Lab rats contemplating alternately Fermi’s Paradox and the Pauli Exclusion Principle (click images to enlarge)
Fermi’s Paradox: Given the vast size and age of the universe (the sheer number of stars, amount of matter, and how long it’s all been swooshing around), probabilistically you’d expect life to be cropping up all over the place. You’d also expect, unless the earth is very atypical, that some life would be much less advanced than us, and some much more. It follows that the more advanced life forms should really be out there, travelling around and colonising the galaxy. But — we haven’t seen anyone much. Hence the paradox.
The Pauli Exclusion Principle: This states that no two electrons can share the same space (or more precisely, the same quantum numbers). As a result of the exclusion principle, electrons are prevented from all bunching up in the lowest energy tier next to the nucleus, and as a result — the need for different energy tiers, the structure of the atom, the shape of the periodic table, all of chemistry, and the reasons for how almost everything in the universe looks, sounds, feels and behaves.
Rats drawings by Hannah Marcus
Concepts for the possible volume The Secret Life of the Lab Rat: C is for Cheese
Han dynasty silk painting from China; Julio Romero de Torres painting from Spain
A team of geneticists at the Broad Institute in Cambridge Massachusetts is investigating how DNA differs among human genomes from around the world. Over the course of human history, naturally, different mutations have sprung up in different regions, and became prevalent or not depending on local conditions. Having identified region-specific pieces of DNA, the interesting part is then trying to figure out what those pieces of DNA do.
An example under current investigation is the EDAR370A gene, which is found in Asian people, and is thought to have arisen in China 30,000 years ago. To determine EDAR370A’s thing, the experimenters snipped it out, pasted it into mouse embryos, and waited to see how the mice turned out. They grew up to have Continue reading →
It’s hard not to admire a good simile. They make literature more evocative: ‘Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa.’ (Nabakov from Lolita.) They add venom to political bite: ‘He looks like a female llama surprised in the bath.’ (Churchill on De Gaulle.) And they help etch the cry for social justice into a nation’s memory: ‘We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ (Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream.)
Inspired wordcraft such as this is enough to leave you dizzy. But, alas, this is not the time to praise good similes but to bemoan the bad ones.
Anybody who’s spent time in front of a gaping white page knows that expressing oneself in a clear, original, and incisive manner is Herculean chore requiring both persistence and wit. Similes are a particular gamble because a good one can invigorate your work, while a bad one can leave readers unmoved, or worse, wincing. (Would students across America be memorizing King’s speech if he spoke of justice rolling down like a stray tennis ball on a uneven court?) Continue reading →
“Could I possibly trouble you for another cigarette?”
“Sure. You need all the elements?”
“Um … am I in my element? In my — hm, let me see …”
“Nono, do you need all the elements? Filters and papers and so on?”
“Oh — oh I see. Yes, thank you very much. Whoops! Ooh, don’t want to bump heads. Thanks. Am I in my element? Mm. D’you know, I’m not sure I really am in my element. Parties. Mm. Are you in your element?”
“No. I wouldn’t say so. But then, when are you in your element?”
“When am I in my element? When am I in my element? Mmm. Probably … probably in a ski resort. [Smiles] Probably at the top of a ski run, with some really good friends, tips pointing straight, and about to go down way too fast — heurghh heurgh-heugh! Haha. Mhmm. Yes.”
“How about you, eh? When are you in your element?”
“I don’t know. Maybe … maybe when I’m in the kitchen, alone, at about 4am, drunk out of my mind and gripping a big kitchen knife, and making ecstatic stabbing gestures into the dark, and giggling.”
written and directed by Hannah Marie Marcus
performed by The Holiday Recording Party House Band (Hannah Marie Marcus, voice, keys; Meg Reichardt, guitar; Kurt Hoffman, clarinet; Paul Watson, trumpet; Ray Parker, upright bass; Michael Hearst, washboard; Rick Moody, voice)
special appearance by Raymond the dog
camera by Adrian Hornsby
This is a graph showing global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels over the years 1990-2011 (published in last week’s New Scientist). The curve shows a meandering upwards over the course of the ’90s, gathering in force and momentum along the way, and really carving a groove up through the last decade. Around 2008 there was a small hiccup following the financial crisis, but otherwise, the story is largely one of not only rising emissions, but of rising rates of rising emissions. Which is funny, because all this time, the talk — and in ever increasing volumes — has been about Continue reading →
Two upright pianos were given to me by a man who would usually have paid another man to burn them. My brief was to take a box room as a blank canvas and build into it a staircase sculpture and mezzanine level bed to sleep two using only what could be gleaned from these two ex-instruments.
Dismembering them put me in mind of the French restaurant where they kill a cow on the weekend and prepare every part for food. Nose to tail carpentry. The noises that came out of the carcass – Continue reading →