Last chance to see – Don’t panic and don’t forget your towel!

Today is Towel day to commemorate the inspiring work and life of Douglas Adams.

When I read the “Hitchikers guide to the galaxy“, it had a profound effect on me: The idea to think of life on earth as a program was fun, a bit unsettling and seemed completely spaced-out. However, after several years in close contact with experimental and theoretical aspects in the life sciences the concept of “life as computation” does not seem that farfetched anymore. Just consider the picture of the theoretical basis of all computation, the universal turing machine and compare it to the schematic drawing of one of the most central molecules in life, the ribosome: they do look very much alike! Not only the ribosome but several other central molecular complexes could be described as state-machines, reading input from one “tape” and producing their output on another tape in a different alphabet.

Douglas Adams was most proud of his book “Last chance to see” – although this is not the most popular of his works. After reading this account of his travels with zoologist Mark Carwardine to meet species around the globe which are on the brink of extinction it became my favourite Adams book – it’s not as hillarious as the HHGTTG, but has a more sincere tone to it. After all, we are talking about (human-made) extinction here.

Linked above is a talk he gave at UCSB (recorded shortly before his death) on the book- I’ve watched it numerous times and love every bit of it. So today is a good opportunity to watch it again, enjoy the wonderful storytelling and titillating humor and share it … His wit about computers, life and the universe is thoroughly missed on this planet.


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