Friday, 25 March 2016




It’s that time of the year. I, too, am graduating and moving on from Musings. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t come close to running out of objects to rant about. So I thought I’d change up the formula and talk a bit about several of the objects I love but ran out of time to devote a full column to. So, without further ado:




We’ve thought a lot about the industrial and economic consequences of an increasingly automated world but what about the cultural ones? How will people relate to the robots who are probably in our very near future? Is our robotic world going to be more I, Robot or Terminator?

Robovie was part of an experiment to determine how children (ages 9, 12 and 15) reacted to a robot which acts like a human and in particular, how they reacted to a perceived injustice being done to that robot (although Robovie was not technically a robot, since it was actually controlled by a technician in another room).

Each child interacted individually with Robovie. Robovie showed them an aquarium, taught them about the ocean, asked them for a hug and played ‘I Spy’ with them. During Robovie’s turn to guess, a technician would come in and tell Robovie that it was time to get into the closet. Robovie would respond that it was unfair to make him go into the closet before the game finished and that he was frightened.

Afterwards, the children were given a questionnaire to see what their opinions of Robovie were. Over 2/3 of the children were willing to be friends with Robovie but only a little over half of them thought that it was wrong to put Robovie in the closet (compared to putting a person in the closet, which almost all of them thought was wrong).

As robots become more advanced, we’re going to have to grapple with how we treat them and eventually, perhaps, what it means to be human. As for me, I got upset just watching the video!

The Great Omar 


Sorry to any bibliophiles that I just made cry by reminding them of this book. The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is actually the name given to a collection of poems written by Omar Khayyám, a Persian poet, astronomer and mathematician, and first translated by Edward Fitzgerald.

In the early twentieth century, Sangorsky and Sutcliffe, a British bookbinding company, were commissioned to bind a copy of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, money no object. The spectacularly beautiful final product was called The Great Omar.

In 1912, the book was sold to an American collector. Since the book was so valuable, they sent it over on the safest ship available at the time.


Yeah. That didn’t go so well. The book has never been found but the legend of the ‘priceless book’ lost on the Titanic lives on.

Not the quitting type, Sutcliffe created a second version of The Great Omar and, taking no chances, it was locked in a bank vault for safekeeping. The vault was subsequently bombed to smithereens in World War II, because some objects can’t get a break.

A third copy is currently resting in the British Library. If I was them, I would be very, very nervous.

Apatosaurus tail 


If I had any Photoshop skills whatsoever, I would put an Indiana Jones hat on an Apatosaurus. Why? Well, partially because I have an extremely weird sense of humour but mostly because, like Indy, the Apatosaurus was a master of the whip.

Recent research has suggested that Apatosaurus and its relatives could crack its tail hard enough to break the sound barrier, much like a bullwhip.

The evidence comes from tail vertebrae. Tails have been found with fusions of the bones between the thick, muscular section and the thin, flexible part. These kinds of fusions are often caused by stress – like the stress of being repeatedly cracked. Recently, paleontologists have built and tested a model of the tail, which proves that such a whip crack was physically possible.

The model in action. Source.
 Why did an Apatosaurus need a whip? Probably not to fight Nazis. The latest theory is that they used them for communication and especially courtship.



No, this hasn’t become a porn blog. Shiri is a robot (yes, I’m having two robots. It’s my swansong and I like robots). Shiri was created by the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo and responds to stimuli in the same way a human would. When touched unexpectedly, it flinches. When struck, it clenches.

But what’s the point of making a robot butt? It’s not the reason you’re thinking! Shiri is actually an innovation in expressing sensation organically. The hope is that through Shiri, researchers will eventually be able to create a robot which responds exactly like a human. Freaky? Yes. But a robot that behaves like a human is also easier for a human to interpret and understand.

And that’s it for me! Thanks, everyone, it’s been a treat. And, when things get tough, remember:



Kahn, P. H., Jr., Kanda, T., Ishiguro, H., Freier, N. G., Severson, R. L., Gill, B. T., . . . Shen, S. (2012). “Robovie, you'll have to go into the closet now”: Children's social and moral relationships with a humanoid robot. Developmental Psychology, 48(2), 303-314.


  1. Fascinating swan song. Thanks Rowena.

  2. Poor Robovie ;___;!!! Great post, thank you! You are so funny!