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 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair, 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 cm...so 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 http://www.baldingblog.com/category/density/page/5/, 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.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
I hope you find something new here that you like!
Black Holes & Time Warps
Excellent, and worth working your way through it slowly to feel the wonder of what's going on out there.
We Learn Nothing
Contains the best essay on politics I've read in ages: "When They're Not Assholes". He's a terrific writer all around.
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
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!)
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.
Great as usual. Just read everything she's written, okay?
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
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
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.
Kim Stanley Robinson
Sweeping, epic, real. You know the drill with KSR. Great, as usual.
The Name of the Wind
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
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.
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 speaker...it was a great year for hearing first-rate authors speak!
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
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.)
Superb, and funny, and real-feeling. A well-built world and a sequel awaits. We're lucky, we readers!
A Hat Full of Sky
Another Wee Free Men and Tiffany Aching delight.
Graphic Novels: Fiction
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
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
Oh Gene, you can do no wrong. This is a terrific matched pair. Deep and broad and human.
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.
Amazing formal work, again. Depressing story, again. Worth feeling sad about.
Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant
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?
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
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.
Great book, and bonus: recipes!
Alec "The Years Have Pants"
He's been great from the get-go, it seems, and at 638 pages, is itself remarkable how consistently great he's been.
It's a Friday when a lot of people shop, and do so hoping to get a great deal, so I'd like to offer you what I think is a great deal:
The first 10 purchases of any book from www.gt-labs.com will get a free copy of Feynman. (I'll love it if you buy more than one book, but to be fair to all this will be a one-per-order thingee...) After that first ten, I'll still send you something for free along with your purchase, but it may not be that book. It will be comics- or science-related, though!
Let's try this through Dec. 10, 2013, shall we?
And...I'll sign any of the books to anyone on your holiday gift list, including you, if you're in the mood to treat yourself to something nice.
Note that I have to limit this offer to folks in the U.S., since I don't have time right now to figure out postage and fill out customs forms and wait in the lengthening lines at the post office. I can only procrastinate so much on writing the next book, after all!
So, I hope you head over to www.gt-labs.com and pick out a new favorite!
My social media advisor (a.k.a. my wife) says nobody likes a blizzard of tweets, and even if they did I'd be too forgetful to post these and am too lazy to configure auto-tweeting software to schedule them.
And, some of these are no doubt too long...I'm also too lazy to count to 140.
So, here is a large batch of pseudo-tweets in the form of a single blog post. Yeah, a blog. Very retro, which is appropriate since this happened a while back. But now all -- okay, some -- can be revealed...
Update, 14Nov2013: Here's the announcement on BoingBoing!
19May2013: Secret research trip commences. Plan is to post these as Time Delayed Tweets (TDTs) upon successful completion...
TDT/May19-20: Best (not recommended) way to beat jet lag: Board 10:10pm flight at 11:40pm, sit on runway for 4.5 hrs, get off plane, try again next day.
TDT/May19-20: BTW, the above technique assumes you don't do more than doze for an hour or so for the duration.
TDT/May20-21: Took 4 tries to get to Atlanta, on to London 1st try after that. Yesterday: not best day ever. Today: still not great, but not worst.
TDT/May21: Arrived in England, took train to Cambridge, walked from station to room to clear our heads.
TDT/May21: Leland Myrick meets us at end of (our) road. Great to see him, for all the reasons you'd imagine.
TDT/May21: Dinner at former student haunt of our Research Subject.
TDT/May21: The Tickell Inn: Higher end than usual student bar. Doesn't smell like filthy rag soaked in stale beer, for one thing.
TDT/May21-22: Accommodations not luxurious; mattress is a good simulation of thing of same name...
TDT/May21-22: ...but totally fine, and no apparent jet lag. See above for brilliant technique!
TDT/May22: Into the archive. 100s of photos taken, dozens of priceless things held in bare hands. #gobsmacked
TDT/May22: Ruined forever, thanks to friends Malcolm & Anna and CAMRA beer, cider, and perry festival. Weak, unsubtle, and bad U.S. cider will never do now.
TDT/May22: Also, good cider is strong. #typinghardafterhomanypintswasthat?
TDT/May23: More archives. Not all end up being on task, but worth it because...ho-hum, there's A.A. Milne's handwritten m.s. for Winnie the Pooh.
TDT/May23: Ho-hum, Newton's library. As in Isaac Newton's personal library. Right there. I'm now about to pull a book off the shelf. With my own hands.
TDT/May23: Title in question: "The General Delusions of Christians, Touching the Ways of God's Revealing Himself to, and by the Prophets
TDT/May23: "...Evinc'd from Scripture and Primitive Antiquity...
TDT/May23: "...and Many Principles of Scoffers, Athiests, Sadducees, and Wild Enthusiasts Re-futed...
TDT/May23: "...The Whole Adapted, As Much As Possible, to the Meanest Capacity."
TDT/May23: Oh, Isaac Newton -- you'd have loved the National Enquirer! (And it would love you.)
TDT/May23: Apparently you can tell if Newton actually read a particular book because he turned down corners. The librarian in me blanches, but...
TDT/May23: ...there's the fold, and I'm delighted.
TDT/May23: Into Inner Sanctum. 100s more pictures taken with a stupefied look on my face. #whatamIdoinghere?
TDT/May23: More than one picture of Feynman on display in Inner Sanctum. #heh
TDT/May23: Appropriate, since Feynman (or rather, Feynman) is in part the reason we're here.
TDT/May23: Into Innermost Inner Sanctum. Wonderful stories (most on deep background) told in a #whatamIdoinghere? setting.
TDT/May23: Great Indian to end the day. Cobra Beer = fantastic. Malcolm & Anna = more fantastic.
TDT/May24: Back to archive and a few 100 more photos, incl. early drafts of The Book.
TDT/May24: Re. The Book's early drafts: Calista/@01FirstSecond, when time comes, please don't edit me w/chapter-by-chapter letter grades. #kthx
TDT/May24: Run in rain through Cambridge. Can't sneak in for Trinity Court run. Got lost, found way back again. Almost hit by 3 different cars.
TDT/May24: Had a great time, IOW.
TDT/May24: Drinks in Fellows Club before dinner. Malcolm pronounces wine not quite ready. Leland, Kat and I think it's fantastic. #lowbrows
TDT/May24: Dined at Trinity High Table. #whatamIdoinghere? Tried not to think of Hogwarts every few seconds. #failed
TDT/May24: They eat fast at High Table. (Hypothesis 1: To get out of there and leave students to own revels.) (Hypothesis 2: To get to the cheese and port.)
TDT/May24: Cheese and port after dinner -- by candle light -- with Fellows. #whatamIdoinghere?
TDT/May24: Learn that Trinity College has 40-50 year supply of port.
TDT/May24: Given consumption this evening...w/only 7 of us...I imagine subterranean reservoir size of Lake Huron.
TDT/May24: Rain clears after dinner for our stroll through Trinity Court. Magical, and gratified to hear our host is not jaded in the least.
TDT/May25: Work part done. (And per above what a horrible load and burden it was!) Traveling to Wales.
TDT/May25: Caerdydd Castell. Wisgi Cymreig. Da.
TDT/May25: Also, and this time in English: great dinner in Splot. (#notmakingthatup!) Featured 80s techno dance club soundtrack, complete w/New Order.
TDT/May26: Tintern Abbey is not-shockingly sublime. Lovely weather too...
TDT/May26: ...so any impression that after rocky start this trip has been full of good luck is correct.
TDT/May27: London. Churchill's underground War Rooms. Also sublime, but entirely unlike Tintern. (I know, shocking!) #ACTIONTHISDAY
TST/May27: #ACTIONTHISDAY reminds me that "The Imitation Game", by me and Leland Purvis, is almost done. Look for it soon via @tordotcom.
TDT/May28: Onward to Down House to complete our Great Scientists tour.
TDT/May28: The grounds here are even more beautiful than Inner Inner Sanctum's, and the stuff inside is much older. We don't touch it, either.
TDT/May28: Fleshed out closing sequence for the FutureBook™ on Darwin's Sandwalk. #thankyouCharlesDarwin
TDT/May29: Flying home in biz class, thanks to amazing help from amazing friend. Upside: biz class. (#whatamIdoinghere?) Downside: future travel ruined forever.
TDT/May29: 804 miles from home, which is less than the number of reference photos I took on the device I'm also using to write with.
TDT/May29: Signing off from the lap of luxury, in an age of wonders.
Nov13: Did I forget to reveal the subject of FutureBook™? Sorry. (#notreallysorry) More to be revealed tomorrow, via @01FirstSecond and @BoingBoing/boingboing.net.
Nov13 ± N months: #writingwritingwritingwritingwriting. Also, #writingwritingwritingwritingwriting.
Here's today's pre-dawn playlist. Don't worry, I listened via an iPod, so I didn't disturb the neighbors at The Inn on Ferry Street*:
The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
Are You Sure Love Is the Name of This Game by Stevie Wonder
The End of Our Road by Marvin Gaye
I Heard It Through the Grapevine by Gladys Knight & The Pips (The Randy Watson Experience Sympathy For The Grapes Mix)
You have to click on track 02 to hear this, but it's worth the extra effort! You can go the YouTube route for a live, unmixed version. You'll get to watch the Pips do their thing...and that's always worth your time.
My Two Arms - You = Tears by The Elgins
Then I ran the Detroit Half-Marathon, and posted my best ever time.** Coincidence?
* Which is a wonderful place to stay...just off Woodward, close to Wayne State and the Cultural Center.
** Which will cause no elite Kenyan runners to reconsider their life choices. But I'm happy. And tired.
Thank you to The World Science Festival for inviting me to take part in the best convention panel I've ever been on. Moderated by Jonathan Coulton (@jonathancoulton), it featured Dominic Walliman (@DominicWalliman) and Charles Soule (@CharlesSoule). All smart, all funny, all with interesting insights into comics and science...and all a great pleasure to meet and get to know.
You can see more photos from the panel at the WSF link above...and like the one here, courtesy of Erika Crown, you'll know when I'm in one because I'm the guy with his mouth open.
First Second and I have created new teacher's guides for Feynman and Primates. They look great (that's because of First Second's fabulous designers) and are full of useful information about the books (I can take some credit for that part).
We think teachers...and casual readers too...will find them useful. You can find them at the links above.
And, thanks for reading these, and all my other stories. As Banned Books Week approaches I'm inclined to paraphrase the oft-banned George Orwell and say that all readers are equal, but some readers are more equal than others. Those are the ones who head towards the bibliographies I include in my books and then read even more about these scientists!
In the last year or so arrivals to my P.O. box have dwindled, so that now only virtual particles bubbling up from the vacuum and checks from my distributor have appeared there. So, it's time to reduce the keys I carry around each day by one...
I find myself sad to close it. It served me well for over a decade and I loved finding the yellow "a package is waiting for you" slip or a note from someone who just discovered one of my books and had to tell me about it by sending a letter. Paying a visit after a few weeks out of town was like unlocking a long-abandoned storage locker, one that might be full of treasure, and I have happy memories of using a trip to get my mail as a way to trick myself into getting a few miles of running in during the dead of winter.
Anyway, if you see reference to a post office box in older copies of my books and are hankering to mail beef jerky or chain letters or stuff I might actually want to hold in my hands, please don't send it there. Instead, contact me via email and we'll figure out what to do next.
I'm not sure what will happen to good old eighty-one forty-five next, but I'm about to find out. Or not...it probably transforms itself into a miniature black hole, from which nothing escapes. And yes, I've already made sure those checks don't cross that event horizon!
I've never been to the Decatur Book Festival but have heard it's great. So, time to go!
I'll be talking about Primates (and other books too, if you ask me about them) on Sunday, September 1st, at 4pm on the Teen Stage. If you're in the neighborhood -- which is in the neighborhood of Atlanta -- I hope to see you there in a few days!
For myself, I'm looking forward to talks by Virgina Morrell, Adam Rex, Caleb Scharf, and Brian Switek, and am sad that I won't be there for Sen. John Lewis' keynote and presentations by a bunch of other great authors. (I'll probably miss Frans de Waal's talk as well...but that's because my signing happens at the same time. So if nobody shows up I'll get to hear him, but I'll be sad for a different reason!)
I've received some notes from readers of Primates, wondering how much of what they read is really what our heroes said, and whether they did what we showed them doing.
So, here's an example of how we adapted dialogue from two letters written by Jane Goodall to her family, from the camp she called Chimpland, and how we wove parts of them into the story. You can find the originals and many more in Africa in My Blood, one of the books we recommend at the end of Primates.
Let's start with a paragraph from a letter dated (probably? Dale Peterson, Africa in My Blood's editor, isn't certain) September 19, 1960. The underlined text is in the original...the italics highlight what we used:
"It's quite cold up on the mountains at dawn, now. An icy wind sweeps over the peaks, & one longs for the clouds to be swept away from the sun. Then, at 12 when the sun is hottest, the wind stops altogether & one nearly dies of heat! I am rapidly becoming like a piece of tough brown leather. Even when I slip down a few yards of shale, I find the skin on hands, elbows, legs, etc. is not broken! It's rather a hoot! Today is my day for doing paper work -- the 1st for 2 weeks when I have not been out. It feels very strange to be staying in camp all day but there is such a lot to do."
Now, have a look at the dialogue on page 15 of Primates...
Page 15, panel 1: I am rapidly becoming like a piece of tough brown leather.
Page 15, panel 2: Even when I slip down a few yards of shale, I find the skin on my hands, elbows, legs, etc. is unbroken.Page 15, panel 3: It's rather a hoot!
Why the changes? First, I broke sentences up and spread them across different panels to try and create a rhythm and an interplay between the words and the pictures that Maris would soon draw. We don't want her slipping in more than one panel, and we can't jam all those words into a single panel, either. And because space is always at a premium in comics, minor changes like going from "is not broken" (13 characters) to "is unbroken" (11 characters) get made. Over the course of a whole book, those extra characters add up!
Now, from another letter, this one dated September 25, 1960:
"Another part of my job is messing around in dung, under their nests, to see what they've been eating! What a life, eh! Sometimes it suddenly comes over me how strange it all is, really. Here I am, an ordinary person, with my staff of 3, a camp, unlimited funds, and doing what I have always wanted to do. Not stuck away in some horrid office, out of the sunlight, but out in the open, sleeping under the stars, climbing the mountains, watching the animals. Is it possible? Can it really be me? Or is it some strange hallucination? The only sad part is that it's so far away from all of you."
I broke that apart so it became...
Page 15, panel 5: Not stuck in some horrid office, but out in the open.Page 15, panel 6: Climbing mountains...Page 16: Watching animals.Page 22, panel 3: Is it possible? Can it really be me, here, now?Page 22, panel 4: Or is it some strange hallucination? ...No. It's me.
Again, pacing is important here, because I know page 16 will be a full page illustration -- what comics creators call a "splash" -- and we want to use the fewest possible words with the greatest possible impact there.
(Notice that on page 16 Jane doesn't actually see any animals, but you, the reader, do see one: a human! All of a sudden you're in Jane's shoes; we hope that helped make you feel what she was feeling.)
On pages 17-21 we see her make her groundbreaking discovery, let her come back down off The Peak, and do some late-night writing in Chimpland. And you probably noticed that instead of removing words, I added some on page 22: "here, now?" and "...No, it's me." I did this to heighten the immediacy of what she's writing. No question that it's artistic license, but I hope you agree that it's in the right voice, and it highlights what she's feeling as she writes that letter.
What about those pesky pages 17-21, though? Did her discovery happen between the 19th and 25th of September? No. George Schaller visited the next month, in October, and she first recorded observing tool use in her journal on November 4 of that year. So I clearly shifted things around by a couple of months.
So, is the result non-fiction? Your answer will depend on how worried you are about the late-September to early-November 1960 chronology being in exactly the right order. But I would say yes...or at least it's 96% non-fiction (see page 24!), because it's what happened and what she said...edited for clarity and impact.
I could go on, but you get the idea...repeat this process scene after scene for two more scientists and 133 pages and you end up with Primates!
p.s. Because you probably wondered about this too, walking the path without clothes and carrying them in a plastic ("polyethylene") bag comes from letters postmarked February 6, 1961 and April 25, 1963.
p.p.s. An alert reader caught a very silly (and embarrassing) error on page 11, where we have Louis place the Gombe Preserve in Nigeria instead of Tanzania. Now even though there is in fact a Gombe in Nigeria, the chances of Leakey making this mistake are small. As for me, I didn't do it to save space, because that would just be dumb...and the mistake is plenty dumb enough! We'll try to get that fixed in a future edition.
p.p.p.s. (added September 24, 2013) Enough folks have asked "What did Biruté sit on?!" that, even though it's in the visuals, I now think I probably should have punctuated the scene with a caption to bring it home: This comes from pages 93 and 102 of Dr. Galdikas's book Reflections of Eden, where a forestry official (Mr. Yusuran) warns her against sitting on any log, since they burn. Biruté G. thinks he's making a confused reference to the biblical story of the burning bush, but...no. He was being literal about the effects of the sap, and she pays for the error with "a large, black area on my behind [that] looked as though it had been burnt to a crisp, like the skin of an overtoasted marshmallow."