Tag Archives: Books

Entertainment is brain exercise

brains-thought-to-speech

Image credit: The Daily What! Mind Reading Shock!!

I have never for one minute thought reading fiction was a “waste of time.” but it is nice to have that belief confirmed with empirical evidence. There is evidence that reading for entertainment can “improve” your brain.

According to a recent Independent article:

“Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading”

The article Brain function ‘boosted for days after reading a novel’ says:

“research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.

The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensory motor region of the brain.

Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition – for example, just thinking about running, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running.

“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study.

“We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

That is great.

We can be confident that even when reading for entertainment we are exercising the “muscle of the brain.”

I wonder if we could be selective about this. Will different genres exercise different parts of the brain?

Similar articles

Advertisements

The importance of books for kids

Here’s a nice video where Lisa Bu describes the importance of books in her development.

She  talks about her cross-cultural experience and how books have helped here understand both her original culture and her new culture.

Her talk reminded me of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s experience. She describes in her book Infidel how growing up in Somalia she managed to read some English books. Although these were  basically crappy novels they did open her mind to another culture.

Even within a country and a culture books can do a lot to open children’s minds up to the possibilities of their future life. It is really sad that many homes do little to provide reading material for children. But even disadvantaged children can get access to books through their schools, library and helpful adults outside the family. 

Books are important for kids.

Lisa Bu: How books can open your mind | Video on TED.com.

Global warning in science fiction

While browsing I have noticed the term “cli-fi” as a book genre – but hadn’t paid much attention. I think I must have assumed it was a sub genre of erotica, or something similar. However, the article Global warning: the rise of ‘cli-fi’ by in the Guardian, cleared up my misunderstanding.

“Cli-fi” is that genre of fictional writing about climate change. More a sub genre of science fiction than erotica!

The comments on this Guardian article are interesting – they mostly suggest titles of books the commenter considers part of this new genre. But also interesting was that several commenters mentioned fellow SciBlogger Gareth Renowden’s book The Aviator. My impression was that it was actually the most mentioned example of ‘cli-fi’ so it’s obviously developing  a readership. Comments about the book were favourable – as was my review (see Kiwi science fiction with a message).

Among the other mentions was the series Science in the City by Kim Stanley Robinson. These are  Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below  and Sixty Days and Counting.
Each of these is rather long – but I have listened to the audiobook versions and actually quite enjoying them. They won’t be to everyone’s taste – for example, some of the characters indulge in a lot of introspection. But this does mean the books cover personal and relationship issues, as well as reflections on the nature of science and politics. And there is some action – even spies. However, the books are realistic science fiction, set in the near future, within the political and science bureaucracies of Washington, DC. The natural calamities are credible and realistic. As are discussion of projects for slowing climate change.

An interesting series of books.

Similar articles

Dawkins’ new book

Richard Dawkins’ latest book is due out next September. The title – Childhood, Boyhood, Truth: From an African Youth to The Selfish Gene

It’s yet a new genre for Dawkins – autobiography. Mind you he has reached the age where people do tend to write memoirs and autobiographies.

Richard says  this book covers his life up to the  writing of The Selfish Gene.  There will be a second volume, published in 2015, covering the second half of his life.

I have enjoyed his other books and am looking forward to this one – especially as I have a special interest in scientific biography.

These two volumes will be a good read – he is an excellent writer and has had an interesting life, scientifically.

I wonder if it will get the same sort of emotional attacks his earlier books received?

Similar articles

Getting the Book Invented

So, Douglas Adams was talking about eBooks way back in 1993.

Getting the Book Invented…

This hilarious animation was prepared for a competition run by The Literary Platform. The goal was to design motion graphics to accompany a prophetic recording by Douglas Adams from 1993, in which the great writer was detailing the invention of the electronic book.

via ebookfriendly:  Getting the book invented properly

I don’t know!

Here’s a wonderful idea for a children’s book. A book encouraging children to question and appreciate the world around them. A book that isn’t afraid to tell kids “I don’t know!”

It’s the brainchild of Annaka Harris. She has launched it as a project in Kickstarter (see I Wonder by Annaka Harris).

Here’s how Annaka describes the background to the project:

Before my daughter turned two, she began ignoring questions she couldn’t answer. Then she moved on to giving answers she knew to be false. I realized that she had grown accustomed to being celebrated every time she answered a question correctly and was, naturally, less interested in exchanges that didn’t produce this response. But I also realized something even more important: I hadn’t taught her to say “I don’t know” let alone celebrated her ability to do so.

I believe that one of the most important gifts we can give our children is the confidence to say “I don’t know.” It’s the foundation from which we begin our investigation of the world: asking questions, taking the necessary time to understand the answers, and searching for new answers when the ones we have in hand don’t seem to work. The feeling of not knowing is also the source of wonder and awe.

In all social and emotional learning, children need our help identifying the many new feelings they experience: “Oh, that Batman costume scared you,” or “I know, you feel sad when Mommy leaves.” So I went looking for a children’s book that would help me talk about the experience of not knowing with my daughter, but I couldn’t find one…

So she is producing one – a 24-page picture book for children ages one and up. The image above is a composite sketch by the artist she has found to help her, John Rowe.

I liked the way Annaka justifies the need for such a book in her proposal:

We live in a society where people are uncomfortable with not knowing. Children aren’t taught to say “I don’t know,” and honesty in this form is rarely modeled for them. They too often see adults avoiding questions and fabricating answers, out of either embarrassment or fear, and this comes at a price. To solve the world’s most challenging problems, we need innovative minds that are inspired in the presence of uncertainty. Let’s support parents and educators who are raising the next generation of creative thinkers.

Annaka Harris is a freelance editor of popular science books and Co-Founder of Project Reason.

Similar articles

So you’re considering switching to eBooks?

Here’s a graphic I picked up from Online Universities (thanks to E-book Nation). The data is specific to the USA but I think it’s worth anyone considering possible purchase of an eBook Reader, or a tablet for reading purposes, reading through it.

For example, you might conclude from this that such a purchase will probably mean you read a lot more. That you are more likely to buy new books than just borrow them. That you will be able to get books more quickly and there will be more to select from.

However, you will be less likely to share your books with others. And you will prefer to use a printed book when reading with a child.

(Click twice on image to enlarge).


Brought to you by: OnlineUniversities.com

Similar articles

What’s in store for eBook readers

Dedicated eReader or an iPad?

I think many New Zealanders have joined the digital reading revolution. They are purchasing eBooks on-line and reading them on a tablet, such as the iPad, or a dedicated reading device, an eReader.

Personally I think eReaders are a better device for reading – because they don’t provide distractions. Anyway, here I just want to comment on what we can possible look forward to, or expect, in upcoming eReaders.

The major eReaders available in New Zealand all do their job well. The current standard is built-in Wi-Fi and a touch screen. Choice really seems to come down to aesthetics and not actual performance (for example, the major criticism of the Sony appears to be a shiny plastic bezel which could annoy readers). Book formats could also be another factor – choosing between Amazon’s mobi and the alternative ePub open format.

Retail prices for some of the current models in New Zealand have dropped recently. It’s that time of the year  – look forward to announcement of new models in the next few months. Currently I have no idea what to expect. Haven’t picked up any rumours yet. But here are some possibilities worth considering:

Glowlight!

Barnes and Noble latest eReader is the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight. This has  LED lights embedded into the side of the frame. Power drain is low so battery life isn’t markedly reduced. But its a great idea – especially for those with who have sleeping partners but enjoy reading in bed.

Personally I enjoy the fact that eReaders are not backlit as tablets are. Apparently that makes reading harsher. And the dedicated eReader experience is more like reading the printed page. But in bed, or on other low light situations this innovation would be great.

Barnes and Noble does not sell their Nook eReaders in New Zealand but the fact that these new eInk screens are being produced makes uptake by Sony, Kobo or Kindle likely in the near future.

Colour screens

Colour eInk screens are a possibility in future eReaders. The technology is available. These screens won’t have the brilliant colour of backlit tablet screens but should be an advantage for some books – especially comics and technical books with images. However, manufacturers of the smaller screen eReaders may prefer to produce an alternative tablet or backlit screen model, such as the Kindle Fire, Kobo Vox and Nook  colour. For them this may represent the best approach to the market.

Larger screens

The Jetbook Color has a 9.7 inch screen

This is something we have yet to see in New Zealand. I feel there is a market for these – the 6 inch screens are ideal for novels and relatively straightforward non-fiction. But text books, and many other technical books would be far better on the larger screen. Such a screen would also by ideal for pdf formats – and we often have to read other documents besides novels – especially if we are students or researchers. And a larger screen displaying a full pdf or document page will probably work better a 6 inch screen with material we need to refer back to. Something to do with storing the place on the page of an image or piece of information on a page in our memory.

Non-dedicated tablets may be preferred by many people. However the larger iInk screen dedicated devices would have the advantages of longer battery life (using the iPad as a portable device must have its drawbacks because of the battery), less distraction and more comfortable reading. High prices for large screen eReaders could be a drawback, at least until they are more common.

Ectaco Jetbook Color under trial in a Russian classroom

A hopeful sign is that the 9.7 inch Ectaco Jetbook Color e-Reader,the only touchscreen Color E Ink eBook Reader in the world, has come on the market overseas. It is being evaluated for educational purposes in some US schools and a large number of Russian schools. This eReader is clearly targeted at the education market as it comes preloaded with many text books and educational aids. The US Defense Department is also using itReviews indicate that this could be a useful dedicated device.

Removal of DRM

Journalists are speculating that the days of Digital Rights Management (DRM) are numbered. A few publishers have already abandoned it and competition, or is it antagonism, between Amazon and many publishers could lead to its widespread removal. It’s a complex issue but publishers seem to think DRM enables Amazon to achieve monopoly control and to enforce use of their eReaders and eBook format.

Some people, including many authors, really hate DRM. Readers resent the inability to really own the book they have bought as DRM often enforces use of a single device, prevents lending or passing books on to friends and family, and often makes side loading (loading books from other sources, even in the proper format), complicated.

However, computer savy readers usually have no problem removing DRM. And there is a high motivation to do so. Not for piracy or any other illegal use. But to enable use of different formats and books from different sources. As well as legitimate sharing.

Just imagine buying a print book (pBook), going to read it at home and finding that some of the pages are uncut. Easily remedied. But imagine downloading an eBook and finding that your eReader will not open it. No, not a format problem. Maybe some images in the book are is the swg rather than jpg format.  Or there are a large number of embedded fonts which cause the eReader to crash. (Actually the poor conversion of many books to a digital format is another bitch I have about publishers). I have had both problems and let me tell you that eBook sellers like Kobo don’t exactly have a functioning help department.

In such cases the books can easily be corrected by the computer savy reader once the DRM is removed. Why should they be prevented from do so?

On the other hand I know from my friends that many owners of eReaders don’t give a stuff about DRM. They may not know it even exists. They are happy to use the device as a simple attachment to a single provider, purchase all their books from that provider (usually Amazon), and never go hunting for other sources. DRM is probably a non-issue for them.

Conclusion

I suspect a glow screen may be the next common feature – in fact this has already been rumoured for the Kindle. So I would not be surprised to see it in upcoming local eReader models.

Colour and larger eInk screens would be nice. However, I suspect this may not happen soon if tablets, like the iPad, continue their market dominance. On the other hand, institutional and educational pressures could bring the price of larger screen, colour, eReaders down. That is something I would like as the ability to easily read text books, technical articles, pdfs and reference material in a larger format would be really useful.

Similar articles

 

Christmas gift ideas: Evolution of gods, morals and violence

Books are ideal Christmas presents. And as I am spending some time dealing with family business I thought reposting some of my past book reviews over the next few days could be useful am repeating some of my past book reviews.

This is an excellent book for anyone interested in a scientific understanding of morality and religion and their evolution.


Book review: In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence by John Teehan.

Price: US$16.47; NZ$39.97

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (May 3, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1405183810
ISBN-13: 978-1405183819

In the Name of God is an excellent popular presentation of the scientific understanding of the origins of religion and morality. It also examines the origins of religious violence and opens a discussion on the way humanity may reduce these problems.

Some people will find it controversial. But not because some trends in evolutionary psychology have discredited themselves with extravagant claims. In this case the controversy will be because, as Teehan puts it, “this view of human nature – the very idea that there might be a human nature – smacks up against some strongly held political, moral, religious, and ideological positions.”

However, the time is right. “It is only within the last few decades that we have developed the tools that can give us a fair chance of setting out a scientific account of religious origins. In fact, I believe we are living in the midst of perhaps the greatest period of intellectual discovery in the history of religious studies.” One could say the same about the scientific study of human morality.

Continue reading

Problems with pdf eBooks – metadata issues

I have become increasingly dependent on my eBook reader. Consequently I now have quite a few eBooks – and many of them are in the pdf format.

While most eReaders will display pdf formats there can be issues. Because these don’t have flowable text they are probably more suited for devices like the iPad

I don’t have an iPad, but I do have many pdf eBooks. It seems to be the most common format for free and out-of-copyright books. As well as technical books and scientific papers.

So, I have had to confront most of the problems eReaders have with pdf and the problems format conversion programmes have. And, despite the fact that a huge problem is that pdf documents come in different flavours, there is usually a work around – providing you are sufficiently motivated to spend the time required.

Here, I just want to deal with the metadata issue. Fortunately the workarounds here are simple.

Metadata

The metadata includes information on the book or document title, author, publication date, publisher, etc. It is meant to be incorporated into the ebook file – but very often, especially for pdf documents, there is no incorporated metadata, or the data is not suitable. Add the fact that many pdf files do not have descriptive names (eg. my eBook “The Philosophy of Science” by George Couvalis has the file name 0761951016.pdf ) and no wonder I found that I had accumulated a large number of pdfs, scattered throughout my hard drive,  I could not identify without opening them.

If your files have metadata included a cataloguing programme or an eReader will display the correct information, whatever their file name. If not you are usually stuck with the non-informative filename.

Fortunately, changing or adding metadata to a file is quite simple. Here are two places you can make the changes – in the cataloguing programme and in the file itself.

Cataloguing with Calibre

Most serious eBook users eventually get hold of the free programme Calibre. It’s great for format conversions, keeping all you eBooks in one easy place, searching for books to buy, and many more things.

A while back I found its very useful cataloguing feature (see Calibre tips and tricks: article on cataloguing). I use this to produce a catalogue of all my books, in an ePub format which I then transfer to my eReader. It has hyperlinked authors, titles, and other useful information on each book. This includes short reviews, publishers information, cover images and format information for my collection.

It’s great for searching through my collection at leisure when I am planning future reading, or checking what I have. I update it often.

Once a book is added to Calibre the metadata can be added or edited very easily. This happens through automatically consulting on-line databases and the metadata available includes reviews, publishers information, cover images, etc.

This is all very useful – but the metadata changes occur in the Calibre database, not in the file (unless the conversion process is used). Transferring the eBook from your computer to your eBook reader does not transfer the Calibre data itself.

This requires editing the file.

Editing pdf files

The editing required to alter or add metadata is minor, but usually beyond those without programmes like Acrobat. But here’s a simple tip. Download and use BeCyPDFMetaEdit.

This is a simple programme enabling minor editing of pdf files. It ” allows editing of several settings like the metadata about author, title, subject and keywords of the document. Furthermore, one can customize the viewer preferences, the bookmarks, the page labels, the page transitions for slide shows and the encryption/permissions of a document.”

I have found it ideal for this simple job.  Only a few seconds are required to check and update the metadata before transferring the file from Calibre to my eReader.

I no longer have to go through the painful process of opening and checking books on my eReader just because the only information available is the file name.

Editing ePub files

I have found this is not usually necessary. But when needed I use the ePub editor Sigil. This is very useful for anyone wanting to get into eBook creation in more detail. It has its own learning curve but the metadata editing is simple. Just go to Tools>Meta Editor and make the required changes. Don’t forget to save the file.

See Also:
Calibre – eBook Management
Calibre tips and tricks blog
BeCyPDFMetaEdit.
Sigil

Similar articles