Monday, February 28, 2022

pollution beyond boundaries

The planetary boundaries concept is useful to illustrate just how unsustainable our use of global resources is, and how we are shifting our planetary environment out of the holocene conditions, into the anthropocene. Out of the nine general areas defined by Rockström and colleagues in 2009, there's only one that we have been able to fix with a global effort, namely stratospheric ozone. Among the others, four were found to be breached, and now a new study has added "new entities" including chemicals and plastics as the 5th. I used this occasion to have a look at the boundaries concept and the situation around chemical and plastic pollution.

The resulting feature is out now:

Pollution passes boundaries

Current Biology Volume 32, Issue 4, 28 February 2022, Pages R141-R143

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

Loving the somewhat dystopian set of three photos the editorial colleagues found, illustrating pollution on land, at sea and in the air, here's the one for the air:

The numerous innovations of the chemical industry over the last 200 years have been celebrated, and many of them have added to the comforts of modern life. However, efforts to mitigate and control the impact of chemicals on the environment have failed to keep up with the growth rates of invention and production. (Photo: SD-Pictures/Pixabay.)

See also the twitter thread combining all CB features of this year.

Friday, February 25, 2022

revisiting wastewater

During this pandemic it has been fascinating to learn how much information about disease spread can be obtained from wastewater analytics, even several weeks before patients start turning up in hospitals. It has also been frustrating to learn that the political leadership at least in this country has no interest in this information, as they prefer to wait and see if it really gets that bad, and then take measures only two weeks after it gets really bad.

I wrote a feature on the importance of wastewater monitoring around this time last year, when I still had some hope the information might be used to wipe out Covid-19. Now I revisited the field in a more sober (read: frustrated) state of mind and also looked at the uses of wastewater monitoring in other diseases, present and future. Maybe we have more luck with our leadership the next time a zoonotic disease outbreak threatens to turn into a global pandemic.

This new feature is out now in C&I:

Wastewater monitoring

Chemistry & Industry Volume 86, Issue 2, February 2022, Pages 26-29

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI (members only)

Any access problems give me a shout and I can send a PDF file.

In the same issue, on page 36, you'll also find my review of the book Colliding Worlds by Simone Marchi, which is astrobiology-related in that it reports the evolution of the Solar system under the aspect of collisions between bodies.

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

As the book is more photogenic than a wastewater treatment plant, I'll use the cover here too:

I'm now running a twitter thread with this year's C&I features here.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

a forester's family

Every picture tells a story No. 26

Ernst Leopold the steel worker had at least seven brothers and sisters, and his three sons had around a dozen cousins. One of the brothers was Friedrich with the fiddle. Another, Albert Kosmowsky, was a forester's assistant at Forsthaus Gottesgnade, Sangnitten, Kreis Preussisch Eylau, East Prussia. He was working for the Baron von Stegen.

Here he is hiding in the shadow of his forester's hat, with his wife Auguste next to him. The children are, left to right: Hilde, Emmi, Fritz, Lieselotte (a visiting niece from Allenburg, daughter of his brother Franz), and Charlotte:

Charlotte was born in 1919, so I concluded the photo might date from the mid or late 1930s. I'm getting the feeling that the looks on their faces get grumpier in direct proportionality to their ages, so that may reflect the dark times, looming war, etc., of which the younger children were blissfully unaware. I might follow Charlotte's tracks in a later entry.

We'll have to talk about the poor old animal in this picture too. At first glance, I had naively assumed that the family was posing with an antler serving as decoration on some sort of garden (or forest) furniture. As you would if you were a town mouse visiting some rustic forester's hut today. Then I found this other photo, with the same setup, minus the family:

So the story is he shot the stag and then gathered round the whole family plus a visiting niece to pose with it. Oh well. This one is dated 1941 (on the back, not sure by whom), so I guess the good news is that at this point in history Albert was allowed to stay at home shooting game as opposed to going to war and shooting people.

This photo is also on flickr.

Every picture tells a story series so far:

  1. string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927
  2. greetings from Adamsweiler
  3. Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich
  4. quartet times three
  5. Neumühl 1923
  6. Tangermünde railway station 1889
  7. a singing lesson
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert
  9. a bakery at Lorsch 1900
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist
  13. school's out at Reichenstein, 1886
  14. a patchwork family in East Prussia
  15. the case of the missing grandmother
  16. checkpoint Glaner Brücke 1929(ish)
  17. finding Mimi
  18. five sisters, five decades
  19. happy at home
  20. gone milking
  21. steel workers
  22. field work
  23. what to wear at Porta Westfalica
  24. a classic convertible
  25. at the bottom of the steps

Alternatively, you can use this twitter thread as an illustrated table of contents.

In a somewhat roundabout way, this series relates to my research for the family history music memoir I have now completed in a first version.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

rip tumblr

From 2011 to the notorious ban of "female-presenting nipples" in December 2018 I had been a very happy user of tumblr, and learned a lot from people I met there. After the ban, the inquisition hid my main blog, proseandpassion, and I felt the site going rapidly downhill as the ban deterred the more artistic providers of NSFW content, but not those people who just dumped stolen porn at industrial scale.

When Covid-19 hit, I gave it another go with prosepluspassion, and even moved my daily science news there, but since the beginning of this year I noticed that people were disappearing at an alarming rate. Now I know why - tumblr closed my account without warning. I can't be bothered to start over again, so will look out for alternatives. Maybe Pinterest - I notice they haven't been bought up by facebook yet.

While I am still keeping my facebook account, I am not prepared to sign up for Instagram while it is under their rule (on this issue see this comment by Cory Doctorow). But otherwise I'm open to suggestions. Does anybody use Mastodon these days? Pillowfort? (suggestions of non-censoring sites I found here).

Happy days - a screenshot taken in anticipation of the 2000th follower. Never had quite as many on any other platform.

Some of my tumblr content rescued to 2mblr just after the ban is still online here, surprisingly. There is also a 2mblr backup of StreetMusicOxford. As far as I know, 2mblr never functioned as a live social network though. I can "follow" people and look at their blogs, but there's no timeline and I haven't seen anything more recent than May 2019. Finding people to follow is a bit tricky, but each time I open the search page I get a different set of 12 suggestions, so that's a start.

What is really weird though is that when I go to one of my posts which include content I uploaded to tumblr (as opposed to the more numerous ones just reblogged as they were swilling around), and click on image link, I get a tumblr link to my image and that still works. So tumblr haven't deleted my stuff they're just hiding it. Naughty people.

Random example:

Post on 2mblr

image link

Thursday, February 17, 2022

at the bottom of the steps

Every picture tells a story No. 25

Auguste, daughter the East Prussian patchwork family, worked as a housemaid from the age of 14, until at age 24 she went westwards, travelling 1,000 km to Hamborn, and married a fellow East Prussian migrant there. She first started working at Friederikenruh, where her parents were also employed, then at age 19 went off to Wargienen, near Tapiau, later to Neumühl near Allenburg (NB: Neumühl is where her future husband's brother was photographed playing the fiddle, this may or may not be significant). The final employment documented in her workbook was also in Allenburg. All these places were in the Kreis Wehlau, to the east of Königsberg.

Here we see her posing outside a place in Allenburg where she also worked, but which isn't documented in her record, so we don't know the time for sure, must be around 1919.

The signs read: "Ostpreussische An- u. Verkaufsgenossenschaft eGmbH Königsberg i. Pr. Geschäftsstelle Allenburg, Fernruf Nr. 4." So this was the East Prussian cooperative for buying and selling things (not sure what, maybe agricultural machines?) registered as a limited company, based in Königsberg, with this branch office in Allenburg. Their phone number: 4. Apparently there weren't many phones around in Allenburg.

The house, identified by the balcony and the unusual division of the groundfloor windows, also appears in this postcard from the 1930s on the right hand side, suggesting that it is located on the town's market square. Oh, and in this one too, from 1930-33.

Note how the servant is outside the frame (of doors and windows) whereas the other people presumably including her employers, are in the frames. Also, she stands at the bottom of the stairs whereas everybody else is higher up in the photo. Know your place as they used to say.

The photographer should have known though that placing people in dark clothes in front of the dark openings and her in light clothes outside the lightly coloured wall would give poor contrast. Her face isn't very well resolved in the print either, so instead of zooming in I'll just throw in a portrait from about the same time (later marked as ~1920 by her son):

And here is the work book which documents the employments mentioned above:

This photo is also on flickr.

Every picture tells a story series so far:

  1. string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927
  2. greetings from Adamsweiler
  3. Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich
  4. quartet times three
  5. Neumühl 1923
  6. Tangermünde railway station 1889
  7. a singing lesson
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert
  9. a bakery at Lorsch 1900
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist
  13. school's out at Reichenstein, 1886
  14. a patchwork family in East Prussia
  15. the case of the missing grandmother
  16. checkpoint Glaner Brücke 1929(ish)
  17. finding Mimi
  18. five sisters, five decades
  19. happy at home
  20. gone milking
  21. steel workers
  22. field work
  23. what to wear at Porta Westfalica
  24. a classic convertible
  25. at the bottom of the steps

Alternatively, you can use this twitter thread as an illustrated table of contents.

In a somewhat roundabout way, this series relates to my research for the family history music memoir I have now completed in a first version.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

a classic convertible

Every picture tells a story No. 24

On one or two occasions I rented a convertible to visit my aunt after she had moved to a very remote place in the south of France far from the next railway station. When I took her for a ride she remarked that she hadn't been inside a convertible since her childhood, when her father (customs officer Peter Eberle whom we last saw in Gronau in 1929) had a BMW convertible as his service vehicle provided by the customs office Aachen.

Peter arrived in Aachen in 1936, when he was promoted to a post with 112 people to boss around. The fact that he kept being promoted after 1933 seems to suggest that he adapted to the Nazi system enough to ensure a smooth career, although I am not aware of any political statements, inclinations or activities. As he died in 1945, his involvement with the regime hasn't been officially investigated.

This photo shows him (left) with his car and a colleague who may be his driver, not sure. It seems to be confirming his daughter's memory of the make, as the car looks very much like a BMW 319, which was produced from 1935 to 1937, so this all fits together beautifully.

For comparison:

Source: Douglas Wilkinson for www.bmw-archives.com

The number plate, IZ-5215 follows a convention in place from 1906 to 1945, where Roman numeral I plus a letter was for Prussia, II plus a letter for Bavaria, III plus a letter for Wurttemberg, etc. Confusingly, some smaller states also used only Roman numerals or only letters. While some organisations and state services including the national railways, the Red Cross, and the army had their own codes, the customs service did not.

Within Prussia, the letter after the I defined a region, and not surprisingly the Z is for the Rheinprovinz, to which Aachen belonged, so that all makes sense.

This photo is also on flickr.

Every picture tells a story series so far:

  1. string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927
  2. greetings from Adamsweiler
  3. Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich
  4. quartet times three
  5. Neumühl 1923
  6. Tangermünde railway station 1889
  7. a singing lesson
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert
  9. a bakery at Lorsch 1900
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist
  13. school's out at Reichenstein, 1886
  14. a patchwork family in East Prussia
  15. the case of the missing grandmother
  16. checkpoint Glaner Brücke 1929(ish)
  17. finding Mimi
  18. five sisters, five decades
  19. happy at home
  20. gone milking
  21. steel workers
  22. field work
  23. what to wear at Porta Westfalica
  24. a classic convertible

Alternatively, you can use this twitter thread as an illustrated table of contents.

In a somewhat roundabout way, this series relates to my research for the family history music memoir I have now completed in a first version.

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

visualising extraterrestrial molecules

I cover atomic force microscopy every once in a while, which results from my residual connections in chemistry and interest in the nanoworld, and because of the astrobiology book I am of course interested in all extraterrestrial molecules.

So the great news is that now these two threads of my work have met and I have been able to report the first AFM work on actual extraterrestrial molecules, which is really exciting, even though it hasn't taught us anything fundamentally new - except that you can visualise extraterrestrial molecules. So anybody who has meteorite materials, send a sample to my namesake Leo Gross, and he will get you lovely pictures of the organic molecules contained in them.

Read all about it on the Chemistry World website (open access if you restrain yourself and don't read more than two stories per month):

Chemical ecosystem of Murchison meteorite molecules revealed in snapshots

Monday, February 07, 2022

the whole holobiont

Microbiota are important for so-called higher organisms that depend on their less sophisticated residents, like we do, for instance, on the bacteria in our guts. This is also the case for plants, and even in several different parts of each plant. In 2020, I wrote a feature on life on leaves (now in the open archives), an aspect that has so far been less appreciated than the symbiosis below ground, especially the root nodules providing photosynthesis services.

But now I spotted a paper that studied the acquisition of microbiota by young poplar plants above and below ground, both within and outside the plant's tissues, and I found the systematic approach to the development of the holobiont (the sum of the plant and all its microbiota) appealing, so that was my excuse to revisit plant microbiota. Also, the topic is still underappreciated.

The resulting feature is out now:

How plants grow their microbiome

Current Biology Volume 32, Issue 3, 7 February 2022, Pages R97-R100

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

bean plant surrounded by tomato plants shows neighbourhood effects in its microbiome, especially if the surrounding plants are older. The photo shows the experimental setup at the end of the first month. (Photo: Kyle Meyer.)

Thursday, February 03, 2022

what to wear at Porta Westfalica

Every picture tells a story Nr. 23

Heinrich the station master at the Kreisbahn Minden came from a farm in nearby Neesen, now part of Porta Westfalica. His mother, Luise Schilling (1841-1921), had inherited the farm from her parents Heinrich Schilling and Marie-Luise Stohlmann. It had been the Stohlmann farm since 1788. With her husband Christian Nagel she had 11 children. The family fell into poverty, had to sell the farm around 1900 and Christian ended up transporting cement between the local cement factory and the river Weser.

With this background, it is understandable that Luise always looks grumpy on the images we have of her. What intrigues me though is that she always wears the local traditional dress (Tracht), which is quite elaborate and probably hinders most daily activities. Here she is with her son Wilhelm (the next younger child after station master Heinrich), his wife Karoline Klostermann, and their only child (as far as I know), Elfriede Nagel. I don't know Elfriede's year of birth but she got married in 1931, and her father was born in 1881, so from these dates we can interpolate that this photo must date from the 1910s:

I'm also intrigued by the bench built specifically to be put on the stairs. For closer inspection of her clothes, I'm throwing in a portrait as well, presumably also dating from the last decade of her life:

And to give you an idea what this may have looked like in real life and in colour, here's an old postcard from the area:

Another postcard including the male version as well is here. In the German edition of Wikipedia you find further details under Schaumburger Tracht. Specifically we appear to be dealing with the Bückeburger Festtagstracht here (Bückeburg was the capital of the tiny dukedom of Schaumburg-Lippe, I only know of its existence because Frieda the pianist studied at the conservatoire that the last duke set up in a final blast of exuberance).

The farmhouse, now known as Schillingshof, survives to this day, I hear it has been refurbished in 1996 and looks fabulous. I believe the address is Kloppenburg 18.

This photo is also on flickr.

Every picture tells a story series so far:

  1. string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927
  2. greetings from Adamsweiler
  3. Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich
  4. quartet times three
  5. Neumühl 1923
  6. Tangermünde railway station 1889
  7. a singing lesson
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert
  9. a bakery at Lorsch 1900
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist
  13. school's out at Reichenstein, 1886
  14. a patchwork family in East Prussia
  15. the case of the missing grandmother
  16. checkpoint Glaner Brücke 1929(ish)
  17. finding Mimi
  18. five sisters, five decades
  19. happy at home
  20. gone milking
  21. steel workers
  22. field work

Alternatively, you can use this twitter thread as an illustrated table of contents.

In a somewhat roundabout way, this series relates to my research for the family history music memoir I have now completed in a first version.

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

looking for parallels

I'm not really happy with the UK's "live and let die" with Covid policy pretending everything can go back to normal, so I still don't go out much, but a new Almodovar movie was a good enough excuse to break my own Covid rules in a half-empty cinema on a Monday lunchtime screening. As it happens, the last time I had been inside a cinema before this was the previous Almodovar film, Pain and Glory, in August 2019.

So there are two films to discuss here, really, the double motherhood story at the core of the film (which would have made a perfectly reasonable full length film on its own), and the digging up the bodies of the civil war story wrapped around it and only flimsily attached to it. I'm thinking anybody watching it to learn about the missing casualties of the civil war will be disappointed. That topic would deserve a film (or many) on its own, and if Almodovar doesn't want to do that film that's fine by me. Other directors like Alex de la Iglesia have covered the madness and cruelty of that war and the trauma caused by it very convincingly.

At first, the title of the film and the maternal theme of the main story put me off a bit, as both Penelope Cruz and I are a bit too old for these things, but it did win me over with the generational contrast between the two women, and with the classic Almodovar combo of Penelope plus primary colours. Never fails. As usual, we get slogans to link us to the present day (ok, recent past) feminism, in this case it's Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's title "We should all be feminists" appearing on Penelope's t-shirt. Not sure when this was filmed (allegedly Almodovar had a script and a poster design ready ten years ago), but we're firmly in the pre-Covid era of the late 2010s, with SUVs and iphones all over the place.

So much for my random thoughts after first viewing - for a professional review, try Peter Bradshaw's in the Guardian.

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