Thursday, November 18, 2010

Margaret Atwood, Internet app developer

Re-posting stuff you read elsewhere is not the mark of a creative blog writer. I know that. But I can't resist today referring again to Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac.

November 18 is author Margaret Atwood's birthday. Keillor has posted a capsule biography of her that I can't get out of my mind, so I'm sharing it with you.

You probably know Atwood has written many novels, including The Handmaid's Tale, The Robber Bride, and The Blind Assassin, which won the Booker Prize in 2000. But did you know that she invented an Internet-based device and application? Me neither.

According to Keillor, Atwood got so sick and tired of going on tours to promote her books that she figured out a way to be present to fans in a distant bookstore without physically leaving her home in Toronto. At the age of 66, she invented the LongPen.

It's ingenious, really: Say there's a book-signing event at a bookstore, where fans of Atwood come to talk with the author and, of course, have their books signed. Atwood is at home, connected to the bookstore by live, 2-way video chat via the Internet.

Also at the bookstore is the LongPen, which is basically a small robotic device holding a ballpoint pen and sitting on a tabletop. The fan approaches the table and places Atwood's book under the robot's pen. Atwood chats with the fan and then writes an inscription and her signature onto a touchpad, like the one you use when buying by credit card at a store. The touchpad controls the LongPen device via the Internet. What Atwood writes on her touchpad is immediately written by the robot onto the open page of the fan's book.

How cool is that! And it came about because one of the great authors of our time got fed up with business travel. How many of us can identify with that?

However, as impressive as her LongPen is, Atwood's true achievements are her books. See for yourself by checking out any of her 21 works available at your and my favorite library.

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