Literary Review – The Legend of Genghis Khan

The Legend of Genghis Khan

 

The world has been enthralled, saddened and angered by many people, of varying professions and nationalities. But there are people who have had the courage, conviction and the persona to make the world go on its knees, to cower down before them and to quiver with fear at their names. A handful of people, not more! One such towering personality is Genghis Khan, a name that resonates with power and brings about horses, arrows and brutality to one’s minds. A name synonymous with absolute power!

When history is being read by us or studied by us, we rarely tend to observe the details, especially when the mentioned part is something that we’ve read often. It becomes news to us. Sutapa Basu, in collaboration with Readomania has taken pains to bring alive before us in The Legend of Genghis Khan, the details we missed while studying the history of the world, especially about a part of the world far from our motherland.

The novel starts with a brutal raid by the army of Genghis Khan on a settlement. As expected, the raid is swift, merciless, mindlessly cruel, ferocious and partly successful. The Khan himself is not part of the raid. But what he gains from the raid is something he never bargained for!

The novel moves ahead in two time frames, giving the readers a clear picture of the legend that the Khan had carved for himself from being the fledgling that he was. The author’s efforts in doing her research for the novel is evident from the names of places, their descriptions, the culture of the Mongols, the names of various weapons used for siege warfare, the Mongolian way of addressing people and so on.

What strikes the readers in its peculiarity is the other side of Genghis Khan, the Mongolian leader. Only the most studious historian would know that, the Khan, though illiterate, encouraged his subjects to learn Writing. Important events were recorded for posterity. Shigi, the adopted brother of Genghis Khan comes about as a fearsome warrior, giant in stature, but also surprisingly genial and literate. His war scarred hands pursue writing the achievements of Genghis Khan in their free time. The Khan offered equality to women; something that was unheard or even thought of in those times. And to see that emerging from the barbaric mind of the Mongol was a shock to the entire population of the earth that heard of or knew him. Another seemingly impossible trait of him was his tolerance to other religions. This was not deemed possible in his time, but he did it. And it played a big role in strengthening his kingdom. The most important aspect of his quickly strengthened kingdom was the way in which the Khan allowed people to rise to power based on their merit and not their tribe. This enlarged his followers and made them stick with him, no matter what.

Sutapa Basu has cleverly gathered all information and wrought about a novel that whiffs with the scents of Mongolian steppes and freshly groomed horses. She also makes the readers feel the cold wind biting into the characters of the novel and sometimes into themselves. The image of the ger visualized by the readers is a testimony to the descriptive ability of the author. The hunt that Temujin has with his father, the taking of the food from the rival clan, the feeling of abandonment, the cause of having to fend for himself and his family, the feral instinct that needles him to commit an atrocious act within the family and the humble manner in which he accepts the reprimand from his mother are portrayed perfectly by Sutapa Basu. She excels as an author who brings out the inner feelings of the characters and makes the readers feel part of the novel. Relationships are etched in our minds through this Readomanian tale.

Having brought all these qualities of Genghis Khan and his childhood, the author does not fail to talk about the notoriety the Mongol was and is known throughout the world for; his cruelty. The raid on Malikpur is an example. A child is thrown in the air and speared as it comes down, making the mother faint and the readers gasp involuntarily. The sacking of cities is another example, where in a city, getting tired of his soldiers killing civilians one by one, Genghis Khan grabs hold of five prisoners by their hair, swings his sword in a butchering arc and kills all five, eliciting cheers from his soldiers and setting them a model they use in all further post warfare killing rituals. A frightening spectacle indeed!

Genghis Khan is brutal and utterly without mercy when a city resists him. He seethes with fury when he is ridiculed, humiliated or betrayed. And the revenge is swift and terrible. The Emperor of Xi Xia, Xian bears the brunt of the folly committed by his predecessors. The readers are not prepared for the sudden violence that descends upon the Emperor and his retinue. The peaceful and serene landscape is turned into a bloody and squishy terrain filled with human fat, blood and the stench of death. Sutapa Basu swings from one scene to the other with equal ease, meandering through the cunning, wicked, warring, strategic, cruel, gentle, loving and kind phases of the Mongol Khan tirelessly.

Though there are some novels describing the life history of Genghis Khan, this novel by Sutapa Basu is like the delicious fruit hidden deep inside a pudding, offering glimpses into the Mongol’s life from different perspectives. Readomania has added to its kitty another book that screams to be read, right from its book cover to the last chapter. Since the book is from an author of erudite background and a publishing company of repute, the Language style and the impeccability of the grammar used is beyond reproach. Books on historical fiction always pique the curiosity of readers, and this has not disappointed. Those who know of Genghis Khan as only a cruel and barbaric leader will learn other aspects of him that might cause a ray of light to shine upon his usually tinted features. Sutapa Basu is going from strength to strength with each of her novels, making us pine for more.

 

 

Literary Review – The Doodler of Dimashq

Have you ever felt grief hitting you under the belt? The blow that hits you like a sledgehammer, making you immobile and numb to pain because of an overdose of pain! This feeling would’ve been experienced by people waking up after a troubled sleep a day or two after the loss of a beloved person. The real feeling of the seeming unreal becoming reality! That’s the feeling that one feels and undergoes while reading The Doodler of Dimashq.

The sickening news of destruction, inhumanity and chaos remains just news from a faraway land. A land that has no connection with us. A land that we read about and share posts on Facebook and Twitter – not to mention the factions we divide ourselves into, attacking vociferously one while defending doggedly the other and becoming experts on World Politics. What Kirthi Jayakumar has done is, give a face to Syria and personalize the demons pulverizing the ancient human establishment. This comes at a cost – that of our emotions.

Ameenah is a normal girl of Dimashq, like the Elizabeths, Claires, Meenas and Valerias of other parts of the world. She is fourteen when her world changes topsy-turvy. Her school education is put on a pause as the war inches towards Dimashq, and she is married to Fathi, of Haleb. Fathi proves to be a doting husband and respects the feelings and emotions of Ameenah. Soon enough Ameenah continues her education in a school in Haleb. All through her life Ameenah takes comfort and interest in one thing – her doodles. She doodles whenever she gets free time.

Ameenah doubles up as a household helper to Fathi’s parents during the evenings and early mornings while her daytime is spent in school. In her spare time, she smuggles herself and her little bag with all her doodles to a quiet place and starts doodling. Everything that she sees and experiences becomes the theme of her drawings. And she guards them religiously. The doodles are her world.

The pains that Ameenah’s family members undertake to send her to safety are enormous, though mentioned only in undertones. Kirthi has skillfully played it subtly to be heard loudly. The scene in which Ameenah’s parents bid farewell to their daughter as she goes with her husband to his house is heart-wrenching, forcing the reader to close the book and stem the tears threatening to run down one’s face. Visuals form in the head seeing a tiny and frightened Ameenah sitting in the car with Fathi, as her parents, standing side-by-side, watch their daughter leave to a far-off land, with a stranger. The entire scene blasts one message through the air – the helplessness of the Syrian parents.

Life never seems to be fair to Ameenah. She has just settled in the Fathi household and becomes used to her loving husband and school when comes news of her parents’ demise. She becomes an orphan at sixteen. Seeing her parents’ bodies laid side by side – making her remember their farewell to her, she comes close to madness losing track of all things around her. The author Kirthi Jayakumar writes as follows,

“No. I didn’t cry. I just died inside.”

No stronger words could’ve been written. The actions of Fathi turn out to be a strong moral support to Ameenah who flounders on a miry quicksand of anxiety and melancholy. The way in which he recites poetry to her and brings solace to her is maddeningly sweet in an otherwise turbulent world of Ameenah. Bereft of family members, Ameenah draws closer to Fathi and all that he has to offer. When the last stronghold of Ameenah crumbles, with Fathi and his family being blown to smithereens, Ameenah changes. The hope that she brings into thousands of people through her drawings are wrought beautifully by the author. There are incidents that make one long to shout out while some incidents make one cry. A myriad of emotions cocktailing and frothing between two covers – that is The Doodler of Dimashq for you!

The best part of the novel is the theme conveyed through the story. A story of hope amidst depression, the light of life shining through the grim dark world and the message that humanity does and will continue to prosper through one act or the other. It could be as small or seemingly insignificant as a doodle. Remember that a drop of water is a life line for one who is parched. So is The Doodler of Dimashq, spreading joy and hope in spite of its background. Kirthi Jayakumar scores yet again. Not to be forgotten is the smooth and easy play of words in English by the author. Excellent language skills! The publishing house, Readomania, shares the glory in this domain.

Readomania has proved its quality and its determination to be away from the milling crowd of publication by bringing out this spectacular novel of hope. Kirthi Jayakumar churns out words that are sharper than the shrapnel ricocheting through the dusty streets of Haleb, either making hearts beat faster than is usual or making hearts stop doing their regular job. She always manages to change the rhythm of the heartbeats. Ameenah becomes us and we become Ameenah. We can empathize with the people of Syria. Their grief becomes ours. We stop living in other places. We enter the warzone, dodging bullets and diving into tunnels from barrel bombs. As for the cacophony of falling buildings, low flying planes, thundering helicopters and raining bombs, it is always present. For we are in Haleb. We just passed Dimashq. Didn’t we cry and lament over the ghost towns that lie wasted and in ruins? For us, Syria is no more a news. For we are part of the country and of the world. We are humans. We care.

Shadow in the Mirror – Literary Review

When was the last time you had goosebumps due to a moment of trepidation? The first glance at the cover of Shadow in the Mirror gives one the shivers. The foreboding face staring menacingly from the darkish blue front cover of the novel is enough to make a still mind quake, and stop with a screeching halt, the wavering mind. The title doesn’t help either. It adds to the eerie feeling. Not to mention the malevolence behind the eyes… those eyes.

The first chapter doesn’t disappoint… not one bit. The plunge into the abyss is horrific and heart-wrenching. Nita, a pregnant girl, falls from the balcony of her apartment in Bangalore. This is the background of the novel, and the stage couldn’t have been set better.

The novel is set mainly amidst the bustling city of Bangalore and yet travels along the sleepy hamlets of Kerala, allowing a whiff of coconut trees on a rainy day. The move to Kerala is a welcome one, as it takes the reader away from the gruesome death and its evil-eyed aura hovering just above the surface, waiting to overpower the reader any moment.

Shadow in the Mirror takes readers across a whirlwind of emotions, as the novel starts shaping itself through threads of small stories of different people. The main characters etch themselves firmly in the minds of the readers, baring their very souls. The difference in characterization among the leading people of the novel is by a good margin and there are no similarities leading to awkward misunderstandings.

The relationship between Krish and Nita is overwhelmingly innocent and dripping with love and affection for each other. Deepti Menon has intricately weaved a bond here that delves deep into the psychology of a Man and a Woman, their understanding of each other and their sacrifice for each other in their career and everyday affairs.

Kavitha is a character drawn from the waters of a torrential stream. The Dr. Jekyll and Hyde – sort of characterization is not a joke. Deepti Menon has pulled it off with elan! One moment the reader sympathizes with Kavitha, whereas the next moment fingers twitch, desirous of strangling her.

Eshwar and Sudha would never be forgotten by any reader, for the sheer ferocity of the husband and wife love that melts the reader. Eshwar is the epitome of a doting husband and a responsible father, as Sudha stands by him in every possible way. Sudha’s character is like that of an immovable mountain. Sorrow assails her unawares. She stands tall – breaking asunder the traditional hold that the society expects.

The novel is pleasantly guilty of sub-plots that the author has tastefully reworked from her life and that of her acquaintances. This has given a personal touch to the novel, making it a hybrography (Pardon the licence).

Deepti Menon’s mastery of the Language is evident from the first chapter. The reader is forced to stop reading the novel at times and give a wistful smile, giving way to reminiscences. Literary flavor abounds in the novel, the syntax of the Language exploited to the maximum by the author. The choice of words, the exclamatory endings, the casual reference to other literary works of art, the use of metaphors… all point to one thing – the ‘well-read’ personality of Deepti Menon. Each chapter has a point of delight for a connoisseur of the English Language. A rare phenomenon or should one call it PenOhMenon!

Verdict

Readomania has added a feather to its cap by publishing Shadow in the Mirror. The novel gives importance to women, gives credence to the independence of women and at the same time brings out the infallibility of women. The author has tastefully polished the novel from a maze of small stories which invariably find their way into the mainstream, delighting and scaring the reader alternately along the way. Emotions warring in the minds of the readers can’t but wonder what’s next in offing from Deepti Menon.

Confessions on an Island – Literary Review

confessions

 

The moment one hears the word Confession, one is reminded of either the various ‘confessions pages’ active on Facebook, or Churches with vicars ensconced within the dark comfort of the confession booths. But confessions on an island? That set in motion the wheels of curiosity fuelled by flashes of imagination running riot – what exactly could the confessions be about? Would they revolve around penitent people desperately hopeful of being forgiven and seeking abstinence from their sins? Would the confessions be something about an extra-marital affair? A murder, perhaps accidental? But what the author Ayan Pal has concocted is something that even a seasoned reader cannot fathom, without divulging deep into the novel right from the beginning and surfacing at the end with the treasure – the knowledge that confessions can be different, that they can take you to places in ways that you never imagined could happen and that they can make you feel void, though they be fiction.

An exotic island with mangroves! No nosey neighbours or troublesome kids. A house situated amidst the trees. The porch offers a peaceful view of the waves crashing on the shores. The occasional sound of birds as they fly in search of food, cuddly looking turtles running amok on the isolated beach and a young couple walking slowly on the beach, the girl’s eyes fixed on the far horizon…

Sounds captivating! Does it not? Let’s have a small change of scenario. On a closer inspection, the girl’s eyelids are swollen. Her hands are bruised. The seemingly leisurely walk that the couple has stems from the fact that the girl has difficulty in walking due to the injustice done to her body by the man with her… Yes, the man is her abductor. The island is no more exotic, but frightening. There is an insane craving to hear sounds of neighbours’ talk. Why was she kidnapped? And who was he?

Be transported to the mysterious island of Ayan Pal to find out for yourself…

Approach

Ayan Pal’s approach to this work is entirely different from the novels flooding the market these days. The plethora of characters and incidents surrounding and interlinking their lives makes one’s mind swim. The author has skillfully connected all events to make this a thrilling web of hidden mazes and surprising sub-plots.

Ayan Pal travels to the core of the readers’ minds through his debut novel, shocks readers by various twists and turns, evinces either revulsion or scintillation by the erotic scenes sprinkled generously across Confessions on an Island, brings smiles of appreciation to language aficionados by his use, and goes to the next level by making this psychological – almost Freudian. And that is a complement! There are incidents in the novel which may or may not have been taken out of the life of the author (and we are not talking about sex). The author’s love for his mother shines like a beacon for all to see. So does his love for Calcutta.

Ayan Pal keeps the readers guessing throughout the novel. This is almost like the novels of Agatha Christie, in which the readers are exposed to all the facts of the mystery. Many such facts are revealed chapter after chapter as readers frantically try to connect the dots and find the connection between the lady and the gent. This is a success. Nowhere does the story lag or go astray. This is what separates this novel from the other novels. This is engrossingly psychological and deeply mind searching.

 Research

It would be humanly impossible to pen a novel such as this without having first been buried under tons of books or been glued to a computer monitor like a fly on a wall. The mention of different dishes around the world, their origins and recipes stand as a monument in the novel testifying to the foodie hidden inside the author. One can almost taste certain dishes while reading – so powerful is the narration.

Talk about culture. This novel does it. The novel takes readers across the world – from Copenhagen to Lancaster and from there to Bangalore to New Delhi, and of course Malaysia, where the main action takes place. Cultures of the world are linked to form the basis of this novel. Without the criss-cross of varied cultures, this novel would not have the sweet aroma that emanates out of it.

 Verdict

One of the strengths of the novel is the last few chapters of the novel, as the seemingly unconnected events are drawn tightly together to make sense. As the motive is being revealed, one cannot but stop for awhile and marvel at the ingenuity of the author at having conceived such a complex plot with countless minions helping the smooth sail of the story. The language of the author is certainly laudable. It stands out from the language of the run of the mill books that reek of sub-standard language and rely on libidinous overtures to make sales, if any at all. That the author had targeted an upper educated class of readers is evident from the deep psychological approach used liberally. There are even traces of the stream of consciousness method, which is rarely found in Indian novels nowadays. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Confessions on an Island subscribed in the syllabus of M. A. English or for M. Phil. scholars of English Literature in the next few years. Newbie readers will not be able to navigate their way into this novel and be able to surface. The level is top-notch. Ayan Pal has imprinted himself as a literary novelist of the current era, at a time when India is badly in need of quality writers such as him. By doing so, he has made the Indian and global fans of his writing skills wait with bated breath for his next creation. What would it be?

Credits to Readomania for having published such a singular novel!

 

 

Preventing “500 Internal Server Error” for uploaded files on IIS PHP Sites

You may be getting “500 Internal Server Error” upon requesting a uploaded images of a wordpress / php website running on IIS7+ / Windows Server. This same error can be noted as url rewrite error on some debugging tools (developer tools) like chrome inspector. Also the same error can be noted as 500.50.

Nature of the Problem:

This is a very simple problem resulting because of the insufficient permission to read the requested file using the user which is running the PHP service on the windows server machine.

Solution:

For WordPress website

  1. Navigate to your WordPress site physical location
  2. Go to Wp-Content directory
  3. Right-Click uploads directory / folder and select ‘Properties’
  4. Go to ‘Security’ tab
  5. Click Edit
  6. Select ‘IUSR’ under group or user names
  7. Select ‘Read & Execute’ under permissions for IUSR
  8. Click ‘Apply’ and ‘Ok’
Correct Permission -uploads directory of WordPress on IIS
Correct Permission -uploads directory of WordPress on IIS

For Regular PHP websites

Follow the same procedures as the WordPress website. Note that the directory you need to give the permission to the ‘IUSR’ is the temporary directory specified in your ‘php.ini’ configuration file.

Astronomers just discovered a Morse code message in the dunes of Mars

NASA has spotted a series of strange, dark dunes on Mars that look uncannily like the dots and dashes that make up Morse code.

This isn’t the first time researchers have spotted this pattern in the sands of Mars, but thanks to its unique topography, this dune field – just south of the planet’s north pole – shows them in clearer detail than usual, allowing scientists to translate the message for the first time.

To be clear, this message is naturally formed – just like the dunes here on Earth, the dots and dashes of the dunes were carved out by the direction of the wind. There’s no spooky alien stuff at play here, promise.

As a press release from NASA explains, what makes the patterns in this dune so prominent is the fact that it’s found inside a natural circular depression, which means there’s a limited amount of sand available to be pushed around by the local winds.

The long ‘dashes’ are formed by bi-directional winds, which means wind that’s travelling at right angles to the dune.

Over time, wind coming from either direction funnels the material into a long, dark line, as you can see in the close-up image below:

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The Martian ‘dots’ are officially known as ‘barchanoid dunes‘, and are a little more mysterious.

Geophysicists believe they’re formed when something interrupts the production of the linear dunes – but NASA still isn’t quite sure what that is, and figuring it out is part of the reason they were photographing the region.

These images were taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, which is on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been photographing the Red Planet for the past decade.

With more observation, geophysicists are hoping that they’ll be able to figure out more about how the dunes on the surface of Mars form, and what that can tell us about the potential habitability of the planet.

But while they’re figuring that out, NASA planetary scientist Veronica Bray translated the Morse code message for Maddie Stone over at Gizmodo.

So what do the sands of Mars have to tell us? According to Bray:

NEE NED ZB 6TNN DEIBEDH SIEFI EBEEE SSIEI ESEE SEEE !!

It’s very deep stuff – and not intended as anything other than a bit of geophysial fun.

But reading the sands of Mars might one day help us better understand life on the surface of our potential future outpost, so it’s worth paying attention.

 

Source: Science Alert Gizmodo

Mettle – Vocabwagon

Mettle

The meaning of the word Mettle is a person’s ability to cope well during difficulties with determination and tenacity.

The word Mettle is a noun.

Examples:

  1. The mettle shown by the dog to reach the banks of the river saved the life of the dog.

2. Although the team lost, the mettle showed by the players of the team brought appreciation from the audience.

Branding – Winged Post

 

BRANDING

How does an institution brand itself? How does a retail store gain the trust of its customers? Why is it that we prefer visiting certain stores and choose avoiding many shops like the plague? While there are hundreds of companies that are founded on the dreams and ambitions of young wannabe entrepreneurs, there are a few that manage to remain open for a couple of years and still fewer companies that eke out a profit.

There are institutions that spring out of nowhere and have a meteoric rise that leave other organizations in the business breathless in its wake. Try as they might, the business rivals are not able to stay in the competition. The CEOs, Chairmen and MDs break their heads trying to figure out methods to popularize the names of their organizations. Where does the difference lie?

There are many methods adopted by companies to strengthen their footing. Alas! Due to inexperience and bad counseling, the heads commit many blunders without being aware!

Some of the sins to be avoided at all costs are…

 Following a rival blindly

 

Just because a plan or a module worked for your rival doesn’t mean it would or should work for you too. Stick on to your plan of action bearing in mind your employees, their strength and your target audience.

A fox attempting to hunt down a stag by imitating a wolf would end in disaster for the fox. Would it not???

Lack of a proper working system

 

Experimenting is good at the initial stages. But an institution must not falter and make its employees undergo a myriad of experiments with no employee certain of which method to follow in which situation. All ideas can be listened to by the head of institution, but not all should be executed.

It wouldn’t be advisable for an elephant to try climbing trees because monkeys climbing trees are slim!!!

A rise in Attrition Rate

Attrition might not be avoided, but can definitely be brought down. An institution that does not care for its employees is an institution doomed to fail. Identifying the source of attrition and taking corrective measures must be the highest priority of a company. An employee who stays for a longer duration in a company has better understanding of the working nature of the company and has closer affinity. Naturally, the employee would spread goodwill about the company.

 Lack of Stress Busters

Working in groups and rushing to meet deadlines cause people to be under stress. Giving people space to relax and conducting sports meet, cultural competitions and other contests make employees work with renewed vigour. Productivity increases manifold, resulting in branding among clients.

Managers lacking Personal Touch

Managers and Heads who treat employees without human touch are a curse of that company. Before they realize their faults, bury their ego and learn from their errors, their company is long gone. The top management that fails to identify such trouble making managers will lose the institution built on its blood and dream.

 

New design points a path to the ‘ultimate’ battery

ultimate-battery-lithium-oxygen
Many of the technologies we use every day have been getting smaller, faster and cheaper each year — with the notable exception of batteries. Apart from the possibility of a smartphone which lasts for days without needing to be charged, the challenges associated with making a better battery are holding back the widespread adoption of two major clean technologies: electric cars and grid-scale storage for solar power. Credit: © Eyematrix / Fotolia

Scientists have developed a working laboratory demonstrator of a lithium-oxygen battery which has very high energy density, is more than 90% efficient, and, to date, can be recharged more than 2000 times, showing how several of the problems holding back the development of these devices could be solved.

Lithium-oxygen, or lithium-air, batteries have been touted as the ‘ultimate’ battery due to their theoretical energy density, which is ten times that of a lithium-ion battery. Such a high energy density would be comparable to that of gasoline — and would enable an electric car with a battery that is a fifth the cost and a fifth the weight of those currently on the market to drive from London to Edinburgh on a single charge.

However, as is the case with other next-generation batteries, there are several practical challenges that need to be addressed before lithium-air batteries become a viable alternative to gasoline.

Now, researchers from the University of Cambridge have demonstrated how some of these obstacles may be overcome, and developed a lab-based demonstrator of a lithium-oxygen battery which has higher capacity, increased energy efficiency and improved stability over previous attempts.

Their demonstrator relies on a highly porous, ‘fluffy’ carbon electrode made from graphene (comprising one-atom-thick sheets of carbon atoms), and additives that alter the chemical reactions at work in the battery, making it more stable and more efficient. While the results, reported in the journal Science, are promising, the researchers caution that a practical lithium-air battery still remains at least a decade away.

“What we’ve achieved is a significant advance for this technology and suggests whole new areas for research — we haven’t solved all the problems inherent to this chemistry, but our results do show routes forward towards a practical device,” said Professor Clare Grey of Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, the paper’s senior author.

Many of the technologies we use every day have been getting smaller, faster and cheaper each year — with the notable exception of batteries. Apart from the possibility of a smartphone which lasts for days without needing to be charged, the challenges associated with making a better battery are holding back the widespread adoption of two major clean technologies: electric cars and grid-scale storage for solar power.

“In their simplest form, batteries are made of three components: a positive electrode, a negative electrode and an electrolyte,” said Dr Tao Liu, also from the Department of Chemistry, and the paper’s first author.

In the lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries we use in our laptops and smartphones, the negative electrode is made of graphite (a form of carbon), the positive electrode is made of a metal oxide, such as lithium cobalt oxide, and the electrolyte is a lithium salt dissolved in an organic solvent. The action of the battery depends on the movement of lithium ions between the electrodes. Li-ion batteries are light, but their capacity deteriorates with age, and their relatively low energy densities mean that they need to be recharged frequently.

Over the past decade, researchers have been developing various alternatives to Li-ion batteries, and lithium-air batteries are considered the ultimate in next-generation energy storage, because of their extremely high energy density. However, previous attempts at working demonstrators have had low efficiency, poor rate performance, unwanted chemical reactions, and can only be cycled in pure oxygen.

What Liu, Grey and their colleagues have developed uses a very different chemistry than earlier attempts at a non-aqueous lithium-air battery, relying on lithium hydroxide (LiOH) instead of lithium peroxide (Li2O2). With the addition of water and the use of lithium iodide as a ‘mediator’, their battery showed far less of the chemical reactions which can cause cells to die, making it far more stable after multiple charge and discharge cycles.

By precisely engineering the structure of the electrode, changing it to a highly porous form of graphene, adding lithium iodide, and changing the chemical makeup of the electrolyte, the researchers were able to reduce the ‘voltage gap’ between charge and discharge to 0.2 volts. A small voltage gap equals a more efficient battery — previous versions of a lithium-air battery have only managed to get the gap down to 0.5 — 1.0 volts, whereas 0.2 volts is closer to that of a Li-ion battery, and equates to an energy efficiency of 93%.

The highly porous graphene electrode also greatly increases the capacity of the demonstrator, although only at certain rates of charge and discharge. Other issues that still have to be addressed include finding a way to protect the metal electrode so that it doesn’t form spindly lithium metal fibres known as dendrites, which can cause batteries to explode if they grow too much and short-circuit the battery.

Additionally, the demonstrator can only be cycled in pure oxygen, while the air around us also contains carbon dioxide, nitrogen and moisture, all of which are generally harmful to the metal electrode.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” said Liu. “But what we’ve seen here suggests that there are ways to solve these problems — maybe we’ve just got to look at things a little differently.”

“While there are still plenty of fundamental studies that remain to be done, to iron out some of the mechanistic details, the current results are extremely exciting — we are still very much at the development stage, but we’ve shown that there are solutions to some of the tough problems associated with this technology,” said Grey.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Cambridge. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. T. Liu, M. Leskes, W. Yu, A. J. Moore, L. Zhou, P. M. Bayley, G. Kim, C. P. Grey. Cycling Li-O2 batteries via LiOH formation and decomposition. Science, 2015; 350 (6260): 530 DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7730

Images of pleasure, winning have unique distracting power

It is hard to ignore positive images. Credit: © Monkey Business / Fotolia
It is hard to ignore positive images.
Credit: © Monkey Business / Fotolia

 

Images related to pleasure or winning attract attention from demanding tasks, while equally intense but negative images and those associated with losing can be fully ignored, finds a new UCL study.

51 volunteers completed attention tasks involving search for ‘target’ items. They were found to be highly distracted by emotional images, whether positive or negative, when the search was easy. However when the search was harder and demanded high focus of attention people were able to completely ignore the negative images, while the positive images continued to be highly distracting.

Positive images included graphic photographs of romantic scenes, happy faces, and neutral faces that were previously associated with winning points in a betting task. Negative images included gory photographs, angry faces and neutral faces previously associated with losing points in the betting task.

The study, published in the journal Emotion, suggests that it is easier to ignore negative images than positive ones when we are focusing on other things.

“If someone is busy, the best way to capture their attention is with something related to pleasure,” explains study author Professor Nilli Lavie (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience). “For example adverts from charities often use images of suffering to encourage donations. Our study suggests that these images could be overlooked by people who are engaged in other activities such as using their phones, reading the newspaper, or forwarding their TV recordings to resume the program they were watching. To capture the attention from other activities, charities could consider using more positive images such as happy people whose lives have been improved by donations.”

The effect was seen not only with intrinsically positive images but also neutral images that were associated with winning in a betting game. Six neutral face images were used with different odds of winning or losing points. Participants were asked to choose between different pairs to maximise points, but these did not represent real money. By the end of the 15-minute game, the patterns of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ faces were clear; participants consistently chose faces with high odds of winning and low odds of losing.

“The attention-grabbing power of images associated with winning meaningless points is staggering,” says Professor Lavie. “While people were able to ignore graphic images of mutilated bodies during the more difficult task, neutral, expressionless faces associated with winning still distracted them. People appear to be tuned to the prospects of winning. This could suggest a new way of marketing as any neutral image such as a brand logo can be used to capture attention, if the consumer is offered to play in some betting game and the image is associated with winning.

“The results are also surprising from an evolutionary perspective, as one would expect the brain to pay most attention to negative images because they can indicate potential threats. Our findings may reflect the changing priorities of modern Western society, where we face relatively few immediate threats to our lives. In this safe space, our minds may be more focused on pleasure seeking instead of paying attention to potential harm. The power of positive images and those associated with winning may be a symptom of our competitive, hedonistic society.”


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rashmi Gupta, Young-Jin Hur, Nilli Lavie. Distracted by Pleasure: Effects of Positive Versus Negative Valence on Emotional Capture Under Load.. Emotion, 2015; DOI: 10.1037/emo0000112