Sunday, February 05, 2023

people move

In one of the most important books of recent years, Gaia Vince managed to knit together two big issues of our time, climate catastrophe and migration, into a coherent argument that even manages to squeeze some hope out of the mess we're in. Whereas politicians and media too often tend to exaggerate migration problems while ignoring or playing down climate problems, Vince argues that migration is not only a normal part of being human but also a necessary part of the solution to the problems we're facing including climate catastrophe.

Nomad Century
by Gaia Vince
Allen Lane 2022

The book has already been widely reviewed and recommended, so to add my voice to the choir, here's my long essay review out now in C&I:

Moving times

Chemistry & Industry Volume 87, Issue 11, January 2023, Page 36

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled PDF of the whole review section)

SCI (premium content, ie members only)

Blackwells

Thursday, January 26, 2023

the oberlehrer's family

Every picture tells a story, season 2, picture 21.

Anna Kauer, the middle one of the five daughters of the station master of Adamsweiler, Alsace, was born just before Christmas 1880 in Mörchingen (Morhange, dept. Moselle). In 1901, she married Heinrich Thiebold, a teacher from Weislingen (Alsace, near Adamsweiler) who ended up as Oberlehrer (one step up from the common or garden teacher) at the protestant Volksschule (standard school from primary up to the end of compulsory schooling) in Brebach, which is now part of Saarbrücken. Their first child, born in Brebach, died from croup or diphtheria in 1906, aged only three years and three months. Air pollution in the heavily industrialised area may have been an issue. They later moved to a lovely house in nearby Güdingen where they had three more children of whom we have various photos.

Here we have the parents with Martha (born 1907, just a year older than her cousin Ruth) and Robert (born 1910) and their dog (I presume):

And here we have all three surviving children (the youngest, Hertha, was born in 1917):

And the two sisters outside their house in Güdingen:

A systematic list of Anna Kauer's extended family is here (she is under 1.4).

Should anybody have any answers to some of the many questions I am raising in this series, please leave a comment here (I'll need to vet it, so it may take a few days before it goes public) or contact me at michaelgrr [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk

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
  13. travelling saleswoman
  14. family portrait
  15. dancing chemist
  16. games time
  17. desperately searching Wilhelm
  18. the third Hedwig
  19. patchwork portraits
  20. missing brothers
  21. the oberlehrer's family

I started a twitter thread for season 2 here. However, as the bird site seems to be turning into an evil empire, I have now switched to logging the entries in a similar thread on Mastodon.

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, January 23, 2023

ecosystem breakdown

Ecosystems are complex networks of interactions that can collapse when things go wrong. Researchers now have the options to study ecosystem collapses in computer models, in microbial test tube systems, and unfortunately also in major natural ecosystems like the Great Salt Lake (shown below), which are collapsing before our eyes. In my latest feature, I have collected examples of all three kinds of studies and looked for lessons regarding what to do:

When ecosystems collapse

Current Biology Volume 33, Issue 2, 23. January 2023, Pages R41-R44

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 brand-new Mastodon thread where I will highlight all this year's CB features.

The receding water levels of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA, have left microbial reefs exposed to bleaching. (Photo: Wikicommons/Farragutful (CC BY-SA 4.0).)

Saturday, January 21, 2023

cello meditations

Plague Year(s) Bach Project, update

I am beginning to notice that my Bach practice is becoming a meditation exercise more than a learning one. I start with one of the five movements I know really well (1.3 - 1.6, 3.5), then the one I have recently re-learned after forgetting it during the gap time (2.5), and finally the one I'm trying to learn, the first bourree in Eb (4.5). By which time I am so elevated in spirit I have a completely relaxed attitude to any learning progress or lack thereof. I have managed to memorise 3/4 of the bars by now, so there may be an end in sight (but I know I've said that before).

In the long term, however, when the brain is full and the supply of learning ambition empty, I could imagine just playing two known movements each day for meditation, that's very soothing in troubled times.

I have run out of cello pics, but here's old Heinrich's bow, which I am using, while the young cellist uses her own bow. You'll notice that I have almost used up my first set of bow hair - not sure how many hours of playing that translates to, but it's a fair few:

The cork is useful because I hold the bow from the end not from above - the way I learned to bow the double bass many years ago. A bass bow has a much bigger frog so enough material to grab it by from the side. With a cello bow it's a bit trickier but the cork keeps it in place. Also, I read that at the time when Bach wrote the suites, the modern bow hold from above hadn't become common practice yet, so I can always claim I do it in the name of authenticity. Moreover, on the top right you notice the dent where old Heinrich's index finger has worn off the bow. By holding it from the other side, I can preserve this historic trace of our old cellist.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

missing brothers

Every picture tells a story, season 2, picture 20.

We've met Ernst Leopold the steel worker as well as his mother, Auguste Adschuck. We don't have a photo of his father, Friedrich Kosmowsky, born in Gerdauen, East Prussia in 1862. Out of Ernst Leopold's six siblings, only Friedrich with the fiddle and the forester Albert have made a mark in this series so far (although their sister Anna, mother of Grete Kalippke who emigrated to Canada, pops up in a group photo to be shared later).

Here is a curious family portrait uniting family members of two of Ernst Leopold's brothers, minus these brothers themselves.

A newer inscription on the back clarifies that the woman standing on the left is Ella, wife of Franz Kosmowsky (who ended up in Cologne after the war, and I don't think we have any photo of him) whereas the older woman sitting is Auguste, wife of Albert Kosmowsky, erstwhile forester in East Prussia, but after the war settled in Hennef (Sieg), not too far from Cologne. An earlier inscription from an unknown author reads: "Tante Ella Oswald Marianne Oma mit Frantzi + Heinz". I have no idea who Oswald is, could be a son of Franz. I assume that the children Marianne and Frantzi are both grandchildren of Auguste (and Albert the forester). I have a son called Heinz on record for each of the two absent brothers (contradicted by the stag photo where the boy in the family is labelled as Fritz, possibly in error), so if this information is correct, the guy on the right could be linked to either. For simplicity I'll just assume that he and the children are all attached to Albert and Auguste's family. I don't have precise dates for anybody involved, but I guess they will have had their children in the 1950s most likely.

I keep thinking this photo looks strangely American, but there is no indication that it is any other location than Hennef or Cologne.

Let me throw in a couple of bonus picture of Heinz Kosmowsky's earlier years:

If this Heinz is Albert and Auguste's son, the girls could be the sisters we saw in the photo with the dead stag, including Charlotte. Come to think of it, the oldest girl looks a lot like Charlotte. It only says Heinz on the back though, so no guarantees. It is dated 1929.

This one says Heinz Kosmowski (with an i) on the back, and has the stamp of the photographer's atelier: Goetze-Steindamm / Königsberg (Pr). Steindamm was a major street in the centre with lots of shops and six tram lines.

This suggests Heinz was still in East Prussia as a young adult, during WW2. Charlotte was born 1919, so the photo with the girls would date Heinz to a birth date in the late 1920s. He may have just been lucky to escape service at the end of the war, but how he got out of East Prussia we don't have a clue.

Should anybody have any answers to some of the many questions I am raising in this series, please leave a comment here (I'll need to vet it, so it may take a few days before it goes public) or contact me at michaelgrr [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk

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
  13. travelling saleswoman
  14. family portrait
  15. dancing chemist
  16. games time
  17. desperately searching Wilhelm
  18. the third Hedwig
  19. patchwork portraits
  20. missing brothers

I started a twitter thread for season 2 here. However, as the bird site seems to be turning into an evil empire, I have now switched to logging the entries in a similar thread on Mastodon.

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.

See also my Lost Cities series (which may get an extension at some point).

Friday, January 13, 2023

no longer famous

Two years ago, I was wondering why views of my blog had shot up by an order of magnitude in December (2020) and stayed high in the new year. They stayed consistently at the new high level for two years. Typically, a new entry had a good chance of making 1000 views within three months after posting. I never found an explanation for this sudden rise to (very moderate) fame.

In the week beginning 26.12.2022, the views appear to have crashed back down to the kind of level that was normal before December 2020. So I'm left wondering where my ephemeral fame went ...

This is how views per time went up (in the all time view) - the crash at the end isn't representative in this view, as the last data point is the incomplete month of January:

And this is how they came down, showing the last three months only. There was a spike before xmas which compensates the drop after xmas, so the drop doesn't show in the monthly figure for December in the first graph above.

I'm wondering if it's some sort of dark magic perpetrated by Google, making my blog more or less visible. The crash could also be linked to the current crisis at twitter (with the spike before xmas correlating to the high activity of twitter refugees on mastodon). But at the end of the day I'm still puzzled, so all hints appreciated (although I do realise that not very many people are going to see this entry).

Thursday, January 12, 2023

patchwork portraits

Every picture tells a story, season 2, picture 19.

Of the ca. 15 children coming out of the East Prussian patchwork family, we have seen Auguste Faust as a young woman in Allenburg, at the bottom of the stairs of her workplace, and then again half a century later with her sisters in Lippstadt, West Germany.

I don't have individual portraits of all the siblings as young adults, but here's what I've got. First, have another one of young Auguste (loving the Vermeer-style setup with the window):

Maybe the small book hints at the occasion being her confirmation?

This is the only one I have of Luise (later: Hiesske), which dates from 1925.

Concerning their other siblings, we have no early portraits of Johanna (Krieger) but lots later in life, and none whatsoever of the older brother, Karl Otto Faust. There are images of Adolf Faust who probably didn't survive WW1:

I'm guessing he belongs to the first Faust family in the patchwork. Which may also be the case for aunt Therese, whose mysterious position in the family tree I will investigate later.

Should anybody have any answers to some of the many questions I am raising in this series, please leave a comment here (I'll need to vet it, so it may take a few days before it goes public) or contact me at michaelgrr [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk

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
  13. travelling saleswoman
  14. family portrait
  15. dancing chemist
  16. games time
  17. desperately searching Wilhelm
  18. the third Hedwig
  19. patchwork portraits

I started a twitter thread for season 2 here. However, as the bird site seems to be turning into an evil empire, I have now switched to logging the entries in a similar thread on Mastodon.

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.

See also my Lost Cities series (which may get an extension at some point).

Monday, January 09, 2023

now we're 8 billion

This year, there are 8 billion humans alive on the planet, and very soon there will be more people in India than in China. As I am old enough to remember the passing of the 4 billion milestone as well as that of one billion Chinese, these figures sound a bit scary, but interestingly, continuing population growth today is less worrying than it was back then. It's no longer exponential, we can see the peak coming later this century, and right now we have several other global problems to be scared of.

I've picked the first feature of the new year for a look forward at the likely development of human population in the rest of the 21st century, and the problems we're facing. The feature is out now:

Human population at the crossroads

Current Biology Volume 33, Issue 1, 9. January 2023, Pages R1-R3

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 brand-new Mastodon thread where I will highlight all this year's CB features.

The car-centric lifestyle of countries like the United States cannot be scaled to the global population of eight billion. (Photo: pixaoppa/Pixabay.) Personally, I find two billion cars more frightening than eight billion people.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

old dogs and new tricks

Two months into the experience of learning to play my aunt's ancient violin I am tempted to say: If I had known that it was so easy, I would have started 50 years earlier. I'll admit, however, that 20 years of obsessing about cello playing (first the young musician's, more recently my own) has helped to make it appear easy. Firstly, the skills are more transferable than I thought, and also I have been exposed to quite a bit of violin advice eg in string classes at the Oxford Music Festival. Moreover, seven years of folk sessions have taught me that you don't have to be Paganini to get some music out of a fiddle.

Oh and I realised that the top three strings of the fiddle are essentially a D whistle. Anything I can play on a D whistle I can also play on the fiddle - which is handy because two years ago I made a list of tunes to practice on the whistle, I can just transfer that. In a broader sense, this covers most of the Slow Session repertoire, anything with one or two sharps. I am not attempting anything with flats yet.

So, anyhow, here's my two-month video playing the Handlarens Vals and messing up the B part a bit. I am really pleased I can sort of play it though, because this lovely Scandi tune doesn't really work on the flute. And it fits the fiddle range just perfectly. Give me another month and I might even be able to play it a bit faster.

On the cello front, I am very slowly approaching the tail end of the first bourree in Eb major (4th suite), so watch this space.

Friday, January 06, 2023

serious donkey business

Here's my round-up of German pieces September 2022 through January 2023, with serious features on donkeys, Neanderthals and anosmia, as well as less serious sketches on wearable electronics, insulin, and recycling of coffee residue. All of the features and one of the sketches are free to read (i.e. anybody can display them in their browser, but not download them), this may be a change of policy, as I have seen the "free to read" mark on lots of articles as I looked up mine.

Wie wir auf den Esel kamen
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 71, Issue 1, Jan. 2023, Pages 73-74
free to read via Wiley Online Library
related content in English: A brief history of donkeys

Ausgeforscht: Elektronik hautnah
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 71, Issue 1, Jan. 2023, Page 106
free to read via Wiley Online Library

Der Neandertaler in uns
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 70, Issue 12, Dec. 2022, Pages 68-70
free to read via Wiley Online Library
related content in English: Neanderthals come to life

Ausgeforscht: Nobelpreis-Verlierer
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 70, Issue 11, Nov. 2022, Page 114
restricted access via Wiley Online Library
related content in English: The messy story of insulin

Ist Geruchsverlust heilbar?
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 70, Issue 10, Oct. 2022, Pages 64-65
free to read via Wiley Online Library
related content in English: In search of lost smell

Ausgeforscht: Redox-Recycling im Kaffeesatz
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 70, Issue 9, Sept. 2022, Page 114
restricted access via Wiley Online Library

Don Quixote de la Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863, by Gustave Doré - here as elsewhere, the donkey is ridiculed as a beast of burden less noble than the closely related horse, although it has served humans much longer.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

the third Hedwig

Every picture tells a story, season 2, picture 18.

When I wrote about the war-time household where three grown-up women all went by the name of Hedwig Gellrich, I shared a photo with three women, which turned out to contain only two of the three Hedwigs (the young lady with the long dark hair is still unidentified, I will have to dedicate a separate entry to her at some point, as she pops up in lots of photos).

So here is the third Hedwig, who wasn't in the photos, together with her firstborn child, Waltraud:

Waltraud got stuck with the ball habit, so here she is a few years later with another ball.

I'm guessing Waltraud's dad (of whom we only have a very small and blurred photo) must have died during the war, because Hedwig soon married Eugen Brod and had more children with him:

Should anybody have any answers to some of the many questions I am raising in this series, please leave a comment here (I'll need to vet it, so it may take a few days before it goes public) or contact me at michaelgrr [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk

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
  13. travelling saleswoman
  14. family portrait
  15. dancing chemist
  16. games time
  17. desperately searching Wilhelm
  18. the third Hedwig

I started a twitter thread for season 2 here. However, as the bird site seems to be turning into an evil empire, I have now switched to logging the entries in a similar thread on Mastodon.

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.

See also my Lost Cities series (which may get an extension at some point).