Tuesday, August 21, 2012

ant orientation

In a feature that was a bit off the beaten track for me, I've covered the orientation of desert ants, which can make use of a wide range of tools from step counter to vibration sensing. One of the interesting questions in the field is how the ants compute the information coming from their various navigation tools and how they eventually decide where to go.

My feature is out in Current Biology today:

How ants find their way
Current Biology, Volume 22, Issue 16, R615-R618, 21 August 2012

Read the story in HTML and PDF format.

(free access)

Photo: Kathrin Steck.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

¡no pasarán!

Loving this week's SPIEGEL cover showing Pussy Riot member Nadyezhda Tolokonnikova sporting a ¡No pasarán! T-shirt.

Der Spiegel, issue 33/2012

That brings back so many memories of Nicaragua solidarity events and all that :)

Those who "will not get through" according to the use of the slogan at the time, were of course the Contra - right-wing insurgents (as we like to say today) enthusiastically supported by that nice Mr Reagan. Earlier uses of the phrase include Spanish Civil War, says Wikipedia.

Monday, August 13, 2012

DNA origami

My essay review of the book

Materials Science of DNA

Jung-Il Jin and James Grote, eds., CRC Press 2012, ISBN 978-1439827413

appears in the August issue of Chemistry & Industry on page 51. It is premium content, but here's a little snippet:

All in all the book is accessible enough to serve a broad interdisciplinary field, so it can equally be recommended to biologists who want to branch out into nanotechnology and to materials scientists and nanotechnologists who consider adding DNA to their repertoire of nanoscale building materials. Even for those a bit further remote from it, this area is definitely one to watch.


PS: If you're reading the magazine and have tried to figure out the connection between the picture and the review - there isn't one. Due an error, a completely unrelated (but nice) picture was printed with the review.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

life is a mad circus

Review of (or, rather, a first attempt at figuring out):

Balada triste de trompeta (The last circus), Spain 2010, Alex de la Iglesia

based on DVD imported from France, as film was not released in UK.

I love Alex de la Iglesia’s knack for absurdity, and I don’t normally mind his over-the-top violence too much, as it is clearly described as absurd, so it’s just actors messing about with ketchup, as far as I’m concerned. So I do make an effort to get to see his films, even if it's sometimes tricky around here.

I suppose this one is about trauma handed down from the generation of the Spanish civil war to the next one, along with cultural traditions and the jobs of circus performers. Very normal in one way, but also completely pointless once you start to question it. As in the previous films I saw, there were lots of absurd details I liked in this film too, but I was somehow missing a positive element to balance it out. As the only female protagonist is variously beaten by one clown and kidnapped by another (just like in real life, come to think of it), I was missing a positive character, like the prostitute in 800 balas. The only relief we're getting here is the realisation that our real lives aren't quite as mad as the mad circus shown here.

Still no reason to censor it, as de la Iglesia clearly has meaningful things to say, even if he expresses them in unusual ways. For instance, the satirical depiction of Franco and his people will have been more meaningful for the domestic (and older) audience than for a foreign observer of post-Franco Spain like me. I'm looking forward to seeing what he will (one day) make of the absurdities of the current economic disaster that has befallen Spain.

I was intrigued to see the film uses a Spanish version of Je l’aime à mourir, by Francis Cabrel – wondering whether that’s what inspired Shakira to use it in the concert for the Live from Paris DVD. The film was released in Spain on December 17th, 2010, and the song showed up in the Paris concerts of June 13th and 14th 2011. You do the maths.

cover of the French DVD, which I ordered from amazon.fr. It doesn't have English subtitles though. There is a US edition available as region 1 DVD, under the title "The Last Circus"

Friday, August 10, 2012

both of us

I loved B.O.B.'s airplanes (with Hayley Williams) at the time, but that could have been a one-off. Now he's done it again, with Taylor Swift:

Oh, and price tag, with Jessie J, was good too. So, conclusion (and memo to Shakira) B.O.B. is the man to duet with ... seems a much nicer guy than that pitbull person.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

mysteries of diatoms

I have covered the research relating to the silica shells of diatoms - their morphogenesis and use in bio-nanotechnology - for many years, but have now for the first time taken a look at the wider context of diatom biology and its links to climate change and other earth systems. The resulting epic feature article is out in today's issue of Current Biology:

Current Biology, Volume 22, Issue 15, R581-R585, 7 August 2012 doi:10.1016/j.cub.2012.07.041

HTML text Free access to PDF file (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)

photo: Wikipedia