Another SF movie gadget at the Marsden

Yes, yet another big gadget in the Royal Marsden (see also this amazing piece of kit) that makes you think you are in a science fiction movie:

I photoed this photo quite a while back now. What, I wondered at the time, is that for? I chalked it up as yet another mystery I would never fathom, but then I realised there might be some words on it that I could then ask the Internet about. So it proved:

And here it is. Siemens again. Very big in cancer machines, it would seem.

Here is my favourite bit of verbiage at the other end of that link:

Counterbalanced, isocentric design helps saving time and dose und supersedes readjustments by virtually unlimited projection possibilities with 190° orbital rotation.

It’s the “und” that I especially like. They got the first and right, but fluffed the second one. If you don’t believe me, go there und see it for yourself.

Steve Stewart-Williams on the evolution of the Breton fishing boat

I finished reading The Ape That Understood The Universe about a week ago now, but there is one further bit from this book that I want to scan into this blog, because I think it is my absolute favourite.

At the beginning of the second half of the book devoted to Man, “The Cutural Animal”, SS-W offers six examples of cultural evolution in action. These are: Breton Boats, Conditioned Behavior, Language, Teddy Bears, Businesses, and Science. I have already copied the bits on Teddy Bears, and on Language. Here is the bit about Breton Boats (p. 224):

The first example concerns the fishing boats used by Breton fisherman in the Île de Groix. Where did these boats come from? At first glance, it looks like a no-brainer: If anything’s a product of intelligent design, it’s a boat. On closer inspection, though, it turns out it really is a no-brainer … or at least a partial-brainer, in the sense that human brains played a more modest role in crafting the boats than we normally assume. This possibility was first mooted by the French philosopher Emile-Auguste Chartier (aka Alain), who in 1908, took a Darwinian hatchet to the common sense view. “Every boat,” he observed,

is copied from another boat … Let’s reason as follows in the manner of Darwin. It is clear that a very badly made boat will end up at the bottom after one or two voyages, and thus never be copied … One could then say, with complete rigor, that it is the sea herself who fashions the boats, choosing those which function and destroying the others.

If a boat returns, the boat makers may copy it. If it doesn’t, they definitely won’t. The boats that are most likely to be copied are therefore those that survive the longest. As Daniel Dennett points out, no one needs to know why these particular boats survive. To make a good boat, you don’t need to understand what makes a boat good; you only need to be able to copy another boat. How do you know you ‘re copying a good boat? Well, you don’t need to know, because the sea automatically culls the not-good ones from the boat population. Meanwhile, any especially good boats get copied at a faster rate. Over time, this process of culling and copying fashions more and more seaworthy boats.

Now maybe each and every step in the gradual evolution of the boat was a product of intelligent design: of a thousand forgotten boat makers figuring out a thousand different ways to make their boats more sea-worthy. But maybe not. Maybe many steps along the path were simply fortuitous accidents, which were automatically preserved and propagated. To the extent that this is so, the design evident in Breton boats comes from blind, mindless selection, rather than the machinations of intelligent minds.

Language and Teddy Bears are a bit off the beaten tracks I like to beat. But with this discussion of the design of a quite big physical object, in this case a boat, SS-W’s core agenda, and one of my obsessions over the years and decades ever since I was a failed architecture student, overlap in a very big way. As I said at the end of the language posting linked to above, I have long been thinking along the same lines as SS-W, about “mindless” design. And as I said at the end of another recent posting here, about Facadism, Keeping Up Appearances and so on, it is my earnest hope that I will, by and by, be able to pull such thoughts together in a bigger piece for Samizdata.

The Modern Movement in Architecture was, when it started out, shot through with the idea that you should not “mindlessly” copy an established design, even if it worked well, unless you knew why it worked well. Wrong.

Equally and oppositely, the first lot of Architectural Modernists said that you should turn your back on “mindless tradition” and design anew, from “first principles”. Very dangerous, as a design technique. Sometimes necessary, provided you choose good “first principles”, but never without extreme hazard. Architectural Modernism only worked well, and in a country like Britain has only started to work well, when Modernism itself became a tradition, embodying the experience of what worked and what works, and what did not work and what does not work.

Steve Stewart-Williams on the evolution of language

Today, right near the end of The Ape That Understood The Universe (pp. 275-276), I had another What He Said moment:

… Earlier I mentioned that humans have an innate capacity to learn language, but that the specific languages we learn evolve culturally to mesh with our language-hungry brains. There may be a twist in the plot, however. It’s possible that our languages themselves helped to wire a language-learning instinct into the human genome. Here’s what might have happened. It all began with the cultural evolution of a rudimentary proto-language: a system of grunts and gestures not too far removed from what we see today in wild chimps. We didn’t have a dedicated language faculty at that time, so we acquired this proto-language via general learning mechanisms. (This is presumably what captive apes do when they learn to communicate with signs.) The proto-language wasn’t nearly as useful as our modern ones. But as anyone who’s visited a foreign-speaking country knows, even a little language is better than none. As such, any ancient human who acquired the proto-language more easily, mastered it at a younger age, or used it more adroitly, would have had an advantage over her more linguistically ham-fisted contemporaries. And what an advantage! Language is useful in virtually every sphere of human life: communicating needs and wants, organizing hunts and other cooperative ventures, entertaining mates, conveying useful information to offspring, finding out who to trust and who not to. In these areas and others, better language-users would have had a definite edge. Given the evolutionary importance of these activities, such individuals would plausibly have had more offspring, and their linguistic advantage would have spread through the population. As humans became more verbally adept, this would have triggered the cultural evolution of a more complex proto-language. That in turn would have created a selection pressure for even greater linguistic giftedness, which would have spurred the cultural evolution of an even more complex language – the usual story. In short, the cultural evolution of language resulted in the biological evolution of a language-learning instinct, and vice versa.

If so, this has an interesting implication. We saw earlier that genes for lactose tolerance were a consequence of milk drinking, rather than a cause. The same may be true of language. We tend to assume that genes for language came first, thereby making language possible. It’s equally likely, however, that it’s the other way around: that language came first and then created a selection pressure for genes promoting the rapid acquisition of language. In other words, our gift of the gab may have started with a cultural mutation, rather than a genetic one.

I worked out this notion, that culture creates new evolutionary spaces for genetic evolution to move into, several years ago, but it is good to have it confirmed by SS-W. I presume that this means that, what with culture hurtling towards new evolutionary spaces all the time, that means that genetic evolution is hurtling onwards, faster than ever before.

Beard Trimmer in the distance

Incoming from GodDaughter2:

Somewhere just downstream of Tate Modern. That kind of area.

It’s the old Big-Thing-in-the-distance-through-a-gap-in-the-buildings effect, which often happens, as here, when the gap is simply caused by a road happening to go straight towards the Big Thing in question. She knew I’d like this, because when we’ve been for walks in the past, I’ve said “Look at that! Wow!” when seeing something like this. I love the vagueness of the Big Thing bit of the image, in contrast to the definiteness of the foreground anonymity.

The official name for this particular Big Thing is Strata, but GD2 described it today on the phone, when I was thanking her for this photo, as a beard trimmer. So from now on, for me, this is going to be the Beard Trimmer.

No definite information about the camera she used, but almost certainly her mobile. Probably an iPhone.

Note also how the tree does not, because of the time of the year, wreck the view.

A House of Lords speech defending women and defending the English language

This bit of video, lasting just under ten minutes, which I recently came upon here, is surely likely to get a lot more attention than it’s got so far:

I like it because it is suffused with the very courtesy (a House of Lords feature) that he is asking for in the debate about trans rights. I am of the opinion that upholding trans rights should not be done by undermining the rights of women, as is the Noble Lord, Lord Hunt, or Philip Hunt as was. I am also of the opinion that Twitter mob bullying of anyone by anyone is to be deplored.

Will this speech prove to be a game-changer? I fear that this is a game that it will take more than one speech to change. But this speech is certainly, to use another common phrase of praise, a step in the right direction.

I’ve not looked at my Twitter feed since I watched this speech a few minutes ago, but I expect this to get many mentions there. If not, I just might break my Twitter silence. But like I say, I would be amazed if that were to be necessary.

LATER: Claire Fox, also in the House of Lords. says similar things, and tweets the videos.

Being offensive is not an offence and a public falsehood about the content of the law from a police force is worse than mere confusion

This:

I, and many others, found this sign very offensive. Which means that it was “being offensive” and it broke its own rule. Some of those many others complained and Merseyside Police retreated:

Merseyside Police said it “apologises for any confusion this may have caused,” adding “hate crime is an offence and will not be tolerated”.

Any confusion? These people are there to uphold the law. The law as it actually is. How about apologising for making a very public, very clear and very false statement about the content of that law?

At least they got a very public kicking on social media.

BMNB SQotD: Bricks through the Overton Window

The best bit of the day before yesterday’s somewhat longer Samizdata quote of the day:

Hoi Poloi keep throwing bricks through the Overton window …

Sweet. My congratulations to Perry de Havilland. Wish I’d thought of that.

The Wodge?

The Wodge. That’s what the Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright is calling 22 Bishopsgate, London’s biggest Big Thing. Will “wodge” catch on? My guess: no. Everyone knows what a gherkin looks like, or a scalpel. But wodge? What is a wodge?

Maybe 22 Bishopsgate will end up being called the “Big Thing”.

A 1950s YouTube video about cricket

Still gummed-up. Just too many things open, I assume.

One particular gummer-upper is leaving YouTube Videos open and paused.

Like this short bit of film (a bit over a quarter of an hour long) done in 1950 by the British Council about cricket and its magically universal, quasi-religious appeal. GodDaughter2’s Dad sent me the link to this many weeks ago, and I started watching, cringed a bit, but then, still determined to force myself to watch it all, in all its post-WW2, pre-Sixties non-glory, I kept the thing paused and open, until now.

In 1950 everyone English loved cricket, and assembled in suits at Lord’s to watch or, if they were a member of the miserable majority for whom that was impossible, no matter. All civilised or would-be civilised people, everywhere on earth, could listen to the cricket on the radio, thanks to John Arlott and his posh colleagues. Arlott himself spoke a bit un-posh, which meant that everyone could love cricket. Although of course, you were, then, ideally English-posh, you didn’t have to be English-posh. You merely had to aspire to that happy state, and who on earth, in 1950, did not do that? Then? Nobody. Look, even people in turbans could play or attend to cricket, no matter what their colour or their creed, or how amusingly and wrongly they spoke English, i.e. in the opposite way to the way other-narrator (besides Arlott) Ralph Richardson spoke English. You could be an Or-stralian, non-posh, even non-white and non-Christian and talk English like a music hall joke character covered in black make-up, and still be part of cricket. Cricket was ultra-inclusive.

There follow a string of comments to the effect that the world is crap now compared to what it was in the 1950s. (I dissent. For starters, I can now have a blog. Nobody could have a blog in 1950. Also, I enjoy T20 cricket as well as the day-after-day-after-day version of cricket which was all they had back in 1950.)

It all makes a fascinating contrast to the equivalent efforts now being made to make cricket really, properly inclusive, in the form of pieces of writings like this, by ESPN’s Daniel Brettig, about all the micro-aggressions that non-white cricket people still have to put up with these days, but really, really should not have to.

Remote work is what a lot of people now want to make work

Interesting Twitter thread by Chris Herd about remote working:

I’ve spoken to 1,500+ people about remote work in the last 9 months

A few predictions of what is likely to emerge before 2030

I’ll believe it all as and when I see it. I will continue to believe that personal meet-ups still count for a lot, and get a lot of information communicated. Historically, this is why cities exist. Suburbs have long existed. I suspect Herd is describing a new sort of suburb, but not the end of the urb.

Clearly, a lot of people want to make this stuff work.

My architecture email feeds are telling me that new building in London, and most definitely new office building in London, has stopped dead. It’s all house conversions and trivia about would-be luxury shops.

Meanwhile, if the above quoted bits are anything to go by, the war against the full stop continues