~ Posted by Anthony Gardner, March 17th 2015

    How will we celebrate New Year 2050? With blueberry champagne, apparentlyand the microbes it contains will be so healthy that the government will introduce Champagne Mondays to promote it. This was one of the many predictions at last weekend’s FutureFest, a two-day jamboree of talks and demonstrations about the shape of things to come held at the Vinopolis complex by London Bridge.

    Wandering along the purple-lit passages, I felt at first as if I were travelling back in time, to the Science Museum of my childhood: although I was surrounded by adults of all ages (and, it seemed, nationalities), there was the same unifying sense of wonder. We gazed at a robot with a holographic face, a model of an “emotive city” designed around feelings, and people wearing virtual-reality headsets being whirled around in an electronic chair for a simulated thrill ride. If there was a slightly makeshift, Professor Branestawm-ish quality to it all, that only added to the enjoyment.

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    ~ Posted by Ed Smith, February 12th 2015

    The Australian Open final, between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, was an ill-tempered match. The handshake at the net afterwards was brisk and cold, which is unusual for a Grand Slam men’s final these days, when the behaviour so often matches the brilliance of the play. The animosity this time, people have assumed, centered on Djokovic’s apparent injury and exhaustion early in the third set. Was he faking it? Murray appeared confused, then distracted, then angry. Djokovic stormed back into the lead and trounced Murray 6-0 in the fourth set to take the title.

    Many pundits have argued that Murray was hoodwinked by Djokovic’s gamesmanship, causing Murray to “melt down” and squander the title. I am much less confident that the injury incident altered the result. But I am certain that it changed—and diminished—the event. The coldness and disappointment of each player at the end was partly self-directed. Djokovic knew he could have won better. Murray knew he could have lost better. That’s why, for all its early promise, the match did not have the same uplifting effect as the other epic duels in this exceptional era of men’s tennis. It was not quite a shared victory, as so many finals have been.

    read more » COMMENTS: Comments | ADD NEW COMMENT Ed SmithIDEASintelligenceSPORTtennis

    ~ Posted by Charlie McCann, October 10th 2014

    What’s the point? It might be the biggest question of them all. Puzzled over with a furrowed brow or flung out with an expletive, it’s also one of the most flighty. We challenged seven writers to pin it down and explain the meaning of life, and then invited readers to vote for the best answer in our online poll.

    read more » COMMENTS: Comments | ADD NEW COMMENT Charlie McCannIDEASPsychologyThe Big Question

    ~ Posted by Lucy Farmer, June 9th 2014

    Ever since Pope Gregory the Great defined them in the sixth century, the seven deadly sins have shaped our moral landscape. To err is human, and most foibles are forgivable. But some sins, especially when taken to their limits, are worse than others, damaging not just individuals but the fabric of society, too. For our last Big Question, we asked seven writers to pick the deadliest sin today. We then invited readers to vote in our online poll.

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    ~ Posted by Lucy Farmer, April 11th 2014

    As journalists we are naturally fond of punctuation. Following our latest Big Question, we have discovered that readers of Intelligent Life are too. Our question was seemingly benign: what is the best punctuation mark? But those strange little squiggles kindled some high passions. We asked six writers to pen a plea for their favourite, and then invited readers to vote in our online poll. Each had its cheerleaders, but there was one champion: the semi-colon. It’s invaluable for “those of us whose thoughts digress”, said the novelist Claire Messud. 27% of voters also can’t live without it.

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    ~ Posted by Georgia Grimond, June 17th 2013

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    ~ Posted by Hazel Sheffield, March 28th 2013

    Any institution charging students $60,000 for a vocational degree deserves a certain amount of scrutiny. But when Michael Wolff turned his sights on Columbia Journalism School for appointing a new dean who has never tweeted, he misfired.

    The dean in question is Steve Coll (pictured), who will replace Nicholas Lemann in July. Both men have worked for the Washington Post and the New Yorker. Both have written several books. Neither is known for their digital acumen. But under Lemann, the school made strides in improving the digital curriculum by hiring Emily Bell from the Guardian to direct the new Tow Center for digital journalism and forging a partnership with the engineering school to grant dual degrees in journalism and computer science.

    Right now, Columbia J-school is building a new institute for media innovation with money pledged by the late Helen Gurley Brown, who edited Cosmopolitan for many years. Mark Hansen, who started his career in research and development and now specialises in data and computing, will lead the new institute.

    Even if Coll is as conservative as Wolff fears, there are people in his team with fearsome résumés, dedicated to the digital and technological future of the profession. What’s worrying is that after taking down the incoming dean on the strength of a poor Twitter presence, Wolff rubbishes the entire school for being "anti-market".

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    ~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, February 27th 2013

    In the brouhaha stirred up by Hilary Mantel’s "Royal Bodies" talk, controversy focused so intensely on Mantel’s comments about Kate Middleton’s physique ("designed by committee", "perfect plastic smile") that gems were overlooked. 

    Take, for example, Mantel’s confessions about the violent confusion she's experienced when she has met members of the royal family in the flesh. The first time she saw Prince Charles, at an awards ceremony, she was knocked sideways by his "sublime tailoring", and by the flawless orchestration of the evening. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a pile of stacking chairs. The mundane overwhelmed the magnificent. This was just a charade, she realised, played out on a cardboard stage-set.

    Perhaps what Mantel needs to counter her disillusionment is a spell in the royal archives. Earlier this week, Jane Ridley and William Shawcross appeared "in conversation" at the Royal Society of Literature to discuss the writing of royal biography. Ridley, quick-witted and irreverent, presented Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as bullying monsters in "Bertie", her riveting new biography (right) of Edward VII. Shawcross, hand-picked by the Queen as the official biographer of the Queen Mother, is a self-confessed royalist who struggled to find any fault in his subject at all. Very different authors, then. Yet they agreed that the royal archive at Windsor is an enchanted world. 

    After passing through security checks at the Henry VIII gate, and climbing 89 steps to the Round Tower, researchers are settled at mahogany desks in rooms of understated grandeur, and given one-to-one supervision. A bell rings for coffee at 11am, and simultaneously the guard changes to the stirring music of a military band in the Lower Ward below. Once a week, a man comes to wind the clocks. And once a manuscript is in draft form, archive staff work through it as if with nit-combs, checking every quotation and reference and date. 

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    ~ Posted by Jasper Rees, January 11th 2013

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, November 30th 2012

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