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Automatic style spotter can spot your next book

Software can build a visualisation of a novel’s style, helping to spot the next bestseller or holiday read

FINISHED a book and want another just like it? A system that provides a quick view of a book's narrative structure could soon help you fill that Twilight-shaped hole by showing you which other novels match Stephenie Meyer's style.

Joseph Reddington at Royal Holloway, University of London, and colleagues developed a system that compares different bodies of text, looking at the relative frequency of individual words and converting the data into visualisations. Subtle correlations in word use between novels or sections within a novel make it possible to compare style, says Reddington.

At its simplest, chapters written in the first person, "I", will stand out from those written in the third person, and those in the past tense will look different to those in the present. "It helps to get a picture," says Reddington. "It says this is what your novel looks like."

The tool could be used to monitor consistency in collaborative writing projects such as film and TV scripts or magazines, where multiple writers must keep to a given style. Reddington has already tested it in a project called TooManyCooks, in which groups of students get together to co-write a novel in a week. Each contributes a section and the tool allows them to tell if any parts do not fit.

As the novel develops, the tool displays different sections in a tree-like structure. Those identified as similar appear clustered together, making outliers easy to spot. "At no point is it making a value judgement," says Reddington.

It could also help novice writers see how their style compares with bestselling authors, and give publishers an indication of where a manuscript might fit in the market. The work will be presented in October at a data analysis conference in London.

Ultimately, it could form the basis of a recommendation system that makes suggestions based solely on an automatic assessment of the text. Pandora Internet Radio does this with music: users pick a song or band they like and the system plays others that its Music Genome Project algorithms consider to be similar. "It would be like Pandora for books," says Reddington.

Maintaining consistency is important in collaborative projects, says scriptwriter Brendon Connelly, who is based in Oxford, UK. Producers of the US TV show ER, for example, worked particularly hard to ensure that characters spoke in the same way across seasons even as writers came and went, he says. Software could help flag up inconsistencies.

But Connelly thinks such tools could be most useful in tracking the contributions different writers make to a project. The Writers Guild of America, for example, is frequently involved in disputes about who should get writing credits for screenplays. "It could help with those Lennon and McCartney moments where you're not sure who came up with what line," he says.

Russia may expect to have its own next gen radiation-protected chip for space satellites. According to the Izvestia news paper website, the microelectronics company behind the project is ELVIS, an IT systems developer from Zelenograd just outside Moscow.

The new chip is expected to support uninterruptible operation at a strenuous temperature range of minus 60 to plus 85 degrees Celsius for as long as 25 years. It is being designed to endure for all these years an accumulated dose of 200 kilorad, a radiation that typically ‘kills’ the processor of a conventional household computer for less than a minute, the source emphasized.

According to ELVIS, to protect the chip against radiation the company is using silicon oxide insulation. The insulated chip will be placed in a hermetically sealed gilded metal-ceramic casing.

To stabilize the chip’s operation, data will be duplicated in a number of different cells. If data contained in a cell doesn’t match the data in all other cells, this cell is considered damaged. This leads to a relatively low clock frequency of just 140MHz.

The frequency ceiling is unavoidable given the rigorous requirements for spacecraft equipment reliability. For example, the U.S.’ Curiosity Mars rover has a 200MHz processor.

“Just one small radiation particle is enough to destroy the processor. Therefore we only use time-tested architectures to put on spacecraft, and such architectures are less complex than ground-based ones,” Izvestia quoted Valery Kryukov of the Research Institute of Electronic Engineering as saying.

The chip is built on the MIPS architecture that in everyday life is used in smartphones and gaming consoles. The very architecture was also used in Fobos-Grunt, a Russian spacecraft that had been designed to explore Phobos, one of the moons of Mars, but failed to leave a low Earth orbit and fell back to Earth in an uncontrolled re-entry in January 2012.

The developer hopes that the 140MHz frequency is enough to generate 320 megapixels of images a second and encoding those as the JPEG and H.264 formats. The chip is also expected to be compatible with the SpaceWire networks, a space analog of a USB.

The project will reportedly require an investment of $6.7m and is expected to deliver the end product by the end of next year. 

2013-09-18, New Scientist, Douglas Heaven.

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