Category Archives: Poetry


on the surface, it’s hip and winking nostalgia, but on the inside, it’s a sincere, desperately passionate, gut-level urge to affirm that our childhood had value

in the ache of this impossible, inescapable present

— where — in — the — world — is —

today, we are making gourmet

the only training I’ve had for this situation was writing a science fiction novel

My Year in Publications

This is, apparently, a time for reflection. What have I been up to?

And so this is Korrasmas
Things have been Done
Kuvira is fallen
A new ‘ship just begun

We all knew it

Well, other than watching cartoons?

At the very beginning of 2014, I posted a substantial revision of “Eco-Evolutionary Feedback in Host–Pathogen Spatial Dynamics,” which we first put online in 2011 (late in the lonesome October of my most immemorial year, etc.).

In January, Chris Fuchs and I finished up an edited lecture transcript, “Some Negative Remarks on Operational Approaches to Quantum Theory.” My next posting was a solo effort, “SIC-POVMs and Compatibility among Quantum States,” which made for a pretty good follow-on, and picked up a pleasantly decent number of scites.

Then, we stress-tested the arXiv.

By mid-September, Ben Allen, Yaneer Bar-Yam and I had completed “An Information-Theoretic Formalism for Multiscale Structure in Complex Systems,” a work very long in the cooking.

Finally, I rang in December with “Von Neumann was Not a Quantum Bayesian,” which demonstrates conclusively that I can write 24 pages with 107 references in response to one sentence on Wikipedia.

Maxwell’s Atlantic Telegraph

Hearing about what broke the Falcon 1 rocket made me think of a poem I once heard, a poem by James Clerk Maxwell — yes, he of the Maxwell Equations. Called “The Song of the Atlantic Telegraph Company,” it was written to honour a transatlantic telegraph cable, or rather the failure of said cable to work. Maxwell’s friend William Thomson was an engineering consultant to Atlantic Telegraph, and when Maxwell heard that the cable-layers had failed to follow Thomson’s advice and thereby snapped their cable, he was inspired to versify.

(When the next attempt to lay a cable worked, Thomson became Lord Kelvin, and his name lives on in the Kelvin scale, which measures temperatures in units the size of Celsius degrees but starting at absolute zero.)

“List to the new words to a common song,” Maxwell wrote to a friend, “which I conceived on the railway to Glasgow. As I have only a bizzing, loose, interruption-to-talking- &-deathblow-to-general-conversation-memory of the orthodox version, I don’t know if the metre is correct; but it is some such rambling metre anyhow, and contains some insignificant though apparently treasonable remarks in a perfect thicket of vain repetitions.” For the sake of efficiency, Maxwell introduced the notation “2(u)” for the refrain, “Under the sea, under the sea.”


Mark how the telegraph motions to me,
Signals are coming along,
With a wag, wag, wag;
The telegraph needle is vibrating free,
And every vibration is telling to me
How they drag, drag, drag,
The telegraph cable along,
Continue reading Maxwell’s Atlantic Telegraph

The Bystander

Dammit, people, stop giving me opportunities to post poetry.

On my soul a deep infection preyed,
A burden cold of contradiction laid
Upon my heart so fickle and so weak,
That from my path I almost strayed

And in a flamewar nearly took a part!
Never can I end what others choose to start,
So learned I did the proper time to speak
And when to silent case my verbal dart,

For when the bloggers act like drama queens,
And trick like idols dying to be seen,
No matter what the course I seek
I only worse the dismal scene!

But perhaps I can not-quite-waste my time
If I turn to slapdash meter and obtrusive rhyme. . . .

(Originally posted at the Cuttlefish’s place.)

Boy Seeks Razorgirl

I hereby establish a new tradition: when too much of the Internet (or the parts thereof which I follow regularly) seems to have switched into Whiny Drama Queen mode, I will post a poem. I wrote the first octet of this one while trapped in a particularly dreadful meeting, and I finished it during a recent flirtation with insomnia.


She slows her heart while on a sniper run
And fires between the beats for steady aim;
She kills with art and grace and flechette gun,
With wire and shuriken mere doll or dame
Could never wield with such finality —
Her curves machined so men will trembling faint
False pleasure yield and sketch carnality
By siren sheen and most alluring paint.
My ghost was trapped within her cunning maze
When first we crossed upon the seething Net
Where console cowboys jack their country ways
And flatline burns the ICE as black as jet.
Her Jarvik I now set my cap to win,
For she who stands alone let all begin.


National Poetry Month is almost over — and we’ve survived! To honor the occasion, here is Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the U. S. and A.


Smokey the Bear heads
into the autumn woods
with a red can of gasoline
and a box of wooden matches.

His ranger’s hat is cocked
at a disturbing angle.

His brown fur gleams
under the high sun
as his paws, the size
of catcher’s mitts,
crackle into the distance.

He is sick of dispensing
warnings to the careless,
the half-wit camper,
the dumbbell hiker.

He is going to show them
how a professional does it.

Shall I Be Plain?

At the most recent Boston meeting of Skeptics in the Pub, after Mike the Mad Biologist had given his talk, the conversation split up into different corners of the room. Over at my end, I recall, we were having a chill discussion about cartoons and the strange people one can find beside Los Angeles freeways, while across the way, the far side of the Asgard’s backroom developed into a fierce argument over something-or-other. When we chanced to look in their direction, our impression was that our fellow skeptics had staged an impromptu performance of Richard III. The fellow sitting in the throne-like chair surveying the debate with interest and cool decision no doubt added to the effect.

Whenever you get a bunch of science enthusiasts together in a bar, they start talking Shakespeare. It’s happened twice already, so it must be a rule. And it was with this rule on my mind that I happened to search the Internet today, looking for something else and finding this video instead. Now, we no longer need to imagine what Peter Sellers would sound like doing Laurence Olivier doing Richard III doing “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Now, we know.

Bensteinian Rhapsody

BPSDBVia John Lynch comes MartinC’s “Bensteinian Rhapsody.” (For the tune, try here.) The part right after the guitar solo is my favorite, so here it is, with extra links for added value:

I’ve got a little animation of a cell,
When in haste, copy paste, yes indeed that was the plan, though —
Copyright infringement lawsuit noose is tightening on me —
Sternberg’s ethics, (they’re a shocker)
How ‘bout Crocker, (off her rocker)
And what to say of Guillermo? Guillermo-oh-oh-oh
I’m without tenure, and nobody loves me
He’s just a headcase, embarrassing his faculty —
Spare us the whines of this mediocrity —
Please I pray — on my soul, Will you make it so —
Guillermo! No—, we will not make it so — make it so —
Guillermo! No—, we will not make it so — make it so —
Guillermo! we will not make it so — make it so
Will not make it so — make it so
Will not make it so — make it so
No,no,no,no,no,no,no —
That Eugenie, she’s a meanie, but there’s much worse godless foe!
Beelzebub sent Dick Dawkins and his friend, PeeeeZeeee — PeeeeZeeee, PeeeeZeeeeeeee!

A Word from the Cuttlefish

Only the rarest of authors can demolish the “Two Cultures” divide within a single phrase, conjoining a scientific education with the “classical” like two strands of DNA (or like Baucis and Philemon, take your pick). One such author is The Digital Cuttlefish.

When reinventing history
It’s best to keep the mystery;
If witnesses are noticed, it is best to take them out.
And although the act is telling,
You’d be better off expelling
Doctor Myers, if you see him, just because the man’s a lout.
You see, PZ is a witness
To the movie’s lack of fitness—
He is one selection pressure that would render it extinct.
So, with “WANTED!” posters printed,
To the cinema they sprinted,
And they passed around the mugshots just as soon as they were inked.
The policemen, at the ready,
Kept the ticket-takers steady
While they watched with eyes like eagles for the devil in disguise.
Yes! They spotted Dr. Myers,
Looking just like in their fliers!
The policemen, quite correctly, gave the doctor a surprise.
When they said he’d be arrested
If their actions he protested,
He complied at once (that should have raised suspicions, don’t you think?)
Once his actions had been thwarted
And he left the line, escorted,
Looking back to his companion in the line, he gave a wink….
So this little movie trip is
Like a Trojan Eohippus
That delivered Richard Dawkins deep within the fortress walls
I can’t wait to read the story
Of the battle and the glory—
Cos the trailer to this feature shows the hero’s got some balls!


It’s a good thing we’ve got the Cuttlefish, because a world which has gone this mad deserves a poet.


I’m taking off for a few days — got to finish writing some other things, and all — so here’s a poem.


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Henry V, Act 4, Scene 1

But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath
a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and
arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join
together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at
such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a
surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind
them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their
children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die
well that die in a battle; for how can they
charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their
argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it
will be a black matter for the king that led them to
it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of