25 September 2012

Bendy-camouflage robot

Very cool bit of tech, bendy-camouflage robot. It's been a little since a tech post - and this I couldn't resist.

Now you see it ..... Disappearing ... gone.

Well, virtually, the video jumped before I got the final picture. It also glows in the dark if the researchers want it to. It was inspired by the camouflage skills of sea creatures such as octopuses, cuttlefish and squid.

Professor George Whitesides, an author of the paper, said: "Conventional robotics is a pretty highly developed area, and if you look at various robots you find that most are basically built on the body plan of a mammal. Our question is: Why do you have to do that? Why not think about organisms that are soft, that might have quite different structures and ways of moving and strategies for camouflage. And the obvious place to look is underwater."

Very cool, Professor, very cool.I image the uses for something like this, with it's squidgy body and can squeeze places and change color, are innumerable, even my fertile writer's brain can't keep up :)

18 September 2012

Are paper books sacrosanct?

I was reading Dear Author the other day and they had an item with the title above. Apparently there was a Youtube item where Lauren Conrad showed how to hollow out a book to make a small storage space. The video was removed after the outcry over defacing books.

Use the ruler to get rid of that pesky bump, then simply glue the pages to the back cover.I have a confession to make - I'm one of those terrible defacers. Several years ago I thought they would make a fun gift.

A place to hide billet-doux from boyfriends, or perhaps a back-up weapon should any of the recipients decide to become a spy.

My first attempt was a complete failure. I got hold of a tatty book that looked ready for the trash - a good practice book I thought. It was on a topic in which I had no interest. Yes, you've guessed it, I ended up getting distracted and reading the darn thing and now it lives on my shelves.

My second attempt was more successful. I felt far less guilt destroying a Readers Digest Condensed book. My gifts were made, I even lined the hollow with velvet (prettier that way).

So are print books sacrosanct? Well, I guess it's quite clear that to me they're not. However, I certainly felt guilt destroying them. Not only that, but I'll have to add a caveat and say, it very much depends on the book. If a caviler attitude to book was taken, where wold all the wonderful old books we have now be?

As for future generations, with the rising prevalence of the eBook, I've no idea how they will view hte paper book at all....

11 September 2012

Author-on-author insult action

Authors should have a gift for words, but sometimes they turn that gift on other authors.
Here's a snippet from a list of the 30 harshest author-on-author insults in history:

30. Gustave Flaubert on George Sand
“A great cow full of ink.”

28. Friedrich Nietzsche on Dante Alighieri
“A hyena that wrote poetry on tombs.”

27. Harold Bloom on J.K. Rowling (2000)
“How to read ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’? Why, very quickly, to begin with, and perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do.”

26. Vladimir Nabokov on Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Dostoevky’s lack of taste, his monotonous dealings with persons suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic misadventures of human dignity — all this is difficult to admire.”

23. H. G. Wells on George Bernard Shaw
“An idiot child screaming in a hospital.”

22. Joseph Conrad on D.H. Lawrence
“Filth. Nothing but obscenities.”

18. Ralph Waldo Emerson on Jane Austen
“Miss Austen’s novels . . . seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer . . . is marriageableness.”

16. Charles Baudelaire on Voltaire (1864)
“I grow bored in France — and the main reason is that everybody here resembles Voltaire…the king of nincompoops, the prince of the superficial, the anti-artist, the spokesman of janitresses, the Father Gigone of the editors of Siecle.”

14. Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner
“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

8. Elizabeth Bishop on J.D. Salinger
“I HATED [Catcher in the Rye]. It took me days to go through it, gingerly, a page at a time, and blushing with embarrassment for him every ridiculous sentence of the way. How can they let him do it?”

5. Evelyn Waugh on Marcel Proust (1948)
“I am reading Proust for the first time. Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective.”

4. Mark Twain on Jane Austen (1898)
“I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

3. Virginia Woolf on James Joyce
“[Ulysses is] the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.”

2. William Faulkner on Mark Twain (1922)
“A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”

1. D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce (1928)
“My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

Extras from the comments:
Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman:
“Every word she writes is a lie, including the ands and the thes.”

Mark Twain on Jane Austen:
Just the omission of Jane Austen’s books alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it.

William Hazlitt on Coleridge: “everlasting inconsequentiality marks all he does.

04 September 2012

Why read fiction?

Why read fiction? ... well, forget escapism or relaxation, clearly the best reason is the health benefits. Yes,  that's right the health benefits :) We all knew it was good for you, of course, but now science is joining the party. I'm to share some snippets from an article that I rather enjoyed...

"... new support for the value of fiction is arriving from an unexpected quarter: neuroscience.
Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.
      Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells. ... 
     The way the brain handles metaphors has also received extensive study; some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. ... however, a team of researchers from Emory University reported in Brain & Language that when subjects in their laboratory read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active. Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not.
      Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas. In a study led by the cognitive scientist VĂ©ronique Boulenger, of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements. ...
    ... The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.
The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. ...
   ... Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, performed an analysis of 86 fMRI studies, published last year in the Annual Review of Psychology, and concluded that there was substantial overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and the networks used to navigate interactions with other individuals — in particular, interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others. Scientists call this capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions “theory of mind.” Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers. ...
   ... These findings will affirm the experience of readers who have felt illuminated and instructed by a novel, who have found themselves comparing a plucky young woman to Elizabeth Bennet or a tiresome pedant to Edward Casaubon. Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined."

Read the whole article here.