That’s a Wrap

I know it’s not exactly an original sentiment, but this is my favorite time of the year. Or, at least, it will be once finals are over. I adore the Christmas season – I love the story, the music, the decorations, the time with family, and I love the wrapping paper.

Christmas wrapping paper embodies a part of the happiness of the holidays. Seeing role upon role of the colorful paper crammed into bins down holiday

aisles at the store, one can’t help but think of some of the best parts of Christmas – Santa Claus, Christmas trees, a friend or family member’s face as they open an unexpected gift, the anticipation of Christmas morning. Looking through the bins of paper always makes me smile – sometimes because I like the patterns, and they make me inexplicably happy, but sometimes because they’re so terribly cheesy or awful that I can’t help but want to laugh.

Whenever I walk into a store at this time of year, the holiday aisle(s) have a nearly magnetic draw, mostly because of the wrapping paper. I love looking at the different patterns: traditional, funny, religious, modern, shiny, movie or television themed. I love to judge which patterns I like, which ones I think are cheesy, and which ones I could imagine certain people buying. It’s always difficult to remind myself that I already have plenty of wrapping paper already.

Of course, the best part about wrapping paper is actually wrapping things and getting creative with it, like the girl in the picture above. Although, that might be going just a little bit overboard.  If you’re looking for some creative wrapping ideas this website has some good ones.

Wrapping paper is a funny thing. It’s technically pointless, yet nothing says it’s a gift more than wrapping a present in patterned paper that’s just going to be thrown away. It’s such a personal thing too.  Everybody has their own style of wrapping. One person’s wrapping may look like  a train ran over it, while someone else’s may look like a piece of art – so beautiful that you almost don’t want to rip the paper off.  Almost.

That’s a wrap for the semester.

Happy (almost) Holidays and Good Luck on finals!

Hitchhiking through the Galaxy

I first discovered Doulas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” four years ago when a friend and I watched the Garth Jennings’ film from 2005. A couple weeks later, I walked into the Askwith Media Library looking for a Harry Potter audiobook and, thanks to a very funny and helpful librarian, walked out with the original “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” radio series on CD instead.

The history of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is a little strange. It began as a comedy radio series on BBC radio and was later adapted into a series of five books. Both were written by Douglas Adams. The stories in the first three novels are similar to those in the radio series, but the fourth and fifth books deviate from the original source material.

If you’ve never read, listened to, or watched anything related to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” the basic storyline revolves around the Earth being destroyed to make way for an intergalactic highway. Arthur Dent, an Englishman who befriended the alien Ford Prefect, is saved by Ford before the Earth is destroyed.  Ford (who lives on Earth and appears human) and Arthur hitch a ride on one of the demolition fleet ships and, using Ford’s trusty Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, proceed to travel throughout the galaxy on a series of adventures that include (depending on the version of the story), whales and flowerpots falling through space, yarn people, an infinite improbability drive, singing dolphins, a depressed robot, genius mice, a horrible spacey tea substitute, and a plethora of aliens and ridiculous high jinks.

The story is amazing fun, filled to the brim with perfect ridiculousness, and if you’ve never read it, I highly suggest you do.  That said, you could just go on your own hitchhiking trip through the galaxy in a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game on BBC radio 4’s website.  This game puts the player in the same role as Arthur Dent in the radio and novel series.  You have to navigate your way through the galaxy with your friend Ford, never forgetting your trusty towel and Hitchhiker’s Guide.  The game, which uses text based controls, puts you right in the story and has a choose-your-own adventure feel.

The game was originally created for early computer gaming, and Douglas Adams worked with programmers and designers to create much of the dialogue seen in the game. If you choose to check this out, I give you fair warning that it is extremely addictive, but also that it may be difficult to navigate if you don’t know a little bit about the story.

For those of you who’ve never given “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” a chance, you should check it out; it’s sure to make you laugh.  For those of you who know and love this wonderful story, 42 will always be the answer.

Don’t Panic!

Out of Print

We all know the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but can we judge a person by their cover?

At Out of Print, a website that sells shirts, tote bags, iPhone covers, etc., each product features an iconic book cover design from classic (and some not-so-classic) literature.  My inner literary nerd did a little jig when it saw Out of Print’s t-shirts emblazoned with the titles of some of the great stories it loves or loves to hate. Pride and Prejudice, The Origin of Species, and Ulysses are just a few examples of the book covers featured on Out of Print’s products.

Which book cover would you choose to cover your pages of personality? Perhaps a romantic Pride and Prejudice, a political 1984, or a deep and intellectual Ulysses would be your cover of choice.

Out of Print works to share the love of literature worldwide. For each item sold on the website, one book is donated to a needy community through Books for Africa. Buyers get to help improve literacy around the world, while fashionably displaying their love of literature.

If you aren’t in a shopping mood,  the Out of Print website also offers some bookish fun.  They have a blog on literary topics, an internet book club, and a “bookshelf” with lists of books that Out of Print employees are currently reading, want to read, or have just read.

If you’re a lover of literature and appreciate good cover art, you should check out Out of Print.

Singing Bird Pistols

If, in a twist on the Snow White fairytale, Snow were to carry a gun, I imagine it would be something like one of these singing bird pistols made by Frères (French for brothers) Rochat in the early 1800s – beautiful, harmless, and adorned by a singing bird.

Despite appearances, these two pistols are actually music boxes that move and play music thanks to an extremely intricate mechanism. When the pistols are “fired,” rather than a deadly bullet, a small bird, adorned with real feathers, “shoots” out and rests on top of the pistol’s barrel.  Click here to watch a video of the pistols in action.

The singing bird pistols, though heavily decorated, are made to look and function very similarly to real pistols. Like regular pistols, to “fire,” each singing bird pistol must be”cocked” and the trigger pulled. Unlike regular pistols, however, they must be wound up first, much like an old fashioned clock. The music box mechanism is based on old watch-making techniques, and contains several hundred small parts.

The brothers Rochat were famous for their intricate singing bird music boxes, particularly their snuff boxes. Each creation had a small realistic mechanical bird that could sing on command hidden out of sight. For more information on Frères Rochat, click here.

High-end collectors treasure the surviving Rochat music boxes. These singing bird pistols, which are the only known set in existence, sold for around $5.8 million at auction. Very few other singing bird pistols have survived, and the four other known pistols are currently housed in museum collections.

Musical Creatures and Aesthetic Science

The Undivided Mind
The Undivided Mind installation

Welcome to arts, ink! My name is Abigail, and beginning this coming week, I will be posting every Thursday.

After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well. ~Albert Einstein

I love this quote by Einstein. He had such a clear view of the value of imagination and creativity, even, or perhaps especially, in the sciences. With art programs disappearing from school budgets and the all too common “what do you plan to do with that degree?” question being thrown at many arts and humanities majors, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that we live in a world that undervalues the importance of the arts.

Recently, I have run across two different projects/groups that address this particular issue: The Undivided Mind and Seaquence. These two projects approach the idea of art in science in entirely different ways, and I encourage you to explore both.

The Undivided Mind is an art installation that combines the aesthetics of art and science in an effort to transcend traditional ways of thinking.  The exhibit first appeared in San Francisco in 2010 and can be accessed virtually; click The Undivided Mind image at the beginning of this post if you would like to see the installation. The virtual exhibit is highly interactive; clicking on images and information bubbles throughout the installation, yields videos, music and explanations of scientific equations related to the exhibit’s content.

Musical Lifeforms
"Musical Lifeforms"

Seaquence is an experiment in imaginary musical biology. At, visitors to the site create small “musical lifeforms” that interact in a water-like environment.  Each creature has its own sound patterns that the visitor creates using several different controls available on the site. The goal is to create an ecosystem of “musical lifeforms” that interact and coexist harmoniously, creating an experimental musical composition.

The Undivided Mind and Seaquence are brilliant examples of the effectiveness of combining art and science.  They work to remind us that creativity is one of mankind’s most valuable assets in all facets of life.

Website Magic

One of the amazing things about the world of Harry Potter is that no matter how many times you read the books or surf the web for HP related content, there’s always something new to discover. My HP “discovery” of the week is J.K. Rowling’s website, and although it is neither new nor obscure, it is well worth checking out if, like me, you’ve never found your way there before.

Rowling’s website is unique in that it isn’t just a tool for spitting out a montage of boring facts and dates, but in true “Dumbledorean” fashion, is a multi-layered puzzle that must be worked through and solved to access the whole of its content. Of course, most of the site is very straight-forward, but the puzzles unlock extra features, usually in the form of copies of handwritten early drafts and drawings from the HP series, which are fascinating to look at.

If the task of solving a series of puzzles sounds daunting, but you would like to see the extra content, this forum is extremely helpful. It has instructions for solving each of the puzzles.  Another fun aspect of the site, which also includes a series of puzzles (via Time Turner), is the Room of Requirement. Helpful information for solving this series of puzzles can be found here.

Click this link to apparate to J.K. Rowling’s website.  Happy puzzling or browsing, whichever you prefer.