Decisive moments. This is it.

I photograph science and technology… but not all the time.

Introducing Decisive Moments – encapsulating those other fields I pursue as a photographer; subjects and styles that may not quite fit into the Sciencelens framework.

A woeful tale of mathematical addiction

Life is full of temptation, with various addictive substances and habits lurking all around us. From the infamous sex, drugs and rock and roll to the rather more everyday (but no less addictive) coffee, chocolate and the like, there’s no lack of hazardous potholes in the road of life.

I’m pretty sure, however, that mathematics would not be at the top of most people’s lists of most dangerous addictions. So let this serve as a warning – maths ain’t as innocent as it may appear!

Just ask today’s birthday star, Hungarian mathematician Farkas Bolyai (9 Feb 1775 – 20 Nov 1856) who spent much of his 81 years in the grip of a horrible maths addiction.

Warning - maths ahead!(© All Rights Reserved)
Warning – maths ahead!
(© All Rights Reserved)

Bolyai, who was a friend and contemporary of the German mathematician Carl Gauss, spent a lifetime trying in vain to prove Euclid’s famous Fifth Postulate. (Euclid’s Fifth Postulate, often called the ‘parallel postulate’, states that only one line can be drawn through a given point so that the line is parallel to a given line that does not contain the point. Or, stated very simplistically, that two parallel lines do not meet.) So bad did it get, that he ended up fervently discouraging his son János, who also had a strong interest in mathematics and became interested in Euclid’s parallel postulate, from pursuing the study of this topic. In a letter to his son, Bolyai wrote: “For God’s sake, please give it up. Fear it no less than the sensual passion, because it, too, may take up all your time and deprive you of your health, peace of mind and happiness in life.”

As so often is the case with parents warning their children against the dangers and temptations in life, Balyoi’s warning to his son only served to encourage young János to venture deeper into the dark arts. Following in his father’s footsteps, János Balyoi continued working away at Euclid’s parallel postulate, eventually coming to the radical and unexpected conclusion that consistent geometries exist that are independent of the parallel postulate.  Known as non-Euclidian geometries, these are curved spaces where parallel lines aren’t necessarily parallel (in hyperbolic space parallel lines actually diverge from each other) and where the inside angles of a triangle do not add up to 180°. This lead young János, in a letter to his father, to enthuse: “Out of nothing I have created a strange new universe”.

I’m sure Balyoi the elder must have initially thought his son had given in to one of the other addictive substances!

While János Balyoi’s work was truly groundbreaking in the new field of non-Euclidian geometry, he was discouraged by Carl Gauss to pursue it (Gauss claimed to have discovered the same results some years earlier, even though no proof exist to support this claim). Worse, a Russian mathematician, Nikolai Lobachevsky, independently published essentially the same results two years before Balyoi, and so János never received recognition for his work. He became reclusive and eventually went insane, dying in obscurity in 1860.

Let this tale of woe serve as a warning of the very real danger lurking in a life in mathematics. Don’t blame me when you’re old and alone, throwing page after page filled with Greek symbols and insane scribblings on the fire to keep you warm. You have been warned!


Inspiring blog award

Katie over at Anthropology Gallery kindly nominated me for the Inspiring Blog Award. Thanks Katie, I really appreciate it! Have a look at Katie’s blog – she’s a great blogger and it’s well worth the visit!

The rules for the award are as follows:

  • Acknowledge and thank the giver.
  • Link back to the nominator’s blog.
  • Put the award on your Homepage.
  • List seven things about yourself.
  • Give the award to seven bloggers who inspire you.

So here goes… Seven things about myself:

1) I love dessert – making it, eating it, reading about it, photographing it
2) I’ve completed a five-day ultra-marathon
3) I was a mathematician before opting for a career as photographer
4) I have an unusually high ape index (google it!)
5) I met my wife in a History of Art class
6) I’ve been on four continents; lived on two
7) Twenty years from now I will be twice as old as I was 12 years ago.

I’d like to nominate the following 7 blogs for the Inspiring Blog Award:

Buried words and Bushwa
Cristian Mihai
Dad Knows
Leanne Cole
The Millennium Conjectures
Anton P. Zoghi Photography
Nonoy Manga

Read my lips – the invention of non-smear lipstick

Today we’re discussing a subject that’s on many women’s lips – we’re celebrating the birth of Hazel Bishop (17 Aug 1906 – 5 Dec 1998), an American chemist, cosmetic executive, and the inventor of non-smear lipstick.

The saying goes that “gentlemen prefer blondes”, but research shows that if her lipstick is red enough, he may not notice her hair.
(© All Rights Reserved)

While the impact of this invention on the progress of humankind may be limited, it certainly left an indelible mark on the cosmetics industry.

Interestingly, it is said that Ms Bishop got the idea while working as an organic chemist for Standard Oil Development Company, after discovering the cause of deposits affecting superchargers of aircraft engines. She set about on a quest of relentless experimenting with various mixtures of staining dyes, oils, and molten wax until, in 1949, she perfected a lipstick that stayed on the lips better than any existing product available at the time.

Knowing she had a winner on her hands, she founded a cosmetics company, Hazel Bishop, Inc, manufacturing non-smear lipstick which was introduced to the public at $1 per tube. It proved a runaway success, with her company’s lipstick sales skyrocketing from $50 thousand in 1950 to $10 million in 1953.

Sadly, she lost control of the company in 1954 after a proxy fight with her stockholders. Not allowing this to get her down, she went on to start a research laboratory, became a stockbroker specialising in cosmetics stocks, and finally, in 1978, a professor at a fashion institute.

The story of lipstick is an interesting one. It’s use dates back to ancient times, with some very, uhm… interesting ingredients used. Ancient Egyptions used a mix of sea-based algae, iodine and bromine, while Cleopatra preferred the hue she got from the deep red pigment in crushed carmine beetles, with crushed ants used as a base. Over the years, ingredients used in lipstick have included beeswax, plant-based stains, fish scales (for a shimmering effect), deer tallow, and castor oil, to name just a few.

Through the ages, the use and acceptability of lipstick varied – in certain eras it was associated with high class and royalty, while other times saw its use confined to actors and prostitutes. Since the early 20th century, however, its use has become generally acceptable among all levels of society.

In a recent research project, studying men’s responses to women in the first 10 seconds after seeing them for the first time, researchers found that men are drawn to the lips more than any other facial feature. The extent to which the lips dominated their attention depended quite strongly on the use of lipstick.

In the case of a woman wearing prominent lipstick, men’s eyes would be fixated on the lips for between 6.7 seconds (pink lipstick) and 7.3 seconds (red lipstick) out of the first 10 seconds – less than one second was spent looking at her eyes, and even less studying her hair. Without make-up, men still paid attention to the lips, but in this case things were more balanced, with the gaze being shared almost equally between the lips, the eyes and the rest of the face.

It was found that men also preferred fuller lips, but the appeal of thin lips increased by 40% once lipstick had been applied.

It seems to me that the simplest solution to hiding any facial flaws is simply an abundant splash of red lipstick – men at least would seem unlikely to look at anything else. However, for women who consider their eyes and the rest of their faces worth looking at may want to hold back on the lipstick!

I cannot help but wonder whether the study focussed on only the first 10 seconds of the men’s gaze, because after this their attention moved to other parts of the anatomy? Perhaps that’s a topic for further research…