Happy Birthday to us, we’ve just turned two. We’re bigger: we’ve added three new Persons of LWON. And we’ve matured, that is, we stopped looking so much at our own bellybutton and are more aware of the intelligent, thoughtful Commenters of LWON. So for our birthday celebration, we’ll look back at the year and not at at each other, but at you.
In response to my post about whether robots will ever have consciousness, Ellen Gray represents the deliciously nerdy segment of LWON’s readership: “The discussion of ethics reminds me of the Star Trek Next Generation episode, The Measure of a Man where Data is put on trial to determine whether he sentient. A scientist wants to take him a part to learn how to make more Datas. Data and his crew are opposed because that would kill him. It’s a thoughtful and poignant look at this very issue, even for a machine without emotions as Data is at this point in the series.
Runner-up: the commenter who pretended to be my mom in this post about my mom’s love of the History Channel.
My favorite comment, on my post about snails, was actually a blog post itself: the volley back from the snails of the Check/Hayden household.
Also best: Those snails are endless sources of amusement. Molly commented that her upstate New York snails seem to have much thicker shell than the Southern California snails of her youth. We both think they’re the same species that have evolved in the face of long, cold winters.
All of the counters who commented on my Compulsion to Count post to say that they count too. Suzanne summed it up best, “I love that I found you all.”
Best backtalk: Two commenters questioned my post on denialism, essentially asking: how can I be sure I’m not the denialist? Conradg said, “When you assume that you already know the truth, and need to defend that truth against “denialism”, you have turned it into an article of religious faith, which is the opposite of the scientific method.” And William Teach made his comment on his own blog: “Whoa, whoa, whoa: you live in Grand Mesa, Colorado, Christie: why are you taking unnecessary fossil fueled trips?” He then went on to say that Sean B. Carroll’s denialism manual in six steps, “looks pretty darned close to what the Warmist manual states.”
The post included Renaissance paintings of the Annunciation, and Spence Holman looked at the changes with time in the angels’ wings which, he said, went from looking like “an awkward prop to something that looks like it just might lift Gabriel back to the heavens at any moment. That says progress to me – Gabriel in the school play to Gabriel as divine agent of change.”
Also you should read: Straight from the horse, Nick Suntzeff talks about the people who really run the astronomical observatories, the engineers.
In my interview with former Hustler copy editor Eric Althoff, “Is That an Apostrophe in Your Pocket?,” Althoff complained about the proliferation of “really bad copy editing gaffes” in amateur porn. “‘Snapshots’ as two words — maybe snap shots have something to do with a gun range? I have no idea.” Commenter Kevin Keith replied: “The term ‘snapshot’ is derived from ‘snap shot,’ which does indeed have its origins in the usage of guns … A ‘snap shot’ is a shot taken quickly without careful technique … The same term was naturally applied to quick, casual photographs made by amateurs when cheap cameras became available. I don’t know when or why the term was shortened to a single word, but it is the same term, with almost exactly the same meaning, as the hunting expression.”
Best offline observation: In response to the same post, from longtime High Country News copy editor Diane Sylvain : “I feel a new welling of hope for civilization deep in my shriveled old grammatical fascist heart at the knowledge that Hustler no longer insists on putting an apostrophe in its plural for ‘hos.'”
On a far more high-minded note: All the great poems about women in science recommended in response to my remembrance of Adrienne Rich, “An Instrument in the Shape of a Woman.”
In response to a post about why genetic sequencing didn’t save Steve Jobs’ life, Gydle wrote: “This is just more evidence that no one really knows how cancer works…I think it’s tragically and idiotically simplistic to think that we can tailor a treatment to a particular gene mutation and cure cancer. My own dad died of pancreatic cancer, and the medical establishment also gave him false hope at one point that “looking at the genome of his tumor” would be helpful. It wasn’t.”
In response to a post about cultural differences in daily schedules and perceptions of time, Alison Blackduck wrote, “In his book The Dance of Life, Edward T. Hall writes the Navajo consider the time it takes to reach consensus as a unique interval of time. I don’t remember if he mentions the Navajo word for this interval, but it lasts, on average, for 20 years. This is interesting: as you probably know, the Navajo are Dene. I wonder if that culturally-inscribed idea of time is something every Dene peoples from the Northern Tutchone to the Apache have kept in common regardless of the geographical distance between them.”
In response to a post about a podcasting project organized by my students, and the strange feeling of watching science communication being done, rather than doing it myself. With the readers of LWON, I’m no longer surprised by comments that are more insightful, eloquent and well informed than the original post, and this is a classic example of the form. Thanks to Skeptico for helping me arrive at what I was fumbling toward: “Tom — Very nice. Profound thoughts, personally written. Your post reminded me of a doctor with whom I wrote a couple of manuscripts many years ago. (Historical clue: he was the first person I knew who had an IBM XT.) He specialized in bariatric surgery, and had collected extensive follow-up data on his patients. He wanted to communicate his experience to other doctors. One day he told me his philosophy: ‘In the first part of my life I learned, in the next part I practiced. Now I want to share what I learned.’ He was essentially teaching, but through the printed word rather than orally. He continued doing surgery, just as you continue to write. One big difference — he was able to hire a professional writer, so he had much less time pressure from doing two things. Whereas you have to teach in person. On the other hand, you get to see wonderful results from your teaching. It’s all part of entering what Erik Erikson called the Generative phase of life. –Skeptico”
In response to a post on the mystery of why kids eat dirt, Tim said what we pretty much were all thinking: “Thank you, you have resolved the dilemma of how to garnish my toasted cheese lunch. I was going to use parsley.”
When I lamented a few months back on my lost stories, Luis Nasser wrote an incredibly beautiful response: “The worst words in the English language are ‘It’s too late.’ By writing this, you have not only opened a window for those who might care to take a peek and be better for it, but you’ve also avoided becoming a casualty of those words yourself. As they say in Baltimore: ‘Who woulda thunk’ the day would come when solving the labyrinth meant shifting focus from being deemed print-worthy by a few experts, to being hailed as pixel-worthy by the throngs in cyberspace? Either way, thank you for writing it….”
I quoted Edwin Hubble: “The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons.” Nicholas Suntzeff responded: “. . . and the history of this astronomer is a history of receding hairlines.”
Best Comment: I am cheating because pixels don’t cost anything. Two comments follow.
Runner-up: When I discussed The Knowledge, the mental street map London cabdrivers have of the city, and how it alters their brain, Bill Liberis responded with an anecdote of New York cab drivers: “There was a time when I was in a cab on the FDR in Manhattan going north from Wall Street. Traffic was heavy and every time the driver stopped the cab he fell asleep! Then traffic would move and I had to shout “Wake the f*** up!” to return him to consciousness. I thought of jumping out but we were in the middle lane. Great relief when that ride was over.”
Winner: Responding to my revelations of the secrets of British gravitas, Amy said: “I’m playing with ‘can’t be arsed’ (fortunately I’m working from home).”