It has taken great minds to discover simple things

Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson CB FRS FRSE (May 2, 1860 – June 21, 1948), a Scottish biologist, mathematician and classics scholar
in On Growth and Form, 1917


Acquired Symposium on Information Theory in Biology Gatlinburg, Tennessee, October 29-31, 1956

Acquired Symposium on Information Theory in Biology Gatlinburg, Tennessee, October 29-31, 1956 by Hubert P. Yockey,  Robert P. Platzman, Henry Quastler, (editors)Hubert P. Yockey, Robert P. Platzman, Henry Quastler, (editors) (Pegamon Press; 1st edition (1958))

The next major thrust in biology

Werner R. Loewenstein (), biologist, physiologist
in The Touchstone of Life: Molecular Information, Cell Communication, and the Foundations of Life, Oxford University Press, 1999


The Touchstone of Life (Book Cover)

You and I Are Not Much Different from Cans of Soup

Philip Nelson, American physicist
in Biological Physics: Energy, Information, Life


Biological Physics: Energy, Information, Life written by Philip Nelson
Biological Physics: Energy, Information, Life written by Philip Nelson

Book Review: Werner Loewenstein’s “The Touchstone of Life: Molecular Information, Cell Communication, and the Foundations of Life”

The Touchstone of Life: Molecular Information, Cell Communication, and the Foundations of Life by Werner R. Loewenstein

Though there is a paucity of equations, particularly on the information theoretic side, Loewenstein does a fantastic job of discussing the theory and philosophy of what is going on in the overlapping fields of information theory and microbiology. (I will note that it is commonly held wisdom within publishing, particularly for books for the broader public, that the number of equations in a text is inversely proportional to the number of sales and I’m sure this is the reason for the lack of mathematical substantiation which he could easily have supplied.)

The Touchstone of Life (Book Cover)

This is a much more specific and therefore much better – in my mind – book than John Avery’s Information Theory and Evolution which covers some similar ground. Loewenstein has a much better and more specific grasp of the material in my opinion. Those who feel overwhelmed by Loewenstein may prefer to take a step back to Avery’s more facile presentation.

Loewenstein has a deft ability to describe what is going on and give both an up-close view with many examples as well as a spectacular view of the broader picture – something which is often missing in general science books of this sort. Readers with no mathematical or microbiology background can benefit from it as much as those with more experience.

One thing which sets it apart from much of its competition, even in the broader general science area of non-fiction, is that the author has a quirky but adept ability to add some flowery language and analogy to clarify his points. Though many will find this off-putting, it really does add some additional flavor to what might be dry and dull explication to many. His range of background knowledge, philosophy and vocabulary are second only (and possibly even on par or exceeding in some cases) that of Simon Winchester.

I’d highly recommend this book to people prior to their academic studies of biochemistry or molecular cell biology or to budding biomedical engineers prior to their junior year of study. I truly wish I had read this in 1994 myself, but alas it didn’t exist until a few years after. I lament that I hadn’t picked it up and been able to read it thoroughly until now.

For my part, his drastically differing viewpoint of the way in which biology should be viewed moving forward, is spot on. I am firmly a member of this new “school”. His final chapter on this concept is truly illuminating from a philosophical and theoretical view and I encourage people to read it first instead of last.

I’ll also note briefly that I’ve seen some reviews of this book which make mention of creationism or intelligent design and whether or not proponents of those philosophies feel that Loewenstein’s work here supports them or not, particularly since Loewenstein appeared on a panel with Dembski once. I will state for those who take a purely scientific viewpoint of things, that this book is written in full support of evolution and microbiology and doesn’t use the concept of “information” to muddy the waters the way many ID arguments are typically made.

Original review posted to on 9/4/12

Microbiology and Eternal Life (A Short Play)

RNA: Grant me eternal life.
Genie: That’s not in my power to give.
RNA: Grant me then at least a wish?
Genie: (laughing) One wish?
RNA: Yes, only one.
Genie: Go ahead…
RNA: (with great wile and guile) Make me thrifty.
Genie: (with a cherry nod and a wink) Granted!
RNA: Thank you!

…and the RNA lived forever after.

Response to “Path: A Twenty-First Century Geotagging Journal”

Replied to Path: A Twenty-First Century Geotagging Journal by Adeline Koh (ProfHacker | The Chronicle of Higher Education)
Below is my response to Adeline Koh‘s article “Path: A Twenty-First Century Geotagging Journal” which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Prof Hacker Blog on August 29, 2012.


Adeline, Path might be a reasonable tool for accomplishing what you’d like, but it’s original design is as a very small and incredibly personal social networking tool and therefore not the best thing for your particular use case here. Toward that end, it’s personalization ability to limit who sees what is highly unlikely to change as they limit your “friends” to less than your Dunbar number in the first place. Their presupposition is that you’re only sharing things with your VERY closest friends.

For more functionality in the vein you’re looking at, you might consider some of the Google tools which will allow you much more granularity in terms of sharing, tracking, and geotagging. First I’d recommend using Google Latitude which will use your cell phone GPS to constantly track your location at all times if you wish of the ability to turn it on and off at will. This will allow you to go back and see exactly where you were on any given day you were sending them data. (It’s also been useful a few times when I’ve lost/left my phone while out of the house or in others’ cars and I can log in online to see exactly where my phone is right now.) Latitude will also allow you to share your physical location with others you designate as well as to export portions of data sets for later use/sharing.)

Unbeknownst to many, most cell phones and increasingly many cameras will utilize GPS chips or wifi to geolocate your photo and include it in the EXIF data imbedded into the “digital fingerprint” of your photo (along with the resolution, date, time, what type of camera took the photo, etc.) For this reason, many privacy experts suggest you remove/edit your exif data prior to posting your photos to public facing social media sites as it can reveal the location of your personal home, office, etc which you may not mean to share with the world.) There are a number of tools you can find online for viewing or editing your exif data.

You can then upload those photos to Google Plus which will allow you to limit your sharing of posts to whichever groups of people you’d prefer with a high degree of granularity, including using email addresses for people who aren’t already on the service. (They actually have a clever back up option that, if selected, will allow your phone to automatically upload all your photos to G+ in the background and making them private to you only for sharing at a later date if you choose.) I’m sure that with very little work, you can find some online tools (including even Google Maps perhaps) that will allow you to upload photos and have them appear on mapping software. (Think about the recent upgrade in Craigslist that takes posting data and maps it out onto the platform).

Finally, as part of Google’s Data Liberation initiative you can go in and export all of your data for nearly all of their services including Latitude and from Picasa for photos.I think that playing around with these interlocking Google tools will give you exactly the type of functionality (and perhaps a little more than) you’re looking for.

Their user interface may not be quite as beautiful and slick as Path and may take half an hour of playing with to explore and configure your workflow exactly the way you want to use it, but I think it will give you a better data set with a higher degree of sharing granularity. (Alternately, you could always develop your own “app” for doing this as there are enough open API’s for many of these functions from a variety of service providers, but that’s another story for another time.)

Food is a product of economic supply and demand

Tyler Cowen (), American economist, academic, and writer
in An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies


John C. Malone on Assets in the Entertainment Industry

John C. Malone (1941 – ), American business executive, landowner, and philanthropist
at Sun Valley Conference 2012, quoted in New York Times


Book Review: Charles Seife’s “Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception”

Read Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception (Penguin)
Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception Book Cover Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception
Charles Seife
Mathematics, Popular Science
September 23, 2010

The bestselling author of Zero shows how mathematical misinformation pervades-and shapes-our daily lives. According to MSNBC, having a child makes you stupid. You actually lose IQ points. Good Morning America has announced that natural blondes will be extinct within two hundred years. Pundits estimated that there were more than a million demonstrators at a tea party rally in Washington, D.C., even though roughly sixty thousand were there. Numbers have peculiar powers-they can disarm skeptics, befuddle journalists, and hoodwink the public into believing almost anything. "Proofiness," as Charles Seife explains in this eye-opening book, is the art of using pure mathematics for impure ends, and he reminds readers that bad mathematics has a dark side. It is used to bring down beloved government officials and to appoint undeserving ones (both Democratic and Republican), to convict the innocent and acquit the guilty, to ruin our economy, and to fix the outcomes of future elections. This penetrating look at the intersection of math and society will appeal to readers of Freakonomics and the books of Malcolm Gladwell.

Charles Seife doesn’t prove that mathematics is essential for a democracy, but he certainly shows how the lack of proper use of mathematics can fray heavily at the edges!

Proofiness was a great book to have read over a long Fourth of July holiday. Though many people may realize some of the broad general concepts in the book, it’s great to have a better structure for talking about concepts like Potemkin numbers, disestimation, fruit packing, cherry picking, apple polishing, comparing apples to oranges, causuistry, randnumbness, regression to the moon, tragedy of the commons, and moral hazard among others. If you didn’t think mathematics was important to daily life or our democratic society, this book will certainly change your mind.

Seife covers everything from polls, voting, politics, economics, marketing, law, and even health to show how numbers are misused in a modern world that can ill-afford to ignore what is really going on around us.

This is a fantastic book for nearly everyone in the general public, but I’d highly recommend it for high school students while taking civics.

Original review posted on on 7/9/12.

Reading Progress
  • 07/07/12 marked as: currently reading
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  • 07/09/12 52.0%
  • 07/09/12 Finished book