Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Introducing Open Lab 2010

// March 22nd, 2011 // Comments Off on Introducing Open Lab 2010 // Science Communication

Open Lab 2010Containing the best of science writing on the web, Open Lab 2010 has been published and printed. Inside are 50 blog posts, 6 poems and a cartoon – including my very own blog post How Aqua Regia Saved Nobel Prizes from the Nazis. The book was edited by the thoughtful animal, Jason Goldman.

You can buy it as a file download or as a real, old-fashioned paperback. A known aphrodisiac, having this book on your bedside table WILL increase your attractiveness and intelligence. The cool nerdy goodness spirals out of it and is soaked up through your pores by osmosis. It’s guaranteed to be delightful for reading, displaying, or simply cuddling.

I’m beyond excited to be included in the anthology. Although I’m published online, in magazines, in newspapers, in zines, this is my first time with a real book. Strike me down with a feather, I feel like a proper writer!

May Open Lab 2010 be the first of many books with my words inside.

Buy a copy of this highly intellectually arousing book here.

The origin of written words, how our love affair with letters began

// November 28th, 2009 // 1 Comment » // How Things Work, Science at Home

Clay Inscriptions from Sumer circa 4000BCE

I was reading a story to my niece a few months ago (we’ll call her Cutie, ‘cos she’s cute, and she’s not actually my niece, she’s SexyMan’s niece.) She’s about two. While we were reading this story the cat came into the living room, and Cutie immediately pointed at the cat and said “Cat,” then pointed at a picture of a cat in the book and said “Cat” again.

I. Was. Stunned.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little bit of a proud sort-of-auntie, but for some reason it really struck me as incredible. Cutie could recognise a pictoral representation of a cat as a symbol of a cat, she knew they were supposed to be the same thing, even though one is walking around and meowing and the other one is 2D and on paper. And it wasn’t even a good drawing of a cat!

When does it happen, that we first become aware of symbols? Surely this must be a major step in learning to read and count, words and numbers being symbols of the most stylised variety. I know there are cave drawing thousands of years old which tell us cave-dwellers could draw and understand symbols, and monkeys can be taught to recognise the number four as a representation of four dots.

The subject reminds me of a story I was once told about the origin of written language.

Thousands of years ago, in the times when Sumer was a dominant trend-setting civilisation (around 4,000 BCE), people would take out loans, as they do. Say you wanted to borrow two goats and a chicken from a lending house, they would keep a record of what you owed by putting little figurines of goats and chickens in a bag. That wasn’t safe enough, cos anyone could get in and change the amounts, so they started sealing them in a clay box.

But people forget how much they owe other people REALLY easily (angry face), and if you came to check they’d have to break open the clay box and then make a new one and fire it with the figurines and EFFORT! So they started drawing pictures on the box with the figurines inside to say “inside this box is two goats and a chicken.”

Pretty quickly someone realised they didn’t need the figurines inside the box anymore – the pictures on the box were enough. These pictures became clearly recognisable symbols, from there became more and more stylized and easier to draw, called cuneiform. The rest of Mesopotamia caught on and soon they were symbolising syllables that could be put together to make a word. Egypt took it a little further and made letters which could be put together to form a sound to form a word to form a concept. And thus the written word was created.

It won’t be long until Cutie learns that the letters CAT mean the same thing as the picture and the animal, and from there a whole world opens up that will take her into Narnia or across the high seas, hair blown back and framed with full sails…

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