On the principle of having tangible books

Kindle covers by Kate Spade
Kindle covers by Kate Spade

In the neurobiology labs, technology is a requisite. A neurobiology lab by definition is pillared by electron microscopes, spectrophotometers, genetically enhanced bacteria that glow and survive and die on command (or by a well-designed experiment). Science and technology reciprocate each other’s ability to perpetuate onwards in this noble quest for the holy grail of knowledge. The superbly sophisticated equipment allow for novel questions to be asked – questions that perhaps even a decade before nobody had dared to pose because they did not have the means to answer it. Perhaps the ultimate emblem of technology in modern day science belongs to the physicists; their Large Hadron Collider on the border of Switzerland and France, which with the turn of a switch measures the trajectories of proton-proton collisions, strives to of course, out-think the philosophers in deciphering what reality really is.

I have no qualms with all of this.

Yet, technology has spawned, on the more commercialistic side of existence, items that allow for a higher efficiency lifestyle that have gone over the edge of superfluous. Unlike central heating, vacuums, and radios which are all technological advancements that justify themselves in some substantial manner by their larger degree of necessity, the Kindle, or the more generic notion of an E-book, is a (relatively) new device on the market that appears to be one of the grosser transgressions of our generation. I will overlook look the fact that the Kindle has been most insensitively, forebodingly anointed with a name that simultaneously is defined by the OED as “to set fire to, set on fire, ignite, light (a flame, fire, or combustible substance).” A paperback book would, yes, fall into the latter category of “combustible substance.” (A sadistic nod to Fahrenheit 451?) While the convenience of an E-book such as the Kindle is clear – carrying a bookshelf that would otherwise cumbersomely weigh hundreds or (for the bookish) thousands of pounds in a bag slung over your shoulder – what it asks for in exchange is an eventual self-induced literary ruin. That is not to say that it is that case now, but we have sown the seeds so that sometime in the far-flung future, second-hand bookstores with all their beautiful musky smells, with all their books blossoming sepia-toned fringes that accompany inscribed marginalia, with pages that hold both a story within the text and within its physicality of being passed from hand to hand up in time and finally (but not permanently) to land in your own, might very well become obsolete. Homer, Keats, and Woolf are instead impersonalized on a quietly glowing screen, a screen calculated by algorithms to best fool us into believing they are what they are trying to emulate: the papyrus, the paper, the ink, the textured print. With hard drives in the terabytes now, it’s not inconceivable to have all the words in the world compressed on a couple data chips. It’s phenomenal, really, that such a feat is well within the realm of possibility, but it is too, disheartening. Much like how it would be tactless to end a relationship through a text message, the same family of principles seems to apply and make it vulgar to consider digitizing all our literary heroes. The visceral quality of smoothing a book’s pages, the proportional weathering dependent on how much handling it gets, and the satisfying weight of it after it has been read will be what we pay for the convenience that we acquire with their new, weightless bodies.

Gone will be the days of wandering and discovering the unpredictable in libraries and bookstores, letting the unread waft through you, luring you to pull its spine from the shelf, dust off its jacket and earning a spot in your home. Instead, we will be targeted with “based on your purchase history” recommendations, although perhaps one day a program that simulates the random encounter with a new book will finally be accurately coded.

Granted, I am looking and predicting a future that is not within ten, twenty, fifty years from now, but hundreds of years (unless I am grossly underestimating the decline of our humanity). I desperately hope this will never be the case, but I must say that I am glad that I won’t be here to see how it plays out.

Sue majors in Neuroscience & English and tends to lurk in bookstores.

Football Fashion

Sunday afternoon often only means one thing – Football! But, don’t worry though; I won’t unleash my inner NFL nerd (just kidding!). Instead, in keeping with last weeks post on fashion trends I have decided to dedicate this week’s post to the evolution of the NFL jersey. As a die-hard fan of the New England Patriots (who better get their stuff together in Cleveland), I am partial to their red, white, silver, and blue jersey. Not only is it patriotic, but also it is also way more sophisticated than any other teams’ jerseys (I’m looking at you Minnesota). However, it wasn’t always so classy. To demonstrate, let’s flashback through the various incarnations of the Patriots jersey.

 Though I couldn’t find what the actual uniform looked like during the Patriot’s first year, each of the helmets had an image of a three-point hat with the player’s number under it. This then gave way to the throwback uniforms that we have seen a lot of recently. From 1961-1996, the Patriots wore a primarily red jersey for home games and a white helmet with the mascot (“Pat Patriot”) hiking a football. Helmet is awkward and the blood red is blinding.



 In 1996, the clumsy helmet logo and obnoxious jersey color were changed to a more streamlined logo and visually pleasing blue color. Logo is great, but the blue is still a little too bright.


In 2002, the bright blue jersey color was replaced by a darker navy color. Perfection.



How do you guys feel about the recent trend in wearing throwback jerseys? Do you have a favorite team jersey, football or otherwise? Let me know in the comments section below. Have a great weekend 🙂 (Information gathered from http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/fall05/brownlee/patriots.html).

Stuff of science fiction

Apparently light sabers are real.

As are quantum teleporters.

And flying saucers.

And holographic displays.

And virtual goggles.

…The list goes on.

Scientists and researchers (who could be one and the same, most likely) have discovered new ways to make the science fiction technology become a reality.  When things like teleportation devices and flying saucers first appeared in sci-fi films and novels, who would have thought that they could become the real thing?  But that’s the beauty of art– we can conceptualize even the most seemingly implausible things and thus inspire other creative thinkers to practically realize the impractical propositions made by art.

And this makes me wonder: Could these advances have been made without art?  Without having the authors and the artists who came up with these crazy tall tales about Unidentified Flying Objects and robots on Galactic Republic (Star Wars) and jet packs enabling regular people to fly, could science have taken bold steps in the crazy directions that it has?  I’m sure many people have read books or watched films and thought, “Wow, that’s so cool!  I want to make that!” and that those people have become the ones who have paved the way for us in the realm of applied science.  It’s encouraging to know that even our most out of this world insane ideas can be taken and fiddled with to become a tool of the real world.

With this in mind– what about the Jetsons?  If all of these new technologies and gadgets inspired by different art forms are slowly coming together to form a part of our reality instead of just our imaginations, imagine what else could come from the Jetsons!  Cars that fold into briefcases, robotic maids who cook and clean for us, and maybe even… aliens?!

The Jetsons, the model 21st century family
The Jetsons, the model 21st century family

Poems to Music

Music and Poetry by Paul Hartal
"Music and Poetry" by Paul Hartal

Music and poetry are two different art forms that share an undeniable bond. In both of these mediums, some form of story is being told, but, in the best examples of each, never in an obvious or unoriginal way. In poetry, words are used to give some kind of impression to readers. The connotations of the words chosen, the images described, and the sounds of the language all combine to create not only a logical sense of what a poem is saying, but also a general “feeling” of what kind of emotion that poem is trying to convey. In classical instrumental music, sound – it’s tone, volume, and intensity – is used in a similar way as poetry to invoke some kind of impression on listeners. Of course vocal music takes this all a step further, in that it contains both music and lyrics, which can be considered to be a type of poetry.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a few different songs that are a unique hybrid in music and poetry.  These songs take poems that were originally written simply to be read and put them to music.  Here is a short list of a few of these songs that I’ve found and think are particularly interesting:

I’m intrigued by this mixing of artistic forms and what it does to both mediums. When the poetry and the music complement each other well, the result is a beautiful and unique reinterpretation of the boundaries between music and poetry. Loreena McKennitt’s “The Lady of Shalott” and Cherish the Ladies’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” both achieve this delicate balance in matching the tone of the music and the poetry. Ochs’ “The Bells” and Copeland’s “12 Poems of Emily Dickinson” however are, in my opinion, less successful at achieving this balance. “The Bells” is done to a kind of happy, countryish tune which fits well with the first two stanzas of the poem, but then at the end of the song, Ochs’ combines a few lines from the last two stanzas, which are much darker and don’t really match with the happy sounding tune. “12 Poems of Emily Dickinson” sounds completely wrong. The vocals are sung in opera style, and the music is mostly nondescript. When I imagine a musical version of Dickinson’s poems, I hear music that is mysterious and playful, like the writing style in many of her poems, and I do not imagine operatic vocals.  I love opera, but Dickinson’s poems just don’t sound natural sung that way.

I can’t help  but wonder why these musicians have chosen to take the work of poets and put it to music. Are they trying to promote good poetry, did they just like the words in the poems they chose, or is there some other reason? Whatever their reasons, I love listening to these poems put to music. Even the ones that make me cringe mentally are enjoyable in the sense that they are an interesting, if somewhat dubiously successful, experiment in the combination of two of my favorite things – music and poetry.  Happy listening!

A Fashion Democracy?

One of the classes that I am taking this semester is on literary theory and during yesterday’s session we discussed the concept of taste – who has it, who/what controls it? I found this discussion to be especially pertinent to the discussion of many artistic forms such as fashion.

When I think of fashion icons and arbiters of sartorial taste, I usually remember the scene in Devils Wears Prada where Meryl Streep’s character informs Anne Hathaway’s character of the path of cerulean blue sweaters from the runaway to the discount bin. Centralized media, such as magazines and newspapers, have historically been the only source for fashion legitimization. However, with a burgeoning number of blogs and personal web pages, taste has become (at least in my mind) a far more fluid and open term. For example, one of the fashion blogs that I have recently enjoyed reading is created by a 13 year-old girl (she was 11 when she started it)! Thus, does age affect who is considered to have legitimate taste? Do you think with advent of blogs have a democratizing effect on artistic taste and legitimacy or will our fashion culture forever be in the hands of Anna Wintour types? Here some blogs that I personally look to for examples of good taste:

-         http://www.thestylerookie.com/

-         http://thesartorialist.blogspot.com/

-         http://www.karlascloset.com/

Let me know what you guys think and some of the people/websites that you look to for style inspiration! Have a great rest of the week 🙂

Welcome to the Kitchen

This week I want to step into the shoes of one of my favorite people to ever walk this earth, Julia Child.  My love for her began when I saw the movie Julie and Julia back in 2009.  After the movie, I remember YouTubeing her videos and laughing hysterically with my sister.  One of the videos was her cooking for her husband, who liked to eat his food burnt, so at the end of the video she brought the food out of the oven burnt to a crisp.  The genuine manner, which she presented herself, allowed her audience to know she was being completely serious when she pulled the burnt food out of the oven.  Her husband enjoyed his food burnt, and that was the way she was going to prepare it.  I have never seen another lesson on burnt cooking, which is why Julia was so attractive.  Her absurdity and antics in the kitchen led her into stardom and into my life as well.

She loved to cook and she loved to eat.  What I like about her is knowing she worked hard to learn how to cook and that it was not a process that came over night.  I find this comforting because I am striving to be an armature cook.  I enjoy cooking so much and I especially enjoy eating my own food.  There comes to be a better appreciation for the labor and time spent preparing a meal that you get to enjoy while eating.  Cooking for me is also a time where I can take my mind off my busy schedule and do a mindless activity for a half hour.  It has also provided me with an opportunity to invite friends over and share my home and food for them.  Cooking for or with friends is a satisfying experience.  If you’re trying to get to know someone better, why not have him or her over for dinner?  You have time to talk with them while preparing, eating, and cleaning.

Even if you don’t know how to cook, just pull a recipe from a cookbook or on the web and follow it plain and simple.  Stir-frys are often easy to make, taking little time and tasting great!  Some of my favorite foods to cook with are sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, frozen spinach, tempeh (a soy replacement for meat), couscous, and Indian spices like ginger, cumin, and coriander.

Even if your meal turns out horribly, don’t give up!  Cooking is like anything, the more you practice the better you become.  Plus, I’m not sure much can be worse than Julia’s burnt food!