Monday, 31 May 2010

Swindon's Magic Roundabout

OK I'm posting this here because I try to describe this to people and they either don't believe me or I can't explain it properly. Swindon boasts the original Magic Roundabout, built in 1972, which consists of one counter-clockwise roundabout fed by 5 clockwise roundabouts. That's hard to picture, so have a look at the Wikipedia diagram.

Or watch the animation:

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Seed banks and biodiversity

The BBC recently had this nice story of a minute waterlily brought back from extinction through stored seed:

"Two years ago, this delicate bloom went extinct in the wild due to over-exploitation of its habitat.

Luckily its seeds were kept in storage - and were used by Carlos Magdalena to regrow the plant at Kew Gardens - just outside London.

It took him months to find the ideal conditions for growth. He hopes now that the Thermal Lily will flourish once again in the hot springs of Rwanda...." (read more)

There is also a passionate piece on the urgency of banking seed as a way of safeguarding species for the future:

"Kew's Millennium Seed Bank is a unique, global asset. It is the largest facility of its kind in the world and contains the world's most diverse seed collections.

Over the past 10 years, more than 3.5 billion seeds from 25,000 species have been collected and stored in their country of origin and in Kew.

Species are chosen by country partners according to whether they are rare or endangered or of particular potential use - for example as medicine, food, animal fodder or shelter.

Described by Sir David Attenborough as "perhaps the most ambitious conservation initiative ever", the partnership will announce on 15 October the banking and conservation of 10% of the world's plant species." (read more)

And if you thought cities were a desert, in terms of biodiversity, you couldn't be more wrong:

"There are four bodies lying and crouching in our tiny back garden. The ecologists from the Natural History Museum (NHM) got here only minutes ago, but, while the kettle boils, they are already grubbing about behind our bins, under our windowsills, in the lawn, flowerbed and log pile.

They are doing a "bioblitz" – trying to find as many species of animal and plant as possible in this small, suburban south-west
London garden. Our back garden is only 12 paces long and seven wide, with, now I look at it through the eyes of ecologists, pitifully few flowers. Happily, they appear undaunted. "The great thing is, even with gardens like this that look fairly sterile, there's always something there," says the museum's insect specialist, Stuart Hine. "We'll move plant pots, and we'll have a look through your log pile . . . Lots of spiders, centipedes, woodlice, slugs – they'll all be there."" (read more)

Friday, 21 May 2010


You'd think that online music sales would be more financially rewarding for artists than traditional music sales involving a physical product such as a CD, record or tape. Unfortunately, that's mostly not how it works. Information is Beautiful has statistics and a graph.

Here is a video of Georg from Sigur Ros talking about Gogoyoko, a new music store designed for artists to sell directly to their fans.

Check out Gogoyoko here. It looks very smart.

Update: The Information Is Beautiful figures have been questioned as they exclude a number of important factors, such as marketing costs, recording costs (if these are paid for by the artist they get a much bigger share of the final proceeds, if not costs may be recouped before any royalies go to the artist). And a statutory royalty payment is always made to the writer(s) of a song whether or not the performers receive one. So remuneration in the music business is really very complicated!

The good news is that the Internet offers a multiplicity of options for artists. Some that seem to offer a very good return to artists are: CDBaby, which charges artists a flat $4 per CD sold, and allows them to set the retail price as they wish; Bandcamp, a site which currently delivers 100% of the digital download fee to artists who own their own recordings, less PayPal transaction fees; and Amplifier, which takes a 20% cut on music sold (this compares with the about 85% cut taken by itunes)

I'm indebted to Russell Brown, Simon Grigg, and Samuel Scott for explaining some of these matters to me.

If you're interested, this ars technica article graphs the market shift from albums to individual tracks and from download to streaming content. Things are changing in the music business, that's for sure.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Snap, crackle, pop!

Thanks to Andrew for pointing me to this wonderful electrical rendition of the Doctor Who theme.

The device used here is sometimes known as a "Zeusaphone", because of the, uh, lightning bolts!

According to Wikipedia:

"Zeusaphone, also called a Thoremin, is trademark for a high-frequency, solid state Tesla coil, when its spark discharge is digitally modulated so as to produce musical tones. The high-frequency signal acts in effect as a carrier wave; its frequency is significantly above human-audible sound frequencies, so that digital modulation is able to reproduce a recognizable pitch. The musical tone results directly from the passage of the spark through the air.

This is a variant of the plasma arc loudspeaker, designed for public spectacle and sheer volume rather than fidelity."

If you fancy the musical sparks, you can buy one, here.