Saturday, June 30, 2012

ecce torpet probitas

by sheer coincidence I recently stumbled upon a song from the Carmina Burana which seems to sum up this week’s scandalous events quite nicely – it’s all about how honesty lies in a coma (the title), greed rules the world, people bend the rules to get rich quick, etc. Isn’t it amazing how prescient people were in the 12th century? Or alternatively, have we fallen back to the dark ages?

Latin text below the video, Latin text with English translation here (song no. 4, on page 5).

Ecce torpet probitas,
virtus sepelitur;
fit iam parca largitas,
parcitas largitur;
verum dicit falsitas,
veritas mentitur.
Omnes iura ledunt
et ad res illicitas
licite recedunt.

Regnat avaritia,
regnant et avari;
mente quivis anxia
nititur ditari,
cum sit summa gloria
censu gloriari.
Omnes iura ledunt
et ad prava quelibet
impie recedunt.

Multum habet oneris
do das dedi dare;
verbum hoc pre ceteris
norunt ignorare
divites, quos poteris
mari comparare.
Omnes iura ledunt
et in rerum numeris
numeros excedunt

Cunctis est equaliter
insita cupido;
perit fides turpiter,
nullus fidus fido,
nec Iunoni Iupiter
nec Enee Dido.
Omnes iura ledunt
et ad mala devia
licite recedunt.

Si recte discernere
velis, non est vita,
quod sic vivit temere
gens hec imperita;
non est enim vivere,
si quis vivit ita.
Omnes iura ledunt
et fidem in opere
quolibet excedunt.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

molecular puzzles

I love rotaxanes - they are assemblies consisting of a ring loosely wrapped around a dumbbell shaped molecule, whose endgroups are so bulky that they stop the ring from escaping. They hold the same fascination as those puzzles made of chromed wire, one just can't help wondering: how on earth did that thing get around the other one? Or maybe it's just me.

Anyhow, I was pleased to hear from Oxford chemist Harry Anderson that his group and others have now succeeded in creating rotaxanes with polyynes (polyacetylenes) as the axle. Puzzles apart, such constructs are also of interest as possible molecular wires and as a first step towards a new modification of carbon. So I wrote a news story about all this, which is now out in Chemistry World:

Running rings around molecular wires

Free access.

Cartoon: Wikipedia

UPDATE (4.8.2012): you can now find the piece in this month's print edition as well, on page 33.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I miss the misery

I think I should follow up that Beethoven post with a rock video. Like Daniel Barenboim said (at least in the Hilary & Jackie movie) after jamming over the riff of You really got me: "That's how you should play Beethoven."

Anyhow, here's the new Halestorm video, enjoy:

Friday, June 22, 2012

Beethoven for cello and flute

We're currently trying to play the first movement of Beethoven's duet No. 1 (originally written for clarinet and bassoon, but we're adapting an adaptation for violin and viola). Here's the score I've prepared - all the notes are there now (I hope), but dynamics aren't quite complete yet (requires Flash -but I can email PDF file on request):

As of 2021, the Flash thing no longer works at least on my computer, but this link should take you to the score, and you can look at it without being registered with noteflight.

If you click play above, you'll get a computer-sound version - but here is how it should sound like when it's played by proper musicians.

PS: an amazing and growing list of repertoire for cello and flute is here.

PPS: We played this at the Oxford Music Festival in January 2013. The adjudicator used words like "brave" and "challenging" a lot, but we made it to the end, so I count that as a success. We're now moving on to the third movement of the same piece, which appears to be a little bit easier (hoping I can get my head round the triplets). After writing up around 40 bars, I realised that a version of Movt. 2 and 3 playable with our instruments is actually published in the book:

Duets for Violin and Violoncello for Beginners, Vol 2
(Arpad Pejtsik & Lajos Vigh, eds.)
Editio Musica Budapest Z. 14062

so we'll work with that at the moment, maybe finish the draft on noteflight later.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

flickr anniversary

Today is the second anniversary of my flickr photostream. Last year I ran a countdown of the most viewed items, but the chart looks still quite similar (viewers still seem to have an insatiable appetite for long-legged homo sapiens females, although these represent only a minority of my photos), so there's no need to repeat it. Suffice it to say that last year's number 4, showing a woman running in the park, has become the front runner by a long stretch ahead of last year's winner, and it keeps accumulating views. I have recently figured out that this is mainly due to people having fitness blogs on tumblr and similar sites, who very enthusiastically blog and reblog photos they find inspirational for their quest to get fit (see for instance one of my photos here).

As an alternative birthday celebration, I'm showing the most-commented-upon photo, which, somewhat surprisingly, shows a smurf:

painting smurf

So here's to the third year of sharing photos on flickr - still enjoying the experience very much. Do drop by if you can.

PS: my first upload

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

crowd studies

One day in March 2007, scientists put up a camera in a window overlooking Oxford's Cornmarket Street(a pedestrianised shopping street) and filmed 2822 pedestrians to find out whether or not they would follow the gaze of a stimulus individual or group standing in the street and looking up at the camera for 60 seconds.

I just love this kind of experiments and the kinds of insights they give us into human behaviour, and I may very well have unwittingly taken part in this one, as I do occasionally walk down the Cornmarket Street. Being a keen photographer, I would of course have looked up to see whether there might be something worth snapping.

Anyhow, I've written a feature article about this and similar studies of crowd behaviour, which appears in today's issue of Current Biology:

Is it wise to join the crowd?
Current Biology, Volume 22, Issue 12, R467-R470, 19 June 2012

FREE access to full text and PDF file.

st pancras people

Saturday, June 16, 2012

the world according to Royal Mail

in attempt to get my brain round the staggering price increases, I had a good look at Royal Mail's new price leaflet and found that according to them, Greenland is larger than South America:

Now I do know that applications like Google maps use the Mercator projection because it is easiest to calculate when you want to zoom in and out of maps. However, in my opinion, if you display a static map like this there is simply no excuse for using it. It distorts the relative importance of various parts of the world and is thus offensive to anybody who cares about such "small" places like Africa and South America.

The full leaflet with the offending picture is also online as a PDF file.

Monday, June 11, 2012

nanotechnology - the "lego" approach

My review of the book

Self-assembly and nanotechnology systems: Design, characterization, and applications

By Yoon S. Lee

Wiley 2012 ISBN 978-1-118-08759-6

appears in the June issue of Chemistry & Industry.

It is accessible to subscribers / members only, I'm afraid, but here's a snippet:

While the book may be too challenging for many general readers, it may turn out to be a useful resource for training postgraduate students in the field of self-assembly. Everybody who will spend their time creating new types of assembly systems for nanotechnology will need to apply some kind of logical order to this field, so it is at the front line of graduate teaching and research that the book, and more generally, Lee’s systematic approach, will have to prove its worth.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

a Belgian in the family

As I’ve mentioned before, my ancestors, who appeared to be German through and through in the 19th and 18th century, suddenly turned out to be a load of immigrants when we reached the 17th century. So far, we have found one move from Hungary, one from Italy, several from France and seven from Switzerland. I've now discovered the 16th immigration event in my family tree, which is the first one from today’s Belgium.

Linard Jacque, who later called himself Leonhard Jacob in Germany, arrived in Fachbach on the river Lahn in the 1670s. (This is very close to where the Lahn meets the river Rhine, and just a little bit upstream of Koblenz, where the Mosel joins the Rhine from the other side.) New ironworks were built there from 1671 onwards by the Mariotte family from Liege, Wallonia. That area was leading the world in metal processing technology at the time and had developed blast furnaces long before the industrial revolution came along with its steam engines. Expanding into other European countries, the Walloons brought skilled workers to the site, maybe from places in Wallonia where they had other ironworks. This also happened in Fachbach, where there is a marked influx of people with French names including also Jacquemot, Grisar, Permantier (from France, though), and others.

Historic painting of the Nieverner Hütte, from Wikipedia.

One family that seems to have been closely linked with my ancestors, judging by the mutual services as godparents and marriage witnesses, is the Grisar (Grisard, Grysar, Krisar) lineage, coming from Yvoir near Namur, and in previous generations from Sauheid near Liege. One might speculate that the Jacque family came from the same place and the families knew each other before they arrived in Germany, but I also found a source saying that recruiters working for the Mariotte family came to the town of Theux near Liege, so they may have just scoured the region for skilled workers in which case it would be quite hopeless to try and find the departure region of my Belgian ancestor.

Under the name of Jacob, his descendents did reasonably well in Fachbach, to the extent that in the mid 18th century there are two males called Johann Jacob who are the same generation but I’m not sure which belongs to my branch of the family (Leonhard Jacob junior) and which to Leonhard’s brother Wericus Jacob.

In any case, my lineage only stayed there for four generations, as Leonhard junior’s grandson, Philipp de la Strada, moved to Krefeld to work in the textile industry there and left lots of descendants.

Additional sources:

L'évolution des sciences et des techniques en Wallonie - (1995) by Robert Halleux et al. (Intriguingly, this source mentions that Ottavio Strada was involved in the Wallonian ironworks industries, he was granted a patent in Liege.)

genealogy of the Grisar family by Gerhard Hufnagel

Patrimoine - Les industries sidérurgiques de la basse ourthe (about ironworks in Sauheid near Liege)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

rio plus 20

In two weeks time, Rio de Janeiro will host another "Earth Summit" commemorating the 20th anniversary of the original one, where many of the environmental problems which we're still worried about were on the agenda. Mainly, the original Earth Summit led to a whole flood of further meetings and multilateral agreements, but there has been only very limited success in terms of making our use of natural resources more sustainable.

Rio+20 is a good point to take stock and check what has and what hasn't worked, and how to design and implement measures that will work and save our planet from our own activities.

I've written a feature about all this, which is out today in Current Biology and freely accessible to all (NB: my features remain on free access only until the next issue appears, i.e. normally 2 weeks, sometimes 3, and they return to free access a year after publication) ).

Will Rio+20 find a way to more sustainable development?
Current Biology, Volume 22, Issue 11, R425-R428, 5 June 2012

HTML text

pdf file

Photo: Denise Mayumi via Wikipedia

PS come to think of it, isn't it scary how all those celebrations from jubilee beacons to the olympic torch tend to take the shape of pointlessly combusting additional fossil fuels on top of the already unsustainable level that we're burning for energy and transport?

Monday, June 04, 2012

the dream of the celt

review of

The Dream of the Celt
by Mario Vargas Llosa
Faber and Faber (7 Jun 2012)
ISBN-10: 0571275710
ISBN-13: 978-0571275717

This fictionalised biography of Roger Casement should be one story, as it is the story of one man’s life, but strangely it feels like two stories glued together that don’t really fit. First there is the story of the man who successfully exposed the cruelty of colonialism in the Congo and in Peru in the late 19th and early 20th century. Especially in the latter episode, where the sheer greed of the (London-based) rubber company fuels a culture of violence and torture against the indigenous workers who harvest the caoutchouc, the theme of corporate responsibility chimes very nicely with today’s concerns, and Casement emerges as an undisputed hero. As a dramatic historical development with interesting characters, exotic locations and clear relevance for today’s world, this would have made a very nice book on its own, either as a factual or as a fictionalised work.

The other story is Casement’s role in the much messier business of Ireland’s struggle for independence, culminating in the Easter uprising of 1916. Here he joins the more radical camp of those who don’t believe in the promise of autonomy and go for full independence, even if it takes armed conflict to achieve it. Even more controversially, at the beginning of World War I, he tries to forge an alliance with Germany. In the end, however, he wavers and wants to call off the uprising, while a shipload of weapons from Germany is already on its way and cannot be contacted. Under circumstances that are still debated, the arms delivery finds no recipients at the arranged rendez-vous, Casement gets arrested, and the uprising fails. He is sentenced to death, and his appeal is quashed amid the revelation of homosexual adventures detailed in his “black diaries.”

Vargas Llosa tells the whole life story in long flashbacks remembered by Casement in his final days in Pentonville prison. On the highly controversial issue of the diaries, he assumes that they are genuinely Casement’s writing, but that some of the events recorded are imaginative extrapolations of more innocuous beginnings, rather than precise records of a steamy (and at that time illegal) love life.

I mainly read the book because of the Irish part of the story (as a cousin of my great-grandfather was second officer on the Aud (Libau), which successfully broke the sea blockade but failed to find a recipient for those weapons), but found that part of the book less engaging than the Congo and Peru story. I wasn’t getting much of a sense of place of Ireland, or a sense of why Casement became so obsessively nationalistic. I understand why Vargas Llosas, coming from Peru, wants to tie in the Irish story along with the history that is closer to home for him, but maybe – memo for anyone who wants to make a film out of this – I might have focused on the colonial locations a bit more, covering only as much of the Irish tragedy as is necessary to explain his fall from grace and ultimate execution.

PS The original (El sueño del Celta) came out in November 2010, I can't think why it took the UK publishers more than 18 months to bring out a translation???

Friday, June 01, 2012

roundup of German pieces

My articles published in German this month include one about protein structure prediction, one about flu viruses, and a tongue-in-cheek appreciation of kitchen experiments.

Spektrum der Wissenschaft Nr 6, S. 18-20
Proteinstrukturen vorhersagen – dank Verwandtschaftsbeziehungen

Die dreidimensionale Struktur eines Proteins ist durch die Abfolge der einzelnen Aminosäuren eindeutig festgelegt. Trotzdem fällt es Forschern immer noch schwer, sie zu berechnen. Vergleiche zwischen verwandten Eiweißstoffen können helfen.
beginning of the text and limited access to PDF file

Nachrichten aus der Chemie Bd. 60, Nr 6, S. 632
Experimentierkunst in der Küche

Nachrichten aus der Chemie Bd. 60, Nr 6, S. 654-655
Globale Grippegefahr

PS: nearly forgot:

Chemie in unserer Zeit 46, 134
Alzheimer-Demenz: Amyloid-Plaques - wie sie entstehen und wie man sie wieder los wird