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The Girl with the Dragon or Two: River Readings at Augustana Presents "Seraphina" Author Rachel Hartman, April 28 PDF Print E-mail
Literature
Written by Mike Schulz   
Thursday, 17 April 2014 06:00

Rachel HartmanRachel Hartman, the April 28 guest in Augustana College’s River Readings at Augustana series, is the author of the 2012 young-adult novel Seraphina. It’s a fantasy tale of royalty and knights and the faraway kingdom of Goredd; of a mysterious murder and supernatural powers and fanciful beings named Loud Lad and Pelican Man.

More specifically, it’s a story of the 16-year-old girl of Hartman’s title, a gifted music instructor who’s harboring a bit of a secret: She’s not actually a girl. Or rather, she’s half-girl, and half-dragon. And she’s hardly the only dragon in town.

It turns out Goredd, as we learn on the book’s eighth page, is a kingdom where dragons are able to assume human form, even if they don’t have much understanding of, or use for, human emotions. Yet if you ask Hartman how she landed on the idea for Seraphina, and for her transformable creatures in general, she’ll no doubt admit that inspiration didn’t come from mythology or legend or previous works of fiction. It came from an inability to illustrate dragons.

 
Spring in Their Steps: Ballet Quad Cities' "Spring Is in the Air" at the Adler Theatre PDF Print E-mail
Dance
Written by Thom White   
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 06:00

Emily Long and Alec Roth in Spring Is in the AirThere were several moments during the evening performance of Spring Is in the Air – presented April 12 at the Adler Theatre – in which I sat slack-jawed in awe of the choreography executed by Ballet Quad Cities.

 
Fostering Failure – in a Good Way: The Putnam’s New Science Center Opens April 12 PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 03 April 2014 05:03

Socibot and the infininty mirror. Photo by AJ Brown Imaging.“Look into my eyes and keep still,” Socibot says to me in its pleasant but mechanical voice. Before I can do anything to comply with the command, the Putnam Museum’s machine continues: “I would say you are a 44-year-old man.” I laugh. “Your face is happy,” it says.

Clearly, Socibot needs to learn that when it comes to age, it’s better to guess low – as I’m on the cusp of 43, thank you very much.

This was a demonstration of Socibot’s facial-recognition feature, but the talking, moving head is no one-trick robot. It does impressions – including of some famous cinematic artificial intelligences (2001’s HAL 9000, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg from the Terminator series). It can play card games using QR codes – which can also be employed to tell visitors about other features in the Putnam’s new Science Center.

But mostly, it shows the complexity of human expression. Using the “compose” touch-screen interface, users can program Socibot to communicate – not merely typing the words it will speak but controlling its voice and nonverbal cues that impart meaning, from the movement of the eyes and head to flushed cheeks to the set of the mouth.

This teaches the challenges and skills involved in getting machines to complete multifaceted tasks. Nichole Myles, the Putnam’s vice president of education and exhibits, noted that Socibot allows visitors to “experience what early coding and programming is.”

And because the Science Center is geared to children – with the goal of getting them interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers – Socibot has also been programmed to chide users who try to put inappropriate words and phrases into its mouth.

Socibot is undoubtedly one of the most sophisticated (and expensive) components of the STEM center, and you could spend a few hours trying to fine-tune the proper expressions involved in, for instance, Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” monologue.

But given the breadth and depth of science-related experiences available at the Putnam’s Science Center, to spend too much time at one station would be wasting opportunities. There’s the feature that visibly demonstrates turbulence; the lift-yourself-up pulley; the airways fountain; ferrofluid; the gravity wall; the lever tug-of-war; the 3D-printing station; robot vision; the dinosaur dig scheduled to open this summer ... .

I’ve spent a lot of time as a kid, a kid at heart, and a parent at children’s museums and science centers, and the Putnam’s STEM center is a marvel – especially considering how quickly it came together and how little it cost.

 
"Coffee" First, Tragedy After: Ballet Quad Cities' "Carmen," February 14 and 15 at the Scottish Rite Cathedral PDF Print E-mail
Dance
Written by Thom White   
Tuesday, 18 February 2014 06:00

Patrick Green and Jill Schwartz in Ballet Quad Cities' CarmenAfter two years of Love Stories for its Valentine’s Day production, Ballet Quad Cities changed things up this year by presenting Carmen, the story of a commanding woman who does what she pleases with men she fleetingly fancies. As with Love Stories, though, there was more than one piece performed this past weekend, with choreographer Margaret Huling’s “Black Coffee” – a jaunty, jazzy number also featured in last year’s Love Stories: Love on the Run – making up the first portion of the evening’s entertainment.

 
A Prescription for Local Television News: What Ails Our Newscasts, and Some Suggestions to Fix Them PDF Print E-mail
Media
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 06 February 2014 09:09

(Listen to Jeff Ignatius discuss this article on WVIK’s “Midwest Week” here.)

I come to praise local television news, not to bury it.

Okay, there won’t be much praise, and there will be some burying. But I bastardize and invert the famous line from Julius Caesar for a reason: My goal isn’t to criticize and mock the newscasts of the four Quad Cities television stations; I want instead to help make them better.

But before one can prescribe, one needs to diagnose what ails the patient. And before diagnosis, one needs to establish the basic state of health.

 
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