13th July 2020

Science Why are we ‘milking’ crabs for a coronavirus vaccine?

Science Why are we ‘milking’ crabs for a coronavirus vaccine?

Science

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They’ve got 10 eyes, have existed for more than 300 million years – and we use their pale blue blood to keep us all safe.

No, it’s not science fiction, just plain old science. We’re talking about the horseshoe crab.

For decades we’ve needed them, and their blood, to help us discover human medicines.

They’re being used today to help scientists research a potential coronavirus vaccine.

But there are questions about how many are still around, how the process affects the animals and some campaigners want this “milking” of horseshoe crabs stopped.

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Around 30 percent of each crab’s blood is taken out

Science How do they help?

These “living fossils” matter because their blood helps make sure there are no dangerous bacteria in newly created drugs – the sort of bacteria that can kill people even in tiny amounts.

An extract in the crab’s blood cells chemically reacts to harmful stuff and scientists use it to test if new medicines are safe.

And horseshoe crab blood is the only thing humans can find, anywhere on earth, that does this.

Each year hundreds of thousands are caught and taken to labs in America, where some of their blood’s removed from a vein near their heart.

Then they’re released back into the wild.

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The species has been around so long horseshoe crabs are known as “living fossils”

Science ‘No one really knows the impact it has’

Initially, experts reckoned nearly all crabs survived the unlikely donation.

But in recent years, it’s been estimated that anything up to 30% die from it.

Oher studies suggest female crabs that go through it are less likely to mate afterwards.

All of that, say wildlife campaigners, causes problems.

“Right now, they bleed about half a million crabs,” says Dr Barbara Brummer, who’s in charge of a team working on conserving nature for the state of New Jersey – where a lot in America are caught.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “no-one really knows the impact the withdrawal of blood has on the life of that crab” when they’re put back alive.

American horseshoe crabs are now close to officially being seen as an endangered species.

But some of the big companies who make drugs point to stats that suggest numbers have stayed roughly the same for a few years now.

Science ‘We can move away from this natural source’

A lot of research has been done into creating a man-made substance that could replace the blood.

And in 2016 – bingo.

Scientists came up with an alternative which was given the okay to be used in Europe. Some drug companies in the US joined in as well.

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So why are we talking about this now?

Because last month, the organisation that decides on what makes drugs safe in America said it can’t prove the alternative works well enough.

Any companies wanting to sell medicines in the States have been told they need to keep using crab blood for testing.

That means anyone who might come up with a coronavirus vaccine will need to check it out it the old way – if they want to be able to get it to millions of Americans.

Dr Barbara says she’s pushing for them to take another look – since the other option’s being used elsewhere.

“It’s so we can move away from relying on this natural source,” she says.

Some drugs companies say they can meet the demand for a Covid-19 vaccine without having to take blood from many more crabs than normal.

But Dr Brummer says there are “at least 30 companies working on a vaccine” and “every one of them has to go through this testing.

“So my concern is about the population of the horseshoe crabs – because they’re such a key part of the eco system.”

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13th July 2020

Science Star Wars and sunflowers: Your home schooling stories

Science Star Wars and sunflowers: Your home schooling stories

Science

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After 12 weeks, parents and pupils are struggling with home learning

It’s 14 weeks since schools across Scotland were closed as part of a plan to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

Although some children have continued to go to childcare “hubs” at schools, most have spent lockdown at home and parents have had to juggle home-schooling with their own employment.

Now that many pupils are now officially on their summer break, parents have been telling us how home-schooling worked for them – and how they feel about the prospect of their children returning full-time in August.

Science ‘It’s been a challenge’ – Derek Miller, Aberdeenshire

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Derek Miller

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The Millers have tried their best with home schooling but have struggled with a poor internet connection

For Derek Miller’s family, home learning has been a challenge. He has been trying to juggle working from home while his two sons, who are 13 and 15, get on with school work.

They have struggled with a poor internet connection at their rural Aberdeenshire home.

But he says this is only part of the difficulty – while his sons’ school is trying its best, the absence of traditional classroom teaching has made things tough.

“We are relying heavily on them self-disciplining and supervising themselves”, he added.

He said that not always having access to a teacher to clarify simple queries has presented problems. How available teachers are to pupils has been mixed. He suspects some teachers have struggled with working from home.

“When they get stuck then sometimes I can help with things if I remember it from school – a lot of the time I can’t help because I don’t have time. It is a bit of a farce really”, he said.

Derek said that the news children might be able to go back to school full-time after summer was a welcome relief.

Science ‘A disaster’ – Carole Lyons, East Renfrewshire

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Carole Lyons says home schooling has been “a disaster”. She has one daughter, and Carole says she can’t imagine how difficult it must be for families with more children.

There has been the odd taught class, and a few lecture-style videos. Most lessons have been more like home work rather than teaching.

Her daughter, who is finishing first year at high school, has been given reading and research to do, with very limited teaching taking place.

Carole was concerned and asked the school how to help, and was “basically told to back off”.

She says she doesn’t fault the teachers, because they are trying their best, but had been concerned that blended learning would be an “absolute shambles” in August.

She had been concerned about the prospect of blended learning after the summer, but is not too worried about her daughter catching up on what she has missed if schools return full-time in August.

Science Virtual piano lessons – Mark Cummings, East Dunbartonshire

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Mark Cummings’ daughters attend a fee-paying school, and he is very pleased with how quickly it adapted to the circumstances.

His youngest daughter is in nursery and has had video calls with her teacher and classmates every week.

His eldest daughter is finishing primary one. Twice a day she has virtual lessons with her teacher, with other work set to be completed independently.

She has even been able to keep up with her piano lessons – virtually, of course.

Science Learning life skills – Sandy Rennie, Inverness

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Sandy Rennie

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The Rennie children have been using the afternoons to learn life skills and take in the fresh Highland air

While dad Sandy Rennie has “really enjoyed” spending so much time with his children, it has also been very challenging.

Teachers issue work in the morning, and then the children are left to their own devices. But, Sandy says, it can’t be easy for teachers either.

“I don’t envy the teachers. there’s more appreciation for teachers when you’re home schooling.”

One saving grace, he says, is that his children have been given laptops by the school.

The Rennies often manage to conclude their assignments by lunchtime, so mum and dad have been using the afternoons to teach them life skills – like cooking, cleaning and gardening.

Science Star Wars and sunflowers – Heather, Fife

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Heather

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Heather’s sons have enjoyed Star Wars themed science experiments

Heather and her sons have taken a hands on approach to home learning. One of the examples they have enjoyed was growing sunflowers. They planted them back in March and she has since incorporated them into lessons about maths, writing and biology.

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Heather

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Sunflowers planted in the spring have been used as props in different home learning lessons

Another highlight was Star Wars Day, where the boys thought they had a “day off” but actually did science experiments and cooking.

Heather says their teachers have been excellent, but despite this the enthusiasm from her sons has dropped off.

As time goes on, they are missing their classmates more.

12th July 2020

Technology Amazon faces backlash over Covid-19 safety measures

Technology Amazon faces backlash over Covid-19 safety measures

Technology

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Amazon

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Amazon has not revealed how many of its workers have tested positive for Covid-19

Amazon is introducing new technology to keep employees safe at work, including a wearable device that alerts staff if they get too close to each other.

The retail giant has faced lawsuits in both Europe and the US claiming it is not doing enough to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in its warehouses.

One US union accused the firm of profiting from the pandemic while leaving its workers unprotected.

Amazon said it had invested billions in Covid-19 initiatives.

The firm is now testing a wearable device that alerts workers when they are violating social distancing rules, according to CNBC, which obtained a memo about the technology.

The clear plastic sleeve beeps and lights up if workers get too close to each other.

According to the report, it will initially be tested in one warehouse in Washington.

Comments on a private online forum for Amazon warehouse employees indicated that staff were not impressed.

One suggested that the battery would be killed “so fast” because it is “impossible to keep 6ft [1.8m] apart”.

Another commented: “They would probably have a lot of people quit if they do make this a mandatory thing.”

A third employee compared it to an episode of Black Mirror, a Netflix drama which examines how technology could create a dystopian society.

Technology Machine learning

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Amazon

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Green and red circles indicate whether employees are 6ft apart or not

Amazon has also just announced Distance Assistant, another a new tool in its efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus in its warehouses.

The device provides visual overlays on a screen to show how close people are to each other. Those who are the required distance apart will be shown with green circles around them, while those too close are highlighted with red circles.

It uses machine learning to differentiate people from their surroundings and, combined with depth sensors, creates an accurate distance measure.

The device is being tested in a handful of warehouses.

In a blog, Amazon’s vice president of robotics Brad Porter wrote “nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our employees”.

Some workers think the retail giant needs a more radical change of policy.

Three Amazon employees who work in the JFK8 fulfilment centre in Staten Island, New York, have launched a lawsuit alleging that the company’s leave policies and failure to do thorough contact tracing of ill workers’ interactions “have put us all at risk”.

Among the urgent changes called for in the complaint are:

  • leave policy should encourage workers to stay at home without fear of losing their jobs
  • prompt payment of quarantine leave
  • an increase in the allowance for Time off Task, so workers can wash their hands and clean work stations
  • More thorough disinfection of a facility after a worker tests positive

The lawsuit is supported by New York union Make The Road. Deborah Axt, co-executive director said: “The largest corporation in the world has been profiting off the Covid-19 crisis while leaving its workers unprotected and at risk of getting sick and even dying.”

In response to the claims of the lawsuit, Amazon told the BBC: “We are saddened by the tragic impact Covid-19 has had on communities across the globe, including on some Amazon team members and their family and friends.

“From early March to 1 May, we offered our employees unlimited time way from work, and since 1 May we have offered leave for those most vulnerable or who need to care for children or family members.

“We also invested $4bn [£31.bn] from April to June on Covid-19 related initiatives, including over $800m in the first half of this year on safety measures like temperature checks, masks, gloves, enhanced cleaning and sanitisation, extended pay and benefits options, testing and more.

“This includes two weeks paid leave for any Covid diagnosis or quarantine, and launching a $2m fund to support our partners and contractors.”

In April a French union successfully sued Amazon over the delivering of non-essential items such as DVDs and beauty products. The firm temporarily shut warehouses across the country after a court ruled that it had not adequately consulted the employee works council on coronavirus safety protocols.

12th July 2020

Technology Google to auto-delete users’ records by default

Technology Google to auto-delete users’ records by default

Technology

Technology GoogleImage copyright
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Google is changing its default settings to automatically delete some of the data it collects about users.

Web and app activity, including a log of website searches and pages visited, as well as location data, will now be wiped after 18 months.

YouTube histories – including which clips were watched and for how long – will be erased after 36 months.

The changes apply to new accounts only but existing users will soon be shown new prompts to adjust their settings.

The announcement comes as Google and other big technology companies’ data-collection efforts and business practices face increased scrutiny.

The Wall Street Journal has reported the US Department of Justice is to meet with state attorneys general later this week to discuss plans to punish Google for anti-competitive behaviour, including an allegation it has abused its dominance in online search.

And, on Tuesday, a German court imposed curbs on the data Facebook collects about local users, over concerns it has been abusing its market-leading position among social networks.

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Google

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Google will help existing users adjust their settings directly within its Search tool

Technology Guided tips

Google introduced auto-delete controls in May 2019, to let users force the regular erasure of logs gathered about them by the company, but made this an opt-in option at the time.

The US technology company draws on this information to produce personalised recommendations and search results, as well as to target ads.

“We know that information makes our products helpful,” Google product manager David Monsees said.

“But data minimisation is one of our important privacy principles [and] Google will no longer keep activity indefinitely unless you ask us to.”

Google said it wanted to hold on to YouTube records for longer than other internet activities, as this would help it do things such as make music recommendations, for which a longer search history was beneficial.

And it added the auto-wipe policy would not apply to logs linked to Photos, Gmail and its Drive cloud-storage facility, which it said it did not draw on for advertising purposes.

The company has justified its decision not to apply the change to existing accounts on the basis it does not want to catch people out by wiping “curated” data without their express permission.

And it noted all users could choose to set the auto-wipe period to as little as three months.

However, it does mean the change will affect far fewer people than it might have.

Long-time users will be affected by other measures, though, including being shown new “guided tips” .

For example, if someone uses Google Search to ask if their account is secure, a box will appear showing their settings and providing a way to adjust them.

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Google

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Google is introducing a new way to go into Incognito Mode within some of its apps

In addition, other related “dynamic cards” should be introduced shortly.

In one instance, if a user opts to share their handset’s location with a friend, they will later be reminded the permission is still active and asked if they want to turn it off.

Google said it had also made it “easier to access” Incognito Mode in its apps – a setting that suspends data-logging – by letting users turn on the facility by pressing and holding their profile picture.

“Many people are uncomfortable with the amount of information Google keeps,” said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

“Prompts could mean a range of things people do their best to ignore.

“Google should ensure that everyone has made a clear indication about whether they want their histories stored and for how long, rather than whether they have swiped away some notice they half read.”

12th July 2020

Technology New video format ‘halves data use of 4K and 8K TVs’

Technology New video format ‘halves data use of 4K and 8K TVs’

Technology

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Although 8K televisions are becoming more common, there is currently little content available in that resolution

A new video-encoding technology that promises to cut data use by at least half has been announced, after three years of talks involving some of the tech industry’s largest players.

The standard should make it possible for people with slow connections to stream footage in higher quality than before, without pauses for buffering.

It could also pave the way for on-demand services to offer 8K content.

But one expert warned it would probably take years to catch on.

The codec – which is called both H.266 and Versatile Video Coding (VVC) – was announced by Germany’s Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute.

It said Apple, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Intel and Huawei were among those that had worked on its development.

It hopes that in time, smartphones and other cameras will be able to automatically record and play back footage in the format. However, new chips will need to be developed before they can do so.

In the interim, recordings will need to be re-encoded to take advantage of the extra compression made possible. Playback will probably require a fast processor because today’s hardware was not designed with the codec in mind.

Technology Codec choices

H.266 is designed to require half the bitrate – the amount of data transmitted per second – as today’s standard H.265.

The H.265 codec itself halved the bitrate requirement of its predecessor H.264, which is still widely in use.

“H.265 requires about 10 gigabytes of data to transmit a 90-minute ultra-high definition [4K] video,” explains a press release.

“With this new technology, only 5GB are required to achieve the same quality.”

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Some experts believe VR headsets will only be able to match reality when they can display 16K or higher resolutions

In order to stream 8K video reliably, tests have indicated that homes would require internet connections capable of more than 85 megabits per second (Mbps), which is beyond what many properties have today. However, that has the potential to drop to a more manageable 40-50Mbps if H.266 takes off.

Another benefit of the tech is that users should be able to save double the amount of footage on the same amount of storage, assuming they do not take advantage of the codec to capture it in higher quality.

Many people’s homes are not big enough to house a television that is large enough to appreciate the four-times boost in the number of pixels that 8K offers over 4K.

However, the jump in resolution has big advantages for virtual reality, which fills the user’s field of view.

In addition, it offers a more efficient way to stream higher-resolution 360-degree footage to next-generation headsets, where the extra detail can make a big difference as users are only ever seeing a section of the recorded image at a time.

But just because the standard exists, it does not mean it will be universally embraced.

Google has previously opted to use a format it developed itself – VP9 – instead of H.265 to encode YouTube videos.

And a consortium – which includes Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Samsung – has already developed a successor, AV1. The video-game streaming platform Twitch has already said it intends to switch “100%” to the format by 2024.

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Getty Images

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Google avoided some of the licence fees involved with H.265 by using a different codec for YouTube

“The codec story is always the same: everyone always wants to get better-quality video in a more efficient state, but the challenge is getting people to adopt it,” commented Ben Wood from the CCS Insight consultancy.

“To be successful, a codec has to get broad adoption from all the key players. And deciding to back one can be somewhat of a religious decision.”

12th July 2020

Technology Microsoft bars facial recognition sales to police

Technology Microsoft bars facial recognition sales to police

Technology

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A US government study suggested facial recognition algorithms were less accurate at identifying African-American faces

Microsoft has become the latest US company to limit the use of its facial recognition technology by police.

The firm said it would not start sales to US police departments until the country approves national regulation of the technology, which critics say is racially biased and easy to abuse.

Amazon and IBM have already made similar moves.

These followed widespread protests over police brutality and racial discrimination.

Amazon on Wednesday banned police from using its tech for one year, while IBM earlier said it would stop offering the technology for “mass surveillance or racial profiling”.

The American Civil Liberties Union has campaigned against such software for years, warning there is a danger it will be used to for widespread “suspicionless” surveillance.

“Microsoft, Amazon and IBM have finally started to take action. But we still have a long way to go to forever end the over-policing and surveillance of black and brown communities,” the organisation said in a statement.

It called on US lawmakers to order an immediate “pause” on law enforcement use of the technology.

Technology Federal vs local

Firms have been under pressure in recent weeks to respond to the protests triggered by George Floyd’s death in police custody.

Microsoft president Brad Smith said at an event that the firm had not sold to police departments and would not start “until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology”.

Microsoft first called for national regulation more than two years ago, warning that inaction could lead such services to “spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues”.

Companies tend to favour national rules, rather than be forced to deal with a patchwork of local laws.

However, there are some concerns that a national law could be a way to override stricter local regulation.

San Francisco, for example, has already banned facial recognition technology by its police and public agencies.

12th July 2020

Science Coronavirus: ‘Being in the bath just isn’t the same as the pool’

Science Coronavirus: ‘Being in the bath just isn’t the same as the pool’

Science

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Puddle Ducks

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Daniel and Hannah Lancaster in the pool

“They change when they get into the water, their eyes just light up,” says mum of two Hannah Lancaster.

Her children Daniel, three, and Daisy, two, have been swimming since they were just a few weeks old and are excited to get back in the pool after three months.

The government announced on Thursday that outdoor pools could open this weekend while indoors pools can do so from 25 July.

But it will be a different experience for the Lancaster family when they return after the coronavirus lockdown.

No longer will they be able to sit at the side and watch the other classes while they chat to friends, instead it will be straight back home.

“It will be different,” Hannah, 31 tells the BBC, “but a lot of things now are and we are going to have to get used to the new normal.”

“Daisy is a little bit young to understand but Daniel can’t wait to get back in the pool,” she adds.

The activities will be different too with only the instructor allowed to sing and parents being encouraged to be more hands-on with their own children’s needs to prevent the virus spreading between families.

“In terms of the actual lessons people are going to have to be more socially distanced,” says Jo Stone, managing director of Puddle Ducks, which runs classes across the country, including those attended by the Lancasters.

“The teacher can’t be as hands-on, we will be expecting customers to bring their own equipment and it will only be the teacher singing.

“Some activities will be adapted while others we won’t be able to do.”

Science What do I need to know about the coronavirus?

While the government announcement means pools can reopen before the end of the month, many will not be ready to do so as safety plans need to be put in place and lifeguard training needs to be brought up to date.

Guidance has been laid out by the government and Swim England. It includes:

  • Swimmers coming to the pool “beach ready” in their costumes
  • Booking of time slots to prevent overcrowding
  • Swimmers to bring their own equipment
  • No overtaking
  • Ensuring chlorine levels are high enough to kill the virus

For those who use the pools for their classes or training it means having to adapt to a new set of rules, with each facility required to put a safety regime in place.

Marlborough Penguins head coach Rich Smith is hoping to get back to the poolside as soon as possible to put members of the Wiltshire club through their paces.

“We are hoping to get going as soon as possible but we are not hedging our bets to be back on 25 July,” he explains. “The government can announce it but the pools have to get their staff back in, get them trained back up and then get working from there.

“We are all excited, it has been 17 weeks.”

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Rich Smith

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Rich Smith said his club were excited to get back in the pool

It will be a relief to get back in the water after three months of land training online, as a result of which Mr Smith says he and his coaching team had lost weight due to joining in the workouts.

He adds that Swim England’s sports psychologist will be speaking with swimmers to help them mentally focus on the return to the pool and in dealing with the struggles of the pandemic.

Science Can chlorine kill coronavirus?

Yes.

Chlorine is used as a disinfectant in pools and can easily disable viruses, including coronavirus, as well as more resilient bugs such as bacteria.

The chemical has to be used at the right concentration, but this will be standard practice.

There are two infection risks in the pool – other swimmers themselves and water they may have contaminated.

Sage, the government’s science advisers, say the risk of catching the virus through water is “negligible”.

But being within 2m of other swimmers – perhaps when catching your breath in the shallow end – is a bigger risk.

Remember the risks are about more than just the pool. Coronavirus is spread through close contact, so beware in a cramped changing room.

And it can linger on surfaces such as lockers, benches, shower buttons and taps.

Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson warns that while many pools are looking forward to reopening, there are lots that face an uncertain future.

She is calling for the government to invest in pools after warning that more than 10% of pools may never reopen.

One pool that will not be reopening in the coming weeks is Petersfield Open-Air Swimming Pool, in Hampshire, after renovation works were delayed due to the virus.

Now the trustees are faced with the choice of opening for a short season or waiting until 2021.

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Petersfield Open Air Pool

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Petersfield Open Air Pool is undergoing renovations which have been delayed due to the pandemic

A normal season for an open-air pool would last until mid-September but if the lido is not able to open soon it will be unviable to open until next year.

“If we can only get four weeks, in which we can only support 30 people an hour, then it will be very hard to break even,” says Linda Knutsen, chair of the trustees. “We have to think about what is best for the future of the pool.”

While Petersfield will not be reopening, Ms Knutsen says other open-air pools are planning to over the coming days.

For the Lancasters, who live in Northwich, Cheshire, any trip to the pool will be worthwhile after weeks of lockdown.

“Being in the bath just isn’t the same as the pool,” Mrs Lancaster says.

12th July 2020

Science Milton Glaser: Graphic designer behind ‘I ♥ NY’ logo dies aged 91

Science Milton Glaser: Graphic designer behind ‘I ♥ NY’ logo dies aged 91

Science

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionMilton Glaser says the I love New York design “almost never came into existence”

Milton Glaser, the influential American graphic designer who created the “I ♥ NY” logo, has died aged 91.

Made for a 1977 tourism campaign, the logo rapidly gained recognition across the world and has been described as the most frequently imitated in history.

Glaser later said he was “flabbergasted by what happened to this little, simple nothing of an idea”.

He also created a famous poster of Bob Dylan with psychedelic hair and was a co-founder of New York magazine.

The cause of his death was a stroke, his wife Shirley told the New York Times.

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AFP

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Milton Glaser was given the the National Medal of Arts in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama

Glaser was born in the Bronx borough of New York City in 1929. He studied at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a college in Manhattan, and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, Italy.

In 1954, Glaser set up Push Pin Studios with three Cooper Union classmates and helped bring a new visual language to commercial art, seeking inspiration from everything from Art Nouveau to Chinese wash drawing, German woodcuts, and the cartoons of the 1930s.

His poster of Bob Dylan featured a silhouette of the musician based on a self-portrait by Marcel Duchamp and brightly coloured locks of hair borrowed from Islamic art. The poster was included in Dylan’s 1967 album Greatest Hits, which was bought by six million fans, and adorned countless walls.

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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The poster for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits was inspired by Marcel Duchamp and Islamic art

In 1968, Glaser co-founded New York magazine and was its design director for nine years.

“Around our office, of course, he will forever be one of the small team of men and women that, in the late sixties, yanked New York out of the newspaper morgue and turned it into a great American magazine,” the magazine’s obituary said.

In 1974, he established his own design firm, Milton Glaser, Inc.

Three years later, he designed the “I ♥ NY” logo free of charge to help promote tourism in his home city, amid a crime wave and financial crisis. He came up with the idea while riding in a taxi and scribbled it in red crayon on an envelope, which is now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

“It is one of those peculiarities of your own life where you don’t know the consequences of your own actions,” he told the New York Times in 2008. “Who in the world would have thought that this silly little bit of ephemera would become one of the most pervasive images of the 20th Century?”

After the 9/11 attacks, Glaser released an amended version of the logo that featured a bruised heart and read “I ♥ NY MORE THAN EVER“.

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After the 9/11 attacks, the Daily News printed a modified version of the ‘I ♥ NY’ logo

Glaser is also known for his designing the World Health Organization’s international Aids symbol and poster, the logo for the Brooklyn Brewery, and an advertisement for the final series of Mad Men.

In 2004, he was given a lifetime achievement award by the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. In 2009, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

12th July 2020

Science Government plans new office to attract scientists to UK

Science Government plans new office to attract scientists to UK

Science

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Science Photo Library

A new body, called “Office for Talent”, will be set up in No 10 to encourage scientists, researchers and innovators to come to the country, the government has said.

It will be tasked with making immigration “simple, easy and quick” for those wanting to move to the UK.

The initiative comes as the UK seeks to recover economically from coronavirus.

Some scientists have warned that uncertainty over Brexit could lead to researchers leaving the UK.

In addition, the government says its new Research and Development Roadmap will cut “unnecessary red tape” in a bid to encourage scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to work and study in the UK.

The roadmap includes a £300m investment for upgrading scientific infrastructure and a promise to support “innovators and risk-takers”.

The plan also includes extending the time foreign graduates can stay after their PhDs are completed.

And, the government says, the roadmap will support efforts to tackle climate change, develop new medicines, strengthen national security and improve public services.

An Innovation Expert Group will also be set up to review how the government supports research “from idea stage right through to product development”.

Under a new graduate route, international students who complete a PhD from summer 2021 will be able to live and work for three years.

Successive governments have boosted science spending over the past 20 years, but none more so than the current administration.

In March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged to more than double spending on UK government research and development (R&D) by 2024.

The pledge means that the government may exceed its target of boosting the proportion of private and public R&D spend from 1.7% to 2.4% by 2027.

But it’s more than just about the money.

Never before has science has science been a greater priority right at the heart of government.

The prime minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings is taking the lead in the project to what Boris Johnson called “supercharge” the science base.

Scientific leaders who have been in discussions with Mr Cummings tell me that second to getting Brexit done, sorting out science policy is his greatest passion.

A proportion of the new money will go to make up for the real-terms cut that some research areas have faced in recent years.

But priority is to turn the UK’s world-class science into world-class goods and services that create jobs and benefit the economy.

Successive governments have tried and failed to do this for decades.

I put this point to a senior official drawing up the new plan. Their response was: “They didn’t have the kind of money we have now.”

The government also says it wants to change the immigration system to extend visa application windows for prospective students and remove study time limits for those at postgraduate level.

No 10 also plans to launch an innovation fellowship programme open to international and national digital and tech talent to help deliver public services

Image caption

Scientists working in the Graphene laboratory at the University of Manchester

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “The UK has a strong history of turning new ideas into revolutionary technologies – from penicillin to graphene and the world wide web.

“Our vision builds on these incredible successes to cement Britain’s reputation as a global science superpower.”

President of the Royal Society Venki Ramakrishnan said the UK’s success had been built on attracting talent from around the world, as well as home grown researchers, and welcomed steps to achieve that.

“Our participation in EU research programmes has benefited everyone and it is good to see the government’s renewed commitment to continuing that fruitful association.

“Maintaining the UK’s position as a scientific leader is essential to our long term success as a nation and will be crucial to rebuilding jobs and the economy as we recover from the pandemic.”

The UK government has said it wants to negotiate its continued participation within the Horizon Europe research programme as part of the post-Brexit talks, however a overall deal between the UK and EU has yet to be reached.

12th July 2020

Science How Ghana paid tribute to George Floyd

Science How Ghana paid tribute to George Floyd

Science

science Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo speaks during his swearing-in ceremony at Independence Square in Accra, Ghana January 7, 2017.Image copyright
Reuters

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Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo sent a message of condolence to George Floyd’s family

In our series of letters from African writers, Ghana’s Elizabeth Ohene writes that George Floyd, whose killing has sparked a global debate about race relations, has been immortalised in the West African state that was central to the transatlantic slave trade.

We do funerals well here in Ghana. When it comes to the rituals, music, clothes and ceremonies that accompany them, I can safely say that nobody does them better.

As I watched the funeral of George Floyd on television, I needed no reminding that most African-Americans can trace their origins to West Africa and grand funerals come easily to them. Or they have had to organise these painful funerals of their people so regularly that they have become well practised.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

George Floyd’s death in police custody has galvanised the Black Lives Matter movement

During the Houston funeral on Tuesday, there was a reference to the message of condolence sent to Mr Floyd’s family by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo.

It was also mentioned that at the president’s request, Mr Floyd’s name had been permanently mounted on the wall of the Diasporan African Forum at the W.E.B. Du Bois Centre in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

This was done at a moving ceremony, organised by the Ghana Tourism Authority last week, in memory of Mr Floyd, who was killed on a street in Minnesota when a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Ghana marked in spectacular scale the year 2019, the 400th anniversary of the start of the transatlantic slave trade.

President Akufo-Addo declared 2019 the Year of Return, with a special invitation to all Africans in the diaspora, especially the descendants of slaves, to come to Ghana, either to visit or even to live permanently.

Many of the forts and castles through which the slaves were transported are still standing in Ghana and they remain a source of trauma and emotional distress for visiting black people.

When the Floyd murder story broke, many people took it personally here.

Before the outbreak of coronavirus, we had been looking forward to a big influx of visitors from the African-American community.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

A slave castle along Ghana’s coastline is now a major tourist attraction

Six black state attorneys general from the US had been in Ghana in March as part of the Beyond the Return initiative, and were guests at our Independence Day celebrations on 6 March.

Among that group was Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is now in charge of prosecuting the accused in the Floyd case.

When the GTA organised the memorial, it was personal and it showed.

science

BBC

The haunting music of the dirges on the flutes signalled that Mr Floyd was one of our own and we were sending him off to our forefathers”

A crucial part of funerals in Ghana are the colours worn. They would try to describe the person who had died and how.

So the colour scheme at Mr Floyd’s memorial was predominantly red and black to show a man had been cut down in the prime of his life, and his death had been unnatural and unexpected.

The haunting music of the dirges on the flutes signalled that he was one of our own and we were sending him off to our forefathers.

It has been interesting for us here to note that our famous distinctive fabric, the kente, has also become part of the George Floyd story.

When senior US Democratic lawmakers “took a knee”, in a dramatic gesture to honour Mr Floyd, they all wore kente stoles.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionDemocrats kneel in moment of silence for George Floyd

Ghanaians are intensely proud of the kente fabric. Once upon a time, the kente, or kete as it is called in my part of the country, was an almost exclusive fabric worn by royalty and rich people.

It is hand woven and each design has a name and tells a story.

With the passage of time and the intervention of the Arts Faculty of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in the second city Kumasi, the kente was transformed and popularised for use among young people in particular.

It remains the fabric for special occasions but we have now found more and varied uses for it.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Kente is often woven from silk and cotton

When the University of Ghana started issuing its own degrees following independence, it put kente strips on the boring academic gowns that it had been using when it started life as a University College of London University.

Kente stoles soon became the symbol of graduation and other commemoration events, with the appropriate words woven into the strip. You may therefore have Class of 2000, or Year of Return, or even The Best Dad kente stoles.

We are happy to have African-Americans adopt the kente to emphasize their African roots and if others want to use it to show their solidarity, we have no complaints.

I suspect that some enterprising weavers will soon bring a kente design named I Can’t Breathe, and we shall wear it to remember and celebrate the life of Mr Floyd.

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