April 3

Remembrance of a Portentous Eclipse


Fifteen years ago tonight, there was a total lunar eclipse that began before moonrise on the east coast, and was total until almost eight o'clock. (The time of greatest eclipse was after midnight on April fourth by Universal Time, but was on the third in Eastern Standard Time.) In New Hampshire, a clear sky along with the darkened moon and—in what was, with the lake still covered by ice, more late winter than early spring—very little light pollution locally created excellent conditions for viewing the Great Comet of 1996, Hyakutake, whose tail stretched across the stars as seen in this photograph taken from Vermont at the time. While I stood outside in the dark and the cold, gazing alternately at the momentarily red cloaked moon and the ephemerally bright comet, the most spectacular comet I have ever seen, I pondered: if eclipses and comets individually were omens to the ancients, what might their combination portend?

Not long after I had gone back into the warmth and artificial light of the house, my father’s brilliant life of better than eighty years quietly came to its end.

posted @ 05:49 AM EDT

April 4

Blog Comments

Do you want to comment on an entry in this blog? You see that there isn’t any embedded commenting facility? What the £¥€$? Well, for me, it’s not worth the trouble. Blog comments are plagued by spam, flames, trolling, and malware attacks; one of the ugly effects of supposed anonymity on the ‘net. If you really want to comment, follow me on Twitter and reply to the entry’s tweet. People who follow you and me will see it. Not enough of an audience for you? Get your own, damn blog and see if anyone reads it. 140 characters not enough for your point? Same answer. If you’re a spammer, a flamer, or a troll, I’ll block you without a second thought.

posted @ 07:51 AM EDT

April 8

2011 Math Awareness Month

Math Awareness MonthThe theme of “Math Awareness Month” 2011 is Unraveling Complex Systems.

posted @ 10:32 AM EDT

April 18

The Emperor of All Maladies

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee is a great book, regardless of its pointless subtitle: A Biography of Cancer. As he should not, the author makes no apparent attempt to anthropomorphize the disease. Maybe the publisher thought that ‘Cancer’ needed to be in the title, but “A History of Cancer” sounded too stodgy. Nevertheless, a history is what it is, and the best sort; one consisting of a series of poignant and dramatic stories involving ordinary as well as extraordinary people.

Some of the stories are intensely personal, about patients suffering from cancer whom the author treated. These expose his own humanity and inform our empathy for the victim living through an often horrible experience.

But the bulk of the book is devoted to stories of the development of treatments, discovery of causes and, only in most recent times, the progress of science in learning the processes and mechanisms of oncogenesis. At this Dr. Mukherjee excels. His narrations are gripping. His explanations are crystal clear. He makes the characters—surgeons, clinicians, scientists—real for us by revealing something of their milieux and personalities, what makes them tick.

There’s good news and bad news. There has lately been real progress, qualitative changes, in treatment; particularly new drugs that target specific genetic mutations in some cancers. But it’s become clear that cancer will always be a fact of life for a large fraction of people.

posted @ 09:58 AM EDT

April 20

Pulitzer for Siddhartha Mukherjee

It was quite a coincidence that I posted my blurb about his book in the morning of the very day when in the afternoon ceremony announcing this year’s Pulitzers, the prize for general nonfiction was awarded to Siddhartha Mukherjee for The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

posted @ 03:27 PM EDT

April 29

Planets in Pisces

2011 May 14 Dawn

Four of the planets which are visible to the naked eye are clustered together in Pisces. The image above, captured from SkySafari Lite, shows what the eastern sky near the horizon (the green line) will look like at dawn in a couple of weeks from the New Hampshire seacoast.

posted @ 09:27 AM EDT