I am currently reading a fascinating collection of responses to the question “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” asked to 150 of the world’s brightest minds. It’s the Edge Question 2012, and the responses are both online and assembled into John Brockman’s book, “This Explains Everything.”
After reading the first few answers positing obvious candidates such as DNA and natural selection, I turned the page and read, “The Overdue Demise Of Monogamy.” Now you have my attention. Any friend of mine or reader of this blog understands how strongly I feel that closed relationships are outmoded and are motivated by base impulses that we would be well-served to diminish. Then I read the author, the infamous Aubrey De Grey. Well, this should be interesting, indeed.
A few days ago my daughter, Jenna (12), came into my office and asked why I have something on my desk that looks like a toy, with all it’s bright, solid-colored plastic and rubber pieces. Perhaps she thought it was a bad attempt at art and was questioning my poor taste. Regardless, the conversation was on and I was eager to explain just what is the thing on my desk. Deoxyribonucleic acid, I told her, is perhaps the most amazing thing there is, to which she retorted in usual Jenna-fashion, “What about the universe?” Well, yes, The Universe is the one thing I had considered to be even more amazing than DNA, but that’s about it. This molecule, with its marvelous structure, is not only responsible for all of the diversity of life, but is the recipe for all the complexities of every living organism, including herself.
I’ve long known the basics of the DNA molecule: a double helix consisting of two complimentary chains of bases connected to a backbone that unzips and meticulously copies itself and is contained in every cell of our bodies. The structure of DNA was first published in the journal Nature on April 25, 1953 (click the thumbnail on the right to read the original paper). That single-page paper is extraordinary in its simplicity and explanatory power. As Matt Ridley writes on The Edge, “Never has a mystery seemed more baffling in the morning and an explanation more obvious in the afternoon.”
We haven’t gotten out as a family as much as we’d like or have in the past and I’ve really been itching to do something about that. So, last week I announced to the girls that I was taking them on a day trip to Acadia. Unfortunately, Kirsten was working, but if we waited until our schedules aligned it would never happen. We awoke early Saturday morning and were off on the long drive north.
The weather was spectacular: warm, slight breeze, and big puffy clouds against a deep blue sky. Perfect. We got our annual pass to the park and drove to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. There were a LOT of visitors, possibly the most I’ve seen up there. It was okay, though, as there’s plenty of space to move around. We snapped pictures, talked, walked, and just enjoyed the sights and smells and knowing that this was our backyard.
Last Saturday Skye and I rode the Amtrak Downeaster to Boston. We had tickets to the Sea Dogs game at Fenway Park, and planned to visit both the New England Aquarium and the Boston Museum of Science. We have annual passes to both. #winning
While reading a blog post about taking pictures of fireworks with a phone, I learned about the Slow Shutter Cam iOS app. I’ve been wanting this functionality for a long time, but apparently not enough to do some looking around. :)
Anyways, it’s great. You can set a timer (so you don’t get shake from pressing the “button” to start the exposure) and the duration of the exposure. The app handles the rest. It’s really brilliant. I used it handheld for the lame fireworks show we watched, with expected lackluster performance. Today, however, I took my phone and gorillapod to Cascade Falls in Saco and am very impressed with the results.
I’m quite impressed with the quality of the photos from such a tiny lens and sensor, and thrilled how far we’ve come both in hardware and app development.
Yesterday I took the girls to the Saco Heath so Skye could photograph fungi for her summer science project. The trail and boardwalk improvements are very nice, but they’re only completed up to the bog. The boardwalk beyond that point is impassable. We had a great time being in nature.
I was first introduced to Wordnik when I watched Erin McKean’s TED Talk, “The joy of lexicography.” (Scroll down to watch the video.) I immediately loved the concept of Wordnik, but they did not have an API with which I could create any useful implementations. Since at least 2010 I have wanted a Wordnik Word of the Day on this blog’s sidebar. Back then, it was possible to grab Wordnik’s word of the day, but not to generate one for a specific list. The Wordnik API has improved since.
The primary objective of building a Wordnik Word of the Day widget in my blog’s sidebar is selfish: I wanted to use the Wordnik API and to create both a WordPress plugin and widget, none of which I’d done previously. Web development is fun, especially when you can tap into the engines of other services. Instead of creating functionality on my blog to store words and their definitions, I could simply add words to my Wordnik list and have the API do all the work with minimal effort on my part. The other reason is that I love words and want to share my favorites with you. Every time you visit this blog you will serendipitously see a word that may not be in your personal lexicon, along with its definition.
I hadn’t seen my buddy Kerry since February! This is totally unacceptable. Today we finally met up for a photo walk and talk, and had a great time. We took the ferry to Peaks Island where we walked around for a couple hours before heading back to Portland. Back on the mainland, we had a fantastic conversation at Crema. On the way back to my car I stopped at Rosemont Produce and bought the most delicious, juiciest plum and nectarine I’ve ever had. So, great day. :)
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
Steven Pinker, 2011
I recently finished reading Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” and it only took me ten months to do so. To be fair, I read several books in that same period and it’s a nearly 800 page tome not including the end notes. It is one of the very best books I’ve ever read, and perhaps the most important; I’d put it right up there with Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”
Adam invited me to the SkyStreakers‘ Open House and High-wing Fly-In today. The weather was perfect, as were the pilots and their planes. I had a great time and could see myself getting into the hobby if I ever get disposable time and money.
It was pretty funny to hear the pilots referring to “real” airplanes flying by as “full-scale.” Haha.