Shell-shocked

I never had much time for memes. I've always seen the concept of memes (as opposed to some of the memes themselves) as a harmless bit of fun that has got a bit out-of-hand. But now I'm beginning to wonder:

Since the re-launch of the Friends of Charles Darwin website 2½ days ago, the number of new members joining has been truly phenomenal. It had taken 12 years to amass (if that's an appropriate word) the 415 members prior to Wednesday evening's relaunch. At the time of writing (07:15 on Saturday) there are now 727 members. That's a 75% increase in 2½ days. Like I said, phenomenal.

The reason for the incredible response is quite clear: two mentions on PZ Myers' hugely popular evolutionary weblog, Pharyngula. It was Peter McGrath from the the Beagle Project who tipped him off a few hours before the planned re-launch, and, within minutes of PZ's initial post, new members began to pour in thick and fast (no offence intended). Then, when PZ published a follow-up post (later picked up by Seed Magazine) the next day, all hell broke loose. I'm not kidding, I thought I was under some sort of denial-of-service attack: new membership applications were coming in so quickly, the system was struggling to cope. People were starting to get record-locking errors as two or more of them tried to join at exactly the same time (I had realised that this was a risk, but had decided it was so unlikely that it wasn't worth doing anything about it). Then I became part of the problem by trying to update the membership list while the new applications were still piling in. So I gave up and waited for things to calm down (i.e. for America to go to bed).

Two and a half days later, and I'm still feeling shell-shocked.

Anyway, welcome to the Friends of Charles Darwin, you lot! (And I use the word advisedly.)

Welcome to the Red Notebook

Why the Red Notebook?

Well, all weblogs need a name, and I wanted this one's to have a distinctly Darwinian ring to it:

The Red Notebook (as Darwin scholars refer to it) was the first in a series of notebooks that Darwin used to record and develop his thoughts on evolution. He began the notebook towards the end of his voyage aboard HMS Beagle. Initially, he used it simply for recording the ship's location and depth soundings, but, on returning to England, he filled its later pages with his early evolutionary musings. His subsequent notebooks contained much more information, but these are referred to as Notebook B, C, D etc.—which don't have quite the same ring to them.

So the Red Notebook it is!

In 2002, at home with a broken leg, I was invited to contribute an essay to a book being compiled in celebration of Darwin Day 2003. The essay (which I have published online for the first time today) encouraged people to become amateur scientists, exhorting readers (with new emphasis added) to:

Build yourself a slug-arium; count the spots on ladybirds; look for peppered moths on tree trunks; try to create a blue sweet pea; breed pigeons; find out whether male crustaceans ever fight for the females; look for seeds in bird pellets; try floating seeds in salt-water; keep a notebook; involve your friends; email people; read books; search the web; if you have a website, publish your findings (even if they're inconclusive).

… I thought it was about time I took my own advice.

I intend to use this latter-day Red Notebook to record my own thoughts and discoveries about Darwin, evolution, natural history, and related matters. I do not claim to be an expert in any of these fields, so I am sure I will make a few mistakes on the way. In fact, I hope I make a few mistakes on the way, for mistakes are an important part of (as another of my scientific heroes, Richard Feynman, put it) the pleasure of finding things out.

It should be fun.

Postscript: In July 2012, following a website revamp, I dropped the name The Red Notebook and started referring instead to The Friends of Charles Darwin blog. The name The Red Notebook was confusing people, and diluting the Friends of Charles Darwin brand.