LA Event: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

Machine Project in Los Angeles is hosting a lecture and book launch event with author Joshua Foer on Sunday, March 27th, 2011 at 8pm. It sounds great!

moonwalking.jpgOn average, people squander 40 days annually compensating for things they’ve forgotten. Joshua Foer used to be one of those people. But after a year of memory training, he found himself in the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship. Even more important, Foer found a vital truth we too often forget: in every way that matters, we are the sum of our memories.

Moonwalking with Einstein draws on cutting-edge research, a surprising cultural history of memory, and venerable tricks of the mentalist’s trade to transform our understanding of human remembering. Under the tutelage of top “mental athletes,” he learns ancient techniques once employed by Cicero to memorize his speeches and by medieval scholars to memorize entire books. Using methods that have been largely forgotten, Foer discovers that we can all dramatically improve our memories.

At a time when electronic devices have all but rendered our individual memories obsolete, Foer’s bid to resurrect the forgotten art of remembering becomes an urgent quest. Moonwalking with Einstein brings Joshua Foer to the apex of the U.S. Memory Championship, and brings readers to a profound appreciation of a gift that we all possess, but that too often slips our minds.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything — A lecture and book release with author Joshua Foer

Jim Tierney’s great designs for Jules Verne novels

tierney-cover.jpg I liked the cover design for Alan Dean Foster’s Predators I Have Known. I visited the site of the designer, Jim Tierney and came across his beautiful designs for four Jules Verne novels. The jacket for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is cut to resemble waves, exposing the cloth cover.

I don’t think these books are commercially available. They seem to be part of Tierney’s senior thesis work.

imprint has a short piece about Tierney.

Jim Tierney portfolio

Kraken: a new book about squid

Here’s an exclusive excerpt from the nature book, Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid, by Wendy Williams.


One of the biggest problems cephalopods face is how to live safely in a 3-D world. When you imagine swimming in the deep ocean, you have to rethink human-oriented concepts of “up” and “down.” As rather large surface animals who live on the continental crust, we usually need only be aware of animals living on the same plane that we do: Will we be attacked by a lion? Trampled by an elephant? Usually, “up” and “down” are not words that hold terror for us. We don’t fear giant birds swooping down from above to scoop us up and carry us away, and we don’t fear giant worms bursting out of the earth’s crust to grab us and drag us underground. We only need to be aware of enemies that, like us, are firmly rooted to life atop the soil.

But surviving in the ocean is more complex. An animal living in the sea needs to have the responses and defenses of a fighter pilot. The enemy can come from anywhere, from the left or from the right, but also from above or from below. It’s a three-dimensional world down there. Skeleton-free cephalopods are particularly at risk, since predators don’t need to worry about the bones. “The creatures are really just rump steaks swimming around,” Australian scientist, Mark Norman once explained. They need special protection.

In response, the animals have evolved an impressive tool kit of tricks. Bathyscaphoid squid, named in honor of a self-powered sea exploration vehicle that was developed after the 1930s bathysphere of naturalist William Beebe, is a family of squid that spends its early life, when it is most vulnerable and most likely to turn into someone else’s dinner, at the ocean’s surface, where there are plenty of small tidbits for a tiny animal to eat. As the Bathyscaphoid squid develop, they descend deeper and deeper into the water. These squids have evolved a body that’s translucent and nearly completely invisible. At the top level of the ocean, the water’s rich with nutrients. It’s easy for them, as predators, to find food. Unfortunately, it also easy in the sunlight to become pretty to other predators. But with a body that’s almost transparent, these young squids are ghostlike, nearly invisible. Being nearly invisible when tiny is quite convenient. The young squid at the sea surface can easily sneak up on its even tinier prey without being noticed. A prey animal might perceive what seems to be a twinkle of sunlight at the sea surface, only to find itself enveloped in a mass of squid arms and tentacles.

Continue reading “Kraken: a new book about squid”

O’Reilly’s ebook and video deal of the day in support of the Japanese disaster relief

This is a great way to save money and help support Japan disaster relief. Today, save 50% on all ebooks and videos from O’Reilly, No Starch, and Tidbits.

arduino-bots.jpgO’Reilly, No Starch Press, and Tidbits will donate all revenues, less author royalties, from “Deal of the Day” sales to the Japanese Red Cross Society.

Thanks to the Internet, we understand more deeply than ever that everyone on the planet is connected. The disasters that have hit Japan feel close to home, and those of us at O’Reilly, No Starch, and Tidbits want to do something to help the Japanese people recover and rebuild. We know many of you do, too. Working with the O’Reilly Tokyo office, we will ensure that your valued contribution goes to the relief of those most in need. We’ll update the total amount donated throughout the day, as well as the final amount.

Free to Choose Ebook and Video Deal of the Day in support of the Japanese Disaster Relief

Erik Davis on HP Lovecraft

 Files Storyimages Darklore5-Cover  Wp-Content Uploads 2009 02 Hello-Cthulhu

(“hello-cthulu” from Sneakykitty)

In the excellent Volume 5 of Darklore Volume 5 , Greg “Daily Grail” Taylor’s fringe culture journal, Erik Davis contributes a fantastic study of our favorite hideous overlord Cthulhu, his creator HP Lovecraft, and the author’s “fusion of occult folklore and weird science.” The entire essay can be read at Daily Grail but I highly recommend the entire Darklore Volume 5 and, in fact, the complete series. From Erik Davis’s “Calling Cthulhu”:

Written mostly in the 1920s and ’30s, Lovecraft’s work builds a somewhat rickety bridge between the florid decadence of fin de siècle fantasy and the more “rational” demands of the new century’s science fiction. His early writing is gaudy Gothic pastiche, but in his mature Cthulhu tales, Lovecraft adopts a pseudodocumentary style that utilizes the language of journalism, scholarship, and science to construct a realistic and measured prose voice which then explodes into feverish, adjectival horror. Some find Lovecraft’s intensity atrocious – not everyone can enjoy a writer capable of comparing a strange light to “a glutted swarm of corpse-fed fireflies dancing hellish sarabands over an accursed marsh.”

But in terms of horror, Lovecraft delivers. His protagonist is usually a reclusive bookish type, a scholar or artist who is or is known to the first-person narrator. Stumbling onto odd coincidences or beset with strange dreams, his intellectual curiosity drives him to pore through forbidden books or local folklore, his empirical turn of mind blinding him to the nightmarish scenario that the reader can see slowly building up around him. When the Mythos finally breaks through, it often shatters him, even though the invasion is generally more cognitive than physical.

By endlessly playing out a shared collection of images and tropes, genres like weird fiction also generate a collective resonance that can seem both “archetypal” and cliched. Though Lovecraft broke with classic fantasy, he gave his Mythos density and depth by building a shared world to house his disparate tales. The Mythos stories all share a liminal map that weaves fictional places like Arkham, Dunwich, and Miskatonic University into the New England landscape; they also refer to a common body of entities and forbidden books. A relatively common feature in fantasy fiction, these metafictional techniques create the sense that Lovecraft’s Mythos lies beyond each individual tale, hovering in a dimension halfway between fantasy and the real.

Calling Cthulhu(Daily Grail)

Darklore Volume 5 (Amazon)

Interview with author of Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA

Superbug.jpg Maryn McKenna is the author of a new book called Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA.

MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphyoloccus Aureus) kills more people every year than AIDS. In the US alone 19,000 die from it each year, and another 369,000 are hospitalized because of it. The World Health Organization calls MRSA the most important health issue of the 21st century.

I interviewed McKenna about her book and MRSA. You can read it below. You can also listen to the audio recording of my interview. I invite you to subscribe to a podcast feed (RSS, Subscribe in iTunes) of all my interviews with authors and other people, along with individual podcast episodes I find interesting. I’m using a service called Huffduffer to maintain the podcast feed — it’s really cool.)

The following interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

Superbug is a really interesting book and it seems like it’s becoming more and more timely. What makes MRSA so dangerous?

That question has a micro-answer and a macro-answer. The micro-answer is that MRSA (a lot of people just say “mersa”) is a form of staph bacteria that have become resistant to almost all of the antibiotics that we use in medicine every day. It’s been doing that over about 60 years, largely without our really noticing or understanding how big a threat it has become. It’s a threat to people who are in hospitals, but in recent years it’s also become a threat to people out in the everyday world. It kind of takes people by surprise. It often affects, for instance, people in gyms or kids who play sports.

The macro-answer is that MRSA is the leading edge of a really international epidemic of drug-resistant organisms that are getting worse and worse, both because they’re getting more resistant and also because we’ve, for the most part, stopped making antibiotics. So as as the bugs get more resistant, were running out of ways to treat them, because there’s no new drug coming along. And as if that weren’t all bad enough, it takes in not just human medicine and how we use drugs there, but also increasingly how we use and misuse drugs in farming around the world.

How do people generally get MRSA?

It kind of depends on where you are. There are three overlapping epidemics that have happened in the last 50 years. The first was in hospitals. If you think about it, if you were a bacterium, then a hospital patient, especially a very sick hospital patient, would would be a pretty sweet target. Someone who is in an ICU, for instance, has a lot of breaks in the immune protection of their skin, because they’ve had surgery or have IVs or central lines plugged in. They are probably pretty debilitated. They’re being given a lot of drugs that suppress their immune systems, and they are touched and visited by a lot of people who they can’t get away from. There’s a lot of opportunities to be infected. So people who are in hospitals tend to get infected by other people in hospitals or by hospital equipment. And those bugs are usually transferred from other people or from the equipment by healthcare workers.

The trickier part is that people also get MRSA in the real world. And the way that that happens is that the kind of bacterium that MRSA is — Staphylococcus aureus — is what’s called a commensal — a bacterium that lives with us all the time. Probably a third of the population walks around any day with regular, drug-sensitive staph. It’s on their skin, in their nostrils and other warm, damp, salty places on their bodies. Most of the time it doesn’t make us sick. Probably about 1 1/2 or 2% of the population — about 5 million people — have MRSA on their bodies. It lives on our skin and doesn’t really bother us until one of several things happens: maybe there is a kind of glitch in our particular immune system, maybe we get a scrape or cut the way somebody would if they play sports, or maybe we get a particular strain of the bacteria and it’s particularly good at breaking through intact skin. That’s how the community, the outside hospital cases, happen.

Continue reading “Interview with author of Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA”

Fun with Figures — cool geometry book for kids from 1947


If you have kids (or even if you don’t) I recommend that you add the Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves blog to your RSS feed. I don’t collect many things, but I have acquired a small collection of vintage kids’ math and science books*, and my 7-year-old daughter and I love going through them.

Why do I like them so much? Here’s what I wrote in 2006 (about The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments): The book is an example of everything great about vintage children’s science books. Once you lay your eyes on it, you will come to the sad realization that our society has slipped backwards in at least three important ways: 1. The writing quality in old kids’ science books was better; 2. The design and illustration was more thoughtful and skillful; 3. Children in the old days were allowed and encouraged to experiment with mildly risky but extremely rewarding activities. Today’s children, on the other hand, are mollycoddled to the point of turning them into unhappy ignoramuses. fun-with-figures-2.jpg

I haven’t seen a copy of Fun with Figures (1946) yet (I ordered it on Amazon, where used copies of this out-of-print title can be purchased for $2.85 and up), but from the examples posted to Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves, it looks like an excellent book to teach kids about geometry in the real world.

Chapters include: Straight Lines, Lines That Never Meet, Angles, Reflection Angles, Lines That Cross Squarely, Triangles, Equal-sided Triangles, Shadows Measure Height, Measuring Distances, Circles, More About Circles, Round Figures, Ovals, How to Draw an Ellipse, The Parabola, Spirals, The Helix, The Thread of a Screw, Quiver Pictures, One-Sided Piece of Paper, Knots, The Three Tags, Cutting and Fitting, Tangram, Nature’s Geometry, Star Cut-out, and Objects With Many Faces.

Note: the cover of the book shows the boy playing with a set of Platonic solids. In MAKE Vol. 11, Charles Platt wrote a good article about how to make Platonic solids.

*I’m preparing a post about my favorite old kids’ science books.

Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves: Fun With Figures

Interview with author of The 100 Thing Challenge

100-thing-challenge.jpg Recently I interviewed Dave Bruno, the author of a book called The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and Regained My Soul, in which Dave describes his attempt to whittle down his possessions to just 100 items (he’s married and has kids, which made his challenger tougher). I found the book to be very entertaining and inspiring, and I asked Dave if I could interview him for Boing Boing. He kindly obliged.

On page 40 of your book, you describe what the challenge was. Can you describe it for our readers?

Essentially, the objective of the 100 Thing Challenge was to live one year with 100 or less personal possessions. I tried to count anything that was definitely mine: all clothes, my camping gear, wallet, wedding ring, car, mobile phone, stuff like that. But I didn’t count stuff like our couch or kitchen table or place settings.

Also I put some rules in place. For example, I said that if I was going to replace an item, say my sunglasses, then I had to get rid of the old item before purchasing the new item. Another example was that if I was gifted an item, I gave myself seven days to determine if I’d give it away or keep it and, if necessary, purge something else to make room for it.

I probably should mention the big cheat. In our house we are readers. No TV. No game consoles. Pretty much our living room decor consists of books. So on my list of 100 things was “one library.” Some people feel like this invalidates what I’ve done. I don’t think I could justify myself to those people. But one positive thing that has come out of my big cheat is that it has allowed others some liberty in their efforts to simplify. For example, a lot of crafters have been interested in the 100 Thing Challenge. I think that by me keeping my library, some of them feel it’s legitimate for them to simplify but still keep their crafting supplies. I think that’s cool.

What’s wrong with having a lot of stuff?

We’d have to put “wrong,” “a lot,” and “stuff” into some context to answer that question properly. But for argument’s sake, I’ll just say that yeah, it’s not good to have a lot of stuff. Why shouldn’t I? Because stuff isn’t passive and I’m not superhuman. Stuff requires maintenance, both physical and emotional. It influences what we do and what we want to do. A normal human being can only handle having so much stuff before the stuff starts to take control, whether it be clutter or wasted time or unhealthy desires. If we don’t self-impose limits, stuff is always going to win.

Also, and I think we’re all coming to understand this more, the priority on having lots of stuff has damaged the earth and hurt many developing people groups. So it’s like, those of us who jump headlong into overconsumption help destroy the world. But our over consumption thrashes ourselves, too. Who’s getting the benefit? Maybe some microbe that feasts on ocean garage gyres. But the rest of us aren’t deriving much good from consumer indulgence.

You mention that having a lot of things puts a strain on you. How so?

At the most fundamental level, stuff requires time to keep organized, cleaned, operating, etc. It’s like the iPad my parents gave me. (Ironically, it was a gift because they were proud I’d gained some fame as a minimalist… sigh.) It’s taken me a year to figure out what to do with the thing. Flipboard shows some promise to help me streamline news reading and some social media connections. Keynote has been a little helpful. I like the iPad, but truly at this point it’s taken up more energy than it’s provided efficiency. That’s a trivial strain, I guess. But this kind of strain gets compounded when we add lots more stuff to our lives.

Also stuff takes up mental and even spiritual energy. I mean, think about cars. The research we do. The visualization of ourselves zipping around town. We learn a whole new vocabulary about features and financing options, as if this knowledge somehow makes us smart enough to over-spend on credit, which is how most cars are purchased. Then what happens? We drive off the lot and start coveting next year’s model or the sport package or a different color interior. When we go through this time and time again, purchase after purchase, it causes quite a strain on our souls.

Continue reading “Interview with author of The 100 Thing Challenge”