Tuesday, December 01, 2020

movements in tiers

Nine months into the plague year Bach project, I have stuck with the plan of studying one movement each month, but I have also accumulated a backlog of movements that I haven't quite managed to memorise. Therefore, I'll take the tenth month to fix some of the gaps before I move on with the front half of the third suite. Specifically, reorganising my revision list by the degree of success so far, I get three tiers (reminds me of something?!):

1) movements memorised in their entirety
1.4 Sarabande
1.5 Minuet I&II
1.6 Gigue

2) movements memorised in a significant part
1.3 Courante (2/3)
3.4 Sarabande (1/3)
3.5 Bourree I&II (1/2)
3.6. Gigue (2/3)

3) movements I've put aside for now
1.1. Prelude
1.2 Allemande

Re the movements and fractions of movements listed as "memorised": these I play at least once a week to check I still have them in my head and fix little problems here and there.

So for this month the main goal will be to shift some of the movements from tier 2 to tier 1. Starting with the bourrees, which should be no problem, and then I may also have time to complete the Gigue in C, which is great fun but quite long.

The Sarabande in C, last month's movement, may be hard to shift - while it is very short, there are far too many chords and shifts in this one. Took me all of November to memorise the first repeat, all of 8 bars long. Not a good sign. It also caused trouble with the Sarabande in G, as it uses some of the same chords in different sequence, so easy to get confused or to overwrite the memory of the first sarabande while trying to memorise the new one.

A freshly restored Heinrich in Regensburg, back in 1991.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

a whole new city

It only occurred to me recently that the generations from my grandparents back to their grandparents lived in towns and cities most of the time. One of those who lived all their lives in cities was Heinrich the cellist, and I am beginning to realise that his biography lines up some amazing places, including several where I wouldn't mind living myself. As I raved about Elberfeld/Wuppertal recently, I am now also going to introduce some of the other places he lived, beginning with Strasbourg. He arrived there in April 1901 when he joined the army, and he stayed until April 1906, when his regiment was moved to a smaller town as a punishment (Strafversetzung), although I don’t know what crime they were being punished for. He also met his future wife there. Maria arrived in 1903 to train as a secretary and must have stayed until they married in 1908, so she, too, spent around five years in the city.

Postcard sent in 1917, showing the view across the Neustadt with the neogothic church, towards the medieval core of the city with the gothic cathedral.
Source

Strasbourg in 1901 must have been amazing. After the newly founded German Empire had taken over the city in 1871, it went to huge efforts to expand it and make it a showcase of urbanisation (while forcing the city itself to pay the bills for the works). Inspired by the grand boulevards in Paris built in the 1850s by Haussmann under Napoleon III, the new quarters (Neustadt) were to triple the built area of the city and increase the population from 80,000 to 180,000 by 1914.

A new main station, new university buildings, administration, theatres, churches as well as a synagogue, everything had to be of the finest and designed with style. Even the army barracks where our cellist lived for five years were looking amazing (Manteuffel-Kaserne, now Quartier Stirn, used as an education facility by the French army). From neo-classicism to art nouveau, everything was there and much of it is still there today. Ironically, even though it is now back on French territory, the Neustadt in Strasbourg is the best-preserved example of German urban architecture of that era, and has become part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.

I have to admit, although I’ve visited Strasbourg a dozen times (without really thinking much about the old cellist), I never explored the Neustadt beyond the main station and the always identical path which led me from there into the medieval centre of the city, on the main island. Essentially, Rue du Maire Kuss throught to Place Kleber. (Heck, I've even spent a night in the Neustadt, staying at the Hotel du Rhin, opposite the station!) Last time I was there, I noticed the church St. Paul (shown above), which was part of the Neustadt development and was inspired by the gothic Elisabethkirche in Marburg, but I only saw it from across the water, from the main island. Have to go back and visit properly.

Further Reading:
The Neustadt has Wikipedia entries in nine different languages right now. The French entry is very good.
ArchiWiki page about Quartier Stirn available in French, English, German, with lots of photos.
UNESCO World Heritage site: Strasbourg, Grande-Île and Neustadt

More postcards:
Main Post Office 1918
Kaiserpalast 1905
Panorama view from Kaiserplatz
Vogesenstrasse / rue des Vosges 1920

Friday, November 27, 2020

science news on the move

I started archiving the science news items here in January 2019 after tumblr started to hide my blog (which is also called proseandpassion), following the change to its censorship approach.

Recently, however, there have been days when blogger wasn't working when I needed it for the science news archive. As I have now started a new tumblr blog, which hasn't been hidden yet (prosepluspassion.tumblr.com), I'm now trying to move the science news back there, i.e. in addition to tweeting each item, I will also share it on tumblr with the tag "science" (plus up to four other tags for specific fields), so it should show up at https://prosepluspassion.tumblr.com/tagged/science.

You can access these pages without having an account with tumblr, just like any other blog. (If you do have an account, you can reblog them like you retweet things on twitter.) Seems to be working fine so far but let me know if there are any problems.

All other content that isn't strictly time sensitive, such as features, book reviews, etc remains here (and may be mirrored on tumblr if I remember to post the link). For these items it doesn't matter too much if the site isn't working one day and I have to post it the next.

Monday, November 23, 2020

bats revisited

Open Archive Day

A year ago, I wrote a feature about bats and why we should care about them and understand them better. I'm glad I included a section about viral loads, discussing the remarkable ability of bats to harbour viruses without getting noticeably sick. (In a rather interesting and complex way, this connects to their ability to fly.) Back then, the bat virus that served as an example was Ebola. Now it would obviously be the coronavirus that is causing COVID-19 and changing all our lives.

Which means that my feature is still topical in a way, and it is now freely accessible:

Why we should care about bats

Powered flight has enabled bats to expand into a wide variety of ecological niches from nectar feeding to insect hunting, making them one of the largest groups of mammals. The image shows a grey-headed flying fox (Choeronycteris mexicana) observed in Costa Rica. (Photo: Zdeneˇk Machácˇek/Unsplash.)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

stars tell their stories

The science books I get to review for C&I can be a bit of a mixed bunch, but here's one I would wholeheartedly recommend to anybody interested in anything astro-related:

A History of the Universe in 21 Stars: (and 3 Imposters)
by Giles Sparrow
Welbeck, London 2020
ISBN 978-1-78739-465-0

A snippet from my review:

"In his beautifully packaged book, Giles Sparrow merges the old and the new way of telling stories about stars. He introduces us to 24 individual dots on the firmament with their constellation and mythical backstory, and then connects each of them with the part of our modern understanding of the Universe that each has helped to elucidate."

The long essay review is out in:

Chemistry & Industry Volume 84, Issue 11 November 2020 Page 38

On page 39 of the same issue I also have a short review of a book about food science, which wasn't quite as satisfying.

access to both reviews via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI (members)

Saturday, November 21, 2020

learning from Balzac

Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise

Dai Sijie

First published in 2000 and hugely successful, this is a short novel about two teenage boys caught up in Mao’s Cultural Revolution and sent to the remote countryside for re-education by the hardworking villagers. Instead, they find intellectual solace in an illicit stash of French novels by Balzac, Dumas, Flaubert et al. and also use them to re-educate themselves as well as the little seamstress of the title. Lives are changed, although perhaps not quite in the way they may have hoped.

(Cover of the 2001 folio edition I have, too. Later editions typically have images from the film.)

I managed to miss this when it came out and was swiftly made into a movie as well, I only vaguely remember seeing the title some time and wondering what it was about. Catching up with it now, I enjoyed the novel and I was amazed at how well it connected with my own experience of growing up around the same time. I was also stuck in the sticks, maybe not as remote and spectacular as the phoenix of the sky mountain villages with their dangerous paths, but still, as a vastly exaggerated fairytale metaphor for my youth, the novel works surprisingly well. And I found solace in the very same 19th century French novels. Today, I wouldn’t find time for Balzac, but I might revisit Flaubert one day.

It does make me think. Maybe there was a bit of Cultural Revolution going on in Europe as well? Between 1900 and 1960, everybody from whom I inherited DNA lived in towns and cities (eg Heinrich the cellist did all his life). Then, in the 1960s, People got cars, moved to the sticks, commuted to work. A slippery slope. I still get an allergic reaction when, ahead of the TV news, I see trailers for shows pretending that moving to the countryside is a good thing. The Cultural Revolution caused between 200,000 and 20 million deaths, depending on who you choose to believe, and traumatised millions like the author, Dai Sijie. We should heed that warning.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

science news 19.11.2020

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.

evolution

Lurking in genomic shadows: How giant viruses fuel the evolution of algae

Prehistoric shark hid its largest teeth
Some, if not all, early sharks that lived 300 to 400 million years ago not only dropped their lower jaws downward but rotated them outwards when opening their mouths. This enabled them to make the best of their largest, sharpest and inward-facing teeth when catching prey, paleontologists at the Universities of Zurich and Chicago have now shown using CT scanning and 3D printing.

With mouths closed, the older, smaller teeth of the ancestors of today's sharks stood upright on the jaw, while the younger and larger teeth pointed towards the tongue and were thus invisible when the mouth was closed.
Illustration: Christian Klug, UZH

nanoworld

Gold nanoparticles turn the spotlight on drug candidates in cells
A team including researchers from Osaka University has developed a surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) microscopy technique for tracking small molecules in live cells. The technique uses gold nanoparticles to boost the signal from alkyne group tags attached to the molecules. The alkyne group has a minimal effect on the drug molecule behavior and provides a signal that can be easily distinguished from the cell background. Their technique is expected to be useful in drug discovery.

biomedical

Technology lets clinicians objectively detect tinnitus for first time

humans

Lovestruck by oxytocin! Novel roles of the hormone in controlling male sexual function
Hormones are the master regulators of sexual functions in mammals. The hormone oxytocin has a well-established role in social bonding, sexual function, maternal instinct, nursing, and lactation. Researchers from Okayama University have now explored the roles of oxytocin in male sexual function for the first time. Findings from the study suggest that oxytocin-mediated control of male sexual function via the spinal cord may in fact be instrumental in treating erectile dysfunction.

dystopian futures

New test reveals AI still lacks common sense

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From the news media:

Should robots have faces? asks the Guardian. Well, if you ask me, err, no?

Also for some lovely theremin music and explanations in German, check this radio programme celebrating the 100th anniversary of the theremin. With Lydia Kavina and Carolina Eyck.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

science news 17.11.2020

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.

astrobiology

SwRI scientists expand space instrument's capabilities
A new study by Southwest Research Institute scientists describes how they have expanded the capabilities of the prototype spaceflight instrument Chemistry Organic and Dating Experiment (CODEX), designed for field-based dating of extraterrestrial materials. CODEX now uses two different dating approaches based on rubidium-strontium and lead-lead geochronology methods. The instrument uses laser ablation resonance ionization mass spectrometry (LARIMS) to obtain dates using these methods.
This is essentially about DATING on MARS - the PR people could have shown a bit more enthusiasm ...

earth

Scientists discover a new mineral
The research team headed by Stanislav Filatov, Professor at the Department of Crystallography at St Petersburg University, has discovered a new mineral species in Kamchatka - petrovite. The scientists named the find in honour of Tomas Petrov, an outstanding crystallographer and Professor at St Petersburg University. He together with his students Arkady Glikin and Sergei Moshkin, was the first in the world to create a technology for growing jewellery malachite.

Petrovit
Credit SPbU

evolution

Henderson island fossils reveal new Polynesian sandpiper species
Fossil bones collected in the early 1990s on Henderson Island, part of the Pitcairn Group, have revealed a new species of Polynesian sandpiper. The Henderson Sandpiper, a small wading bird that has been extinct for centuries, is formally named Prosobonia sauli after Cook Islands-based ornithologist and conservationist Edward K Saul.

ecology

When temperatures rise, dog ticks more likely to choose humans over canines

Fish carcasses deliver toxic mercury pollution to the deepest ocean trenches

conservation

Seafood mislabeling is having negative impacts on the marine environment

sustainability

Biochar from agricultural waste products can adsorb contaminants in wastewater

humans

Making the best decision: Math shows diverse thinkers equal better results

dystopian futures

Could robots for sex, friendship improve our aging society?

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From the news media:

Pet flea treatments poisoning rivers across England, reports the Guardian.

Monday, November 16, 2020

dinosaur dealings

For the last 20 years or so, the biography on my website included a statement along the lines that I write about "everything except dinosaurs" - so I now will have to change that, because my latest feature is actually about dinosaurs, and about the crazy commercialisation of their fossils.

In a sense this is related to the reason why I didn't cover dinosaurs - because they are getting too much attention already. The general public's obsession with dinosaurs has surely contributed to the phenomenon that people with more money than sense have started the craze of buying major fossils to set them up at their homes and impress their visitors with them. So mostly, the feature is about humans going crazy about dinosaurs:

Dealing with dinosaurs

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 22, 16 November 2020, Pages R1331-R1334

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

A cast of Stan the T rex, who plays a big role in this feature. Image: Wikipedia.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

a city through time

Looking into the 20th century transformations of Wuppertal (a conglomerate formed in 1929 the rivalling neighbour cities of Elberfeld and Barmen) to trace the steps of our old cellist, I was amazed at the changes around the Döppersberg station of the iconic suspension railway (Schwebebahn), next to the mainline station that is now Wuppertal Hauptbahnhof.

Looking from the station towards the historic centre of Elberfeld, postcards of 1902 show a futuristic Schwebebahn station on stilts looking like a spaceship has just landed, with the backdrop of a fairytale cityscape with spires and turrets. More to the point, perhaps, it could be an illustration from an original edition of a Jules Verne novel, and the whole Schwebebahn enterprise exudes the Verne spirit. Get on board for a ride through 1902 and into Döppersberg station (at 1:32) with this MoMA video (there is also a colourised version available and one juxtaposing the equivalent ride in 2015 - this last video is slower, the approach to Döppersberg is at 2:55).

By 1912 the spaceship is beginning to get sucked up by the surrounding architecture, but the fairytale cityscape remains intact:

Source (this site sells vintage postcards, but this one may have sold out).

My great-grandparents lived there from 1919 to 1960, and during these four decades the area changed beyond recognition, only the Schwebebahn line remains as a landmark. I am getting the impression that the widespread destruction in worldwar II wasn’t even the worst of it. After that came the planners thinking we have to get in more cars, and by 1974 it looked like this:

Source.

Further mess-ups followed, and when I visited this year, the whole area was still a building site, with a new Primark shop being about the only thing finished. Luckily the Schwebebahn has survived. No idea what it will look like when this round is done, but I’m quite sure the 1912 incarnation remains my favourite. I should say, however, that in the residential areas away from the main roads some of the art nouveau loveliness survives, and there are lots of green spaces in the city too, so mustn't grumble, and I'll be certainly happy to visit again.

Further postcards from Wuppertal are on twitter under the hashtag #talpost, and my photos from September are here.

What all this reminds me of is a series of 8 images by Jörg Müller of a fictional city going through the 20th century, published in 1976 as: Hier fällt ein Haus, dort steht ein Kran, und ewig droht der Baggerzahn. Many years ago I lived in a tiny room at the top of an old house in Marburg, where somebody had artfully displayed these images around the walls of the vast staircase. I think one followed the forward direction of the timeline while going up, but one could debate whether cities have really gone up or forward at all.

Friday, November 13, 2020

science news 13.11.2020

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.

astrobiology

Escape from Mars: how water fled the red planet

Cysteine synthesis was a key step in the origin of life
All proteins are built from the same 20 amino acids. One of these, cysteine, was assumed not to have been present at the origin of life. In a new study, published in Science, UCL scientists have recreated how cysteine was formed at the origins of life. Additionally, they have observed how, once formed, cysteine catalyses the fusion of peptides in water - a fundamental step in the path towards protein enzymes.

earth

Possible 1,000-kilometer-long river running deep below Greenland's ice sheet

evolution

San Diego zoo global biobanking advances wildlife conservation and human medicine worldwide
In a study that has unprecedented implications to advance both medicine and biodiversity conservation, researchers have sequenced 131 new placental mammal genomes, bringing the worldwide total to more than 250. The results of the mammal genome project, published in the Nov. 12 issue of the journal Nature, catalog and characterize whole branches of Earth's biodiversity, spanning approximately 110 million years of mammal evolution--the largest and most diverse mammalian comparative genomics project to date.

ecology

In a warming climate, can birds take the heat?

In a new University of Illinois study, tropical birds such as the cocoa woodcreeper (pictured) showed less acute heat stress when exposed to high temperatures than expected.
Credit: Henry Pollock, University of Illinois

nanoworld

Smaller than ever--exploring the unusual properties of quantum-sized materials
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) synthesize sub-nanometer particles with precisely controlled proportions of indium and tin using specific macromolecular templates called dendrimers. Through a screening process spanning different metallic ratios, they discovered unusual electronic states and optical properties originating from size-miniaturization and elemental-hybridization. Their approach could be a first step in the development of sub-nanoparticles with unique functionalities and characteristics for electronic, magnetic, and catalytic applications.

biomedical

Chemists studied the composition of oils extracted from popular medicinal plants

sustainability

Environmentally friendly method could lower costs to recycle lithium-ion batteries
A new process for restoring spent cathodes to mint condition could make it more economical to recycle lithium-ion batteries. The process, developed by nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego, is more environmentally friendly than today's methods; it uses greener ingredients, consumes 80 to 90% less energy, and emits about 75% less greenhouse gases.

Special issue: Cooling in a Warming World < > In this special issue of Science, Cooling in a Warming World, three Perspectives and three Reviews highlight the wide array of new and improved technologies and solutions that aim to keep us and the materials we rely on cool, in our rapidly warming planet.

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From the news media:



Thursday, November 12, 2020

science news 12.11.2020

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.

evolution

Scientists release genomes of birds representing nearly all avian families

Rice has many fathers but only two mothers
University of Queensland scientists studied more than 3000 rice genotypes and found diversity was inherited through two maternal genomes identified in all rice varieties.


ecology

Rare deep sea Bigfin Squid sighted in Australian waters for first time

Noise and light alter bird nesting habits and success

The northern cardinal has a relatively low frequency song and delayed breeding in response to noise pollution.
Credit: David Keeling

conservation

Largest set of mammalian genomes reveals species at risk of extinction
An international team of researchers with the Zoonomia Project has released the whole genomes of more than 80 percent of all mammalian families, spanning almost 110 million years of evolution. The dataset, published in Nature, includes genomes from more than 120 species that were not previously sequenced, capturing mammalian diversity at an unprecedented scale. Zoonomia data have already helped researchers in another recent study to assess the risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 across many species.

nanoworld

How molecular chaperones dissolve protein aggregates linked to Parkinson's disease

biomedical

COVID leads to measurable life expectancy drop in Spain, study finds

humans

The mental state of flow might protect against harmful effects of quarantine < >
In which "flow" refers to being so absorbed in an activity that you froget about your surroundings.

dystopian futures

Robotic AI learns to be spontaneous
Now I'm worried - if only about the endless philosophical discussions about the free will and independent mind of robots and people.

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From the news media:



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