Category Archives: Uncategorized

Physical Distance does not have to mean Social Distance

For all who need to navigate English. Recently I found myself hearing the term social distancing and thinking, ‘shouldn’t we be saying physical distancing?’ Not being an epidemiologist, but being an occasional technical writer, social distancing seemed to be an example of a trendy term for a well-established idea. I even went so far as to use ‘physical distancing’ in conversations.

Social Distancing vs. Social Distance

Social Distancing is an established term for the actions intended to stop or slow down the spread of contagious diseases. It is most effective when the infection can be transmitted via droplet contact, direct physical contact, indirect physical contact, etc.

So, keeping a good physical distance from others is recommended. However, I find no use of the term physical distancing. Not sure why.

How about social distance? Since social distancing is well established, one might be forgiven for thinking that social distance is what we want to achieve. Not so fast!

Social distance describes the ‘distance’ between different groups in society, such as social class, race/ethnicity, etc, particularly when groups mix less than members of the same group [1]. In other words, it is the extent to which individuals or groups are removed from or excluded from participating in one another’s lives [2].

OK, that cleared that up for me. Let’s try to assure that social distancing does not lead to increased social distance between us.

[1] Social distance, Wikipedia
[2] Social distance,

Color Management Course at Archiving Conference in Lisbon

Next month  Don Williams and I will be presenting a short course, Introduction to Color Management for Cultural Image Capture. This is part of a full short-course programme of the IS&T Archiving Conference in Lisbon.

Below is a (5 min) video about things we will be discussing. For those who do not have that much time a shorter (1.5 min) version is available here

Postcard from Karatu

While traveling recently in Tanzania, near Lake Manyara National Park, we came upon the most ordinary of sights. Yet it reminded me of the unstructured (unsupervised) sport and games played in youth.

We were returning at dusk to our hotel near the park, along a red-dusty rough ‘road’ – safari vehicles only.

Lads at Play, near Karatu, Tanzania, 4 Sept. 2018

The photo provides a glimpse of local lads (mostly boys) at play. Just off-camera to the right was a casual football game, down a decline from the road. Looking closely we see,

  • a bicycle and rucksack on the ground
  • a boy holding up his hand to us, possibly because his friends are crossing
  • two, perhaps brothers, standing together in the centre
  • on the right is someone watching, or joining, the game

– Peter Burns

Babbage’s Difference Machine lecture 14 June 1822

On this day in 1822, Charles Babbage proposed a ‘Difference Machine’ in a lecture to the Royal Astronomical Society of London, ‘Note on the Application of Machinery to the Computation of Astronomical and Mathematical Tables’*

His difference engine is a mechanical calculator that evaluates polynomial functions. The name comes from the method of divided differences, a way to interpolate functions by using a small set of polynomial coefficients. Most mathematical functions commonly used by engineers, scientists and navigators, can be approximated by polynomials. A difference engine can, therefore, compute many useful tables of numbers. Babbage is credited with the concept of a digital, programmable computer.

Babbage Quotation:

The errors which arise from the absence of facts are far more numerous and more durable than those which result from unsound reasoning respecting true data**. 

*This is the title from the Memoirs, or as we would say today Proceeding, of the Royal Astronomical Society. Later Babbage published the abstract of his talk in a book and used the title, ‘A Note Respecting the Application of Machinery to the Calculation of Astronomical Tables’.

**C. Babbage, ‘Of Price as Measured by Money’, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1st ed., 1832), chap. 17, 112.