July 2007

I just finished a book by Geoff Dyer, Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It. It was on the “recommended” shelf at a local bookstore, Olsson’s Books. Intrigued, I picked it up; it’s a quick read. It’s not a self help or yoga book – rather, it’s basically a collection of 11 essays by Dyer on his various travels around the planet. It involves quite a bit of drinking and getting stoned, but he does meet a lot of people. His writing is at a level or two above what you might think from the previous sentence, and many of the essays/chapters are quite humorous. My favorite essay/chapter is #7, “The Despair of Art Deco” – mainly for his hysterical rendering of his quest for a mouse-free hotel room. Dyer tells about his travels to New Orleans, Chicago, and South Beach (chp 7), but also Cambodia, Libya, Thailand, etc. This book is also the first time I got a good explanation of the “Burning Man Festival” in the Southwest.


Jasper Fforde 1 smallI went to see Jasper Fforde give a talk tonight at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.. [Dylan went with me, but spent the time playing chess on my pda.] I’ve read the first book in Fforde’s Thursday Next series (“The Eyre Affair“), and I loved it. This talk was about the fifth book in that series, Thursday Next, First Among Sequels. Mr. Fforde is a great speaker – extremely funny and engaging. I can’t wait to find the time to read all the books in this series (as well as his other series, “Nursery Crimes”).

At the end of his talk, he signed books for people. I sure am glad we sat on the floor at the front (against a bookcase); the place was packed with hundreds of people. I was about the 5th person in line, and by the time I got through the line was out the door.

Anyway, when I got to the front, Mr. Fforde asked me if he should make it out to anyone. I replied, “a signature is fine – unless you already know who I am”. He (and his partner) then started reciting names, hoping to land on mine. After about 15, he stopped and she asked “So what is your name”? “John”, I replied. “Darn. That was an easy one, how’d I miss that?” Then he smiled so I could take his picture.
Jasper Fforde 2 small

fly robot A team at Harvard lead by Robert Wood has created a fly-like robot that really flies like, er, a fly. It only weighs 60 milligrams. It’s just a start, since it has no onboard power nor can it be controlled (it flies on a tether to keep it straight). But it does fly! Future uses for such flybots (besides the obvious espionage uses) include the ability to fly into areas to detect toxins, etc. Neat.

aircrash seatPopular Mechanics did a study of airplane crashes, and determined that you are 40% more likely to survive a crash in the back of the plane vs. sitting up front. Move to the back of the plane!

Francis Collins

Last night I went to a lecture/signing by Dr. Francis Collins for his book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, at Olsson’s Books in Arlington, VA. Dr. Collins is the counterpoint to Dr. Richard Dawkins, (See my previous blog post) who recently wrote The God Delusion. While Dawkins is still an atheist, and Collins was once, Collins is now a Christian. Dr. Collins’ discussion about how he came to his belief in God, and how he reconciled this with his belief in science was very interesting. Dr. Collins was prompted by his work with patients (and their religious beliefs) to explore various faiths. He read up on Islam, Judaism, Budism, etc. and was most enticed by Christianity. While it may seem that Dr. Collins believes in “mere” Theistic Evolution, his pronouncement that he is a Christian (and believes that Jesus was also God) shows that he has more of a belief in a personal God (also evidenced by his statement that he prays).

Unlike Creationists (and those thinly-disguised Creationists, “Intelligent Design” fans), Dr. Collins has no problem reconciling his belief in God (and Jesus, and the Bible) with Science (specifically, Evolution). To paraphrase Dr. Collins: “It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that God created man by creating the Universe, and letting Man come into being via evolution. Yeah, it took billions of years to happen, but to God that’s an eyeblink.”

Dr. Collins did touch on the “anthropic principle”, which basically states that the fundamental physical constants of the universe are fined-tuned to exactly support life. Some theorists have proposed that this can be explained away by the concept of a “multiverse”, with an infinite number of parallel universes. If you have an infinite number of universes, then obviously at least *one* of them will result in physical constraints that support life as we know it. I did appreciate Dr. Collins comment that a belief in a “multiverse” (something that can never be proven or tested) is no different than a belief in a God that created our (anthropic) universe.

A question was asked of Dr. Collins: Does he believe in God because it is “useful” or because it is “true”; or rather which of these qualities is more important? Dr. Collins unequivocally stated that it must be “truth”. A belief in God merely because it is “comforting” to believe (and thus be part of a network of like-minded people) would not work for him; he must also believe that it is true.


Next Page »