Saturday, November 26, 2022

the right instrument

A recent obituary in the Guardian came with a photo of the person playing the flute, so I read it although the name didn’t ring a bell. As it turned out, flautist Atarah Ben-Tovim (with her husband Douglas Boyd) was the author of a book that I read in the 1990s and that has influenced my life more than most books I read: The right instrument for your child.

As I recall it, the book is extremely good at pointing out all the little things that may become a deciding factor in whether or not a young (or even not so young) person is attracted to a specific instrument and will also stick with it. Such as the physical energy you can pump into a cello, which suits a slightly more assertive child, shall we say. Or that flute fingering is easy when you transfer from the recorder.

I believe (with the authors) that more consideration on the instrument choice could save a lot of people from an unhappy learning experience. Too many people just go for piano or violin as the default without considering the personality of their child and what kind of instrument would be a good match.

The book helped me a lot in kicking off the musical education of my children, which then rubbed off to my own, belated learnings, so it helped to generate many person-years of music making in this family alone, just imagine what its effect may be on its entire readership. I think of this book as plan A, with the equally interesting “Never too late” by John Holt, being the plan B. There are two more recent editions than mine, but it seems to have gone out of print after the 2012 release.

Like most of the things I'm obsessing about these days, this is related to my musical memoir project, specifically to chapter 4.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

three sisters from East Prussia

Every picture tells a story, season 2, picture 12.

Several of the numerous children of the East Prussian patchwork family moved to West Germany in the 1920s, some possibly later. Of the four children the couple had together (on top of the ten from their previous marriages), the oldest, Karl Faust, died in 1945. His three sisters are shown here in a 1955 meetup in Lippstadt, first without:

and then with the surviving husbands:

At the top that's from left to right Luise (married name Hießke), Auguste (Kosmowsky) and Hanna (Krieger). Auguste's husband Ernst Leopold the steel worker had died in 1945. We don't know much about the Hießke family living in Lippstadt, as contact with them wasn't as close as between the other two families.

Update 26.11.2022 Expanded the title as I just realised I used three sisters before, in season 1.

Navigation tools:

Season 2 so far:

  1. could be a cousin
  2. two weddings in Silesia
  3. off to Canada
  4. off to Australia
  5. a very romantic poet
  6. fireman August
  7. 50 hundredweight of coffee
  8. mysterious Minden people
  9. horses for Hedwig
  10. guessing the great-grandmothers
  11. cousin Charlotte
  12. three sisters from East Prussia

The twitter thread for season 2 is here.

As the bird site seems to be going the way of MySpace, I have built a similar thread on Mastodon, which is now up to date.

The twitter thread for season 1 is still here. It only loads 30 tweets at first, so you have to click "show more" a couple of times to get all 40 entries. Alternatively, visit the last instalment and find the numbered list of entries at the bottom.

I'm also adding all photos from this series to my family history album on flickr.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

decline and fall of twitter

So the last time I wrote a blog entry about twitter was on the occasion of my 10th anniversary on the site, in July 2019. Sadly it now looks as though the blue bird is being strangled, plucked and roasted and may not be around for the 14th anniversary of my signing up.

Luckily I already had a mastodon account set up back in 2018 (then as a tumblr alternative), so now I only had the task of transferring my twitter network to the mastodon address, and that has worked surprisingly well. Last Monday I ran one of the relevant programs on my twitter contacts and discovered more than 150 people to follow. Many followed back fairly swiftly - it's so nice to be in a place where people are still curious about each other. Feels a lot like early days twitter, actually, when people were flooding in from the ruins of MySpace.

Since then, my Mastodon timeline is as lively as the one on twitter used to be. While it's numerically fewer than 10% of the contacts on the bird site, I guess that many of the accounts still listed as followers and/or followees over there are no longer active.

One thing still missing for Mastodon is Toot buttons on the websites where I find content to share. For instance on EurekAlert, the easiest way to generate a toot is to use the tweet button and then copy/paste the tweet (before hitting tweet, as twitter may abbreviate the links in ways that don't survive copy/pasting from the published version. I'm also continuing my calendar-year based twitter threads for features published, features transferring to open archives, and books read/reviewed until the end of the year and will relaunch them on Mastodon in the new year. The Every Picture series has already got its Mastodon thread which is now up to date.

So maybe it's time for final stats:
Following 2239
Followers 1572
Tweets 39k - may have to log in to get a precise number? Oooh, yes, after logging in it's 39066 (on 23.11.)

Mastodon looks like a welcoming sort of place:

Mastodon's official welcome pic, which I usually see before I log in.

so do find me there:

@proseandpassion@mastodon.social

I'm planning to stick with my general approach of using the short message sites to funnel attention to longer formats such as blog entries, which again guide the interested reader onwards to seriously long formats such as features and books.

PS to do justice to the title of this entry, I will compile here a few resources on the continuing implosion of the bird site, as I find them.

Monday, November 21, 2022

neanderthals alive and well

Reflecting on the Nobel prize for Svante Pääbo for his revolutionary work on Neanderthal genomics (which I've been covering for nearly 20 years), it struck me that there is now a lot more Neanderthal DNA walking around than there ever was when being a Neanderthal was still a thing. Back of the envelope calculation: if we have 2% Neanderthal genes on average in 5 billion non-African people, that gets you easily to the equivalent of 100 million Neanderthals alive today. Before they became extinct, there never were as many as 100,000 of them alive at the same time, so we're talking a 1,000-fold rise. If you have to become extinct, that's not the worst way to go.

Those Neanderthal genes are still around for reasons, as they were beneficial to our sapiens ancestors, and science is now beginning to understand in which ways our Neanderthal heritage shapes our physiology, which of course has implications for medicine. Which explains why Pääbo got the prize for physiology or medicine even though his patients have been dead for 30k years.

Moreover, Neanderthals are also coming back to life in the sense that paleogenomic studies are now revealing details of family relations, diet etc.

All of which was a welcome excuse to write another feature on Neanderthals (I even have a tag for them), which is out now:

Neanderthals come to life

Current Biology Volume 32, Issue 22, 21. November 2022, Pages R1245-R1247

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

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

See also my twitter thread with all this year's CB features.

As the bird site seems to be going the way of MySpace, I will start a Mastodon thread in the new year, just couldn't be bothered to redo all the copy-pasting for the 21 features already out this year.

Around 100 non-African humans: that's two Neanderthals right there. (Photo: Ryoji Iwata/Unsplash.)

Thursday, November 17, 2022

cousin Charlotte

Every picture tells a story, season 2, picture 11.

These stray cousins have a tendency to be called Charlotte, so this one is Charlotte Kosmowsky, born 1919, daughter of the forester Albert K. in East Prussia (we saw her in that photo with the dead stag). Not to be confused with Lotti in Berlin. Here are a couple of portraits during WW2:

During WW2 she was in Kiel, where she married a guy whose name we don't know. Strangely, we do know the date of his death though, 11.12.1974, and they had a son called Frank-Rüdiger. If that rings any bells, do give me a shout. After the war, her family and her dad, forester Albert K, ended up in Hennef, Sieg (15km east of Bonn) where this photo was taken in 1970:
That's Albert on the left, then Charlotte's son and Charlotte. On the right, her cousin Fritz and his wife.

Navigation tools:

Season 2 so far:

  1. could be a cousin
  2. two weddings in Silesia
  3. off to Canada
  4. off to Australia
  5. a very romantic poet
  6. fireman August
  7. 50 hundredweight of coffee
  8. mysterious Minden people
  9. horses for Hedwig
  10. guessing the great-grandmothers
  11. cousin Charlotte

The twitter thread for season 2 is here.

As the bird site seems to be going the way of MySpace, I have built a similar thread on Mastodon, which is now up to date.

The twitter thread for season 1 is still here. It only loads 30 tweets at first, so you have to click "show more" a couple of times to get all 40 entries. Alternatively, visit the last instalment and find the numbered list of entries at the bottom.

I'm also adding all photos from this series to my family history album on flickr.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

bees and astrobiology reviewed

When I talk about book reviews, I have separate tags for books I review and for my books being reviewed, but this may be the first time I have to use them in the same entry, because the November issue of C&I contains both a review of my book Astrobiology (3rd ed.), and my review of the absolutely brilliant book

The mind of a bee
by Lars Chittka
Princeton University Press:

All the buzz about bees

Chemistry & Industry Volume 86, Issue 11, November 2022, Page 36

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled PDF of the whole review section, ie both reviews)

SCI (premium content, ie members only)

SCI link for the Astrobiology review

Blackwells

See also my twitter thread listing books I read in 2022.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

an old family fiddle

The last time I visited my aunt at Tulette (Drome, France), we were talking about the young cellist in my family, and it suddenly occurred to her that she once had a violin, growing up in Aachen in the 1930s, never got on with it, but the instrument was still buried in her attic in Tulette.

When her house was cleared out after she died, my cousin found this violin and was surprised as he hadn’t heard the story of his mother’s failure to learn the instrument back in Aachen. In June I visited my cousin and retrieved said violin with a view to bring it back to life. It looked like this:

i.e. soundpost, bridge, chinrest, and three strings missing, no bow, a bit scratched, but otherwise ok. In the photo it sports an improvised bridge I made from half a bamboo ring. I kind of like the dark look with the light borders and I don’t mind the scratches. So I took it to a luthier for an appraisal and was quoted £250 (plus strings) to get it into shape, with the perspective that it might be worth up to £500 in perfect condition. Not a really good instrument but “good enough for folk” as we like to say in folk circles, semi-ironically.

While I was pondering whether or not to do this, I discovered at Oxfam an old book on The Making of Stringed Instruments for £ 4 (George Buchanan, 1989). As it happens, it contains a very useful page on the part I thought I couldn’t do, namely putting the soundpost inside the instrument. I cut the post from a random bit of wood I had lying around. Turns out with a bit of wire bent to make a holder, a tool I made from a broken spoke, and four or five attempts, I was able to fit it in. One crucial bit of information from the book was that one can easily unplug the peg that holds the tailpiece, and thus get a hole through which one can actually see the placement of the soundpost very nicely.

I bought a bridge online for £ 2.50, and the book was again very helpful on how to shape it correctly. I had a set of violin strings sitting around which I put on (I kept the historic E string though, see how long it lasts!), and now it’s beginning to look like a proper violin:

(in the battered historic case which is lovely but not very practical for sessions, it doesn't offer much protection and doesn't have shoulder straps)

And it may be me having a Pygmalion moment here, but I do like the sound of it. Will practice a little to be able to record a video that’s not too much out of tune. UPDATE: Here's my attempt at playing Bear dance and Hunt the squirrel on day 7 of trying to play the fiddle.

Meanwhile I spotted a Stentor student fiddle at Gumtree sold for £ 25 from an address where I cycle past every week, so I picked that up on my way – it came with two bows, and I’ll probably use the case and the chinrest for the old fiddle. It also had two packs of rosin, one new and one maybe used three times.

Oh, and with hindsight, looking at the old photos taken in my grandmother’s flat at Idar-Oberstein, I recognise the violin case sitting on top of the piano (eg here and here). Better than the attic, and I do wonder whether it was ever used in those years (until 1961).

Along with Heinrich the cello, Frieda the piano, and Blue the guitar, this is the fourth instrument we have that’s been in the family for more than half a century (and I’m not even counting my school recorder, which isn’t a very good one). In this sense, this should have been episode 3 in the much-neglected all instruments series, but it comes in at number 22. Oh, and maybe I should list my house as a shelter for neglected instruments.

Update 2.12.2022 After I figured out where the gears and the brakes are on this thing, I began to realise that the historic E string didn't sound as good as the new strings, so I replaced that one as well. And with the full set of new (Dominant) strings, the instrument is really sounding quite lovely. Oh, and I'm creating a violin tag, as I feel I will obsess about this instrument some more.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

guessing the great-grandmothers

Every picture tells a story, season 2, picture 10.

This photo from Silesia is a bit of a guessing game, but I think we have Gellrich family on the left, and Geppert family on the right, with their shared grandchild and two uncertain great-grandmothers? In which case we're looking at the 1940s.

(This is a high res scan in case anybody wants to zoom in and try to ID people.)

Which would mean that, identifying the grown-ups by their birth names as usual, we would have from left to right, Paul Gellrich sen., Hedwig Scholz, then the old lady could be the mother of either, i.e. Mathilde Metzner or Anna Kleße respectively (although I tend to prefer the latter interpretation, as I think she looks a bit more like Hedwig Scholz). The Gellrichs lived at Groß-Olbersdorf, Kreis Frankenstein, and we last saw them at the wedding of their daughter Maria.

On the right we have Martha Stephan and Wilhelm Geppert, the baker based at Dörndorf, Kreis Frankenstein. Of the Geppert family, three great-grandparents hailing from Reichenstein and Kamitz are known to have died earlier, with the only potential survivor being his mother, who was called Ottilie and was born either Scheidthauer or Büttner (conflicting info in different documents relating to her son.) Of the great-grandparents' generation we have no specific dates, places or other photos to compare this to, so very big question marks over these two.

Navigation tools:

Season 2 so far:

  1. could be a cousin
  2. two weddings in Silesia
  3. off to Canada
  4. off to Australia
  5. a very romantic poet
  6. fireman August
  7. 50 hundredweight of coffee
  8. mysterious Minden people
  9. horses for Hedwig
  10. guessing the great-grandmothers

The new twitter thread for the new season is here.

The twitter thread for season 1 is still here. It only loads 30 tweets at first, so you have to click "show more" a couple of times to get all 40 entries. Alternatively, visit the last instalment and find the numbered list of entries at the bottom.

I'm also adding all photos from this series to my family history album on flickr.

Monday, November 07, 2022

going bananas

Various things have gone completely bananas around here, to the extent that Der Spiegel called the UK the banana island, so a feature about the evolution and ecology of bananas appears to fit the zeitgeist. Starting from a recent genomes study, I also looked at the problems with pests and diseases, as well as the economic structures that gave bananas a bad name. Oh, and Jules Verne is in there too, as he made an important contribution to banana history.

The resulting feature is out today:

The trouble with bananas

Current Biology Volume 32, Issue 21, 7. November 2022, Pages R1201-R1203

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

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

See also my twitter thread with all this year's CB features.

In the producing countries, like here in Indonesia, a wider variety of bananas are grown and consumed locally. (Photo: Taufan Prasetya/Pixabay.)

Friday, November 04, 2022

tumblr resurrection

Back in February my tumblr account was terminated and I couldn't be bothered to start over again, but with all the things happening at twitter now, I was intrigued to hear on Wednesday that tumblr has - after nearly four years - given up on banning female presenting nipples. I thought that sounded like a step in the right direction, so I launched a new attempt, this time as prose2passion.

I'm also using Mastodon more regularly in an attempt to be better connected there when twitter collapses. It's amazing how much more activity I've seen on Mastodon since Musk carried that sink into twitter HQ. Still haven't tried pinterest.

I even tried to log into my old MySpace account but failed (even though I am quite sure I have the correct login details). Maybe they block logins that haven't been used for ten years.

my new profile pic on tumblr (dates from 2019 though). Am likely to keep the bookish theme there, so this seemed to fit. The book is A diagonal dos tolos by Santiago Lopo.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

horses for Hedwig

Every picture tells a story, season 2, picture 9.

When Hedwig had her photo taken with all those milking accessories, a horse crashed the photoshoot. Here she comes again, a bit later in life, with more unexplained horses.

This photo where she seems to be enjoying being the only woman in the presence of a bunch of young men dressed up for riding, hunting, or I don't know what, was taken at the Hammoser farm in Brase, now part of Neustadt am Rübenberge, Lower Saxony, where Hedwig and part of her family arrived after being evicted from Silesia.

By contrast, the location for this one is far from clear, could be Brase as well, but could still be Silesia. The guy driving the carriage is allegedly Hedwig's brother in law Max Fuss, who wouldn't have been in Brase, normally.

We've failed to track a pub of a name beginning with "B. Bein" (as per the large sign behind Hedwig) to Brase too. So, it's all slightly confusing.

Navigation tools:

Season 2 so far:

  1. could be a cousin
  2. two weddings in Silesia
  3. off to Canada
  4. off to Australia
  5. a very romantic poet
  6. fireman August
  7. 50 hundredweight of coffee
  8. mysterious Minden people
  9. horses for Hedwig

The new twitter thread for the new season is here.

The twitter thread for season 1 is still here. It only loads 30 tweets at first, so you have to click "show more" a couple of times to get all 40 entries. Alternatively, visit the last instalment and find the numbered list of entries at the bottom.

I'm also adding all photos from this series to my family history album on flickr.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

back to Bach

Plague Year(s) Bach Project, update

Back in July I did learn about half of the first bourree in Eb major, so that went to plan, but then August through to October were kind of busy and I've just about managed to consolidate the movements I can still remember. Just too much going on in the world.

Now I'm vaguely hopeful I can carry on memorising the rest of the bourree this month, might have to go into hibernation and cancel other activities, but fingers crossed.

Of the movements I had once learned, I have almost recovered the minuets 2.5, to add to the list of 1.3-1.6 and 3.5, so that will be six movements in an almost presentable shape which I keep on my revision list.

Emak Bakia, a piece of cello-inspired art by Man Ray which I saw at the Tate Modern in October, more info here.