Friday, May 31, 2013

FutureBook Workshop

Yesterday I went through what I now think of as Huguenot territory.  I swept past Fournier Street and glimpsed Christchurch as a tower between rooftops, but had no time to stop since I was only just in time for the FutureBook Innovation Workshop at the LBi Offices.

The workshop was one of the best I'd ever encountered - each presentation had something interesting to offer, but a couple of events left me especially optimistic for the future and chimed with what I am trying to do at the moment.

There was a presentation by Dan Franklin called Black Crown (written by Rob Sherman), which is a web-based book.  Entering it briefly, I am reminded of Jeff Van der Meer's Ambergris and also the classic shamanic wanderings from the underworld.  I became a worm.   I chose to have female gametes but I could have elected to have none at all, and I came upon a room in which there was a murdered pig.  Briefly, I wondered at what had caused its wounds and then found myself examining them at depth.  I didn't feel hooked as much as sucked in... by something with suckers on each of its six legs (maybe I have indeed been reading just a little too much about the arthropod infestations of silkworms).  So I came out, but already I am wondering what is going on in that dingy world while I am not in it.

That was just the start.  Looking through the programme I realise each speaker brought something unusual and exciting.  I liked Julian McCrea's description of Portal Entertainment's project which aimed to make customised movie recommendations based on the 'thrill factor' response of the client's face to a couple of sample movie clips.  This led on to The Craftsman, a five day thriller for iOS and Android. Jodie Mullish described Pan Macmillan's campaign on Faceook to include reader's stories to support the publication of Ken Follet's Winter of the World, while Cate Cannon gave an appealing presentation about Canongate's first foray into children's fiction and the Wildwood Story Map as an app.

The day finished with looking at a series of post-digital innovations with Tim Wright's experiment in literature and a box that told poetry in specific locations, Alyson Fielding demonstrated a book that talked back, and Lucy Heywood described an installation in Bristol that involved a book responding to the reader with sound and pictures.

Half way through Bobette Buster showing how successful movies use the art of storytelling.  It was a particular highlight of the afternoon.  Some of us had Bobette Buster's book Do/Story in our goody bags.  If it's anything as good as her lecture, I shall read carefully.

A recurring theme was the importance of good story telling - technology is nothing without this  - and, as Sophie Rochester pointed out in her closing summary, the recurring question was 'What do we call this stuff?'  It may seem a trivial detail but it is an important one to resolve for marketing because people want to know what they're buying and how to tell it to their friends.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Memories of a Starfish

I came across an interesting open access paper by Martha R. Weiss, Douglas J. Blackiston and Elena Silva Casey in PLoS One (Volume 3 Issue 3 March 2008) describing how a moth conditioned to avoid a certain odour as a caterpillar, retained that aversion as an adult.  This only happened if the conditioning happened in later larval development (i.e. when the caterpillar was just a moulting or two away from pupation).  In other words, associative memory survives metamorphosis.

This leads me to wonder if the starfish retains the memories from when it was a larva, in particular does the luidia adult star fish have the same memories as the larva from which it has developed.  Furthermore, since the two selves - adult and junior - can exist at the same time, what would happen if they could talk and compare notes.  If puberty is indeed a form of incomplete metamorphosis it would be like myself as I am now - a empowered adult - remembering an incident that happened when I was a powerless child talking to a form of myself that is still that child.

I think the memories would be changed, just as all memories change as we try to recall them.  The adult starfish's memory would from the viewpoint of an animal with restricted mobility; whereas the larva's viewpoint would be little changed.  Maybe if they were to compare notes they would not agree: an unreliable witness encountering a reliable one.  They would argue indefinitely - one self against the same older self - each with an identical conviction they are right.

Monday, May 13, 2013

What I'm Doing 39

What I'm reading (non fiction) Metamorphosis by Frank Ryan

. I'm about three quarters of the way through,and so far the topics covered have been metamorphosis in arthropods and insects, and the various theories of how both or these evolved.  One intriguing idea introduced in the book is that humans go through an incomplete metamorphosis at puberty.  It's fascinating stuff.

What I'm reading on my Kindle (fiction): This Book Will Save your Life on my Kindle by A.M. Homes.

This is the second A.M. Homes book that I've read (after her short story collection, The Safety of Objects), and I like her direct and witty style.  Richard is wealthy and lives on the West coast of the US.  He has invested in all the mores of modern living: his food is supplied by a dietician, his exercise regime is dictated by a visiting physiotherapist, and he seems to be a regular at his physician's and dentist's.  On the day that a hole appears in the mountainside close to his house he discovers his neighbours.   For me, it is a novel about isolation and regret - which makes it sound a lot less fun than it is.

What I'm reading in print:  Talk Talk  by T. C. Boyle.  This is also American modern fiction and follows two main characters: one a deaf teacher who loses her identity, and the man who steals it.  It's got an interesting structure: dipping into one life and then another.  Neither character is perfect, and I don't feel particularly sympathetic towards either of them.  I like this.  For me, it is more important that a character should be realistic and interesting than 'sympathetic'.  It's an exciting read, very well paced with a lot to say about societies attitudes to people with a disability, and the terrifying aspects of identity theft.

What I'm listening to:  A Delicate Truth
- John Le Carré's latest.   It is narrated by the author himself - very successfully.  It's an absorbing book: one protagonist's story following another, and I feel confident they will all come (satisfyingly) together at the end.  I was interested to read in this article on the BBC news website that John Le Carré spurns literary prizes, though it doesn't say why.  He has this in common with Richard Feynman who said something like doing the work and achieving a scientific result was reward enough in itself.  The prize was unnecessary.

Which brings me to what I watched last: The Fantastic Mr Feynman.  This was a new documentary about Richard Feynman's life, and excellent it was too.  These days, TV biographical documentaries tend to quite often trivialise their subject, but this programme managed to include just enough to gain an impression of character (with interviews from relatives and people who worked for him, like the author Marcus Chown) together with a summary of his work.

What I also watched: Star Trek Into Darkness which I watched in 3D and, as usual, got a headache.  I was interested to find out why.  Some of the effects were good (my favourite part was where Kirk and Khan were propelling themselves through space and narrowly avoiding debris), but it always seems so much hard work to watch a movie in 3D that I am not sure it is worth it.  I though it a really good movie with some very exciting action sequences, but came away feeling I'd seen it somewhere before (which Hodmandod Senior says in fact I have - this being 'reboot'... d'oh).  Benedict Cumberbatch was brilliant as Khan.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

A Day in Saint Valerien

Around the town of Sens, in Roman times,  there used to be a wall.  Outside the wall there used to be, I guess, a ditch.  This site of this ditch is now an attractive boulevard of trees, a part of which is sometimes used for a flea market

with an interesting assortment of fittings from another life - when sound came out of a trumpet

and dolls resembled the children that played with them (rather than the adults they would too-soon become) .

A few steps south, and we came upon the centre of Sens with a flower market in front of the gothic cathedral 

and lemons (that I had always imagined that lemons grew on trees).

There was just time to glimpse the main street with its thirteenth century houses nearly deserted on a Sunday

and note that even here the recession has bitten - as it has bitten everywhere.

Later, we went for a walk near Saint Valerien with Hodmandod Major, Majorette and Esteme (the dog with amber eyes)

and noted the plentiful amounts of mistletoe nesting in trees

and the old washing house in a place that now seems too far away from houses

before taking a rest in Marcel and Colette's garden.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A Quick Look at Sericulture

At the moment, I am revisiting a few Silky Textbooks...

This is one of the first I bought: The Global Silk Industry - A Complete Sourcebook.  Sections include an overview of the textile scene, a short section on silk history, an overview of the global silk industrysilk rearing, silk processing, wild silks, silk research and global marketing.  It is comprehensive, although it could do with a copyedit.
A Technical Source Book on all sorts of aspects of sericulture
The next book I bought was called Silk.  I hankered after it for ages after looking at it in the British Library.  It is gorgeously illustrated, and although comprehensive looking at silk in history and silk in use, the main emphasis seems to be on how silk has been used in fashion (unsurprising since Mary Schoeser is a fashionfellow in fashionTextiles at St MartinsCollege of Art and Design.  The section on the science of silk is quite short, and takes the form of a glossary.

Another comprehensive book on silk - sumptuously illustrated.

I then discovered The Story of Silk, which was written in 1990 by an entomologist.  I really like this book.  It has a short historical section then has a good section on the silkworm and mulberry trees before moving on to all sorts of interesting topics such as natural dyes.  

Another comprehensive book on silk - written by an entomologist

When I started rearing my own silkworms I bought this book second hand.  It is a handbook mainly based on Small Scale Sericultural practices in India - which was ideal for my purposes.  It is practical and has good illustrations - which helped me grasp the practicalities of a complex process.  

A Handbook for small scale sericulturalists
In 2009, I went to China to discover more about silk.  I started with a Silk Forum in the city of Hangzhou.  This is a collection of the papers associated with that.

The Proceedings of the 2009 China International Silk Forum, Hanzhou

I then went down to the Southwest University Chongqing, where I discovered that I had just missed a conference on the Bombyx mori - which was annoying.  However,  this summary of the papers, very kindly given to me by one of the members of staff there, was very interesting, and almost as good as being there.  
The proceedings of the International Symposium on Bombyx mori Functional Genomics and Modern Silk Road, Chongqing
After that I went down to Guangzhou and was given this at the Regional Sericulture Training Centre.  It is gives very detailed instructions, but best of all it is signed and dated on the title page, which makes it one of my treasured possessions.

Practical Guidebook to looking after silkworms from Guanzhou.