Category Archives: Science

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) Is Under Threat of Closure

Like many other Mancunians, I have been unpleasantly surprised to hear the latest news.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester’s Castlefield may be closed.

SIGN THE PETITION TO PROTECT THE MOSI!

As it happens in England, the North-South struggle is on again. The closure may come as a way to keep London-based Science Museum open, Manchester Evening News reports. The National Science Group is said to be considering plans to cut funding to Manchester-based venue. BBC has more details.

The MOSI grew out of the old Science Museum and the Manchester Air and Space Museum, both were merged in 1986. The MOSI encompasses several buildings, including the 1830 Warehouse, where a part of exposition was dedicated to the Irish migration to Manchester during 19th c. I went to the museum many times, and it was often used as a venue for various events. In 2005 I was there with a BBC Bus and my old friend Paul as a story gatherer on People’s War campaign for the Beeb, in 2006 I went there for the opening of my first FutureSonic festival, and the first Social Technologies Summit, along with a few exhibitions, took place at the mentioned Warehouse. I did interviews with the artists there, and at one time a gallery assistant suggested us to use a baby changing room that was a part of a female toilet, although I was going to talk to a man. The last memorable exhibition I went to was The Body Worlds by the German Professor Gunther von Hagens. I could not make it to The Da Vinci Genius exhibition, but it was very actively prepared and promoted with the help of Social Media and Networks. On top of it all, this is a good place to practise photography 😉

The figures have it that the MOSI is visited by 830,000 people annually, which is no small number, considering that the majority of overseas tourists still gear towards London. One of my friends also mentioned on Facebook that her friend regularly brings school children from France to visit Manchester and always takes them to the MOSI. The museum is conveniently located towards the edge of the city centre, with a free shuttle bus going past it every 10 mins. Among the closests attractions are the Granada TV Studios, the Roman fort, the Beetham Tower and G-Mex, and the “Deansgate Mile”, as well as the fashionable Spinningfields area with the Guardian offices on Deansgate side and the People’s History Museum on the River Irwell’s bank in Bridge St. Oh, and don’t forget the Opera House in Quay St. St. John’s Garden is practically opposite the museum’s main entrance, having previously belonged to the church built by the Byrom family whose will ensured that the land was never to be built upon.

I don’t even begin to mention the amount of cafes, restaurants and pubs around the area. Suffices to say, there are plenty of things to do, prior or after visiting the MOSI. It has long been one of the main Manchester attractions that did not struggle to attract both adults and children. The story of Manchester scientific and industrial leap in the 18-19th cc. is mesmerising, but there is more we need to consider, than justs costs of running such museum.

Because I fear this is not the only victim of the funding cuts up North. For a literary piece that was loosely inspired by my visit to Heaton Hall and Park in spring 2009 I needed to pay another visit to the place. So when I went there this May I found that the Hall was not just closed for winter – it was entirely shut down. “Closed for the public” is not just the splendid mansion where restoration works helped to restore some of its bygone splendour. “Closed” are a floor-to-ceiling organ by Samuel Green from 1789, the only remaining set of paintings by the Polish architect Michael Novosielski (1750-1795), when he was yet a painter, a set of furniture by Gillows of Lancaster, and a magnificent suite of furniture that previously belonged to the Duke of Wellington who used to visit Heaton Hall and was very fond of its housemistress, Lady Wilton.

This is more than just an old building closing its doors – this is a whole part of history of the English North West, a resource that sheds tons of light on the tastes and habits of its people. Quite important is the fact that the Hall is a part of Europe’s largest municipal park and easy to visit: the metrolink tram station is exactly opposite the park entrance, and so are the bus stops to and from Bury. I did not investigate the reasons why the Hall was closed, but I would not be surprised if it was also due to “funding cuts”.

The MOSI is not in Prestwich, which may only be known in London if you are Jewish. It is in Manchester’s city centre and, as we saw above, attracts many foreign visitors, including children. As much as I love Arts and am not quite a techie person, I would be unconsolable if we lost the opportunity to study the technical and scientific progress of our nation close to our home. The MOSI surely provides this opportunity for the entire North of England, and this is what the London bosses might be trying to tap into. Perhaps, they think that, if the MOSI is closed down and its collection is moved down south, then people from Scotland and the North of England come to London more often. Of course, I assume that Manchester collection would not just be abandoned or sold by piece. But… it’s silly to think that this would increase a visitor flow to London museums. The costs of going and staying in the capital at the time of severe economic downturn are not going to be taken up by many, if any, Northern families.

And at the same time closing one of prominent Northern museums would severely impact the educational prospects. As a venue and a cradle of information and objects that can inspire future engineers and inventors, the MOSI is indispensable. With less things to learn and do, children are more likely to spend time in the streets, getting involved in gangs, drug abuse, and “anti-social behaviour” of all kinds. Instead of a Northern Rutherford or its female “version” we will get yet another drugged Salford guy with a pregnant teenage girlfriend, applying for benefits and living in a run-down council flat that can be taken away from them at any moment. And when this happens we as the society will shake our heads and wonder, at exactly what point the former glory of Britain went to the dogs.

Finishing now, I do not want this piece to come across as yet another helpless outcry. I think we should consider what measures we can take to save the MOSI. I am sure there are many people throughout Manchester who would gladly volunteer to help at the museum, if it struggles to maintain the staff. And if this means bringing the payment back for the time being, then why not? Just make sure it goes to the MOSI coffers, not elsewhere. I think of it this way: if it costs 4 quid to buy a bus ticket that is valid all day, then how much more can you afford to pay on top of that for a single museum visit that can last all day? And there may also be a family ticket, and an option for a child up to a certain age to go in for free, and maybe even a “frequent visitor ticket” or a “weekend visitor ticket”. It’s not something that we’d like to do, of course. However, I have come to believe that, whatever alleviations the government of any country is prepared to give to its citizens, people must not stop helping themselves, including financial help, be that for art venues, civil initiatives, or something else that directly affects their lives.

In the meantime, SIGN THE PETITION TO PROTECT THE MOSI!

To finish off, here are some of the photos I took between 2007 and 2010 related to the MOSI and the surrounding area.

MOSI - Transport then and now
MOSI – Transport then and now

 

MOSI in the Streets
MOSI in the street

 

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Entrance to the MOSI

 

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Another view of the MOSI entrance

Following Penguins: Photos And Stories From Antarctica

Betty Trummel of Science Roadshow blog is currently visiting Antarctica (!), but her friend and colleague Jean Pennycook has finished her research season at Cape Royds and shared some photos from the penguin colony there. We all love watching kittens and puppies, so how about some penguin chicks? To entice you, here are 3 from the photos are going to see over at Betty’s blog: A Final Penguing Update.

Feeding chicks (© Jean Pennycook)
Penguin dance (© Jean Pennycook)
Reaching for food (© Jean Pennycook)

The House Where Tsiolkovsky Created His Seminal Work

To visit Kaluga takes 3 hours by train from Moscow. It’s quicker on an express train which is predictably more expensive and sought-after.

I went to Kaluga during the Days of Europe event, previously celebrated in several other cities in Russia. I didn’t even try to follow the map of the event; instead I went to specifically attend the walk around the historic centre of the city. We were guided by an excellent guide Larisa who in the end walked me to a small blue wooden house where in 1902 the outstanding Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky composed his seminal work on rocket science. It is often assumed that it was composed at what is now his house-museum; in truth he only did editing work there, the writing happened in this little building opposite St. George Cathedral Church where a miraculous icon of Our Lady is stored.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky house

 

Tsiolkovsky’s first house in Kaluga stood opposite the blue one,
between the two houses in this photo

 

Tsiolkovsky lived in this house between August 1893 and March 1902

 

Yet another house opposite Tsiolkovsky’s

 

The Church of St. George Across the Top houses a miraculous icon of Our Lady

Is There a Connection Between Bilingualism and Asperger Syndrome?

Image: Thoughful India. I couldn’t resist including it… 🙂

Some time ago I took part in a research project conducted by a Russian Psychology student that seeks to explore the phenomenon of bilingualism.

And I’ve been really captivated myself by another phenomenon – autism, its “variants”, and advantages and disadvantages that go along with it. I am particularly interested in Asperger’s Syndrome as it most often remains undiagnosed and therefore a percentage of people having it may be higher than it is assumed.

Aspies often possess an above-the-average ability to focus on something. This can go both ways, in that this hyperfocus they are naturally capable of can see them being drawn to things that are not necessarily worthwhile. But if they focus on the “right” thing – say, language – they can show tremendous results. Be it mere memorising or a genuine linguistic affinity, Aspies can develop either to its full potential and hence become fully operational in two languages or more.

Autism in general is described in terms of a severe lack of social skills, but whereas “regular” autists are unlikely to learn to communicate, Aspies are different. The examples I’ve read about indicate that Aspies are capable of establishing a connection, communicating and socialising, but they don’t get the “language” of it all. Double meaning, tongue-in-cheek, various “codes” bewilder them. Whereas a “normal” person uses and “gets” all those signs with a relative ease, Aspies struggle.

Supposing that social language is just another linguistic system, it makes no sense that Aspies should not be able to comprehend it, let alone to use it. My guess would be the method of teaching the “language” in either case. While language has a set of rules, some of which can only be used in one particular instance, social language is all about double meanings. Saying truth is encouraged, and lies are despicable, yet saying truth is not always good, and telling lies is not always bad. Worse still, there is a rule for each specific case.

My guess is that high-functioning Aspies may lack empathy, taking things at face value and speaking up their mind with no concern for others. So, whereas a “normal” child would simply rely on his feelings, an Aspie may be less open to that. This affects the understanding of the “social code”, unless an Aspie develops an intuition that can serve as a bridge between the rational and emotional parts of his brain.

But suppose a person is an Aspie and is bilingual. By “bilingual” I hereby mean an above-the-average vocabulary that allows to use synonyms to describe a single physical act (i.e. using “see”, “regard”, “watch”, “look”, “view”, “observe”, to denote a single act of “eyeing”). If they lack “social language”, how can they correctly use a foreign language in a foreign setting? The answer is, apparently, that they may memorise set examples of behaviour and conversations; however, when prompted to improvise, they may feel insecure.

The last question that interests me is whether or not an Aspie could be a successful simultaneous interpreter. If yes, then we are certainly talking about the situation when the second native language has been developed to such level that the person performs an operation not dissimilar to that of a search engine, browsing his vocabulary in real time to deliver the most precise interpretation.

Your thoughts? Any literature you can recommend on the subject?

The Allure of Periodic Tables: Chemistry, SEO, and Foul Language

Newton can rest on his laurels all he likes, but it looks like the most popular – as in pop-culture terms – discovery belongs to Dmitry Mendeleev. The story has it that the great Russian chemist eventually dreamt his entire periodic table of chemical elements, which is not surprising, considering how long he’d been working on its arrangement.

Read more about Mendeleev’s Periodic Table, or even download an Apple app for your device (compatible with iPad, $0.99).

Little would he know that this scheme would inspire:

1. SEO community (SearchEngineLand)
You can download the Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors in PDF.

Image: Search Engine Land.

2. Students of foul language (via Modern Toss)
Back in 2007 I told you a tearful story of my trying to compile a list of negative keywords for an AdWords campaign. I have been reading Henry Miller since 2000, and throughout my 7 years in the UK and now 1.5 years in Russia I’ve been open to all sorts of words and expressions. Since I use public transport and attend social functions, I don’t really have a choice. Now I put my hands down, my friends: the majority of phrases in the Periodic Table of Swearing has to this day been unknown to me. It looks like my foul vocabulary didn’t grow beyond individual words and maybe two or three best known expressions. I no longer know what to think, although I suspect it’s best to have something to discover in life…

Image: Forever Geek

3. Internet Fans (via Wellington Grey)
Not unlike SearchEngineLand, but much earlier, Wellington Grey painstakingly assembled the Internet resources, as they were in 2007. I’d imagine the table needs a revision and a new edition, but as a piece of history it’s lovely and brings back good memories (and it doesn’t know Yandex as a search engine!)

Periodic Table of the Internet by Wellington Grey

4. Meme-orisers
Here’s another thing I need to discover, but if you know your memes, you’ll surely appreciate what you see.

Image: Geekosystem

5. Designers
Do you know your Lucinda from Arial Sans Serif? Somehow using the Periodic Table of Typefaces suddenly made me see the difference between most typefaces. Behance.net has also got Spanish and Portuguese versions of the PTT.

Image: Squidspot

Can you think of other Periodic Tables that need doing?

How Monkeys Watched The Planet of the Apes

This could be a joke, unless it was true: in Japan, the scientists and tourism industry pros decided to invite a group of monkeys to a film screening. Assuming that like should be interested in the like, they screened a (abridged to 13 minutes) version of The Planet of the Apes by Rupert Wyatt.

According to the report, monkeys were scared and ran away… but then THEY CAME BACK AND FINISHED WATCHING THE FILM.

I may be wrong… but this was exactly the evoluton in attitude of humans to the moving pictures. First, people were scared of the train speeding at them from the screen, and now watching a few dozens of cars crashed in front of your eyes on the screen is, like, a must for an action movie.

The screenings are said to be continued. The officials hope that those monkeys who successfully watch all films should “evolve faster”.

I’m not sure how to interpret the need for this “evolution of the apes”. Is it that there’s not enough unspoilt people, and the Japanese hope to develop a better breed by going “ad fontes”, or better put, to the apes, to paraphrase the famous Renaissance expression?

В японском зоопарке макакам показали фильм «Восстание планеты обезьян»

 

Moscow Parks and Gardens: Biryulyovo Arboretum

An old bridge
Kid’s art

Biryulyovo Arboretum is located faily near to where I live: I only have to walk under the railway bridge, then take a bus, and in a few stops I will be near one of the best contemporary examples of park building.

Birch alley
A pond near the entrance

It all started in 1932, when the first attempt to convert the soil previously used for pasture had been made. It wasn’t successful: all new plants were swarmed by grass. A more serious undertaking was initiated in 1938 by V. Polozov. This time the focus was on cleaning the territory and preparing the soil. After this Polozov suggested to plant more tree seeds into a furrow than was initially recommended. Two results were thus achieved. One, trees were supporting one another, whilst growing. Two, they were continuously dug out and taken to be replanted elsewhere in Moscow city. Only “necessary” trees would stay in their furrows.

Another pond
Sunshine

The park itself was conceived as a combination of a landscape park and a regular park. As a result, what may seem to be an orderly entwining of different alleys is in fact a carefully constructed maze of over 220 tree species. The park constantly evolves, and maple trees change linden and birch trees to give way to pines and larches. Thanks to this, while providing shelter from extreme heat in summer, in autumn the Biryulyovo Arboretum is a feast for eyes, with all its autumnal palette.

Shades of green
Conifers tops

The Arboretum’s selection of conifers is the best one in Moscow, comparable only to the one in the Botanical Gardens. 40% of plants come from North America; another large group originally grows in the Far East, including China and Japan. Typically Russian plants are also well presented, coming from the European part, Siberia, Caucasus, and Central Asian mountains. Most of these plants easily accommodate themselves in the Moscow suburb, adding more decorative elements to the park.

Conifer trees tops: another look
Trees and shadows

  Naturally, the Arboretum in Biryulyovo attracts a lot of citizens who come here to enjoy Nature, solitude, fresh air, and lovely views. But this is also a unique schooling opportunity, and excursions to the Arboretum are regularly organised for pupils. This is the place where a child bonds with Nature and learns to appreciate its beauty, grace, and frailty.

As for me, I visited the Arboretum for the first time in my life a couple of months ago, just before the weather got really hot. One has to point out that, as with any other popular park, this place can get pretty crowded. Nonetheless, a walk up and down alleys, past changing tree species, is unforgettable, inspiring and kind of equivalent to a stroll along an embankment in a seaside town. The fresh air cleanses your head and emotions, the trees calm you down, and altogether this experience opens your eyes, and you quite literally begin to see both forest and its trees.

 

The 50th Anniversary of the First Manned Orbit – A Report from the Star City

Many years ago when I was still in school I had the chance of a lifetime: I visited the Star City, the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre located in the northeast of Moscow where they teach and train future spacemen. I still remember the visit, and my reminder is a “golden” commemorating coin with Yuri Gagarin’s portrait.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photo, when there, so I was kind of hoping that I may find some on the web. And so I did, and if you read in Russian, go to the Russian post by Anton Agarkov. And if you want to read about the political history of the Star City, head over to the Russian Space Web.

So, when you arrive to the train station just a few minutes away from Moscow, you are taken to the Star City through the gates that divide the earthly and heavenly lives. Behind the gates are clean streets, modern houses, shops, schools, and training buildings. Spacemen have lived in the Star City with their families, here they shopped, here their children went to school. In the Soviet era people used to joke that socialism had come to life in this little spot outside of the capital city.

Credit: Anton Agarkov

One of the most important tasks a potential cosmonaut has to complete is a centrifuge training. It is at this stage that a lot of prospects are seeded out: the centrifuge shows, whether or not people can sustain the taking-off and setting down. A lot of equipment at the training centre is unique, and speaking of centrifuges, at the Star City there is the world’s largest centrifuge produced by the Swedish company, ASIA, at the astronomical price of 11 ton of gold, excuse the pun. The result is the ability of the medical team at the training centre to monitor the changes in the cosmonaut’s health under the influence of fluctuations in temperature, pressure, humidity, and even the atmospheric content of the centrifuge.

Credit: Anton Agarkov
Credit: Anton Agarkov

Another place of interest at the training centre is the hydrolaboratory. This is a swimming pool specially designed to imitate the state of weightlessness. A cosmonaut wearing a spacesuit is put in the water; to keep him from floating, the spacesuit is emburdened with leaded weights. The pool’s depth allows to put in it various modules of the International Space Station, so that the prospective cosmonauts can practise working in the open space.

Credit: Anton Agarkov
Credit: Anton Agarkov

Obviously, it is impossible to fully replicate the weightlessness: the objects that would be weightless in space retain their weight in the swimming pool. To this end, cosmonauts work together with the specially trained aqualungers.

Credit: Anton Agarkov
Credit: Anton Agarkov

Since the preparation for travelling into space is carried out on Earth, cosmonauts also have to learn to pilot their spacecraft. There is a special division at the training centre where they do just that. On Anton’s photo, through small windows and on displays we can see the bowels of the spacecraft the cosmonauts use to descend on Earth. Here, as well, is an imitation of a position the cosmonaut takes, when descending.

Credit: Anton Agarkov
Credit: Anton Agarkov
Credit: Anton Agarkov

In this division, the future spacemen work on normal and abnormal scenarios they may have to deal with in the upper spheres. And on special displays you can see a full cosmonaut pack, including high-calorie food in small tubes, signaling rockets, and even a gun, should the spaceman has to protect himself against the wild beasts that may be inhabiting the place where the spacecraft descends.

Credit: Anton Agarkov

Bearing in mind that scientific enquiries into the possibilities of going into space have started in Russia already in the 19th c., it shouldn’t be surprising that it eventually became the country who first sent a man into space. What is amazing, is that mere 16 years before that the country lay in ruins after the destructive Second World War. When I visited an exhibition of Soviet photographs at the Imperial War Museum North in 2006, this was what struck me the most. Throughout the first 10-13 photos I was looking at the war atrocities, hunger, death, a Reichstag banner – and suddenly, there was this massive smile of Yuri Gagarin, two Soviet chessmen competing against one another at the final of the world tournament, and many more happy faces. Perhaps, that happiness wasn’t altogether sincere, but the difference between the pre-war and the post-war Russia was quite palpable. It was as if, having stepped on the threshold of oblivion, the nation resolutely turned back and went beyond every imaginable boundary – straight to the stars.

I guess sometimes either a person, or a nation has to fall low – to then pave the road to people’s dreams.

Happy Cosmonaut Day!