Saturday, December 07, 2019

santa Maria amar devemos

The Cantigas de Santa Maria - 420 songs in mediaeval Galician (aka Galician-Portuguese) collected by Alfonso X. in the 13th century - are an important foundation of Galician culture, and one or two of them have been played (as instrumental tunes) at our Galician sessions as well. However, our harper who plays them from memory, had learned them without numbers or titles, so they were almost impossible to find.

I recently attended a seminar on the cantigas (the relevant paper is here), where I learned lots of things about their structures and storytelling. Also about the fundamentals - for instance, the images of musicians, like the one above, appear only in one of the four known manuscripts. Two others include illustrations relating to the stories of miracles told in nine out of every ten cantigas.

The seminar inspired me to look at the mystery of our harper's cantiga again and I discovered that the lovely database Cantigas de Santa Maria for singers has a forward arrow on the pages displaying the modern notation for each cantiga. Until now I had assumed that I had to access each one separately with several clicks each time, but in fact I can just flick through them. Which I did, and starting at number one, I found that the cantiga we play most often is actually number seven. Quick and easy - not sure if I'd have had the stamina to find it if it had been number 407.

So it's called

Santa Maria amar devemos

and here is a lovely version with karaoke text lines, so you can sing along (and unlike some other versions I found, the melody sticks very close to the version we play):

In other CSM news, I just acquired a big book of solo pieces for alto recorder (Altblockflötensolobuch by Barbara Hintermeier and Birgit Baude, Schott 2014), and that also contains two of the cantigas, namely

No. 353 Quen a omagen da virgen

No. 166 Como Poden

I really like the 353 as a recorder piece, haven't quite gotten my head round the 166 yet.

In terms of recordings, there are lots of them on YouTube, obviously.

I have a CD by Ensemble Alcatraz, called Vision and Miracles (1988) which includes CSM 103, 333, 117, 34, and 42 along with an instrumental suite using several cantigas and some other medieval pieces.

The Dufay Collective has recorded a CD full of cantigas, which is called Miracles.

Estampie have recorded a few. No. 120 Quantos me creveren (the numbers ending in 0 are songs of praise as opposed to stories of miracles) is included in their "Best Of" CD (2007) and a few more are on their album Signum (2004) including Non e gran cousa (26), Non devemos (27) and Quen na virgen (this could be 186, 256, or possibly 59, 103, or 276 - I don't have this CD).

Friday, December 06, 2019

science news 6.12.2019

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 in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


Dull teeth, long skulls, specialized bites evolved in unrelated plant-eating dinosaurs

How flowers adapt to their pollinators

This is a flower of the bee-pollinated species Meriania hernandoi from the Ecuadorian cloud forest.
Credit: Agnes Dellinger

ecology and behaviour

Whales may owe their efficient digestion _of wax esters_ to millions of tiny microbes
I had to add the wax esters into the title because without this it would be no news at all, as I'm fairly sure all mammals use microbes to help with digestion, and we've known that for a while. Also, I think I am developing an allergy against PR people's use of the word "tiny" with things like microbes and molecules.

New study hints at complex decision making in a single-cell organism
how a protist "changes its mind"


Gulf Coast corals face catastrophe


Artificial cells act more like the real thing


Squid pigments have antimicrobial properties

climate change

Can Arctic 'ice management' combat climate change?
According to a much-debated geo-engineering approach, both sea-ice retreat and global warming could be slowed by using millions of wind-powered pumps, drifting in the sea ice, to promote ice formation during the Arctic winter.


How extreme environmental conditions affect the human brain
specifically: life in Antarctica

What is a scream? The acoustics of a primal human call
Reminds me of Jared Diamond's News and Views in Nature, back in 1997, with the title: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh,no!" (I've looked it up to get the number of repeated letters exactly right, without that it is hard to find) about why humans spend energy screaming rather than saving it to fight or escape. Back then, as I was writing science journalism in my spare time, I found it very inspiring to see you could get away with Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh,no! as the title of a piece in Nature.

How gene mutation causes autism and intellectual disability
There are several new causes/new cures for autism in my feed every day, but this one seems to make sense more than most of them.

dystopian futures

Can 3D-printing musical instruments produce better sound than traditional instruments?
In the coming dystopia, armies of robots will play 3D-printed ukuleles ...
Seriously though, as far as I understand the PR, the difference in sound detected is not an improvement, so the answer to the headline question would be a no, so far.


From the news media:

Thursday, December 05, 2019

science news 5.12.2019

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 in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


First giant planet around white dwarf found
... a glimpse of the far future of our solar system?

This illustration shows the white dwarf WDJ0914+1914 and its Neptune-like exoplanet. Since the icy giant orbits the hot white dwarf at close range, the extreme ultraviolet radiation from the star strips away the planet's atmosphere. While most of this stripped gas escapes, some of it swirls into a disc, itself accreting onto the white dwarf.
Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Signs of life: New field guide aids astronomers' search


Record-size sex chromosome found in two bird species
Researchers in Sweden and the UK have discovered the largest known avian sex chromosome. The giant chromosome was created when four chromosomes fused together into one, and has been found in two species of lark.

Birds are shrinking as the climate warms
This is based on 40 years of collecting birds that ran into Chicago buildings ... so I could imagine alternative explanations. For instance, changing climate (local microclimate even) may have altered the thermal uplift in the city and thus shifted the subset of birds at risk of colliding with buildings?


How enzymes reign supreme in worldwide carbon recycling
this is about the role of fungi on decaying wood.


Call for cooperation as 'blue boats' rob Pacific reefs
A flotilla of Vietnamese fishing boats with crews suffering in harsh conditions is stripping Pacific coral reefs of seafood as the poaching escalates to become an international human rights and security issue.


Capital costs: Yale research offers truer calculation of 'footprint' of purchases


Asia-wide genome mapping project reveals insights into Asian ancestry and genetic diversity
After a global genetic comparison, a team of international scientists has discovered that Asia has at least 10 ancestral lineages, whereas northern Europe has a single ancestral lineage.

Springy bamboo poles help villagers carry more than their own body weight


From the news media:

The town of Asbestos, Canada, considers changing its name, reports the Guardian.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

science news 4.12.2019

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 in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


A study of Saturn's largest moon may offer insights for earth
Scientists studying the weather and climate of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, have reported a significant seasonal variation in its energy budget, a finding which could yield new insights into climate on Earth.


Compound eyes: The visual apparatus of today's horseshoe crabs goes back 400 million years
The extinct sea scorpion species Jaekelopterus rhenaniae had eyes comparable to those of today's horseshoe crabs. The two-and-a-half-meter predator was particularly apt at perceiving contrasts and contours under water.

Female fish can breed a new species if they aren't choosy about who is Mr. Right
Fish will mate with a species outside their own if the male's colouring is attractive enough or if the female can't see him properly, according to new research. Such 'mistakes' in mate choice can lead to the evolution of new species, an international team of scientists found after they analysed the DNA of more than 400 cichlid fish.


For some corals, meals can come with a side of microplastics
... some corals are more likely to eat microplastics when they are consuming other food, yet microplastics alone are undesirable.

Under a black light, fluorescent green microplastics are seen in the water during a small demonstration experiment. In the actual 2018 experiment discussed in this paper, the cauliflower coral seen above ingested microplastics when prey was also present in the water, but avoided eating microplastics when no prey was there.
Credit: Dennis Wise/University of Washington

Characterizing whale vocalization can help map migration


Electron correlations in carbon nanostructures

Hiring antibodies as nanotechnology builders
... to assemble nanoscale structures made of synthetic DNA.


How does language emerge?
Researchers ... have tried to simulate the process of developing a new communication system in an experiment - with surprising results: even preschool children can spontaneously develop communication systems that exhibit core properties of natural language.
Not that surprising, as it has happened before, eg Nicaraguan sign language - but here's an attempt to reproduce the process under conditions where it can be studied from the beginning.

The art of the Roman surveyors emerges from newly discovered pavements in Pompeii

dystopian futures

Building a better breast with eye-tracking technology
aka reshaping the female body to fit the desires of the male gaze.


From the news media:

COP 25 climate summit is on now.

Monday, December 02, 2019

climate fail

Today is the first day of the COP 25 climate conference at Madrid. The numbering really gets to me as it means that the international community has now been trying and mostly failing to agree on meaningful climate action for more than a quarter of a century. Personally, I've been aware of the issue for 30 years now - I remember it came up when we were preparing a Green party manifesto for local elections in late 1989. So if we had changed course then, we would see the benefits now.

As today also happens to be the publication date for issue 23 of Current Biology, I prepared a climate feature to mark the beginning of the conference, which is out now:

Time to change course on climate

Current Biology Volume 29, issue 23, R1211-R1214, December 02, 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)

Own photo, taken at the Fridays For Future demo at Düsseldorf this September.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

rattle and hum

All our instruments series, episode 19

Some time back in the early 00s, I visited the PMT shop on Cowley Road, with a view to buy an electronic keyboard for the young musicians, but was left more confused than I had been before (I did buy a keyboard eventually but not on that day and not in this shop, will get back to that further down the line). So while I was wondering about touch-sensitive keys and pre-programmed accompaniments, I spotted an array of brightly coloured tambourines, and bought the yellow one as a displacement activity. I remember the shop assistant was amused by the plot twist.

It's from a US company called RhythmTech, and the range is called True Colors - looks like they still make them in 5 different colours and you can still buy the yellow one eg from Amazon (although I think it was a lot cheaper back then). Apparently the company's founder invented the crescent shape tambourine in an effort to have the centre of gravity of the instrument closer to the wrist and make playing less tiring, see the company's about page.

Although I haven't played it much (and certainly not enough to feel the pressing need for an energy-saving crescent shaped one), the tambourine has enjoyed its moments in the spotlight, as I brought it to the Misa Campesina, where the conductor used it a few times in the rehearsals and in the performance.

For the video I just gave it a quick shake - these things are really quite loud ...

Friday, November 29, 2019

buy nothing day

I hear that yesterday was Thanksgiving in the US, which means that today there's very little science news in my inbox, which is just as well as I can use today's entry to rave about my favourite holiday of the year, namely


Buying nothing is guaranteed 100% cheaper than everything you might have bought otherwise.

Buy Nothing Day is increasingly observed around the world and in many languages, so we have:

Dia de no comprar res


Día de no comprar nada

Journée sans achat

Giornata del non acquisto


Dia mundial sem compras

День без покупок

(Only including languages that I can read sufficiently to check I'm not promoting the wrong entry. Looks like I'll have to write the Galician entry myself.)

Below are some imaginative examples of promoting and observing this holiday which I discovered during the day. Let's do it all again next year.


The Guardian, disappointingly, fuels the black friday hype with a live blog but has also run a couple of opinion pieces warning against consumerism:

Before you jump on the Black Friday sales train ask yourself: do you need this?
Eva Kruse

Mass consumerism is destroying our planet. This Black Friday, let’s take a stand
Alan Bradshaw

I hear Aberdeen Social Centre had a stall with free books to take, bring or swap.

And Extinction Rebellion in New York wheeled empty shopping carts around.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

science news 28.11.2019

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 in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


Puffins stay cool thanks to their large beak


Shrewd savannah species choose friends with benefits on the African plains
Obviously a good idea to stay close to a species with an efficient alarm call or to those that taste better / can't run as fast as you can?


Nearly 40% of plant species are very rare and are vulnerable to climate change

Bad news for Nemo

The beloved anemone fish popularized by the movies 'Finding Nemo' and 'Finding Dory' don't have the genetic capacity to adapt to rapid changes in their environment, according to a new study.

If high-quality anemones remain healthy, the clownfish population will persist. However, if the anemones and coral reefs they call home are impacted by climate warming, clownfish are in trouble.
Credit: Photo by Simon Thorrold, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


Scholars find that irregularly shaped parks reduce mortality risk
Intriguing - linked to the fractal geometry of their interface with the rest of the city?

Animals could help humans monitor oceans
that's already happening though, as far as I know (see my ecotech feature a few years ago).


Ostrich eggshell beads reveal 10,000 years of cultural interaction across Africa

Molière most likely did write his own plays


From the news media:

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

science news 27.11.2019

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 in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


Extra-terrestrial impacts may have triggered 'bursts' of plate tectonics


Hibernating mammals arouse hope for genetic solutions to obesity, metabolic diseases

ecology and behaviour

Woody plants with undesirable tendencies

Fire ants' raft building skills react as fluid forces change

Spinning fire ant raft.
Credit: Hungtang Ko


McMaster researcher warns plastic pollution in Great Lakes growing concern to ecosystem

food and drink

Industrial bread dough kneaders could use physics-based redesign

We love coffee, tea, chocolate and soft drinks so much, caffeine is literally in our blood
Sadly, this is not about recognising caffeine as a normal part of our physiology, but about contaminations found in blood donations.


Leftover grain from breweries could be converted into fuel for homes

Saving bats from wind turbine death


Human migration out of Africa may have followed monsoons in the Middle East

Unique sledge dogs helped the Inuit thrive in the North American Arctic

Prayers can crowd out donations for disaster victims


From the news media:

Most bottlenosed dolphins are righthanded, reports the Guardian.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

science news 26.11.2019

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 in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


Fossils reveal swimming patterns of long extinct cephalopod

16-million-year-old fossil shows springtails hitchhiking on winged termite

Unravelling the venomous bite of an endangered mammal
This is about solenodons (see also the endangered mammals feature now in the open archives), which look like this:

This is a Hispaniolan solenodon.
Credit: Lucy Emery


How mantis shrimp make sense of the world
A new study provides insight into how the small brains of mantis shrimp - fierce predators with keen vision that are among the fastest strikers in the animal kingdom - are able to make sense of a breathtaking amount of visual input.

Researchers report first recording of a blue whale's heart rate


Carbon soccer ball with extra proton probably most abundant form in space

climate change

The heat is on
Climate change is reorganizing the life in our oceans in a big way: as waters warm, cold-loving species, from plankton to fish, leave the area and warm water species become more successful. So say an international group of scientists in the most comprehensive assessment of the effects of ocean warming on the distribution fish communities.

Forests face climate change tug of war
Increased carbon dioxide allows plants to photosynthesize more and use less water. But warmer temperatures drive plants to use more water and photosynthesize less. So, which force, CO2 fertilization or heat stress, wins this climate tug of war? It depends on whether forests and trees are able to adapt to their new environment.


Drag can lift birds to new heights, Stanford researchers find


Forest farms could create market for ginseng, other herbs
A transition from wild collection of herbs to forest farming needs to occur in Appalachia to make the opaque, unstable and unjust supply chain for forest medicinal plants such as ginseng sustainable, according to a team of researchers who have studied the market for more than a decade.


Babies in the womb may see more than we thought


From the news media:

A sample-return mission to Mars is being planned, reports the Guardian

Monday, November 25, 2019

mammals on the edge

Open Archive Day

I am a great fan of the ZSL Edge of Existence website, which lists threatened species in major groups according to their EDGE (Evolutionary Distinctiveness / Global Endangerment) rating. I first discovered it when the reptiles list came out in early 2018. Later in the year, a piece of research analysing how fast mammalian diversity could evolve back after an extinction provided an excuse to have a closer look at the EDGE list of mammals.

My feature is now in the open archives:

Can vanishing wildlife evolve back?

Pangolins are hunted for meat as well as for their skin and scales, which are used in traditional medicine. They are therefore the most trafficked mammals, and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) may be the most endangered among them. (Photo: Ms. Sarita Jnawali of NTNC – Central Zoo.)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

a little light chemistry

The chemistry of life fundamentally depends on light - without photosynthesis there wouldn't be much worth reporting. In contrast, chemistry as a discipline from fundamental research through to industrial applications doesn't use light all that often. The most common way of making things react is to heat them, add a catalyst, or even put pressure on. The science of light-induced reactions, aka photochemistry has remained a poor relation.

I am picking up signals that this may be about to change for a variety of reasons. We now have a much better understanding of how photochemistry works in natural systems so we could borrow an idea or two there. Also, in the quest to make chemistry more sustainable and "green", using light instead of high temperatures and pressures may often be a better solution.

I wrote a feature about various recent developments in photochemistry which is out now:

Let there be light

Chemistry & Industry 83, No. 10, pp 30-33.

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI (members)

Any access problems give me a shout and I can send a PDF.

Source: Wikipedia: By Masohe - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In the same issue, page 38, you can find my review of the book

Modern thermodynamics for chemists and biochemists

Oh, and it appears that I forgot to blog about my previous feature in C&I, which appeared in issue 8 and was about developing new kinds of magnets depending less on rare earth elements.

Mining for ideas

Chemistry & Industry 83, No. 8, pp 26-29.

access via:

Wiley Online Library

SCI (members)
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