Sunday, June 27, 2010


My two month hiatus probably deserves an explanation, and enough has been going on in my life that it's worth bringing those of you who haven't heard about it up-to-date. For the last several years I've been primarily consulting on Zocalo, my open source prediction market software. In December, my two clients both let me know that their grants had run out, and they couldn't continue to pay me, so I started looking for a job. That occupied a lot of my time for the next few months, though I was able to keep writing reviews.

Then in early April, my father, Richard Tudor Hibbert, passed away. I spent a fair amount of time over the next week preparing to display some of his art that I had started organizing over the last year or so. At the service I ran a continuous loop of more than 100 of his paintings, watercolors, pastels, and sketches. I spoke briefly at the services (as did my brother Mike and my father's brother Robert).

Once I was back in California after the services, I continued interviewing, and got a job offer from Google shortly thereafter. I've been hard at work at Google since the beginning of May (when the hiatus began), and have been setting up a blog for my father's art, (the name was his personalized license plate for many years, and is a play on his initials and his earth-covered home) and preparing posts for it every other day or so. That's what I've been up to. If you like the art I've posted there so far, I encourage you to keep tracking it, because there's much more coming. I'm hopeful that my time is more in control by now, and that my writing for will return to its normal (irregular) pace.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Microcosmos: Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan

Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan's Microcosmosis a recapitulation of the history of evolution of microbes and how it affects us. The work that Margulis & Sagan report on also led to an article at that produced a quote I've been using as one of my email signatures.

All sensory cells [in all animals] have in common the presence of ... cilia [with a constant] structure. It provides a strong argument for common ancestry. The common ancestor ... was a spirochete bacterium.

The copyright date is 1986. A lot has been learned about evolution and microbes since then. Even so, this book is a good introduction to the subject; it's very readable and has lots of detail that is still accepted. The story starts with the very beginnings of life on earth, and is always connected to its affect on how our biology works now:

As we examine ourselves as products of symbiosis over billions of yeaaar, the supporting evidence of our multimicrobe ancestry becomes overwhelming. Our bodies contain a veritable history of life on Earth. Our cells maintain an environment that is carbon- and hydrogen-rich, like that of the Earth when life began. They live in a medium of water and salts like the composition of the early seas.

The presentation is ordered chronologically, starting with the formation of stars and planets, proceeding through the cooling of the earth and the formation of the first entities that could reproduce reliably, the invention of sex and the alternative means of exchanging genetic information, and the change in composition of Earth's atmosphere to something that supported oxygen breathers and was toxic to their precursors. That takes us through the first 3.5 Billion years of the history of the earth, and all of the evolution of macroscopic life occupies the most recent 500 Million years. The emergence of cells, multi-cellular life, and then plants and animals follows, but the microbes are still around and still affecting both metabolism and evolution.

Margulis & Sagan provide a very readable introduction to modern microbiology and modern thinking about evolution. There are certainly more recent books that cover the details of the modern understanding in more detail, but this is a good overview and doesn't miss much that's important.