Saturday, November 30, 2013

Were Dinosaurs Turds the First "Snapshots"?

Each poo is a snapshot of an ancient ecosystem  

Coprolites exposed at latrine
Each poo is a time capsule to the dawn of the dinosaurs
BBC News reports the unearthing of  thousands of fossilised poos left by rhino-like megaherbivores. 
The 240-million-year-old site is the "world's oldest public toilet". The scientific report indicates that defecation in communal latrines was a common behaviour of prehistoric megaherbivores.

A sheet of volcanic ash has preserved the ancient dung piles "like Pompeii", said Dr Fiorelli.

The coprolites are like time capsules. "When cracked open they reveal fragments of extinct plants, fungi, and gut parasites," said Martin Hechenleitner, a fellow author on the study.

"Each poo is a snapshot of an ancient ecosystem - the vegetation and the food chain."

"This was a crucial time in evolutionary history. The first mammals were there, living alongside the grandfather of dinosaurs.

"Maybe with these fossils we can glimpse into the lost environment which gave rise to the dinosaurs."


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Definition of Practice-based and Practice-led Research

Many thanks to Linda Candy and Andrew Johnston of University of Technology Sydney, for their permission to reblog this article.

I am engaged in a Practice-based Research PhD. To date I have struggled to find a clear definition of exactly what this meant. I came across this excellent blog post on Creativity & Cognition.

Research in which practice is a central focus can be divided into two main types:  practice-based and practice-led.
  1. If the research includes a creative artefact as the basis of the contribution to knowledge, the research is practice-based.
  2. If the research leads primarily to new understandings about the nature of practice, it is practice-led.
In some cases both types of research appear together but there is usually one that is more dominant.
Practice-based Research is an original investigation undertaken in order to gain new knowledge partly by means of practice and the outcomes of that practice. In a doctoral thesis, claims of originality and contribution to knowledge may be demonstrated through creative outcomes in the form of designs, music, digital media, performances and exhibitions. Whilst the significance and context of the claims are described in words, a full understanding can only be obtained with direct reference to the outcomes.

Practice-led Research is concerned with the nature of practice and is directed towards generating new knowledge that has operational significance for that practice. In a doctoral thesis, the results of practice-led research may be fully described in text form without the inclusion of a creative work. The primary focus of the research is to advance knowledge about practice, or to advance knowledge within practice. Such research includes practice as an integral part of its method and often falls within the general area of action research.

Although practice-based research has become widespread, it has yet to be characterised in a way that has become agreed across the various fields of research where it is in use. To complicate matters further, the terms ‘practice-based’ and ‘practice-led’ are often used interchangeably. In fact we can distinguish between different types of research that have a central practice element and that distinction is summarised here as follows:
  • If a creative artefact is the basis of the contribution to knowledge, the research is practice-based.
  • If the research leads primarily to new understandings about practice, it is practice-led.

Practice-based Research is an original investigation undertaken in order to gain new knowledge partly by means of practice and the outcomes of that practice. Claims of originality and contribution to knowledge may be demonstrated through creative outcomes which may include artefacts such as images, music, designs, models, digital media or other outcomes such as performances and exhibitions Whilst the significance and context of the claims are described in words, a full understanding can only be obtained with direct reference to those outcomes. A practice-based PhD is distinguishable from a conventional PhD because creative outcomes from the research process may be included in the submission for examination and the claim for an original contribution to the field are, held to be demonstrated through the original creative work.
Practice-based doctoral submissions must include a substantial contextualisation of the creative work. This critical appraisal or analysis not only clarifies the basis of the claim for the originality and location of the original work, it also provides the basis for a judgement as to whether general scholarly requirements are met.  This could be defined as judgement of the submission as a contribution to knowledge in the field, showing doctoral level powers of analysis and mastery of existing contextual knowledge, in a form that is accessible to and auditable by knowledgeable peers.

Practice-led Research is concerned with the nature of practice and leads to new knowledge that has operational significance for that practice. The main focus of the research is to advance knowledge about practice, or to advance knowledge within practice. In a doctoral thesis, the results of practice-led research may be fully described in text form without the inclusion of a creative outcome. The primary focus of the research is to advance knowledge about practice, or to advance knowledge within practice. Such research includes practice as an integral part of its method and often falls within the general area of action research. The doctoral theses that emerge from this type of practice related research are not the same as those that include artefacts and works as part of the submission.

Differences in Practice-based and Practice-led Research

The use of the term practice-based research has become widespread but it has yet to be characterised in detail in a way that is agreed across the various fields of research where it is in use. There are differences in conceptual and applied uses of the term between those fields where it is most often found: design, health, creative arts, and education.  There are, in fact, differences in the type of research in respect of whether it is practice-based or led.

In design research, for example, where the nature of practice is a major research topic and is often conducted by research specialists rather than design practitioners, the emphasis is on achieving new knowledge about the nature of practice and how to improve it, rather than creating and reflecting on new artefacts. By contrast, in the visual arts, the emphasis is on creative process and the works that are generated from that process: the artefact plays a vital part in the new understandings about practice that arise.
It is important to note that the term practice-based research rather than practice-led research is used the area of health research. Here it may include any of the following, but not limited to: literature reviews including systematic examination of intervention and outcome measures, program evaluation clinical trials, evaluation or revision of health care protocols, policies and procedures, pilot projects and peer-reviewed studies

My thoughts

An aspect of the debate regarding what is original knowledge which I find interesting is the notion that any original practice contribution, ie an installation, painting, digital installation is considered to be new knowledge. I just hope my assessors agree.  One of the problems I am finding with a practice based research PhD is ensuring that the thesis stays relevant to the practice element. I have found it all too easy to be side tracked down a new thread and lose sight of the main question. But it is early days yet. One of the most rewarding aspects of my research to date is the realisation that I am discovering my own voice. The essays I have written over the past 12 months have tended to be more like literature reviews and historical treatise rather than polemical insight but the last couple have been much more argumentative. Progress is being made, that is the main thing at this stage.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Understanding Styles in MS Office 2010

I thought I understood styles until a recent essay had a style breakdown when I tried to make a change. When I tried to undo the problem it went from bad to worse. So I thought that before I start on my thesis in earnest I should try to get to grips with styles in an effort to avoid a last minute catastrophe!

I found, whist trying to sort out this problem a website which seemed to be the answer to my prayer. I was convinced when I read the paragraph:-
If you're concerned about whether or not you need to learn styles, we can put it rather simply: you do. Styles are the architecture upon which Word is based. Just about everything in Word is style-driven. In fact, many people in the industry refer to Word as a "style-driven" program.
The site which has the strange name seems to have originally been compiled for the use of the legal profession, who I suspect more than most need faultless document. This post is to signpost the source, I shall be making further posts when I have researched the style issue a little further and will return with my experiences.

To get started follow this link

Interestingly there was a link on this site to another site which I had bumped into on a previous search but had lost the link (hence this post to make sure I don't lose these links again). The site is called Shauna Kelly - Making the most of Word in your business. I have to say a much more professional looking site than the other one. There is a particularly good beginners section on styles here. The site covers all aspects of Word and rather than try to explain the layout and approach of the site I would suggest you have a look yourself starting with the Basic Concepts. If there is a problem with this site it would seem that many of the basic guidelines refer to versions of word prior to 2010.

You can go straight to the style section by following this link.

This is also an excellent website that I have referred to on previous occasions The Word MVP Site this is the link.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Reasons to take Photographs

Reading a paper Realism and the Photographic Image by Bob Rogers I came across this quote from a Kodak advertisement:-

... You wake up and suddenly it is hard to find
The memories you've left behind.
Reach back for the joys and sorrows.

Here comes the setting sun.
The seasons are passing one by one.
So gather moments while you may
Collect the dreams you dream today.

.... from a Kodak Commercial 1979
Published in the GAZETTE DES BEAUX-ARTS, September 1981

Friday, October 11, 2013

MS Word Document - Adding a Version No

An important aspect of writing for a PhD is keeping track of the paper, particularly revisions and versions. To date I have been adding version numbers to my essays manually. As I am a bit lazy and very forgetful they are often not updated and chaos sets in. So I decided to explore the possibility of adding a "Version No" field to my headers along with the file name and date created which are already there. Typically there is not a default "Version No" field option in Word 2010. However, I Googled "Word 2010 revision number" and this revealed a number of helpful sources of info. The one I chose to follow was on the MPV website, an article titled -
"How can I get Word to automatically display the document version number in the Header & Footer?" by Dave Rado

Dave warns about using the obvious option -
If you use Versions (File + Versions) to store multiple versions of a document within a single file, then it will only be a matter of time before your document corrupts and you lose all your work. Avoid this feature like the plague - and like Fast Save and Master Documents, which are similarly broken – unless the document is of no importance to you. Taking backups won't necessarily help, because the corruption may creep up on you gradually, and by the time you realise you have a corruption you may have to go back to a very old file to get a clean document.
The article offers the alternative solution of creating a custom Document Property to store  the "Version No". You can find the full article here

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Scrivner or MS Word? - Updated

I am 9 months into my PhD and I have to say I am progressing better than expected on some fronts. But, and there is always a but, I am not without issues! One of my worst failings is the organisation of my research literature and associated writing and notes. I am on  my 7th essay of around 6000 words and in the process have accumulated a mass of reprints and books not to mention Zotero entries.  Do I just accept that I am disorganised or do I try to do something about it before it becomes an irreversible problem?

I was reading a blog update email from The Thesis Whisperer (TTW), one of my favourite sources of inspiration and advice. The post was titled "How to write faster" and one of the paragraphs was about Scrivener, to quote from the website, Scrivener is:
Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.
 Like TTW I have used Microsoft Word (MS Word) for ever and despite still struggling to find my way around version 2010 on occasions, I am fairly comfortable with it. So the thought of having to start all over again fills me with dread. These were TTW's thoughts when she changed over in January 2011:-
This week I started using ‘Scrivener’ for writing my research papers. It’s a word processing program which has been on the Mac for some years, but only now is being developed for the PC.

It took less than 5 minutes to start loving this program. In a single morning I had a decent draft of a paper, which can sometimes take me weeks. I wasn’t at all surprised to read in the bio of the developer that writing this software was part of his “struggle to put together a PhD thesis” because I think it fits research writing like a glove. 
Well those words are encouraging. However these are the comments from TTW's latest post, September 2013:-
Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know this is the key reason I am a huge Scrivener fan. Scrivener is a different kind of word processor that enables you to write ‘chunks’ and move them around easily (you can read more about Scrivener here and download a free trial here).

Although I prefer to use Scrivener, it is not always possible, or desirable, to use it end to end in a given writing project. I often find myself collaborating with other MS Word users (ie: 99% of the writing world) and there are certain things Word does well (in particular tables). Luckily translating my text from Scrivener to Word and back again is very easy.

Since the productivity boost from Scrivener is in the drafting process, I stay there as long as I can before switching to MS Word. I overcome some of the problems of MS Word by creating subheadings and assigning styles to them. Then I make a table of contents so these subheadings become clickable links at the start of my document. It’s not perfect, but it enables me to ‘teleport’ around the text more easily during the final editing process.
Time and experience has obviously influenced TTW's initial enthusiasm for Scrivener, it is interesting to note that she has now found a working model that combines the virtues of both Scrivener and MS Word. I have downloaded the demo version of Scrivener and I will give it a go. Watch this space for my feedback.

UPDATE - 11th October 2013 - I downloaded the trial version of Scriviner with the intention of giving it a good try. Unfortunately after opening the programme and having a quick look around I closed it and have not opened it again. I decided rightly or wrongly that life is too short to start finding my way around a new piece of sofware on top of all my other pressing demands. I have reverted back to using Microsoft OneNote and expanding my knowledge of Zotero's ever expanding capabilities. Sorry Scriviner!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Photography - Lady Elizabeth Eastlake

I came across a wonderful monograph on photography which I thought I would share with you. Written by Elizabeth Eastlake in 1857 for the London Quarterly Review . Elizabeth Eastlake was a writer, critic and historian,  the wife of Sir Charles Eastlake the director of the National Gallery. The article paints a vivid picture of photography in its hey day, just 18 years after is announcement to the world in 1839. Here is an extract, I think you will find it fascinating...


From the London Quarterly Review, April 1857,
pp. 442-68 
It is now more than fifteen years ago that
specimens of a new and mysterious art were first
exhibited to our wondering gaze. They consisted
of a few heads of elderly gentlemen executed in
a bistre-like colour upon paper. The heads were
not above an inch long, they were little more
than patches of broad light and shade, they
showed no attempt to idealise or soften the
harshnesses and accidents of a rather rugged
style of physiognomy--on the contrary, the eyes
were decidedly contracted, the mouths expanded,
and the lines and wrinkles intensified.
Nevertheless we examined them with the keenest
admiration, and felt that the spirit of Rembrandt
had revived. Before that time little was the
existence of a power, availing itself of the eye of
the sun both to discern and to execute, suspected
by the world--still less that it had long lain the
unclaimed and unnamed legacy of our own Sir
Humphry Davy. Since then photography has
become a household word and a household want;
is used alike by art and science, by love,
business, and justice; is found in the most
sumptuous saloon, and in the dingiest attic--in
the solitude of the Highland cottage, and in the
glare of the London gin-palace in the pocket of
the detective, in the cell of the convict, in the
folio of the painter and architect, among the
papers and patterns of the millowner and
manufacturer, and on the cold brave breast on the
The link to the article on here

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Practice-led PhD: What do the Examiners Expect?

This is a question which has troubled me since I started my PhD in January 2013. I have searched for advice on the subject of What do the Examiners Expect but with little success. I eventually came across an interesting paper by Dally et al, Assessing the exhibition and the exegesis in visual arts higher degrees: perspectives of examiners, which appears to offer fairly succinct advice on the subject (Dally et al., 2004).

The authors interviewed by means of in-depth telephone conversations, 15 Visual Arts examiners from 10 Australian higher education institutions. I get the impression that the authors were somewhat surprised to discovered that their sample of examiners appeared to be relatively consistent in the criteria they employ to judge a Visual Arts doctoral thesis.

There was a consensus that the exhibition was the most important element. Candidates should demonstrate a journey indicating the development and successful resolution of their research question, demonstrating exemplary technical skill as well as an ability to represent and communicate new, fresh, imaginative, innovative ideas. There was some disagreement as to whether these should be original ideas. The exhibition should clarify where the student is and where they have been. When asked what they considered to be an unacceptable standard the examiners where consistent in their opinion that a lack of research basis was one of the most frequent reasons for dissatisfaction.

Examiners felt that “the exegesis would position or contextualise the work within its field, explain the research process and/or clarify the contribution and significance of the project.” Examiners expected “the artwork to 'speak for itself' while at the same time anticipating that the exegesis would continue the conversation.” In conclusion, “examiners expected to see clear evidence of a relationship between the written and practical components, with the artwork primarily seen as the defining element in determining whether or not the degree should be awarded.”

The paper is available under a number of citations and titles, my reading is based on the HTML version, the title of which is quoted above and is available from the link below.


Dally, K., Holbrook, A., Graham, A. & Lawry, M. (2004) The processes and parameters of Fine Art PhD examination. International Journal of Educational Research, 41 (2), pp.136–162.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The First Death of Photography 1895

Searching my archives today I came across the book, Photography: Artistic and Scientific by Robert Johnson and Arthur Brunel Chatwood, Published 1895. I reproduce here an extract from the Introduction. There is something slightly timeless about the sentiment expressed even if the language and the grammar are a little dated.

The strides that photography is made during the last few years, due to the patient and earnest work of a large body of experimentalists, have not been an unmixed blessing; the production sensitive plates and other materials at cheap rates, and the possibility which exist today of buying everything ready prepared, having induced thousands to take up photography as an amusement, not as “hobby.” The result has been that the quality of the work produced has deteriorated. We do not say that the photographs are no t[sic] produced today far excelling those of the wet collodion period, but we do say that if the whole of the plates exposed in any recent year could be collected, the average quality of the results, whether from the technical or the artistic standpoint, would be found much lower than that of 20 years ago.

In the days of wet collodion, only those who were prepared to take great trouble, to exercise much thought, and to do serious work, were attracted by photography. The enormous amount of impedimenta that it was necessary to carry about deterred the half-hearted; the trouble of preparing plates caused every effort to be put forth to make each plate serve a useful purpose, and the fact that the negatives were developed on the spot, gave every opportunity for correcting by a second exposure, the errors of a first.

“Some years ago,” says a contemporary magazine, “when amateur photography was in its infancy here, as well as in other countries, a soulless corporation extensively advertised a camera which only required a button to be pressed and pictures were made. The idea soon took root that there was nothing in photography, when it merely required the pressing of a button. It was apparent that any fool could do that. And when these cameras where purchased and tried, the result convinced the owner of the fact, not only that any fool could do it, but that he was a fool a good many sizes larger for doing it. The feeling of disgust and disappointment was created, and there is little doubt but that photography was taken up by thousands and dropped again when it was found out how it had been misrepresented to them....

...Photography is considered by very many as an art, and photographers, consequently, as artists; nothing could be further from the truth. Photography is purely an interesting science; it records with greater or less fidelity the scenes and incidents presented to it; and this record is governed by scientific and mechanical principles alone.

Art consists of the representation of a conception formed in the mind of the artist in such a way as to be appreciable to other minds. And the photographer becomes an artist only in so far as his work shows that he has the mind of an artist.
I particularly like these two final paragraphs, they sum up quite concisely the paradox of photography which persists even to this day, technology v aesthetics. The change from the wet collodion process to dry plates was the first technological turn in photography. Similar sentiments have been expressed when other technological turns have influenced the popularity of photography, namely the introduction of the Kodak Brownie, 35mm photography and of course the biggest technological turn of them all the digitisation of photography. On each occasion the cognoscenti have thrown their hands in the air and claimed that the end of photography is nigh.

You can view the book on line here