If you get a chance, try to catch Simon Reeve’s The Big Life Fix on SBS. I admit to a slight bias here because one of the inventors featured in the program is the talented Ruby Steel, a cousin of my wife. That being said, the series presents some truly inspiring inventions aimed at making life easier for people with desperately difficult personal situations.
The project in Episode 2, led by inventors Ruby and Ross, involves exploiting sound archives to give a stroke victim the ability to express emotion. You’ll need a box of tissues.
There’s a professional angle to this story: When I was a biggish cheese in the university world, I had a special admiration for design engineers because of their ability to work across disciplines and to plunder unfamiliar fields to find solutions. The design engineers seemed to me to epitomise what universities aspire to produce – creative graduates.
Incidentally, the project reminded me of Charles Bliss‘s system of ‘semantography’ symbols, which have been used to help disabled people to communicate. When I was a student at the Australian National University, Bliss’s work attracted some interest. He was appointed an Honorary Fellow in Linguistics in 1979. His work continues nowadays through BCI.
You can find The Big Life Fix here.
Stuart Campbell writes quirky novels about love, betrayal and redemption.
Bill East’s The Arbutus is a dark and challenging novel that delivers a potent dose of madness, violence and erotic tension with the deliberation of a cannula. Maddie, a woman approaching middle age, returns from England to Peter, the Australian lover she fled many years before. Apparently unhinged and obsessive, Peter confesses to a series of murders at his wooded estate on the outskirts of Sydney. An intricate psychological game of revenge follows: The characters’ psyches are built layer by contorted layer; truths are offered and then undermined; the reader teeters on the edge of resolution, only to be pulled back into the game. Plausibility is often stretched to the limit (if the bizarre plot can be called plausible in any way): Is Maddie’s androgyny credible? Would Peter really have planned such a spooky endgame? On both counts, the author builds a convincing case for Maddie’s weird erotomania and Peter’s convoluted creepiness, and in the end, both their fates were easy to believe in. I rummaged in my reading history to find some novels that The Arbutus might echo. For the blending of the macabre and the world of nature (Peter has a thing about trees), I came up with Patrick Süsskind’s Perfume. For the exploration of twisted emotions, John Fowles’ The Collector and Sebastian Faulks’ Engleby came to mind. For gore, Jeffery Deaver’s The Bone Collector resonated. In the end, though, Bill East has created his own monsters. Crime thriller? Black comedy? Erotic mystery? Homage to trees? I didn’t care as I raced at top speed through The Arbutus.