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Photo: Ge Wang
The Stanford Laptop Orchestra rehearsing for its tenth anniversary concert last month.

Not sure I would enjoy the sound of an all-electronic orchestra even though I did think MIT professor Tod Machover’s partly electronic opera Resurrection was lovely. What I do like about the Stanford Laptop Orchestra is the idea that the most important requirement for taking the course is curiosity. I’m all for curiosity.

Arielle Pardes Gear writes at Wired magazine, “Ten days before the big concert, the members of the Stanford Laptop Orchestra are performing technology triage. Rehearsal has only just started, but already, things seemed to be falling apart. First there was trouble with the network that connects the laptops to one another. Then one of the laptops crashed. …

“The orchestra members have gathered at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics to rehearse a new kind of musical composition. Together, sitting on meditation pillows in front of MacBooks, they create songs that stretch the definition of music. The orchestra plays laptops like accordions, turns video games into musical scores, and harnesses face-tracking software to turn webcams into instruments. …

“Fixing a broken network isn’t as simple as a replacing a snapped string on a violin. But in a laptop orchestra, the potential for disaster is part of the delight. Since it was founded in 2008, the SLOrk has been making music that surprises audiences while it subverts the concept of orchestral performance. The compositions, part-machine and part-human, don’t always go according to plan. Technical difficulties are all but guaranteed.  …

” ‘Nothing’s better at being a cello than a cello,’ says [Ge Wang, the SLOrk’s founder and director]. ‘So we’re not trying to make a cello. We’re trying to make something you don’t have a name for yet.’ …

“[The Stanford Laptop Orchestra is] a for-credit course at Stanford — Music 128, cross-listed in the computer science department as CS 170 — but getting in isn’t easy. The group of 15 students includes those with computer science credentials, and those with more traditional music backgrounds, but neither is enough to become a great laptop orchestra player. The most important thing is curiosity. ‘We’re unified by this interest to make music together with computers,’ says Wang, ‘and to figure out what that means.’ ”

More here.

 

 

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In the Boston Globe‘s new “Stat” offering, Melissa Bailey has a story about a Boston doctor’s cost-effective bed for treating jaundiced African babies with blue-light.

“The invention looks like a space-age bassinet: A basket of reflective material, covered with canvas dotted with blue LED lights. It aims to treat an ancient problem. Jaundice — an excess of bilirubin that turns the skin yellow — kills 100,000 babies per year, many in developing countries. But exposure to plain blue light can cure it.

“The device, called the Bili-Hut, was inspired by inventor Donna Brezinski’s experience as a neonatal doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital. One day, about ten years ago, she was caring for a pair of jaundiced newborn twins at a community hospital that partnered with Children’s — but found only one available phototherapy lamp, the standard treatment for severe cases. When she looked into buying another lamp, she was shocked by the $4,000 price tag.

“Sewing together simple materials at her kitchen table in Winchester, she set about creating a cheaper and more portable alternative that could be used in the developing world. She came up with a bassinet that reflects blue light around the baby’s body. She started a company, Little Sparrows Technologies, to produce and distribute the device. It weighs less than three pounds, can be rolled up to fit inside a FedEx tube, and costs only $250 to make.

“While the device awaits clearance from the Federal Drug Administration for use in the United States, a rural hospital in Burundi has been testing out a prototype and has reported promising results.

“Dr. Alyssa Pfister, a pediatrician at Kibuye Hope Hospital in east central Burundi, found the Bili-Hut on the Internet and e-mailed Brezinski. The inventor sent a free prototype to the hospital, which started using it in September. …

“Brezinski said the device provides the same intensity and quality of light recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and used by other blankets and lamps approved by the FDA. She has tested it on synthetic skin samples and expects to hear back from the FDA within 18 months.” More here.

Interestingly, John’s company, Optics for Hire, was involved in a successful device for treating babies in the developing world called Firefly. See it here.

Photo: Alissa Ambrose/Stat

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John-E-tughole

An article by Gretchen Reynolds at the New York Times “Well” blog details new research on the stress-reducing effects of walking in nature.

Reynolds writes, “City dwellers [have] a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers …

“Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

“But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health? That possibility intrigued Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University.

In his “new study, which was published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mr. Bratman and his collaborators decided to closely scrutinize what effect a walk might have on a person’s tendency to brood. … Such rumination [is] strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex.”

The results: “As might have been expected, walking along the highway had not soothed people’s minds. Blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex was still high and their broodiness scores were unchanged. But the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk.” More here.

As we used to chant to our overexcited dog when we picked her up after a grooming, “I’m calm, you’re calm.”

Try out this Derek Wolcott poem for your walk in the woods. It is read on SoundCloud by my husband’s college classmate, Jon Kabat-Zinn.

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Even when I take my walk in the house on a bad day in winter, I find that walking helps me think. My pace indoors or out is not very energetic, but I like that all sorts of ideas and memories pop into my head as I walk.

At the NY Times blog called “Well,” Gretchen Reynolds describes new research that ties walking to creativity.

“A brief stroll, even around your office, can significantly increase creativity, according to a handy new study. Most of us have heard by now that exercise, including walking, generally improves thinking skills, both immediately and in the longer term. …

“Similarly, exercise has long been linked anecdotally to creativity. For millenniums, writers and artists have said that they develop their best ideas during a walk …

“Researchers at Stanford University recently decided to test that possibility, inspired, in part, by their own strolls. ‘My adviser and I would go for walks’ to discuss thesis topics, said Marily Oppezzo, at the time a graduate student at Stanford. ‘And one day I thought: “Well, what about this? What about walking and whether it really has an effect on creativity?” ‘

“With the enthusiastic support of her adviser, Daniel Schwartz, a professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education, Dr. Oppezzo [gathered] her volunteers in a deliberately dull, unadorned room equipped with only a desk and (somewhat unusually) a treadmill, Dr. Oppezzo asked the students to sit and complete tests of creativity … Then the participants walked on the treadmill, at an easy, self-selected pace that felt comfortable. The treadmill faced a blank wall. While walking, each student repeated the creativity tests, which required about eight minutes.

“For almost every student, creativity increased substantially when they walked.”

The study was published this month in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

 More here, where Reynolds notes that there was no difference when the volunteers walked outdoors instead of on a treadmill.

Embed from Getty Images

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