Under the cellular hood

I have been a fan of David Goodsell’s biology illustrations ever since I came across an article of his in American Scientist a few years ago. Drawings in molecular biology tend to be schematic and reductionist in the extreme, simple diagrams depicting only a few things. But there’s nothing clean and schematic inside a real cell. Goodsell is almost alone in his efforts to depict the inside of a cell as the crazy jumble it is. He’s just posted a new illustration to his website, a big new triptych watercolor called Macrophage and Bacterium. We don’t yet know what it truly “looks like” inside a living cell, but this is an inspired (and beautiful) attempt.

Goodsell has written a couple of books, both of which I highly recommend. Our Molecular Nature: The Body’s Motors, Machines and Messages and The Machinery of Life. The hallmark of his writing is a lucid, high level approach that avoids jargon and gets at first principles. I also appreciate minor touches like explaining that the amino acid asparagine was actually named after asparagus.

Wikipedia grows like Topsy

Here’s an article from the Guardian by Ben Hammersley about the ever-growing Wikipedia: Guardian Unlimited | Common knowledge. The Wikipedia, you will recall, is an experiment from the wild edges of the informational commons. Change any page you want. Add any section you want. I fixed a typo on the Guy Fawkes page. It was very satisfying. The Wikipedia has been such a hit, that they’ve launched a Wiktionary to go with it. What next? I think a WikiBible (too late!) or some other such bric-a-brac sacred text would be excellent. There is no distinction between the sacred and the profane in the land of Wiki.

Incidentally, have you ever wondered where the phrase “grow like Topsy” comes from? It derives from the character Topsy in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Merriam-Webster site has a nice description as part of its Word for the Wise site. To grow like Topsy is to grow “wild, with neither plan, structure, nor direction.”

Incidentally, have you ever wondered if incidental remarks like the preceding ones are going to vanish into the Googlesphere? Behind the guise of clever instruction, all I did was report the results of a Google search on an unfamiliar phrase. You could have done the same thing. Why did I bother? Does a be-googled, wiki-fied world stifle conversation or promote it? Does the net bring us closer together or send us farther apart? I’m fairly certain it doesn’t stop me from rambling.

Happy Groundhog Day

groundhog-small.gifI don’t know what your weather was like today, but it was overcast and bleak here. No shadows were cast by man or beast. If the marmot’s prognostications are to be believed, winter is thereby curtailed. Whether or not the predictions are correct, I have a peculiar fondness for Groundhog Day. It is an occasion worth marking: the beginning of the end of winter. We are halfway through now, the days are lengthening quickly, and every step from now on brings us out of the cellar rather than taking us deeper into it.

Groundhog Day is also when you are reminded (as we did five years ago on this very site) to remove, destroy, or vandalize any remaining Christmas decorations that still limply and lamely decorate your neighborhood. Remember: it’s always appropriate, but it’s only illegal if you get caught.