Are Tablets Any Good for Serious Reading?
Jason Gots is a New York-based writer, editor, and podcast producer. For Big Think, he writes (and sometimes illustrates) the blog "Overthinking Everything with Jason Gots" and is the creator and host of the "Think Again" podcast. In previous lives, Jason worked at Random House Children's Books, taught reading and writing to middle schoolers and community college students, co-founded a theatre company (Rorschach, in Washington, D.C.), and wrote roughly two dozen picture books for kids learning English in Seoul, South Korea. He is also the proud father of an incredibly talkative and crafty little kid.
What’s the Big Idea?
With the launch of the new iPad imminent and amid ongoing speculation about the gradual replacement of laptops and desktops with tablet-like devices, there’s a quiet but definite moaning sound in the background from book lovers who feel that their quiet subculture is about to be further overshadowed by things that buzz, shout, and bleep.
Putting aside, for the moment, the endless debate between boosters of technological progress (“Change is good and inevitable!”) on the one hand, and Luddite technophobes (“We’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater!”) on the other, the question some are asking is whether the experience of reading a book on a tablet – with its access to email, IM, and other forms of multimedia multitasking – is substantially different from that of reading a physical book, or reading one on a dedicated e-reader, like the most basic version of the Kindle.
The answer, at least according to this New York Times article, is yes, definitely. In this non-scientific, anecdotal survey, tablet readers report a much more distracted experience than they remember from the good ‘ol printed book. They tend to abandon more books halfway through than they used to, too. One interviewee thinks this is a good thing – she says being forced to compete with YouTube raises the bar for authors in terms of writing captivating prose.
This is nonsense, of course. As David Foster Wallace has explained much more lucidly than I can ever hope to, great books both seduce and challenge the reader, appealing to the part of our mind that wants to engage in worthy intellectual labor for the sake of personal growth, as opposed to the part that just wants to eat potato chips and veg out. Wallace’s own work is a great example of the balance between these two imperatives: to seduce and to challenge – but reading Infinite Jest (a profound pleasure) requires a sustained effort of will and attention that might very well lose out in competition with Angry Birds.
David Foster Wallace on “challenging” books
What’s the Significance?
In our dizzying rush to acquire and acclimate to new technologies and software, which are being thrown at us by developers faster than many of us can figure out how to use them, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that these things are tools for our use (when useful), not challenges that we’re supposed to live up to. And that, like all tools, they’re good for some things and not so good for others.
If you like the smell of books and the fact that your library shelves are a living record of your personal journey through literature, then, by god, fill your home with shelving! If you find that you’re losing the thread of a supposedly great new book because people are pinging you every five minutes on facebook, then maybe it’s time to set some boundaries – to carve out some “reading time” and turn off the tablet.
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The Spilhaus Projection may be more than 75 years old, but it has never been more relevant than today.
- Athelstan Spilhaus designed an oceanic thermometer to fight the Nazis, and the weather balloon that got mistaken for a UFO in Roswell.
- In 1942, he produced a world map with a unique perspective, presenting the world's oceans as one body of water.
- The Spilhaus Projection could be just what the oceans need to get the attention their problems deserve.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
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