Richard Carter's meta feed http://richardcarter.com A merged feed of posts from all of Richard Carter's blogs. en-gb Richard Carter Posting Stense's Christmas present http://gruts.com/posting-stenses-christmas-present/ http://gruts.com/posting-stenses-christmas-present/ Thu, 07 Dec 2017 14:31:04 +0000 Richard Carter (Gruts) Conversation with postmistress.

Me: Can I post this bomb to Scotland, please?
Postmistress: No problem. But I'll need to stick a HAZARDOUS label on it.

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Head-case http://gruts.com/head-case/ http://gruts.com/head-case/ Mon, 04 Dec 2017 16:12:31 +0000 Richard Carter (Gruts) Video: Trump does Talking Heads.

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Newsletter No. 11: Penguin eggs and yetis http://richardcarter.com/newsletter/penguin-eggs-and-yetis/ http://richardcarter.com/newsletter/penguin-eggs-and-yetis/ Sat, 02 Dec 2017 11:13:57 +0000 Richard Carter (Newsletter – Richard Carter) Sir Thomas Browne · Saturn · penguin eggs · heroes of science · evolution of languages · nature books · dna barcoding · periodic table · Alice Roberts · geology Rich Text

2ND DECEMBER 2017

Hello.

Only eight days since my last newsletter: people will talk!

As my last one didn’t contain the customary links to articles you might find interesting, I thought I’d better make amends as soon as possible. But first…

Shameless plug

On the Moor
Buy from Amazon uk | .com

In the unlikely event it has escaped your notice, MY BOOK IS FINALLY OUT!!

An ideal Christmas present for all the science, history, and nature fans in your life. Just think how prescient you’ll look when this thing wins the Pulitzer. Why not treat yourself to a copy, while you’re at it?

Some stuff I thought worth sharing:

As I read and write about stuff that interests me, it should come as no surprise that some of the following links relate to topics also covered in On the Moor:

  1. Browne
    Thomas Browne

    Robert McCrum’s 2017 Guardian series, The 100 best nonfiction books, nears its end with Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or A Brief Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns Lately Found in Norfolk (1658). Although the 17th-century language is hard-going at times, Sir Thomas Browne’s book would certainly make my list. The final, summary chapter in particular is a masterpiece. I first encountered Browne via two of my all-time favourite writers, Stephen Jay Gould and W.G. Sebald. You can imagine my delight when I discovered there’s a Bronze Age urn-burial site within spitting distance of my home, on the edge of the local moor. You can, of course, read all about it (and Sir Thomas Browne) in my book.
    See also my article The Thomas Browne Affair.

  2. Talking of Sebald, Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft captured a final stunning photograph of the Rings of Saturn two days before plunging into the planet’s atmosphere.
  3. My friend GrrlScientist is gradually republishing many of her old stories from various media sites on her Medium page. Her recent repost, The mystery of Captain Scott’s penguin eggs, concerns Bill Wilson, Apsley Cherry-Garrard and Henry Bowers’ 1911 scientific expedition to collect penguin eggs in Antarctica. Ornithologist Bill Wilson also stars in the chapter about red grouse in On the Moor. I was really taken with Wilson: a real mini-hero of science.
    If this sort of story interests you, you might like to subscribe to GrrlScientist’s newsletter.
  4. Another of my friends, the science historian Thony Christie, generally pooh-pooh’s the idea of lone ‘heroes of science’. Science is a collaborative process, so it‘s unfair (and misleading) to give individuals too much credit. My flippant, but genuine, response is that anyone who contributes to our scientific knowledge is a hero in my book (even those who ultimately get it wrong). Thony’s recent post, History of the little things, makes me suspect we’re in far closer agreement than either of us lets on.
  5. As I explain in On the Moor, my own personal hero, Charles Darwin, provided some useful insights into the evolution of languages. But, as a recent article on the Randomness of Language Evolution explains, just as with species, the English language is shaped by more than ‘natural selection’.
  6. The Guardian recently nominated some of the best nature books of 2017. I couldn’t help noticing one glaring omission.
  7. Identifying species via ‘DNA barcodes’ is another topic mentioned in On the Moor. Now scientists are using it to debunk fragments of ‘yetis’, and, more importantly, to shed light on the evolution of bears.
  8. In a similar vein, new genetics research has settled questions about American prehistory—in particular, about the peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador.
  9. Nasa recently posted a charming version of the Periodic Table showing where your elements came from. (Spoiler alert: No, we weren’t fashioned from clay and spare ribs; as Carl Sagan famously put it, we are made of star-stuff. Isn’t that so much more awesome?)
  10. Even though I thought the suggestion sounded pretty obvious, I was interested by a recent piece on how writing has tended to make language syntax more complex.
  11. A feature interview with one of my favourite science communicators, Prof. Alice Roberts. I’m very much looking forward to reading her latest book, Tamed: 10 Species That Changed Our World: she has a knack for simplifying without dumbing-down.
  12. The British Geological Survey has just published a new interactive Climate Through Time map. This would have been really useful when I was writing the prologue to On the Moor: half a billion years of Earth’s history crammed into a little over 600 words… And they say I can’t write succinctly! (On the strength of this newsletter, they’re probably right.)

Rest assured, the frequency of this newsletter will now return to an a reassuringly vague, as-advertised ‘occasional’.

Love and hugs,

Richard
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Be honest, now, you were beginning to wonder why I’ve been so quiet… http://gruts.com/book-launch/ http://gruts.com/book-launch/ Fri, 24 Nov 2017 09:58:08 +0000 Richard Carter (Gruts) I’m delighted to announce the launch of my book ‘On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk’. 158 years ago today saw the publication of my hero Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Darwin was staying on the edge of Ilkley Moor at the time, just 13 miles as the curlew flies from where I type these words.

What better excuse could I possibly need for choosing today to launch my own medium opus inspired by another Yorkshire moor…

I’m delighted to announce that my book On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk is now available as both a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and other international Amazon websites.

On the Moor

Buy from Amazon uk | .com

On the Moor shows how a routine walk in the countryside is enhanced by an appreciation of science, history, and natural history. It covers an eclectic mix of topics, with each chapter being inspired by something I encountered or was thinking about during one of my regular walks over the last 25 years on the Moor above my home. These topics include:

  • Charles Darwin’s weird experiments and ailments;
  • the 17th-century skeptic Sir Thomas Browne;
  • Celtic languages;
  • Bronze Age burials;
  • evolution’s kludgy compromises;
  • bird migration;
  • DNA barcoding;
  • skull anatomy;
  • where Earth got its water;
  • the mapping of Great Britain;
  • grouse disease;
  • Scott of the Antarctic;
  • how to define a species;
  • Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath;
  • the Brontës;
  • the Laws of Thermodynamics;
  • why the sky is blue (and sunsets red);
  • the Greenhouse Effect;
  • the songs of skylarks;
  • snipe courtship;
  • vapour trails;
  • rooks’ faces;
  • the best way to cook a wheatear.
  • …Oh, and there’s even a plane crash!

I appreciate I’m a bit biased, but I think you’ll like it.

But don’t feel you have to take my word for it. Here’s what nature writer Neil Ansell had to say about On the Moor:

Richard Carter’s fascinating exploration of his local grouse-moor in West Yorkshire digs deep into natural history, human history, prehistory, and the history of science. His writing is grounded, insightful, and frequently hilarious, and he shows how falling in love with your own local patch can be a gateway to the whole world.

Well, exactly, Neil! (The cheque’s in the post.)

…Are you still here? What are you waiting for? GO AND BUY MY BOOK, DAMMIT!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and order an Aston Martin.

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Book launch: ‘On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk’ http://friendsofdarwin.com/book-launch-on-the-moor/ http://friendsofdarwin.com/book-launch-on-the-moor/ Fri, 24 Nov 2017 09:57:58 +0000 Richard Carter, FCD (friendsofdarwin.com) (Friends of Charles Darwin - combined feed (blog posts, articles, and reviews).) 158 years ago today saw the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Darwin was staying on the edge of Ilkley Moor at the time, just 13 miles as the curlew flies from where I type these words. What better excuse could I possibly need for choosing today to launch my own medium… 158 years ago today saw the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Darwin was staying on the edge of Ilkley Moor at the time, just 13 miles as the curlew flies from where I type these words.

What better excuse could I possibly need for choosing today to launch my own medium opus inspired by another Yorkshire moor…

I’m delighted to announce that my book On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk is now available as both a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and other international Amazon websites.

On the Moor covers (front and back)

On the Moor shows how a routine walk in the countryside is enhanced by an appreciation of science, history, and natural history. It covers an eclectic mix of topics, with each chapter being inspired by something I encountered or was thinking about during one of my regular walks over the last 25 years on the Moor above my home. These topics include:

  • Charles Darwin’s weird experiments and ailments;
  • the 17th-century skeptic Sir Thomas Browne;
  • Celtic languages;
  • Bronze Age burials;
  • evolution’s kludgy compromises;
  • bird migration;
  • DNA barcoding;
  • skull anatomy;
  • where Earth got its water;
  • the mapping of Great Britain;
  • grouse disease;
  • Scott of the Antarctic;
  • how to define a species;
  • Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath;
  • the Brontës;
  • the Laws of Thermodynamics;
  • why the sky is blue (and sunsets red);
  • the Greenhouse Effect;
  • the songs of skylarks;
  • snipe courtship;
  • vapour trails;
  • rooks’ faces;
  • the best way to cook a wheatear.
  • …Oh, and there’s even a plane crash!

I appreciate I’m a bit biased, but I think you’ll like it.

But don’t feel you have to take my word for it. Here’s what nature writer Neil Ansell had to say about On the Moor:

Richard Carter's fascinating exploration of his local grouse-moor in West Yorkshire digs deep into natural history, human history, prehistory, and the history of science. His writing is grounded, insightful, and frequently hilarious, and he shows how falling in love with your own local patch can be a gateway to the whole world.

Well, exactly, Neil! (The cheque’s in the post.)

…Are you still here? What are you waiting for? GO AND BUY MY BOOK, DAMMIT!

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Newsletter No. 10: Book launch http://richardcarter.com/newsletter/book-launch/ http://richardcarter.com/newsletter/book-launch/ Fri, 24 Nov 2017 09:57:30 +0000 Richard Carter (Newsletter – Richard Carter) 24-Nov-2017: 158 years ago today saw the publication of my hero Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’. What better excuse could I possibly need for choosing today to launch my own book, ‘On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk’. Rich Text

24 NOVEMBER 2017

Hello.

158 years ago today saw the publication of my hero Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Darwin was staying on the edge of Ilkley Moor at the time, just 13 miles as the curlew flies from where I type these words.

What better excuse could I possibly need for choosing today to launch my own medium opus inspired by another Yorkshire moor…

OUT TODAY!

I’m delighted to announce that my book On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk is now available as both a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and other international Amazon websites.

On the Moor covers (front and back)

On the Moor shows how a routine walk in the countryside is enhanced by an appreciation of science, history, and natural history. It covers an eclectic mix of topics, with each chapter being inspired by something I encountered or was thinking about during one of my regular walks over the last 25 years on the Moor above my home. These topics include:

  • Charles Darwin’s weird experiments and ailments;
  • the 17th-century skeptic Sir Thomas Browne;
  • Celtic languages;
  • Bronze Age burials;
  • evolution’s kludgy compromises;
  • bird migration;
  • DNA barcoding;
  • skull anatomy;
  • where Earth got its water;
  • the mapping of Great Britain;
  • grouse disease;
  • Scott of the Antarctic;
  • how to define a species;
  • Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath;
  • the Brontës;
  • the Laws of Thermodynamics;
  • why the sky is blue (and sunsets red);
  • the Greenhouse Effect;
  • the songs of skylarks;
  • snipe courtship;
  • vapour trails;
  • rooks’ faces;
  • the best way to cook a wheatear.
  • …Oh, and there’s even a plane crash!

I appreciate I’m a bit biased, but I think you’ll like it.

But don’t feel you have to take my word for it. Here’s what nature writer Neil Ansell had to say about On the Moor:

Richard Carter’s fascinating exploration of his local grouse-moor in West Yorkshire digs deep into natural history, human history, prehistory, and the history of science. His writing is grounded, insightful, and frequently hilarious, and he shows how falling in love with your own local patch can be a gateway to the whole world.

Well, exactly, Neil! (The cheque’s in the post.)


Apologies for the shamelessly pluggy nature of this edition of the Rich Text newsletter, but it isn’t every day to get to announce your first proper book.

Normal service will be resumed next time.

…Are you still here? What are you waiting for? GO AND BUY MY BOOK, DAMMIT!

Richard
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My book is finally out! http://richardcarter.com/on-the-moor-launched/ http://richardcarter.com/on-the-moor-launched/ Fri, 24 Nov 2017 09:56:59 +0000 Richard Carter (richardcarter.com) I’m delighted to announce the launch of my book ‘On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk’.
I’m delighted to announce the launch of my book ‘On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk’.


Article source: http://richardcarter.com/on-the-moor-launched/

24 November 2017

158 years ago today saw the publication of my hero Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Darwin was staying on the edge of Ilkley Moor at the time, just 13 miles as the curlew flies from where I type these words.

What better excuse could I possibly need for choosing today to launch my own medium opus inspired by another Yorkshire moor…

I’m delighted to announce that my book On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk is now available as both a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and other international Amazon websites.

On the Moor covers (front and back)

On the Moor shows how a routine walk in the countryside is enhanced by an appreciation of science, history, and natural history. It covers an eclectic mix of topics, with each chapter being inspired by something I encountered or was thinking about during one of my regular walks over the last 25 years on the Moor above my home. These topics include:

  • Charles Darwin’s weird experiments and ailments;
  • the 17th-century skeptic Sir Thomas Browne;
  • Celtic languages;
  • Bronze Age burials;
  • evolution’s kludgy compromises;
  • bird migration;
  • DNA barcoding;
  • skull anatomy;
  • where Earth got its water;
  • the mapping of Great Britain;
  • grouse disease;
  • Scott of the Antarctic;
  • how to define a species;
  • Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath;
  • the Brontës;
  • the Laws of Thermodynamics;
  • why the sky is blue (and sunsets red);
  • the Greenhouse Effect;
  • the songs of skylarks;
  • snipe courtship;
  • vapour trails;
  • rooks’ faces;
  • the best way to cook a wheatear.
  • …Oh, and there’s even a plane crash!

I appreciate I’m a bit biased, but I think you’ll like it.

But don’t feel you have to take my word for it. Here’s what nature writer Neil Ansell had to say about On the Moor:

Richard Carter’s fascinating exploration of his local grouse-moor in West Yorkshire digs deep into natural history, human history, prehistory, and the history of science. His writing is grounded, insightful, and frequently hilarious, and he shows how falling in love with your own local patch can be a gateway to the whole world.

Well, exactly, Neil! (The cheque’s in the post.)

…Are you still here? What are you waiting for? GO AND BUY MY BOOK, DAMMIT!

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Lateral thinking http://gruts.com/lateral-thinking/ http://gruts.com/lateral-thinking/ Thu, 23 Nov 2017 13:36:18 +0000 Richard Carter (Gruts) Why doesn't the UK stay in the EU, and leave the European Song Contest instead? I've just had a totally brilliant idea…

Why doesn't the UK stay in the EU, and leave the European Song Contest instead? That way, we get to make some sort of stupid nationalist point without actually doing something totally bloody insane.

You can thank me later.

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The appearance of my child http://richardcarter.com/notebook/my-child/ http://richardcarter.com/notebook/my-child/ Wed, 15 Nov 2017 15:27:17 +0000 Richard Carter (Notebook – Richard Carter) This afternoon, I received my proof copy of ‘On the Moor’.

‘I am infinitely pleased & proud at the appearance of my child.’
Charles Darwin, writing from just below a Yorkshire moor to his publisher, John Murray, 3rd Nov 1859, on receiving his first copy of On the Origin of Species.

I finally know the feeling, Charles.

This afternoon, I received my proof copy of On the Moor:

‘On the Moor’ proof

Not quite as ground-breaking as On the Origin of Species, perhaps, but no reason to be any less pleased or proud.

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End of an era http://gruts.com/darwin-tenner-rip/ http://gruts.com/darwin-tenner-rip/ Tue, 14 Nov 2017 11:50:39 +0000 Richard Carter (Gruts) The Darwin tenner will become extinct next March

BBC: Old £10 note to disappear next year
If you still have any old £10 notes, make sure you spend them before 1 March next year.
The Bank of England has announced that the old paper notes, featuring naturalist Charles Darwin, will no longer be legal tender after that date.

So, the Darwin tenner will become extinct next March. It had a good run, and was superior in all respects to the Jane Austen note that's replacing it.

Jen's brother almost hit the nail on the head the other week. He complained that the newfangled plastic notes can't be folded properly to slip into his pocket. Being plastic, they keep trying to unfold.

Close, but no banana.

The real reason the new plastic notes are so dreadful is that they frequently won't slip nicely into your wallet because some animal without fully opposable thumbs has tried to fold it to slip inside their walletless pocket.

So, everyone loses.

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Newsletter No. 9: Teaser or spoiler? http://richardcarter.com/newsletter/teaser-or-spoiler/ http://richardcarter.com/newsletter/teaser-or-spoiler/ Fri, 10 Nov 2017 13:23:17 +0000 Richard Carter (Newsletter – Richard Carter) On the Moor · Zanzibar · container ships · giant ground sloth · Barry Lopez · indigenous people · Cambrian Explosion · Little Toller · Iain Sinclair Rich Text

10 NOVEMBER 2017

Hello.

It’s been a bit longer than usual since my last update. Apologies, but I’ve been working hard to get my book On the Moor out there. Barring any last-minute hiccups, I hope to be able to make a major announcement in my next newsletter. (I’m not sure if that counts as a teaser or a spoiler, but, either way, watch this space…)

Some stuff I thought worth sharing:

This time there are precisely 10 links (for those of you who happen to count in the octal numeral system):

  1. A Swap for Zanzibar
    Neal Ascherson on the strange history of the North Sea archipelago of Heligoland. I couldn’t help thinking W.G. Sebald would have been fascinated by this.
  2. 30 Days Timelapse at Sea
    Someone had the wonderful idea of fixing a timelapse video camera to the top of a container ship. Compulsive viewing.
  3. Darwin’s Megatherium molar mystery
    Reuniting the remains of a prehistoric giant ground sloth excavated by Charles Darwin in Patagonia in 1832.
  4. On the edge, calling back: Barry Lopez
    A moving interview with the adjectiveless writer Barry Lopez. I still haven’t read his highly acclaimed Artic Dreams, but it can only be a matter of time.
  5. The Invitation
    The Lopez interview mentioned above refers to this Granta article: a thoughtful piece on how indigenous people experience events in the natural world in a different way to us.
  6. What sparked the Cambrian explosion?
    Scientists have hypothesised for decades about the cause of the evolutionary burst known as the Cambrian Explosion that happened 540 million years ago. Could a steep rise in oxygen have sparked the change, or some key evolutionary innovation?
  7. Little Toller Books: Clarissa Luard Award Shortlisted Publishers
    Adrian Cooper on how he and his partner created Little Toller books in their spare bedroom: proof that it’s possible for non-experts to create something very special. So what are you waiting for?
  8. Iain Sinclair’s farewell to London
    In characteristically concentrated prose, Iain Sinclair on how he has lost his centre of gravity: his compulsion to write about London.

Coming soon (shameless plug):

On the Moor covers (front and back)
[Click to enlarge]

I hope you’re even one-tenth as excited about this as I am.

Richard

Raven
A raven ‘cronking’ in Anglesey.
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Hello, Algeria! http://friendsofdarwin.com/hello-algeria/ http://friendsofdarwin.com/hello-algeria/ Mon, 23 Oct 2017 09:13:40 +0100 Richard Carter, FCD (friendsofdarwin.com) (Friends of Charles Darwin - combined feed (blog posts, articles, and reviews).) I am delighted to announce that the Friends of Charles Darwin have their first member from Algeria. AlgeriaI am delighted to announce that the Friends of Charles Darwin have their first member from Algeria: Bounab Youssra of Alger Centre.

We now have members in 98 countries.

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Water-slide!! http://gruts.com/water-slide/ http://gruts.com/water-slide/ Thu, 12 Oct 2017 15:40:48 +0100 Richard Carter (Gruts) Short video of a reservoir overspill.

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Missing matter http://gruts.com/missing-matter/ http://gruts.com/missing-matter/ Mon, 09 Oct 2017 19:36:43 +0100 Richard Carter (Gruts) The missing links between galaxies have finally been found.

New Scientist: Half the universe’s missing matter has just been finally found

The missing links between galaxies have finally been found. This is the first detection of the roughly half of the normal matter in our universe – protons, neutrons and electrons – unaccounted for by previous observations of stars, galaxies and other bright objects in space.

It had slipped down the back of the sofa, apparently.

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Carolyn texts http://gruts.com/carolyn-texts-20171005/ http://gruts.com/carolyn-texts-20171005/ Fri, 06 Oct 2017 22:56:11 +0100 Richard Carter (Gruts) Fancy going to a circus teacher on Thursday?

I don't suppose you fancy going to a circus teacher in our little dance studio on Thursday evening? Juggling, diablo, balance board, stilts, unicycle ..... I'll go with you! x

(I reluctantly declined.)

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Feedback sought: Potential covers for my book http://richardcarter.com/notebook/feedback-book-covers/ http://richardcarter.com/notebook/feedback-book-covers/ Mon, 02 Oct 2017 13:07:23 +0100 Richard Carter (Notebook – Richard Carter) I’ve been experimenting with some different cover designs for my book ‘On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk’, and would be interested in receiving any feedback you might have. I’ve been experimenting with some different cover designs for On the Moor. I’d be interested in hearing any feedback you might have. The advice from Amazon is to use big text on the cover, so it can still be read when reduced to a minuscule thumbnail image in their store.

I don’t consider any of these potential covers to be finished yet, but I’ll be very interested to hear what you think. In particular, which, if any, of these covers might tempt you to take a peek inside the book to find out more?

Sample cover 1
Cover 1
On the Moor sample cover 2
Cover 2
On the Moor sample cover 3
Cover 3
On the Moor sample cover 4
Cover 4
On the Moor sample cover 5
Cover 5

Please feel free to leave your feedback in the comments below, or you can email me, or post comments on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks.

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Vive l’empire! http://gruts.com/vive-lempire/ http://gruts.com/vive-lempire/ Sun, 01 Oct 2017 00:56:52 +0100 Richard Carter (Gruts) Things are going to be so much better when we (finally) ditch the so-called ‘EU’ and start dealing with our former colonies. Things are going to be so much better when we (finally) ditch the so-called ‘EU’ and start dealing with our former colonies:

BBC: Commonwealth Games 2022: Birmingham only bidder for event
Birmingham was the only city to submit a bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games before Saturday's deadline, the Commonwealth Games Federation says. Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Victoria in Canada and a potential Australian entry had been thought to be possible bidders but none came forward.

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Cosmological conversation with my dad http://friendsofdarwin.com/cosmological-conversation/ http://friendsofdarwin.com/cosmological-conversation/ Wed, 27 Sep 2017 23:05:39 +0100 Richard Carter, FCD (friendsofdarwin.com) (Friends of Charles Darwin - combined feed (blog posts, articles, and reviews).) How far away is the sun? Dad: How far away is the sun?
Me: A little over eight light minutes.
Dad: I meant in miles.
Me: Well, light travels at about 186,282.397 miles per second, so the distance to the sun would be a little over 186,282.397 × 60 × 8 miles.
Dad: I don’t think I’ve ever told you this before, but… Piss off!

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Cosmological conversation with my dad http://gruts.com/cosmological-conversation/ http://gruts.com/cosmological-conversation/ Wed, 27 Sep 2017 22:59:42 +0100 Richard Carter (Gruts) Re. the distance to the sun. Dad: How far away is the sun?
Me: A little over eight light minutes.
Dad: I meant in miles.
Me: Well, light travels at about 186,282.397 miles per second, so the distance to the sun would be a little over 186,282.397 × 60 × 8 miles.
Dad: I don’t think I’ve ever told you this before, but… Piss off!

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End of an era http://friendsofdarwin.com/end-of-an-era/ http://friendsofdarwin.com/end-of-an-era/ Wed, 27 Sep 2017 16:20:52 +0100 Richard Carter, FCD (friendsofdarwin.com) (Friends of Charles Darwin - combined feed (blog posts, articles, and reviews).) This morning, I went to the cash point for some money, only to be presented with a wad of brand new £10 notes featuring Jane Austen instead of Charles Darwin. It was bound to happen eventually.

This morning, I went to the cash point for some money, only to be presented with a wad of brand new £10 notes featuring Jane Austen instead of Charles Darwin. It’s the end of a magnificent era.

Austen tenners

Some Jane Austen tenners (and a Charles Darwin tenner) this morning.

Call it sour grapes, if you like, but I’m unimpressed by the new notes. I was always going to be. Replacing Darwin could be nothing but a huge step backwards, as far as I was concerned. But the new, plastic tenners are way too Austentatious for my taste. I understand and support the calls for more women on bank notes, but couldn’t we have had the Brontë sisters instead? Three women for the price of one, who would also plug another outrageous gap of there being no people from the North of England on our bank notes.

Still, the Darwin tenner had an excellent run, and I’m pleased to report I still have several pristine notes tucked safely away inside one of the many Darwin biographies on my study bookshelves.

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Book review: ‘The Panda’s Thumb’ by Stephen Jay Gould http://friendsofdarwin.com/reviews/gould-pandas/ http://friendsofdarwin.com/reviews/gould-pandas/ Sun, 24 Sep 2017 16:00:33 +0100 Richard Carter, FCD (friendsofdarwin.com) (Friends of Charles Darwin - combined feed (blog posts, articles, and reviews).) More Reflections in Natural History.

More Reflections in Natural History.

The Panda’s ThumbThe second of Stephen Jay Gould’s long-running series of popular science essay collections that first appeared in his monthly column in Natural History magazine, The Panda’s Thumb covers topics including:

  • how imperfections in organisms’ demonstrate their evolutionary history;
  • Charles Darwin and his theories;
  • human evolution;
  • science and politics;
  • the rate at which evolution occurs;
  • early life;
  • how Nature’s ‘rejects’ were anything but;
  • how animals’ life-spans (and other attributes) are affected by their size.

As with all of Gould’s essay collections, this is a fantastic book.

Highly recommended.

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Book review: ‘Ever Since Darwin’ by Stephen Jay Gould http://friendsofdarwin.com/reviews/gould-ever/ http://friendsofdarwin.com/reviews/gould-ever/ Sun, 24 Sep 2017 15:58:50 +0100 Richard Carter, FCD (friendsofdarwin.com) (Friends of Charles Darwin - combined feed (blog posts, articles, and reviews).) Reflections in Natural History.

Reflections in Natural History.

Ever Since DarwinThe first of Stephen Jay Gould’s long-running series of popular science essay collections that first appeared in his monthly column in Natural History magazine, Ever Since Darwin covers topics including:

  • Charles Darwin;
  • human evolution;
  • evolutionary oddities;
  • recurring patterns in evolutionary history;
  • theories of the earth;
  • how organisms’ (and other structures’) shapes change with size;
  • the social and political impact of scientific theories.

As with all of Gould’s essay collections, this is a fantastic book.

Highly recommended.

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Book review: ‘Humanism’ by Stephen Law http://friendsofdarwin.com/reviews/law-humanism/ http://friendsofdarwin.com/reviews/law-humanism/ Sun, 24 Sep 2017 15:49:41 +0100 Richard Carter, FCD (friendsofdarwin.com) (Friends of Charles Darwin - combined feed (blog posts, articles, and reviews).) A very short introduction.

A very short introduction.

Humanism: a very short introductionHaving gradually begun to calm down after a couple of days’ impotent rage at the result of the EU Referendum, I turned to this short book on humanism in an attempt to restore some of my faith in humanity. I was seeking reassurance that people, as individuals, still mostly try to do the right thing, given the information available to them. That, as human beings, we really should all try to be on the same side. And that, cynicism aside, we are still capable in embracing big ideas while, it is to be hoped, rejecting unsubstantiated nonsense.

I’ve always avoided describing myself as a humanist. Partly because the word seems to mean different things to different people; partly because I don’t like labels, and I’m not really a joiner; and partly because, if I’m honest, I’ve always found the word a bit cringeworthy (an entirely unreasonable reservation, I accept, but a reservation nevertheless).

The philosopher Stephen Law gets this short guide off to an excellent start with a brief introductory chapter entitled What is humanism? Here, while acknowledging that the word ‘humanism’ means different things to different people, he identifies seven minimum characteristics that most humanists would agree unites them philosophically. In subsequent chapters, Law goes on to describe how these characteristics influence humanist views on morality, secularism, education, and the meaning of life. All of which, as you should expect, are explained very rationally.

Less interesting to me were the back-to-back chapters entitled Arguments for the existence of God, and An argument against the existence of God. While ‘atheist’ is one of the few labels I am happy to embrace, it seemed to me that these chapters deflected somewhat from the central topic of the book, and would have been better placed in an introduction to theism or atheism.

This minor criticism aside, I enjoyed this book very much indeed, and emerged from it considerably calmer, feeling better disposed to my fellow human beings, and reluctantly accepting that the label ‘humanist’ might, after all, apply to me.

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What I did on my holidays http://richardcarter.com/notebook/holiday-timelapse/ http://richardcarter.com/notebook/holiday-timelapse/ Mon, 18 Sep 2017 09:27:09 +0100 Richard Carter (Notebook – Richard Carter) An Anglesey timelapse video.

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What I did on my holidays http://gruts.com/holiday-timelapse/ http://gruts.com/holiday-timelapse/ Mon, 18 Sep 2017 09:18:43 +0100 Richard Carter (Gruts) A timelapse video.

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Hey, Brian! http://gruts.com/hey-brian/ http://gruts.com/hey-brian/ Wed, 23 Aug 2017 07:17:27 +0100 Richard Carter (Gruts) Twitter hilarity.

FOR SALE. Postcard of Fred Dinenage. Would suit someone called Brian who needs some luck. pic.twitter.com/PPfi1JXCT7

— Marcus Payne (@nowtro) August 22, 2017

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Book review: ‘Improbable Destinies’ by Jonathan Losos http://richardcarter.com/reviews/improbable-destinies-jonathan-losos/ http://richardcarter.com/reviews/improbable-destinies-jonathan-losos/ Tue, 22 Aug 2017 15:27:17 +0100 Richard Carter (Reviews – Richard Carter) How predictable is evolution? Improbable DestiniesThe late Stephen Jay Gould more than once observed that, were it possible to roll back time and re-run evolutionary history, we would most likely end up with very different results. Minor differences in circumstances can lead to very different evolutionary pathways.

Others, most notably Simon Conway Morris, hold that evolution is far more predictable than Gould would have had us believe. As evidence, they cite the interesting phenomenon of convergent evolution, where different species evolve strikingly similar features in similar circumstances. A classic example is the similar body shapes of dolphins, sharks, ichthyosaurs, and (at more of a stretch) penguins: these predators’ ‘designs’ enable them to move quickly under water. If mammals, fish, ichthyosaurs, and birds evolved such similar shapes for moving at speed in the same environment, the argument goes, evolution must, to some extent, be predictable.

Those who maintain that evolution is more predictable than we might suppose sometimes go so far as to claim that upright, bipedal, intelligent life was almost inevitable on Earth. Had it not been for that pesky asteroid, they say, the world would now, quite possibly, be being ruled by dinosaurian, rather than mammalian, humanoids. This despite the fact that, as far as we know, upright, bipedal, intelligent dinosaurs failed to evolve in the 180-million years that dinosaurs actually did rule the earth.

Jonathon Losos's interesting book sets out to explore both the phenomenon of convergent evolution, and the possibility of performing experiments to assess evolutionary predictions. In the first part of the book, he describes many examples of convergent evolution. In subsequent sections, he describes experiments in the wild, and in more controlled environments, to determine whether the accuracy of various evolutionary predictions can be tested.

Although convergent evolution is a genuinely fascinating phenomenon, it is considerably less remarkable when the species in question are closely related. When presented with similar environmental challenges, is it really at all surprising when closely related species evolve similar solutions? Evolution can only tinker with what is already there; how many fundamentally different tweaks can be made to closely related lizards, for example, to help them evade a new predator? In fairness to Losos, he makes this point more than once, but, to this non-expert at least, it seemed as if more might have been made of it. There is a world of a difference between two species of stickleback, to cite another example, evolving brighter colours in the absence of predators, and dinosaurs evolving into intelligent humanoids. Even if small-scale convergent evolution of closely related species is common, extrapolating to claim that the evolution of intelligent humanoids is almost inevitable is another thing entirely.

Sensibly, Losos doesn't spend too much time examining arguments about putative humanoid dinosaurs—although he does eventually make his own position clear. This book is primarily about the experiments: how scientists have begun to test evolutionary predictions, and to assess how particular examples of convergent evolution come about. Both of which strike me as far more interesting and useful than coming up with untestable hypotheses about where dinosaurs might have gone next.

An entertaining book on an interesting subject.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.

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Book review: ‘Improbable Destinies’ by Jonathan Losos http://friendsofdarwin.com/reviews/losos-improbable/ http://friendsofdarwin.com/reviews/losos-improbable/ Tue, 22 Aug 2017 15:18:48 +0100 Richard Carter, FCD (friendsofdarwin.com) (Friends of Charles Darwin - combined feed (blog posts, articles, and reviews).) How predictable is evolution?

How predictable is evolution?

Improbable DestiniesThe late Stephen Jay Gould more than once observed that, were it possible to roll back time and re-run evolutionary history, we would most likely end up with very different results. Minor differences in circumstances can lead to very different evolutionary pathways.

Others, most notably Simon Conway Morris, hold that evolution is far more predictable than Gould would have had us believe. As evidence, they cite the interesting phenomenon of convergent evolution, where different species evolve strikingly similar features in similar circumstances. A classic example is the similar body shapes of dolphins, sharks, ichthyosaurs, and (at more of a stretch) penguins: these predators’ ‘designs’ enable them to move quickly under water. If mammals, fish, ichthyosaurs, and birds evolved such similar shapes for moving at speed in the same environment, the argument goes, evolution must, to some extent, be predictable.

Those who maintain that evolution is more predictable than we might suppose sometimes go so far as to claim that upright, bipedal, intelligent life was almost inevitable on Earth. Had it not been for that pesky asteroid, they say, the world would now, quite possibly, be being ruled by dinosaurian, rather than mammalian, humanoids. This despite the fact that, as far as we know, upright, bipedal, intelligent dinosaurs failed to evolve in the 180-million years that dinosaurs actually did rule the earth.

Jonathon Losos's interesting book sets out to explore both the phenomenon of convergent evolution, and the possibility of performing experiments to assess evolutionary predictions. In the first part of the book, he describes many examples of convergent evolution. In subsequent sections, he describes experiments in the wild, and in more controlled environments, to determine whether the accuracy of various evolutionary predictions can be tested.

Although convergent evolution is a genuinely fascinating phenomenon, it is considerably less remarkable when the species in question are closely related. When presented with similar environmental challenges, is it really at all surprising when closely related species evolve similar solutions? Evolution can only tinker with what is already there; how many fundamentally different tweaks can be made to closely related lizards, for example, to help them evade a new predator? In fairness to Losos, he makes this point more than once, but, to this non-expert at least, it seemed as if more might have been made of it. There is a world of a difference between two species of stickleback, to cite another example, evolving brighter colours in the absence of predators, and dinosaurs evolving into intelligent humanoids. Even if small-scale convergent evolution of closely related species is common, extrapolating to claim that the evolution of intelligent humanoids is almost inevitable is another thing entirely.

Sensibly, Losos doesn't spend too much time examining arguments about putative humanoid dinosaurs—although he does eventually make his own position clear. This book is primarily about the experiments: how scientists have begun to test evolutionary predictions, and to assess how particular examples of convergent evolution come about. Both of which strike me as far more interesting and useful than coming up with untestable hypotheses about where dinosaurs might have gone next.

An entertaining book on an interesting subject.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.

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Pineapples and porcupines… http://gruts.com/prickly-pair/ http://gruts.com/prickly-pair/ Fri, 18 Aug 2017 07:24:13 +0100 Richard Carter (Gruts) A prickly pair. Both prickly. Both begin with the letter ‘P’.

Coincidence? I'll let you decide.

(Don't get me started on bloody pufferfish.)

Pufferfish

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Reaching out http://gruts.com/reaching-out/ http://gruts.com/reaching-out/ Sat, 12 Aug 2017 00:17:11 +0100 Richard Carter (Gruts) I'll tell you what's mildly irritating: people who say ‘reached out to’ when they mean ‘contacted’. I'll tell you what's mildly irritating: people who say ‘reached out to’ when they mean ‘contacted’.

Just listen to yourselves!

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