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Grand Finale

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This is the third, in a series of twelve essays about places associated with Jane Austen. It is not a gazeteer, but a collection of places visited personally, with Jane Austen clearly in mind.


(i) History of Bath

One of the few places in Britain, with hot springs of a volcanic origin, is in the county of Somerset. It was a magical and therefore sacred site for the Celtic peoples in the area, and dedicated to their goddess Sulis. Following the Roman invasion of Britain in the first century AD, the site was named Aquae Sulis, and a classical building was erected upon it- a typical Roman public bath-house. The warm water of the baths encourages the growth of microscopic green algae, hence its colour in the photograph (1).

A town grew up around the Roman public buildings, and even after the Romans left, in the early fifth century, the town remained significant during the medieval period. Monastic buildings were founded there from 676 onwards, and the present great abbey church (1) was begun in 1499. It is still a prominent feature of the city, and escaped the destruction visited on so many ecclesiastical buildings, under Henry VIII, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid sixteenth century. Tourists still flock to see the architectural wonder of the great West Front (2), and the “Jacob’s Ladder” design, rising up each of the two flanking towers.

(ii) The Rise of Neo-Classical Architecture

Architectural tastes in Britain began to change profoundly in the early eighteenth century, when Lord Burlington began to promote the “Palladian” style. This was influenced by the Italian architect, Andrea Palladio (1518-1580) and his illustrated books about Greco-Roman classical styles. Whereas the original classical constructions were either temples or public buildings, Palladio had the revolutionary idea of applying the style to the private houses of the very wealthy. It was what we would nowadays call “conspicuous consumption”.

One of the earliest buildings in the new Palladian style was Chiswick House (3), happily still in existence. Being in the capital, it promoted wide interest in “Palladianism” by the wealthy. No place in Britain showed more enthusiasm for this neo-Classism than Bath.

As John Nellist explains, “By the end of the first quarter of the century the reputation of the city was high; it was becoming a fashionable summer resort for society, who went there when the court left London, to amuse themselves and ‘take the waters’. The importance of this royal patronage created the demand for a suitably impressive style of architecture.” (Ref B)
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Google’s AI seeks further Go glory

Google has challenged China’s top Go player to a series of games against its artificial intelligence technology. It said the software would play a best-of-three match against Ke Jie, among other games against humans in the eastern Chinese city of Wuzhen from 23-27 April.

Last year, the Google program recorded a 4-1 victory against one of South Korea’s top Go players. One expert said that result had come as a surprise.

“A lot of AI researchers have been working on Go because it’s the most challenging board game we have,” said Calum Chace, author of Surviving AI. “The conventional wisdom was that machines would ultimately triumph but it would take 10 years or so. “The win was a big wake-up call for a lot of people, including many outside the AI community.”

Google’s AlphaGo software was developed by British computer company DeepMind, which was bought by the US search firm in 2014. Its defeat of Lee Se-dol in March 2016 is seen as a landmark moment, similar to that of IBM’s Deep Blue AI beating Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997.

Several of the moves AlphaGo made defied conventional wisdom but ended up paying off. However, many Go aficionados did not recognise Mr Lee as the world’s top player at the time of the contest.

So, the new competition against 19-year-old Mr Ke – who is the current number one according to a popular but unofficial player-ranking system – has the potential to bring additional prestige to Google. Source – BBC

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Plane-tracking app explores airspace in 3D

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By the way, we are a bit disappointed with the new pound coin. – Jim

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5 very interesting facts about your thigh bone!

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McLaren to 3D-print parts at Bahrain F1 Grand Prix trackside

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First chance to take a picture of the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy

Thanks to Phil Krause for sending us this article.

Get ready to peek into the unknown this week as we get our first chance to take a picture of the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. The image from the Event Horizon Telescope could teach us how black holes work and even how the largest and smallest forces in the universe fit together.
The telescope is a global network of eight radio observatories in Spain, the US and Antarctica. Combining their observations will effectively create a powerful ‘virtual telescope’ almost the size of Earth.
If the weather is clear between now and next Friday, each will be turned on simultaneously and point at Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, and measure radio waves coming from its direction.
The telescopes will capture sharper and more detailed data than we’ve ever had from Sagittarius A*, as well as the larger black hole at the centre of nearby galaxy M87.
With the telescopes generating two petabytes of data per night — enough to store the genomes of two billion people — astronomers hope to take the first image of the event horizon around a black hole, and the bright matter hurtling around it.
Professor Heino Falcke at Radboud University in the Netherlands, who is part of the international collaboration, said: ‘Event horizons have been part of the mythology of science, but they will become real, in a way. Seeing is believing.’
The images may not be ready until next year, but simulations have given the team an idea of what they should see. Even light is bent in the intense gravity around a black hole. The side of the black hole rotating towards Earth should feature a bright crescent of light warped around its edge, while the side rotating away will be dimmer.
Once they study that ‘banana’ of light, researchers hope it will clear up some of the mysteries of black holes. One is how some generate enormous jets of particles that shoot from their centres at near the speed of light and where that energy comes from.
As other telescopes are added, observations will become more precise, and should give an insight into the workings of our universe.
These include how Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which covers gravity and the behaviour of very large objects, meshes with quantum mechanics, whose realm is the very small. ‘Something new will happen, and I think that new thing will happen at the event horizon,’ Prof Falcke predicts.
Dr Stefan Gillessen at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich said: ‘You might see things that you’ve never even thought of.’ Source – Unknown

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Is consciousness just an illusion?

The cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett believes our brains are machines, made of billions of tiny “robots” – our neurons, or brain cells. Is the human mind really that special?

In an infamous memo written in 1965, the philosopher Hubert Dreyfus stated that humans would always beat computers at chess because machines lacked intuition. Daniel Dennett disagreed.

A few years later, Dreyfus rather embarrassingly found himself in checkmate against a computer.

And in May 1997 the IBM computer, Deep Blue defeated the world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

Many who were unhappy with this result then claimed that chess was a boringly logical game. Computers didn’t need intuition to win. The goalposts shifted.

Daniel Dennett has always believed our minds are machines. For him the question is not can computers be human? But are humans really that clever?

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific, Dennett says there’s nothing special about intuition. “Intuition is simply knowing something without knowing how you got there”.

Dennett blames the philosopher Rene Descartes for permanently polluting our thinking about how we think about the human mind.

Descartes couldn’t imagine how a machine could be capable of thinking, feeling and imagining. Such talents must be God-given. He was writing in the 17th century, when machines were made of levers and pulleys not CPUs and RAM, so perhaps we can forgive him.

Robots made of robots

Our brains are made of a hundred billion neurons. If you were to count all the neurons in your brain at a rate of one a second, it would take more than 3,000 years.

Our minds are made of molecular machines, otherwise known as brain cells. And if you find this depressing then you lack imagination, says Dennett.

“Do you know the power of a machine made of a trillion moving parts?”, he asks. “We’re not just are robots”, he says. “We’re robots, made of robots, made of robots”.

Our brain cells are robots that respond to chemical signals. The motor proteins they create are robots. And so it goes on.

Like a phone screen

Consciousness is real. Of course it is. We experience it every day. But for Daniel Dennett, consciousness is no more real than the screen on your laptop or your phone.

The geeks who make electronic devices call what we see on our screens the “user illusion”. It’s a bit patronising, perhaps, but they’ve got a point.

Pressing icons on our phones makes us feel in control. We feel in charge of the hardware inside. But what we do with our fingers on our phones is a rather pathetic contribution to the sum total of phone activity. And, of course, it tells us absolutely nothing about how they work.

Human consciousness is the same, says Dennett. “It’s the brain’s ‘user illusion’ of itself,” he says.

It feels real and important to us but it just isn’t a very big deal.

“The brain doesn’t have to understand how the brain works”. Source BBC

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How to Learn Faster with the Feynman Technique

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The introduction to this series of twelve essays, in Part A, explained that this is a personal record of a number of places associated with the life of Jane Austen, but it is in no way a gazeteer. The opening essay described her birthplace in the small village of Steventon, Hampshire.


(i) Steventon and
Manydown Park

Jane Austen’s early life in Steventon was relatively simple, with country walks and visits from relatives to create a certain amount of variety. As she grew older, she became part of the wider social network of her extended family. As a young girl, with her sisters, she often attended the monthly Basingstoke Assemblies, social occasions with music and dancing.

Afterwards, the Austen girls would stay overnight at Manydown Park (2), a grander building than the Steventon Rectory. It was the home of the Wither family for some 400 years and later the Bigg family. It is of interest to Austen scholars, because Jane received a proposal of marriage from Harris Bigg-Wither, in 1802, when she was twenty-seven. She hesitated for some time, and finally turned him down. He was the only boy in the family, and would have inherited Manydown Park in due course, and Jane would have become mistress of a fine house. However, childbearing and domestic duties would have left her little time for writing, and that may have influenced her decision.

There seems to be a blight on some buildings associated with Jane Austen, because Manydown Park, despite its charm, has also been demolished, although it managed to survive until as late as 1965. Maggie Lane, (Ref A) outlines Jane Austen’s enthusiasm for the county of Kent, and the great houses, some of which, happily survive to the present day.

“After Hampshire, the county best known and best loved by Jane Austen was Kent. It was the home of all her paternal forebears, and of some of the wealthiest of her relations. ‘Kent is the only place for happiness: everybody is rich there’, she once humorously wrote, and over a period of twenty-five years, from a series of comfortable country houses and great parks, each with ‘its beauties and its prospects’, she received a vision of England that was gracious, mellow, affluent, well-ordered, and very lovely.” (Ref A)

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An Unexpected New Lung Function Has Been Found – They Make Blood

Researchers have discovered that the lungs play a far more complex role in mammalian bodies than we thought, with new evidence revealing that they don’t just facilitate respiration – they also play a key role in blood production.

In experiments involving mice, the team found that they produce more than 10 million platelets (tiny blood cells) per hour, equating to the majority of platelets in the animals’ circulation. This goes against the decades-long assumption that bone marrow produces all of our blood components.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco also discovered a previously unknown pool of blood stem cells that makes this happen inside the lung tissue – cells that were incorrectly assumed to mainly reside in bone marrow.

“This finding definitely suggests a more sophisticated view of the lungs – that they’re not just for respiration, but also a key partner in formation of crucial aspects of the blood,” says one of the researchers, Mark R. Looney.

“What we’ve observed here in mice strongly suggests the lung may play a key role in blood formation in humans as well.”

While the lungs have been known to produce a limited amount of platelets – platelet-forming cells called megakaryocytes have been identified in the lungs before – scientists have long assumed that most of the cells responsible for blood production are kept inside the bone marrow.

Here, a process called haematopoiesis was thought to churn out oxygen-laden red blood cells, infection-fighting  white blood cells, and platelets – blood components required for the clotting that halts bleeding.

But scientists have now watched megakaryocytes functioning from within the lung tissue to produce not a few, but most of the body’s platelets. Source

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Cell Division Time lapse

If you’ve ever wondered what cell division actually looks like, this incredible time-lapse by francischeefilms on YouTube gives you the best view we’ve ever seen, showing a real-life tadpole egg dividing from four cells into several million in the space of just 20 seconds.

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Human Y and X chromosomes

The Y chromosome has the least amount of genes in all the human genome. With a 30% difference between humans and chimpanzees, the Y chromosome is one of the fastest evolving parts of the human genome. To date, over 200 Y-linked genes have been identified. All Y-linked genes are expressed and (apart from duplicated genes) hemizygous (present on only one chromosome) except in the cases of aneuploidy such as XYY syndrome or XXYY syndrome. Source – DailyAnatomy

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It could only take 28 years to travel 2.54 million light years!

While it takes light approximately 2.54 million years to traverse the gulf of space between Earth and, for instance, the Andromeda Galaxy, it would take a much shorter amount of time from the point of view of a traveler at close to the speed of light due to the effects of time dilation; the time experienced by the traveler depending both on velocity (anything less than the speed of light) and distance traveled (length contraction). Intergalactic travel for humans is therefore possible, in theory, from the point of view of the traveller.

Accelerating to speeds closer to the speed of light with a relativistic rocket would allow the on-ship travel time to be drastically lower, but would require very large amounts of energy. A way to do this is space travel using constant acceleration. Traveling to the Andromeda Galaxy, 2 million light years away, would take 28 years on-ship time with a constant acceleration of 1g and a deceleration of 1g after reaching half way, to be able to stop.

Unfortunately the amount of fuel required is so large it would make this impossible with today’s technology.

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Formula 1 Starts This Week – Go Go Go!

With Formula 1 starting next weekend I thought you might like a look at the changes to this years cars – Jim – Deskarati

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This year is the 200 anniversary of the death of the novelist, Jane Austen, (1775- 1817) and there will be many celebratory offerings on radio, television, and the printed media. I offer this appreciation for the readers of Deskarati, being uniquely unqualified to do so. When I visited Chawton Cottage (2) in Hampshire, where a number of the novels were written, I confessed, to the rather splendid lady custodian, that I had never actually read any of Jane Austen’s novels. “Don’t worry,” she said, “very few of the men who come here, have either.” The implication being that the men were acting as drivers for their mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters, nieces or woman friends.

Despite not having read any of the novels, I have been familiar with the plots and characters since childhood. They were regularly serialised on BBC radio in the 1940s and 50s. By the time of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, most households in Britain had acquired television sets and this new viewing audience was introduced to Jane Austen by the televised serialisation of her novels, after the black and white era, so mainly in colour versions (4). Running parallel with this were the regular film versions (3), cut down, and telescoped to fit into 90 minutes of projection time.

Is this enough to enable me to write about Jane Austen’s novels? No, this series of twelve essays is about some of the places associated with Jane Austen, which, even today, give something of the flavour of her times in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I have been fortunate to have a close friend, who is a great enthusiast for Jane Austen’s novels, and it has been a great pleasure, over many years, to have visited with her, many places associated with Jane’s life story.
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Neuroscientist Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty

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Will circular runways ever take off?

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Visualising the genome: researchers create first 3D structures of active DNA

For the first time, scientists have been able to model the physical structure of mammalian genomes from individual cells, giving us a unique 3D perspective on how DNA packages itself inside our cells.

Through the new technique, scientists can see how the arrangement of cell chromosomes (DNA strands) are designed to keep some cells active or inactive at any one time.

“Knowing where all the genes and control elements are at a given moment will help us understand the molecular mechanisms that control and maintain their expression,” says one of the researchers, Ernest Laue from the University of Cambridge in the UK.

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