It's been a while since I've talked about Primates, but the folks at Barnes & Noble Store #2107 and Gina at First Second have fixed that! So, if you're in the neighborhood, you can take a break from the Art Fair(s), skip the corn dogs and elephant ears, and come hear me enthuse about great apes.

The event is part of a nation-wide "Get Pop-Cultured Preview Weekend" held in anticipation of the San Diego Comicon. While I'm not the most pop-culture-y guy in the world, when it comes to being cool and heroic and stuff, you can't beat Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Biruté Galdikas.

I'll be working without a net (as in, no A/V) so this will be an interesting experiment in talking about comics with no pictures projected on a screen behind me! There are things to say and books to sign and fun to have. And B&N#2107 is a really nice store to hang out in. See you there?
"We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done."

Alan M. Turing (1950). "Computing machinery and intelligence." Mind, 59, 433-460.

If only that future had included many more years of Turing, and the products of his genius.

Posted in honor of The Imitation Game by Leland Purvis and it at, which concludes its online run today. Thanks to Leland most of all, but also Irene Gallo and Chris Lough at, Joan Hilty, Nick Abadzis, and everyone else who made this possible. 
"A British woman officer or non-commissioned officer can -- and often does -- give orders to a man private. The men obey smartly and know it is no shame. For British women have proven themselves in this way. They have stuck to their posts near burning ammunition dumps, delivered messages afoot after their motorcycles have been blasted from under them. They have pulled aviators from burning planes. They have died at gun posts and as they fell another girl has stepped directly into the position and "carried on." There is not a single record in this war of any British woman in uniformed service quitting her post or failing to do her duty under fire.

"Now you understand why British soldiers respect the women in uniform. They have won the right to the utmost respect. When you see a girl in khaki or air-force blue with a bit of ribbon on her tunic -- remember she didn't get it for knitting more socks than anyone else in Ipswich."

Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942, issued by the United States War Department in 1942, published by the Bodelian Library, University of Oxford, in 2004 (ISBN 1-85124-085-3)

"[W]e are not interested in the fact that the brain has the consistency of cold porridge. We don't want to say 'This machine's quite hard, so it isn't a brain, so it can't think.'"

Alan Turing (1952). "Can automatic calculating machines be said to think?" BBC Third Programme, 14 and 23 Jan. 1952, discussion between M.H.A. Newman, Alan M. Turing, Sir Geoffrey Jefferson, and R.B. Braithwaite.

"Don't be misled by the British tendency to be soft-spoken and polite. If they need to be, they can be plenty tough. The English language didn't spread across the oceans and over the mountains and jungles and swamps of the world because these people were panty-waists."

Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942, issued by the United States War Department in 1942, published by the Bodelian Library, University of Oxford, in 2004 (ISBN 1-85124-085-3)

Turing at the time of his election to Fellowsh...

Turing at the time of his election to Fellowship of the Royal Society. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At last! The book was first announced in Publishers Weekly a...while ago. After a whole lot of work, Leland Purvis and my book about Alan Turing has begun to appear at Here's our pitch from way back when:

"The atomic bomb shortened WWII by months, and the whole world knew it, instantly. The code-breakers at Bletchley Park shortened the war by years, but everyone who worked there remained anonymous and everything they did remained secret...for decades. As Winston Churchill put it, Bletchley people were the geese that 'laid the golden egg, but never cackled.'

Flying at the head of Churchill's flock was Alan Turing, the mathematician who cracked the German Enigma code. That alone would be enough to secure his place in history, but before the war he launched modern computer science via his creation of the Universal Turing Machine and after the war he created what is now known as the Turing Test, a benchmark for artificial intelligence. He called his test 'The Imitation Game'.

He was also openly gay in a time and place where gays were treated criminally. And not just metaphorically -- he killed himself with a cyanide-tainted apple after being convicted of homosexuality and forced to undergo estrogen treatment.

Our world is one of computers and secure communications, and Turing's work is at the heart of both. He was an eccentric genius, an Olympic-class runner, a witty and clear communicator about complicated ideas, and open and honest to a fault. The secret he kept to safeguard his country could have saved him; the secret he refused to keep to save himself meant his destruction at the hands of that same country."

We hope you enjoy it! Here's that link again: The Imitation Game.

(I scheduled this post to appear at 10:01:01 local time. Binary and prime: I hope Alan Turing would approve.)


In order of appearance, yesterday I... soaked up to the hamstrings walking to work.
...made some more research available online. 
...received a royalty check for a previous book. 
...finished and submitted the first draft of the Hawking book. 
...ran some trails in my favorite trail running shoes. 
...ate leftovers and a slice of Go! Ice Cream's Carrot Cake Pie The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez, again. (It killed me, again.) 
...had a sip (or two) of Grass Widow Bourbon from Two James Spirits of Corktown, Detroit. 
...thought, "Hey, I'm really lucky."  

Today? Today I worked and tutored at 826mi and joined my friend Lara in celebrating her move to full-time writing. And I buried the lede. 

Dear Billy Collins

I read your poems aloud
to my wife as she makes us salad,

a task she says she hates
but whose tedium I can relieve
by reading poetry,
which she also says she hates.

She asks for the "New and Selected" and "Other" 
verses while she tears lettuce and
scoops avocado and digs olives from a jar,
putting too few in my bowl and too many in hers,
even though when I count them we have the same number.

And she interrupts you all the time with laughter,
putting you in the good company of
every movie, novel, meal, television show, 

or walk with no destination in mind
that we've ever enjoyed together.

If you keep writing poetry, then I
will keep reading it to her
and we will keep eating salad,
which I'm sure you'll agree
is a fair trade.


I haven't posted something to the blog in a while, but I'm glad to return with an important question, one you've asked yourself many times: "Should Jim use shampoo?"

While showering today, I realized that I use the stuff mostly out of habit. Even though I'm not sure it's actually better for hair than plain ol' soap, I've been so thoroughly brainwashed (or something-else-washed) by the Hair Care Industrial Complex that I'll take its indispensability as a given. However, I also have to take as a given the length and amount of hair I have on my head nowadays. I should have done that long ago, in fact, which is why I wondered whether I've reached the point where it makes better overall sense to just use bar soap. But how to decide?

When in doubt, turn to math.

Start with the average diameter of human hair: via, it's 0.0017-0.018cm...let's call it 0.01cm, though I expect mine is actually on the thin side.

Length of my hair: I cut it to about 0.15cm, and unless I get lazy, the longest it gets is about 0.3 let's call it 0.2cm.

Combining these, and assuming each hair is a perfect cylinder, that yields an exposed surface area for each hair of π(0.01/2)^2+π(0.01)(0.2) = 0.006cm^2.

Head hairs/unit area skull: approx. 100/cm^2, via, which I am glad exists even though I don't ever plan to visit again.

Diameter of my skull: approx. 17.5cm, so if we assume it's a perfect hemisphere, that gives an area of 0.5(4π(17.5/2)^2) = 480cm^2.

Coverage: Ahem. I'll use my wife Kat's charitable estimate of 60%, even though I think it's thinned from its original (and presumably average) density, which would mean I should use a lower number to compensate.

So, the surface area of hairs I have left is 0.006*100*480*0.6 = 173cm^2, which is substantially less than the exposed skin surface of 480-π(0.01/2)^2*100*480*0.6 = 478cm^2.

The conclusion is clear. Now, will I get less soap in my eyes?
Up here above the 42nd parallel the weather is such that I'm staying inside and reading more, and you might also plan to spend extra time indoors in the next few weeks. Or months. So in case you wondered, here are the best books I read in 2013, complete with my brief notes to myself about them. They're in no particular order -- they're all good and some are even better than that.

I hope you find something new here that you like!


Black Holes & Time Warps
Kip Thorne
Excellent, and worth working your way through it slowly to feel the wonder of what's going on out there.

We Learn Nothing
Tim Kreider
Contains the best essay on politics I've read in ages: "When They're Not Assholes". He's a terrific writer all around.

John Adams
David McCullough
An admirable book about an admirable person. McCullough gives him a pass on quite a lot, but makes a good case for doing so. And Jefferson comes off poorly, certainly by comparison, and that may be fair...though the book is titled Adams, so there's a selection bias here.

My Beloved Brontosaurus
Brian Switek
Fine overview of the current state of the art in dinosaur research. He's also a great speaker, so if you get a chance to see him, do it. (I did months after reading the book, so no selection bias here, I don't think!)

Animal Wise
Virginia Morrell
Great survey of the current state of research into whether animals have minds (yes) and how they think (more and harder than we give them credit for). See above about speaking excellence.

Mary Roach
Great as usual. Just read everything she's written, okay?

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
Chris Hadfield
If you've seen his videos from space, you know you can expect earnestness and honesty and humor. You get it here. (And I got to meet him here in Michigan, and the wonderful Schulers Books.)


The Art of Fielding
Chad Harbach
Very well written; more than a baseball book, though it's that too. I would read another just like it, but this is too good do a sequel.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Kim Stanley Robinson
Sweeping, epic, real. You know the drill with KSR. Great, as usual.

The Name of the Wind
Patrick Rothfuss
No closure at all, but effortless (seeming!) writing and a good epic style and story. I read the next one too, and it just about drove me crazy in some respects, the least of which is that closure thing. But the guy can write!

The Sorcerer's House
Gene Wolfe
Puzzling, but pulled me through quickly. Much more there than meets the eye, and the transitions between reality and faerie realms were slick and disorienting, just the effect he intended, I'm sure.

Zone One
Colson Whitehead
Layered and elliptical and digressive and funny. Not sure what the point was, or is, but I'll think about this again, and will read more by him. He's a terrific writer. And was a great year for hearing first-rate authors speak!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman
Beautiful. His best. Cf. Mary Roach above, though they could hardly be more different in subject matter and scope. (Also cf. above re. getting to hear him speak. Dang, it was a really great year for that.)

Young Adult

Rachel Hartman
Superb, and funny, and real-feeling. A well-built world and a sequel awaits. We're lucky, we readers!

A Hat Full of Sky
Terry Pratchett
Another Wee Free Men and Tiffany Aching delight.

Graphic Novels: Fiction

Marble Season
Gilbert Hernandez
Just about the perfect kids book, or rather, a book about what it's like to be a kid.

You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack
Tom Gauld
Odd and fun and a book-lover's book

Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen
Excellent, and I think subtler than I gathered on first reading. And I gathered me some subtlety, I think. So I'll read it again.

Boxers & Saints
Gene Yang
Oh Gene, you can do no wrong. This is a terrific matched pair. Deep and broad and human.

Strange Attractors
Charles Soule, Charles and Greg Scott
Good premise, well executed. Solid fun with some math as seasoning.

The Adventures of Superhero Girl
Faith Erin Hicks
Fun, light, peppy, funny.

Building Stories
Chris Ware
Amazing formal work, again. Depressing story, again. Worth feeling sad about.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant
Tony Cliff
A delight. Really and truly rollicking. I read it on the web, I read it in print, and I'll read it again and again in print again. It really is a delight, and notice how I don't stoop to the Turkish pun there?

Bad Houses
Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil
A straightforward story that isn't -- the story structure is clever and handled deftly in both the writing and the art. Impressive and enjoyable.

Graphic Novels: Non-Fiction

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller
Joseph Lambert
Wonderful depictions of Keller's inner life, and how she learned. I was floored by how good this is.

John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Hits the trifecta: First rate in both story, significance, and art.

Lucy Knisley
Great book, and bonus: recipes!

Alec "The Years Have Pants"
Eddie Campbell
He's been great from the get-go, it seems, and at 638 pages, is itself remarkable how consistently great he's been.

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