08:52 – For about 20 years, I’ve been ordering bulk pipe tobacco from Craig Tarler at Cornell & Diehl. I order five pounds at a time, which lasts me a few months. I store the gallon ziplock bags in the freezer. So, the other day I finished off a bag and pulled a new bag out of the freezer. It felt light, so I tossed it on the shipping balance, which indicated only 14.4 ounces. The empty bag with label weighed 0.5 ounces, so that meant there was only 13.9 ounces of tobacco in the bag, more than 2 ounces short. The remaining bags weighed 15.1, 14.8, and 15.3 ounces.
I’ve been dealing with Craig for 20 years, since soon after he opened his business in 1990, so it never even crossed my mind that the shortage was intentional. I figured his balance must be miscalibrated, so I called yesterday and asked to speak with Craig. He wasn’t available, so I told the guy who’d answered the phone about the problem. He apologized profusely and said they’d ship replacement tobacco. I thought no more about it.
Then, this morning, I fished an email out of my trash folder. It was a forwarded message saying that Craig had died recently. Wow. I’d never met Craig, and spoke to him on the phone only every few months, but it still feels like I’ve lost a friend. Craig was never in a hurry when I spoke to him. We’d finish our business in the first couple minutes, and then talk for 10 or 15 minutes more about stuff in general. Craig was the last blending tobacconist left in the United States. He had thousands of individual customers like me, who ordered their pipe tobacco directly from C&D. He also supplied most of the independent tobacconists in the US, both with his standard blends and with custom blends made only for them. He produced many fine tobaccos, and was a wonderful person. He’ll be missed.
16:31 – Like many scientists, I’ve tried to take some time today to look over the results released yesterday by the ENCODE group. I’m seldom overwhelmed and intimidated by a new science paper, but this group of 30 related papers is difficult to take in, to say the least. Someone said this was the greatest breakthrough in genomics in 20 years, which I don’t think exaggerates the importance of this work.
Briefly, this massive project relates to so-called “junk DNA”, which I’ve always preferred to think of as “dark DNA”. It always seemed presumptuous to me to assume that because we don’t know what some parts of the genome do they must do nothing at all. Some evidence that that is not the case has been around for 20 years, and every year there’s more added. Until now, things related to dark DNA were murky, to say the least. This consortium of scientists has at least opened the door to starting to understand what dark DNA does. Until now, we’ve known that small parts of dark DNA–it was never really very clear which small parts–had a bearing on many things that are not well understood. Still, the assumption remained that the vast majority of dark DNA was just flotsam in the genome. As of now, we have strong evidence that the majority of “junk DNA” is anything but. It appears that at least 80% of what most people formerly called junk DNA is in fact biologically functional and important. Which begs the question, if 80% is important, why not assume that all or nearly all is equally important.
This really is a breakthrough, with potential implications for everything from cancer to Alzheimers to many other diseases that have genetic components. The work hasn’t really yet begun, but at least these scientists have shown us good places to start looking. Now, if we only had enough scientists working on all of the potential paths.