Monday, July 29, 2019

rhino reproduction

Open Archive Day

One of the collateral benefits of playing wrong notes in public is that I get to meet lots of random people who do interesting things, and quite a few of them doing really exciting science. Recently, I came across someone starting a project on fertility treatments for rhinos, with a view to aid their conservation - I am sure this will make a great story one day. While we're waiting for the rhinos to get their reproduction sorted out, here is my feature on the current problems in rhino conservation, from the first issue of last year:

Last call to save the rhinos



The southern subspecies of the white rhino has been a conservation success story after narrowly escaping extinction at the end of the 19th century. (Photo: Cindy Harper.)




Saturday, July 27, 2019

father to son

Crikey, looking up my entry on JS Bach's partita I realise that I spent half a year trying to get my head round his son's response, CPE Bach's sonata for solo flute, also in A minor. Slightly less catchy than the father's opus, the son's work is weird in a whole new range of ways, sometimes so modern that the time gap could be 300 years rather than 30. I really like this recording by Georgia Browne, on a baroque flute.

Not sure if any musical psychoanalyst has worked out what this piece tells us about CPE's relationship to his dad, but it surely would be an interesting exercise in understanding humans through the music they produce.

In any case, I had great fun with the first two movements and maybe didn't appreciate the third quite as much, so now decided to move back to the father's work.

Here's my still life with an edition of solo pieces which contains both the CPE sonata and the partita as well as lots of other solo works useful for those who don't have a tame pianist at hand ...

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

first molecules - ever!

I might have naively assumed that the first molecules in the universe were hydrogen ones (H2) as H is the simplest atom, but I have now learned that this was not the case. In fact, helium hydride has a strong case for being the first altough the search for this molecule in the current universe has only discovered it recently. I've discussed all of this together with the science of another very early hydrogen compound, trihydrogen, in my latest feature about the chemistry that happened before the first stars were born (mindboggling thought):

Dawn of chemistry

Chemistry & Industry 83, No. 7, pp 30-33.

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI (should turn up here soon)

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

Have a sneaky peek at the first page:

Monday, July 22, 2019

exploring odour space

Can't believe it's four years since my feature about how the human sense of smell is underappreciated in modern society, which was mainly based on Asifa Majid's work on hunter-gatherer groups in South Asia who are much better at defining smells in words than we are. So when a major paper came out doubling the number of assignments of olfactory receptors to specific odours, I was glad for the opportunity to revisit the human sense of smell and check up how Asifa's work is progressing.

The new "smelly" feature is out now:

Odour space - the final frontier

Current Biology Volume 29, issue 14, pages R663-R665, July 22, 2019

FREE access to full text and PDF download




The smell of lavender is recognised as pleasant and soothing. Perception of
the relevant compound linalool is variable between individuals, however. (Photo: © Tiomax80/
Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

22052 tweets

So as of today, 17:17h (BST, I assume) I have been on twitter for ten years exactly.

In those years I have posted 22052 tweets
accumulated 1275 followers
and followed 2090 other accounts.

I now realise that following that many was a mistake as it makes the timeline unmanageable and I don't want the algorithm to pick "top tweets" for me. But hey - just @ me if you think I should read a specific tweet of yours, because most of the rest will just float by.

Back in 2009, I signed up to twitter just a few weeks after coming back from a science communication conference where some of the other participants were already using it and talking about it all the time. The adoption was also accelerated by the fact that MySpace was beginning turn into a ghost town at around that time, and many of the contacts I had there migrated to twitter.

Since then, the tweets of a certain racist in high office have spoiled the experience a bit, I lost control of my timeline, and I also don't like the direction that twitter is changing (to become more like facebook, apparently). When the new version hit me earlier this week, I thought I would have to leave as I hated it so much, but then I discovered the North Star symbol in the top right corner above the timeline, where you can switch from algorithm-controlled nonsense (now including random people's likes - why?) to a simple format where all tweets are listed chronologically as they should be.

Anyhow, I guess I will stick around a bit longer, but don't expect me to see everything you tweet.




For reasons unknown, my twitter has reverted to the old style after a few days with the new one - so I'm immortalising its look here, in case they switch me again and I might never see the old twitter again.

Oh, and one of the things that I still love about twitter is that it is prepared to speak Galician to me. (Facebook should do, in theory, but often falls into English, and at one point sneakily tried to switch my language to English without asking my permission.)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

keeping up with the germans

Keeping Up With the Germans: A History of Anglo-German Encounters

Philip Oltermann
Faber and Faber 2012


Philip Oltermann regularly writes for the Guardian explaining all things German to a UK audience, and also for German media explaining British things, so I’ve come across his writing quite often in recent years and was curious what this book about German-English encounters would be like, which I discovered by accident at an Oxfam shop.

It is structured as a series of eight anglo-German encounters, some of which happened, while others might have or didn’t actually happen. These are structured vaguely chronologically, beginning with Heinrich Heine visit to London in 1827, and ending with Astrid Proll’s visit in 1978. Along the way we also learn how the author was transplanted from Hamburg to London as a teenager (he’s now back on German soil, as the Guardian’s bureau chief in Berlin). In the epilogue he also slips in a Nazi-era encounter, although in the main chapters he deliberately skipped the time that for most would be the first association with Germany, on the grounds that far too many books have already been published about those.

If you ever wondered why an obscure 1950s comedy sketch starring Freddie Frinton is shown on multiple German TV channels every New Year’s Eve, there’s a whole chapter about that, and I thought the author’s description of two TV executives from Hamburg stumbling through a rainy Blackpool night and making that crucial discovery was actually funnier than the sketch itself.

I may have skipped a page or two when the author described football matches in too much detail, but other than that it was a fascinating read and very helpful in filling one or two gaps in my own experience of the very same culture clash - I arrived in the UK three years before he did, so we basically experienced the same period of Anglo-German history in real time.



The book is also available in a German edition with the title:
Dichter und Denker, Spinner und Banker


Update 30.9.2019: Here's Oltermann discussing a new exhibition on Anglo-German relations at Bonn.

Friday, July 19, 2019

science news 19.7.2019

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


astrobiology

Drinking red wine on the red planet
"... a daily moderate dose of resveratrol significantly preserved muscle function and mitigated muscle atrophy in an animal model mimicking Mars' partial gravity. Novel model innovated by BIDMC researchers will help scientists fill in the blanks about the little understood physiological consequences of partial gravity."


nanoworld

A dynamic genetic code based on DNA shape
a biological role for DNA segments that switch between right and left-handed helical form.


evolution

How mammals' brains evolved to distinguish odors is nothing to sniff at
"Neuroscientists from the Salk Institute and UC San Diego have discovered that at least six types of mammals--from mice to cats--distinguish odors in roughly the same way, using circuitry in the brain that's evolutionarily preserved across species."



The image shows a section of the front part of the piriform cortex, an area of the brain involved in the sense of smell. The cortex layers are stained with florescent antibodies to better distinguish key differences. Layer 1 contains two separate sections; the layer closest to the black-colored surface (1a) is stained bright green, while the second part (1b) is stained orange. Layer 2 is stained white and contains a high density of neurons. Olfactory bulb neurons, important in smell processing, send signals to the branches of neurons in layer 1a. These neurons have cell bodies located in layer 2. Layer 2 neurons communicate with one another in layer 1b.
Credit: Salk Institute


ecology

Lionfish ear-bones reveal a more mobile invasion


insects

Simulation explores how insects glean compass direction from skylight


climate change


Strong storms also play big role in Antarctic ice shelf collapse


humans

Depressed by Facebook and the like
I like the headline, for once.


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


plant-based milk replacements are gaining popularity in the UK, reports the Guardian.

I'm torn between switching to Oatly which comes in single use packaging and continuing to support the milkman delivering reusable bottles. Currently we tend to have a litre of oatly in the fridge as a backup for peak demands.
I always have to point out on these occasions, however, that almond milk cannot be a green solution, nearly all almonds come from industrialised farming in California, which has a huge environmental footprint, in terms of water use and what the growers do to the poor old bees pollinating their crops.





Thursday, July 18, 2019

science news 18.7.2019

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


chemistry

Improving the odds of synthetic chemistry success


nanoworld

A new spin on DNA
"... with DNA origami helicopters, researchers have captured the first recorded rotational steps of a molecular motor as it moved from one DNA base pair to another."
Can I have a DNA origami helicopter too?


evolution

Red algae steal genes from bacteria to cope with environmental stresses
not entirely new - I remember writing a news story about one such case a few years ago.


ecology

Predators' fear of humans ripples through wildlife communities, emboldening rodents
"Giving credence to the saying, 'While the cat's away, the mice will play,' a new study indicates that pumas and medium-sized carnivores lie low when they sense the presence of humans, which frees up the landscape for rodents to forage more brazenly."


conservation

Do marine protected areas work?
An old question but worth checking again ...



Modeling predicts blue whales' foraging behavior, aiding population management efforts

Endangered Bornean orangutans survive in managed forest, decline near oil palm plantations
See also my recent feature on orangutan conservation.



Two Malaysian orangutans.
Credit: WWF-Malaysia, Lee Shan Kee


cimate change

Artificial snowfall could save the West Antarctic ice sheet, but with high costs and risks



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


From the news media:

A new edition of the IUCN Red List is out now - and even more species are at risk of extinction.



Wednesday, July 17, 2019

science news 17.7.2019

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

* Newsflash - I may have to rethink my science news processing again, as twitter has turned all horrible with the latest update - making the desktop version look more like a mobile and act more like facebook. May have to look at alternative services again, like I did without much success in December when tumblr went pear-shaped. All suggestions welcome. *



evolution


Salt regulation among saltmarsh sparrows evolved in 4 unique ways
"A new study in Evolution Letters finds that different bird species in the same challenging environment--the highly saline ecosystem of tidal marshes along ocean shores--were able to evolve unique species-specific ways to address the same problem."



Four species of saltmarsh sparrows studied.
Credit: L-R: Swamp Sparrow, Kelly Colgan Azar; Song Sparrow, Jennifer Taggart; Savannah Sparrow, Kelly Colgan Azar; Nelson's Sparrow, Brian Harris


ecology

Joshua trees facing extinction
Good to see an Earthwatch project featured in the PRs, I used to write about their work quite a lot back in the 00s, but kind of lost track in recent years.


Timing is everything for the mutualistic relationship between ants and acacias
"Ant-acacia plants attract ants by offering specialized food and hollow thorns in which the ants live, while the ant colony in turn defends its acacia against herbivores. This mutualistic relationship only occurs in older plants. New findings from University of Pennsylvania plant biologists, identify the genetic pathway that appears to regulate the timing of the acacia's ant-sustaining arsenal."

University of Guelph researchers track how cats' weights change over time
"University of Guelph researchers have become the first to access data on more than 19 million cats and have learned that most cats continue to put on weight as they age."
Might be a good thing, actually, as fat cat's won't catch as many birds?


humans

Scientists identified the metabolic features specific to the autistic brain


Study finds transgender, non-binary autism link





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

from the news media

Discovery of the duelling dinosaurs.



Tuesday, July 16, 2019

science news 16.7.2019

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


astrobiology

A material way to make Mars habitable
"New research suggest that regions of the Martian surface could be made habitable with a material -- silica aerogel -- that mimics Earth's atmospheric greenhouse effect. Through modeling and experiments, the researchers show that a 2 to 3-centimeter-thick shield of silica aerogel could transmit enough visible light for photosynthesis, block hazardous ultraviolet radiation, and raise temperatures underneath permanently above the melting point of water, all without the need for any internal heat source."


evolution

Strange new species of duck-billed dinosaur identified
How to combine an eagle-shaped nose with a duck bill:



An illustration: Aquilarhinus palimentus.
Credit: ICRA Art

Fossil of smallest old world monkey species discovered in Kenya


ecology

Sex, lies and crustaceans: New study highlights peculiar reproductive strategies of Daphnia


sustainability

More farmers, more problems: How smallholder agriculture is threatening the western Amazon

Meet the six-legged superfoods: Grasshoppers top insect antioxidant-rich list
"For the first time, a study has measured antioxidant levels in commercially available edible insects. For open-minded health freaks, it's good news: crickets pack 75% the antioxidant power of fresh OJ, and silkworm fat twice that of olive oil. And while even ladybirds fart, insects have a tiny land, water and carbon footprint compared with livestock -- so anything that encourages insect eating is good news for the planet, too."


climate change

Study bolsters case that climate change is driving many California wildfires

Thirty years of unique data reveal what's really killing coral reefs
"Coral bleaching is not just due to a warming planet, but also a planet that is simultaneously being enriched with reactive nitrogen from sources like improperly treated sewage, and fertilizers. Nitrogen loading from the Florida Keys and greater Everglades ecosystem caused by humans is the primary driver of coral reef degradation in Looe Key. These coral reefs were dying off long before they were impacted by rising water temperatures. Elevated nitrogen levels cause phosphorus starvation in corals, reducing their temperature threshold for bleaching."

The rush to air conditioning in Europe pushed by urbanization and climate change
producing a positive feedback loop ...


humans

Extinct human species likely breast fed for a year after birth

Out of Africa and into an archaic human melting pot
"Genetic analysis has revealed that the ancestors of modern humans interbred with at least five different archaic human groups as they moved out of Africa and across Eurasia."


-----------

from the news media:

Extinction Rebellion actions happening in London all this week - here's today's report in the Guardian.

And finally:
“At least at the level of neural activity … the brains of men and women respond the same way to porn.” - a study in PNAS, reported in the Guardian.







Monday, July 15, 2019

a world of genomes

Open Archive Day

A year ago I reported about the Earth BioGenome project, which aims to sequence the genomes of all eukaryotic species known to science (plus a few new ones to be discovered in the process) within 10 years. I love the uncompromising thoroughness of this approach, but boy, they must have an inordinate fondness for beetles ...

So that's nine years to go, maybe I should check back at half time how they are doing.

In the meantime, my feature from last July is now in the open archives:


The genome sequence of everything






Protists of the rhizarian supergroup, which includes Ernst Haeckel’s radiolarians, comprise a large number of species that are poorly characterised and not yet represented in genome research. (Scan housed at the Biodiversity Heritage Library, provided by Harvard University.)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

fleur de tonnerre

A year ago I got the impression that the situation was perhaps improving re the showing of films in more interesting languages than English in UK cinemas, but this seems to have been a blip. This year has been a bit of a disaster in this respect, so I am left to catch up with my DVD collection and to watch out for movies shown on TV5Monde (no longer on Sky in the UK, but free on the Internet here).

This week I watched Fleur de Tonnerre, a biopic of Hélène Jégado who was executed for five murders but is alleged to have killed dozens and may have been the most prolific serial killer ever. The weapon of choice being arsenic, this counts as history of chemistry as well as history of crime.

Her life unfolded in rural Brittany, with the folk belief in Ankou as an impersonation of death, combined with her psychiatric problems, appear to have led Jégado to believe she had to obey Ankou's orders and kill people. The film handles this somewhat disturbing story with subtlety. Rural Britanny in the first half of the 19th century comes across as a dark place -we also meet people who operate a moving lighthouse in order to lure ships onto rocks and then scavenge the wrecks. Tellingly, the move into the city of Rennes spells the end of Jégado's killing career as her new employer discovers her phiol of arsenic and sends it off for analysis.

Déborah François is impressive in this - it took me a while to realise that I had seen her in three other films before, including Mes cheres etudes, Female agents, and the page turner. She made her debut with the Dardenne brothers. She also appears as the artist's wife in Cezanne et moi which I haven't seen yet, see above.




There also is an English title (Poisoning Angel) for the film and a poster in English, but IMDB doesn't list any release date for the UK.

Friday, July 12, 2019

science news 12.7.2019

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


astrobiology

'Moon-forming' circumplanetary disk discovered in distant star system


evolution

Oldest completely preserved lily discovered

Bird with unusually long toes found fossilized in amber


ecology

New species of lizard found in stomach of microraptor

Whispering southern right whale mums and calves seek refuge in surf
"How do southern right whale mothers protect their precious calves from killer whale attacks when the predators can listen out for their conversations? It turns out that the mothers and their offspring shelter in the noisy surf, stay in close proximity and effectively whisper, calling softly less than once per dive, to avoid attracting any unwanted attention."
Aaaah. love a bit of soundscape ecology!


plants

Scientists discover a novel perception mechanism regulating important plant processes
"perception" of peptide hormones, that is.


environment

Coral skeleton crystals record ocean acidification


pharma

Scientists opening the door to a new era of medicinal chemistry
"A new molecular descriptor estimates molecular complexity and defines the evolution of small molecules in medicinal chemistry."


humans

Ancient genomics pinpoint origin and rapid turnover of cattle in the Fertile Crescent
"Ancient DNA has revealed how the prehistory of the Near East's largest domestic animal, the cow, chimes with the emergence of the first complex economies, cities and the rise and fall of the world earliest human empires."



A zebu-shaped weight from Tel Beth-Shemesh.
Credit: A. Hay, courtesy of the Tel Beth-Shemesh Excavations exhibition.


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

from the news media:

The Guardian about the trans-Sahara seaway



Thursday, July 11, 2019

science news 11.7.2019

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


astrobiology

Origin of life insight: peptides can form without amino acids

Astronomers expand cosmic 'cheat sheet' in hunt for life
I suppose it's about classifying exoplanets, but the summary wasn't any clearer than the title.


ecology

Caterpillars turn anti-predator defense against sticky toxic plants


zoology

Secrets of a sex-changing fish revealed
and another PR on the same paper, this time with a video.



A distinctive male (top left) defends a group of females (yellow), one of which will eventually change sex to replace him.
Credit: Kevin Bryant


Unprecedented display of concern towards unknown monkey offers hope for endangered species


climate change

Researchers discover ice is sliding toward edges off Greenland Ice Sheet


sustainability

20 overlooked benefits of distributed solar energy


robots

Robot-ants that can jump, communicate with each other and work together


quantum information technology

Puzzling on a quantum chessboard
"Physicists at the University of Innsbruck are proposing a new model that could demonstrate the supremacy of quantum computers over classical supercomputers in solving optimization problems. In a recent paper, they demonstrate that just a few quantum particles would be sufficient to solve the mathematically difficult N-queens problem in chess even for large chess boards."

Quantum sensor breakthrough using naturally occurring vibrations in artificial atoms

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

from the news media:

Falcon has landed: Japan's Hayabusa2 probe touches down on asteroid




Wednesday, July 10, 2019

science news 10.7.2019

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


earth

Semi-arid land in China has expanded in recent decades and probably continues to expand


evolution

Human pregnancy dependent on cells evolved in platypus-like animal 300 million years ago
"Platelet cells, which prevent mammals from bleeding non-stop, first evolved around 300 million years ago in an egg-laying animal similar to the modern duck-billed platypus, finds joint research by UCL and Yale University."


plants

Scientists decode DNA secrets of world's toughest bean
"scientists have decoded the genome of black-eyed peas, offering hope for feeding Earth's expanding population, especially as the climate changes. Understanding the genes responsible for the peas' drought and heat tolerance eventually could help make other crops tougher too."


zoology

Goats can distinguish emotions from the calls of other goats

Smells like love...to sea lampreys
"Some people are drawn to cologne; others are attracted to perfume. When it comes to sea lampreys, however, spermine smells like love. In new research led by Michigan State University and published in the current issue of PLoS Biology, spermine, an odorous compound found in male semen, proved to be a powerful aphrodisiac."



In new research led by Michigan State University and published in the current issue of PLoS Biology, spermine, an odorous compound found in male semen, proved to be a powerful aphrodisiac.
Credit: Courtesy of Michigan State University


humans

Gorillas found to live in 'complex' societies, suggesting deep roots of human social evolution


Elbows key for walkers' efficiency
"Why do walkers hold their arms straight and runners bend the arm at the elbow? A team of scientists at Harvard University campus have discovered that walking with a straight arm is much more efficient than holding it bent, but the jury is still out why runners bend their arms."
why don't they just put their arms behind their backs, they're more aerodynamic that way? I'd suspect it's to do with our evolutionary ancestors running on four legs, may have been kept to signal readiness for fight?




Tuesday, July 09, 2019

science news 9.7.2019

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


astrobiology

Scientists develop new method for studying early life in ancient rocks


earth

Cave droplets provide window into past climates
"The chemistry of drip waters that form stalagmites and stalactites in caves around the world have given researchers an insight into our past climate."


evolution

Ancient Saharan seaway shows how Earth's climate and creatures can undergo extreme change

The ancestor of the great white shark



A whole skeleton of the fossil shark Palaeocarcharias stromeri (total length approximately 1m) from the Jura Museum Eichstätt.
Credit: © Jürgen Kriwet


ecology

Live fast and die young, or play the long game? Scientists map 121 animal life cycles

Using an embryonic pause to save the date
"A date palm seedling can pause its development to boost its resilience before emerging into the harsh desert environment."

Climate change and deforestation together push tropical species towards extinction


biomaterials

Exploiting green tides thanks to a marine bacterium
"Ulvan is the principal component of Ulva or 'sea lettuce' which causes algal blooms (green tides). Frenc sientists and their German and Austrian colleagues have identified a marine bacterium whose enzymatic system can break down ulvan into an energy source or molecules of interest for use by the agrifood or cosmetics industries. Twelve enzymes have thus been discovered and they constitute as many tools that could transform this under-exploited polysaccharide into a renewable resource."

Just the tonic! How an afternoon tipple made from peas could help save the rainforest


sustainability

Thought experiment: Switzerland without fossil fuels. Can that succeed?"


humans

A common gut virus that maps our travels
This benign virus changes as we travel, is found in two-thirds of the world's population, and has deep implications for future drug delivery and personalized medicine."

The UC3M programs a humanoid robot to communicate in sign language


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

from the news media

Watch new cities popping up from nowhere in time lapse satellite images (The Guardian).






Monday, July 08, 2019

living the lazy life

I may be a little bit lazy, but learning about sloths last month I found out that there are lots of higher levels of laziness that humans can only dream of, such as lowering your body temperature, or slowing down your metabolism and going to the loo only once a week. We're clearly not worthy to share a planet with a species (or five) so ardently committed to energy saving.

Seriously though, and laziness aside, there are lots of very interesting evolutionary and ecological connections around the sloth which made this a really exciting feature to write (once I'd overcome my own sloth). The resulting feature is out now:


How sloths got their sloth


Current Biology Volume 29, issue 13, pages R603-R606, July 8, 2019

FREE access to full text and PDF download




a sloth I bumped into at a railway station in the week when I was preparing the feature.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

a wide ranging instrument


All our instruments series, episode 15

Next up is another harmonica - we've had this one since the early noughties, but I don't quite remember how it came into the family. I'm quite sure I didn't buy it, but may have been a present the children received from their grandparents.

The writing on it says Bontempi Classic - Made in China, so that was all I knew about it. Wikipedia tells me that Bontempi is actually an Italian company founded in 1937 and famous for cheap instruments and musical toys. They still have a harmonica that looks exactly like ours.



Looking at it now for this series, to figure out what it can do, I realised it has an amazing range, covering a C major scale over 3 octaves and a bit from a low C to a squeaky E (plus, weirdly, the G below the beginning of the scale). That's more than I can do on my flute, although I believe proper flautists can also reach the fourth octave E with extended techniques. Unfortunately, the arrangement of notes obtained from inward vs. outward airflow appears to be a bit illogical, or at least different from what I am used to with my lovely Hohner Echo harmonica, so whenever I try to play something on this one, the attempt ends in confusion. So in the video I just demonstrate the range. I do wonder what you would want the range for ... (maybe two musicians getting along really well could play a duet cheek by jowl?)





PS This is the third harmonica in this series and you'll be relieved to learn that it also the last one - I only have these three and have no plans to buy any more.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

alice's day

Today there are lots of events around Oxford commemorating the anniversary of Alice's adventures in Wonderland. This is because Lewis Carroll first told the story on July 4th 1862, and events tend to be on the following Saturday. Most of them for kids, but I went to the lectures put on by the Lewis Carroll Society, which tend to be very inspiring.



Here's Franziska Kohlt, with a video relating to her talk from last year (Alice & Victorian psychiatry), she spoke again this year on a broader "Alice through time" kind of topic:




I'm sure she will be back next year, she's quite unstoppable.


Alice and the caterpillar, shown above will, of course, feature on the cover of my new book ...

Friday, July 05, 2019

slow news

As the US had a day off yesterday, it's a bit of a slow news day on EurekAlert today, so instead of filter-feeding on the science news I'm trying to catch up with my publications in German magazines:


Ausgeforscht: Muntermacherligand
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 67, Issue 7/8, July/Aug. 2019, Page 106
Access via Wiley Online Library
Coffee is of course the most important reagent in all kinds of science ...

Erste Moleküle im Weltraum: Urknall der Chemie

Chemie in unserer Zeit Volume 53, Issue 3, June 2019, Page 145
Access via Wiley Online Library
related content in English - coming soon

Von Allen Seiten gegen Malaria
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 67, Issue 6, June 2019, Pages 59-61
Access via Wiley Online Library
related feature in English

Ausgeforscht: Schwips ohne Kater
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 67, Issue 6, June 2019, Page 98
Access via Wiley Online Library

Ausgeforscht: Auf die Mikrodosis kommt es an
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 67, Issue 5, May 2019, Page 98
Access via Wiley Online Library

Pflanzenstoffwechsel: Biomarker melden unterirdische Symbiose

Chemie in unserer Zeit Volume 53, Issue 2, April 2019, Page 48
Access via Wiley Online Library

Neue lichtaktivierte Wirkstoffe
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 67, Issue 4, April 2019, Page 58-60
Access via Wiley Online Library

Ausgeforscht: Alles fließt
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 67, Issue 4, April 2019, Page 106
Access via Wiley Online Library

Ausgeforscht: Künstliche Dummheit
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 67, Issue 3, March 2019, Page 114
Access via Wiley Online Library


Thursday, July 04, 2019

science news 4.7.2019

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


climate change

11% of destroyed moist tropical forests could be restored to boost climate, environment


humans

Murder in the Paleolithic? Evidence of violence behind human skull remains



Right lateral view of the Cioclovina calvaria exhibiting a large depressed fracture.
Credit: Kranoti et al, 2019

Ancient DNA sheds light on the origins of the Biblical Philistines
See also my feature on antiquity's genomes, now in the open archives.

Maize-centric diet may have contributed to ancient Maya collapse

Quorn protein builds muscle better than milk protein

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

science news 3.7.2019

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


astrobiology

Atmosphere of mid-size planet revealed by hubble and spitzer

Methane vanishing on Mars: Danish researchers propose new mechanism as an explanation


ecology

Is wildfire management 'for the birds?'
"Spotted owl populations are in decline all along the West Coast, and as climate change increases the risk of large and destructive wildfires in the region, these iconic animals face the real threat of losing even more of their forest habitat. Wildfire management -- through prescribed burning and restoration thinning -- could help save the species, argues a new paper."



Spotted owls, native to the old-growth forests of the West Coast, have already lost much of their former habitat to logging. Without active forest management, the birds now risk losing even more of their remaining habitat to wildfire, a new paper argues.
Credit: Tom Munton photo


humans

Millet farmers adopted barley agriculture and permanently settled the Tibetan Plateau
"The permanent human occupation on the Tibetan Plateau was facilitated by the introduction of cold-tolerant barley around 3600 years before present, however, how barley agriculture spread onto the Tibetan Plateau remains unknown. Researchers revealed that the barley agriculture was mainly brought onto the plateau by the millet farmers from northern China. Moreover, the genetic contribution from millet farmers largely promoted the formation of genetic landscape of the contemporary Tibetans."

Can we feed 11 billion people while preventing the spread of infectious disease?


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from the news media:

Chris Packham writes about deep-sea mining in the Guardian.





Tuesday, July 02, 2019

science news 2.7.2019


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


astrobiology

'Oumuamua is not an alien spacecraft
Phew. That's a relief. Or a disappointment. But maybe it's just very cleverly camouflaged?


earth

New model suggests lost continents for early Earth

New study solves mystery of salt buildup on bottom of Dead Sea


evolution

Evolution of life in the ocean changed 170 million years ago
... when ecology kicked off ...


ecology

Bonobo diet of aquatic greens may hold clues to human evolution

The chemical language of plants depends on context
"Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, studied the ecological function of linalool in Nicotiana attenuata tobacco plants. They found the gene responsible for linalool synthesis and release which vary considerably in plants of the same species. Behavioral assays with tobacco hawkmoths in increasingly complex environments showed that the effects of linalool on the moths are quite variable, depending on the natural environment and the genetic makeup of the plant."
Love the Nicotiana / Manduca sexta ecology, as featured on the cover of my new book, due out in September!


climate change

New measurements shed light on the impact of water temperatures on glacier calving


sustainability

Insects inspire greener, cheaper membranes for desalination

Building up an appetite for a new kind of grub
"Researchers have reviewed current insect farming methods, processing technologies and commercialisation techniques, as well as current perceptions towards edible insects. Their report highlights that insects could be a key ingredient to avoiding a global food crisis but there are significant barriers to overcome before they are part of the mainstream."



Food preparation using cricket garnish and ground cricket. Photo was taken by Guiomar Melgar-Lalanne and Alan-Javier Hernández-Álvarez during an 'Insect Technological Venue' at the University of Veracruz with the Chef Mario Melgarejo
Credit: Guiomar Melgar-Lalanne and Alan-Javier Hernández-Álvarez, courtesy of Chef Mario Melgarejo


humans

UK MPs more likely to have mental health issues than general public, survey shows
not surprising, but the trouble is that the delusional ones then run for leadership roles ...



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from the news media

the arctic fox that walked from Norway to Canada



Monday, July 01, 2019

white light

Starting point for my latest feature in Chemistry & Industry was a press release from a company producing LED lights in Witney, Oxfordshire, so I took the bus up the road to find out what they are up to. Although the company HQ is in a business park out of town, I could do a bit of sightseeing from the top deck of the bus, and also got the thrill of crossing the Swinford toll bridge for the first (and second) time.

It turned out that the Witney company buys the LEDs from China and just configures the electronics around them to make sure the LEDs are happy and last longer, so there isn't any Witney-based chemistry in the feature, but I found out a few interesting things nonetheless.

My resulting feature is out now in Chemistry & Industry:

Whiter than white

Chemistry & Industry 83, No. 6, pp 30-33.

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI (appears to be open access this time!)


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

Oh and my feature is on the cover as well:




In the same issue I also have a long essay review of the book "Gravity's Century" , on page 39.


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