Tag Archives: book

Book Review ‘Does it Fart?’

Dogs do it. Millipedes do it. Birds don’t do it, but humans definitely do it — some more than others. Of course, I’m talking about farting, one of the most natural biological processes, which is frowned upon in most cultures.

Does It Fart?: The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence
by Nick Caruso & Dani Rabaiotti
Publisher: Quercus // 145 pp // Buy on Amazon

Does it Fart? is the best book you never knew you wanted to read — it’s the ultimate guide to animal flatulence, a compendium of gassy stories. But don’t let the whimsical approach fool you; there’s a lot of solid biological info you just don’t find in most books.

For instance, did you know that almost all mammals fart, but the sloth doesn’t?

Dani Rabaiotti, a Ph.D. zoology student at the Zoological Society of London and co-author of the book, studies how climate change impacts African wild dogs. She teamed up with Virginia Tech ecologist Nick Caruso after facing an avalanche of Twitter questions regarding the ability of different animals to fart.

“We just had a mutual interest in farts,” Caruso recalls.

Farts come in different (how shall we put this) forms and intensities, and not all animals fart the same way. In fact, the two authors first had to decide on what a fart really is. They settled on a simple definition: gas that comes out of the end opposite to the mouth. But even so, things aren’t as simple as they might seem.

For instance, what do you do with creatures that don’t have an opposite end? What do you do with creatures whose farts aren’t associated with digestion, but with other processes? Well, then you just explore the story and see what comes out of it.

Herein lies the beauty of this book: sure, the subject is whimsical, but this kind of childish curiosity is too often missing in today’s scientific world. There are many things we don’t know about animal farts, and if you start to dig around, there’s a good chance you’ll find some very puzzling biological questions.

Biophysical processes, including some which seem quite funny — like farting — are important for many creatures of the world, and there’s still so much we don’t know. Does it Fart? takes a boyish approach to it all, but it makes a very compelling case in doing so — the straightforward curiosity takes us off the beaten path, and it offers a refreshing reading experience.

I read the book in two goes. I only stopped because I really had work to do — otherwise, I would have probably devoured it in one go. It reads a bit like Pokemon cards, or simple, animal-by-animal information tidbits. The book is masterfully complemented by simple drawings and also touches on human farting which, as I suspect you already know, is frowned upon in most parts of the world.

Haven’t read a book lately? Blame Netflix, researchers say

You’re all up to date with the latest series, but the book on your nightstand is gathering dust — a situation more and more people are finding themselves in. A new study decries the drop in book readership, as more and more time is spent online and watching TV shows.

The old saying that every second, a German buys a book, no longer stands. People are spending more time online and less time reading, researchers report.

The new study analyzed reading trends in Germany, finding that the people who buy books are becoming fewer and fewer. Last year, just 44% of Germans over the age of 10 (29.6 million people) bought a book. The number dropped by nearly 18% between 2013 and 2017, and between people aged 20-50, the drop was even more severe (24% to 37%).

Among the main reasons for this drop is competition. Reading books is an enjoyable pastime, but people are spending their time online and, notably, watching series of TV shows — it’s no coincidence that companies like Netflix or Amazon are enjoying such tremendous success with their shows.

Watching things is often regarded as an “easier” way to spend your time, requiring less effort and often featuring less intricacy than books. There’s also social pressure — if your friends are watching the latest series, you also want to catch up and be up to date.

“There’s growing social pressure to constantly react and be tuned in so you don’t get left behind,” Boersenverein head Alexander Skipis said in a statement accompanying the study, titled “Book buyers, where are you going?”.

However, this presents the book industry with an opportunity: life is already hectic, and the web and TV shows only make it even more so. Reading a book should be presented as a relaxing activity, a sort of time-out from daily life.

“People are yearning for a time-out,” said Skipis, stressing that all age groups reported have a “very positive” attitude towards books.

However, we shouldn’t interpret this as an overall decrease in book reading. Perhaps surprisingly, while fewer people are buying books, those who are are buying are purchasing more than ever. The average reader bought 12 books last year, up from 11 in 2013. The total amount spent jumped from around 117 euros ($138) to 137 euros.

So while the non-readers group is getting larger, the readers group is getting more passionate. A similar evolution was experienced by e-books: customer numbers went down, but overall purchases per person went up.

People are also finding more creative and time-efficient ways to incorporate reading into their lives. Some people are using personalized apps for book recommendations, others are taking books in rather unexpected places, like the gym.

An interesting takeaway, and perhaps an important lesson (although this wasn’t the focus of the study), is that the gap between the two groups (readers and non-readers) is becoming larger and larger. So many times we talk about two different worlds, two societies hidden in one — here too, the same trend is noticeable.

Paper reconstruction.

Paper strips recovered from Blackbeard’s ship reveals pirates liked voyage stories — at least, stuffed in their guns

The infamous pirate Blackbeard may have passed the hours between raids with some light reading, a new discovery suggests.

Paper reconstruction.

Image credits North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

North Carolina archeological conservators working on the wreckage of the Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR), the ship captained by Blackbeard during the 18th-century, have found 16 paper fragments “in a mess of wet sludge” hidden in the chamber of a cannon. In the end, they managed to identify the original works from these slivers of paper — a 1712 book penned by Captain Edward Cooke, A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711.

Y’aaaarrr me maties, ’tis a fine book!

It took months of efforts to ensure the fragments are properly conserved, and months still after that step for the team to identify the book from the few words still (barely) visible on the fragments — the largest of which was about the size of a US quarter.

The conservators, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’s QAR lab, said that paper is a very rare find on shipwreck sites.

“This unique find from the wreckage of Queen Anne’s Revenge provides archaeological evidence for books carried on ships in the early 18th century, and adds to our knowledge of the history of Blackbeard’s flagship and those who sailed her,” the department wrote in a statement.

“The historical record has several references to books aboard vessels in Blackbeard’s fleet, but provides no specific titles; this find is the first archaeological evidence for their presence on QAR.”

Edward Teach, who took up the name Blackbeard for his pirate adventures, ran the QAR aground off the coast of North Carolina in 1718. The wreck was discovered in 1996, and ever since conservators had been hard at work digging out and preserving the artifacts aboard.

Blackbeard pirate flag.

The pirate flag Blackbeard sailed under.
Image credits Angus Konstam, Blackbeard the Pirate, via Wikimedia.

The book describes Cooke’s voyages and adventures around the coast of South America, so it would probably have been quite a good lecture for a pirate — both educational and entertaining! The book was also quite influential during its time. Among other tales, it recounts the story of Alexander Selkirk’s rescue from an island in the South Pacific on which he had been marooned for four years. The story would eventually inspire Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe in 1719.

Paper, like most organic material, very rarely survives in shipwrecks — so finding the pieces is a special occurrence indeed. One of the pirates‘ less honorable practices, that of stuffing cannons with paper (among other things) to keep the powder charge in place, might have helped preserve it.

Kind of wasteful if you ask me, but then again, I’ve never had to load a gun.

“Although books such as these voyage narratives would have been relatively common on ships of the early 18th century, archaeological evidence for them is exceedingly rare, and this find represents a glimpse into the reading habits of a pirate crew,” the conservators add.

The team is also planning a display of the find to mark Blackbeard’s 300th anniversary this year.

Plots book review Belknap

Book Review: ‘Plots’

Plots book review Belknap

By Robert L. Belknap
Columbia University Press, 196pp | Buy on Amazon

For those of us who enjoy reading, our energy is spent mostly on the content of the book, and not its structure. We follow the plot, we follow the action, but what makes a good plot, after all? Why do we celebrate Shakespeare as the playwright extraordinaire, and not any other of his talented peers? What makes Dostoievski’s work rise above so many others? Robert Belknap doesn’t directly ask that, but he dissects storytelling and literary plots in ways I never thought possible. Plots is definitely not an easy read — it was likely never meant to be — but if you want to get your hands dirty and look at the very core of what makes a story, this is it.

I’d say the bare minimum “backpack” you need for Plots is Shakespeare’s King Lear and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Belknap makes numerous references to the two masterpieces, though he often mentions other works of Shakespeare, as well as those of Aristotle and other Russian formalists. You’d certainly gain new perspectives even having not read the two, but since they are used as case studies, Belknap’s efforts would largely be wasted; and that would just be a shame.

Working within a charming storytelling frame himself, he manages to easily pass from complex topic to complex topic, make things surprisingly easy to digest even for someone without much experience in literary analysis (read: yours truly). The fact that he keeps murky jargon to a minimum helps make Plots quite attractive and pleasant to read. The fabulasiuzhet discussion is a notable exception. Basically, both terms can be translated as ‘plot,’ but they don’t really mean the same thing. In a sense, Belknap explains, fabula is what really happens, whereas siuzhet is how this story is told. It’s from here that he starts his theory of storytelling and plots, showing an extraordinary ability to notice and analyze critical details, a skill undoubtedly honed in decades of literary studies.

Don’t get me wrong though, it gets quite dry at points, especially in the first part of the book, but it’s worth getting through it. I’d dare say that if you do, you’ll never look at a book or a plot in the same way. I truly recommend this book not only to those studying literature but to those who really want to understand stories.

Still, Plots is not a book for everyone. It’s for those who want to take their literary understanding to the next level. It makes a lot of sense then that a book that so easily throws masterpieces into the fray is a masterpiece itself — I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Atlas on display.

Watch the (2nd) biggest book in the world get digitized, all thanks to the British Library

This mammoth of an atlas is so big that you need two people to flip the pages. It’s so heavy you need even more people to move it around. And now, almost three and a half centuries after its creation, the Klencke Atlas has been fully digitized.

Atlas on display.

The Klencke Atlas on display at the British Library.
Image credits British Library.

The Klencke Atlas is instantly recognizable, and for good reason — this atlas is the crown jewel of the British Library’s cartographic collection and dwarfs lesser tomes, towering an incredible 1.75 meters in height (roughly 6 ft) by 1.9 meters wide when stretched open (about 6,5 ft). Since its creation in 1660, the atlas has been the biggest book on the planet, likely the whole Solar System all the way up to 2012 when Millennium House’s gigantic publication Earth Platinum claimed the title with a .5 meter advantage.

Creation of the book is attributed Dutch Prince John Maurice of Nassau, but it’s named after Johannes Klencke who in 1660 presented it to King Charles II of England to celebrate his restoration of the throne. At least, that’s the official reason — rumor has it that the Dutch delegation, mostly made up of sugar merchants, aimed to secure a favorable trade deal with England with the Atlas, as Charles was a known map enthusiast.

Like maps do you? Gonna love this.
Image credits British Library.

And boy oh boy a kingly present it was, indeed. The Klencke Atlas isn’t an atlas in the strictest sense of the word, since it wasn’t intended to be read and enjoyed as a regular book — the size alone made that a very challenging, rather infuriating task. Rather, it represents a collection of maps meant to removed from the spine and displayed on walls. It contains 37 maps which held the sum of geographical knowledge in Europe at the time — Britain and other European states, Brazil, South Asia, and the Holy Land — transposed onto 39 beautifully executed, detailed, and engraved sheets. The sheer size and complexity would send a clear message to anyone who saw it: king knew and ‘owned’ the geography of the world.

Luckily for us, the king liked it so much that he kept it among his most prized possessions in the ‘Cabinet and Closset of rarities’ in Whitehall. There it was kept safe and well cared after for until 1828, when King George III gave the hefty atlas to the British Museum as part of a larger donation of maps and atlases. There it was re-bound and extensively restored in the 1950s, and is currently held by the museum’s Antiquarian Mapping division, keeping watch on the entrance lobby of the maps reading room.

Since it is so old and so evidently unique, the Klencke Atlas has usually been left to rest out of the spotlit. The only time the public could see it with its pages opened since its creation 350 years ago was in April of 2010 at an exhibition organised by the British Library. But such a book shouldn’t be kept hidden — and yet, to keep it from being damaged, one must keep it very safe. What do to?

Klencke Atlas Europe.

Image credits British Library.

Well, one solution is to copy it. Just last month, the British Library teamed up with Daniel Crouch Rare Books to digitize the whole book. It which took several days of several people transporting the book, mounting it into an XXXL stand to take the shots, flipping the mammoth pages, and days of photographing each page so every map was fully recorded.

The online version can be viewed on the British Library’s website. They also put together this cool time-lapse video so you can see how the whole process went. Enjoy!

Book Review: ‘The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity’

The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity
By Daniel Callahan
Colombia University Press, 393 pp | Buy on Amazon

The original four horsemen of the Bible stand for some of humanity’s oldest fears — war and conquest, famine or disease, ultimately death. Each one symbolizes a deeply instinctual dread, of a kind that all life has hard-wired to avoid, literally, under pain of death.

In modern societies, these specters don’t hold as much sway as they once did. Compared to our ancestors, we have plentiful and easily accessible food sources. Science and technology supply drugs and techniques that make us live longer and better than ever before. Wars all take place on TV, with stories of “somewhere else”. We have put systems in place that largely corral these ancient evils.

But we’re not beyond their reach. In The Five Horsemen of the Modern World, american philosopher and biomedical ethicist Danial Callahan takes on these issues in the modern day. The book is divided into three sections comprising 11 chapters and focuses on five modern horsemen — climate, food, water, disease, and obesity.

Section one attempts to identify and quantify each problem in turn. Here Callahan does a superb job of presenting each issue in its fullest extent, withholding personal input in favor of hard facts. Starting with Climate, he shows that heavy exploitation of natural resources has pushed the environment to the brink of collapse. These changes, he writes, will impact all of us one way or another — yet there has been almost no reaction from politics or industry. Callahan takes a look at the role scientific misinformation, as well as political and economic interests play in the issue. In the end, we can’t rely on technological quick-fixes, he writes, but will have to re-think our and our society’s relationship to nature.

“Humans must learn how to live sustainably in harmony with nature and cease believing we can with impunity master and dominate it, and that from an environmental perspective human life on [Earth] may be crippled or even destroyed unless we become nature’s stewards.”

The chapters on Food and Obesity, although separate, treat two chilling ends of the same problem. Part of the world is dying for lack of food, while the other is dying from over-consumption. The rise of a global food market squashes local farmers under a deluge of produce. Combined with a growing fiscalization of the market, this leads to greater energy costs for transport, less food security, raising rates of malnourished and starving people, as well as a growing environmental strain. Callahan also examines the faults in today’s economic models in addressing the food problem. Price fluctuations, he writes, often leave poorer countries unable to afford basic food.

At the same time, developed countries struggle with too much food. Cheap but salt-, sugar-, and fat-rich fast-food powers growing obesity (and death) rates in these countries. Taking the example of China, he warns that an ever-growing population in developing countries will place an exponential burden on our agriculture — they demand more milk, eggs, meat, and other animal goods which require ever more farmland.

Water looks at the growing scarcity of fresh water and the alarming rate of aquifer depletion. Rampant drilling has left may areas, such as India, in risk of drying out. Callahan also details the ethical dilemmas with fiscalizing water, and the unavoidable tragedy of the commons if we don’t regulate water use.

Disease illustrates the divide between the developed world and the rest. The former suffer from bloated medical systems in which huge sums of money are spent on prolonging the life of elderly and treating chronic diseases. The latter simply lack the economic resources to do so, and attempt to focus on prevention.

In the second section, “Examining the Pathways through the Thickets”, Callahan looks at the issues which perpetuate these five problems. Is it ethical to tell people what and how much they can eat, even if you do it to prevent obesity? Is it right for the state to intervene in such personal decisions? And what is the role media and industry play in shaping these personal choices? Can we rely on technology to solve our problems? In the end, these are not simple questions and they do not have simple answers. The book gives all the sides implicated in these issues a chance to present their arguments.

The last section, “Toward the Future: Progress, Hope, and Fear” is in Callahan’s own words “a theory about how and why the five horsemen came into existence.” He points to our need for progress as the root cause of all these issues — the need to live better, and feel that we live better. Globalization of the market, affluence, and wealth inequality are what caused these problems to arise in the first hand.

The Five Horsemen of the Modern World is a work of global scope that takes into account science, politics, economy, and society when analyzing the greatest threats we face today. It dissects these extremely tangled issues in some of the clearest writing I have ever laid eyes upon. Callahan isn’t afraid to go against some of your political, economical, even ethical values at times — but it will do so with solid arguments.

In the end, The Five Horsemen is a book that will challenge you. It will challenge you to change your understanding of “progress”. It will challenge you to look at how everything you know fits in a much greater whole. And most of all, it will challenge us to face the horsemen before they catch up to us.

Critical version of ‘Mein Kampf’ a huge hit in Germany

A critical version of “Mein Kampf”, Adolf Hitler’s infamous autobiography, has spent two thirds of 2016 among Germany’s best-seller list.

Image credits Matthias Schrader/AP.

Image credits Matthias Schrader/AP.

For fear, shame, or anger, it’s a book that has been banned in Germany for seven decades now. The state of Bavaria has held the copyright to the work since the end of the war up to the 31st of December 2015, successfully blocking any effort to republish the book. But as soon as the calendar showed 2016, a critical and annotated edition of the book was published by the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich — the result of three years’ worth of highly-controverted work.

“Hitler, Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition” was a huge success, selling some 85,000 copies and ranking on the “Der Spiegel” best-seller list for 35 weeks straight according to the New York Times reports. The Institute considers its success as proof that the historians’ work to annotate, criticize, and contextualize the original reviled work was worth it.

Some argued that the book, which lays down the dictator’s beliefs regarding the Aryan master race, would fuel the rise of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. On the other hand, some argued that it’s a piece of history — a book that offers important insight into one of the darkest periods in the country’s history. Plus, people were already reading the book.

“Despite all the debates about republication, Hitler’s book has long been accessible in a variety of ways: on the shelves of used book shops, in legally printed English translations or a mouse click away on the Internet – ‘Mein Kampf’ is out there and every year manages to find new readers, agitators and commercial profiteers,” the publisher wrote in a statement.

“The task of an annotated critical edition is to render the debate objective and to put forward a serious alternative, a counter-text to the uncritical and unfiltered dissemination of Hitler’s propaganda, lies, half-truths and vicious tirades.”

The original version of the book was written in two volumes between 1924 and 1926. Hitler laid down most of the first volume in prison after his failed coup attempt in 1923. The rest of the book focuses on his and the National Socialist (Nazi) party’s belief, penned at his mountain retreat. After he rose to power in 1933, Mein Kampf’s popularity soared. It had been translated into 18 languages and sold some 12 million copies by the end of 1945.

The annotated version takes a critical look at the book. Among other things, it explores Hitler’s motives behind writing the book, the social support his ideas had among his contemporaries. But above all, it looks at how to combat and disarm the caustic ideology contained in its pages, according to a statement from the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich.


First edition of Newton’s Principia is on auction, poised to become most expensive copy of the book

A first edition copy of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, one of the most influential books in the world, is going to be held for auction in New York with an opening price of at least  US$1m (£790,000) this month.


Principia Mathematica with Sir Isaac Newton’s notes.
Image credits Cambridge University Library.

Back in 2003, a red morocco leather-bound copy of the book said to have belonged to King James II sold at auction of more than US$2.5m; it’s list price was US$600,000. Now, New York auction house Christie’s is holding one of the first edition copies up for auction with a list price of between US$1-1.5m — which could easily become one of the most expensive copies of the text ever sold.

But what makes it so valuable? Well, the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) is, hands down, one of the most important and influential books in modern science. It laid out the brunt of Newton’s theories on gravity and motion, while also being the first work of scope to apply a more rigorous mathematical system to physics. It became the benchmark for scientific method and thought. Just to put it into perspective, this book, published in 1687, was the physics treatise to read all up to the publication of Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1916. It was a fundamental text, setting the tone of physical research for almost 230 years.

“What Newton does in the 1680s is revolutionise the physical sciences. The fundamental laws of physics,” said Keith Moore, head of the Royal Society library.

It’s also one of the rarest printed versions of the book. Out of the roughly 400 first edition copies printed of the Principia, about 20% were “continental” copies designed for buyers in Europe, which had several minor differences from those sold in England at the time — and this copy is one of them.

Moore believes that the large guide price comes down to a growing appreciation of science in culture, as well as the huge fortunes amassed by luckier tech entrepreneurs.

“People who have big books these days maybe are the kinds of people who have made their money on the internet,” he said. “If you’ve made your money from a really cool algorithm, you will probably appreciate Newtonian physics. If you have a few million quid to spend, why wouldn’t you buy a copy of Principia Mathematica?”

“It’s not just the history and development of science; it’s one of the greatest books ever published,” Keith added. “It was hugely influential in terms of applying mathematics to basic physical problems.”

The society retains two copies of the book, including its “greatest treasure” — the original manuscript used to run the first print edition in 1687.




Crystallizing books – the spectacular art of Alexis Arnold

We see this too often – loads and loads of discarded books in storage rooms, on the sidewalk, even in our homes. Abandoned books are a much too common sight, and at least to me, a depressing sight. This inspired San Francisco-based artist Alexis Arnold to embark on a fascinating quest to make something beautiful – crystallized books.

“The Crystallized Book series was prompted by repeatedly finding boxes of discarded books, by the onset of e-books, and by the shuttering of bookstores”, she told ZME Science in an email. “Additionally, I had been growing crystals on hard objects and was interested in seeing the effect of the crystal growth on porous, malleable objects.”


Of course, they aren’t technically crystallized books – Alexis uses a super concentrated Borax solution. She boils the thing, allowing more Borax in and then submerging the book in the hot solution, manipulating it in the desired shape and then draining it. Here’s the detailed process, so you can try it out at home. Be careful when handling chemical substances though (especially hot ones) – Borax is not particularly toxic, but sufficient exposure to borax dust can cause respiratory and skin irritation.

“I start by creating a super-saturated solution (ratio of 3 tbl to 1 cup, expanded as needed) of Borax in boiling water. When the water boils, its molecules expand, allowing more Borax in. I submerge the book (or other object) in the hot, saturated solution and carefully manipulate the book to my liking. As the saturated water cools, the molecules shrink and any excess Borax crystallizes. Once the solution has completely cooled and the crystals have grown on the submerged book, I drain the solution and dry the book without disturbing its shape. The books will hold their new, transformed shape when completely dry. The crystals themselves change from translucent to opaque over time depending on atmospheric conditions. This transition can take years or be induced rapidly.”


This is quite a creative process, and while I was toying around with salt crystals years ago, I never actually thought of doing something like this – and I think the artistic statement is impactful as well.


“Conceptually, the series addresses the materiality of the book versus the text or content of the book, in addition to commenting on the vulnerability of the printed form. The crystals remove the text and transform the books into aesthetic, non-functional objects. The books, frozen in a myriad of positions by the crystal growth, have become artifacts or geologic specimens imbued with the history of time, use, and nostalgia.”

If you want to see more of Alexis’ works, you can check out the group exhibition at the Esther Klein Gallery within the University City Science Center in Philadelphia, PA. The show runs February 5 – March 20 and includes a fantastic group of artists who use crystals in their artwork in diverse ways. I took a look at some of the works there and I have to admit – I was just blown away. If you’re in the neighborhood, this is definitely not something you want to miss.


In addition to working with crystals, Alexis is also working hard on new work for a solo show in May at En Em Art Space in Sacramento, CA.




This book can clean murky waters and save lives

Books and education save lives – but the Drinkable Book takes things to the next level. Using the bacteria-killing properties of silver and copper, a US researcher has developed a low cost, light and cool way of purifying drinking water: through a book.

Each year, 3.4 million people perish because they don’t have access to clean water; 99 percent of these cases happen in the developing world, and could be avoided. Several innovative ideas have already been revealed (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), but there’s always room for another, especially as the problem continues to persist. This is there the Drinkable Book enters the stage.

Each page is impregnated with bacteria-killing metal nanoparticles, and printed on each page, there are instructions in English and another language (the native language where it will be delivered) on how to use the filter. Their website writes:

“This technology (pAge drinking paper) uses a thick, sturdy sheet of paper embedded with silver nanoparticles, which are lethal for microbes.  This paper was created and shown to be highly antibacterial during Theresa’s Ph.D. at McGill University.    Additionally, these filters meet US EPA guidelines for bacteria removal to produce safe drinking water.”

Dr. Theresa Dankovich, now a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, developed and tested the technology for the book over several years, working on her PhD.

“It’s directed towards communities in developing countries,” Dr Dankovich said, noting that 663 million people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water. “All you need to do is tear out a paper, put it in a simple filter holder and pour water into it from rivers, streams, wells etc and out comes clean water – and dead bacteria as well,” she said in an interview.

A single page can clean up to 100 liters of drinking water; the entire book can ensure clean drinking water for one person for four years.

Corinne, a MS engineering student from Carnegie Mellon University, also collaborated on the project.

The idea of using silver and copper to clean water is not new – on the contrary, it’s been used for more than a century. However, no one’s ever thought of actually putting them into paper to purify water.

“In Africa, we wanted to see if the filters would work on ‘real water,’ not water purposely contaminated in the lab,” she said. “One day, while we were filtering lightly contaminated water from an irrigation canal, nearby workers directed us to a ditch next to an elementary school, where raw sewage had been dumped. We found millions of bacteria; it was a challenging sample,” Dankovich noted. “But even with highly contaminated water sources like that one, we can achieve 99.9 percent purity with our silver- and copper-nanoparticle paper, bringing bacteria levels comparable to those of US drinking water,” Dankovich said.

Since then, she’s started her own company and teamed up with the nonprofit WATERisLIFE organization and Brian Gartside, a designer formerly with DDB New York.

The Drinkable Book shows great promise, but is still a prototype and some more time and support for continued development before it is ready to be a commercially available product.


Overwhelming majority of college students prefer paper books to digital copies

Despite ebooks and their corresponding electronic reading devices have become extremely popular, surprisingly most young adults and children prefer reading in print than digitally. Moreover, this trend seems to be on the rise after a momentary preference for ebook readers. For the publishing industry and ebook reader manufacturers this most certainly means a stalemate as far as sales go, yet the big picture is uncertain. A decade ago, most experts would agree that conventional, paper books would become obsolete in favor of ereaders, which can store thousands of books. This has proven to be false. Books as we know them are here to stay and will most likely remain the main choice for reading, as far serious literature goes at least.


Credit: Citadinul

It’s a bit fuzzy who invented the first e-book. Some credit the first electronic document as being the Index Thomisticus, a heavily annotated electronic index to the works of Thomas Aquinas, prepared by Roberto Busa beginning in the late 1940s. However, this is sometimes omitted, perhaps because the digitized text was (at least initially) a means to developing an index and concordance, rather than as a published edition in its own right. Though opinions are polarized, most people seem to agree that the first ebook – at least similar to what we’d call one today – was Michael S. Hart, then at University of Illinois. Using a  Xerox Sigma V mainframe, Hart created the first electronic document by typing the United States Declaration of Independence into a computer in 1971. Subsequently,  Project Gutenberg was launched to launched to create electronic copies of more texts – especially books.  As of January 2015, Project Gutenberg has over 47,975 items in its collection, most of which are public domain books, digitized and available for free.

By 2014 28% of adults had read an e-book, compared to 23% in 2013, and 50% of Americans by 2014 had a dedicated device, either an e-reader or a tablet, compared to 30% owning a device at the end of 2013. Judging from these figures, one would say that ebooks have finally taken off and they’d be right – but only half so. Printed books are still the norm it seems, if we’re to judge Naomi Baron’s research,  a professor of linguistics at American University. In her latest book,  Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, Baron describes her findings after she and colleagues survey over 300 university students in the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Slovakia. When students were given a choice of various mediaincluding hard copy, cell phone, tablet, e-reader, and laptop— a staggering 92 percent said they could concentrate best in hard copy.

“The group we assumed would gobble this up were teenagers and young adults,” says Baron. “But they talked about things I didn’t think 18 to 26-year-olds cared about anymore.”

Speaking for the New Republic when asked about some possible explanations for this, Baron said:

“There are two big issues. The first was they say they get distracted, pulled away to other things. The second had to do with eye strain and headaches and physical discomfort.

When I asked what they don’t like about reading on a screenthey like to know how far they’ve gone in the book. You can read at the bottom of the screen what percent you’ve finished, but it’s a totally different feel to know you’ve read an inch worth and you have another inch and a half to go. Or students will tell you about their visual memory of where something was on the page; that makes no sense on a screen. One student said, “I keep forgetting who the author is. In a print book all I have to do is flip back and I see it.” There are all kinds of reasons students will give“I have a sense of accomplishment when I finish a book and I want to see it on the shelf.” They care about the smell of a book. In the Slovakian data, when I asked what do you like most about reading in hard copy, one out of ten talked about the smell of books. There really is a physical, tactile, kinesthetic component to reading.”

This mirrors a conversation I had with a friend only a couple days ago. I was evangelizing the benefits of owning a Kindle and how superior I find it to conventional reading – though I still read paper books from time to time – but was constantly hit by a brick wall. Like Baron’s correspondents, my friend loathed reading on an electronic device and found great pleasure in the simple act of turning pages, the smell and so on. There’s still a heavily engraved association between reading and books – “real books” as they’re called. It’s yet another example between romantic thinking and classical thinking. Parts and against the whole.

In 2014, 65 percent of 6 to 17-year-old children said they would always want to read books in printup from 60 percent two years earlier. So not only do most people prefer physical books, this preference is on the rise. And these are young people, persons who have now been used to being surrounded by computers, mobiles phones and various gadgets all their lives.

ZME Readers, physical books or ebooks? Why?

smallest book in the world

The smallest book in the world measures less than a millimeter

A 22-page micro-print of Shiki no Kusabana (flowers of seasons) is officially the smallest book in the world, measuring  0.75 millimetres (0.03 inches) or just about impossible to read with the naked eye. The book was printed by Toppan Printing in Japan, who have been making micro books since 1964, using its ultrafine printing technology, the same method used to avoid forgery of paper currency.

Previously, the record holder for smallest book belong to a 1996 micro-edition of Chekhov’s short story, “Chameleon.” The flowers of seasons book is currently on display at Toppan’s Printing Museum in Tokyo, and is on sale, together with a magnifying glass and a larger copy, for 29,400 yen (£205).