Latest TTC course was Darwinian Revolution by Frederick Gregory. 24 lectures going through the impact of Darwin's theory. Concentrates mostly on the scientific story of how the theory of natural selection came to be accepted.
There was a flurry of interest at first, but then a period where it fell out of favour around the end of the Nineteenth century due to several problems. An incorrect dating of the age of the Earth, which did not account for radioactive heating, made Darwin's timescales look wrong. Without an understanding of the particulate nature of genes, there was a "blending" problem, where it looked like any small mutation would just be absorbed into the wider population as it became more and more diluted.
Darwin himself did not subscribe to the exclusive idea of natural selection: he thought there must be a small role for the inheritance of acquired characteristics.
So, for a surprising long time there was a tendency to see natural selection as not chiefly responsible for evolution, with some kind of Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics, or a orthogenetic theories with external forces causing steady changes.
Eventually though, the rediscovery of Mendel's work, and eventually the discovery of DNA, vindicated the idea that natural selection was the sole mechanism for evolution, apart from small mutations.
There are also a few lectures on the popular and religious impact of the theories. Interestingly, even US fundamentalists were not at first universally hostile to evolution, but gradually became so. In general, the very religious seem to find orthogenetic theories of directed evolution easier to accept than pure natural selection.
My own personal view is that I think Darwin is a bit overrated as a Big Idea theoretical guy, and underrated as a practical scientist. I think it's the convincing details he patiently amassed with his great knowledge as a naturalist that were the most important thing. He didn't invent the idea of evolution, which was well known. He emphasized natural selection, but he didn't have the idea that it was the sole mechanism of evolution. Science isn't just about great flashes of insight, it's about years and decades of patient investigation that eventually add up to something great.
Side Jobs by Jim Butcher is a collection of Dresden Files short stories, which I picked up in the library.
Oddly I had the impression that these were going to be mostly fan fiction, but I don't know where I got that from: they're all written by Jim Butcher, mostly for anthologies. Some of them cover little gaps in the books: one of the characters who turns up in Ghost Stories is explained a bit here.
I liked these a lot: after the angst and changes in the series lately, it's fun to have some more traditional Harry Dresden action.
Well worth reading if you like the series. Might even make a good introduction if you haven't read the novels: they were written to be standalone stories and you don't need to know the details of the complex world he's created.
Saw the Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I don't remember hearing of these guys, but they're actually very good. Early twentieth century painters, mostly concentrating on landscapes of the Canadian wilderness.
Have a kind of impressionist style, though they mostly worked in oils. There's a great sense of movement to the pictures of trees in storms, and some good colours.
Finally got around to seeing the Degas exhibition at the Royal Academy. Good, clever exhibition. Has a lot of great Degas paintings obviously. But also has some good animations showing the link between him and the photography of Muybridge, has a couple of Degas' experiments in photography.
In the room with the statue of the ballet dancer, it's in the centre surrounded with the sketches he took from every angle, so that he could construct the statue from sketches.
There's also an intriguing example of a kind of 19th Century 3D printer. Pictures were taken of a subject from every angle with multiple cameras, and then a pantograph was used to cut out clay to the photographed shape. It was finished by hand so it's hard to know how much of the final achievement was automatic and how much manual. It could be that it was mostly hand-sculpted and the machine was mostly a Mechanical Turk type gimmick.
Has the usual annoyances of the Royal Academy's snooty customer hostility of course. Even with a card you have to go through a complex booking procedure and then be redirected to three different queues to collect them.
Overall, good exhibition, worth seeing.
WFC post-mortem (spoilers)
Reasonably happy with my entry, Changes, though I dashed it out quite quickly.
Improvements: people didn't like the world "willy" for penis, but I couldn't think of an improvement. I thought "Penis" didn't really fit the down-to-earth narrator, "cock" and "dick" seemed a bit too crude.
I think maybe I should have made the protagonist more explicitly unpleasant. I was thinking of doing a scene with the drug dealer where he got a bit racist, but it seemed unnecessary at the time. Hopefully most people still got the main irony, that it's about someone who doesn't treat women like human beings, getting the comeuppance of a permanent estrangement from female human beings.
Was trying to give it a slightly dark undertone, but I think it came across as straight comedy, which was good enough.
For anyone who didn't get it: why OVD-1.
Video. Plane lands without front wheels.
Sci/Tech. Young people use noseless emoticons (Bah, youth of today, in my day we communicated properly).
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