Month: November 2012

Alfred Russel Wallace’s letter to students of nature in Colorado

As part of my research I recently came across a lovely short letter written by Alfred Russel Wallace to the students of the University of Colorado after they had sent him a birthday message.

 Wallace’s typically charming response (sent 12 January 1912) has been included below along with the flower to which he referred in the text, the Bee Orchid.

 According to Charles H. Smith, this letter was originally published in the student newspaper, Silver and Gold, which continued publishing at the University of Colorado until 2009. It was then republished in Science (still very much going strong!) on 29 March 1912.



Productivity Pick-Me-Ups :: Zotero (bibliographic software)

Doing a PhD means reading…a lot of reading. However, a necessary result of this is that it also requires a lot of references and a lot of organisation. Before I came across Zotero I did all references and bibliographies manually as I went along. This worked well but was far from ideal.

Bibliography/Reference management software is thus an ideal item for those working in research. Not only does it offer you a place to store all your references easily (and across all machines) but also allows you to attach PDFs, notes and more to them for easy access.

The most famous reference manager is, probably, EndNote. I personally found this too clunky and not flexible enough. It is also proprietary (i.e. expensive). In contrast, Zotero is open source and, frankly, superb. It is simple, clean and effective. Its MS Word Plug-in for inserting references directly and correctly formatted into your word document is spot on. Indeed, the only issue I do have with it is the problem of editing referencing styles. However, this is only a tiny niggle and the csl files are quite straightforward to edit (if not as easy as EndNote’s approach) and the Zotero forums are a rich area to get help in this respect.

Overall, if you’re a researcher and you are not using a reference manager. You have to give it a try as it could save you countless hours over the period of a long project. What is more, why not start with Zotero first!

(Other reference managers include Papers, Mendeley and more. Take a look around online to find out more options)

Wallace’s Pop Art Update

If, like me, you are a bit of a fan of some of the results that ‘Pop Art’ has on otherwise ordinary pictures you may appreciate this rejigged image of Alfred Russel Wallace. As you can see I changed it from a standard black-and-white photo (below) into a slightly more colourful image.

this was achieved, rather simply by using the Open Source image manipualtion software, GIMP. After installing this superb free, Open Source alternative to Adobe Photoshop it is an easy (if at points time consuming) process to get a new end result;

  1. Open the image you would like to turn into a Pop Art image.
  2. Duplicate layer twice so you have three copies. Do this by right clicking the image in the ‘Layer’ dialogue box and selecting ‘Duplicate Layer’.
  3. Bottom layer should be made invisible (click on the eye so that it disappears);
  4. With top layer selected (i.e. highlighted in the ‘Layer’ dialogue box): Right click image > Colours > Invert [Should now look like a negative]
  5. Then right click image again and go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the horizontal and vertical pixels to 7 each;
  6. Go to Layers Dialog Box. Change the mode of the top layer from ‘Normal’ to ‘Dodge’;
  7. Merge the two visible layers;
  8. Right click on the image: Colours > Threshold. Change the Black point to around 240. Then change the black point until you get the level of detail that you want. Click ‘Ok’;
  9. Now you create a New Layer. This should be transparent, should be at the top and should be called ‘Matte Colour’. Change the mode of this layer to ‘Multiply’ in the Layers Dialog box [this means that it will leave the black outline currently on the image, it will not go over this];
  10. Now fill in the image (on top of the Matte Colour layer) with the Matte colours that you would like to be included;
  11. Merge Matte Colour layer and the layer below;
  12. Make the background layer visible again and move to the top. Set that in the layer mode as ‘Overlay’;
  13. Finally, right click on image > Filters > Distorts > Newsprint.
  14. You can also then change the layer to Hue (to make it looked washed out) or Multiply to make it look darker.


Wellcome Library Images and Alfred Russel Wallace

The Wellcome Collection in London is a valuable resource for any researcher in the history of medicine or science. However, recently I was directed by a member of staff to take a look at This is a truly superb search database that brings up digitised images in the Wellcome Collection.

In my case, searching Alfred Russel Wallace brought up a series of digitised letters to and from Wallace. Two have so far caught my eye. One in which Wallace directs one correspondent to good texts (including his own) on the subject of spiritualism and another in which he gives advice about health to a mother whose son is about to head to the tropics.

There really is so much here to work on. Do comment on anything else you come across.