Niall Ferguson on networks versus hierarchies

I have been reading Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower, and so far am enjoying it. It’s about how historians have tended to emphasise the impact of orderly hierarchies because these leave big paper trails, and to neglect less orderly networks, because these leave less of a paper trail. Yet, networks clearly matter a lot, even if, as Ferguson points out, networks are not necessarily benign in their impact.

The chapters are short, which I like because I am reading this book in short snatches, in among doing other things. Even a short burst of reading means me probably getting through an entire chapter and maybe even two or more chapters.

Right now, however, I am in the middle of a chapter, about how Guttenberg met Luther, and about how Guttenberg turned Luther’s merely written thoughts into best-selling printed volumes, thereby unleashing the Reformation and much else besides. (Like modern science. Printing enabled science to accumulate.) This is a process that has long fascinated me, and it happened because two people merely met, rather than because one person met another person and gave that other person an order. (Modern science is likewise a network rather than a hierarchy. When modern science becomes hierarchical, it tends to degenerate into propaganda for the hierarchy it is serving.)

Modern science has mostly been benign: But the only slightly delayed impact of the Reformation was, as Ferguson notes, that (p. 84):

Religious conflict continued to simmer and erupted again in the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict that turned Central Europe into a charnal house.

I will now finish reading this chapter.

Bird keeping its head still


I challenge you to think of a better way to use the next fourteen seconds of your life.

Creatures hitting the news in the USA

I’m not just talking about the hero dog who helped to catch an austere religious scholar, whose austere religious scholarship inspired him also to become a rapist and a torturer.

I’m also talking about goats:

A hungry herd of 500 goats has helped save the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library from the California wildfires.

In May, the library hired the goats to clear flammable scrub surrounding the complex as a preventative measure.

The goats ate the brush, creating a fire break that slowed the flames and gave firefighters extra time to react.

Okay, the goats didn’t exactly put the fire out. That was done by firefighters. But, the goats did help.

This next titbit is a bit stale, from two months ago, but I am still interested, because it concerns a bridge:

Engineers in southern California are hard at work designing the biggest wildlife corridor in the world, to extend over US Highway 101 to the north-west of Los Angeles.

The corridor will connect different parts of the Santa Monica Mountain chain, which is crucial to the future of mountain lions – but it will help other species as well. The $87m bridge has entered its final design phase and is on track to open in 2023.

Other Californian creature news involved voracious purple sea urchins:

Tens of millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have already chomped their way through towering underwater kelp forests in California are spreading north to Oregon, sending the delicate marine ecosystem off the shore into such disarray that other critical species are starving to death.

Meanwhile in Colorado, some 66-million-year-old fossils have been discovered. I’m guessing something threw their delicate ecosystem into disarray.

The delicate publication process for this posting was also thrown into disarray, by me pushing the “Publish” button last night, at a time when I should merely have been pressing “Save Draft”. Sorry about that.

Vapour trails

I photoed this vapour trail in December 2005. I’m pretty sure I have others, but this was the first vapour trail I found in the archives:

And I think that it is indeed a vapour trail. But now take a look at this next vapour trail.

That’s not a vapour trail.

This is a vapour trail:

As Michael Jennings, this blog’s technical curator (to whom continuing thanks), would say, this was in Straya.

Aerodynamic contrails occur when a plane lowers the air pressure as it flies, in turn lowering the air temperature and causing condensation to form on the wings. This condensation then trails behind as the plane continues forward.

In certain humid conditions, the drop in temperature and pressure is such that the droplets of condensation will freeze at varying sizes.

When the sunlight shines through these different sized droplets, it will refract at different wavelengths, hence the variety of colours that can be seen.

Blog and learn.

An historic weather forecast

I have no idea what it was like storming a Normandy beach, on June 6th 1944. I also don’t really know how they do weather forecasting, but in recent years, because of being an amateur photoer, I have acquired a profound respect for those who do know, and who do this for a living.

So, my D-Day blog posting does not feature warriors. I instead focus on this man:

That’s Group Captain James Stagg, Allied Supreme Commander Eisenhower’s D-Day weather man. Stagg it was who advised Ike that the landings should be postponed by twenty four hours, to avoid filthy weather on June 5th 1944 and to take advantage of what Stagg believed would be an interlude of surprisingly good weather on June 6th 1944. Stagg’s advice was taken. To say that “the rest is history” would be to suggest that Stagg’s superbly accurate forecast was not itself history. It very much was.

Such is the internet and such are modern times that if you now do an internet search for “James Stagg”, you get more pictures of the actor and writer David Haig than you do of Stagg himself. This is because Haig recently wrote a play, called Pressure, about the above-described historic episode, and then himself played the part of Stagg in his own play.

James Stagg, and WW2 weather forecasting in general, deserved and deserve to be made much of, so I don’t blame either Google or David Haig for the odd result of this particular internet search. In particular, on the image front, it seems very likely that quite a few more photos were taken of Haig playing Stagg than were ever taken of Stagg himself.

Nuclear Rabbits From Outta Space?

On June 13th 2008 I was wandering about in Quimper, photoing photos. Mostly the photos were of such things as Quimper Cathedral with its twin spires, photoers photoing Quimper Cathedral with its twin spires, that kind of thing.

But in among all those, and with no accompanying explanation (like a context photo with less zoom (memo to self: always photo a context photo if it might help)), this:

KanaBeach seems to be some sort of Brittany based clothing brand (“Kanabeach est une entreprise de vêtements bretonne”), which a few years later seems to have crashed and burned, after which catastrophe it may or may not have made a recovery. (A recovery attempt which involved a giraffe, for some reason.)

But, I have no idea who Jean-Francois Kanabeach is. And I am similarly baffled by the Nuclear Rabbits From Outta Space. Google’s basic reaction to that was, first off, to ask if I meant “Nuclear Rabbits From Outer Space”.

A rabbit was, so it says here, launched into space in 1959. And the Chinese did some stuff on the Moon in 2013, with something called the Jade Rabbit (aka Yutu). But Nuclear Rabbits, from Outta Space? Quesque c’est? Usually the Internet has something to say in answer to questions like this. But in this matter, rien.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A device for measuring neutrinos being transported through Karlsruhe


It reminds me of the scene at the end of Starship Troopers (a scene which I may now be imagining (but I think it happened)) where the victorious Starship Troopers celebrate their capture of The Queen Bug.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog