Off-Topic On A Pilgrim’s Progress

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As it’s the Season of Good Cheer I thought I’d go off-topic today. I’ve been using the holiday to sort through my dad’s old books as I’m planning to arrange them on my new bookshelves. How wildly exciting – new bookshelves!

In fact many of these books were inherited from my great uncle, William Thwaites. Uncle Bill was a vicar in the North West of England, latterly in Lytham St Anne’s near Blackpool. Not surprisingly there’s a religious theme in a fair chunk of his reading material.

I’m fascinated by a miniature book in his collection, entitled The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Language of Scripture. It’s the cutest little thing. There’s no date or publisher name. Following a tiny two-page preface, the book comprises biblical quotations under headings relating to the full text of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, first published in 1678.

Uncle Bill bought an edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress published by The Book Society in London. Again, there’s no date but I’ve found a reference online that suggests it was published in 1874. So pretty old!

The little and large versions are pictured here. I expect he read the miniature while referring to the full volume.

Can anyone cast any light on this little book?

Fahrenheit 451: Midcentury Renway Bungalow

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I came across this quite by chance. My brother is visiting for Christmas and he showed me the wowhaus website for ‘interesting’ and retro properties. As I scrolled through the properties I was stunned to see Montag, hero of Fahrenheit 451. He’s shown walking out of his home – a midcentury Renway bungalow, recently for sale in Edgcumbe Park, Berkshire, UK.

This Renway bungalow must have been the last word in modernity when Francois Truffaut made his 1966 movie adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. Montag lived in a Type 60 property!

http://bit.ly/RUn829

Honey Bees’ Genetics Changed by Diet

Another fascinating genetics story, reported by BBC Science. I’m not sure I fully understand this (in fact, I don’t!) but it appears that bees undergo epigenetic changes based on what they are fed as larvae.

To be more specific, larvae fed on a pollen and nectar diet become worker bees whereas those fed royal jelly (served with a silver spoon, presumably) become queen bees.

Here’s one quote from the BBC report by Mark Kinver:

“The development of different bees from the same DNA in the larvae is one of the clearest examples of epigenetics in action – mechanisms that go beyond the basic DNA sequence,” said Mark Dickman from the University of Sheffield, co-author of a paper in Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

If I understand correctly, epigenetic changes can influence the growth of neurons in the developing brain. I had a brief scout around Wikipedia to see if epigenetic changes occur in humans. I learn that Meaney and Szyf, working at McGill University in Montréal in 2004, discovered that the type of mothering a rat receives in infancy determines how that rat responds to stress later in life.

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The first study that has directly linked epigenetic changes in human brain tissue to behavior involved post-mortem brains of people who committed suicide, half of whom had been abused as children.

Most of the online explanations of epigenetics are way too technical for me but I did find a lay explanation by blogger Philip Strange Science Writing. He discusses honey bees and then relates epigenetics to the development of human twins. Fascinating stuff: http://bit.ly/UTpvBe

Here’s Mark Kinver’s full report for BBC News:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20667948#

And one of several pages on Wikipedia about epigenetics:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_epigenetics

UK on the Brink of Gene Mapping Revolution?

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A new generation of UK genetic engineers will bring A Calculated Life and Jayna’s world closer to reality, with funding announced today for a £100M investment in DNA testing. Downing Street is unveiling plans to sequence the whole genone of 100,000 cancer patients. This major undertaking, according to No.10, will drive down the costs of genone sequencing in the UK.
The Chief Medical Officer talks today about the complex linkage between genes and lifestyle.
Lifestyle! Now that’s interesting. Is the long-term aim, for example, to encourage individuals to give up smoking because their DNA dictates they will definitely contract lung disease? Or could it work the other way around? Could our DNA be engineered so that addictive tendencies are eradicated. Imagine the savings for the NHS and imagine the temptation to take us down such a path.

Here’s a quote from Prof Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer,

Single gene testing is already available across the NHS ranging from diagnosing cancers to assessing patients’ risk of suffering side effects from treatment.

At the moment, these tests focus on diseases caused by changes in a single gene. This funding opens up the possibility of being able to look at the three billion DNA pieces in each of us so we can get a greater understanding of the complex relationship between our genes and lifestyle.

And here’s the nuts and bolts of today’s announcement:

Prime Minister David Cameron will today announce plans to transform cancer treatment in England with new proposals to introduce high-tech DNA mapping for cancer patients and those with rare diseases, within the NHS.

The UK will be the first country in the world to introduce the technology within a mainstream health system, with up to 100,000 patients over three to five years having their whole genome – their personal DNA code –sequenced.

The genome profile will give doctors a new, advanced understanding of a patient’s genetic make-up, condition and treatment needs, ensuring they have access to the right drugs and personalised care far quicker than ever before.

It will also help to develop life-saving new drugs, treatments and scientific breakthroughs, which experts predict could significantly reduce the number of premature deaths from cancer within a generation.

The Government has earmarked £100 million:

  • to train a new generation of British genetic scientists to lead on the development of new drugs, treatments and cures, building the UK as the world leader in the field. And train the  wider healthcare community in harnessing this technology
  • to pump-prime DNA sequencing for cancer and rare inherited diseases; and to build the NHS data infrastructure to ensure that this new technology leads to better care for patients.

 

Brave New World of Indie-Publishing: Curtis Brown takes plunge

How interesting is this? Very, I should say! Well known UK authors including Tony Parsons are allowing their literary agent Curtis Brown to ‘self-publish’ on their behalf in the US market. In effect, Curtis Brown is reinventing itself as a publisher – CB Creative Books – for these specific authors to help them break into the US market.

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Have a Say: Paperback Cover Design

One Final Decision is now needed before A Calculated Life goes to print. Yes, real ink on real paper. Almost quaint yet so thrilling! And I’m wondering which of these three designs to go for.

If you’d like a say in how my paperback looks then leave a comment, or tweet or send a message via facebook.

Front cover artwork by Mack Manning.

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Nassim N Taleb on the Source of All Blunders

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photo: Marcos Takamatsu

I’m so excited. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s follow-up to The Black Swan is now available in the UK – entitled Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don’t Understand. My hardback copy is winging its way to me. Hardback? Yes, I simply can’t wait for the paperback release. And I don’t want an eBook because I want to underline all the good bits (and the eBook costs more).

As I’ve mentioned before, The Black Swan – The Impact of the Highly Improbable was a goldmine resource when I wrote A Calculated Life. In a nutshell, if I dare, Taleb argues that people, corporations, financial institutions make serious blunders because they disregard highly improbable events. They concern themselves with the likely range of possibilities and make no allowance for so-called black swans – events they have not encountered before. Read more

Manchester: Climate Change Winner or Loser?

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Ah! It would be lovely, wouldn’t it – if Manchester and the north west of England emerged as the new Florence and Tuscany of Europe? Just imagine cypress trees and vineyards scattered among the Pennine foothills and the Cheshire Gap. In A Calculated Life, Mancunians have adapted to a hotter climate and the region’s agricultural patterns have shifted dramatically. Thus climate change forms a backdrop to the novel.

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In praise of novels without neat conclusions

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Here’s a great article in today’s Guardian Books Blog by Lee Rourke. I couldn’t agree more and I love novels with fractured narratives.
Here’s one point that Lee makes that I particularly like:

Life isn’t like the narratives that make up the majority of novels in circulation today, or like the well-rehearsed scenes we enjoy at the theatre, or in the movies. It’s more complicated than that: steeped in confusion, dead ends, blank spaces and broken fragments. It’s baffling at times, annoying and perpetually open-ended. We have no real way of predicting our future. So why do our novels have to tie all this stuff together, into a neatly packaged bundle of ready-made answers? Something doesn’t ring true.

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