Malcolm's Blog & Notes

The Devil Within

In developing the background for the HMS Challenger Expedition, 1872 - 1876, I have been reading Science and Industry in the Nineteenth Century (1953), by J.D. Bernal. As a student years ago I read his Science in History, and, as it happens, his son attended the same school as me (A.S. Neill's Summerhill). Bernal was one of the leading pioneers of X-Ray Crystallography that was later to reveal the molecular architecture of DNA. And Yes, for those of you who remember his name, he was an outspoken member of the British Communist Party.

Stupid loons

There seem to be some strange differences in American and Canadian usage of words! Desperately trying to find keywords that would lead a search to this website, as a last ditch effort I thought I would try some weird and more or less meaningless phrase, so I put in "stupid loons." When I later searched that expression I was horrified to find the return was a series of angry, abusive sites. I was glad my website wasn't among them! Apparently for many Americans all "liberals" are loons and consequently, by necessity, stupid.

Edward Forbes: Father of Oceanography and a Forgotten Naturalist

Edward Forbes was born 1815 in Douglas, Isle of Man. He died 1854 in Edinburgh from an unspecified illness -- probably complications following repeated bouts of malaria.

Edward Forbes and the "azoic" zone

Before the Challenger Expedition (1872-1876) there was a wdiely held belief that the depths of the oceans were azoic, zero life, zones. In fact, before the Challenger set sail, there was good reason to doubt this belief. None the less, the idea persisted and one of the stated objectives of the Expedition was to determine if there was a dead zone at any depth at all.

Marine Animal Die-off in Bay of Fundy

Over the past few weeks a massive mortality event has hit marine organisms in the Bay of Fundy. I am relying principally on CBC on-line posts for the following information.

The first report came in November 26, 2016, when "...scores of herring..." were washed ashore in St. Mary's Bay, near Digby, Nova Scotia. Surveying the coast with his students, Shawn Craik, a professor of biology, found 8 dead fish per metre square. That translates to many thousands of fish along the 20 km of shore line involved.

A Lament for 2016

I am discouraged and despondent. I published my first book this year and it has flown like the proverbial lead balloon. I wouldn't go so far as saying I am depressed, that stretches it a bit. But I am certainly disappointed. At the time of publication I was told "You have done the easy part: now you must sell your book." My friend Houman suggests that will be like everything else: 10% book, 90% salesmanship!

Who's for Squid and Chips?

A recent report noted the continued decline of North Sea cod (Gadus morhua) and the penetration of European squid (Loligo vulgaris) into the North Sea.  The report speculates on the demise of the iconic Fish & Chips -- Britain's greatest (some would say only) contribution to international cuisine.

I must go down to the sea again...

Over the last several weeks I have been a bit distracted and off course. When I started this blog I said that I didn't know what would go into it -- and still don't. But I was not thinking of contemporary politics and environmental issues.

The original idea was to use it as a sort of notepad or journal for stuff I was reading, with my next project in mind. That project might, eventually, become a book about the history of oceanography and marine biology.


A recent news item made me think (not for the first time) about our sorry stewardship of this planet. When you look at some of the huge things that were once beyond our power to damage, the record is pretty bleak. I have chosen three Fs as representative: ocean FISH have succumbed to over exploitation and pollution; UV penetration of the atmosphere is way up because FREON (CFCs) destroys the protective ozone layer; and now FRACKING is causing earthquakes. Land, sea and air are under attack! Is humankind puny or promethean?


An Open Letter to My Brother About Donald Trump