Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Review: The Chemistry of Evolution

This book by R.J.P. Williams and J.R.R. Frausto Da Silva is a little 450-page version of a chemist's story about evolution. I have tagged and marked it up and thought about it so much all I can say is for the review wait for the Weter Lecture!

The only additional thing I have to say is that, you know how sometimes some people say there's hole in that plot (of a movie or something) big enough to drive a truck through? There's no such holes in the substance of this book, but the implications are so vast that I feel like there's holes in that sense to drive through -- questions to answer, and freeways to drive down. So in a book of science, a discussion of "holes big enough to drive a truck through" doesn't have to be pejorative -- in this case it's a very good thing because there's a lot of thinking left to do.

Now for the time to do it ...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Glad to Have that Johjima Shirt (Again)

We bought the boys two Mariners shirts a few years ago: one was #51 Ichiro and the other was Johjima. Since then Ichiro's been as consistent as always but Johjima's lost a bit of power, been injured, and been in a sort-of-spat with one of the starting pitchers blaming him for some bad starts (in my assessment not really Joh's fault, more the other player-who-will-not-be-named-later). He was already showing signs of decline when suddenly he was signed to a big three-year contract that has the fingerprints of "forced by the ownership" all over it. I was still a fan, but it didn't seem to be working out, and I was hoping for a turnaround.

The turnaround happened in an altogether suprising way. Johjima walked away from the guaranteed two years' salary to return to Japan, be with his family and play every day. Worries of an albatross contract turned into that all-too-rare feat in baseball: a graceful exit.

When you look at the numbers you see we got more than our money's worth out of Johjima. And now that I see his own sense of honor in the face of imperfect circumstances, I'm happy to have my kids wear his shirt again, just like I still wear John Olerud's All-Star shirt from 2001. Nice job.

Now, if we can start talking to Carlos Silva about just pay ... (Don't tell the player's union!)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tea Notes

Just some bullet points:

-- Lipton Black Label Tea is actually Not Bad. Not fabulous either, but it might be better than my standard cheap black teas.

-- Teavana's Dao Ren is the king of green teas. They say it's grown in a fruit orchard to take up fruit scents. I think it's grown in a poppy field which may explain its addictive nature. Of course, they're running out of it soon ...

-- Teavana doesn't stock unflavored Rooibos anymore. This wouldn't be a big deal except I just figured out how to make a tea latte that taste just like the Starbucks Rooibos Vanilla from Rooibos + vanilla syrup + half and half AND it's caffeine free. Republic of Tea and Twinings both make OK Rooibos but I want loose leaf whole leaves!!!

-- Got a Dragonwell from the tea festival that looks like little flat green rosemary leaves. It's very good (better be 'cause it's expensive), and it's quite novel to be steeping actual leaves rather than curled up things.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: The Music of Life

[Pic Link]

This was a nice, short book with some real things to say, yet it still felt a little inflated. The central metaphor is wonderful, and the basic thesis is that life and even consciousness emerges from the physical interactions of smaller parts, that it is more than the sum of its parts and cannot be identified with any single one or type of part. The author is a Nobel laureate for figuring out how the heart beats, that there is no central oscillator but it's a cooperation of small, relatively simple pumps that creates the sophisticated sequence of the heart beat. There's some fascinating truths here, and the author starts out by taking Richard Dawkins to task for his metaphors that genes control everything. They don't. (Although a little later he goes out of his way to praise Dawkins to compensate.)
A section late in the book about consciousness points out how a "brain transplant" would NOT be a "self transplant," that the body is an integral part of the self. The author goes on to suggest that this means there IS no self when you get down to it ( ... but isn't that just returning to the original idea that there must be a small region of self and if you can't pinpoint it to a small part, then it doesn't exist? What about if the self includes the body??). I think the body-mind integration is important and is reflected in the way the Bible insists on physical resurrection, not a "transmigration of souls" or whatever. I think it confirms the self as a physical thing with spiritual dimension, not that it destroys the self. That's because I'm a Christian and the author is drawing parallels to Buddhism. But the bottom line is that this is a place where further conversation can start, and it's a lot more interesting to talk about what this says about the self and consciousness than to follow after Francis Crick or Richard Dawkins attacking straw men all day. Here's to more books like this ... hopefully with a little less padding in the stories and more meat in the conclusions.

Book Review: Mendeleyev's Dream

This one's a history of the periodic table. Since the Weter Lecture I'm writing is about how the periodic table relates to creation, I thought this might have a nugget or two. I think the beginning and the end of the story (the Greeks and Mendeleyev himself, respectively) are done well, but the middle takes way too many detours into alchemy and physics to stay on task. Is it really so bad that Aristotle's four elements were wrong? Weren't they right in some way? And if you're going to bring up Galileo in a book about chemistry can you at least bring up something new about him? There is a pervasive air of "scientific orthodoxy" hovering over this book in which the Middle Ages are just an intellectual backwater (except for THIS exception, oh and that other one, and the other one there ... until the number of exceptions make you skeptical that such a cliche was true in the first place), and little acknowlegement that Aristotle was also "lost" for much of the middle ages, until Thomas Aquinas at least. There's still a lot to be done with the popular science vs. religion cliches. But as for history, this book could have used a little more organization and discipline in the middle ... like the periodic table itself gave to chemistry!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Brendan's Song

I don't think I ever posted the song we dedicated to Brendan back when he was born in January. (It's really an epiphany song which coincides with Brendan's birthdate, but I thought I should post it while thinking of it!) It's available to listen to online at, just click here and find the black box in the upper-right part of the screen and click on play to listen to "Nothing But a Child" by Steve Earle. (And, um, that video is NOT Steve Earle, click at your own risk.) Here's the lyrics:

Nothing But A Child (Steve Earle)
Once upon a time in a far off land
Wise men saw a sign and set out aross the sand
Songs of praise to sing, they travelled day and night
Precious gifts to bring, guided by the light

They chased a brand new star, ever towards the west
Across the mountains far, but when it came to rest
They scarce believed their eyes, they'd come so many miles
And the miracle they prized was nothing but a child

Nothing but a child could wash these tears away
Or guide a weary world into the light of day
And nothing but a child could help erase these miles
So once again we all can be children for awhile

Now all around the world, in every Iittle town
Everyday is heard a precious little sound
And every mother kind and every father proud
Looks down in awe to find another chance allowed

Nothing but a child could wash these tears away
Or guide a weary world into the light of day
And nothing but a child could help erase these miles
So once again we all can be children for awhile

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

iTunesU Autumn 2009 Biochemistry

I just think it's cool that if you type in "biochemistry" into the iTunesU search box, you get this link on the top of the first page.

At least, it works that way on my computer. Feel free to listen in. I've changed quite a bit of the "entropy" lecture this year, for example, thanks to my R.J.P. Williams research.

(And, yes, one of my lectures is named after a They Might Be Giants song. I'm hoping people searching for that song will also see my podcast, what can I say?)