, while equally exquisite works of art from other cultures seemed lucky if they fetched thousands. One exception is the ubiquitous ‘Ming vase’… examples of which appear in everything from Tin Tin to baroque palaces across Europe. Another are ancient artefacts, though these again seem to be valued less for their aesthetic qualities than for how close they […]

verbal/visual, written, verbal/visual…

The graphic above (courtesy of my friend Keith Brunton) is considered by some to be possibly the best statistical graphic ever drawn. By Charles Joseph Minard (1781 – 1870), a French engineer, it shows the terrible fate of Napoleon’s army in Russia. Quoting from “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” by Edward R. Tufte: “Described by E. J. Marey as seeming to defy the pen of the historian by its brutal eloquence, this combination of […]