Kurt Vonnegut - How to Get a Job Like Mine (Video)

I saw Kurt Vonnegut speak in 1997 at Florida State University, along with Joseph Heller (who is mentioned in the talk below) and William Styron. Vonnegut was crotchety and slightly addled and either very wise or very flippant or both. As part of the event staff, I remember Vonnegut being very unhappy that he wasn't allowed to smoke in university buildings, so perhaps that accounted for his mood when I saw him. But still, Vonnegut was a huge reason I became a writer myself. Reading Breakfast of Champions as a teenager was a revelation: I wanted this man's job. He was proof that somebody smart and weird and opinionated could write books that meant something, and people would buy those books. (Or at least they would fifty years ago.)

Vonnegut gave many lectures entitled "How to Get a Job Like Mine," and their content varied -- sometimes, as in the videos below, he actually gave some advice to aspiring writers (as well as covering 9/11 and many other topics, though most of them have to do with women and/or dead friends). This lecture was given in 2002 at Albion College, where Vonnegut received an honorary degree. Check it out for some vintage Vonnegut.

Playlist - All 5 Parts

His primary advice for young writers? "Don't use semicolons." I feel like I've already failed; I use them all the time. So it goes.

If the embedded playlist above doesn't work for you, go to YouTube to check out each of the five parts.

See also: Vonnegut's Letter to His Family About His Imprisonment in Slaughterhouse Five; Vonnegut Reads "Breakfast of Champions," 3 Years Before Publication; and Quiz: Vonnegut or Rumsfeld?

(Via Kottke.org.)

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New 'Eye Language' Lets Paralyzed People Communicate More Easily
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0

The invention of sign language proved you don't need to vocalize to use complex language face to face. Now, a group of designers has shown that you don't even need control of your hands: Their new type of language for paralyzed people relies entirely on the eyes.

As AdAge reports, "Blink to Speak" was created by the design agency TBWA/India for the NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute and the Asha Ek Hope Foundation. The language takes advantage of one of the few motor functions many paralyzed people have at their disposal: eye movement. Designers had a limited number of moves to work with—looking up, down, left, or right; closing one or both eyes—but they figured out how to use these building blocks to create a sophisticated way to get information across. The final product consists of eight alphabets and messages like "get doctor" and "entertainment" meant to facilitate communication between patients and caregivers.

Inside of a language book.
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

This isn't the only tool that allows paralyzed people to "speak" through facial movements, but unlike most other options currently available, Blink to Speak doesn't require any expensive technology. The project's potential impact on the lives of people with paralysis earned it the Health Grand Prix for Good at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity earlier in June.

The groups behind Blink to Speak have produced thousands of print copies of the language guide and have made it available online as an ebook. To learn the language yourself or share it with someone you know, you can download it for free here.

[h/t AdAge]

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How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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