Monday, November 21, 2016

forest biodiversity

the ongoing deforestation of our planet is a major crisis, but it's not only about the loss of forest area. The biodiversity is important and endangered too, and recent analyses suggest it gets too little attention. Hence my latest feature:

How can we save forest biodiversity?

Current Biology Volume 26, Issue 22, 21 November 2016, Pages R1167–R1170

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Forests with a rich mixture of species not only look more interesting, they are also more productive and can thus better protect us from climate change. (Image: Deborah Taylor.)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

the end of the world

it is the end of the world as we know it, and it may lead to the end of the world full stop. Children born this year have a theoretical life expectancy that would take them close to next century, but I'm now fairly sure that our civilisation will not survive that long. Rather than adding to the general tsunami of comment, I'll just compile a few links here, both to my own earlier articles and to recent opinion pieces that I found helpful. (last updated: 25.11.2016 - updates will appear at the top of the lists)

Mon 9.1.2017 my feature on the trumpocalypse and the post-truth world is out now.

George Monbiot: The 13 impossible crises that humanity now faces

George Monbiot: Neoliberalism: the deep story that lies beneath Donald Trump’s triumph

"Hitler's only kidding about the antisemitism" New York Times, 1922

Naomi Klein: It was the Democrats' embrace of neoliberalism that won it for Trump

Gloria Steinem: After the election of Donald Trump, we will not mourn. We will organize

Simpsons writer says President Trump episode was 'warning to US'

My features on related topics:

Will our civilisation survive this century?
Current Biology, Volume 23, Issue 23, R1017-R1020, 2 December 2013

Angry voters may turn back the clock
Current Biology Volume 26, Issue 15, pR689–R692, 8 August 2016

Cover of the first issue of Der Spiegel after the election.

Friday, November 11, 2016

lighting the future

Edison-style incandescent lamps have disappeared from the shops. The energy-saving compact lamps that replaced them are also likely to go, and are already being replaced by even more energy-efficient LED lamps. But is this the best solution, the ultimate light bulb? Will they last as long as Edison's bright idea? In my latest feature for Chemistry & Industry magazine I looked into new developments in lighting technology:

What a bright idea

Chemistry & Industry Volume 80, Issue 9, pp 22-25, DOI: 10.1002/cind.809_8.x

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Restricted access to full text and PDF download via Wiley Online Library.

an installation of lights and chemical glassware in the windows of the Wellcome Collection, London (own photo).

In the same issue on page 38-39, there is my review of the book "Bananaworld" by Jeffrey Bub (premium content).

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Australian genomes

After rapidly developing the second and third generation sequencing methods that make it feasible and indeed affordable to sequence many human genomes, research has been slow to turn to address human genetic diversity (most of which is in Africa, not between the arbitrarily defined "races") and the migrations in which our ancestors spread out around the globe. Even though extinct relatives including Neanderthal and Denisovan have had their genomes published years ago, it's only now that Australia and Papua New Guinea are receiving adequate attention. The genomes of their indigenous populations cast a unique and revealing spotlight on the history of our species.

Read all about it in my latest feature:

Out of Africa, into Australia
Current Biology Volume 26, Issue 21, 7 November 2016, Pages R1119–R1121

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Since modern humans expanded into the Australian continent some 40,000 years ago, they developed a rich landscape of cultural and linguistic diversity — until the arrival of the colonialists who failed to appreciate their ancient civilisation. (Photo: © Wayne Quilliam Photography/Yothu Yindu Foundation.)

Sunday, November 06, 2016

this old house

Now that our house has become a bit quieter, we’re doing some long-overdue repairs, and while uncovering the bricks and floorboards we’re also exploring some of its history, if only so we know who to blame if it falls down on us. Seriously though, if anybody happens to know any further details, please let me know.

The story starts in 1883, when the third batch of plots of our neighbourhood was sold to individuals for investment or development – the unique mix of many different styles still on display today is the result of this. Together with William Street, and the short stretch of Marston Road between these, this is the oldest part of New Marston. The oldest surviving buildings date to the 1880s.

On the 12th of February 1883, the Oxford Industrial and Provident Land and Building Society Ltd. sold the plot of land to Mr Harry Charles Poulter, of 59 George Street, Oxford, College Servant, for the sum of 12 pounds 10 shillings. The land is described as Lot 25, “a plot of freehold land in the parish of Marston, in the county of Oxford”. It is one of the 59 lots comprising the “No. 8 Estate”, which covers the last third of the area, most distant from the Marston Road (then the Main Road), but closest to the city. In our section, the plots are 22 foot wide, in the middle section they are the most generous at 24, and towards the Marston Road under 20. Our block is described as “coloured in blue”, but the blue has faded quite a bit in 130 years. Estates No. 6 and 7 are coloured yellow and pink, respectively. Come to think of it, it’s real life Monopoly, with blocks of properties tied together by colour.

On the same day, the plot situated back to back with ours, facing the back lane that is now Edgeway Road, which was then Lot 9 in the same batch, was sold to Frank Poulter, the younger brother of Harry Charles. Both can be found in Ancestry. Harry Charles was born in George Street Oxford, in 1850, where he still lived at the time of buying the land. He went on to marry Ellen and they had six children born between 1888 and 1900. His brother Frank was born in 1862. Their parents were Henry Poulter and Mary Ann Eaton.

On the 17th of April 1906, Mr Harry Charles Poulter (now residing at 26 Buckingham Street, Oxford) sold the plot to Miss Sarah Austin of 93 Southfield Road, Oxford for £ 19,-. The document we have on this transaction is dated 27.10.1913, obviously prepared to facilitate the onward sale now including a house.

On a map of the area dated 1910 the house is clearly shown, as well as 123 Edgeway Road, but no other houses towards the far ends of the roads:

On the 20th of November 1913, Miss Sarah Austin sold the plot to Mrs. Emma Andrews, complete with „the messuage or tenement erected thereon and now in the occupation of Thomas Austin“, along with the back-to-back plot in Edgeway Road (Lot 9), combined purchase price £ 160. In Kelly’s Directory of 1913 „Austin, Thomas, builder“ is listed as a New Marston resident without an indication of his specific address.

On 21.3.1938,Emma Andrews sold Lot 9, today known as 117 Edgeway Road, to Sidney Cooke and Harold Lisemore. On July 28th, 1940, Emma Andrews, then residing at 113 Sugworth Lane, Radley, Berkshire, died leaving her sister, Mrs. Rose Annie Timms, as well as Doris Silvester to execute her testament.

On August 9th, 1943, Rose Annie Timms, widow of Frederick Timms, 31 Culham, sold the house to Emily Gladys Maud Dore, 80 Great Clarendon Street, “spinster”, for £ 100.

On July 8th 1961, Emily Gladys Maud Dore, then resident at the house, died intestate. Her father, retired master carpenter Victor Henry Dore, was the only relative entitled to her estate and thus inherited the house, which in May 1964 he sold to the company Pristacott Developments (Towersey) Ltd., 57 High Street, Oxford, for £ 1400.

On July 27th 1964, Pristacott (now based at 43 New Inn Hall Street) obtained planning permission for an extension to create a bathroom and change the baywindow at the front. Of February 9th 1965, Pristacott obtains a more wide-ranging planning permission also including the garage: “Extension to form bathroom, porch and garage for private car”.

At least since the mid 1980s, and until his death in April 1993, the author, tutor and editor John Blackwood lived in the house. He used the garage to run a small publishing company, Charon Press, with the photographer David Collett of William Street, where they published their own books including “Oxford Gargoyles and Grotesques” (1986) and similar ones on Windsor’s gargoyles and “London’s immortals”. Being located in Ferry Road, the publishing house was named after the ferryman to the underworld of Greek mythology, who came early to pick up John Blackwood.

Open questions:

We're still unsure as to what the kitchen/bathroom arrangements may have been like before our current bathroom was built in 1964. The room plan may have been like this one. In contrast to that plan, the backside window of our dining room (kitchen in the old plan) appears to have been converted from a door, and right next to it the outside door of the kitchen(scullery) appears to be original (judging by the very Victorian brick arc at the top), but does that mean there was no internal door between dining room and kitchen?