Sunday, May 19, 2019

funny noises

All our instruments series, episode 11

After taking care of that old piano, we're now returning to the established principle of this series, introducing instruments by order of appearance.

Every once in a while there is one that I never quite got the hang of - even if I've had it for decades. Like the banjo, the Jew's harp is one I find ok for making ploinky noises, but it doesn't really work for me as an instrument. This just as a warning before you click the video.




Here goes - if you can do any better, feel free to tell me what I'm doing wrong:




Saturday, May 18, 2019

In the midst of winter

Más allá del invierno
Isabel Allende


I think I first read Isabel Allende in 1984, when her first novel, La casa de los espiritus came out in translation and was very successful worldwide. From the next novel De amor y de sombras onwards, I read almost all her novels in the original version (a quick count gets me to 15). I skipped the young adult ones and may have missed one or two in recent years. (I really hated the cover of El cuaderno de Maya so much I couldn’t buy or read that one. Would have to wrap it in paper or something.)

Having started the shared reader/author journey 35 years ago with what was then the recent history of the coup in Chile, and having made all sorts of excursions to remote times such as the early days of the European conquest of the Americas, it feels a bit weird to be jolted into the present day New York and the eve of the Drumpf election with this novel published in 2017. However, it mostly works well.

It starts a bit slowly with a wintry encounter between the three very different characters, but then she throws in a dead body hidden in the trunk of a car and all goes swimmingly. Three interesting back stories relating to different parts of Latin America interwoven with the quest to do something meaningful about the body makes an interesting tapestry. Although the characters manage to sort out their mess, this doesn’t really tell us what to do about the rest of the horrid world.

PS looking for the cover of this one, I found out that the next novel is due out on May 21, called Largo pétalo de mar. I really do need to pull my socks up and keep up a bit better.

Friday, May 17, 2019

science news 17.5.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

Galaxy blazes with new stars born from close encounter
"The irregular galaxy NGC 4485 shows all the signs of having been involved in a hit-and-run accident with a bypassing galaxy. Rather than destroying the galaxy, the chance encounter is spawning a new generation of stars, and presumably planets."


climate change

24% of West Antarctic ice is now unstable

Warming climate threatens microbes in alpine streams, new research shows


ecology

Bedbugs evolved more than 100 million years ago -- and walked the earth with T. rex

The global invasion routes of the red swamp crayfish, described based on genetics


conservation

Meet the tenrecs
"Researchers reviewed the conservation priorities for the 31 species of tenrec -- a poorly understood family of small mammals superficially resembling hedgehogs, found only on the island of Madagascar."



Researchers reviewed the conservation priorities for the 31 species of tenrec -- a poorly understood family of small mammals superficially resembling hedgehogs, found only on the island of Madagascar.
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS


light and life

Research suggests revision to common view on how retinal cells in mammals process light
As far as I understood, this is because previous view was based on amphibians and mammals use fewer G proteins per photon coming in.


medicine

Antibody responses vs. Ebola keep evolving in survivors, months after recovery


humans

How our current thinking can sway our memories of love

People recycle more when they know what recyclable waste becomes

Thursday, May 16, 2019

science news 16.5.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


environment and sustainability


New whistle alerts bats to steer clear of wind turbines

Can sound protect eagles from wind turbine collisions?


When biodegradable plastic isn't
"Manufacturers offer biodegradable or compostable plastic bags, but in many cases, these claims have not been tested in natural environments. Now, researchers report in ACS' Environmental Science & Technology that the bags do not degrade in some environments any faster than regular polyethylene."


humans

Ancient fish ponds in the Bolivian savanna supported human settlement

Scientists suss out the secrets of human screams
"Screaming is well-studied in animals, but much less is known about how human screams function in communication, or how similar or different human screams are from those of other species. To help unlock the secrets of human screaming, researchers at Emory University have studied human vocal sounds, representing a broad acoustical range and array of emotional contexts, and studied what makes a sound a scream or not."
Shoutout to the Acoustics Society of America, they always have the most fascinating press releases when their annual meeting is on.
Also, this reminds me of the 1990s News and Views piece in Nature by Jared Diamond about why people scream when attacked - give or take a few duplicated letters, the title was Aaaaaarrrrrrgh, nooo! I found that quite inspiring in terms of what you can get away with in a scientific journal.


Chewing gums reveal the oldest Scandinavian human DNA
"The first humans who settled in Scandinavia more than 10,000 years ago left their DNA behind in ancient chewing gums, which are masticated lumps made from birch bark pitch."


languages

Bristol academic cracks Voynich code, solving century-old mystery of medieval text
According to a new analyisis, it is written in proto-Romance and there are 200 pages left to be translated. Oh and it is the only known document written in proto-Romance.



Vignette A illustrates the erupting volcano that prompted the rescue mission and the drawing of the map. It rose from the seabed to create a new island given the name Vulcanello, which later became joined to the island of Vulcano following another eruption in 1550. Vignette B depicts the volcano of Ischia, vignette C shows the islet of Castello Aragonese, and vignette D represents the island of Lipari. Each vignette includes a combination of naïvely drawn and somewhat stylized images along with annotations to explain and add detail. The other five vignettes describe further details of the story.
Credit: Voynich manuscript


------------------


from the news media:

Just as I got really excited about the Voynich manuscript and the proto-Romance language, I found this piece in the Guardian, which quotes several experts who don't believe the claims. So, wait and see - would be amazing though.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

science news 15.5.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.



astrobiology

Small, hardy planets most likely to survive death of their stars

How the Sun pumps out water from Mars into space


evolution

First birds: Archaeopteryx gets company

Dolphin ancestor's hearing was more like hoofed mammals than today's sea creatures

How the snail's shell got its coil
"Researchers from the Tokyo University of Science, Japan, have used CRISPR gene editing technology to make snails with shells that coil the 'wrong' way, providing insights into the fundamental basis of left-right asymmetry in animals."


ecology
Escaped pet parrots are now naturalized in 23 US states, study finds
"Research data on bird sightings finds that 56 different parrot species have been spotted in 43 states, and 25 of those species are now breeding in the wild in 23 different states."

Parents unknown
"Animals in hard-to-reach places, especially strange, 'unattractive,' animals, may completely escape our attention. We don't know what their role is in the environment. In fact, we don't even know they exist. New research may double the number of species of a little-known marine creature, based on DNA studies of its larvae."


Phoronid larva collected in Bocas del Toro province, Panama (Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean).
Credit: Michael Boyle


light and life

Dead zones in circadian clocks
"Circadian clocks of organisms respond to light signals during night but do not respond in daytime. The time window where circadian clocks are insensitive to light signals is referred to as the 'dead zone'. Researchers from Kanazawa University have proposed a mechanism for the daytime dead zone. They report that saturation of a single biochemical reaction in the gene regulatory network that controls circadian oscillations can create a daytime dead zone in different species."


quantum computation

Accelerating quantum technologies with materials processing at the atomic scale
"An emerging suite of information technologies based on fundamental quantum physics has been given a boost by researchers at the University of Oxford, who have invented a method to engineer single atomic defects in diamond using laser processing."


humans

How much language are unborn children exposed to in the womb?

Coffee addicts really do wake up and smell the coffee

How Nigerian music can help you choose a ripe watermelon
"The quickest way to decide if a watermelon is ripe or not is by tapping on it. And if you're having trouble detecting the subtleties of the sound, listen to some Nigerian traditional music to get your ears attuned. Nigerian researcher Stephen Onwubiko has found a link between the sounds of drumming in traditional Nigerian music and the sound of fingers drumming on watermelons in the markets."

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

science news 14.5.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


Just three stories today ...


evolution

Coastal organisms trapped in 99-million-year-old amber


ecology

Wild pigs invade Canadian provinces
"Wild pigs -- a mix of wild boar and domestic swine -- are spreading rapidly across Canada, threatening native species such as nesting birds, deer, agricultural crops, and farm livestock, research by the University of Saskatchewan (USask) shows."


humans

'Doing science,' rather than 'being scientists,' more encouraging to those underrepresented in the field
"Over the course of a school year, elementary school children lose confidence that they can 'be scientists,' but remain more confident that they can 'do science.'"
I'd suspect though that the same applies to all fields. Playing music sounds a lot less scary than being a musician. Doing some writing is less demanding than being a writer.

Monday, May 13, 2019

face off

Open Archive Day

A year ago, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I wrote a feature about facebook as a dual use technology - amazingly useful in many ways for both its users and for social scientists, but also open to staggering dangers, such as the manipulation of elections.

Since then, the dangers have remained at the forefront of the news agenda. The recent mass shooting in New Zealand, which the attacker live-streamed on facebook for a quarter of an hour, was a new example how "connecting people" can backfire. Just yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg met Emmanuel Macron and appeared on French television to defend his record, but the concerns are only growing as the network's coverage continues to expand.

So the feature is still as relevant as it was a year ago, and it is now freely accessible:

Watching two billion people



PS (14.5.2019): another day, another facebook related crisis, this time it's the security of WhatsApp, and some troubling revelations of the capabilities that the app has (I'm rather glad I'm not using it).

Friday, May 10, 2019

science news 10.5.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


evolution

Discovery of the photosensor for yellow-green light-driven photosynthesis in cyanobacteria
"Cyanobacteria, a type of bacteria that performs photosynthesis, utilize a photosensor to maximize their light-harvesting capacity under different light environments. A joint research team led by Toyohashi University of Technology found a new photosensor that regulates yellow-green light-harvesting antenna in cyanobacteria. Further analysis of the cyanobacterial genomes revealed that this photosensor emerged about 2.1 billion years ago or more and evolved through genetic exchange between cyanobacteria."

The bird that came back from the dead
"New research has shown that the last surviving flightless species of bird, a type of rail, in the Indian Ocean had previously gone extinct but rose from the dead thanks to a rare process called 'iterative evolution'."


life on the edge

Remarkable fish see color in deep, dark water



The Tub-eye Fish, Stylephorus chordatus. This species was found to use five different rod opsins within its eyes. The long cylindrical shape of its eyes increases light capture and also enables the fish to move the eyes from a horizontal to a vertical position.
Credit: Dr. Wen-Sung Chung, University of Queensland, Australia


ecology

Antarctic biodiversity hotspots exist wherever penguins and seals poop

Dexterous herring gulls learn new tricks to adapt their feeding habits


environment

Traces of Roman-era pollution stored in the ice of Mont Blanc


bio-inspired

New brain tumor imaging technique uses protein found in scorpion venom

Scientists discover a new class of single-atom nanozymes
These are single-atom catalytic sites inspired by enzyme active sites, apparently.


humans

Abrupt climate change drove early South American population decline

Ancient DNA suggests that some Northern Europeans got their languages from Siberia
"Most Europeans descend from a combination of European hunter-gatherers, Anatolian early farmers, and Steppe herders. But only European speakers of Uralic languages like Estonian and Finnish also have DNA from ancient Siberians. Now, with the help of ancient DNA samples, researchers reporting in Current Biology on May 9 suggest that these languages may have arrived from Siberia by the beginning of the Iron Age, about 2,500 years ago, rather than evolving in Northern Europe."

Virtual Reality can improve quality of life for people with dementia

Appendix removal associated with development of Parkinson's disease

The art of the circus
"From tightrope to trapeze, circus arts have long fascinated and inspired people of all ages. Now, research from the University of South Australia is revealing the true value of circus skills and their unique ability to deliver significant mental health benefits for Australian children."
... no mention of unicycling - bit more manageable than tightropes and trapeze ?







Thursday, May 09, 2019

science news 9.5.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


evolution

New Jurassic non-avian theropod dinosaur sheds light on origin of flight in Dinosauria



Life reconstruction of the bizarre membranous-winged Ambopteryx longibrachium.
Credit: Chung-Tat Cheung


ecology

Urban trees 'live fast, die young' compared to those in rural forests

Grading conservation: Which reserves defend forests?


anthropocene

Radioactive carbon from nuclear bomb tests found in deep ocean trenches


nanoworld

Creating a global map of the protein shape universe

Researchers create 'impossible' nano-sized protein cages with the help of gold


food & drink

Great chocolate is a complex mix of science, physicists reveal
investigation of the conching process

The smell of dark chocolate, demystified

Understanding the power of honey through its proteins

Avocados, as a substitution for carbohydrates, can suppress hunger without adding calories

Why some red wines taste 'dry'
"Wine connoisseurs can easily discriminate a dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, from a fruitier red, like Pinot Noir. Scientists have long linked the 'dryness' sensation in wine to tannins, but how these molecules create their characteristic mouthfeel over time is not fully understood. Now, researchers reporting in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have found that tannin structure, concentration and interactions with saliva and other wine components influence the perception of dryness."


humans

Ride-sharing companies make traffic worse instead of better in San Francisco
I suspect that's because their business isn't ride-sharing (as in hitch-hiking), it's unregulated taxi operation.



--------

From the news media:

Phage therapy is in the news and described as if it were a new thing - it has been known for decades, of course, see my 2014 feature.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

science news 8.5.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


climate change

Arctic rivers provide fingerprint of carbon release from thawing permafrost


ecology

Lions vs. porcupines
"Lions can bring down wildebeests and giraffes, but when they try to hunt porcupines, the spiky rodents often come out on top. When lions attack porcupines (it's usually young male lions that make that mistake), the porcupine's spines can seriously injure the lion. These injuries can make it impossible for the lions to hunt normally, leading them to hunt livestock or even humans. This study is a deep dive into lion-porcupine interactions over the centuries."!


This is an African porcupine.
Credit: © Eric Kilby


behaviour

Paper wasps capable of behavior that resembles logical reasoning


medical

Groundbreaking study could lead to fast, simple test for Ebola virus


beerology

Mystery of texture of Guinness beer: inclination angle of a pint glass is key to solution


humans

Fewer than half of British men and women have sex at least once a week
The mysterious decline happened 2001-2012 apparently, so we can't even blame it on Brexit ...



Tuesday, May 07, 2019

science news 7.5.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


evolution

The fossilization process of the dinosaur remains


conservation

Even more amphibians are endangered than we thought
"Due to a lack of data on many amphibian species, only about 44% of amphibians have up-to-date assessments on their risk of extinction, compared to nearly 100% of both birds and mammals. Now, researchers reporting May 6 in Current Biology have used known ecological, geographical, and evolutionary attributes of these data-deficient species to model their extinction risk -- and their assessment suggests that at least 1,000 more species are threatened than was previously believed."
NB: The paper in Current Biology appears to be on open access.


Credit: Robert Freckleton


reproduction

Female flies respond to sensation of sex, not just sperm


sustainable technology

Radical desalination approach may disrupt the water industry
"Columbia Engineering researchers report that they have developed a radically different desalination approach--"temperature swing solvent extraction (TSSE)"--for hypersaline brines. Their study demonstrates that TSSE can desalinate very high-salinity brines, up to seven times the concentration of seawater."


humans

Ayahuasca fixings found in 1,000-year-old bundle in the Andes
"archaeologists have discovered traces of the powerfully hallucinogenic potion in a 1,000-year-old leather bundle buried in a cave in the Bolivian Andes."


Origin of Sino-Tibetan language family revealed by new research



Monday, May 06, 2019

roll back malaria (again)

The global effort to roll back malaria has been a success for a while, but in the last three years, progress in disease reduction appears to have stalled. In my latest feature I am looking at the problems holding back the fight against the disease and at some potential solutions:

Fresh efforts needed against malaria


Current Biology Volume 29, issue 9, pages R301-R303, May 6, 2019


Restricted access to full text and PDF download

(will become open access one year after publication)


Magic link for free access

(first seven weeks only)



The mosquito Anopheles gambiae, which transmits malaria in Africa and thereby causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, has been called the world’s deadliest animal. (Photo: ArtsyBee/Pixabay.)
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