So far the most-asked question regarding this blog has been, "How the hell do I add an FAQ?" but now that I've solved that little riddle, I'll go ahead and anticipate some of the questions I'm likely to get until some actual ones are asked.
What's your blog's title a reference to?
It's a play on the title of Darwin's follow-up to Origin of Species, called The Descent of Man, in which he took that risky leap and explicitly linked his concept of natural selection to the origin of human beings. And "dissent" is having a contrary opinion. Just to be clear, my dissent is not with descent; ie, I am not a denier of evolution by natural selection. I'm a proponent of natural selection, and I have a lot of other dissenting opinions about a variety of things, like religion and politics and cheese.
What are the images in the background of the header?
It's a sketch of the tree of life from the notebook of Charles Darwin himself while he was in the process of elucidating the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection. So, pretty neat. The map is one from 1758, which I found at antiqueprints.com
Who is that unsettling fellow at the right of the header and in some of the posts?
That's Reginald, the Professor. He's an awkward intellectual doofus who constantly finds himself in the unlikeliest of situations and is always being forced to come to terms with the depressing nature of his own existence.
No, I'm not kidding, that picture is really freaking me out. Is that an actual human being?
It's actually me, sort of. I have these googly eyes that I made out of two halves of a ping pong ball and a black sharpie, and also a pretty pliable face. Not that pliable, though; it's been edited. I think the photo in question is from Thanksgiving dinner a couple years ago, taken by my mother. She was too ashamed by my ugly to post it on the internet, but I did, and also fooled around with the bulge effect. When I sucked it all into the center and created a pin-headed doofus with giant hair I was very pleased, and decided that what he really needed was a moustache and monocle. And from that Reginald was born.
What are the critters featured in the header?
Starting from the left of Reginald, they're based on a gibbon, a shrew, a salamander, a fish, and a sea squirt. They're meant to roughly outline the branches of vertebrate evolution leading up to human beings.
What's a sea squirt?
Also called tunicates, they are tiny little filter feeders stuck in place under the ocean. Many folks would barely recognize them as animals, but they are in fact relevant to human evolutionary lineage. The adult forms basically have these two nozzles--intake and output--and spend their little lives circulating water through themselves and nomming on the bits floating in it. But, interestingly enough, in their larval stage they resemble a tadpole and can swim around until they find a good place to spend their adult life. What happened at some point along the way is that some creatures similar to modern tunicates decided they didn't want to grow up, and carried their larval body plan into adulthood, a phenomenon called neotony. Thus their juvenile, tadpole-like morphology became the basis for the body plans of the earliest fish ancestors and fish themselves. And of course the fish body plan became the basis for that of the tetrapods (four-limbed land animals), including amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. I thought it'd be good to include a tunicate in my poorly-drawn lineage because most folks don't have any idea what came between single-celled organisms and fish, and while the tunicates of course don't provide nearly the whole story, hopefully finding out about them has been a bit enlightening for you (I know it was for me the first time someone bothered to mention them).
Do you often provide such unnecessarily verbose answers to simple questions?
How often do you update the blog?