What makes a great museum?

Museums, competing with other places of cultural interest, are working hard to increase “footfall” – the numbers attending. Some employ outreach workers to attract visitors. “One thing museums need to do to survive and thrive is challenge the preconceptions of their audience,” William Cook wrote in The Spectator. This is particularly the case when so much historical and artistic information is available online, he argued. Institutional stuffiness and aloofness are two of the threats. Those on the Art Fund’s short list have devised innovative ways of engaging with the public. During its £4m redevelopment, Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History allowed some of its specimens to “escape” to the city. Bookworms were seen in a bookshop and a penguin turned up a fishmongers. The museum set up a Goes To Town trail for those interested in finding out more about animals.

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Yes, androids do dream of electric sheep

What do machines dream of? New images released by Google give us one potential answer: hypnotic landscapes of buildings, fountains and bridges merging into one. The pictures, which veer from beautiful to terrifying, were created by the company’s image recognition neural network, which has been “taught” to identify features such as buildings, animals and objects in photographs. They were created by feeding a picture into the network, asking it to recognise a feature of it, and modify the picture to emphasise the feature it recognises. That modified picture is then fed back into the network, which is again tasked to recognise features and emphasise them, and so on. Eventually, the feedback loop modifies the picture beyond all recognition.

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The joy of reading role-playing games

Though the term didn’t exist back when I was a teenager, squatting on comic-book floors to thumb through expensive hardback editions, RPGs are an example of the kind of literature described by Espen J Aarseth as “ergodic”. These are books, like digital literature, computer-generated poetry and MUDs, where a “nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text”. And they are more common than you might think, especially in geek culture. Game books that allow you to “choose your own adventure” are ergodic, as are fantasy novels with extensive maps and world-building notes. But the RPG handbook pushes ergodic reading to its limit. By putting aside simple narrative storytelling and replacing it with detailed description, the RPG offers the total immersion in an imaginary world so valued by geek readers. The elaboration of leading characters, political factions and major historical events is sometimes a very dry exercise in world building, but done with enough skill it can spark a deeply satisfying response.

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Scientists build toy car propelled by evaporating water

Researchers at Columbia University in New York have built a miniature car that draws on the process to propel itself along, as well as an evaporation-driven generator that powers a flashing LED lamp. The inventions pave the way for a new generation of renewable devices that extract energy from natural evaporation and transform it into something useful. Ozgur Sahin, who led the research, said the machines were cheap and could draw energy from water as it evaporates continuously from the surfaces of lakes and oceans.

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Britain’s tech future isn’t just about turning kids into coders

Finding candidates who demonstrate creativity and flexibility can often be just as important as a formal qualification. Ultimately, coders must imagine new solutions to problems; people from non-traditional backgrounds can be particularly good at this. For example, you might not think an understanding of music would be beneficial to coding, but you’d be wrong. Two of our senior developers joined us with just this background and with no formal certificate in coding. Programming and composing music both rely on a rigid framework (music has notes and rhythmic structures, coding has data types and operations). Both are about creating something from nothing and figuring out how to get there, with almost infinite scope for creativity and rule breaking.

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Which is the cleanest city in the world?

Indeed, the city’s roundabouts are so well-swept and the grass so well-maintained that wedding couples sprint across the traffic to be photographed in the middle of them. Unusually, this has been achieved not through punishment, but by the principle of Umuganda. This word has many meanings relating to “community” and “payment”, and dates back before Rwanda was part of Belgium’s African empire. In the 19th century, a number visitors recorded that Rwandans were required to work two days a week for their community leader and during Belgian rule Umuganda was encouraged as a way of bolstering civic responsibility. In the years before the 1994 genocide, President Juvénal Habyarimana emphasised it as part of his concept of “true” Rwandan identity. “True Rwandans” provided free labour for state-led projects like school building, road works, the construction of sanitation facilities and digging of anti-erosion ditches. Unfortunately Habyarimana’s true Rwandans, by extension, also belonged to the Hutu tribe, and Umuganda eventually became caught up in ideas of racial purity.

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The innovators: the app that allows patients to track their illnesses

David Bedford suffers from Parkinson’s disease and can sometimes forget to take one of the five different pills he needs to keep the condition in check. Worse, when he makes half yearly visits to the hospital for a check-up, he can’t remember the details of his daily routine. Three years after he was diagnosed with the disease, he now uses a mobile phone app to remind him when to take the medication but also to act as a diary of how his illness affects him. This attention to detail means that in the his short meetings he has with his consultant every six to nine months with a consultant, a daily log is available in advance.

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Gasworks wonders…

Originally built in the 1850s, the ornate Grade II-listed Gasholder No8 was painstakingly dismantled a few years ago and transported piece by piece to Yorkshire to be restored by specialists. Returned to London, the reconstructed frame will soon encircle a new park and a space for live events designed by Bell Phillips architects and situated on the north side of the Regent’s canal. Morwenna Wilson, an award-winning mechanical engineer – and, fittingly, the great-granddaughter of Brunel – has been appointed to oversee the remaining renovation of the area around King’s Cross station, which was built in his lifetime. Gasholders 10, 11 and 12, known as “the Siamese triplets” because their frames were connected by a common steel spine, are currently being refurbished and will be re-erected around new apartment buildings.

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Projecting crying babies onto pollution is a great way to sell air purifiers

Pollution in China is a very real, very serious problem, with around 750,000 people thought to die prematurely each year because of it, with most of these caused by air pollution, both outside and indoors. It’s a scary figure, but a Chinese firm named Xiao Zhu — that just happens to be in the business of selling air purifiers — apparently thinks it’s not scary enough. To remedy this, the company has decided to highlight the dangers of pollution by projecting images of crying children onto clouds of smoke emerging from factory towers. The resulting advertising campaign named Breathe Again looks like the debut of a Chinese David Lynch, with the huge bawling faces hanging menacingly in the night sky. Presumably, it’ll also shift a few air filters.

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