Tuesday, December 24, 2019

happy holidays

While I don't believe in Santa Claus, I am glad that the mad rush of trying to get everything done before xmas is over. I haven't managed to write any seasonal greetings or a legible end of year report, partially because I am changing my mind twice daily about whether to stick around or join the brexodus. One of several serious problems is that the death eaters are cropping up everywhere, so it's tricky to find a place where one might be safe from them.

Anyhow, my next hard deadline will be mid January, so plenty of time to catch up with various things that have fallen by the wayside ...

So have a good one of whatever you celebrate or don't. Personally, I am following way too many classicists on twitter, so I'm beginning to feel I should celebrate Saturnalia ...



Own photo - not our house but I love the concept of outlining the architectural details in lights. Seen somewhere in North Oxford on the way to Wolvercote.

Monday, December 23, 2019

something fishy in our genes

Open Archive Day

(last one for 2019, I'll take the 30.12. off)


After last week's salmon feature, I am sticking with fishy things. Preparing a future article on evolution, I had to look up my ancient feature pegged to the coelacanth genome and remembered I really liked it. The most mindboggling thought about this, as I noted in a blog entry back in 2013, arises from the fact that the coelacanth is one of the closest relatives of the lineage that conquered land and turned into tetrapods. Thus: "If you look at the tree of life from the perspective of the coelacanth, you'll find that mice, chickens and humans are closer relatives than herring or zebrafish, or anything that lives in an aquarium, and never mind sharks and rays. Try to get that into your brain if you're just a fish." Entirely logical but still mindboggling.

So, anyhow, here is the 2013 feature about coelacanth and other fishes:

What fish genomes can tell us about life on land


We struggled to get good photos of the elusive coelacanth, hence used one of its terrestrial relatives, Homo sapiens instead:



While we humans tend to have grandiose ideas about our special position in the tree of life, more than 70% of our genes have an obvious orthologue in zebrafish, suggesting that the vast majority of our genetic heritage evolved in an aqueous environment. Therefore, research into the genomes of fishes can help to address medical problems. (Photo: iStockphoto 07-15-11 © Vladimir Piskunov.)

Friday, December 20, 2019

get ready for brexodus


Oh well. Maybe I shouldn’t have given up the Harry Potter series in the middle of the goblet of fire. Now the death eaters are running rampant, and I don’t know what to do. Specifically: remain in the UK (and thus leave the EU) or leave the UK (and remain in the EU)? Very confusing all this. I think that generally, organisations claiming to speak for the 3 million EU27 citizens in the UK have been too craven advising people how to jump through the death eaters hoops rather than to keep open the option of packing up for brexodus.

Since the election, I’ve been changing my mind about it twice daily, so to get some clarity, I’ve made a spreadsheet for arguments for and against moving. Right now, the case against is looking stronger. It has laziness on its side, which is a strong motivator. Plus the fact that many perks we have come to appreciate in Oxford just can’t be replicated elsewhere. Plus the rather scary realisation that if we did move to Germany (or any other of the EU27 countries) the local branch of the death eaters might take over there in a few years (ie on the same timescale that a move would take) and we’d be back on square 1.

So I guess today’s plan is stay put but shed some ballast in case we have to leave. It may be different tomorrow though.



As Der Spiegel highlighted with its cover feature two weeks ago, Germany's once-mighty social democrats (SPD), with election results dropping into single figures, are now desperate enough to vote for a pair of leftwing outsiders for the new leadership. (While I may agree with the new leaders' views on some issues, it is clear that they would never have had a chance if the party was as strong as it used to be. And the idea of a job-sharing male/female leadership tandem, nicked from the greens, is also a symptom.) If that development echos the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015, does that mean Germany will have a far right populist government in four years time? It could also happen in France, and in several other EU27 countries. Essentially the same crisis everywhere - centre left voters left behind by the Blairs Clintons, Schröders of this world when they rushed to embrace neoliberalism are now biting back by turning right. Not all of them, of course, but enough to tip over the old left-right balance.


-------

PSA: science news is on holidays now - I won't need any new topics until mid January, so I can skip all that filter feeding ...

Monday, December 16, 2019

salmon runs out of rivers

I don't often write about food, but one of the editors at Current Biology suggested a feature about salmon, and as there is a lot of interesting ecology in this, apart from the obvious commercial interest, I agreed to do it as an end-of year festive treat ...


Salmon face uphill struggle


Current Biology Volume 29, issue 24, R1269-R1272, December 16, 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)




Salmon enjoys an unbroken popularity as food around the world, leading to the rapid growth and global spread of its industrialised production. (Photo: PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay.)

Sunday, December 15, 2019

the Galway method

All our instruments series, episode 20

In the early 00s, still, the young musician got a tin whistle starter kit as a present from her cello teacher, including a tin whistle in D with James Galway's signature on it and a 16-page brochure with Galway's method. I'm a little bit allergic to the pompous "the man with the golden flute" image that has been created around Galway, so I find it refreshing that he also bothered with cheaper instruments like the tin whistle at some point.



The book has the address of Rose-Morris & Co. - that's still the name of a shop in London, but I think back in the days they were also instrument makers, so they may or may not have made the whistle. The company history is here with all sorts of exciting instruments, but I find no reference to whistles.

For the video I've attempted to play the Muiñeira Freixido, a traditional tune from the repertoire of our Galician session, which fits exactly within the bottom octave of the whistle:



I enjoy playing whistles every once in a while, although I am not all too keen on the sound of this one. I'm sure better ones will cross my path. I often have this one in my bag when I go out to play, just in case somebody needs a whistle.

Friday, December 13, 2019

science news 13.12.2019

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.



astrobiology

For the first time: Mapping the winds of mars' upper atmosphere with MAVEN


evolution

When flowers reached Australia

Genetic 'clock' predicts lifespan in vertebrates


ecology

The mathematics of prey detection in spider orb-webs

Tiny insects become 'visible' to bats when they swarm

The limits of ocean heavyweights: Prey curb whales' gigantic size


conservation

Carolina parakeet extinction was driven by human causes, DNA sequencing reveals



This is the image of the Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) specimen.
Credit: Marc Durà


biomedical

Researchers design polymer that can kill drug-resistant bacteria

For controlling tsetse flies, fabric color matters


humans

Scandinavians' little linguistic hat trick
Moving a word to the beginning of a sentence is a useful trick to draw attention to the most important topic you want to relay. The researchers of a new study have found that the Scandinavian languages are unique in their use of this technique.


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


From the news media:

A 2004 reintroduction of harvest mice in Northumberland was successful after all, reports the Guardian.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

science news 12.12.2019

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.


astrobiology

Water common -- yet scarce -- in exoplanets


evolution

Paleontology: Experiments in evolution
A new find from Patagonia sheds light on the evolution of large predatory dinosaurs. Features of the 8-m long specimen from the Middle Jurassic suggest that it records a phase of rapid diversification and evolutionary experimentation.


ecology

Study sheds light on 'overlooked' bee species
The UK's first citizen science project focusing on solitary, ground-nesting bees has revealed that they nest in a far broader range of habitats than previously thought.



Ivy bee (Colletes hederae)
Credit: Dr Thomas Ings, Anglia Ruskin University (ARU)

Tree cavities for wild honeybees

Why polar bears at sea have higher pollution levels than those staying on land

Local traditional knowledge can be as accurate as scientific transect monitoring

Azteca ant colonies move the same way leopards' spots form


conservation

Uncovering how endangered pangolins, or 'scaly anteaters,' digest food
kind of important for those animals rescued from trafficking.


biomaterials

Study of elephant, capybara, human hair finds that thicker hair isn't always stronger


food and drink

Plant researchers examine bread aroma: Modern and old wheat varieties taste equally good
Bread baked from modern wheat varieties are just as aromatic as that baked from old varieties. However, differences exist between the breads from different wheat varieties -- and those that were grown in different locations. These were the findings made by a team of German and Swiss researchers under the leadership of Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU) and the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart.


climate change

Shrinking of Greenland's glaciers began accelerating in 2000, research finds
Satellite data has given scientists clues about how, when and why Greenland's glaciers are shrinking -- and shows a sharp increase in glacial retreat beginning about 2000, according to new research presented this week.

Mountain goats' air conditioning is failing, study says
this one is about disappearing glaciers, too.


humans

Researchers discover brain circuit linked to food impulsivity



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From the news media:

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

science news 11.12.2019

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.



astrobiology

Breathing new life into the rise of oxygen debate
researchers modified a well-established conceptual model of marine biogeochemistry so that it could be run over the whole of Earth history, and found that it produced the three oxygenation events all by itself.


conservation

Spying on hippos with drones to help conservation efforts



A new UNSW study has shown that using a drone to film hippos in Africa is an effective, affordable tool for conservationists to monitor the threatened species' population from a safe distance, particularly in remote and aquatic areas.
Credit: Victoria Inman


light and life

Oxygen [requirement] shaped the evolution of the eye


bio-inspired

Insects' drag-based flight mechanism could improve tiny flying robots


environment

Floral foam adds to microplastic pollution problem: Study


climate change

Greenland ice losses rising faster than expected

Could we cool the Earth with an ice-free Arctic?


citizen science

School citizen science project dramatically improves children's knowledge of UK mammals





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


From the news media:

bird flu comeback in the UK, reports the Guardian

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

science news 10.12.2019

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.



astrobiology

How Enceladus got its stripes


evolution

Four-hundred-eighty-million-year-old fossils reveal sea lilies' ancient roots



A modern-day sea lily in the Marianas region.
Credit: (c) NOAA Ocean Research and Exploration

Wing genes responsible for tiny treehopper's extraordinary helmet

When penguins ruled after dinosaurs died


ecology

Navigating land and water
Centipedes not only walk on land but also swim in water. Researchers at Tohoku University, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, University of Ottawa, and Hokkaido University with the support of the Human Frontier Science Program have, for the first time, decoded the flexible motor control mechanism underlying amphibious locomotion, or the ability to walk on land and to swim in water, in centipedes.


climate change

Last remaining glaciers in the Pacific will soon melt away
The last remaining tropical glaciers between the Himalayas and the Andes will disappear in the next decade -- and possibly sooner -- due to climate change, a new study has found. The glaciers in Papua, Indonesia, are "the canaries in the coal mine" for other mountaintop glaciers around the world, said Lonnie Thompson, one of the senior authors of the study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


sustainability

Cities and their rising impacts on biodiversity -- a global overview


humans

How playing the drums changes the brain

Rhythmic perception in humans has strong evolutionary roots

In a split second, clothes make the man more competent in the eyes of others
A major course of evil in the world: belief in men wearing suits.

Major political events linked to mood decline among young US doctors
Major political events, such as the 2016 presidential election and inauguration, were associated with declines in mood among young US physicians, finds a study in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.
The best thing about xmas is the British Medical Journal's special issue ...


dystopian futures

Data Science Institute researcher designs headphones that warn pedestrians of dangers
Wearing no headphones at all would be a cheaper solution to the problem.


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


From the news media:

Orca grandmothers looking after the young ones, reports the Guardian

Monday, December 09, 2019

horsemen of the climate apocalypse

Open Archive Day

The COP25 climate summit is still rolling at Madrid, on a background of rising protest and awareness that at least offers a little bit of hope of a turnaround, as I have tried to express in this year's climate feature, which appeared last Monday.

Last year's offering was a slightly darker affair, with calculations of the environmental cost of carbon emissions and details of all the many things that were and still are going horribly wrong in the world. Back then we had Bolsonaro joining the crew of the horsemen of the climate apocalypse, this year it may be the UK's very own horror clown.

Anyhow, last year's feature is now in the open archives:

Counting carbon costs




The 24th global climate summit (COP24) took place in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018. The city has historic importance in the steel industry and was transformed by modernist architecture in the 1970s. (Photo: Midnight Believer, Flickr.)

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 (lyrics video here)
No. 166 Como Poden (lyrics video here)

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

Our gaiteiro, David Carril says he can play No. 100, Santa Maria strela do dia, so I will learn that one as well. Here's a video where you can read the manuscript while listening to the music.


In terms of recordings, there are lots of them on YouTube, obviously. This channel has so many, it may well be all of them, but they are in no particular order and mixed with videos of other early music, so it's hard to tell. The ones I checked usually had the lyrics displayed in some form.

This video: Fiesta en el corte de Alfonso el Sabio combines recordings of some 14 cantigas by different artists with a large number of the musicians miniatures from the manuscript.

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).

La Capella Reial de Catalunya have recorded a dozen cantigas with Hesperion XX and Jordi Savall, available on CD as "Cantigas de Santa Maria - strela do dia". I'm a bit confused as Amazon seems to think it dates from 2017, but since the millennium the ensemble has been known as Hesperion XXI, so I suspect it may be a rerelease of a 1990s recording. Oh, and somebody posted it on Youtube in 2013.

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.


evolution

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"


conservation

Gulf Coast corals face catastrophe


nanoworld

Artificial cells act more like the real thing


bio-inspired

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.


humans

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.



astrobiology

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


evolution

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?


ecology

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


conservation

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.


sustainability

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


humans

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



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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.


astrobiology

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.


evolution

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.


ecology

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


nanoworld

Electron correlations in carbon nanostructures

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


humans

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.


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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


BUY NOTHING DAY


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

KAUF-NIX-TAG

Día de no comprar nada

Journée sans achat

Giornata del non acquisto

Niet-Winkeldag

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.



source

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.



evolution

Puffins stay cool thanks to their large beak


ecology

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?


conservation

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


sustainability

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).


humans

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.



earth

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


evolution

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



environment

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.


sustainability

Leftover grain from breweries could be converted into fuel for homes

Saving bats from wind turbine death


humans

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.



evolution

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


ecology

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


nanoworld

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.



bio-inspired

Drag can lift birds to new heights, Stanford researchers find


sustainability

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.


humans

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
(paywalled)

SCI (members)

Friday, November 22, 2019

science news 22.11.2019

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.


astrobiology

Life under extreme conditions at hot springs in the ocean


ecology

New disease hits corals

Almost a third of tropical Africa's flora faces extinction


plant development

Nature's secret recipe for making leaves


climate change

Fish in California estuaries are evolving as climate change alters their habitat

Study: Wildfires in Oregon's blue mountains to become more frequent, severe due to climate change


bio-inspired

Bone breakthrough may lead to more durable airplane wings


art-inspired

Escher's angels and demons woodcut predicts how matter deforms


(hotlinked to the image on the official mcescher.com website)


humans

Human songs share universal patterns across world's cultures




Thursday, November 21, 2019

science news 21.11.2019

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.


astro

Outback telescope captures Milky Way center, discovers remnants of dead stars


evolution

New fossils shed light on how snakes got their bite and lost their legs

How plants handle stress


climate change

Vanishing ice puts reindeer herders at risk



A domesticated reindeer from northern Mongolia.
Credit: O. Batchuluun



sustainability

New hybrid device can both capture and store solar energy


sound

How the brain detects the rhythms of speech

Musicians at serious risk of tinnitus, researchers show


vision

Walking changes vision

Beauty in the biased eye of the beholder
When looking at paintings, we don't assess each one on its own merits. Instead, we carry a bias, according to a new study in Psychology at University of Sydney.


dystopian futures

Are hiring algorithms fair? They're too opaque to tell, study finds




Wednesday, November 20, 2019

science news 20.11.2019

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.


astrobiology

NASA's TESS helps astronomers study red-giant stars, examine a too-close planet

Exoplanet axis study boosts hopes of complex life, just not next door


ecology

Deep-sea bacteria copy their neighbors' diet
new ways of marine carbon fixation


conservation

Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation
see also my bats feature which came out on Monday

Endangered whales react to environmental changes


nanoworld

A remote control for everything small
Special light beams can be used to manipulate molecules or small biological particles. However, these optical tweezers only work with objects in empty space. Any disturbing environment would deflect the light waves and destroy the effect. This is a problem, in particular with biological samples. Now, a special method was developed to calculate the perfect wave form to manipulate small particles in the presence of a disordered environment, even if they cannot be touched directly.

Scientists use catalysts to destroy cancerous cells from within


environment

New danger for corals in warming oceans: Metal pollution


humans

Scientists use modern technology to understand how ochre paint was created in pictographs



This is one of the pieces of rock art found at Babine Lake. It is representative of the rock art that was analyzed in the study.
Credit: University of Missouri


'Face blindness' may involve a failed brain network, and could shed light on autism

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

From the news media:

We're on track to produce twice as much fossil fuel as we can afford if we want to meet the 1.5 C target of the Paris Agreement, the Guardian reports




Tuesday, November 19, 2019

science news 19.11.2019

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.


evolution

Are hyoliths Palaeozoic lophophorates?
Today's new vocabulary: Hyoliths are extinct invertebrates with calcareous shells that were common constituents of the Cambrian fauna and formed a minor component of benthic faunas throughout the Palaeozoic until their demise in the end-Permian mass extinction. ... recent discoveries of a tentaculate feeding apparatus ('lophophore') and fleshy apical extensions from the shell ('pedicle'), have resulted in hyoliths being placed within the lophophorates


ecology


Study measures impact of agriculture on diet of wild mammals

Mantis shrimp vs. disco clams: Colorful sea creatures do more than dazzle



A disco clam shows off its red appendages and flashing tissue.
Credit: Lindsey Dougherty


nanoworld

Protein imaging at the speed of life
A team of physicists from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have completed the first molecular movie of the ultrafast movement of proteins at the European XFEL facility. Their findings mark a new age of protein research that enables enzymes involved in disease to be observed in real time for meaningful durations in unprecedented clarity.

Structure of a mitochondrial ATP synthase


climate change

Climate change could double greenhouse gas emissions from freshwater lakes


bio-inspired


Antibiotics from the sea


Living bridges

Dense, humid broadleaf forests, monsoon-swollen rivers and deep ravines -- in the Indian state of Meghalaya wooden bridges easily decay or are washed away in floodwaters. Bridges made from steel and concrete are pushed to their limits here as well. But bridges made of living tree roots can survive here for centuries. Prof. Ferdinand Ludwig of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has investigated these special structures and proposes integrating this extraordinary building technique in modern architecture.


sustainability

Boosting wind farms, global winds reverse decades of slowing and pick up speed
In a boon to wind farms, average daily wind speeds are picking up across much of the globe after about 30 years of gradual slowing. Research led by a team at Princeton University shows that wind speeds in northern mid-latitude regions have increased by roughly 7% since 2010.

Get over it? When it comes to recycled water, consumers won't

Switching to renewable energy could save thousands of lives in Africa

How much energy do we really need?
Two fundamental goals of humanity are to eradicate poverty and reduce climate change, and it is critical that the world knows whether achieving these goals will involve trade-offs. New IIASA research for the first time provides a basis to answer this question, including the tools needed to relate basic needs directly to resource use.


dystopian futures

Researchers bring gaming to autonomous vehicles
They must have thought AI image recognition wasn't enough of a gamble yet. Russian roulette springs to mind.

Measuring online behavioral advertising: One more step to protect users
Whose bright idea was that, anyway? If there's any use for ads it's to tell me about things I wasn't aware of, not to rehash the thoughts I had an hour ago.

Monday, November 18, 2019

in praise of bats

Back in July I took part in a guided bat-watching tour in Düsseldorf (run throughout the summer holidays by fledermaus.nrw), and learned so many things that I thought I really should do a feature about bats. Add to that the seasonal bat obsession in the run-up to Halloween and a few recent research papers, and the feature came to life. It is out today in Current Biology:


Why we should care about bats

Current Biology Volume 29, issue 22, R1163-R1165, November 18, 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)




image source

Thursday, November 14, 2019

science news 14.11.2019

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.

(My laptop is broken, can I do the science news on an ancient MacBook? Let's find out)


ecology

Chitin-binding proteins override host plant's resistance to fungal infection


sustainability

Chemistry -- Five-fold boost in formaldehyde yield
I'm struggling to believe the "5-fold" - did the industry really make such a basic feedstock chemical with less than 20% yield until now? To me, the important bit here is that it can be made from carbon dioxide, of which we are producing too much right now ...



Turning (more) fat and sewage into methane





humans

World's oldest glue used from prehistoric times till the days of the Gauls
By studying artefacts that date back to the first 6 centuries AD through the lens of chemistry, archaeology, and textual analysis, french researchers have discovered birch tar was being used right up to late antiquity, if not longer. The artefacts in question -- found in a region where birch is scarce, thus raising the question of how it was procured -- are testimony to the strength of tradition among the Gauls.


Climate may have helped crumble one of the ancient world's most powerful civilizations
New research suggests it was climate-related drought that built the foundation for the collapse of the Assyrian Empire (whose heartland was based in today's northern Iraq)--one of the most powerful civilizations in the ancient world. The Science Advances paper, led by Ashish Sinha at California State University, Dominguez Hills and coauthored by CIRES affiliate Adam Schneider, details how megadroughts in the 7th century BC triggered a decline in Assyria's way of life that contributed to its ultimate collapse.
The people responsible for this PR are definitely helping to crumble our civilisation and buiding the foundation for its collapse. One to keep as an example for writing workshops.

Ancient Egyptians gathered birds from the wild for sacrifice and mummification
... as opposed to domesticating ibises for these rituals.



dystopian futures


Can 'smart toilets' be the next health data wellspring?
Wearable, smart technologies are transforming the ability to monitor and improve health, but a decidedly low-tech commodity -- the humble toilet -- may have potential to outperform them all.
Here they go closing the last gap in the complete 24/7 surveillance scheme.


Saturday, November 09, 2019

ra ra rasputin

I only recently discovered the Ayoub sisters, when somebody shared Ya Mariam El Bekr somewhere. Looking up their back catalogue, I was intrigued by their adaptation of Boney M's Rasputin even though I generally feel that I have heard too much of this band in the 70s/80s and am not that keen to revisit their work.



I did however enjoy the string duo version of Rasputin, and then watched the making of video, and then wondered where the tune actually comes from. Turns out half of it is an old Turkish folk song (there are also Arabic versions of it, so I don't really know which of the two is the original).

The Turkish song is called Kâtibim (sheet music here) and I really love the Turkish / Urdu mashup you can watch here (just ignore the blatant Coke advertising).

The Arabic version is called Ya Banat Iskandaria, and searching for this title I found a lovely version for flute, harp, percussion, here.

Other versions:
Charbel Rouhana (instrumental: oud)
Sung in Turkish and Arabic, with belly dancer.


-------------
PS I'm really excited about these discoveries, and I think this warrants a new tag, let's call it #folk mash, for unearthing folk influences behind famous pop / rock / classical music. (next up, probably: a very famous Led Zeppelin track)

Friday, November 08, 2019

science news 8.11.2019

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.


earth

Investigation of oceanic 'black carbon' uncovers mystery in global carbon cycle
An unexpected finding published today in Nature Communications challenges a long-held assumption about the origin of oceanic black coal, and introduces a tantalizing new mystery: If oceanic black carbon is significantly different from the black carbon found in rivers, where did it come from?


evolution

Mammals' complex spines are linked to high metabolisms; we're learning how they evolved


ecology and climate


Plants and fungi together could slow climate change

Arctic sea ice loss may facilitate disease spread in marine mammals



An adult male ribbon seal lays on the ice.
Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Polar Ecosystems Program


conservation

Study finds sex bias in bird conservation plans
After pairing up and raising chicks, males and females of some bird species spend their winter break apart. At the end of their journey to Central or South America, you might find mostly males in one habitat, and females in another. Yet conservation strategies have typically overlooked the habitats needed by females, putting already-declining species in even more peril.

Unless warming is slowed, emperor penguins will be marching towards extinction


light and life

UCI-led study reveals non-image light sensing mechanism of circadian neurons
University of California, Irvine researchers reveal how an ancient flavoprotein response to ultra violet (UV), blue and red light informs internal circadian processes about the time of day.


environment

Satellite observations show shifting trends in nitrogen oxide lifetimes over North American cities


humans

Stanford scientists link Neanderthal extinction to human diseases

The medieval Catholic church's influence on psychology of Western, industrialized societies

Stanford researchers lay out first genetic history of Rome


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


From the news media:

Thursday, November 07, 2019

science news 7.11.2019

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.


conservation

The importance of Madagascar's lowland rainforest for lemur conservation



A new Mammal Review study shows that the few remaining patches of lowland rainforest host the highest levels of lemur abundance for several species.
Credit: Marco Campera



nanoworld

Structural and biochemical studies clarify the methylation mechanism of anticodon in tRNA
These studies look like nerdy little details to most people, but I do believe that the clues to the origin of life (ie how did RNA begin to make protein) is encoded in there somewhere.

A solution to a hairy problem in forensic science
In an effort to make hair comparison a more useful technique for investigating crimes, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a new way to dissolve hair proteins without destroying them. Once in solution, the protein molecules from two hairs can be analyzed and compared, yielding objective, quantitative results.


food and drink

How hot (and not-so-hot) compounds in chili peppers change during ripening


sustainability

Nature might be better than tech at reducing air pollution
doesn't seem to work indoors though, compare and contrast:

Study: Actually, potted plants don't improve indoor air quality


humans

Autistic adults thought they were 'bad people'



The reproductive function of the clitoris



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


From the news media:


The film 2040 - a documentary about how we can still save the world from climate collapse, reviewed by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

science news 6.11.2019

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.


evolution

Jaw-some wombats may be great survivors
Flexible jaws may help wombats better survive in a changing world by adapting to climate change's effect on vegetation and new diets in conservation sanctuaries. An international study, co-led by The University of Queensland's Dr Vera Weisbecker, has revealed that wombat jaws appear to change in relation to their diets.



Wombat skulls seem to be changing to match their diets.
Credit: The University of Queensland


conservation

To save biodiversity, scientists suggest 'mega-conservation'
While the conservation of charismatic creatures like pandas, elephants and snow leopards are important in their own right, there may be no better ecological bang-for-our-buck than a sound, science-based effort to save widespread keystone systems. And the majestic aspens could be a perfect start for such an endeavor.


nanoworld

Scientists probe the limits of ice
The smallest nanodroplet of water in which ice can form is only as big as 90 water molecules -- a tenth the size of the smallest virus. At those small scales, according to University of Utah chemistry professor and study co-author Valeria Molinero, the transition between ice and water gets a little frizzy.


sustainability

Satellite tracking shows how ships affect clouds and climate


humans

Study reveals that humans migrated from Europe to the Levant 40,000 years ago

What we can learn from Indigenous land management


dystopian futures

'Crowd-diagnosis' thousands seek out diagnoses from strangers on social media



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From the news media:
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