Wednesday, March 30, 2016

New Print Technologies Help Art Books Survive in a Digital World

“Philodendron,” a lavish companion catalog to an exhibition on the social history of tropical plants last year at the Wolfsonian-Florida International University museum. Credit Lynton Gardiner, via The Wolfsonian–FIU
Even in this era of all things digital, big institutions like the Getty in Los Angeles and more regional ones, like the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, continue to produce new printed art books at an impressive rate.
That may seem logical, given that museums are committed to preserving the best of the past, even if it becomes obsolete. But today’s print-based art books aren’t odes to the past. Instead, they deliver a sense of tactile immediacy.
“I like to joke that we’ve started buying mysteries and romance novels as electronic books, but we still have coffee tables where we want to put our prized possessions,” said Kara Kirk, publisher of Getty Publications. “It’s almost the fetishization of the object.”

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And what better kind of books to collect than art books, and even more particularly, exhibition catalogs? All those stunning color plates, brainy essays about the spectatorship of consumption and meticulously compiled back matter.
As broadsheet newspapers grow skinnier, and page-turners become digital files, it’s easy to overlook how technological progress has bolstered print while simultaneously undermining it. But as art books grow more materially impressive, they remind us that technology’s sword cuts two ways.
Take “Philodendron: From Pan-Latin Exotic to American Modern,” a companion catalog to an exhibition on the social history of tropical plants staged last year by the Wolfsonian-Florida International University museum, in Miami Beach. Thanks to a printing process that uses a soft-to-the-touch coating and multiple levels of embossing, the leaf depicted on the book’s cover functions as an engaging bit of tactile trompe l’oeil: It has the same subtle, velvety feel and raised white veins of an actual philodendron.
The cover of “Made in L.A. 2014,” the catalog for the Hammer Museum’s biennial, designed by Kimberly Varella and Tanya Rubbak. Credit Ian Byers-Gambe, via Content Object Design Studio
“Print technologies have gotten so advanced,” said Elisa Leshowitz, director of publisher services at D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, the largest distributor of art books and museum exhibition catalogs. “You pick up a book from 1980, something that was considered an important art book back in the day. And you compare the quality of its printing to today’s printing, and you essentially see that we’ve come a very long way. The amount of colors that can be used to replicate an original illustration. The extensive selection of papers available. Things have gotten very exciting.”
Just as the Wolfsonian-FIU’s founder included a library within its building, with the idea that a book is an art object, the museum focuses on the physicality of books in its own publishing efforts. “We want to create books that are beautifully produced material objects,” said Timothy Rodgers, the Wolfsonian-FIU’s director.
In 2015, that relatively small museum — it has a full-time staff of 38 and an annual budget of just over $5 million — published four new titles, all of them on paper.
A view of the installation, “Philodendron: From Pan-Latin Exotic to American Modern,” by the Wolfsonian-Florida International University museum, in Miami Beach. Credit Lynton Gardiner, via The Wolfsonian-Florida International University
While budget constraints certainly affect the efforts of museum publishers, their intentions typically transcend bottom lines. “Their idea of investment is really different from traditional publishers’,” said Kimberly Varella, a book designer based in Los Angeles. “One is monetary, and the other is intellectual or educational.”
As a result, Ms. Varella suggests, museum publishers have the latitude to capitalize on today’s printing capabilities in a way that many other publishers can’t.
“The catalog that I did for the Hammer Museum’s biennale, “Made in L.A. 2014,” would have made any traditional publishing company die, basically,” Ms. Varella said.
It was, in other words, expensive to produce. “The cover price maybe reflected the cost of printing only,” Ms. Varella said. “But the goal wasn’t to net out. The goal was to make this time capsule that lives on after the exhibition is over.”
Indeed, no one who possesses a copy of “Made in L.A. 2014or “Philodendron is likely to get rid of them soon. Visually stunning, beautifully made, they are themselves art objects that perfectly encapsulate a curious cultural moment, one in which a supposedly obsolescing technology feels lively and immediate.
Correction: March 18, 2016
An article on Thursday about the advanced printing technologies used by art book publishers misstated the name of a publisher of art books and museum exhibition catalogs. It is D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, not D.A.P./Distributed Art Press.

Europe has adopted clean energy with so much gusto that they've created a strange new problem

Europe has adopted clean energy with so much gusto that they've created a strange new problem

france solar powerFred Lancelot/REUTERSWind turbines turn behind rows of solar panels in Avignonet-Lauragais, in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France on October 30, 2015.Europe gets so much of its energy from renewables that many leading countries are now facing a new problem: updating their energy grids to handle it all.
Last year, developing countries (including China, India, and Mexico) invested more in renewable energy than developed ones (including the US and Europe).
This is according to a United Nations-backed report released March 24.
Part of the reason for this switch was because of enormous investment in China. More than a third of all the renewables investments around the world in 2015 occurred there.
But it's also because clean energy spending slowed in Europe — down 21% from $62 billion in 2014 to $48.8 billion in 2015, according to the report.
Ulf Moslener, professor for Sustainable Energy Finance at Frankfurt School and co-author of the report, explained why Europe's investments are declining.
"These economies already have a significant part of renewables, and are now struggling with adapting their energy systems to these new technologies," he said in a press conference. "Storage will play a large role in fixing that."
germany wind farm offshoreMorris Mac Matzen/REUTERSThe Amrumbank West offshore windpark is pictured in the northern sea near the island of Amrum, Germany on September 4, 2015.
Since renewable energies like wind and solar can't provide energy 24/7, battery storage captures it for when the wind's not blowing and the sun's not shining.
Countries need to update their electricity grids and add more storage before they will be able to fully capture all the renewable energy they can now generate.
"We're really at a very interesting juncture ... the leading markets — Germany, Denmark, Spain, the UK — are going to do some pretty substantial structural changes," Michael Liebrich, chairman of the advisory board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance and co-author of the report, said at the press conference. "I'm not surprised they've slowed down investments while they do that."
Read the original article on Tech Insider. Follow Tech Insider on Facebook and Twitter. Copyright 2016.

4 things you can literally learn while you sleep

4 things you can literally learn while you sleep

sleeping womanFlickr/Courtney Carmody
When you go to sleep tonight, put a book under your pillow. When you wake up tomorrow morning, you'll have its contents memorized.
OK, so that probably won't work.
But don't lose hope just yet: It turns out there actually are a few things you can learn — or at least improve your grasp of — while you snooze. Most of them depend on one thing: sound.
Here are some of the skills you may be able to sharpen in your sleep:

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1. Foreign words.

In a recent experiment, scientists had native German speakers start learning Dutch, beginning with some basic vocab. Then they asked them to go to sleep.
Unbeknownst to the dozing Germans, while they slept, the researchers played the sound of some of those basic words to one group of them. The other group was exposed to no such sounds. Later on when they were tested on the words, the group who'd listened to them overnight was better able to identify and translate them.
To make sure the findings were tied to sleep — and not just the result of people hearing the words — they had another group listen to the words while they did something else while awake, like walking. The walkers didn't recall the words nearly as well as the sleepers.

2. Musical skills.

In another study, researchers taught a group of people to play guitar melodies using a technique borrowed from the video game Guitar Hero. Afterward, all the volunteers got to nap. When they woke up, they all were asked to play the tune again.
Unbeknownst to the sleeping participants, one group was played the same melody they'd just learned as they slept. The other group was not. The volunteers who'd been played the sound while they napped — even though they had no memory of it — played the melody far better than those who didn't hear it as they snoozed.

3. Where you put something.

In a 2013 study, researchers had 60 healthy adults use a computer to place a virtual object in a particular location on the screen. When they picked a location and placed the object there, they heard a specific tune. Then, they did two experiments in which they had the participants nap for 1.5 hours. During the first nap, participants dozed as usual, with no sounds playing. During the second nap, the tune that was played when they were placing the object was played again — though none of them reported hearing it.
Not surprisingly, after either nap, people's memories faded. But their memories faded less when they'd been exposed — even sub- or unconsciously — to the sound that had been played when they'd placed the item. Interestingly, their memories were sharper still when they'd been told the virtual object was of "high value."

4. How to protect special memories.

Scientists think our brains use a special tagging system to separate critical memories from less-important ones. Those the brain flags as "important" get sent straight to our long-term memory, while less-important memories are washed away by new ones.
But researchers think there may be a way to hack this system to our advantage.
In a recent study, they found that people who listened to a sound they'd linked with a memory — even an unimportant one — were better able to hold on to it.
First, they had a group of volunteers place icons on a computer screen in a specific location. The computer was programmed to play a specific sound when each object was placed. Placing a cat icon played a meowing noise; placing a bell icon prompted a ringing sound. Then, they let participants nap. While one group of them dozed, the scientists played the sounds of some of the icons. The other group heard nothing.
People who listened to any of the sounds were better able to recall all of the objects: One sound appeared to help trigger multiple memories.

What's happening while we sleep that's so good for our brains?

Our brain activity slows down in specific shifts overnight, with some of us spending more time in a special phase called slow-wave sleep (SWS) than others.
But slow-wave sleep is also the phase of sleep when scientists believe some of our short-term memories are moved into long-term storage in our prefrontal cortex.
In some of these experiments, when researchers were able to study brain wave activity on the dozing volunteers, they noticed that those who were exposed to sound overnight — be it the German words played during the first study or the guitar tunes played as part of the second — also tended to spend more of their sleeping time in slow-wave sleep.
In other words, perhaps the more slow-wave sleep we get, the better — both for learning new skills and preserving important memories.

11 common myths about the brain that need to be smashed

11 common myths about the brain that need to be smashed

brainGetty Images/Dan KitwoodWe know surprisingly little about one of the most important organs in our body — the brain.
Nevertheless, the world is filled with dozens of ideas about why we think the way we do.
Here are 11 of the most common brain myths — and the surprising science to counter them:

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Myth #1: You only use a fraction of your brain.

If this were true, we'd be able to remove a large portion of our noggins with nearly no consequences! Some scientists think the root of this myth may lie in the fact that you're not constantly using 100% of your brain at once.
"It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time," Barry Gordon, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, told Scientific American.

Myth #2: It's all downhill once you hit your 20s.

Sure, some skills, like our ability to think quickly and recall information (also known as fluid intelligence), follow the familiar pattern: peaking at roughly age 18 and getting worse over the rest of our lives.
But recent research suggests that — in addition to getting wiser with age — we may also actually get smarter, at least in some ways.
Our ability to do basic math and use a larger vocabulary, for example, likely continue to improve until we turn 50. And our prowess at reading others' emotions and recalling recent events doesn't start declining until after age 30. 

Myth #3: Your personality is based on whether you're "right-brained" or "left-brained."

Myth #3: Your personality is based on whether you're "right-brained" or "left-brained."
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While either side of the hemisphere may be more engaged in specific tasks, neither one is fully dominant in any one person — at least as far as we know — and there's no evidence to support the idea that certain personality types are based on dominant brain hemispheres.
The brain's left hemisphere, for example, is generally dominant when it comes to language — both in terms of processing sound and helping assist with speech. Interestingly, while this rule holds true for roughly 95% of people who are right-handed, it's only the case for about 70% of people who are left-handed. For the other 30% of lefties, either the right hemisphere dominates when it comes to language or neither side does.

Myth #4: Alcohol kills your brain cells.

There may be some merit to wherever this idea originated, since pure alcohol does a great job of killing cells (that's why we swear by it as a disinfectant!). But the kind of booze you can get at a bar has very little effect on the number of neurons in your brain.
A 1990s study of the brains of former alcoholics and non-alcoholic drinkers revealed that even when done far too frequently, drinking has little to no effect on the overall number or density of brain cells.
All that said, too much drinking can damage the links between neurons and the way the brain processes informationA recent study in the journal Neuroscience suggested that people who drank daily had significantly less new cell development (a process called neurogenesis) in part of the brain crucial for learning and memory.

Myth #5: You're born with all the brain cells you'll ever have.

Myth #5: You're born with all the brain cells you'll ever have.
Getty Images/Dan Kitwood
A team of Swedish scientists showed in 1998 that the hippocampus, a region of the brain that's critical for forming new memories, continues to make new neurons well into old age. And in a 2014 study, another team of researchers (also Swedes) found that new brain cells are also produced in the striatum, which plays a role in motor control, motivation, and decision-making.

Myth #6: Drugs create holes in your brain.

We know different drugs make us experience the world around us in very different ways — and their after-effects are often nowhere near as pleasant as the immediate results they produce. Thankfully, while many substances can have significant effects on your brain's structure and function, gaping, Swiss-cheese-esque holes are not one of them.
Drugs work by messing with our brain chemistry, not by drilling physical holes in its structure. More specifically, substances like heroin alter the levels of neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that ferry information and consequently help our nervous system run.
Heroin, for example, which gets converted into morphine in the brain, hijacks our motivational system by binding to special receptors that affect how we perceive pain and rewards.

Myth #7: So-called 'aha!' moments are rare and random.

Myth #7: So-called 'aha!' moments are rare and random.
A recent study pinpointed one likely location in the brain where "aha!" moments take place.
The neuroscientists who led the study and have been studying creativity and insight for a decade also emphasize that these so-called "Eureka" moments happen all the time, and include moments like the time you got the punchline of a joke to the moment you recalled the word on the tip of your tongue.
Plus, contrary to the popular idea that we come across these ideas suddenly, "aha!" moments are most likely the result of the same creative process that leads to any new idea or concept.

Myth #8: Big brains = smart creatures.

Myth #8: Big brains = smart creatures.
Thomson Reuters
If you need an obvious example of how untrue this myth is, think of a cow. Now think of a chimpanzee. Cows have bigger brains than chimps. Are they smarter than chimps? No. 
"But what about the ratio of brain to body weight?"an ardent fan of this myth might counter. Nope, that line of reasoning doesn't work either. While a human's brain-to-body-mass ratio is massive compared to that of a horse (about 1:50 and 1:600, respectively), it's just about the same as that of a mouse (1:40), and inferior to the ratio you'd find in small ants or small birds.

Myth #9: Male brains are more logical, female brains are more empathetic.

There are minor anatomical differences between male and female brains. Problem is, they haven't been linked with any particular differences in ability. Instead, most evidence suggests that these gender-based differences are the result of cultural expectations.
For example, women tend to do better than men on tests of emotional intelligence and empathy. But as Laura Helmuth at Smithsonian points out, "They do — unless test subjects are told that men are particularly good at the test, in which case men perform as well as or better than women."
The same thing can happen in reverse: A 1998 University of Waterloo study found that when women and men were given a tough math test, the women — even those with extensive math experience — did worse than the men. But if the participants were told beforehand that men and women had performed equally on the test in the past, they performed equally well.

Myth #10: You're necessarily an "auditory" or a "visual" learner.

Myth #10: You're necessarily an "auditory" or a "visual" learner.
A student at Brescia House School in Johannesburg, South Africa using a Windows tablet.
Throughout middle school, I was told repeatedly that I was a "visual learner" — like most young adults, I loved splashy, colorful graphics and was drawn to photographs and videos.
But this consistently reinforced idea that some of us learn better by seeing, hearing, or touching doesn't have much research to back it up. 
There is evidence to suggest that many of us prefer to learn through a specific means — some of us would rather to listen to a lecture than read a book, for example — but there's no evidence to suggest that we do better when we are taught in our preferred method. When psychologists have compared students' results on tests after they've been taught using either their preferred method or another method, for example, their results are the same.

Myth #11: You only have 5 senses.

You've probably heard plenty about the first five — touch (tactioception), hearing (audioception), sight (ophthalmoception), taste (gustaoception), and smell (olfacoception). But what about the others?
These, which all include the Latin root 'cept' for take or receive, give us even more data about the outside world:
  • EquilibrioceptionA sense of balance, otherwise known as your internal GPS. Tells you if you're sitting, standing, or lying down. Located in the inner ear.
  • Proprioception: A sense of where your body parts are and what they're doing.
  • Nociception: A sense of pain.
  • Thermo(re)ception: A sense of temperature.
  • Chronoception: A sense of the passage of time.
  • Interoception: A sense of your internal needs, like hunger, thirst, needing to use the bathroom, etc.

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11 common myths about the brain that need to be smashed

We know surprisingly little about one of the...