Darwin’s Devices: What Evolving Robots Can Teach Us about the History of Life and the Future of Technology is professor John Long’s new book, describing his work at Vassar College with robotic “creatures.” Director of the Robotics Research Laboratory on campus, Long builds biorobots meant to mimic actual extinct animals – sharks, tadpole larvae, 400-million-year-old jawless fish called Drepanaspis gemuendenensis – for the purpose of discovering how the real ones might have evolved. His “evolvobots” are subjected to evolutionary pressures. They compete for mates and resources. Then he “mutates their genes” to produce “the best solution for the time and place.”
The ideas in the book bring together three different scientific fields: biology, cognitive science and engineering, each one doing something better than the other does. Long outfits biorobots with sensors and free mobility, giving them autonomous agency. This enables him and his associates to observe all possible options for behavior. Given the definition of evolution as being “a change in the genetics from generation to generation,” Long emphasizes the fact that individuals can develop, but cannot evolve.
When asked if he’d ever had complete failures, he laughs. “Sure. My students don’t like it when I say this, but science is really about failing your way to success. Most of the stuff you try doesn’t work. And I think this goes for most scientists, particularly when you’re doing stuff that hasn’t been done before – there’s no instruction manual. You have to figure this stuff out by yourself. In everything we do, we have failures. That’s part of the important psychological lesson of doing science. Science is less about how many years you’ve been in school and more about your psychological stance. That is: What is your attitude when stuff doesn’t work? That’s why, doing actual research, whatever your age is, and giving yourself permission to fail, to destigmatize failure is really important.”
Darwin’s Devices will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about evolution, robot intelligence and life itself. Long shares his vast knowledge with great humor and an infectious enthusiasm. On May 3, he will be at Todd Middle School in the Spackenkill District to speak to the seventh grade about doing science, using the work they do with robots to highlight the serious fun of doing science. “We try to get those middle-schoolers, at that critical point, to decide to stay in science,” he says.
Back at Vassar that same morning, Long will meet Computer Science students from New Paltz High School and students from Vassar College to talk about pursuing careers in science. The public is invited to attend this free event. Contact the Vassar College Bookstore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fruit of his labors: Almanac’s own Lee Reich publishes new book
Lee Reich’s new book Grow Fruit Naturally: A Hands-On Guide to Luscious Homegrown Fruit begins with the statement, “I’m an avowed fruit nut,” and goes on to elucidate exactly what he means by listing his favorite varieties of apples, oranges, figs, grapes, kumquats and many others. Some he has adapted to his own niche of Paradise, which he calls his “farmden”: more than a garden, less than a farm. With a PhD in horticulture, he’s allowed to call it anything that he wants. The man knows his fruit. He also knows how best to instruct those of us who don’t hold degrees in the ways and means of fruit propagation.
Reich’s roots run deep, having done research in soil for the US Department of Agriculture and Cornell University. He now lectures and consults, and has written regularly for the Associated Press and other publications, such as Fine Gardening and Horticulture. His booklist includes A Northeast Gardener’s Year, The Pruning Book, Weedless Gardening, Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden and Landscaping with Fruit. His garden has been featured in The New York Times and Martha Stewart Living, and Reich has won awards from National Gardening and Organic Gardening magazines.
In Grow Fruit Naturally, Reich tells you where to plant, what to plant based on climate and site, how to plant and how to care for your plants. He details pruning techniques, how to deal with pests and diseases and how to harvest your bounty, all beautifully illustrated with photographs and sketches. What’s best about this book: the pictures of succulent fruits, dripping with dew and still attached to the stem. With information on over 30 varieties, from apples to strawberries with everything in between, including jujubes and juneberries, this veritable encyclopedia is a must-have for anyone yearning to start his or her own Garden of Eden.
Reich will be conducting a grafting workshop with a hands-on demonstration at his own “farmden” in New Paltz on Saturday, April 28 from 2 to 5:50 p.m. The cost is $55 and includes a pear tree to take home and plant. For preregistration and further information, call (845) 255-0417. On Wednesday, May 9 at 7 p.m., Reich will present a lecture titled “Backyard Fruit” at the Rosendale Library. Visit his website at https://leereich.com/index.html.
Hudson Valley author events, signings & readings for the month of May
At Barnes & Noble in Kingston:
Saturday, May 5 at 11 a.m. – Authors Jacky Davis and David Soman of The Ladybug Girl and Bingo fame will be in the store to read and talk with their young fans.
Saturday May 5 at 2 p.m. – Rebecca Miller Ffrench has something yummy to offer in her new cookbook Sweet Home: Delectable Desserts for Celebrating, Preserving and Creating Your Own Family History.
Saturday, May 19 at 2 p.m. – Meet children’s book author Mighty Xee when he presents The Silly Book of Divorce.
At Barnes & Noble in Poughkeepsie:
Saturday, May 5 at 3 p.m. – Meet author Brian Tarquin and discover the recording secrets of real guitar heroes in his book Recording Techniques of the Guitar Masters. He will be signing and also performing techniques from his book.
Saturday, May 26 at 2 p.m. – Local Author Day. Meet ten local authors as they discuss and sign their newest books: Theresa Senato Edwards (Painting Czeslawa Kwoka, Honoring Children of the Holocaust), Jason Gehlert (The Woodsman), Melissa Hazeleyes (Vampiric Soulmates), Bill Joel, Jeanie Kelly, Lori Meddaugh (Teardrops), Franc Palaia, Titan Raines (Sol on Ice, Cotton Comes to Holland), Myer Seidman and Dr. Denise Woods.
At Inquiring Minds in New Paltz:
Saturday, April 28 at 2 p.m. – June Pierce will read from and sign copies of her new children’s book Buford the Bully. This event is free and open to the public.
At Inquiring Minds in Saugerties:
Sunday, April 29 at 3 p.m. – Author David Gluck presents his book Rhythms of the Game: The Link between Musical and Athletic Performance, co-authored with Bob Thompson and Bernie Williams, highlighting Williams’ deep understanding of the similarities between musical artistry and athletic performance.
At Oblong Books in Millerton:
Sunday, April 29 at 6 p.m. – Actress Kristen Johnston (Third Rock from the Sun) will discuss and sign copies of Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster. The two-time Emmy Award-winning actress has written a memoir that is outrageous, moving, sweet, tragic and heartbreakingly honest.
Sunday, May 6 at 4 p.m. – Jamie Saul will read and sign copies of his new novel The First Warm Night of the Year, a story that explores the complex, intricate relationships between friends and siblings, husbands and wives.
Saturday, May 12 at 11 a.m. – Storytime with Jenny Offill will feature her two picture books, 11 Experiments that Failed and 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore. This free event is recommended for kids ages 2 to 6.
Tuesday, May 22 at 4 p.m. at Northeast Millerton Library – The Junie B. Jones Stupid Smelly Bus Tour, a national tour sponsored by Random House Children’s Books, brings Junie B., live and in person, across the country to meet her fans, with live theatrical performances based on the best-selling Junie B. Jones series. Events will also include cool Junie B. giveaways and an official “book-stamping.” Tickets are $6 and include one paperback Junie B. Jones book. The Millerton Library Annex is located at 28 Century Boulevard in Millerton.
At Oblong Books in Rhinebeck:
Wednesday, May 2 at 7 p.m. – The Hudson Valley YA Society will host best-selling young adult author Kristin Cashore. Her newest book is Bitterblue. RSVPs are required for this free event. RSVP to email@example.com.
Friday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m. – Come to an important discussion and signing with Tom Wilber, author of Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale, the first book-length journalistic overview of shale gas development and the controversies surrounding it. This is a free event.
Saturday, May 5 at 7:30 p.m. – Priscilla Gilman’s The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy is now available in paperback. Come meet the author.
Wednesday, May 9 at 7 p.m. – Hudson Valley YA Society celebrates Children’s Book Week with Meg Wolitzer, Kate Klimo and Sarah Darer Littman. RSVPs are required for this free event: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, May 13 at 2 p.m. – Children’s book author Barry Denenberg will discuss and sign copies of his book Titanic Sinks! This free event is recommended for kids ages 8 and up.
Thursday, May 17 at 7 p.m. – Come spend an evening at Astor Courts with historian John Maxtone-Graham, author of Titanic Tragedy: A New Look at the Lost Liner, who will discuss and sign copies of the book. Tickets cost $30 and include a copy of the book. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Upstate Films Digital Projection Fund. Tickets may be purchased at oblongbooks.com/titanic or by calling (845) 876-0500.
Friday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m. – Award-winning author Terry Tempest Williams discusses her newest book When Women Were Birds, a lyrical and caring meditation on voice and the strength found in silences. This is a free event.
At Vassar College Bookstore:
Thursday, May 3 at 10:30 a.m. – Vassar professor John Long will talk with middle and high school students from New Paltz about the dream of science, his new book Darwin’s Devices and all about biorobotics. The public is invited, free of charge.