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25 Jul 03:35

Can Computerized Brain Training Prevent Dementia?

by EditorDavid
"Researchers believe they have found a link between speed-of-processing training and a reduction in cognitive decline among the elderly," reports the New Yorker. An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes an article about how this new long-term study actually contradicts much of the previous science. In October of 2014 a group of more than seventy academics published what they called a consensus statement, asserting that playing brain games had been shown to improve little more than the ability to play brain games... no brain game, nor any drug, dietary supplement, or lifestyle intervention, had ever been shown in a large, randomized trial to prevent dementia...until today, when surprising new results were announced at the Alzheimerâ(TM)s Association annual meeting, in Toronto. Nearly 3,000 participants with an average age of 73.6 participated in the study, with some receiving "speed of processing" training -- and some later receiving four hours of additional training. "The researchers calculated those who completed at least some of these booster sessions were 48% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia after ten years than their peers in the control group." Signatories of the 2014 consensus statement panning brain games are now calling these new results "remarkable" and "spectacular".

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25 Jul 05:10

Surprise revival in UK printed book sales, with ebooks dipping

by Rob Beschizza


Ink on paper is a better product, at least for now, and it's showing at British tills. Sky UK's Lucy Cotter reports the first better year for print since 2007, and the worst one for ebooks since 2011.

Last year saw the first rise in sales since 2007, while digital book sales dropped for the first time since 2011.

Betsy Tobin, who runs the independent bookshop Ink@84 in Highbury, London, offers her customers a personalised service.

The bookshop offers coffee and alcohol and runs events and special author evenings.

Diversifying is part of her success but she says her customers also like buying in person rather than online.

They take pleasure from handling and owning books, she said.

I wonder if this has something to do with how well-run major UK bookstore chains are (small stores in high-traffic areas) compared to American ones (strip-mall big boxes, full of trashy ancillary merch and empty of foot traffic.) The literary retail culture there makes people want to drop in and fuss around with books, while the one here just means no-one is ever in a bookstore in the first place, so they just order stuff on Kindle.

25 Jul 09:43

What Happened When I Got Rid Of Everything In My House That Doesn't Spark Joy

by Stephanie Vozza

Do socks really "spark joy?" This writer went through (nearly) every item in her house with some surprising results.

I hate clutter. Growing up, my favorite book (and the only one I kept from my childhood) was The Boxcar Children, a story of four orphans who live in an abandoned train car with few belongings. I didn't realize it until I became an adult, but this book resonated with me because I've always had minimalist tendencies. Less is definitely more.

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25 Jul 13:25

What are you reading this summer?

by Charlie Stross

... Because a random drive-by on twitter suggested this would be a good question to ask on my blog, and they're absolutely right.

NB: Please don't just post a title: post at least a couple of sentences explaining why you think the book in question is of interest. (Even if it just boils down to "escapism, subtype: personal itch-scratching".) Context is good!

25 Jul 10:00

100-Year-Old Theatre in Buenos Aires Is Turned Into a Thriving Bookstore

by Kelly


Yet another reason to visit Buenos Aires, from My Modern Met.

The theatre shifted to a cinema during the 1920’s and continued to operate as one until 2000, when it was retrofitted into the flagship store for Yenny-El Ateneo Publishing. Working closely with the historic structure of the building, architect Fernando Manzone was careful to leave the ceiling, the ornate wall detail, the stage curtains, and the auditorium lighting as it was. He only added to the “browse-ability” of the store—a café now lights up center stage; escalators plunge into the heart of the store; reading nooks and comfy chairs wait to be found on every balcony level. Thanks to the fact that books are exempt from standard sales tax, the book (and bookstore) are more alive in Buenos Aires than ever. More than a million people visit El Ateneo annually and buy 700,000 books a year.

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12 Jul 12:00

Nike Ditches Safety Pins, Gives the Runner’s Bib a Much-Needed Redesign

by Margaret Rhodes
Nike Ditches Safety Pins, Gives the Runner’s Bib a Much-Needed Redesign
Nike decided to redesign the running bib, and got rid of safety pins while they were at it The post Nike Ditches Safety Pins, Gives the Runner's Bib a Much-Needed Redesign appeared first on WIRED.
01 Jul 10:00

How To Use Your Boss's Generational Bias To Get A Raise (No Matter Your Own Age)

by Cam Marston

From baby boomers' fire metaphors to millennials' love of sharing, bridging the generation gap could help you get higher pay.

You want a raise. Do you deserve one? Of course you do. But your opinion doesn't count; The challenge is to convince your boss.

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01 Jul 17:26

I'm a fanatic for Moleskine Cahier Journals

by Carla Sinclair


See sample pages from this book at Wink.'

Moleskine Cahier Journal (Set of 3, ruled)
2008, 64 pages (each), 3.6 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches (softcover)
$9 Buy a copy on Amazon

Moleskine is a favorite in my family when it comes to notebooks. From their hardbacks to softcovers, lined to plain paper, oversized to pocket-sized, we have them all. In fact, we usually buy more than one of any given Moleskine at a time. Why the Moleskine mania, you ask? Mark and our daughters spend a lot of time doing art, and they love using Moleskines as sketchbooks. And we all write, whether it’s journaling, jotting down ideas, taking notes in class, or scribbling down to-dos for the day.

Although the bulk of our notebook collection is made up of the larger Moleskine Classic Notebooks, we now have a nice heap of these small, 3.5” x 5.5” Cahier Journals as well. We've got them with both lined and plain paper. They are 64 pages (32 paper sheets) each and come in a set of three. Half the sheets are perforated so that you can tear them out, and on the inside back cover you’ll find a little pocket, which, although I haven’t really used, is a cute touch. Their plain cardboard covers just beg to be decorated, which Mark and the girls like to do. Because they’re so light, I always keep one in my purse for notes. My one warning: Buy with caution – it takes only one purchase to become a Moleskine fanatic.

28 Jun 17:00

Great Job, Internet!: Read This: Women cinematographers on working as DPs in male-dominated field

by Dennis DiClaudio

About 2 percent of the 2013’s top 250 top-grossing films were shot by female directors of photography. The fact that many readers probably don’t know whether that’s high or low speaks to a real problem in the film industry. To that point, Vulture recently published a compilation interview with three of the most respected women cinematographers currently working, and it’s packed with more insights than an average frame of The Neon Demon is with glittery luminescence.

French DP Maryse Alberti (Creed, Velvet Goldmine) on dealing with male producers and crew members:

I remember the producer asking me, “Can you handle the big lights?” And I thought, Do I want to be sarcastic, or do I want the job? So I said, “I don’t handle the big lights, I just tell big men where to put the big lights and they do it.” ... Male crews know ...

23 Jun 20:00

Don’t Kill the Dogs!

by Victor Luo

For many stories, death is an inciting incident that forces plot to move forward (looking at you, Game of Thrones). We’re so accustomed to stories where people die, it would seem that animals dying in fiction is barely noticeable, right? At Lit Hub, Laura Lampton Scott disagrees: according to her, we should be more careful about when we write about dying animals in fiction.

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23 Jun 17:10

Meet the female pioneers of engineering: part 1 #nwed2016 #RaisingProfiles @nwed1919

by Jessica


Sophie Curtis, marketing director at RE*WORK has a post and interview with 4 high profile women engineers including Adafruit’s Limor Fried, celebrating National Women in Engineering Day

As an all-female team, RE•WORK are strong advocates on supporting women in technology and science, so we’re celebrating today by talking to female pioneers in the field about ensuring equality, future breakthroughs, encouraging others to become engineers and more.

The day was set up by the Women’s Engineering Society and is dedicated to raising the profile and celebrating the achievements of women in engineering. By encouraging girls into engineering careers we will not only increase diversity and inclusion, but also enabling us to fill the substantial future job opportunities that have been predicted in this sector.
Get involved with the day and share inspiring women in engineering that you know or admire by using #NWED2016
Limor Fried is Founder and Engineer at AdaFruit, a company she created to establish the best place online for learning electronics and making the best designed products for makers of all ages and skill levels. This month the White House honored her in their Champions of Change for her commitment to building both innovation and community, and creating resources for learning.

Sarah Ostadabbas is Assistant Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Northeastern University, and recently formed the Small Data/Decision Support (SDDS) Laboratory to enhance human information-processing capabilities through the design of adaptive interfaces via physical, physiological and cognitive state estimation.

Michal Segalov leads groups of engineers at Google Play, focusing on apps and games discovery. She won the Anita Borg Institute Social Impact award for her work on the co-initiated Mind The Gap program, aimed at encouraging girls to learn computer science and math, which has expanded globally with more than 10,000 participants to date.

Helen Wollaston is Chief Executive of WISE, a campaign created to increase the participation, contribution and success of girls and women in STEM, from classroom to boardroom. Prior to WISE, Helen gained extensive experience in promoting female talent, including directing campaigns for the Equal Opportunities Commission and her own consultancy Equal to the Occasion.

What inspired or motivated you to begin your work in engineering?

Limor: Working in engineering is about solving problems together. One of the first times I remember thinking I’d be an engineer was when I was about 7 or 8 I saw a bunch of balloons stuck to the ceiling at a local mall after an event, no one could reach them so I went home and constructed a mechanical arm with my Dad. After going back, getting on his shoulders and using the balloon catcher device we made we retrieved all the balloons and gave them to others who also wanted balloons.

Michal: Growing up, I never actually thought about engineering or computer science as a career path for me; I really liked art and painting so I thought more of a career in architecture. I also really liked math, puzzles and riddles. However, I never realized that computer science was solving math problems and puzzles every day. I thought it was super geeky and missed out on how creative it was! I remember my parents trying (and failing) to convince me to pick up some programing skills. At 18, things shifted. I found myself being forced into a programing course. This is when I realized this is what I wanted to do. Ever since, I’ve been learning and working in CS, enjoying every minute! 

How can we encourage more women and girls to work in engineering?

Limor: We like to say “we are what we celebrate” – how can we get others in the spotlight who are doing great work? How can print magazines, tv, online sites, social media networks and more celebrate the diversity in engineering that is there but often overlooked or ignored? What we all need to do is lift each other up on each other’s shoulders more. 

 Michal: Be out there. Be visible. Act as a role model and spread the word. In your organization, and in your community. It’s important for young women and girls to see role models they can identify with. Show the world the diversity in CS and engineering. Diversity is important not only because it’s fair– studies show that diverse teams build better products and diverse companies have better financial performance. We need to be proactive about the underrepresentation of women and minorities in CS and engineering, it is not going to solve itself.

 Helen: WISE looked at the evidence on this question for Network Rail a couple of years ago. We identified a conflict between how most teenage girls see themselves – the type of person they are – and their perception of the type of person who is a scientist or engineer. This identity conflict leads them to the conclusion that science and engineering is not for them and explains why despite many years of initiatives to encourage girls to work in engineering, it is still seen as an unusual choice of career for a woman in the UK. Our People Like Me campaign uses a fresh approach. In a 45 minute session for girls, they start by picking adjectives which best describe themselves – words like “friendly”, “organised” or “creative”. Their choices determine which “type” they are, they get a list of jobs which suit people of this type and are introduced to role models just like them doing an exciting and interesting job using science, maths or technology. Feedback from girls, teachers, parents and role models has been very positive. “A fabulous, innovative way to get girls thinking outside the box in terms of future careers” – Angie Baker, physics teacher. Since launching the original pack in September 2015, we have done spin off packs for Digital, Electronics, Physics as well as for individual companies such as Babcock International and Network Rail. These packs are free to download from the WISE site because we want them to be used far and wide. We offer expert training to take people through the theory behind the campaign and explain how to make the most of these resources to add value to science, technology and engineering outreach and engagement programmes.

The campaign opens girls’ eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. We are always on the look-out for different role models. If you want to help, why not nominate yourself or a colleague for a WISE Award? The aim of the Awards is to identify new role models and champions to work with us to inspire others to follow in their footsteps. As well of course as being a great way to boost your own career profile and extend your network. Please help us to spread the word before the 8 July closing date for nominations.

Read the full interview here.

23 Jun 17:14

In the robot future, only cars will drive

by Rob Beschizza

A Google self-driving vehicle. Photo: Reuters

Here's something to fear about self-driving cars! Once they're up and running and insurance companies and legislators realize they're much better at it than humans, you won't even be allowed to drive. Also, the infrastructure is decaying badly and there's no political will to face up to the costs of fixing it, so the roads themselves may end up getting effectively sold off.

Public-private partnerships for roads might begin the erosion of the public right of way. But it’s also possible that autonomous vehicles will all but require limited access to public roads to operate effectively.

Today’s self-driving cars have to be designed and programmed to interact with messy circumstances. Pedestrians, dogs, bicycles, human-driven vehicles, and other obstacles all pose challenges to robocars, and if autonomous vehicles are even modestly successful, avoiding collisions with fallible human drivers will prove a temporary problem. ... The more self-driving cars there are on the roads, the less complex and more predictable the overall behavior of traffic becomes.

20 Jun 14:00

Last Night’s Game of Thrones Was Horrifying, Infuriating, and Immensely Satisfying

by Rob Bricken

Hey, ha ha, remember how the last few episodes of Game of Thrones have seemed to be a bit… low-key? Uh, well, now we know the reason why: It was spending all its time (and manpower, and probably a sizable portion of season six’s budget) on creating what is possibly the most incredible battle that has ever been seen on TV.


13 Jun 16:40

The Unconformity At Rathivade

by (Suvrat Kher)
My friend Pradeep Sarkar died last Tuesday June 7th. He got up that morning and complained of shortness of breath. In a few minutes it was all over. He leaves behind a shattered family, a wife and a son, and a large number of stunned friends, colleagues and students.

I met Pradeep when he joined the faculty at Fergusson College, Pune, during my second year B.Sc. He had a way with students and his enthusiasm for geology rubbed on to others. A boring summer vacation was looming ahead.  Having already decided to major in geology, Anil Lalla, Nalin Nair and myself asked him if he was going for fieldwork to the Konkan coast. As it happened he was and to our delight he invited us to go along with him.

We traveled to the little town of Malvan in the Sindhudurg district in southern Maharashtra. His research involved mapping the Precambrian geology with emphasis on understanding sedimentary structures and environments of deposition of the mid-late Proterozoic Kaladgi Group. Peninsular Gneiss, Greenstone schist belt, deformed conglomerate, trough cross bedding, fining up sequence. We had read and heard about these magical geological features in class. Pradeep made them come alive in the field in the week of our arriving at Malvan. He taught us how to read a toposheet and how to overlay the geology on it. He taught us how to measure and describe lithological sections. He taught us how to scan the horizon and see beyond.

In the evenings after fieldwork we used to go to the rocky  Malvan beach where the Kaladgi Group sediments were exposed. He used to point out to us ripple marks and bedforms made by the action of waves on a sandy sea floor more than a billion years ago. Sometimes we walked a little out of the way, outside town, to one of his favorite spots. A bridge over a small estuary; there we stood watching the rise or ebb of tides, taking in the salty breeze, waiting for the Arabian Sea sunset. Malvan would remain very close to his heart long after he finished his PhD work. He ended up marrying a local girl, the daughter of the lodge he always stayed in.

We remained good friends throughout. After I left India to pursue graduate studies we struck up a lively correspondence. I used to mail him research papers. His interests were moving toward studying calcrete, calcium carbonate deposits found as nodules and veins in the semi arid eastern Deccan plateau. On my return to India a few years back we renewed our meetings. During short chai sessions at the local tapri he used to hold court, talking excitedly of his research and teaching commitments. He wanted to see some of my PhD samples of Ordovician carbonates and maybe hold a lab session with graduate students. I agreed to meet him in his lab. Alas, that day never came. His work load was such that he just never got around organizing it.

Last week on June 10th I attended a sad but memorable condolence meeting for Pradeep. Friends and colleagues talked touchingly on the many memories they had of time spent with him. He leaves behind a legacy of 3 decades of excellence in teaching and of inspiring countless students to take up geology as a career.

When I heard the news of his passing on June 7th, my mind skipped back to that field trip and I found myself thinking about the unconformity near the village of Rathivade some distance away from Malvan. Amidst monsoon showers and sunny interludes we walked through the Konkan countryside. In a stream bed we came across something he had badly wanted us to see- The Great Eparchaean Unconformity. There scattered along were patches of Archean gneiss. Along the stream bank overlying the gneiss were mid Proterozoic Kaladgi sediments. By the time I had walked to the stream edge, Pradeep had rushed in and was already standing knee deep in water. It is an important feature of Indian geology he explained.... this unconformity. Etched on the surface of Peninsular India, it speaks of a change from a hot tectonically active Archean earth in which was formed the gneiss, to a cooler more stable Proterozoic world, where, on large cratonic basins in shallow seas, thick sequences of sandstones and limestones accumulated. This unconformity- he told us-  marks a long period of quiescence between these two phases of formation of the earth's crust, maybe a 300 -500 million year break.

With amazement we stared at him. 

Since then, at different times and places, I met and was influenced by other good teachers and mentors who kept my interest in geology alive. But it all began during that late summer in June 1986 when the generosity of a young PhD scholar opened the eyes of three geology enthusiasts to the wonders of this earth.

 Pradeep Sarkar 1960-2016
07 Jun 17:52

How to Achieve Professional Happiness Through “Creative Incompetence”: A Corollary to the Famous “Peter Principle”

by Dan Colman

In 1969, Laurence J. Peters, a professor at the University of Southern California, published the bestselling book, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, where he advanced this theory: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence … in time every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.” Meanwhile, the real work gets “accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”

Above, Adam Westbrook offers a short introduction to “The Peter Principle” and its corollary, the concept of “creative incompetence.” If you take “The Peter Principle” seriously, you’ll know that not all promotions are good ones. As you move upward, you might find that you’re dealing with more headaches …. and less work that you truly enjoy. To preempt the bad promotion, Peters suggested (somewhat light-heartedly) engaging in some “creative incompetence”–that is, creating “the impression that you have already reached your level of incompetence. Creative incompetence will achieve the best results if you choose an area of incompetence which does not directly hinder you in carrying out the main duties of your present position.” In short, find the job you really like, do it well, but give your boss the occasional oddball reason not to mess with a good thing.

Got examples of your own creative incompetence to recommend? Feel free to add them in the comments below.

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06 Jun 14:31

The Creator of Settlers of Catan Has Some Important Gameplay Advice for You

by Andrew Liszewski on Sploid, shared by Adam Clark Estes to io9

Klaus Teuber is a name that’s probably not immediately recognizable to you but might ring a bell in the back of your mind because as the inventor of Settlers of Catan, his name graces every box. Surprisingly, board game design was originally Klaus’ hobby, but after selling 25 mil copies of Catan, he no longer has to work in a dental laboratory—or really ever again.


03 Jun 19:02

The universe is expanding even faster than we thought

by Ryan Whitwam
deep field
Astronomers studied thousands of "cosmic yardsticks" to figure out how fast the universe is expanding. Turns out, pretty fast.
03 Jun 20:23

Producer Effie Brown Talks About the Difference Between “Diversity” and “Inclusiveness”

by Teresa Jusino

effie brown

Effie Brown has been in the film industry for over twenty years and has 53 films under her belt in some capacity, including Real Women Have Curves, But I’m a Cheerleader, and Dear White People. But it wasn’t until a spectacularly cringe-worthy moment on the recent season of HBO’s Project Greenlight that Brown rose to prominence in the mainstream and became something of a spokesperson for diversity in film.

In a recent interview with Women in Hollywood, Brown once again talked about diversity, but she brought up some really interesting points that don’t get nearly enough attention. Like, for example, the difference between diversity and inclusiveness. The interviewer brought up the notion that “diversity is only numbers, like programming a film festival with 50% women and 50% men directors, but inclusiveness, which would be more like wanting to hear stories from other voices and placing value on them is what is eluding us,” then asked if Brown wanted to speak to striving for both of those things. Brown responded:

I am all for inclusiveness. There’s been a lot of talk about this and Ava [DuVernay] is so eloquent speaking on it. I feel that when it’s diversity, diversity, diversity, it starts to feel exclusive to some people. Where including someone, well, everybody wants to be included. That’s the stuff that we learn in Kindergarten. “You gotta share.” I feel that the word “inclusive” brings about a bit more openness for people who would otherwise feel that we are taking something from them.

I’ve had conversations with people who go, “I am white, I am straight, I am a man, and I am out here struggling as much as anyone else and now people are looking at me all side-eye because I am white, straight, and male, like I should have some sort of in and I don’t.” And they tell me to my face! And also that I am getting a leg up because it’s cool to be a woman and I’m black.

What’s so interesting is that I can actually see their point. I don’t agree with it, but I can see it. And this is where “diversity” feels like “I’m taking something from you” and “inclusive” is more like, “Hey, I’m coming in too, I’m not taking anything away from you, I’m just coming to get mine.” At the end of the day everybody has something.That’s what inclusiveness means to me.

So, diversity is about numbers. That’s the easy part. Inclusiveness is about an ethos, and that’s harder to create and/or change. Still, clarifying the difference between the two is extremely helpful in determining what can be done, and how. When you break the issue down like that, ie: it’s easy to create diversity in projects by solely going by the numbers, while inclusiveness must be tackled by getting people to be honest about how important that kind of inclusion is to them, it’s easier to see where the real problems are.  In clarifying that the issue of inclusiveness isn’t about subtraction, but addition (no one is taking away “your jobs,” they just want their own), we can then have honest conversations about whether or not that kind of addition matters to someone and why (or why not).

You should definitely give the rest of the interview a read, as it is super-insightful, and you can also read about how much Effie Brown genuinely loves genre films and will see superhero tentpole movies with absolutely zero indie filmmaker shame, because she is one of us.

(image via screencap)

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04 Jun 20:46

The Chinese Government is Setting Up Its Own Major Science Fiction Award

by Andrew Liptak

This is pretty interesting: during the latest national congress of the China Association for Science and Technology, chairman Han Qide announced that the country would be setting up a program to promote science fiction and fantasy, including the creation of a new major award.


06 Jun 14:02

If You Give Peace a Chance on Game of Thrones, You’ll Regret It

by Rob Bricken

There was an inevitable sense of things falling into place on “The Broken Man.” Sure, the seventh episode of the season is usually when Game of Thrones starts putting its endgame in motion, but there was an extra sense of finality to it, making it a gut-punch of an episode. Hmm. Maybe gut-stab is a better word.


06 Jun 11:00

Hacker Lexicon: What Is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?

by Kim Zetter
Hacker Lexicon: What Is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is meant to protect copyright holders from illegal piracy, but its often broad application can stifle research and free speech. The post Hacker Lexicon: What Is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act? appeared first on WIRED.
02 Jun 07:00

Bacteria Are Masters of Tai Chi - Issue 37: Currents

by Madison Krieger

When I began studying how animals swim, I didn’t feel much like a physicist. I’d just finished my bachelor’s in physics during which time I’d been taught that physicists work on one of a handful of buzzwords: quantum mechanics, cosmology, gauge theory, and so on. To see if graduate school was right for me, I shadowed a friendly research group at the University of California, San Diego—but they didn’t study any of these buzzwords. They used high-powered mathematics to understand things like the locomotion of snails, worms, and microorganisms.

I was grateful for the opportunity, and I thought the problems they studied were beautiful and interesting—just not fundamental physics. As I became more involved in the group, this distinction grew into an identity crisis. Theoretical physicists are kind of like artists, or athletes: If you feel yourself drifting further from Klee or Peyton Manning, it can seem like a catastrophe. I thought I could feel Einstein and Feynman looking down at me and frowning as I took a turn down the wrong path.


It would take some impressive feats by microorganisms to convince me that they were as sexy as smashing atoms together—and they did not fail to deliver. Some…
Read More…

01 Jun 13:45

Why 3D scans aren't copyrightable

by Cory Doctorow


Something that baffles laypeople about copyright is what is, and is not, copyrightable; US law and international treaties protect the creative part of copyright, but not the labor part of copyright: merely working hard ("the sweat of the brow") on something isn't enough to give rise to a new copyright, but even a trivial amount of creative work is. So copying out the phone book gives you no copyright, even if it takes you all year, doesn't make it copyrightable. But writing a single haiku does. (more…)

20 May 11:52

George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose

by Josh Jones

orwell writing rules

Image via Creative Commons

Most everyone who knows the work of George Orwell knows his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” (published here), in which he rails against careless, confusing, and unclear prose. “Our civilization is decadent,” he argues, “and our language… must inevitably share in the general collapse.” The examples Orwell quotes are all guilty in various ways of “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision.”

Ultimately, Orwell claims, bad writing results from corrupt thinking, and often attempts to make palatable corrupt acts: “Political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” His examples of colonialism, forced deportations, and bombing campaigns find ready analogues in our own time. Pay attention to how the next article, interview, or book you read uses language “favorable to political conformity” to soften terrible things.

Orwell’s analysis identifies several culprits that obscure meaning and lead to whole paragraphs of bombastic, empty prose:

Dying metaphors: essentially clichés, which “have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.”

Operators or verbal false limbs: these are the wordy, awkward constructions in place of a single, simple word. Some examples he gives include “exhibit a tendency to,” “serve the purpose of,” “play a leading part in,” “have the effect of.” (One particular peeve of mine when I taught English composition was the phrase “due to the fact that” for the far simpler “because.”)

Pretentious diction: Orwell identifies a number of words he says “are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments.” He also includes in this category “jargon peculiar to Marxist writing” (“petty bourgeois,” “lackey,” “flunkey,” “hyena”).

Meaningless words: Abstractions, such as “romantic,” “plastic,” “values,” “human,” “sentimental,” etc. used “in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader.” Orwell also damns such political buzzwords as “democracy,” “socialism,” “freedom,” “patriotic,” “justice,” and “fascism,” since they each have “several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another.”

Most readers of Orwell’s essay inevitably point out that Orwell himself has committed some of the faults he finds in others, but will also, with some introspection, find those same faults in their own writing. Anyone who writes in an institutional context—be it academia, journalism, or the corporate world—acquires all sorts of bad habits that must be broken with deliberate intent. “The process” of learning bad writing habits “is reversible” Orwell promises, “if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.” How should we proceed? These are the rules Orwell suggests:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

What constitutes “outright barbarous” wording he does not say, exactly. As the internet cliché has it: Your Mileage May Vary. You may find creative ways to break these rules without thereby being obscure or justifying mass murder.

But Orwell does preface his guidelines with some very sound advice: “Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose—not simply accept—the phrases that will best cover the meaning.” Not only does this practice get us closer to using clear, specific, concrete language, but it results in writing that grounds our readers in the sensory world we all share to some degree, rather than the airy word of abstract thought and belief that we don’t.

These “elementary” rules do not cover “the literary use of language,” writes Orwell, “but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.” In the seventy years since his essay, the quality of English prose has likely not improved, but our ready access to writing guides of all kinds has. Those who care about clarity of thought and responsible use of rhetoric would do well to consult them often, and to read, or re-read, Orwell’s essay.

Related Content:

George Orwell’s Five Greatest Essays (as Selected by Pulitzer-Prize Winning Columnist Michael Hiltzik)

George Orwell Explains in a Revealing 1944 Letter Why He’d Write 1984

What “Orwellian” Really Means: An Animated Lesson About the Use & Abuse of the Term

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

20 May 11:00

A New Record for Physics Graduates

by Rhett Allain
A New Record for Physics Graduates
Seven people graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University with a degree in physics. This is a big deal. No, really. The post A New Record for Physics Graduates appeared first on WIRED.
17 May 17:00

The Long Lost Writing Life

by Guia Cortassa

My only real want along the way was to illuminate something about the human condition in a voice and from a point of view that could belong only to me. And if a bid for posterity beats in the heart of every writer, mine is alive with the possibility that long after I’m gone, someone will discover an old paperback of my work and say, “What’s this?” But whether or not that happens is independent of the volume of work a writer publishes, so what’s done is done.

Over at Lit Hub, Jamie Clarke shares why he left the writing world to become a bookstore owner.

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15 May 09:00

AskNature: How can we design better packaging? #Biohacking #Biomimicry

by Jessie Mae

Stripedbass bigredlynx sstock

Interesting article via Greenbiz

Every day, postal workers deliver millions of packages through the mail, trucks full of produce are transported around the globe and billions of dollars worth of packaged products are created, bought and sold.

Packaging is a ubiquitous, necessary aspect of modern consumer cultures. It keeps our products safe, clean and intact. Yet over time, much of this packaging leads to waste and pollution. Isn’t there a better way to package the products and services we use every day?

If we look to nature, there are signs that the answer is yes. This collection aims to explore some of the varied ways in which nature designs and develops life-friendly packaging.

How does nature build breathable containers? What clues from nature might point us toward designing protective packaging that serves an additional use after the item is unwrapped? Much like humans, the rest of nature is continuously on the move and transporting goods. How can nature’s ideas help us design solutions to our most difficult packaging challenges?

Read more

15 May 15:50

Fran Wilde's The Jewel and Her Lapidary is a Wonderful, Bite-Sized Fantasy

by Andrew Liptak

Fran Wilde took home the Andre Norton award for her novel Updraft last night, which makes us think that we’ll see her on an award ballot again before too long for her latest novella, The Jewel and Her Lapidary.


29 Mar 15:33

Tom Wheeler: Bill banning “rate regulation” would kill net neutrality

by Jon Brodkin

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler testifying before the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee. (credit: House Energy and Commerce Committee)

Legislation that would ban rate regulation of Internet service providers could prevent the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing net neutrality rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Although the FCC decided not to regulate the monthly prices charged by broadband providers, the commission's net neutrality rules rely partially on rate-oversight authority over common carriers. The relevant sections of the Communications Act say that the prices charged by common carriers have to be just and reasonable; those sections also ban "unreasonable discrimination" in charges and practices.

This rate-oversight power, along with other authority, was used by the FCC to justify the three so-called "bright-line" rules that prevent blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. That's why the Republican-sponsored "No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act" could threaten the FCC's core net neutrality rules, Wheeler told lawmakers in a letter dated March 14 and posted on the FCC's website last week.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

16 Mar 16:39

Save a person’s life: the fourth sign of a stroke

by Richard Kaufman


2.6 million people die in the United States each year.

Stroke is the fifth leading killer in the United States.

795,000 people have a stroke each year.

I had a friend who had a massive bleeding stroke and froze in mid-stride and mid-sentence, like a statue. He later died after life support was turned off.

The ways for folks like you and me to detect a stroke (aside from the person keeling over) were these until a decade or so ago:

S: Smile — If one side of the face droops or doesn’t move, call 911.

T: Talk — Speak a simple sentence. If it comes out garbled, call 911.

R: Raise — Raise both arms. If the person can’t, call 911.

About a decade ago it was discovered that there is a fourth sign that a stroke is taking place: the behavior of the tongue. Ask the person to stick out his or her tongue: if it doesn’t come out straight, but points off to the side in an odd way, call 911. Oddly this hasn’t received the publicity it should.

If you can get a person having a stroke to a hospital and into treatment within a few hours, there are drugs which, if administered rapidly enough, can mitigate the effects. Who knows … you might save a life.

Image: Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia