We have babies! How fitting for the 80th post!
This was the announcement of sorts from the pair of Coal Tits nesting in our kitchen. Not a few lines in the newspaper; it was more like low volume yet insistent, high pitched twittering coupled with a step-change in parental activity. We might have different views if this was a nest of rats.
I used to tell students that ceramic bowls are interesting for many reasons including the spaces that they create. The engineers and geoscientists who attended my internal company classes didn’t really understand me. What is the point of a bowl if it doesn’t hold soup?
There are some empty bowls on our shelves here at home. They are ephemeral mathematical shapes frozen by fire in perpetuity. They will never hold soup, they are replete with air.
I have a friend who gave me a book called Zenisms by David Bell. The subtitle of the book is ‘laughter on the path to enlightenment’. I think it was a purposefully absurd gift to mark the start of a nearly absurd project.
You won’t know of a region in the Great Erg of the Sahara in Algeria they call Zemlet en Naga, commonly referred to by its acronym ZEN. This was our project area and the rationale behind the gifting double entendre. The witticisms of the Zenisms include:
– To see the true nature of anything, look beyond its name.
– Normal is an opinion
Our project attracted a lot of attention. The wrong kind of attention and the attention itself was wrong. In a world of rapidly evolving technology, where ever denser sampling was improving geophysical data in leaps and bounds, we went the other way. We decided to sparsify our project. We looked at our ‘bowl’ and concluded it was strong enough to withstand a reduction in its fabric. What made that valuable was that the coarser fabric could cover a larger area for much the same price.
We had a decade of applied geoscience behind us, a technical road-map having guided us along the way. We had deconstructed our projects to learn how to improve. You might be surprised how often this doesn’t happen in an engineered world of commercial products and widgets. We observed that the noise in the bowl was more interesting than the bowl, so to speak. Our ideas worked spectacularly well though a short-term, tactical success rather than of lasting strategic value. It was a big battle won rather than the end of a war.
There’s a seismic aphorism about recording noise with fidelity such that desired signal can be more easily rendered by subtracting the noise. We had made some key observations and knew we could afford to break the rules. And we continued with our compromises for a few years until the technology to implement the rules became affordable. Twenty years on, the changes in technology and the improvements in geophysical imaging are simply stunning.
‘Now and Zen
– Only with attachment to outcome is there hesitancy.
– Note: when crossing the road attachment to outcome is healthy.‘