Sunday, December 30, 2018

the dancers will fall over

As in 2017, most of the excitement and progress this year was to be had on the musical front. The ships of global and UK politics may be sinking fast, but the orchestra keeps playing.

Speaking of which, the orchestra where I play wrong notes on the cello hasn’t kicked me out yet, and I still crawl through the flute repertoire at a snail’s pace. And I continue to run the administrative side of the Galician Session Oxford, a role which I unexpectedly inherited in the summer of 2017. As some of the more experienced participants are leaving or have already left town, I will increasingly also be in charge of the musical leadership. Scary thought, I may have to put in some extra practice.

After six years and six months, the session lost its long-established home at the James Street Tavern at the end of November. We had one very lovely session at the Port Mahon in St. Clement’s, but are still waiting to hear if this will become a permanent solution.

Along with the Galician, the French and Scandinavian sessions also had to move in December. On the plus side, the move to a venue with a better dance floor attracted the attention of the local dance crowd which used each of the sessions to celebrate a “bal minuscule”. Videos of each of the miniature bals are here.

If I’m still a bit panicky about playing for dancers, it must be because I heard my children’s instrument teachers saying many times: “If you do this, the dancers will fall over.” I can’t quite remember what terrible mistake it was that led to this reaction, or maybe there were different kinds, and I’m sure I’m prone to make every conceivable rhythmic mistake, but luckily, so far, no dancer has fallen over.

Another opportunity to learn about playing for dancers was the very interesting workshop held in October by the ensemble Rigodons et Traditions from Grenoble who exchange visits with Oxford Fiddle Group every few years. Under their very professional leadership we even played for a whole village hall full of dancers. Imagine doing the wrong thing and 100+ people falling over. Now that would look very impressive.

Other new challenges this year included the arrival of a new but vintage (made in GDR) tenor sax, which is surprisingly easy in the fingerings – just a turbo charged flute with the exhaust sawn off, if you excuse a motor metaphor. I find it very satisfying in terms of energy efficiency as well – little effort gives a huge sound. Concern for my lips and the neighbours severely limits the practice times, however, so it will be a while before I can toot my horn in public.

Also new in the collection is an alto recorder – again very easy under the fingers, and I guess the transposition is something one gets used to. In cello terms, everything sounds one string down, so you have a C where you expect the G, and a G where you’d normally have a D. Just give me a few years and I'll get my head round that.

Other opportunities to play wrong notes in public included the first run of the “unusual instruments” class at the Oxford Music Festival (with our highly unusual home-built hammered dulcimer), my second theremin workshop and my second Misa Campesina, a few jam sessions with local band Mad Flamenco, as well as the amazing Folk Weekend Oxford. In July, the visit of the despicable Mr Drumpf to Blenheim Palace offered a welcome opportunity to improve my bugle skills, especially the fortissimo. Subtlety and nuance weren’t really required on that occasion. Previously I had tried the bugle at the London WNBR but cycling and tooting simultaneously doesn’t quite work yet.

So here's to more noise in 2019 ...

PS I forgot to mention: the Guardian asked readers what they do to escape / bypass / fight capitalism, so I sang the praise of folk sessions as free entertainment, pretty far down on this page.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

celtic connections

First thoughts on

La hermandad de los celtas
by Carlos Núñez
Espasa 2018

To those of us obsessing over Galician folk music, Carlos Núñez is a massive star – even if this ecological niche isn’t quite big enough to enable him (or anybody else) to lead a proper rock star life. We’ve had the rather amazing privilege of welcoming him to a special edition of our Galician session here last year, a truly unforgettable experience.

So of course I didn’t want to miss his debut book publication, especially not as it is about Celtic (including Galician) music and culture. Actually, preparations for his book were what brought him to Oxford back in May 2017, where he spoke to archaeologist Barry Cunliffe (who, as it happens, also has a new edition of his book on the Celts out this year). But I was also a bit anxious, wondering how he would be as a writer.

The good news is that he writes beautifully. The sentences sing, you can feel his musical talents in the way he writes them. So, as long as you’re caught in the moment, it’s great fun to read him, and it’s entertaining in the same way as it would be to chat to him or indeed to jam with him.

The trouble starts when you’ve read a few dozen pages and you try to get an organised kind of concept of what you’ve just learned. Unfortunately, you don’t get much help with that. There is no index, and the structure within each of the lengthy chapters isn’t really obvious if it exists. In a very conversational manner, Núñez recalls who he talked to, on what occasions, and reminisces about other influences that shaped his musical life or informed his foray into the wider Celtic cultural history. The typical connection between two items is “This reminds me of… “ While this may be absolutely true, it is not much help for the reader who wants to come away with a bit of structured knowledge, rather than just with the fuzzy feeling of having had a nice chat.

So, in an attempt at helping my poor old memory, I took some notes in the first half of the book (which is quite long enough to count as a book in its own right, so I am now having a break before I tackle the second half). Here are a few of the amazing but sadly disorganised bits and pieces that I noted:

* There is generally a lack of actual archaeological finds of musical instruments of the ancient Celts. The carnyx (war trumpet with animal-shaped head towering high above the player, as featured eg in Asterix), of which a nearly complete example was found at Deskford, and which you can now buy as a reconstruction, is a notable exception.

* Benjamin Franklin wrote about Scottish music. I can’t find it at GoodReads, must be an essay filed under Miscellaneous Writings? References in the book would have helped with this kind of thing.

* Marie Antoinette played the hurdy-gurdy. He just mentions that in passing, as something everybody is supposed to know, and as I didn’t, I looked it up. Apparently this was the tail-end of a wave of folk music being fashionable at the court of Versailles, which started under Louis XIV and ended within the reign of Louis XVI, so supposedly Marie-Antoinette also put away her gurdy at one point.

* To the same folk wave we also owe the musette de cour – a gentrified variant of the bagpipes. Nicolas Chédeville wrote the sonatas Il pastor fido for this instrument. Wrongly attributed to Vivaldi at one point, they are today part of the repertoire for flute and recorders.

* Music from Celtic traditions was considered primitive in the 18th century partly because it was rarely written down, and if at all, it was written just as a melody line, with harmonies left out. (See also: Bach’s cello suites. It took a Casals to convince the world that they are more than just finger exercises.)

* The fact that Welsh is today the most widely spoken Celtic language can in part be attributed to the popularity of Welsh male voice choirs. These, in turn, were created and supported in a bid to keep miners away from the booze.

* Galileo’s father wrote about the Irish harp. How random is that?

* Speaking of which, the oral tradition of harpers in Ireland (such as eg Turlough O’Carolan, 1670-1738) died out in the 19th century. The reason we know their music at all is that at the last of their regular reunions, which took place in Belfast in 1792, the organist of St. Anne’s Cathedral, Edward Bunting, wrote down some of the tunes they played. (Just a couple of weeks after reading that, I accidentally discovered an LP with this music in our house, recorded by Gráinne Yeats in 1980.)

* Post 1066 Norman rulers used the Arthurian legends to bond with the Celts against the Anglosaxons, which explains why Richard Lionheart had Breton harps playing at his wedding. (Plus lots more stuff about the Arthurian legends, and their various echoes in different parts of Europe.)

The take-home message is that everything in the history of the universe has some sort of Celtic connection. I love all these unexpected cross-links through history and across Europe (in the second half, Núñez also covers the Celtic diaspora around the world, so the connections will become global).

But what I really would have needed would be a set of maps with some arrows to reflect all these intercultural connections, some references and a very good index … Part of which would have been the task of the publishers, not the author, so this omission doesn’t diminish the author’s achievement. It just makes it less accessible to us mere mortals.

He repeatedly stresses his own lack of scientific expertise and says that he dreams of bringing the academic experts in the relevant fields together to one meeting and get them to sort it all out. Seeing that for this book he seems to have spoken personally to everybody who is anybody in any field related to Celtic archaeology, history, culture or music, I don’t quite see what’s stopping him from having that meeting next month.

the cover wants to be appreciated in fully unfolded form ...
The photo was taken, as he mentions on page 52, at the beach of Honón, with the Cies islands in the background. Stone monuments in this location are allegedly linked to the legend of Breoghan, and thus to everything else in the book.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Chagall vs La Fontaine

A lovely antiquarian book I bought recently at the antiques fair in Gloucester Green combines the fables of La Fontaine with illustrations by Chagall. Until discovering the book there I didn't even know these pictures existed.

Some random examples of the presentation of text and images inside the book:

Not terribly antiquarian though - sells an edition from 2003 that has the same cover.

Monday, December 24, 2018

emerging whale songs

Open Archive Day

My features in Current Biology emerge from behind the pay wall one year after publication, which means that all those published in 2017 are now in the Open Archive.

On the Mondays between the publication dates of new features, I tend to highlight one feature from the open archives. The last one in the series this year is about how whales learn new tunes, which happens to be quite similar to the way folk musicians learn new tunes, so it enabled me to make an unexpected connection between the behaviours of whales and humans:

Cultured cetaceans

New discoveries on the musicality of marine mammals come out fairly regularly, and one paper quite close to the subject of the feature came out just last month, see the press release here.

I used a picture of a humpback whale when the feature came out, so for balance, here's one of humans sharing their tunes:

(French/Breton session Oxford, Dec. 2018, own photo)

Friday, December 21, 2018

science news 21.12.2018

Today's round-up of science stories. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert. I include quotes from the summary in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about:


Australian study into how seals react to boats prompts new ecotourism regulations


Health checkups for alpine lakes

Climate change is putting wildlife at risk in the world's oldest lake
- specifically this is about diatoms in Lake Baikal


Newborn insects trapped in amber show first evidence of how to crack an egg

Hidden cradle of early plant evolution discovered in the Middle East
Several new plant fossils from present-day Jordan push back the ages of important seed plant lineages, suggesting these lineages survived the mass extinction event at the end of the Permian.

The idiosyncratic mammalian diversification after extinction of the dinosaurs

Spectacular flying reptiles soared over Britain's tropical Jurassic past

life on the edge

Himalayan marmot genome offers clues to life at extremely high altitudes

Image: Yuanqing Tao


Researchers make world's smallest tic-tac-toe game board with DNA

Quantum Maxwell's demon 'teleports' entropy out of a qubit
I find it slightly worrying when thought experiments spring to life. Soon they'll be breeding Schroedinger's cats :)

plant science

Genetic study reveals how citrus became the Med's favorite squeeze
Genetic detective work has illuminated the important role of Jewish culture in the widespread adoption of citrus fruit by early Mediterranean societies.


Network orchestration: SLU researcher uses music to manage networks
sounds interesting.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

science news 20.12.2018

Today's round-up of science stories. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert. I include quotes from the summary in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about:


Sapphires and rubies in the sky
Researchers at the Universities of Zurich and Cambridge have discovered a new, exotic class of planets outside our solar system. These so-called super-Earths were formed at high temperatures close to their host star and contain high quantities of calcium, aluminium and their oxides -- including sapphire and ruby.

How does your garden grow in space?


Marmoset monkeys expect the melody's closing tone

Groups of pilot whales have their own dialects

biomimetics & robotics

Growing bio-inspired shapes with hundreds of tiny robots

3D-printed robot hand plays the piano - badly
I'm not impressed. Go to the museum of musical automata at Bruchsal, Germany, to see more advanced robotic music making dating from the 19th century ...


Singapore researchers develop gold-complexed ferrocenyl phosphines as potent antimalarials

Bacterial protein could help find materials for your next smartphone, specifically: lanthanides
See also my recent feature on microbial mining helpers.


Loss of forest intactness increases extinction risk in birds


Plastic waste disintegrates into nanoparticles, study finds

Loss of intertidal ecosystem exposes coastal communities


Scientists discover over 450 fossilized millipedes in 100-million-year-old amber

(Photo: Thomas Wesener)

gene technology

Rabbit gene helps houseplant detoxify indoor air
I made fun of GM house plants earlier this year in my column in Nachrichten (ref. to follow).


Returning indigenous remains to their ancestral lands, thanks to ancient DNA
A similar deal was struck re. Spirit Cave mummy, see my feature on ancient americans, out this week.

seasonal science

Snowed in: Wolves stay put when it's snowing, study shows


in the papers:

How can I remove Google from my life? (just had to have this link on my blogspot - I also share all the facebook scandals on facebook)

Can folk music save the bees? asks the Guardian.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

science news 19.12.2018

Today's round-up of science stories. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert. I include quotes from the summary in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about:

astrobiology & astronomy

Space telescope detects water in a number of asteroids


Dive-bombing for love: Male hummingbirds dazzle females with a highly synchronized display

Photo by Noah Whiteman, University of California, Berkeley

climate & environment

A new model of ice friction helps scientists understand how glaciers flow

ecology & conservation

Red wolf DNA found in mysterious Texas canines

Recruiting ants to fight weeds on the farm


Researchers find gender separation affects sense of smell - in mice

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

science news 18.12.2018

As tumblr is going dark, I need a new system to simultaneously share and archive the science news items that I pick up in my daily filter-feeding (in addition to twitter, which is good on the sharing but not so good on the archiving side). I'm thinking about one blogspot post each day (Tue-Sat) collecting the press releases I have highlighted that day. (In theory, the sharing options on EurekAlert would make it easy to create one blog post for every PR, but I don't want to swamp the blog tumblr-style.) So here's the test run for a daily collection, aiming to include quotes from the summary in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about:

astrobiology / astronomy

NASA research reveals Saturn is losing its rings at 'worst-case-scenario' rate

Discovered: The most-distant solar system object ever observed

Alien imposters: Planets with oxygen don't necessarily have life

Narrowing the universe in the search for life

bio-inspired tech

Digital wood produced with 3D printing

climate & environment

The full story on climate change requires the long view

Researchers offer a new calculation that provides the long view of what nine different world regions have contributed to climate change since 1900. They also show how that breakdown will likely look by 2100 under various emission scenarios.

Climate change leading to water shortage in Andes, Himalayas

Warning over deep-sea 'gold rush'


Conservation success depends on habits and history

The ghosts of harvesting can haunt today's conservation efforts. Conserving or overharvesting a renewable resource like fish or other wildlife is often determined by habits and past decisions, according to a Rutgers-led study that challenges conventional expectations that the collapse of fast-growing natural resources is unlikely.


New discovery pushes origin of feathers back by 70 million years

'Treasure trove' of dinosaur footprints found in southern England


Passive exposure alone can enhance the learning of foreign speech sounds

Ability to understand and subsequently speak a new language requires the ability to accurately discriminate speech sounds of a given language. When we start to learn a new language the differences between speech sounds can be very difficult to perceive. With enough active practice the ability to discriminate the speech sounds enhances.


Moebius kaleidocycles: Sensational structures with potential applications

Monday, December 17, 2018

the first Americans

Very exciting findings have emerged recently from ancient DNA studies of dozens of ancient Americans, giving a much more detailed picture of the remarkable migrations across all climate zones from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

I've covered this in my last feature to be published this year, which is out now:

Ancient genomes of the Americas

Current Biology Volume 28, Issue 24, 17 December 2018, Pages R1365-R1368

FREE access to full text and PDF download

Archaeological evidence of the Clovis culture is widespread in North America. Genome analysis now suggests that people related to Clovis also lived as far south as Brazil. (Image: Reproduced with permission from Peter A. Bostrom.)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

the naked ape

As tumblr is probably going the way of MySpace after Monday's purge, I am thinking of ways of transfering some of my activities there to blogspot. The easiest part will be the "old books" tag, as I already have the "antiquarian" tag here, so expect to find photos of old books (from my shelves or observed in the wild) here more often.

To begin with, here are some reflections on naked apes:

I’ve had the German copy of Desmond Morris’s classic pop science book for decades (print run dated 1978), but just this October I discovered the English paperback with a similar but different design (printed 1969):

Assuming that the English cover design was there first, it is interesting to look at what the German publishers changed. They kept most of the chimp and the general idea, but swapped the chimp’s head and the humans, who were replaced with blonder versions. Note also the only skin contact in the English cover is man to chimp, while the German version allows skin contact between humans.

I could marvel at this pair forever … come to think of it, I’ll go looking for other language editions using a similar picture, watch this space.

Update: here we go - first, from Wikipedia, a picture of the author with a 1969 Dutch edition using the same photo as my German edition (but more than one ape):

And here are four editions I found with similar pictures, in Dutch, Finnish, French and Italian:

Thursday, December 13, 2018

free the nipple

Tumblr is set to implement its nipple ban on Monday 17th, and the petition against it is about to pass the 500,000 signatures target today, but I fear the ridiculous ban will go ahead. Even though the censorship AI is still pretty clueless about what may be art, what a political statement, or humour, or indeed porn.

As a few of us are indulging in throwing around all the nipples we can find, I am using this blog post to collect a few topless discoveries worth keeping after the shutters come down.

👀 The Swedish pop singer/songwriter Tove Lo, I learned this week, is not only a great advocate of body positivity but also prone to drop her top during her shows, especially during the song Talking body.

Tove Lo - Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson

The longest exposure times I found on youtube (some serious research going into these blog entries!) are in the videos from the Lollapalooza 2017 Chicago (views from thefront and side of the stage are available) and at Emo's in Austin, Texas, also 2017. Stop press: just found her Glastonbury gig, where her top essentially consists of glitterpaint handprints. Everything else pales in comparison.

Funnily enough, the tumblr AI hasn't flagged these videos yet. I like to think that with all the furious posting that's happened in response to the ban, the AI has been kept so busy it didn't have time to watch videos.

👀 The Outdoor Co-Ed Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society (OCTPFAS). Hope I got that name right. Making generous use of the fact that in New York going topless is legal for all genders due to equality laws, the OCTPFAS engaged in public activities and have created a huge amount of photos that were everywhere on tumblr, but are bound to disappear. In 2016 they performed Shakespeare's The Tempest outdoors and with not very many costumes. Follow their amazing Wordpress blog.

👀 Naked yoga - I never quite saw the point of yoga, but since tumblr told me that you can do it without clothes, it makes a lot more sense to me.

Some photographers who used to share work on tumblr and are now to be found elsewhere:

👀 Giovanni Pasini
👀 Tom Sutherland
👀 Yoram Roth
👀 Mr Chill

Some of the many freelance models presenting amazing work on tumblr:
👀 Roarie Yum
👀 Kelsey Dylan
👀 Trish Davis
👀 Sekaa
👀 Mona Poses

Articles about the tumblr purge and alternatives:

👀 This article in the Daily Dot discusses twitter, patreon, mastodon and pillowfort as alternatives.


Updates / additions

Articles about the state of nipple freedom

👀 Rhiannon Lucy Coslett about the state of topless sunbathing in summer 2019.

Monday, December 10, 2018

reading the riots

Open Archive Day

As I usually watch the news on the French international channel TV5monde (now broadcasting online in the UK), I've seen a lot more rioting in the last few weeks than I would ever want to, and I'm none the wiser as to what it actually wants to achieve. Time to reflect and re-read the feature I wrote after the August 2011 riots in London:

Why do people riot?

Champs Elysees, 24.11.2018

Image source: Wikipedia

Sunday, December 09, 2018

tumblr purge

It's a very sad moment for all of us who have loved tumblr over the last years, as the site will cease to exist in the form we knew from Monday 17th of December, also known as Black Monday. The site's unique selling point so far has been its complete openness to all things that humans obsess about, from a broad range of sexual flavours to popular culture fandoms and even hard science. It was also famous as a safe space for discussing mental health issues.

I've used tumblr since 2011, and identified my main account there as a book blog since September 2013. These years have been very educational, and I have written several features that were inspired by things I learned on tumblr (eg: online cultures; sharks)

From the 17th, the site will follow the lead of facebook and instagram and ban all things that could be vaguely seen as erotic, including, most notoriously, what the new user guidelines describe as "female-presenting nipples". Needless to say I'll be mostly blogging female-presenting nipples for the remainder of the time.

I really don't think the site can survive the exodus that is bound to happen. Nearly half a million people have signed the petition against the ban already. If they leave tumblr, the nature of networks says they will take others with them, so there will be millions of users missing. And tumblr will be left with Harry Potter fanfiction and nazis (because they, strangely, don't seem to be offensive to the new management).

While the tumblr AI is learning how to enact the purge, new posts allegedly violating the policy get flagged with a red bar at the top. Yesterday I shared a story about this from the guardian on tumblr. It got flagged immediately:

It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. (Oh, and by the way, I have suggested to my followers not to challenge the ridiculous flagging decisions. It's not in our interest to help the company improve its censorship AI.)

Other articles about the purge and its likely reasons (Apple emerges as a likely culprit in this story):

When Tumblr bans porn, who loses?
Verizon is leaving the engine of internet culture to sputter and die, and its communities to scramble for a new home.
Kaitlyn Tiffany

Tumblr's Porn Ban Reveals Who Controls What We See Online
Paris Martineau

Tumblr is banning adult content. It’s about so much more than porn.
Tumblr’s adult content ban is already harming the site’s vibrant community.
Aja Romano

Images of Jesus and superheroes caught up in Tumblr porn ban
Alex Hern

And one in French from France Culture:
Tumblr et le porno - Quand le capital dicte la morale

Monday, December 03, 2018

minerals and microbes

Microbes have been around on this planet for close to four billion years, so in their own unconscious, unicellular way, they know a thing or two about how to handle its minerals, and even how to produce new ones.

Our flawed human efforts to access the planet's resources have produced a lot of collateral damage, pollution and waste. So we should consider learning from microbes about mining, producing materials and recycling them. Which is the topic of my latest feature, out today:

Mining the mineral microbiome

Current Biology Volume 28, Issue 23, 03 Dcember 2018, Pages R1325-R1328

FREE access to full text and PDF download

Copper occurs naturally in a variety of chemical modifications. In this piece of rock it occurs in the minerals azurite and malachite as well as in metallic form. (Image: Parent Géry via

Sunday, December 02, 2018

back to Basque roots

Three years after Ma ma, Julio Medem has a new film out (in Spain), so I am building up excitement. From the trailer and the reviews in the Spanish press it looks like a welcome return to the cryptic complexity of his early films based in the Basque country, such a Vacas and Tierra, which I haven't really understood to this day ...

It's called El árbol de la sangre (The tree of blood), and here is what I could find about it:


Julio Medem returns to his origins, says Milagros Martín-Lunas in El Independiente.

Old style Medem with the brakes taken off, says John Tones.

A compendium of his themes and obsessions, says Manuel Lombardo in the Diario de Sevilla.

My guess is that it will not be shown in UK cinemas, but watch this space!

Monday, November 26, 2018

no contact rules

Open Archive Day

There were press reports last week of a "missionary" (shouldn't that job title be banned in the 21st century?) trying to visit the small population of the North Sentinel Island in the South Pacific, who found a sticky end in a hail of arrows. (See Michael Safi's reports in the Guardian on the event, his motivations, and the aftermath. Update 30.11.2018, here's another one)

This reminded me of a feature I wrote on uncontacted tribes back in 2015, defending their right to remain uncontacted, swiftly drawing criticism from academics who were at the time arguing in support of contacting efforts, along the lines of "if only they knew all the benefits of our civilisation, they would want to be contacted". Well I have lived long enough to know the benefits of our civilisation and I have my doubts about that line of argument.

Anyhow. Here is my 2015 piece which that idiotic "missionary" clearly hadn't read:

How to protect the last free-living humans

North Sentinel Island (wikipedia)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

urban mining

Urban mining sounds like a really cool trend, and it probably is one, too. Why dig up the ground in search for diminishing mineral resources, when all we need is contained in the waste we discard every day? Recycling and reuse was yesterday, in the future we call it the urban mine.

Inspired by the Urban Mine Platform which lists the mindboggling amounts of metals that go to waste in Europe, I wrote a feature which came out in C&I a couple of months ago, I just forgot to shout about it (probably because the issue wasn't yet online when I checked and then I forgot about it). Anyhow, it's all online now, and if you can't get to it, drop me a line, I have the PDF file:

Urban mining

Chemistry & Industry 82, No. 7, pp 22-25.

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI (members only)

Here's a sneaky peek at the first page:

Monday, November 19, 2018

vanishing wildlife

Mammals are generally getting preferential treatment in conservation efforts, especially if they have big eyes and fluffy fur, but they are still on track to lose significant diversity in the ongoing, man-made sixth mass extinction. Among various items of bad news from the extinction front, there was one paper recently that analysed how long it would take for mammals to recover their biodiversity. I used this as a peg for a feature on mammal conservation and extinction, which is out now:

Can vanishing wildlife evolve back?

Current Biology
Volume 28, Issue 22, 19 November 2018, Pages R1283-R1286

FREE access to full text and PDF download

The Tasmanian tiger is one of the mammalian species that suffered severe range reductions as humans spread around the planet. It finally became extinct at the beginning of the 20th century. (Photo: Osado/Wikimedia Commons.)

Saturday, November 17, 2018

all about energy

In the latest issue of C&I (issue 9) you'll find four book reviews including two long essay reviews from me, both relating to energy use, by cells and by humans, respectively. Both books cover very exciting and important material, but don't do much to make it accessible to a broader range of people who really should know about these things.

The books are:

Low Carbon Energy Transitions by Kathleen M. Araujo (Oxford University Press 2018)
review on page 38


Photosynthesis and bioenergetics by J. Barber, A.V. Ruban, eds. (World Scientific 2018)
page 40

Araujo covers the decarbonising and surprisingly swift energy transitions in Brazil (biofuel), France (nuclear), Iceland (geothermal) and Denmark (wind).

Meanwhile, the monograph by Barber and Ruban rounds up research around life's most important energy systems, ATP synthase and photosystem II.

Reviews can be accessed via the C&I website or through the Wiley Online Library. Both options are limited to institutional / subscriber / member access, but I'll be happy to email PDFs if you email me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

living on an island

Open Archive Day

As a certain Brexit secretary in the UK government seems to have realised only recently, this country is located on a group of islands, aka the British Isles. Islands are defined by their small size and surrounding waters, and their biology can be quite peculiar, as Darwin noticed when he visited the Galapagos archipelago.

Island biogeography has very successfully uncovered the rules that apply to life on islands. Intriguingly, they also apply to all sorts of other isolated locations, including, for instance, those under the water. Last year I wrote a feature on island biogeography under the surface, which is now in the open archives:

Life's islands under the sea

Friday, November 09, 2018

there's a rang-tan in my bedroom ...

So today we learned that in TV adverts in the UK you are allowed to spread all kinds of lies and unfair comparisons, but you're not allowed to say the truth about environmental problems and how human activities endanger other mammal species. How weird is that. So, while I don't normally post in support of Iceland or any other supermarket, here's the ad they're not allowed to show. The way things work these days, I expect it will get a gazillion views on youtube, maybe more than it would have had on TV:

The Guardian: Iceland's Christmas TV advert banned for being too political

Iceland’s Christmas ad was brave and necessary. It shouldn’t be banned
Opinion piece by Jessica Brown

Monday, November 05, 2018

on the edge

This year's climate feature ahead of COP24 covers lots of things going in the wrong direction including fracking in the UK, coal mining in Germany, everything in the trumpocalypse, as well as recent research analysing which countries will be most affected by climate change. It was in press while the second round of the election in Brazil happened, so this novice horseman of the apocalypse only makes a brief appearance as a possible calamity.

So, well, if you can cope with more bad news, here goes:

Counting carbon costs

Current Biology
Volume 28, Issue 21, 05 November 2018, Pages R1221-R1224

FREE access to full text and PDF download

On the edge is where we stand right now:

Climate change protesters at Hambacher Forst, Germany, where an open cast mining operation for lignite is destroying ancient woodlands and several villages. (Photo: Leonhard Lenz.)

Monday, October 29, 2018

testing times

Open Archive Day

A year ago, reflecting the rise of certain politicians and movements aiming to reinstate old-fashioned prejudice against anybody who is different from their definition of normal, I wrote a feature on the psychology of prejudice and the implicit association test (IAT) developed by Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji.

As things are going right now, considering recent events in the US and election results from Italy, Germany, Brazil, a test for hidden bias like this will soon become obsolete, because our real problem will be with the outspoken bias marching down the street and assaulting people. But just to be extra sure you've no common ground with the prejudiced people coming out of their caves, you could take the IAT online, and/or read my feature about bias, which is on open access now:

Can we change our biased minds?

Monday, October 22, 2018

say cheese

In a widely publicised paper this summer, researchers claimed to have dicovered the world's oldest cheese in an Egyptian tomb. Only that the remains of that cheese were mainly sodium carbonate, and that two weeks later, traces of cheese were discovered that were twice as old. I wrote a column poking fun at the short-lived "oldest cheese in the world" but in the process discovered that the paper about the earlier cheese traces was really interesting, because it pushes the origins of cheese-making in Europe to a time that is earlier than the arrival of lactose tolerance. Which means that cheese, containing less lactose than fresh milk, may have been the gateway of ancient Europeans to the benefits of using nutrients from milk beyond early childhood. And then, being culturally prepared to use milk and milk products, ancient Europe was a fertile ground for the lactose tolerance genes when they arrived.

The whole story is now out in feature format:

On the origins of cheese

Current Biology
Volume 28, Issue 20, 22 October 2018, Pages R1171-R1173

OPEN access to full text and PDF download

Europeans enjoy an overwhelming variety of cheese products. Interestingly, the earliest evidence of cheese making in Europe now predates the arrival of lactose tolerance genes, suggesting that cheese may have paved the way for dairy use. (Image: Ted Drake/Flickr by a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.)

Monday, October 15, 2018

another COP coming up

Open Archive Day

As another climate conference is coming up in December, it's the numbering that really gets to me. COP24 means, above all, that we have now spent more than a quarter century not getting any better at averting catastrophic climate change. I usually write a climate-related feature ahead of the conference (watch this space), so here's one I prepared earlier, in the run-up to the Paris conference of 2015.

How nature copes with climate change

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

latest buzz

I've been covering bee problems for well over a decade now - since the crisis around colony collapse disorder in the mid-00s. Progress has been made in terms of recognising the subtle kinds of damage that neonicotinoids can do to pollinators. But the fundamental paradox remains - we depend on insects for our nutrition (never mind to maintain a residue of a natural environment), and yet we put tonnes of insecticides into the environment.

Three neonics are now being banned EU-wide, but one of the products that may replace them is now also implicated in (bumble)bee problems. One day we'll have to acknowledge that the problem isn't insects, it's monocultures. And we'll have to learn agriculture from scratch again as our ancestors did some 12,000 years ago.

Anyhow, my latest buzz on bees is out now:

Bee worries beyond neonicotinoids

Current Biology
Volume 28, Issue 19, 8 October 2018, Pages R1121-R1123

FREE access to full text and PDF download

(Own photo, taken at Chelsea Physics Garden, London.)

Monday, October 01, 2018

epic genomes

Open Archive Day

There are so many exciting discoveries coming out of the analyses of ancient DNA - ranging from recent history back to the times when Neanderthals, Denisovans and our sapiens sapiens ancestors coexisted - that one could easily write about these all the time. However, remembering that I write for a general biology journal, I make sure that stories about humans don't take over and that animals, plants and microbes also get their fair share.

While I can't catch everything, here's one ancient DNA story I did a year ago, and which is now on open access, covering the early civilisation in the Eastern Mediterranean and providing some genetic context for sources like Homer and the Bible:

Roots of Mediterranean civilisations

Figurine of an ox and driver, from Phylakopi, a site on the island of Milos related to Mycenaean culture, which dominated mainland Greece and some Aegean islands in the Bronze Age. (Photo: Zde/Wikimedia Commons by CC BY-SA 4.0.)of an ox and driver, from Phylakopi, a site on the island of Milos related to Mycenaean culture, which dominated mainland Greece and some Aegean islands in the Bronze Age. (Photo: Zde/Wikimedia Commons by CC BY-SA 4.0.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

threads and patterns

O club de calceta
María Reimóndez
Edicions Xerais 2006

This book has been translated into Spanish, Italian and French, but apparently not into English. If it was, I would call it the knitting circle, rather than club, as I imagine the six protagonists sitting in a circle and knitting, but more importantly each telling the story of her life. As we go round the circle, the joint story also advances, as it becomes clearer what connects these women and how they can help each other, so while the movement is circular, it is also going forward. Like knitting a sock, I suspect. Threads and patterns are important, too.

The cast makes me think: Why hasn’t Almodóvar made the film yet? We have a prostitute fed up with the profession she inherited from her mum, a one-legged woman who wants to become a bus driver, a secretary with the ambition to be her own boss, a cleaner haunted by the ghost of her aunt, a political activist (communist?) in remission, and an old lady who spent her life looking after the local church (dressing the saints, as I think they say in Galicia).

Six women on the verge of a major breakthrough, because knitting does change the world. Six lovely stories with convincing voices that we would not normally hear. In the final chapter the whole thing is tied together maybe a little bit too neatly, but never mind. You don’t want to have any loose threads dangling when you’re knitting a masterpiece.

PS The Galician edition of Wikipedia tells me there has been a TV adaptation, but I still want to see Almodóvar’s take on this. Wiki also reveals that the story is set in the city of Vigo (whose literary fame was secured by Martin Codax in the 13th century).

Monday, September 24, 2018

botanic gardens

We're used to the thought that animal conservation is by and large a losing battle. Animal species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate in this man-made 6th mass extinction. Conservation efforts can save a few and slow the rate a little bit, but there is no chance whatsoever of stopping extinctions altogether.

It hadn't occurred to me that the situation is different for plants. We can preserve their seeds and grow them in botanic gardens, which led the authors of a paper I read recently to the claim that there is no reason any plant should go extinct. Which is to say, we could save every plant known to science if we put our mind to it. This hopeful message inspired me to write a feature about botanic gardens and their role in conservation (it also fills a gap as I have features about zoos and herbaria in my back catalogue already!), which is out now:

Can botanic gardens save all plants?

Current Biology
Volume 28, Issue 18, 24 September 2018, Pages R1075-R1078

FREE access to full text and PDF download

Own photo - some cannabis plants seen at Chelsea Physic Garden

Monday, September 17, 2018

online archaeology

Open Archive Day

Recent years with the Facebook revelations and the trumpocalyptic tweets that may start a nuclear war any day now have sucked most of the fun out of life on the internet. Even tumblr has taken to flooding me with fake followers - those troll factories must be working overtime these days.

So it's nice to step back in time and remember the happy days of 2013, when we (or I, at least) still naively believed that online communities could be a force for good.

So here's my 2013 feature raving about online cultures, clearly not expecting how it would turn out a few short years later:

What makes people click?

I had completely forgotten that I had used the Delacroix as an illustration with that article (Wikipedia edit wars were the excuse for that). (Artwork: Eugène Delacroix La Liberte Guidant Le Peuple (28 Juillet 1830) Musée du Louvre © 2007 Musée du Louvre/Angèle Dequier.)

Monday, September 10, 2018

tourist trails

Global tourism is growing so steeply that it is rapidly becoming a problem not just for popular destinations (like Oxford, for instance) but also for the environment. Driven by China's wealth explosion and innovations from budget airlines through to airbnb, it produces a carbon footprint that is scary and growing.

As part of today's special issue on migration, I had a closer look at the global impact on tourism in a feature which is out now:

Global tourism's growing footprint

Current Biology
Volume 28, Issue 17, 10 September 2018, Pages R963-R965

FREE access to full text and PDF download

Own photo (2016)

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Erlebnis Wissenschaft

for more than a decade, from Was Biotronik alles kann (2002) to Invasion der Waschbären (2014), my books in German were published by Wiley-VCH, mostly in their general pop-science series Erlebnis Wissenschaft (not quite translatable, this suggests science is an exciting experience).

Since the publication of the raccoons’ book in 2014, I have had no luck with further proposals, and have been given to understand that the sales of the series weren’t as good as the publisher hoped. Checking up the programme this summer, I realised that the last new title was published in 2016. One that is listed in 2018 is in fact the paperback version of a book previously published in hardback. Coming from the main website, the list doesn’t even have a link, so I had to use search engines to find it here. So, reluctantly, I am having to switch back to hustle mode and try to find a new publisher.

I can accept that on a purely balance-based reckoning, the books may not have been very profitable, but then again, Wiley-VCH is a huge publisher with successful academic titles (the white and blue design inherited from the original Verlag Chemie) as well as the licence for the German version of the hugely successful “For Dummies” series, not to mention a vast array of academic journals. All of which surely could help to fund a bit of an effort to help the public understanding of science with a series of intermediate level popular science books.

Oh well. I may have written critical reviews of one or two of the titles shown below, but I surely will miss the series.

For this photo I rounded up my own titles in the series and a few from other authors. Since taking the photo I keep discovering others that I forgot (eg the biographies of Haber and Lynen and the memoir of Schatz – for the biographies alone it would be worthwhile keeping the series alive).

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Madame Robinson

Leïla Slimani
Dans le jardin de l’ogre

When Leïla Slimani won the Prix Goncourt in 2016 for Chanson douce (English title: Lullaby), I really wanted to read her book but shied away from it because of the subject matter (as a parent, I am a bit squeamish about children being murdered). Then on my recent travel I stumbled across some kind of literary programme on TV5 Monde, where Slimani spoke about her most recent book (Sexe et mensonges : La vie sexuelle au Maroc), discussing the sex lives of Moroccan women with a panel of three blokes and looking as relaxed as if that was the most ordinary thing in the world to do.

So, looking up her oeuvre, I discovered her first novel, Dans le jardin de l’ogre, which looked less scary than the prize-winning one, so I read that. It’s in a way a Madame Bovary for the post-Catherine M. times. Which means, we have our medical doctor and his bored wife, but things get rather more out of hand than what I remember from Flaubert’s novel, and the move to rural Normandy (also the setting of Madame Bovary) comes as an attempt to fix things.

Slimani applies a cold psychiatric eye to report a case study of sex addiction – a condition only recognised as a mental health problem by the WHO last month, i.e. several years after her novel was published. She doesn’t spend much time on describing the external settings (Paris, Normandy, Boulogne sur Mer), and I kind of filled in from own memories what I missed there. But the internal landscapes are quite impressive and match the places. Hers, a city bustling with anonymous figures and existential angst, his, the yawning countryside and longing for steady normality, her parents’ the provincial small town of Boulogne (at some point, Napoleon planned to invade England from there, but I think he got side-tracked or something).

All of which reveals Slimani as a sharp and fearless writer, and one day I’ll even drum up the courage to read her other books.

An English translation of this book is scheduled to appear in February 2019 under the title of Adèle.

Available as a very lovely Collection Folio paperback, although I am not happy with the font they are now using for the author's name, which is the main difference between the current design and my collection of folios from the last century.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

plastic problems

Open Archive Day

This time last year, I had a feature on plastic pollution out (I think it was my third one on that topic). Since then, the amount of plastic waste swirling around in the oceans has kept growing, but so has public awareness of the issue. Since David Attenborough brought it up in his TV show, it has risen to a new level of prominence, although that doesn't necessarily mean we'll stop dumping the stuff.

My feature is now on open access:

Our planet wrapped in plastic

PS: a few days after I posted this, it was reported in the news that a device designed to collect plastic waste from the oceans is now afloat and being tested in California. Although nobody seems to have a clear answer as to what the biological bycatch will be.

Monday, August 27, 2018

a very lucky find

Open Archive Day

Last week brought a report of an extremely mindboggling discovery that perhaps got less coverage than it deserved (in the Guardian at least it was a very small story well hidden), namely the genome of an ancient human whose mother was a Neanderthal while her father was a Denisovan. (Update 24.11.2018: here is a feature in the Observer on "Denny".)

Just to briefly summarise the possibilities:

* If interbreeding between these two groups was common and successful in terms of viable and fertile offspring, this wouldn't be surprising, but in this case we should have come across other intermediate forms earlier, so not very likely.

* If interbreeding was common and successful in the first generation (but left the offspring infertile or perhaps with some other kind of fitness limitation) there might have been a few of those, but researchers would be very lucky to hit on one of them.

* If interbreeding was rarely successful, this would have to count as an extremely lucky find.

So in any case it is pretty mindboggling, and I trust that Svante Pääbo, who is a joint senior author on the paper, will have triple-checked everything before letting this out.

All of which is just an excuse for plugging my feature on human evolution which I wrote four years ago after attending a meeting with Svante Pääbo and everybody else who is anybody in human evolution:

The complicated origins of our species

Apart from last year's effort specifically on palaeoanthropology in China, this appears to be my most recent one with actual Neanderthals in it. Given how fast the field is moving, I should revisit it soon.

Oh, and what I did visit recently is the Neanderthal museum in the eponymous valley, which hasn't quite caught up with the Neanderthal genome revolution yet, but has this amusing scene of life in the stone age to offer:

(own photo)

Monday, August 20, 2018

like the sound of that

After so many years of writing about science, it can still happen that I bump into an entire field of studies that I somehow managed to miss, although it is really interesting and has been going on for many years. My most recent discovery of this type is soundscape ecology, which uses sound recordings to study the composition and health of ecosystems and can detect changes that happen over time, eg with the seasons, after natural diasters, or due to climate change.

As this was all new to me, I did a general feature explaining what it's all about and how it can help us better understand the natural environment. Although pioneers have been recording things for decades now, recent technology has of course made it easier to record, store and process massive amounts of audio data, providing an acoustic component to the general big data revolution in the life sciences.

Anyhow, my feature is out now:

Listening to the sounds of the biosphere

Current Biology Volume 28, Issue 16, 20 August 2018, Pages R847–R850

FREE access to full text and PDF download

Soundscape ecologists record ambient sound and analyse it for changes that may be linked to environmental change. (Photo: Bryan C. Pijanowski, Center for Global Soundscapes.)

Friday, August 17, 2018

summery smells

oooops, I've somehow lost track of tracking the publications in German, so there is a little gap in the record, but let's just carry on with July/August as if nothing happened ...

So in these two hot summer months we've had molecular wires, mysterious membranes, and the smells of summer:

Molekularer Draht von Hand gemacht
Chemie in unserer Zeit Volume52, Issue4, August 2018, Pages 211-212
Access via Wiley Online Library
(molecular wire made by atomic manipulation - related content in English)

Merkwürdige Membranen

Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 66, Issue 7-8, Pages 722-724, Juli ‐ August 2018
Access via Wiley Online Library
(why the membranes of archaea are so strange - related content in English)

Der Duft der Sommerferien
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 66, Issue 7-8, Page 811, Juli ‐ August 2018
Access via Wiley Online Library

PS: I've now updated my publications list, so the missing German pieces should be here.

Monday, August 13, 2018

food for evolution

Open Archive Day

I try to avoid the three notorious f-words that are already getting way too much attention (fashion, food, football), but this was one story about food that I actually found fascinating - how a certain kind of diet, based eg mainly on seafood, or on plant food, can over many generations shape human evolution, producing genetic variants that are still observable today.

Read all about it in my rare foody feature which is now on open access:

How our diet changed our evolution

Own photo. For the reasons mentioned above, I don't have many photos of food, but found some plant-based dessert option ...

Saturday, August 11, 2018

16,000 words

In a review of the book “vox” by Christina Dalcher I read the claim that people – men and women alike – speak an average of 16,000 words a day. The research, published in Science in 2007, was designed to debunk the myth that women talk three times as much as men, and it duly found that both talk the same amount within error.

Still, as somebody who prefers writing to talking, this strikes me as a huge amount. That must be around two hours of solid monologue, or four hours of conversation, if you allow the other person half the time. Longer, if you take time to reflect between your exchanges. Just to get a measure of how much text that is that people talk on average, consider this:

I typically write around 1000 words a day (I read a lot more, and I’d reckon I speak fewer). Just imagine I could come up with 16,000 meaningful words a day – which of course I would not dream of wasting on the fickle oscillations of air, but would rather write down for publication. At a fairly typical rate of 40p per word, these could theoretically earn £ 6400 in a day, or two million in a year.

Well the bug in that calculation is that I can’t come up with 16,000 words worth of meaningful content every day, nor can anybody else, which is why people tend to talk about the weather and repeat themselves all the time. Yes I do realise that all that small talk serves a social function, but why can’t people just rub each other’s backs instead? In that respect, chimps and bonobos are more civilised than we are. Failing that, playing music with people works for me. A way of communication as well, but with fewer words.

I appreciate that the 100-word limit imposed on women in Dalcher’s dystopian novel amounts to torture (the lowest word counts reported in the science paper were closer to 500), but 1000 words is probably a daily budget I could get along with. Add to that 1000 written words, and I’ll swap the rest of the 16,000 for wrong notes played at the wrong time. This blog entry contains 373 words, by the way.

PS: The Guardian reviewer doesn't like the book ...

Monday, August 06, 2018

shipping news

For some strange reasons I keep seeing adverts for Arctic cruises, which drive me up the wall. The fact that one can now steer a whopping big cruise ship through the Northwest Passage and around the top end of the Americas is of course a consequence of our tragic failure to do something about climate change. But instead of reading it as a sign and changing our ways, we send ships to the formerly pristine Arctic waters to pollute and melt them some more.

So, well, after seeing too many of those ads I didn't book a cruise, but I wrote a feature about the Arctic shipping craze, which is out now:

Arctic shipping threatens wildlife

Current Biology Volume 28, Issue 15, 06 August 2018, Pages R803–R805

FREE access to full text and PDF download

The ice-strengthened passenger expedition vessel Marina Tsvetaeva is one of many vessels that can now travel through the Northwest Passage in the Arctic summer. Marine biologists predict the increase in shipping traffic will impact on vulnerable species including iconic marine mammals. (Photo: Allen Powell by a CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.)

Monday, July 30, 2018

crunch time for crispr

Open Archive Day

The European Court of Justice has ruled that gene editing using crispr falls under the EU regulation for GM organisms.

This is a little bit surprising, as crispr is a lot more elegant and subtle than old-style GM, which means that a) it is less likely to produce harmful side-effects, and b) it is much harder if not impossible to detect, as a crispr-induced point mutation could just as well be a random mutation.

This is why, a year and a half ago, when I wrote a feature about gene-edited crops, I was fully expecting regulators to classify these new methods separately from old GM. Clearly, they didn't read my article, which is now openly accessible:

Harvest time for crispr-cas?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

arpeggione sonata

on my very slow crawl through the repertoire, I've spent almost six months with Schubert's arpeggione sonata. Although I'll never get it into a shape that would be presentable in public, I can play it along with Natalie Clein's version which I have on CD, and that's great fun too.

(Note for the non-cellists: the arpeggione was a string instrument half way between a guitar and a cello, which was invented in 1823 and only survived for a decade or so. Schubert's sonata, today a standard piece of the cello repertoire, is the only reason the instrument is still remembered.)

Next up, some Bach I found at Oxfam ...

Monday, July 23, 2018

bottom-up biology at Birkbeck

Way back in 2001, when I was switching to full-time writing but wanted to keep some kind of connection with the world of academia, I used to trek to London twice a week to reside at the School of Crystallography, Birkbeck College, as a science writer in residence. That was an interesting experience while it lasted, and I got some good articles out of it, but as the railway connection got worse and more expensive over time, it wasn't really sustainable in the long run. (In 1999 I had even applied for a few London-based jobs thinking the railways situation can't get worse but it did!) Moreover, as Birkbeck set up a joint Institute of Structural Molecular Biology (ISMB) with UCL in 2003 and turbo-charged its research in this field, the space I used to have just disappeared.

The ISMB hosts an international symposium every other year, and as I was there when the first one happened, I enjoy the nostalgia trip of attending the latest instalments if and when I'm organised enough to make it happen. This year I was lucky and got there for both days of the symposium. I was rewarded with an amazing meeting that covered both the distinguished history of BBK structural biology (Rosalind Franklin, Aaron Klug, JD Bernal ... ) and its very exciting present. And I got another article out of it which is out now:

Building blocks for bottom-up biology

Current Biology Volume 28, Issue 14, 23 July 2018, Pages R761–R764

FREE access to full text and PDF download

The famously dilapidated pair of Georgian townhouses, 21 and 22 Torrington Square, where Rosalind Franklin worked for the last five years of her life, were later demolished and gave way to this, the Clore Management Centre, which is where the symposium was held (own photo).

PS and I got to test-ride the new rail line Oxford to Marylebone, with Chiltern Rail, which is indeed a bit better than what we had so far.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

9 years on twitter

twitter tells me I've been on there for 9 years now - hover over the line where it says "joined in July 2009" and it will reveal the precise date and time. So many things have changed since then, but one thing I found surprisingly constant is the ratio of posts to followers, i.e. how many tweets to I have to send out to increase the number of followers by one. This ratio has been around 15 for as long as I can remember. Checking today, it is 15.04 posts per follower.

More intriguing still, the number is very similar on tumblr (15.98) where I do very different things. Much bigger on blogspot though (47), where the culture of following people never really took off. And smaller on flickr (7.13).

Obviously, for people who are more famous than I am this twitter impact ratio will be smaller, for others it may be bigger - so maybe it's a useful parameter for sociologists to study the social media pecking order (both figures that go into it are public)?

Another thing worth noting is that, since I started obsessing about the Galician language and occasionally tweeting in Galician or linking to Galician sources, these relatively rare ventures tend to spread very widely. Whenever I look at my stats, there's a Galician tweet in the top three. See for instance, from yesterday:

Monday, July 16, 2018

two years on

Open Archive Day

We certainly live in interesting times now, in the sense of the famous Chinese curse. As I write this Brexit still means chaos and Trump says Russia didn't meddle with elections because Putin told him so. Oh well.

Not sure if it's much use to look back how it went wrong, but here's my first relevant feature written just after the Brexit referendum.

Angry voters may turn back the clocks

The feature warned of a possible Trump victory, so here's one of my photos from last Thursday's anti-Trump demo at Blenheim Palace:

Monday, July 09, 2018

sequence everything

It's three decades since the Human Genome Project was organised and 15 years since it published the draft sequence, so it may be worth asking what could be the next big thing for biology.

One possibility that is being looked at is to sequence the genomes of every single eukaryotic species known to science. The Earth BioGenome project, which promotes this idea, has calculated that this could be done within 10 years and would cost no more than the first human genome did.

A crazy idea? Find out in my latest feature which is out now:

The genome sequence of everything

Current Biology
Volume 28, Issue 13, 9 July 2018, Pages R719-R721

FREE access to full text and PDF download

Beetles account for a substantial part of eukaryotic diversity and will keep genome sequencers busy for a while. (Photo: Tim Sackton/Flickr.)