Round Up of the week:brain structure,food and that wretched virus again

Our weekly round up things we think might still be important five years from now.

Brain architecture. Sometimes small clues lead to mighty discoveries. Secondly, when you discover a small but consistent pattern in everyones’ brain, you’re probably on to something deep in neural architecture, whatever that something is. The way the brain processes words and numbers differently has always fascinated. One for more research-and this time Nature gives us a video! Human brains struggle to subtract

When solving problems, people tend to think about adding something before they think of taking something away — even when subtracting is the better solution. Experiments show that this newly discovered psychological phenomenon applies across a range of situations, from improving a physical design to solving an abstract puzzle.Nature | 6 min video
Reference: Nature paper

When food was politics Even if you can’t get to Spain this year, here’s a story which will resonate. When the Christians conquered Granada in 1492, they tried to ban the locals from eating Muslim food. But locals carried on defiantly in secret, as archaeology now shows. Here’s The Conversation with a a great food story:

Coronavirus variants A year of experience shows that letting the coronavirus rip only leads to mutations and more infections. What are variants, and how do they work? Nature tells us below in a video called the Science of Coronavirus Variants

SARS-CoV-2 variants are complicated: each one is made up of a collection of mutations, all of which have the potential to change the virus in unexpected ways. A Nature video explores what they might mean for the future of the pandemic.Nature | 6 min video (on YouTube)

Weaning people off cars How do you get people out of gas-guzzlers and can you make them more healthy as you do it? There are different approaches. Here El Pais contasts the French approach, which is to get us all on bikes, with the Spanish who seem to be staking their all on electric cars. Does this reflect a cultural difference, we wonder?

warning- English followers will need their translation apps for this one

#brain #thinking #coronavirus #covid-19 #sars-cov-2 #pandemic #herdimmunity #spain #muslim #christian #food #granada #electricbicycles #greentransport

Friday Night: deconstructing the text with cocktails

Reading novels is tough work even when you’re sober. All those names! All those plotlines! All that worrying if the Heroine and the Hero are going to get it together by the end of the book. And now all these academics come along saying it isn’t enough just to read a book, you have to deconstruct its meaning. There are things like semiotics, symbolism and subalterns. There are Marxist readings, feminist readings, structuralists, post modernists and goodness knows who else who all seem to know more about everything than the actaul author of the book did. It’s enough to make you give up reading and take up a field sport like clay pigeon shooting. And paint all the targets with names like DERRIDA, LACAN and BAUDRILLARD, just to have the pleasure of exploding their theories.

So now we’ve come up with an alternative-a drinker’s reading of the text. And just to start you off, we’ve chosen that old favourite: The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. The plot as usual, is a bit confusing. The Hero, Gatsby, lives on a penninsular near Long Island, and still fancies some old flame whose name we can’t remember, who lives on a nearby penninsular. She in turn is married to a bloke called Tom who, to put it politely,is having an affair with a woman called Myrtle, whose husband is, understandably, a bit miffed. Don’t worry too much-the point is that , in order to win the affections of his lost love, Gatsby throws the most amazing parties where everyone wears great clothes and drinks cocktails until they fall over. Educated readers will recall the last lot of twenties as a whirlwind of Jazz, flappers, fast cars prohibition, cocktails, gangsters, ocean liners and aviation records. And Fitzgerald’s masterwork puts you right in there, clinking glasses with the likes of Babe Ruth and Rudolf Valentino, as ’twere. You don’t think anyone obeyed Prohibition, do you? It was just like the drug laws today.

We’ve found an amazing site called Great Drinksby, * where you can choose from amazing specials of the roaring twenties like Long Island Iced Tea, Manhattan , Mint Julep and lots, lots more. And to help it down a video of the old Gershwin classic I’ll make a New step to Paradise sung by the incredibly cool Mr Rufus Wainwright. * So the next time some deluded intellectual tries to draw you into textual exegesis, tell them that you prefer the drinkers road to textual deconstruction. Cheers!

Great Gatsby? Great Drinksby! Top 10 Roaring ’20s Cocktails – E! Online

#thegreatgatsby #cocktails #longisland #manhattan #fscottfitzgerald #postmodernism

John Locke, and the limitations of our time

If you had asked Thomas Jefferson who were his three top thinkers he would have replied Newton, Francis Bacon and John Locke. We chose this week’s hero because when we looked him up,we found he illustrated something very profound, but also very trite, about heroes and about people in general.

Jefferson was right. Locke is a towering figure by any standards. leave aside that he was an excellent teacher and doctor. His Two Treatises of Government had a profound effect on the Founding Fathers of he United States. His contributions to philosophy are immense, effortlessly bridging Bacon and Spinoza, and thereby opening the way to the marvellous Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. His writings against slavery, in favour of religious toleration and for liberalism in general seem to lie at the root of the modern world. His contributions to economic theory were far from negligible.

Yet this anti slaver by night was a keen instigator of the dreadful slave codes of South Carolina in his day job. This founder of liberalism advocated compulsory work for the children of the poor from age three onwards, to tap their productivity and instil a healthy work ethic. Enterprising readers will no doubt find many more examples of how he was not an all round nice guy of the sort so beloved of Hollywood movies. Few great men and women are. Few ordinary people are. Locke had a living to earn, and like the rest of us was a child of his times. if he saw amazingly clearly on some issues, then that is to his credit. If he took things for granted that we now find odd or barbaric, he is not alone. It wasn’t so very long ago that smoking was seen as normal, admirable, and a certain guarantor of both public wisdom and private virtue.There are many today who would love to use his faults to close down his work. They are the enemies, the sorts that fill up the academies and secret police departments in totalitarian states. Locke and his followers discussed ideas, not people. They did all the good stuff in History.

John Locke – Wikipedia

#locke #empricism #liberalism #philosophy #americanrevolution #foundingfathers #politicaltheory

RNA spells new hope

Once, long ago in the far off mists of history (about AD 2001) all the smart talk was DNA. Remember the human genome project? How it would solve all crimes? Epigenetics? * CRISPR? Alright, it is good stuff still. But now there’s a new kid on the block. Astute readers may recall how DNA has a Cinderella sister called RNA, hitherto relegated to a fetch and carry role for its snooty sister. Now poor old RNA may be about to step forward to a leading role in medicine, giving us all longer, healthier lives.

We allknow how the latest generation of vaccines against COVID-19 are based on RNA. And we can be pretty sure that RNA vaccines are only going to get better. Now the Conversation‘s Oliver Rogoyski explains how it could be a major way ahead in drug development and diagnostics. It’s a nice little read. And once again, it illustrates a nice little point: thinking hard about solutions is usually more productive than wailing about how bad everything is.

For those who want to know more about genetics this series of books by Nessa Carey is agreat starting point

#rna #dna #medicine #vaccines #covid-19 #nessacarey

Has Quantum Computing hit a snag?

By now, LSS regulars can cite our Three Big Things For The Future by heart. They are Artificial Intelligence (AI) Quantum Computing (QC) and CRISPR (no, we’re not going there). As every schoolchild will know, AI and CRISPR are swimming along nicely. And last year (LSS 24 June 2020) we enthused about the latest achievements of the QC crowd. It seemed only a matter of months before there would be a Quantum Computer in every home, running the washing machine, cutting the lawn and solving all those irritating mathematical paradoxes you had never quite got round to.

As anyone who has tried to build a quantum computer in their garage will tell you, one of the best things you can have is a Majorana particle. Or even two, if you can get hold of them. And that’s where the rot has started. Controversy over their detection, production, measurement, recording and writing up for journals is now ruffling feathers across the whole field. What such a particle is, and what is going on is well explained in the link to the Nature Briefings article Quantum Computing’s reproducibility crisis below:

A shadow has fallen over the race to detect a new type of quantum particle, the Majorana fermion, that could power quantum computers. Controversy over experiments that initially claimed to have detected Majorana particles — but remain unconfirmed — is eroding confidence in the field, says physicist Sergey Frolov, who calls for more accountability and openness from researchers and journal editors.Nature | 9 min read

It’s the sort of crisis that has beset every new field of applied science since the Industrial Revolution, and will be loved by economic historians and Hegelians alike, for obvious reasons. Our advice has always been the same too: don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.

Quantum computing and quantum supremacy, explained | WIRED UK

#quantumcomputing #quantumphysics #appliedscience #technology #fermion #majorana

1921,2021. Alarming parallels

In 1920 Britain enjoyed a post war boom. All the savings and bonds locked up in the war years, and Spanish flu pandemic, came pouring out of pockets and into the tills of shops and pubs. Lloyd George‘s Government embarked on a massive programme of house building to produce Homes fit for Heroes. Europe lay stricken by war. Imperial conflicts in Iraq, India and Ireland were grave, but seemed manageable. Yet by 1921 the country had fallen into a dire economic slump. GDP fell by around 8.4%: unemployment rose to 17%; manufacturing, saw a hurricane of closures. What went wrong?

In a nutshell, it was the ancient British disease of failing to invest while trying to live beyond one’s means, which the First World War accentuated sharply. During the war, British access to traditional markets was lost to competitors. It was never regained, leaving a permanent hole in our national book-keeping. One result was that London lost its preeminence as the financial centre of the world, primarily to New York. From that point on, there was never enough money to finance Britain’s global commitments. Down the road lay the first Imperial loss (Ireland 1922) Winston Churchill‘s disastrous return to the Gold Standard in (1925) and the General Strike of 1926, which could have lead to revolution. The point of History is to provide lessons for today; are there any for the British of 2021?

Larry Elliott of the Guardian * summarises our dilemma today. Everything ahead points to nice little boom. Masses of savings piled up in the pandemic are about to be spent. Interests rates will be low, and the Bank of England will be deeply reluctant to raise them soon.The housing market is rising steeply. Everything could be back to a rough normal by July, except that elsewhere LSS has seen mouth-watering GDP growth forecasts of up to 5.2% for the third quarter. What’s not to like?

Problems start in the business sector, especially SMEs. Up to now they have got through COVID on a mix of Government loas, furlough schemes and tax brakes. Many have piled up debts. The result is massive problems in balance sheets. Elliott quotes Ian Kernohan of Heteronomics:

many businesses now lack the working capital that will be needed to allow them to expand as demand picks up in the coming months. “

A short, heady boom will cause grave mismatches in supply and demand, in turn leading to massive trade deficits and rising inflation. Think of the British economy as a runner about to go into a major event without having the necessary muscles or stamina. It was exactly the same in 1921 and the likely outcome is equally poor.

As the grip of Covid eases, the UK looks set for a classic short-lived boom | Economic growth (GDP) | The Guardian

#postwarslump #1921 #lloydgeorge #winstonchurchill #covid-19 #britisheconomy#larryelliott #generalstrike

Round up of the week: hope on climate change,cults, AI and DNA.

We’re overwhelmed with candidates for round up, and we know that busy readers have to be selective. All we could do was to say “we think this will still be relevant in five years’ time.” So come back on April 10 2026 and find out.

Hope on Global warming. It’s not just carbon dioxide; lurking perilously in the background is methane, which has 80 times the warming power of CO2. We need to soak it up fast, and these Australian researchers may have found a bacterium which does just that. Thanks to The Conversation and Nature Communications

Opening closed minds. What’s it like to come back from a cult? Can you? Here’s Buzzfeed with a fascinating piece on the reactions of Q Anon followers to the dashing of their hopes back in January. Don’t expect one dimensional responses.

We thank Mr P Seymour of Hertfordshire for this lead

AI might be good! Mention AI and everyone goes into meltdown about “the machines are taking over.” Maybe they’ve been watching too many Terminator movies. We’ve long advocated using AI for medical research. Now a team in California are showing how it can be used to map, predict, and who knows, maybe even prevent natural disasters like wildfires. And-remember our piece on Goethe and the tyranny of specialisation? (LSS 6 April 2021) AI may even let us rebuild multidisciplinary teams again. Has to be worth a look.

We thank Mr G Herbert of Buckinghamshire for this lead

Who’s the Daddy now? We wrote to Nature Briefings demanding more articles on early humans. Looks like they’ve obliged. This is cutting edge stuff, implying that humans and Neanderthals may be very mixed,and we expect a lot more turn ups for the book in the next five years:

Scientists have sequenced the oldest Homo sapiens DNA on record, which showed that many of Europe’s first humans had Neanderthals in their family trees. All present-day people whose ancestry isn’t solely African carry Neanderthal DNA, but there are questions about when and how the genetic mixing occurred. Three individuals found in Bacho Kiro Cave in Bulgaria, dated to between 45,900 and 42,600 years old, had “huge chunks” of Neanderthal DNA and probably had Neanderthal ancestors as recently as the past six or seven generations. A woman found in the Zlatý kůň cave in the Czech Republic is thought to be well over 45,000 years old and has Neanderthal ancestry going back considerably longer: 70–80 generations. None of the individuals are related to later Europeans, but the Bacho Kiro people shared a connection with contemporary East Asians and Native Americans. The research adds to growing evidence that modern humans mixed regularly with Neanderthals and other extinct relatives.Nature | 5 min read

Devilish Bacteria resist antibiotics-again. Long standing readers will know of our obsession with antibiotic resistance and how it will kill us all unless something is done. Here’s a Conversation piece about how they do it. It’s interesting to compare the survival tricks of the two organisms. Humans thinkwith their brains. Bacteria “think” with numbers. Numbers usually win in the long run.

A message to the people of Northern Ireland: While you’re busy throwing stones at each other over your petty little differences, people like those mentioned above are creating the real future. Isn’t there a danger you are going to get left behind? Here’s a clue- you can do AI research whether you’re a Protestant or a Catholic.

#AI #DNA #Neanderthal #humans #disasterpredictions #northernireland #globalwarming #climatechange #antibiotics #cult #qanon #catholic #protestant

Ale? Yeah!

This week our guest columnist is renowned journalist and entrepreneur Mr Lindsay Charlton

The Editor of this renowned organ, usually reserves Friday for his witty reflections on cocktails, but for this auspicious weekend, I wish to propose a vote for beer, and lots of it. On Monday, hard-pressed victuallers across the land, will at last be able to pull a pint and serve it to chilly customers, sitting in their garden, marquee, car park or specially designed boozing gazebo. The British pub has had a difficult time these past 20 years, magnified by the colossal assault on business caused by the pandemic. In 2000 there were 60,000 public houses across the UK, by 2020 that number had shrunk by 13,600 and according to The Morning Advertiser, the traditional publican’s bible, 2500 shut their doors last year alone.

Weary landlords have had to watch shoppers transport cut price beers from supermarkets to their homes, while being forbidden to sell takeaway pints themselves. And there is a tidal wave of the stuff ready to be unleashed. UK consumption totals 28 million barrels each year, produced by 2273 breweries Indeed, according to more research by The Morning Advertiser 8.5 billion glasses of beer were served across oaken bars and zinc tops in 2018 surpassing sales of wine that came in at 7.4 billion glasses.

But then it is more than beer that draws us to the pub. William Blake put it well: “A good local pub has much in common with a church except that a pub is warmer and there’s more conversation”. Also, much more alcohol.  Dylan Thomas, who loved pubs almost as much as he loved woman and poetry said: “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies, I think that’s a record,” and died shortly afterwards.

Yes, simple human contact, chatter, laughter, dispute, humour, yelling at your football team on the TV above the optics, a chance to meet a stranger, sometimes planned, often not. The atmosphere oiled, usually improved and made convivial by a well pulled pint.

There’s another intangible quality about a wood panelled bar in a country pub, summed up by a young man in Shakespeare’s Henry V shortly before the Battle of Agincourt: “I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety”. He meant surviving the coming battle, but it hints at another fundamental attraction offered by pubs at their best. They provide a sanctuary, somewhere to feel protected, if only for a few fleeting hours. Blake had a point about pubs and churches.

The pub, the bar, the alehouse, have been foundation stones of British culture for more than a thousand years, and like me, I suspect you’ve missed them. But like other endangered species, their habitat and customers will be released and renewed on Monday. So visit your local, raise a glass and salute an institution which, unlike so much else in life, feels permanent. But do take a jumper, as you can’t go for inside until May 18!

About the Author

Lindsay Charlton, then a teenage baby boomer, drank his first pint of brown ale aged 14 in a pub somewhere in South London, in 1967. It was shared with three close mates, because they could only afford the one drink. These days he usually consumes a full pint on his own unless someone else is buying in which case he may have three or four.

#pub #beer #ale #lockdown #covid-19 #coronavirus #pandemic

The secret of the universe is 1/137

What did Paul Dirac describe as “the most fundamental problem of physics?”. What did Richard Feynman call ” a magic number that comes to us with no understanding?” The answer is the Fine Structure Constant or α- constant, which works out at close to 1/137 (see below)

Today we’ve got a piece of really good, clear science journalism for you by Natalie Wolchover of Quanta magazine. * For over a hundred years now physicists working over a whole range of advanced problems- light, electromagnetism, the structure of matter, you name it, keep finding that the calculations keep coming back to this strange, mysterious and recurring number. Because its so important, the race is on to measure it more and more precisely. Good science journalism makes the work of really clever people easy for us ordinary mortals. Natalie takes us lightly through a tour de force of work by scientist Saida Guellati-Khélifa and her team,who have fine-tuned it down to 1/137.035999206, with an uncertainty of 0.000000011. Was that about what you were expecting? Natalie has the first link, but we’ve posted another, just in case you want to dig deeper.* Passé Criswell, we predict: with all these new forces and theories turning up, the world of physics is in for an exciting ride in the next decade.

we thank Mr Gary Herbert of Buckinghamshire for this story

#finestructureconstant #physics #quantumphysics #universe #speedof light #time #space #measurement

All the best with 30/30, wildlife trusts

We always love it when someone comes up with a different idea for the better. Up to now, conservation organisations like the Wildlife Trusts in the UK have concentrated on buying the very best examples of nature to save from developers. Now they’ve had a brainwave-why not buy up bits of abandoned or underused land and transform them into thriving ecological communities? Their target is amazingly ambitious-they want to get 30% of UK land back to the wild by 2030. But they’ve got the wind in their sales, they’ve raised £8m in six months and today are pushing their flagship project across the media. It’s a former golfcourse in Carlisle which will be transformed into a nature reserve comlete with 1500 new trees and shrubs. Have a look at the link *, but explore the site-it’s full of good projects and pictures.

And this is important for people too. Anyone who has lived in a densely crowded environment such as southern England will know how precious these tiny oases of wildland are. We’ll let William Cook of The Spectator wax lyrical on the joys of walking through Ruislip Woods, a tiny fragment of green on the western edge of London. We guess that a developer somewhere can’t wait to smash it to pieces so they can erect a wasteland of concrete and metal in its place. The Wildlife Trusts are fighting everyone’s battle against these destroyers. Please help them if you can.

Almost £8 million raised in 6 months for The Wildlife Trusts’ nature recovery plans | The Wildlife Trusts

#wildlifetrusts #30/30 #conservation #globalwarming #nature #climatechange