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And she looks like the moon. So close and yet, so far.Future Islandsaim highmore quotes

information: exciting

In Silico Flurries: Computing a world of snow. Scientific American. 23 December 2017

fun + amusement

The Ptolemaic Clock — A Proposal

the standard clock

Consider the lowly wall clock. It's practical and generally tells the correct time. It's the same clock everywhere and after a while it gets boring pretty quickly—maybe now?

Non-standard clock with rotating bezel. / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
In a standard clock, the bezel is fixed and the hands rotate.

In the regular clock the face bezels stay in place and the hands move. Why am I telling you this? Well, maybe you see where I'm going.

the Ptolemaic Clock

Who says it's the hands that have to rotate? Instead of rotating hands and a stationary bezel, consider the clock with stationary hands rotating bezels.

Non-standard clock with rotating bezel. / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
In the Ptolemaic clock, the hands stay in place while independent minute and hour hand bezels rotate to simulate the movement of the hands.

In the Ptolemaic clock there are two independent bezels and two independent hands. The bezels rotate counterclockwise to simulate the standard clockwise motion of the hands. The hands are not moving but in the frame of reference of the bezels, it's the hands that are rotating. The position of the bezel is always related to the current time and the position of its corresponding hand.

The bezel can move clockwise.

Thanks to Rodrigo Goya for suggesting the name for this kind of clock—Ptolemaic Clock, named so after the geocentric Ptolemaic model of the solar system.

telling time on the Ptolemaic clock

To tell the time on the Ptolemaic clock is a process identical to using the standard clock. You look at the bezel numbers at the ends of the hour and minute hands.

On the fixed bezel layout, most people will take a short cut and tell the time by the position of the hands. This works as long as you have a standard clock. On a Ptolemaic clock the position of the hands tells you nothing.

Here is a Ptolemaic clock telling us it is 6:30. It uses the same position of hands as in the figures above.

You know this because the blue hour hand points to midway between 6 and 7 on the inner hour bezel and the grey minute hand points to 30 on the outer minute bezel.

Non-standard clock with rotating bezel. / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
It is 6:30 on this Ptolemaic clock.

After 15 minutes, it's 6:45 and our Ptolemaic clock bezels have moved a little bit.

Non-standard clock with rotating bezel. / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
It is 6:45 on this Ptolemaic clock.

Can you tell what time it is on the Ptolemaic clock below?

Non-standard clock with rotating bezel. / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
If you answered 8:50, you are correct. It is 8:50.

customizing the Ptolemaic clock

Customizing your Ptolemaic clock is easy. Simply adjust the hands to desired positions and set the time by moving the bezels. The clock below shows the same time as the clock in the above figure — both show 8:50.

Non-standard clock with rotating bezel. / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
This clock tells us it's 8:50. Compare this to the clock in the figure above, which also tells the same time.

ptolemaic clock — hard layout

In the clock design shown here, the hands are the same size and only differ by color. To make things less confusing, emphasize the hour hand.

To make things more confusing, remove all color and number cues, keeping only a single symbol on each of the bezels to indicate 12 o'clock and 0 minutes. This is shown in the clock below.

Non-standard clock with rotating bezel. / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
In the hard layout of a Ptolemaic clock, there are fewer cues. I think it's 8:50.

news room parodies

Spice it up with multiple Ptolemaic clocks side-by-side telling the same time with different hand positions.

Suppose it is 2:30 in Vancouver—this is my location. The clocks below all show 2:30, but with hands set to 5:30, 11:30 and 7:30.

Non-standard clock with rotating bezel. / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Looks like a wall of clocks in a newsroom. Except these Ptolemaic clocks tell us that it's 2:30, three times over in Vancouver.

These hand positions are those that would appear on a standard clock showing the times in New York (5:30), Paris (11:30) and Tokyo (7:30).

Let's now use the Ptolemaic clock to show times at these three locations but with the hand set to the curiously satisfying layout of 10ish minutes to 2.

Non-standard clock with rotating bezel. / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
A challenging panel of Ptolemaic clocks.


Set both hand positions to 12 o'clock and then remove the hands; to tell time, read the numbers on the hour and minute bezels at the apex of the clock.


Sophisticated implementations of the Ptolemaic clock could periodically randomize hand positions to keep things interesting; by the time you've figured out the time in the morning, you're wide awake.

Every minute the clock randomly resets its hand positions. The movement is smooth and the bezels follow.

hardware implementation

If you would like to implement the Ptolemaic clock, I would be happy to hear from you. One should be able to take a regular wall clock, reverse the direction of the hand mechanism and rig a freely moving bezel to each of the minute and hour mechanism. The hands should not move and can be fixed to the front glass plate, for example.


It should now be clear that the Ptolemaic clock is superior to the standard clock. The reasons are

  • it's much harder to tell time on the Ptolemaic clock, which makes your brain do more work
  • it tips its hat off to a simpler time when we didn't know anything and hints at the possibility of regression anytime
    • it will confuse everyone
    • you have a great excuse for being late
    • return to geocentric values!
  • you can customize your own Ptolemaic clock by moving the hands to arbitrary locations
    • two Ptolemaic clocks can have their hands and bezels at different positions but still be telling the same time
    • two Ptolemaic clocks can have their hands at the same position but be telling different times

news + thoughts

Optimal experimental design

Tue 31-07-2018
Customize the experiment for the setting instead of adjusting the setting to fit a classical design.

The presence of constraints in experiments, such as sample size restrictions, awkward blocking or disallowed treatment combinations may make using classical designs very difficult or impossible.

Optimal design is a powerful, general purpose alternative for high quality, statistically grounded designs under nonstandard conditions.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Optimal experimental design. (read)

We discuss two types of optimal designs (D-optimal and I-optimal) and show how it can be applied to a scenario with sample size and blocking constraints.

Smucker, B., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2018) Points of significance: Optimal experimental design Nature Methods 15:599–600.

Background reading

Krzywinski, M., Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Two factor designs. Nature Methods 11:1187–1188.

Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and blocking. Nature Methods 11:699–700.

Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Designing comparative experiments. Nature Methods 11:597–598.

The Whole Earth Cataloguer

Mon 30-07-2018
All the living things.

An illustration of the Tree of Life, showing some of the key branches.

The tree is drawn as a DNA double helix, with bases colored to encode ribosomal RNA genes from various organisms on the tree.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
The circle of life. (read, zoom)

All living things on earth descended from a single organism called LUCA (last universal common ancestor) and inherited LUCA’s genetic code for basic biological functions, such as translating DNA and creating proteins. Constant genetic mutations shuffled and altered this inheritance and added new genetic material—a process that created the diversity of life we see today. The “tree of life” organizes all organisms based on the extent of shuffling and alteration between them. The full tree has millions of branches and every living organism has its own place at one of the leaves in the tree. The simplified tree shown here depicts all three kingdoms of life: bacteria, archaebacteria and eukaryota. For some organisms a grey bar shows when they first appeared in the tree in millions of years (Ma). The double helix winding around the tree encodes highly conserved ribosomal RNA genes from various organisms.

Johnson, H.L. (2018) The Whole Earth Cataloguer, Sactown, Jun/Jul, p. 89

Why we can't give up this odd way of typing

Mon 30-07-2018
All fingers report to home row.

An article about keyboard layouts and the history and persistence of QWERTY.

My Carpalx keyboard optimization software is mentioned along with my World's Most Difficult Layout: TNWMLC. True typing hell.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
TNWMLC requires seriously flexible digits. It’s 87% more difficult than using a standard Qwerty keyboard, according to Martin Krzywinski, who created it (Credit: Ben Nelms). (read)

McDonald, T. (2018) Why we can't give up this odd way of typing, BBC, 25 May 2018.

Molecular Case Studies Cover

Fri 06-07-2018

The theme of the April issue of Molecular Case Studies is precision oncogenomics. We have three papers in the issue based on work done in our Personalized Oncogenomics Program (POG).

The covers of Molecular Case Studies typically show microscopy images, with some shown in a more abstract fashion. There's also the occasional Circos plot.

I've previously taken a more fine-art approach to cover design, such for those of Nature, Genome Research and Trends in Genetics. I've used microscopy images to create a cover for PNAS—the one that made biology look like astrophysics—and thought that this is kind of material I'd start with for the MCS cover.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Cover design for Apr 2018 issue of Molecular Case Studies. (details)

Happy 2018 `\tau` Day—Art for everyone

Wed 27-06-2018
Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
You know what day it is. (details)

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