Tuesday: Hili dialogue

August 30, 2016 • 6:30 am

It’s August 30, 2016, and only one more day before we get into the dreaded BACK TO SCHOOL MONTH. And today is National Toasted Marshmallow Day, a confection that becomes edible only when it’s absolutely charred by fire. It’s also International Day of the Disappeared, remembering those in Latin America who were abducted without notice, and who simply vanished from Earth. I’ll proclaim it Remember Oliver Sacks Day, as he died one year ago today (see below).

On this day in 1909, the famous Burgess Shale fossils were discovered in British Columbia by Charles Doolittle Walcott; he was to work on them for another quarter century. They were brought to public attention by Steve Gould, who wound up erroneously touting them in his book Wonderful Life as largely unrelated to forms of modern life, and hence that modern species are the result of “contingency.” But that wouldn’t be true even if Gould were right about the fossil relationships: those “contingencies”, like the Yucatan asteroid strike, were really determined and not accidents: inevitable results of the laws of physics.

Notables born on this day include Mary Shelley (1797), Huey Long (1893), Ted Williams (1918), Elizabeth Ashley (1939 ♥), and Timothy Bottoms (1951). It’s also the birthday of my adopted mother, Malgorzata Koraszewska, who turns 73. Wish her a happy birthday, because Hili won’t!

Those who died on this day include Fred Whipple (2004) and Oliver Sacks (exactly one year ago today).  Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is on alert; she doesn’t like to cross the open ground by the soccer field when there are kids or dogs there. Here she is in her Alert Pose:

Hili: What are those children doing over there?
A: They are playing ball.
Hili: It worries me a bit.
 In Polish:
Hili: Co te dzieci tam robią?
Ja: Grają w piłkę.
Hili: Trochę mnie to niepokoi.
I don’t have Gus or Leon for you today, but here’s a baby giraffe:
baby giraffe

50 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

  1. Looks like a bandage on the giraffe’s neck. There’s a well worn joke here, just waiting to be retold methinks. More than one, probably.

  2. Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji urodzin, Malgorzata!

    hope I said/wrote that correctly! (found it on a Polish language bl*g) I hope you have a happy birthday, no matter what language I happen to be stumbling to say it in!

          1. Well, it added my minimum quota of “one more bit of information” for the day. I’d previously only met “Sto Lat” as the extensive plains (smelling faintly of cabbage) Hubwards of Ankh Morpork on the Discworld. But apparently Pterry named the plains for the Polish phrase.

  3. It’s also worth noting, for those of you who like myself are huge fans of Oliver Sacks’ work, that his partner, Bill Hayes has a new book out in February called “Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, & Me”.
    Publishers Weekly has a blurb on his webpage about it, says it’s “A love letter to New York City and to renowned science writer Oliver Sacks….Remarkably poignant.”

  4. It’s been a long time since I read Wonderful Life but wasn’t Gould’s point that if the tape of life was to be rewound, that we would not see the same forms developing, assuming that the contingent events would play out differently on the replay ?

    1. As I remember reading it long ago, I had trouble, as a strong determinist, with his tape premise. Then I figured Gould was trying to make a point about the susceptibility of evolution to small differences along the way – not that things would violate physical law. So I imagined the tape metaphor in loose terms – rewind, shake things up a little bit, then replay. He makes sense in that scenario.

        1. Tape isn’t dead. More often these decades it comes in cassette form not reel to reel, but it’s still the go-to for stable long-term backup of archival data. Your tax records from 2008 are probably residing on tape.
          My former employers still have at least one tape drive in the store room, and now they have no-one who knows how to use it. “Oh dear. What a pity. Never. Mind.”
          Come to think of it, tape is not dead in the media either. I believe that BetaMax is still a popular format for broadcast-quality video recording.

          1. I still have my original Sony Betamax. It was my first VCR. I assumed that its superior recording would win out in the format war. Wrong again. I still like to take it out and play it sometimes.

            1. BetaMax did win the format war amongst people who understood recording. But that’s not the mass market.
              Where’s my VL-bus SCSI adaptor that I put into my second computer, in preference to the RLL controller card in my original computer.

        2. I used to compare the gene to a piece of cassette tape containing the record of one song. Now, I have lost my metaphor, and I feel old. The kids to whom I must explain the gene have hardly seen a tape in their short lives.

      1. I think you’d have a tough time convincing most physicists (and most biologists too, I would hope) that the mutational history of life on Earth owes nothing whatever to radioactive decay or cosmic ray impact and could not have happened any other way.

        Jerry certainly knows better, so I’m not sure where today’s denial of contingency is coming from.

        1. Gould didn’t consider that kind of contingency; he was talking about purely deterministic stuff, like asteroids, and in that sense he was wrong. In Faith Versus Fact I do discuss mutations, as well as the Big Bang, and conclude that a true rewind, whether you start at the moment of the Big Bang or even after Earth was formed (because of the indeterminacy of mutations), might not produce the same stuff. So Gould was probably right, but for the wrong reasons.

          1. I’m not sure I’d put even asteroids in the category of “purely deterministic”. Asteroid orbits are known to be chaotic on a timescale of millions of years. Could the momentum of a single alpha particle four billion years ago be enough to deflect the Chicxulub impactor away from collision with Earth? I don’t know if anyone has ever done that calculation.

              1. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I’m not saying we could predict an asteroid’s orbit four billion years out; the whole point is that we can’t.

                The calculation I’m talking about is: given the tiniest possible uncertainty in initial momentum, how fast do the positional error bars grow, and how big would they be after four billion years? That calculation ought to be tractable, and it seems at least plausible that the answer might be bigger than the Earth.

                If so, that’s enough to convert the “purely deterministic” collision into a hit-or-miss proposition based on the outcome of a single radioactive decay.

  5. Happy Birthday Malgorzata!, hope you have many more. That Giraffe has the snootiest look I,ve seen in a long time.

    1. Thanks everybody.

      And, DrBrydon, there is no need to worry about Cyrus. He is in perfect form: healthy, happy and loving. He just isn’t as talkative as Hili.

  6. … only one more day before we get into the dreaded BACK TO SCHOOL MONTH.

    With a house full of hellraising kids every summer, and their no-goodnik friends sprawled around the stoop waiting for them, my moms never seemed to work up much dread for back-to-school month, if you can imagine that …

  7. Happy Birthday, Malgorzata. I hope there will be many more.

    May I be so indiscreet as to ask on which syllable your first name is stressed? I always want to be able tr pronounce peoples’ names.

    1. It’s not any secret! The first syllable is stressed. But there is a catch: the letter “l” in Polish is written with a stroke through it and is pronounced like the first (and last) sound in the English word “window”.

      1. Thanks. I have come across that ł before. My maternal grandmother was born in Piła, called Schneidemuhl (or Schneidemühl) at the time. A Polish colleague told me how to pronounce it.

      2. I’m so glad you taught us that…. I’ve been mispronouncing your name all these years!

        A very happy birthday, and good health, love, happiness and good fortune for the years to come.

  8. Happy Birthday Malgorzata. Thank you for sharing with us. I so love the photos of the orchard, river, your beautiful wood home, seeing the incredibly delicious meals you prepare, and of course, the most delightful Hili and Cyrus, which all speak of a life full of love.

    1. Hear, Hear ! We so do enjoy ‘knowing’ of all of the things Mr Rob, as well, writes.

      Blooming Hili amongst your cherry blossoms adorns my work’s screen presently. No kitty has me as staff (so sadly) anymore, but Moxie Grace OwlFace once upon a cherry – blossoming time herself wafted through Chickabooma Cherry Tree’s blooms within my backyard. It is a darling picture, for sure.

      Here’re a couple for your happiest of days !
      If about a(ny) thing bamboozled as she of http://www.pinterest.com/pin/506655026806646242, then just a wee one as of these of http://goo.gl/va8zUO ‘ll take care of fixing that right on up ! Any or every single afternoon !

      Haaaappy, Happy Birthday, Ms Koraszewska !

  9. Happy Birthday, Malgorzata from Australia. May you have many more. Please give Hili a scratch under her chin from me.

  10. Happy birthday Malgorzata! I hope you had a lovely day! Thanks so much for everything you share with us. 🙂

    Time zones mean I’m a bit late to the party so perhaps I can wish you a special evening instead. <3

  11. A related aside: Mr Hempenstein two days ago reminded us readers of the “year with no summer,” that is, in North America and Europe the year 1816.

    I have since learned a bit more of historical trivia re that specific summer — if, o’course, it is true, the veracity of which I am only trusting of the person who yesterday told me thus: That very summer is the reason, I am so instructed, that we all have from Mr Mary Shelley, the daughter of Ms Mary Wollstonecraft, the novel Frankenstein. Ms Shelley and several of her young friends, with no screens nor other similar diversions yet holed up indoors cuz o’the horrid and non – ‘summery’ weather, challenged each other then with … … writing a novel.

    Or, as I said, so I am told.

    ps Darlingest lagniappe of a giraffe – babe, Dr Coyne.

  12. A very happy birthday Malgorzata, from Canada!

    I absolutely love the Hili dialogue – it gives me a laugh or a smile every day.

  13. Thank you all so much! Hili was very pleased that she was mentioned by many of you. She was even more pleased when she got a bowl of cream to mark the occasion.

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