Iron Man and Dr Doom reminisce in Tree Court, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
In fiction, Billionaire playboy industrialists are wont to lose sight of both their past and their future, with potentially devastating consequences. When Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man, is teleported (against his will) by reformed marvel villain Victor Von Doom, he finds himself standing in the Tree Court of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge.
The former Caian then engages on a voyage of discovery from a past forgotten, dressed very casually as the sharply-attired Victor Von Doom (experimenting in heroism as the Infamous Iron Man) prompts a realignment of Tony’s moral compass.
Von Doom, himself expelled from State University in New York for performing unethical experiments, gives Stark a comprehensive tour around Cambridge. The industrialist returns to the MRC Laboratory where he had his first taste of research and academia prior to inheriting his father’s weapons-manufacturing business. He is in a contemplative mood throughout.
Stark is not alone. We all go through moments in life when we have to find ourselves again. Perhaps, whilst breathing in the pungent Wisteria flowers adorning the Tutorial Office of Caius, Tony reminisced about an age of innocence, before he had to make difficult decisions with world-changing implications.
What is it about this quaint section of Gonville and Caius’ Tree Court which lends itself to a representation in the comics medium? It lacks the iconic postcard-selling grandeur King’s College Chapel or Trinity College’s Grand Court. This is a unique, Cinderella tower-like corner which can easily be missed when visiting Tree Court, famed primarily for the succession of unique hornbeams lining its avenue.
Perhaps, this specific corner of Tree Court simply evokes mystical connotations which are suitable for the illustrated word, and are a fitting place for Von Doom and Stark to do a tête-à-tête, and remember bygone times.
Whilst attending Caius, one wonders if Tony Stark spent any time talking to Professor Sir Stephen Hawking, who was based in Gonville and Caius for many decades and sadly passed away recently. Certainly, Professor Hawking’s advice about the nature of wormholes might have helped Stark in the first Avengers movie, which does not elaborate on how he managed to survive his experience.
It is not only Marvel Comics which has set scenes in the Tree Court. The genre-breaking japanese manga “Pluto” also appears to use this corner in its story.
Despite being a story about androids, Pluto is arguably the most human of Japanese master storyteller Naoki Urasawa’s manga masterpieces, as he simultaneously builds upon and subverts Osamu Tezuka’s classic Astro Boy. Does this scene pay homage to famous Caians such as nuclear physicist and discoverer of the neutron Sir James Chadwick, Professor Sir Stephen Hawking or John Venn. Who knows?
Long may comics continue to include this mysterious corner in their illustrations.
Tehran Taboo, the debut film from Iranian writer-director
Ali Soozandeh, is released today (5th October) in UK cinemas. This rotoscope-animated film presents a hyper-stylised
portrayal of Tehran with an emotional poignance that this technique of
animation, when combined with an atmospheric and sometimes chilling soundtrack,
can deliver in spades. Films like Waltz with Bashir, Waking Life and A Scanner
Darkly have already experimented successfully with this method of drawing and colouring
over material. Indeed, it appears to be
tailor-made for this film which could of course not be made, nor released, in
the country in which it is set.
Before watching the film, I was very interested in the
“I get a lot of positive feedback from Iranians living in Iran. The feedback from Iranians living outside Iran is rather negative. They are usually angry with the film. Because the film damages the image we present of ourselves to the West.”
Perhaps this reflects the fact that life for many in Iran is riddled by contradictions and hypocrisies, and the hyper-real portrayal in this film packs a visceral punch for those who live in the country, whereas those who have left Iran may choose to default to a more rosy-tinted nostalgic view.
Tehran Taboo starts with a bang. Immediately, you can tell
why this film could not be made in Iran, as a taxi driver who claims he is
“not Bill Gates” haggles with prostitute Pari whilst her mute son Elias
is chewing bubble gum in back seat of a taxi. This sets the stall for a murky,
often shocking, noir exploration of the idiosyncrasies in contemporary Tehran through
multiple strands. One of these is a young musician’s quest to “fix the virginity”
of a girl he had a one-night-stand with at one of Tehran’s notorious
underground raves, a week before the woman is supposedly due to get married to a
There are moments of dark humour, such as the protagonists’
search for an artificial hymen:
“This is the original model, 100% Chinese. You know it’s good because the Westerners copied it”
Later Elias provides a funny moment when asked if he knew sign language and proceeds to mimic a highly offensive gesture he had just seen some children do. The mute boy is the only totally innocent character in film drowning in various shades of grey, quietly observing the Machiavellianism and the tragedy around him. Conversely, one of the film’s antagonists is an adipose cleric who sets up an arrangement for Pari to provide him intimate favours in exchange for allowing her to divorce her drug-addicted husband. Themes of patriarchy and societal misogyny permeate throughout a film in which every man and woman has to look out for themselves, and everything and anyone can be bargained for. The separate narrative threads become progressively entwined during the course of the film, and the tight structure calls to mind films such as Pulp Fiction and Amores Perros.
Rotoscoping seems to accentuate emotional moments, and facial expressions are highly framed, such that even the most nuanced of eyebrow raises become much more obvious. One of the lead characters is portrayed by Arash Marandi, the go-to guy for genre-hopping films set in Iran but filmed abroad such as Iranian Vampire-Western “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and socio-political supernatural horror “Under the Shadow”. In this film, his distinctive large and innocent eyes are emphasised to an aptly cartoonish intensity.
The background art is detailed and atmospheric, from the
vistas of the never-ending sprawl of Tehran, to the vehicles and alleyways
which are explored through the multi-layered narrative. They are also very authentic, impressive
given that the film has been made abroad.
Even if the bleak narrative itself does not necessarily beg for repeat
viewing, the detailed and intricate backgrounds which are a very realistic
portrayal of today’s Tehran, do.
Overall, the film is a stark and pessimistic portrayal of
Tehran itself, which provides fascinating viewing for even those who have never
even heard of Jafar Panahi or Abbas Kiarostami, let alone seen their films. Certain
aspects of the film are slightly outdated, such as the morality police, less
prominent now than is portrayed in the movie. At times, the pace of the film’s consecutive
punches renders the viewer overwhelmed, and I was begging for a little respite
towards the end.
Nevertheless, it remains an apposite metaphor for the ongoing
psychological corrosion in the city’s collective psyche. The film may not quite get the traction
required to deliver the social change which is the aim of the film’s creator, but
it is another seed on top of a mountain waiting to be sown. We can only wonder
what Ali Soozandeh will do next.
Google DeepMind’s breakthrough might help save the sight of millions around the world.
“I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe…”
Had he spent more time scrutinising millions of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scans rather than attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, perhaps Dr Roy Batty might have been the most eminent Medical Retina specialist of Ridley Scott’s fictional 2019.
Philip K. Dick’s dystopian vision was penned in 1968 and later adapted into a neo-noir masterpiece by Scott in 1982. The synthetic beings of his tale, outwardly identical to adult humans, have been created in order to replace humans in performing menial or undesirable jobs. Their only deficiencies seemingly being a lack of emotional range and a four-year life span. The themes of humanity and identity continue to resonate despite the decades which have passed since the short story was written.
We are still a long way from androids replacing any profession, let alone doctors or nurses. Nevertheless, a potentially monumental triumph in the application of AI technology in medicine has just materialised, the fruits of which might benefit millions worldwide.
Two London-based teams have collaborated to develop AI technology which can analyse OCT retinal scans and detect a number of eye conditions, then triage those patients who are in need of urgent care. Google’s DeepMind team, spearheaded by Jeffrey De Fauw, have applied a neural network learning system which matches highly experienced doctors and reduces sight loss by minimising the time between detection and treatment. This delay in referral for treatment still causes many people to go blind.
Pearse Keane, lead clinician for the project at Moorfields Eye Hospital, describes DeepMind’s algorithm:
“As good, or maybe even a little bit better, than world-leading consultant ophthalmologists at Moorfields in saying what is wrong in these OCT scans”
Artificial Brains — From Chess to Go
Google’s DeepMind, founded in 2010 in the UK and later acquired by Google, seeks to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms and uncover the mystery of intelligence. Thus-far, its greatest tangible successes had been in defeating humans in games.
Perhaps its landmark gaming victory came in 2016 when DeepMind’s AlphaGo beat high-ranked Go player Lee Sedol 4–1 in a five-game match by using a supervised learning protocol, watching and analysing large numbers of games between humans. Despite the resounding triumph of machine over man in the ancient strategy board game, DeepMind has to thank its ancestor, IBM’s Deep Blue, for the first of such victories.
In 1996, world chess champion Garry Kasparov beat Deep Blue 4–2. One year later, Deep Blue came back for revenge and beet Kasparov 3½–2½. The message was clear, artificial intelligence was catching up the human intelligence. Yet Deep Blue’s algorithm depended on “brute computational force”, evaluating millions of positions. That works fine for chess, in which there are 20 possible opening moves. Go, a game originating in China almost 2500 years ago, has 361 possible opening moves on its 19×19 grid. It is so large that no AI can currently explore every possibility using Deep Blue’s “brute force” method.
DeepMind’s AlphaGo, on the other hand, works on a combination of different elements which are meant to mimic human decision-making. The algorithm was developed by DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis and consists of a number of phases which include supervised learning (being trained by analysing games between human experts), reinforcement learning (playing itself millions of times and maximising expected winning outcomes), “intuition” rollout policy (predicting how a human would play), Value network learning (quantifying the chances of success) and an algorithm which brings all these together called a “Monte Carlo tree search”.
The Age of Scans
It’s all very good to beat humans at chess or Go, but what about diagnosing diseases? To find a real-world application for the human-like decision making used by DeepMind’s AlphaGo, the team at the company’s Health division looked at Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scans. This is a form of three-dimensional eye imaging which slices the retina into different layers, first introduced over two decades ago. OCT machines have come a long way since their inception and have become increasingly complex in how data is generated and presented. Nevertheless, they are used routinely by eye doctors to diagnose diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
The publication of the work from DeepMind and Moorfields Eye Hospital in Nature this week states categorically that the algorithm performed as well as two leading retina specialists in analysing OCT scans and grading the urgency of a referral for management, with an error rate of only 5.5%. This was despite the algorithm not having access to some extra information, such as patient records, that the doctors had. The algorithm was used on two different types of OCT machines, and was also able to give confidence ratings based on aspects of the scans which it considered suggestive for diagnosis. Importantly, not a single urgent case was missed from the 14,884 scans used in the study.
This is just the first stage of research, although Dr Keane is confident that a final product is not too far away. DeepMind and Moorfields now need to run clinical trials of their OCT system so that doctors have the chance to test it. Mustafa Suleyman, DeepMind co-founder hopes that:
“when this is ready for deployment, which will be several years away, it will end up impacting 300,000 patients per year”
The team hopes that regulators approve a final product based on the immediate tangible benefits of a reduction in time and manpower needed to manually inspect scans, make diagnoses and refer for treatment.
Practical Benefits in the Developing World
AI-powered screening can have an enormous impact in hard-to-reach areas. The ubiquity of smartphones around the world makes adding a portable camera and creating an image acquisition system simple and inexpensive. Already, companies such as UK-based Peek Vision have introduced camera adapters which allow high-quality images to be obtained easily and then analysed remotely.
Companies such as California-based Compact Imaging are currently working to make small form-factor multiple reference OCT (MR-OCT) available for smartphones and wearable technologies. The combination of these compact devices and AI-powered screening software could bridge geographical and economic chasms for many of the 285 million people worldwide living with some form of sight loss.
Artificial Intelligence elsewhere in health
These developments can act as a blueprint for the development of artificial intelligence elsewhere. DeepMind is currently doing research with University College London to assess whether AI can tell the difference between cancer and healthy tissue in CT and MRI scans. It is also working with Imperial College London to assess whether AI can interpret mammograms and improve accuracy in breast cancer screening.
In all these cases, the most practical benefit of using AI to screen for disease is one of resources — doctors’ time would be freed to spend more time with individual patients, and more time working on and providing treatments.
Pitfalls in AI’s Future
Back to the realms of fiction, where accounts of AI are often littered with depictions of ever-evolving intelligences which strive to be perfect, such as Marvel’s Ultron or Tron’s Clu. These AIs struggle to balance a “human” rationalisation of ethics with the necessity to achieve their goal, with Earth-threatening consequences.
Though we are far from apocalypse scenarios, DeepMind itself has already been embroiled in controversy when it emerged that 1.6 million patient data records had not been adequately safeguarded when shared between London’s Royal Free Hospital and DeepMind. Data sharing agreements between the two had to be rewritten and DeepMind has also created an “Ethics & Society” group to maintain the ethical standards of AI, and ensure that social good is prioritised during the fast-moving evolution of these technologies.
Clearly, there may be obstacles ahead that no one can predict. DeepMind’s co-founder Mustafa Suleyman highlights the extent of the challenge:
“It won’t be easy: the technology sector often falls into reductionist ways of thinking, replacing complex value judgments with a focus on simple metrics that can be tracked and optimised over time….
Getting these things right is not purely a matter of having good intentions. We need to do the hard, practical and messy work of finding out what ethical AI really means.”
A future with everything to play for
Nevertheless, Suleyman describes a future which, with the right guidance, could be aided immensely by artificial intelligence when aligned with human values:
“If we manage to get AI to work for people and the planet, then the effects could be transformational. Right now, there’s everything to play for.”
Florence Nightingale asserted in her landmark “Notes on Nursing” that the most challenging ordeal for a feverish patient is:
“not being able to see out of window, and the knots in the wood being the only view. I shall never forget the rapture of fever patients over a bunch of bright-coloured flowers”.
In 1859, she was emphasizing the value of plants and space in the healing of patients:
“People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body too”.
Nightingale was not alone in her appraisal of gardens and green spaces as therapeutic tools which were indispensable in the recovery process. Throughout Victorian and Edwardian periods, green spaces in hospitals were championed as havens for healing. In the succeeding decades, this notion appears to have been forgotten as priorities in hospital construction were directed elsewhere, with little attention given to green spaces, and the replacement of park areas by car park areas.
Perhaps a renaissance was provoked following a 1984 study by American psychologist Roger Ulrich, who demonstrated that patients with views of trees and animals from their wards recovered faster after gallbladder surgery, and spent less time in hospital than those who had no such views. In the UK, we are in the midst of re-appraising the role of gardens and green spaces, not just for patients but for staff and visitors as well. The British Medical Association stressed in 2011 that hospital design should always make allowances for the important therapeutic role of gardens.
Remembering the history of these beautiful spaces, including the unique roles of specific colours and scents in therapy, helps guide the design of future hospital green spaces. In her book “Therapeutic Landscapes”, medical historian Dr Clare Hickman summarises how importantly hospital gardens were regarded, and the plans for new well-designed green spaces in the future, for example the upcoming Horatio’s Garden at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury.
Whether they deliver a natural and calming scene from a patient’s bed, an accessible treat for the senses of a waiting visitor, or some relaxation, freedom and privacy for a staff nurse away from the wards, these spaces are once again being seen as crucial for health and wellbeing. It is no surprise that a reclaimed boiler-house roof, now showpiece garden at Great Ormond Street Hospital designed by Chris Beardshaw, won a Gold Medal at last year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Hospital gardens need not be highly conceptualized spaces occupied by incongruous abstract sculptures and with little space to walk. They can be triumphs if they are peaceful, interesting, accessible, well-maintained and engage the senses (though not too strongly). Here are some beautiful, functional and peaceful hospital gardens across the UK.
Ten Hospital Gardens around the United Kingdom
The Morgan Stanley Garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital
Constructed by renowned garden designer Chris Beardshaw, this woodland-themed garden was transplanted from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (where it won a Gold medal) to a disused roof space, surrounded by tall hospital buildings that look onto it. The garden provides a quiet and peaceful space for childern and families, with a roof designed such that summer mornings will light up the sculpture of a child which is the centrepiece of the garden.
Horatio’s Garden at Salisbury District Hospital
Horatio’s Garden is a charity which makes gardens of sanctuary in centres for spinal injury. The gardens are named after Horatio Chapple, who came up with the idea alongside his father whilst volunteering in Salisbury. Horatio was tragically killed aged only 17, but his legacy endures in these beautiful gardens which combine a sensory and aesthetic feast with events and activities. For example, painting the scenic garden with artist-in-residence Miranda Creswell at Salisbury Hospital adds the extra element of creative and expressive arts therapy for patients suffering from spinal injuries.
Ninewells Community Garden, Dundee
This huge community garden is overlooked by the Ninewells Hospital, and emphasizes a spirit of volunteer gardening for patients, staff and the local community. The garden’s vegetable and sensory gardens, orchard, wildlife habitat and play areas offer a multitude of options for people to de-stress, recuperate and exercise.
John Radcliffe Hospital Women’s Centre Garden, Oxford
This discarded area adjacent to the Women’s Centre was transformed into an open space with a compact walking area and two subtle sculptures in the centre. Instead of the previous drab view in front of the building, the colourful array of flowers and scents of thyme and lavender provide a welcome area for female patients and staff to relax during the course of the day.
Horatio’s Garden at the Scottish National Spinal Injuries Unit, Glasgow
The second Horatio’s Garden on this list was inaugurated in August 2016, with views of the stunning woodland garden (above) from the hospital wards. The garden has six distinct spaces, all of which serve to stimulate different senses, and a greenhouse which is surrounded by areas used for horticultural therapy activities.
Chase Farm Hospital has just renovated two of its areas into specialist therapeutic gardens aimed for the specific needs of patients, but open to staff and visitors. One of the gardens supports dementia patients, whilst the other (above) support stroke and rehabilitation patients. Based on a Japanese design, it provides a very compact but tranquil sanctuary within the hospital.
Guy’s Hospital Courtyard Garden, London
The contemporary feel of the courtyard garden at Guy’s Hospital in London is accentuated by the number of sitting areas amidst the shrubs and hedges, with the vindicated expectation that the garden was designed that the garden would become a preferred spot for having lunch or sitting with family outside the wards.
Bournemouth Hospital Orchard Garden, Bournemouth
A desolate tarmac courtyard in the hospital has only recently been revamped into a three-segmented garden: a therapeutic courtyard garden outside the chemotherapy suite (above), a sensory garden linking the courtyard to a lakeside garden, giving patients and visitors not only options for their retreat of choice, but also a large area to walk around and exercise in.
Chapel Garden, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norwich
A bland lightwell was transformed into this chapel garden, featuring a central “wish tree” and a number of water features such as a vertical water fountain and a water rill giving the impression of water moving continually throughout the garden. The calming flow of water and illusion of space allow for, once again, a small and previously unused area becoming a peaceful reservation amidst the hospital.
Dick Vet Hospital Gardens, University of Edinburgh
Animals, animal-owners and animal-lovers should not be excluded from the healing power of gardens. This luscious retreat at the University of Edinburgh’s Easter Bush Campus provides ample space and quiet, together with several benches. It is capped off by the Path of Memories, a path lined by granite stones which can be engraved with an animal’s name.
The goal of this new editor is to make adding rich content to WordPress simple and enjoyable. This whole post is composed of pieces of content—somewhat similar to LEGO bricks—that you can move around and interact with. Move your cursor around and you’ll notice the different blocks light up with outlines and arrows. Press the arrows to reposition blocks quickly, without fearing about losing things in the process of copying and pasting.
What you are reading now is a text block the most basic block of all. The text block has its own controls to be moved freely around the post…
… like this one, which is right-aligned.
Headings are separate blocks as well, which helps with the outline and organisation of your content.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Handling images and media with the utmost care is a primary focus of the new editor. Hopefully, you’ll find aspects of adding captions or going full-width with your pictures much easier and robust than before.
Try selecting and removing or editing the caption, now you don’t have to be careful about selecting the image or other text by mistake and ruining the presentation.
The Inserter Tool
Imagine everything that WordPress can do is available to you quickly and in the same place on the interface. No need to figure out HTML tags, classes, or remember complicated shortcode syntax. That’s the spirit behind the inserter—the (+) button you’ll see around the editor—which allows you to browse all available content blocks and add them into your post. Plugins and themes are able to register their own, opening up all sort of possibilities for rich editing and publishing.
Go give it a try, you may discover things WordPress can already add into your posts that you didn’t know about. Here’s a short list of what you can currently find there:
Text & Headings
Images & Videos
Embeds, like YouTube, Tweets, or other WordPress posts.
Layout blocks, like Buttons, Hero Images, Separators, etc.
And Lists like this one of course 🙂
A huge benefit of blocks is that you can edit them in place and manipulate your content directly. Instead of having fields for editing things like the source of a quote, or the text of a button, you can directly change the content. Try editing the following quote:
The editor will endeavour to create a new page and post building experience that makes writing rich posts effortless, and has “blocks” to make it easy what today might take shortcodes, custom HTML, or “mystery meat” embed discovery.
Matt Mullenweg, 2017
The information corresponding to the source of the quote is a separate text field, similar to captions under images, so the structure of the quote is protected even if you select, modify, or remove the source. It’s always easy to add it back.
Blocks can be anything you need. For instance, you may want to add a subdued quote as part of the composition of your text, or you may prefer to display a giant stylised one. All of these options are available in the inserter.
You can change the number of columns in your galleries by dragging a slider in the block inspector in the sidebar.
If you combine the new wide and full-wide alignments with galleries, you can create a very media-rich layout, very quickly:
Sure, the full-wide image can be pretty big. But sometimes the image is worth it.
The above is a gallery with just two images. It’s an easier way to create visually appealing layouts, without having to deal with floats. You can also easily convert the gallery back to individual images again, by using the block switcher.
Any block can opt into these alignments. The embed block has them also, and is responsive out of the box:
You can build any block you like, static or dynamic, decorative or plain. Here’s a pullquote block:
Code is Poetry
The WordPress community
If you want to learn more about how to build additional blocks, or if you are interested in helping with the project, head over to the GitHub repository.