Darwin

Update, October 2012: After the voyage ended this year  –  or 1836, Beagle Time – I asked several people what I should do with the Twitter account. The response was unanimous: go round again.  I’d initially started tweeting just over a year into the voyage so there was a year not covered, and this time all the rest of the time would be covered by the database that held all the tweets. So we’re going round again. I’ve revamped the Facebook page too, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Facebook doesn’t mess about too much with its API.

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2009 was the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin Of Species. I’ve had an interest in Darwin since I  first read the Origin when I was a child, I’ve been to Down House, Darwin’s home for many years and now a museum, several times, Helen (my partner) teaches a course on evolution and I decided that it was high time Charles found his way onto Twitter.

Several people had already bagged Darwin-related names but cdarwin was free so @cdarwin I became, tweeting content from the Beagle Diary (and other journals, notes, essays, letters and books by him to fill in when he wasn’t too productive). At the time of writing, Charles is still on the eastern coast of South America, flitting about between southern Argentina, Tierra del Fuego and the Falklands. He’s getting quite fed up and looking forward to rounding  the Horn.

I load the tweets into an on-line  database periodically and then a cron job posts across to Twitter according to the current date and time so that the Tweets shadow the real world. When it’s the 5th of August here, it’s the 5th August on board ship, albeit 176 years in the past.

Shortly after setting up this automated tweeting I contacted Twitter and they permitted me to use the name TheBeagle for my tweeting client so that Tweets are apparently posted from TheBeagle. Twitter has recently changed the way client applications authenticate themselves to do this and although they’re not yet insisting that legacy applications use the new OAuth system, I’ve already created an OAuth-enabled client ready to deploy to my server.

I took to The Origin as soon as I read it and I’ve never accepted Darwin’s reputation for turgid prose. A whole new audience, responding to the humour, insight and imagination of the young Darwin as he begins to think about the marvellous, curious, and unexplained world he is circumnavigating  agrees with me, I think.