Sunday, June 29, 2014

lee and che

My series on Oxford buskers seems to be settling in on a monthly rhythm now. For a daily fix of street music visit my street music blog on tumblr. This month's artists are duo Lee and Che - I think she's called Cheryl in real life, so he must be Lee. They play covers of pop/country songs that are a bit less well known (at least to me), so I discover new songs every time I see them. Here they are doing their thing in Cornmarket Street (own photo):

I have a couple of street videos of them on my youtube channel:

Cover me up by Jason Isbell

For you by Angus and Julia Stone

For more info find them on Facebook.


My flickr pics of Lee and Che

Lee and Che's youtube channel


NB: Anybody wanting to join the vibrant Oxford busking scene needs a busking pass from the Oxford City Council, application details here. See also the code of practice and the map of the nine official busking spots here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

four years on flickr

as another summer solstice rolls by, it's also another anniversary for my flickr photostream. After four years on the site, I have accumulated 1415 photos, that's just under one per day, which I think is a reasonable rate. I am at no risk of exhausting the 1TB storage space, the site tells me that I'm still under 1% of capacity. So I could carry on for another 400 years.

While I'm not entirely happy with the design changes that flickr has made in the last year, the site still works well for me in terms of finding an audience that will look at my photos and occasionally provide feedback. While I would be perfectly happy to post pictures of architectural details and bumblebees all the time, the audience seems to have a weird preference for photos of human beings, so I'm also providing a few of those. Especially if the humans of Oxford engage in activities I'm interested in such as playing music or reading.

I would embed a few flickr pics here, but they tend to mess up the lovely link within app which crosslinks between my blog posts. So instead I'm offering you a screencap showing the top of my viewing charts as of today:

Visit my flickr photostream here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

phage therapy for trees and people

The use of bacteriophages as antibacterial therapeutics is an option that has been underappreciated for too long, considering the current crisis of widespread resistance to antibiotics. As I've reported three years ago, much of the ecological research into the triangular relationship between a pathogenic bacterium, its host and its phage has been carried out with plants such as the horse chestnut. This has now reached the point where experimental treatments for plant diseases can be introduced based on phage cocktails. These can also serve as models to study the promise and pitfalls of future use of phages to treat infectious diseases in humans.

My feature is out in Current Biology today:

Phage therapies for plants and people

Current Biology Volume 24, Issue 12, 16 June 2014, Pages R541–R544

Summary and restricted access to full text / pdf download

NB there has been a change of access policy so the features will no longer be on open access in the first two weeks after publication date. They will, however, become freely accessible one year after publication. If you have problems accessing a feature, please do drop me an email (michaelgrr aatt yahoo ddott co ddott uk) - I have pdf files at hand which I'll be happy to send for personal use.

A horse chestnut sapling, own photo.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

science in south america

Back in 1999 I applied for a fairly amazing job at Nature and got through to the final, meaning I had the opportunity of a long chat with the editor, telling him what I would like the the magazine and website to add to its existing strengths. One of the main things I obsessed about was that they should do more to represent and support science in Latin America. Which obviously wasn't what they wanted to do at the time, so I didn't get the job. (Click the tag "LA_ciencia" for further attempts at supporting Latin American science).

It looks like it took 15 years and a world cup to make them change their mind - the special section Science Stars of South America in the current issue looks quite comprehensive at first glance (I may have more to say on it once I've actually read it). It seems to be on open access, start your reading here.

Cover of Nature, 12.6.2014.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

how drugs became demons

In my long essay review of the book "Demons - our changing attitudes to alcohol, tobacco and drugs" by Virginia Berridge (OUP 2013), I had plenty of space to ponder the perversity of current drugs regulation, as highlighted by David Nutt and others. As for the book itself, Berridge does a very good job explaining how events from the Opium Wars onwards led to the world ending up in this particular rabbit hole. My main criticism was the author's remarkable detachment from these hotly debated issues, which can at times be infuriating. Also, as she apparently has no opinions on any of the controversial issues surrounding current drugs policies, she doesn't offer a way out of the mess either.

Anyhow, my review is out in the June issue of Chemistry & Industry, on pp 50-51. If you have any problems accessing it, drop me a note.

Friday, June 06, 2014

archaic proteins and all that Bach

In the round-up of German pieces published in May-June 2014 we have medical marijuana, curious carbohydrates, and paleo proteins, as well as intellectual giants from Johann Sebastian Bach to Dr House.

Wirkstoff THC: Marihuana-Medizin macht Ernst
Chemie in unserer Zeit Vol 48, No 3, p 163

Biochemie: Kohlenhydrate spielen Protein
Chemie in unserer Zeit Vol 48, No 3, p 167

Ausgeforscht: Kobalt im Blut
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Vol 62, No 5, p 595

Ausgeforscht: Proteinreiche Buchstabensuppe
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Vol 62, No 6, p 727

Blickpunkt Bio: Proteine aus der Urzeit des Lebens
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Vol 62, No 6, pp 632-634

Oh, and I nearly forgot, the paleo proteins made the cover of Nachrichten:

Monday, June 02, 2014

coffee and chocolate

I generally avoid writing about food, as it gets written about too much already, but if the few food types I really care about (essentially: wine, chocolate, coffee) are under threat, I have to ride to their rescue.

So here comes a feature on how climate change, financial speculation, and growth in demand may make it harder to find decent coffee and chocolate at affordable prices in the near future:

Coffee and chocolate in danger

Current Biology Volume 24, Issue 11, pR503–R506, 2 June 2014

OPEN access to full text and PDF file

own photo.

PS A few months after my feature appeared, the genome of Coffea canephora was published in Science magazine, accompanied by an excellent perspectives piece arguing that in light of the present dangers to coffee crops, researchers should urgently link up genome info with phenotype characterisation:

A wake-up call with coffee
Dani Zamir
Science 5 September 2014, vol 345, p 1124.
abstract and restricted access to full text

And I'm chuffed that the author cited my feature (even referred to it twice). It doesn't happen every day that my journalistic work gets cited in Science magazine.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

communication breakdown

les femmes du bus 678 (original title: 678)

director: Mohamed Diab
starring Nahed El Sebai, Boushra, Nelly Karim

This film based on real events in Egypt describes the intersecting lives of three women who had been exposed to sexual harassment in public (only one of them on public transport, so the French title is misleading!) and who strike back in different ways. One of them, apparently, was the plaintiff in the first-ever harassment case in the history of the country, resisted immense pressure to withdraw her accusations, and went on to win the case. Another holds self-defence lectures for other women, but gets frustrated when none of the women attending ever admits to having experienced harassment. And the third, after attending these lectures, takes to using sharp objects against the offending males.

The fourth significant person in the story is the (male) police detective who investigates the sharp object episodes. To me the most significant observation that the (male) film-maker makes about the relationships of these four people with their significant others is that in three of the four couples the communication about important issues fails completely. Incidentally, in the one couple that does communicate successfully, both partners work as stand-up comedians in their spare time. Surely that’s telling us something …

The film is, of course, very timely and important given the things we hear about not just in Egypt but everywhere else, and covers the difficult issue sensitively (as far as I can tell from the French subtitles on my DVD from France – I can’t vouch for the quality of the Arabic dialogue which I don’t understand). Not easy to watch and maybe not exactly a date movie, but worth the effort.

(IMDB entry)