Sunday, December 30, 2012

Post-Modern Evolution

From time to time TOF has touched upon the peculiarities of the various theories of evolution: Lamarck, Blythe, Darwin/Wallace, Mendel, Kimura, Shapiro, et al.   Prior posts include:
And some of the topics that have bubbled up include
  • the persistence of teleology in evolutionary thought (apparently tworked off Fodor, who dissed natural selection precisely because it was inescapably teleological)
  • the importance of the environment, including the organism's own behavior at shaping evolution
  • that genetics and molecular biology may be more important than natural selection
James Shapiro
Some of these thoughts were initially triggered years ago by an essay for the educated lay public by James Shapiro that deconstructed both Michael Behe (the ID-guy) and Richard Dawkins (the science popularizer).  Both, he said, were dealing with obsolete metaphors of genetics.  This resulted in a correspondent immediately denouncing Shapiro as a shill for the Discovery Institute.  He wasn't and isn't, but it is interesting to note that the first reaction of the Third Way-denialists was to make up something scurrilous about the guy. Similar thing happened to Eldrege and Gould when they introduced punctuated equilibrium.  Students of the history of heresies will recognize the behavior instantly. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Odds and Ends

How Can We Possibly Explain This Mystery?

"Despite Tax Increase, California State Revenues in Freefall"--headline,, Dec. 8


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Christmas Time is Here, By Golly

Let's not forget what
office the dude held
Disapproval would be folly...."

It snowed for Christmas Day, but we had to hurry to shovel it off the sidewalk before it melted.  That's what TOF calls snow: just enough to be a decorative accessory for the holiday.  Number One son -- he is the only one, but that doesn't mean he isn't the first -- tells us that in Anchorage AK, where he lives, the snow doesn't melt quite so quickly.  First, there's not enough sunlight for the task...

The knob at one end is used to punctuate
important points in a discussion.
We skyped with him for about an hour when we were over at Pere's house for dinner.  Bro' Sean did most of the cooking and brought it up with him.  Sara and the boys completed the crowd.  Adam announced that Gliese something or other was smaller than the sun, but that no one on his school bus would believe him.  He received a home planetarium among his haul of treasures, and guessed ahead of time that one large flat package must be a book about space.  He also warned us that an asteroid came real close to Earth last week. 

TOF received an Irish shillelagh.  It is made of stout blackthorn and is suitable for either walking or discussing politics.  TOF also received a booklet of 100 dumb decisions that cost battles or elections, etc.  They included such decisions as Napoleon's decision to reject the terms he was initially offered after Leipzig and Bush I's "read my lips" speech.  Evidently, bad decisions are not made by Democratic presidents unless they involve interns or the Vietnam War. 

Dashing through the snow may require more than one horse
It is now snowing again, turning to sleet as we speak; but rain is in the offing, so it may melt off tomorrow.  This year has been a colder-than-normal year, in tune with the inflection point of the global warming curve.  Astrophysicists are saying that the weather may continue colder until 2030 or so.  TOF hopes not.  It's more fun to see huge mounds of snow on Currier & Ives engravings than on one's front yard.   

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Meditation Upon Reading in the Historia Francorum

In Tolkien's The Two Towers there is a scene in which Aragorn and the other defenders of the Hornburg, hard by Helm's Deep, are beseiged by an army of orcs.  The odds are overwhelming, and there seems nothing else than to go down fighting.

And indeed, after two days of searching the horizon in vain, on the third day Aragorn spied Gandalf astride a white horse cast in a pearly glow, leading the Riders of Rohan down upon the orcish rear, peeling them away from the seige and destroying them.

Now, Tolkien was a scholar of the era and so could not have been ignorant of a certain passage in Gregory of Tour's History of the Franks.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Experimental Critique

On the temporary page
1. The New Station of Francis Delacorte
the following comments were received.  TOF had desired to learn whether his limning of Francis Xavier Delacorte as he comes on stage in The Shipwrecks of Time has communicated the character he had in mind.  The comments were:
  1. Frank, definitively. One may infer that from his general uneasiness in the new situation. Coming probably from a working or ower-middle class he's almost certainly sure to be used to communal socializing, such as calling one by the diminutive, no matter how strange or exotic the name is. He may also feel a little inferior to his colleagues with more of an academic background.
    He's probably also a withdrawn and cautious, but honest and most of all human bloke, reserved in his actions because of the social conventions of his time. It would be quite interesting to follow him through the process of honesty and righteousness (in the old Christian sense of the word) taking the upper hand through a series of mystery-centred events.
    Oh, and as an ex-j.d. he's probaly still quite fit, which may serve a purpose in the story.
    Serves well?

  2. If this was set in 1980 or 2010, I'd be entirely in agreement with Tomasz that it'd be "Frank", a street-smart name, and not "Francis", an effete bow-time name.

    ...but in 1965? And from Fishtown, an ethnic Catholic enclave? I've known one or two blue-collar, Catholic-school raised, third child of six types who've gone by Francis or Francis Xavier or such. The Catholic culture of that era gives "Francis" a flavor that it didn't have at other places and times.

    I'm betting on "Francis".

  3. A curious sort of ex-gangster, this. He doesn't have the convert's zeal Flaco has; it's as though he just carried a switchblade because that's the kind of place Fishtown was, and went for the doctorate because that's how he was raised. Not the kind of person to buck a prevailing trend, I think. I reckon him a kind man and a thoughtful man, but not really a man of action if he can help it. He wouldn't rip me off on a car, but I think haggling would make him uncomfortable.

  4. From his attitude to the elderly Negro, and to Bull Connor, and his distaste at being served, he seems to be a decent fellow. We'll have to wait to find out more about him, and he probably isn't all of a piece, but that's a start.
 Tomasz is curiously prescient in a number of ways.  The others also had some interesting things to say.  We even have someone who remembers Flaco!!  I'm going to stick with Frank (or Francis) for one more scene that takes place a little later in the same chapter.


In the new scene, Frank has arrived at his new job and meets three of his co-workers.  Two will show up later in the chapter, another is yet to be hired, and the Prof, the Director of the Institute is out of the office. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why SF Once Prospered, But Now Does Not

Because kids once dreamed dreams like this:
Dec 1922 edition of Science and Invention

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Adamic Fusion

Received my daily dose of Adam Astronomy a few minutes ago.  He came to my office and announced without preamble:
If it weren't for supernovas we wouldn't be alive because the sun wouldn't be alive.  Cause, cause they explode (cue visual and sound effects) and the dust starts to stick together, and it gets thicker and thicker, and it all pushes together and then a star is born.  The rest of the dust comes together to make pebbles.  Then the pebbles hit each other and make boulders, and when the boulders hit together they start to make round, and pretty soon you have... [dramatic pause] planets!  And that's where we live.  
In his extended lecture, Adam dropped other tidbits.
On some planets, methane is like water and water is a gas.  And if there was life there it would drink methane.  But they wouldn't be aliens, because that would be just the way they live. 
+ + +
The moon orbits the earth, the earth orbits the sun, and the sun orbits a black hole! 
+ + +
Pluto is a dwarf planet.  It's bigger than asteroids.  Meteors and comets are really small.  
+ + +
Mercury is bigger than the Moon, but not much. 
+ + +
There is a Moon of Saturn that's bigger than Mercury.  [But he did not remember the name.] 
+ + +
Saturn had a moon that got hit by a comet.  It pushed it toward Saturn and pretty soon Saturn ripped it apart [sound effects] and made... a ring.  The ring is mostly dust and ice. 
+ + +
Jupiter is my favorite planet. 
Move over Carl Sagan.  I really wish I had a recorder. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Right Stuff Day

World's first test pilot makes world's first flight test
+ + +

Dry Wit

David Warren who formerly wrote a column for the Ottowa Citizen or some such newspaper in the great white north has appeared in the blogosphere with Essays in Idleness.  He has a hand for the turn of phrase.  A few examples harvested at random:

More Notes from the Untergang

Time for the miscellany again. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Slinkies by Wile E. Coyote

An Oddity

While researching for The Shipwrecks of Time, I was reading Paul the Deacon's 8th cent. History of the Lombards and came across this odd story:
In the farthest boundaries of Germany toward the west-northwest, on the shore of the ocean itself, a cave is seen under a projecting rock, where for an unknown time seven men repose wrapped in a long sleep, not only their bodies, but also their clothes being so uninjured, that from this fact alone, that they last without decay through the course of so many years, they are held in veneration among those ignorant and barbarous peoples. These then, so far as regards their dress, are perceived to be Romans. When a certain man, stirred by cupidity, wanted to strip one of them, straightway his arms withered, as is said, and his punishment so frightened the others that no one dared touch them further. The future will show for what useful purpose Divine Providence keeps them through so long a period. Perhaps those nations are to be saved some time by the preaching of these men, since they cannot be deemed to be other than Christians.
On the surface, this is simply one more telling of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus; but it has some peculiar features; to wit:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Other Page

Just as the Universe is said to consist of two or more branes, the TOFSpot consists of two or more pages.  The toggle is over on the left under "PAGES" (appropriately enough). 

The Other Page consists at present of an excerpt from The Shipwrecks of Time, namely a scene with the author's secret title of "Frank On-Stage," meaning it is the scene in which Francis Xavier Delacorte makes his appearance in the story.  It will be up for a time for anyone to comment on.  It will be succeeded at sundry times by other bits of writing past, present, and future. 

So far, only one person has commented on the page!  Let's get cracking, mon dudes!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fair and Balanced

There is a news report from North Carolina on a proposal for a pro-life license plate struck down by a federal judge. 
[Judge James] Fox said in his judgement that the state's plan violates the First Amendment. The proposed license plate featured two children with the words "Choose Life" printed above them.
"The State's offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment," he said according to MyFox8.
This is truly a novel reading.  The First Amendment requires that you be silenced if someone else does not speak. 

It is humorous to realize that the pro-choice folks are objecting to a message that starts "Choose..."  Evidently, they are not so much in favor of choice than they are of making certain specific choices.  Who knew? 

The solution is obvious.  A companion license plate that reads "Choose Death!" 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Statistics Time!

"Despite Massachusetts' historic leadership on pay equity--in 1945 it became the first state to require equal pay for comparable work--the gap between men's and women's salaries here is now among the biggest in the country."--Boston Globe, Dec. 10

For those who don't understand how this is possible, consider a very simple situation with 100 weremen and 100 women and two jobs: Customer Service Rep and Chemical Engineer, and absolute equality in pay.  
  • ...............................Weremen.....................Women
  • CSR @500..............30 =15,000..................70 = 35,000
  • Chem Eng @900.....70 = 63,000..................30 = 27,000
  • Total.....................100 =78,000..................100=62,000

And women make only 0.79 for every dollar made by a wereman, even though both get paid exactly the same salary for each job. 

Now allow for the fact that some proportion of women will choose the vocation of motherhood and homemaking over salaryman.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Testing, One, Two, Three

The Tree of Life in an interesting layout, showing mass extinctions.  Not all extinct species are shown.  
Time from Earth-birth is radial, shown by concentric ovals.  Interesting to note how some families/phyla burst into radiance following a mass extinction of a predecessor.

The Great Tree of Life
Learn about infographics software.

If you click on the graphic you get a larger version in a separate window.   

Paging TOF

TOF has recently discovered that he can add pages to this blog.  Quelle surprise!  And is now experimenting with this new-found superpower. 

A few days ago he added a page that features all the covers of his books; at least those still in print.  Right now that's all there is there; but it may develop into a set of links to Amazon or B&N or other places of that ilk.  Eventually, one may un-clutter the main page: review quotes, the book covers on the left.  (These seem to carry over to the other pages.  TOF does not know if the different pages can be differently designed.  Right now, it does not look as if.) 

A new page has been added today which will feature temporary posts of passages from stories.  Sometimes a scene or just a bit of writing.  TOF may even post entire short stories from the Long Ago.  Or long essays unlikely of sale anywhere.  After a while, most of these will be one with last winter's snow, an entity whose permanence my mother used to find proverbial whenever young TOF cast about for some missing toy.
Young TOF: Mommy, where is my space helmet?
The Mut: Where is last winter's snow?  
And before you ask, yes.  TOF did have a space helmet.  So did his brother Dennis.  There is a photograph.

Today's Offering is a passage from the current novel-in-process and is simply an introduction of one of the characters.  If the mood sustains, the next few passages will be of the same genre: introductions to other characters from the book.  There will be opportunity for feedback, which need not be fawning approval.  Critique is welcome or, for past stories, critical review.  TOF knows what he was trying to do in these passages, and harbors curiosity as to whether the Reader knows it.  For example: TOF knows the character Francis Xavier Delacorte, but what sort of person do you think he is from this brief step on-stage. 

Ends and Odds

Yes, it's that time again: Clearing the Tabs!  Wherein TOF posts a number of links which he saved as of possible interest for his Reader and wishes to get up there before his collander-like mind forgets why he thought them interesting.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Shipwrecks of Time

The setting of Part I of The Shipwrecks of Time,  as many of you know, is Milwaukee WI in Aug 1965-Aug 1967.  I am now up to the period of May 1966.  There was on Marquette University a weekly mass at the Joan of Arc chapel on Wednesday eve. which was much favored by former nuns and priests.  Since one of the characters in the novel is a former nun, I figured to set a scene here, perhaps as a prelim for something later at St. Barnabas and the demos at Judge Cannon's house.  Lo, and behold...

In The Belly of the Whale: Publisher's Weekly Review & Pre-Order Links

 Hello Fans of Michael Flynn. I am pleased to let you know that Dad's novel In the Belly of the Whale will be released by CAEZIK on July...