Green Pencils, Sleeping Birds, and Aging Possums

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Ugh. Several days, pretty much day and night, going over the copy-edited Microcosm manuscript with a green pencil. I haven’t had any time to write any original blog posts–or even reply to most of my email. But I can at least point you to three articles of mine that went online while I was buried deep in dangling participles. Looking at them now, I see a common theme: comparison.

1. The Internet and E. coli. Some of the most intriguing papers I’ve read about E. coli while researching Microcosm came from an engineer. John Doyle is a control theory expert at CalTech who has spent lots of time over the years figuring out ways to make airplanes, helicopters, and other complicated machines stable. He’s been applying some of his ideas to new systems, like the Internet and E. coli. The ability that E. coli has to thrive despite times of famine, occasional hot flashes, and gene-crippling mutations, has a lot in common with the ability of the Internet to deliver this blog to you. I spent a couple days with John in Pasadena to find out about this connection, and more. The story that came out of it is in the November issue of Discover, which has just put it online.

2. Sleep, Little Birdie, Sleep. The New York Times just put together a special package of stories about sleep. My contribution is a follow-up on a 2005 article on sleep in other animals. This time I focused on new research on birds, which sleep a lot like us in some ways, and not so much in others. They’re masters of the ten-second power nap. Check it out.

3. The 150-Year-Old Baby. The people at Best Life, a men’s magazine, recently asked me to write an article about getting old. I was pleasantly surprised by their reaction to my first draft of the article: more science! he articles revolves around a bet two experts on aging have, that someone alive today is going to reach 150. Like my bird sleep article, the Best Life article pays close attention to what we can learn about human aging by comparing ourselves to other animals. I could have gotten into how E. coli gets old, tooE. coli gets old, too, but, hey, everything can’t be about E. coli….or maybe it can.