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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Cleopatra, Greeks and Egyptians

Cleopatra VII is perhaps the most famous woman in Western (and Middle Eastern and North African) history. Probably more has been written about her than any other woman, with the possible exception of  a few religious figures. Yet for all the works that have accumulated in the past two millennia, the early sources are sparse, incomplete, […]




Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Ultimate Turing Test

In the last post I looked at the Turing Test, which despite Turing’s intention has come to stand for the ultimate test of machine intelligence. But machine behavior that might have won what Turing called the “imitation game” in the 1950s would fail to impress anyone today. As computers and their packaging become more diffuse […]




Monday, August 17, 2015

The Turing Test Returns

Robots of all sorts, but especially humanoid robots that can pass the Turing Test, are making a strong comeback to popular awareness. Interest is signaled by a raft of articles, fiction and nonfiction books, TV shows, and movies, including excellent ones like Spike Jonze’s Her, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, and Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game […]




Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Deep Rhythms of Writing

  My previous post concerned the desperate writer (otherwise known as “you”) grappling with a first draft. I focused on two how-to-write books with shared values but quite different approaches: Bird After Bird, by Anne Lamott, and Several Short Sentences About Writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg. The two have radically different styles but a common regard for […]




Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sentence by Sentence, Another Way to Write

  I stumbled over a random, breathless paragraph in the pages of the July 27 issue of the New Yorker. It was a trap. Writers tumble into this story, and then they plummet. I have always supposed this to be because Gould suffered from hypergraphia. He could not stop writing. This is an illness, a […]




Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Nonexistent Paradoxes of Time Travel

Apparently the first story to hint at the paradoxes of time travel was Edward Page Mitchell’s “The Clock that Went Backward,” which appeared in a New York newspaper, The Sun, in 1881. Most of the action takes place in Leyden, the Netherlands, where a 300-year-old clock made by one Jan Lipperdam sends the narrator, his […]




Thursday, July 09, 2015

Blast from the Past

The USS Independence survived World War II and two A-bomb blasts before it was scuttled near the Farallon Islands in 1951. In 1946, in the joint army/navy Operation Crossroads, the navy had assembled more than ninety vessels at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, ostensibly to test the effects of atomic weapons on ships. Another […]




Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Evolving Language: Conservatives versus Radicals

  In his 1985 book The English Language, Robert Burchfield calls the era of frequent changes in pronunciation, usage, and the coinage of new words that started in the late eighteenth century “the period of disjunction.” Disjunction was going strong when Burchfield, a long-time editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, died in 2004, and it […]




Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tangled Up in Quanta

Quantum entanglement is easy to describe but not easy to understand. It plays a key role in my novel Secret Passages, newly reissued by Discover Books, and is crucial to the theory developed by my protagonist, Manolis Minakis, that allows him to look deep into his own past. (Yes, that last part is fiction. Maybe). Thornton […]




Friday, June 19, 2015

Relaunch

More than an excuse, I’ve been given a directive to reactivate my blog, update my website, and generally show up for duty on social media, starting now. The occasion is the reissue of four novels by Diversion Books, an innovative new publisher with a strong position in digital publishing and plans for more. The big […]