Happy Belated Father’s Day

So, Farther’s day was almost a week ago, but I wanted to share this video, which illustrates all the good-timey ho-down fun that led to your father becoming your father.

Did I just call your mom a ho?  It sure seems like it, doesn’t it?

If you want to try this (or something like it) at home, check out the ideas in this article:

Joseph P. Chinnici,, Joyce W. Yue,, & Kieron M. Torres (2004). Students as “Human Chromosomes” in Role-Playing Mitosis & Meiosis The American Biology Teacher, 66 (1), 35-39

The four seasons of Lucius Malfoy

So, there are a couple of things that I’m a sucker for. One is art from the Art Nouveau / Jugendstil era. The other is sequences. By sequences I mean variations on a theme – in poetry or art or music – that add a sort of texture or extra dimension to a subject.

Back around the turn of the twentieth century, Alphonse Mucha created a lot of such series, particularly of the muses and the seasons.

One of several sequences of the seasons created by Alphonse Mucha.

Now, Mucha-style season sequences provide subject matter for a lot of artists. In a way, the allusive nature of these modern pieces adds yet another dimension to the art. Instances can be found all over the place at deviantART. For example, here’s Ariel (The Little Mermaid) as Summer, by Larocka84:

Larocka84 also has Belle (Beauty and the Beast) as Winter and Pocahontas as Autumn. I’m assuming that Spring is still in the works — maybe Chicken Little?

My favorite modern set is this almost Chibi-style series by deviantART-ist cippow25, whose whole collection you can check out here.


But most recently, I came across this series, featuring Lucius Malfoy, by artist vimessy. As the final Harry Potter movie is coming out in just a few weeks, it also seems timely:

Pure awesome. I especially love his cane. And now,when you see Malfoy on the big screen, you’re going to be imagining that, under his robes, he is wearing his Slytherin banana hammock.

Happy 99th Birthday, Alan Turing

So, today (June 23, 2011) marks the 99th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, British supergenius who played a critical role in winning World War II and is one of the founding fathers of computer science.

He was also gay, which was illegal Britain at the time. In 1952 he was prosecuted under the same law that had sent Oscar Wilde to gaol. He chose to undergo chemical castration (in the form of treatment with feminizing hormones) as an alternative to prison.

In 1954 he committed suicide in dramatic fashion. He died of cyanide poisoning, and was found lying in his bed with a half-eaten apple beside him. The speculation is that he had laced the apple with cyanide and was reenacting the apple scene from Snow White.

When Alan Turing was found on June 8, 1954, he had been dead for one day, and he looked exactly like this. Snow White by *VinRoc on deviantART

Turing’s earliest major contribution was the hypothetical Turing machine, which consisted of a very long piece of tape and a set of rules for manipulating the symbols on that tape. Turing showed that such a machine was, in principle, capable of performing any mathematical computation that can be represented as an algorithm. The Universal Turing Machine (a Turing machine capable of simulating any other Turing machine) provided a sort of proof-of-principle for the idea of general-purpose computers, and the tape-and-manipulator structure of the Turing machine is often cited as the prototype of the separation-of-hardware-and-software structure that pervades our computer lives today.

A Turing machine consists of a tape with symbols on it and a machine with a set of rules for reading and manipulating those symbols. And a bell.

During World War II, Turing worked as a cryptanalyst and made major contributions to cracking the “Enigma” codes used by the German military. The success of Turing and his colleagues throughout the war gave the Allies a critical advantage, particularly during the early parts of the war, when the Germans had a significant military advantage.

After World War II, he introduced what we now call the “Turing test” for artificial intelligence. The idea is that a computer can be said to have achieved genuine intelligence if a human having a conversation with it could not tell that it was a computer. For the next forty-some years, this was considered to be the gold standard for the demonstration of human intelligence. Then came a flood of reality television, which demonstrated that many humans would not actually pass it.

During the last few years of his life, Turing turned his attention to certain problems in mathematical biology, including the curious fact that many plants seem to grow in patterns governed by the Fibonacci sequence. The whole phyto-Fibonacci thing is a weird and interesting phenomenon that will get its own dedicated post sometime soon.

In the meantime, happy birthday Alan Turing, and RIP.

Turing, A. M. (1950). Computing Machinery and Intelligence Mind, 59 (236), 433-460

The Wrath of Douchebert

So, here’s the second in what should be a short series of Darwin Eats Cake strips featuring Douchebert, the round peg who is compelled by some sort of biological determinism to attempt to insert himself into any square holes he sees.

Best URL for sharing: http://www.darwineatscake.com/?id=37
Permanent URL for hotlinking or embedding: http://www.darwineatscake.com/img/comic/37.jpg

Before you comment, yes, I do know that Spock was fixing the warp drive, not plugging a hole in a reactor core. If it makes you feel better, think of this as a poor-taste mash-up of Star Trek II and Fukushima.

Transistor Rodeo in Apalachee Review

So, here’s some shameless self promotion. My book, Transistor Rodeo, was just reviewed by Amanda McCormick in the Apalachee Review.

This is an awesome review for a few reasons: (1) it’s positive, and I like praise, (2) I don’t actually know Amanda McCormick personally, and (3) it is not written in that stereotypical poetry-review language that you so often see, where the reviewer’s primary goal seems to be to draw attention to themselves — in fact, I think it does a really nice job of conveying a sense of what the book is actually like.

So, thank you Amanda McCormick for your generous and thoughtful words.

What follows is the text of her review:

    More than a prize-winning collection of poetry, Transistor Rodeo provides readers with a sharp view of ordinary life. Throughout the collection, Jon Wilkins creates a world in each poem that is vivid and earnest. Love here is something unedited, worthy of examination as it exists in a world of battling power and competing questions about religion, art, and the construction of society.
    Transistor Rodeo is broken up into nonlinear sections. In the first section we are presented with the idea that the state of the world is amiss:

Only astronauts and
angels know how
difficult it is and how
improbable to run
across true love once
you learn to fly.

    The second section is more meditative, presented as prayers, keen to time and physical details. This is where Wilkins really invites the reader to chew on the idea of the spiritual self. Through his somber view of religion, we can’t help but feel optimistic:

And the hope that burdens future generations,
let that lie forever in the desert as well,
and water all around your feet, standing
water all around your feet.

    As the collection reads on you can’t help but admire how Wilkins, through seemingly mundane scenes of life-stuff, considers the world as the inevitable factor of life. Questions will remain unanswered yet continue to be asked, but still life is lived.

and Memphis,
dirty as a window 

or a plate
of grits.
Buicks melt 

into the city like
butter and the man
unlocking the pawn 

shop is happy because
someone is dead.

    In each line we sense an un-urgent sense of importance, a respect for how things naturally fall into being.
    Through his light, yet sharp and strikingly analytical verse, Wilkins’s poems allow readers to stop and read just long enough to notice life’s invisible landscape and emotional grain.

Reflected Glory: Hark, a vagrant Yeats

So, if you don’t read Kate Beaton’s excellent webcomic Hark, a vagrant, you should. It has a historical focus, as in, many of the comics focus people ranging from Ben Franklin to William the Conqueror to a whole bunch of (apparently) Canadian people I’ve never heard of.

One of my favorite things about her drawing style (not evident in the strip below) is how many of her characters seem to have been caught by surprise with their mouths full.

Also, they’re consistently dorkily hilarious.

Every now and then, the historical intersects with the poetical, as in this piece on Yeats:

Bookmark this, and check back about once a week.

Darwin Eats Cake: Douchebert

So, here’s a thing

Best URL for sharing: http://www.darwineatscake.com/?id=36
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding: http://www.darwineatscake.com/img/comic/36.jpg

Adams’s blog can be found here. His spirited defense of Gwyneth is in this post, and was covered by Gawker. His new post was covered by Jezebel.

Now, to be fair, what I have done here (as has much of the media coverage), is to take part of Adams’s post out of context. In my case, it is for (attempted) comic effect. In fact, I intend to take further license in future strips, introducing a new character, “Douchebert,” who will embody the idea that we have certain innate (biologically determined) impulses, and that we have no capacity to overcome those impulses.

If all you do is read the stories written about his posts, you’ll come away with the impression that Adams is a racist rape apologist. That’s actually unfair. In both cases, Adams has some legitimate and interesting points. He has perhaps made the indelicately — using language that lends itself to being taken out of context. But, come on, he’s a comic-strip writer. If he worried about ruffling people’s feathers, Dilbert would be boring as hell.

In summary, what I have done here is completely unfair to Scott Adams. I will continue to be unfair to him in the future for as long as it seems useful to do so. Hopefully that can lead to something that is informative and/or entertaining about other topics. However, if you are interested in what Adams actually has to say, avoid the second-hand media coverage, and go check out his original posts.

On the other hand, there is something just sort of sad about defending Gwyneth Paltrow.