The World Spins On: “The Value of Herman Melville” (Daniel Ross Goodman, November 13th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)

The quest to write the Great American Novel has long been the American literary equivalent of the mythical and historical quest for the Holy Grail. Writers ranging from Mark Twain to John Updike to many in between (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Roth, Morrison) have all staked their claim to this elusive prize. Among the perennial roster of contenders for this legendary status, there is a strong case to be made for Moby-Dick. No other novel captures the massive scale of monomaniacal ambition—and the all-too-frequent futility and frustration with which our ambitions ultimately meet—than Melville’s masterpiece about futility and frustration. The hunt for the elusive, uncatchable great White Whale is as American as the pursuit of fame, wealth, and happiness—goals which we will probably never achieve, but which something about our indomitable American idealism never allows us to desist from pursuing. But if the never-ending pursuit of the great white whales of fame, wealth, and happiness is particularly American, so is the multiethnic, multiracial, and multinational nature of the cosmopolitan crew of the Pequod. And so is the camaraderie and close male friendship of Queequeg and Ishmael. And so too is the perennial hopefulness symbolized by Ishmael’s having survived the wreckage of the Pequod and being rescued by the providential arrival of the Rachel. Melville’s great fictional anti-hero Ahab may fail in his pursuit of his Holy Grail, but Melville himself may have ultimately—albeit twenty-five years after his death—succeeded in the pursuit of his: the writing of, if not the Great American novel, at the very least the creation of the King Lear of American literature: our existentially bleak, yet preternaturally hopeful, grand American masterwork. As Dr. Sanborn, regarding the meaning of Moby-Dick, so powerfully puts it, even though “the ongoingness of the world can seem terrifying in its stolidity, its unresponsiveness to human concerns,” Ishmael survives. “The whale swims away. The world—which is, as it turns out, capable of bearing our psychic investments in it—spins on.”


Scientists 3D print a robotic hand with human-like bones and tendons (RUPENDRA BRAHAMBHATT, 11/18/2023, Ars Technica)

In a VCJ system, along with a 3D printer, there is a 3D laser scanner that visually inspects each layer for surface irregularities as it’s deposited. “This visual inspection makes the print process fully contactless, allowing for a wider range of possible polymers to be deposited. We, for example, printed with thiol-based polymers because it enabled us to create UV-light and humidity-resistant structures,” Katzschmann told Ars Technica.

After the scanning, there is no mechanical planarization of the deposited layer. Instead, the next layer is printed in such a way that it makes up for all the irregularities in the previous layer. “A feedback mechanism compensates for these irregularities when printing the next layer by calculating any necessary adjustments to the amount of material to be printed in real-time and with pinpoint accuracy,” said Wojciech Matusik, one of the study authors and a professor of computer science at MIT.

Moreover, the researchers claim that this closed-loop controlled system allows them to print the complete structure of a robot at once. “Our robotic hand can be printed in one go, no assembly is needed. This speeds up the engineering design process immensely—one can go directly from an idea to a functional and lasting prototype. You avoid expensive intermediate tooling and assembly,” Katzschmann added.

Using the VCJ technique, the researchers successfully printed a robotic hand that has internal structures similar to those of a human hand. Equipped with touch pads and pressure sensors, the robotic hand has 19 tendon-like structures (in humans, tendons are the fibrous connective tissues that connect bones and muscles) that allow it to move the wrist and fingers. The hand can sense touch, grab things, and stop fingers when they touch something. (The researchers used MRI data from a real human hand to model its construction.)

In addition to the hand, they also printed a robotic heart, a six-legged robot, and a metamaterial capable of absorbing vibrations in its surroundings.


Much as it galls the French, English has become Europe’s cultural lingua franca (Tomiwa Owolade, 18 Nov 2023, The Guardian)

In 1871, the German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, crushed France and annexed the territory of Alsace-Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian war. More than a decade later, Bismarck hosted the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, which carved up Africa into European colonies, and spoke to the other European delegates in French.

The role French played in the past as the lingua franca of Europe has been replaced today by English. If two Europeans meet each other in any part of the continent, and they don’t speak the same native language, they will probably speak to each other in English.