Wednesday 29 July, 2020

Summer by the lake


Wednesday 29 July, 2020

Today’s musical alternative to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme

John Field’s Nocturne #5 in B flat major played by John O’Conor.

Someone once said that John Field invented the Nocturne and Chopin perfected it. I’m not sure about that: I prefer Field’s compositions. But then, I’m no musician.


John Crace on the UK transport minister’s truncated holiday

Lovely spoof.

A fitful night’s sleep hadn’t eased the tension in the Shapps’ family compound in the south of Spain. Conversation was limited to a few terse exchanges as Grant started packing his bags for his return home.

“But you told the Today programme back in April that you wouldn’t be taking a family holiday abroad this summer,” his wife reminded him. “So how come we’ve ended up in this villa and will have to quarantine for 14 days on our return?”

“Um …” Shapps mumbled. “Well, everything seemed to be getting a bit better, we had introduced some air corridors and the flights were dirt cheap …”

“So it’s sod’s law that you, the transport secretary, chose to fly on the one air corridor that you knew was going to be closed before we had even taken off.”

“Look, I’ve said I’m sorry countless times. I just couldn’t be seen to be acting on inside knowledge. Not that I had any.”

“So instead you look like a complete twat by cutting short a holiday you said you weren’t going to take, in order to get your 14 days of quarantine over and done with as soon as possible, while leaving me and the kids behind.”

“That’s one way of looking at it …”

“Chill out, Mum,” said the kids. “We’ll probably have a better time without him. At least we won’t have the embarrassment of being photographed on the beach again.”


Zuckerberg in the dock

The bosses of Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook were hauled up (virtually) before the House Subcommittee on Antitrust this evening. It was occasionally interesting. Might write something about it tomorrow. But I couldn’t resist this image of Zuckerberg with a spinning rotor (an artefact of the relay, I guess) superimposed.

It was basically a theatrical event. But maybe it heralds something more serious.


Bats are social animals. Therefore they argue a lot. Just like humans.

Amazing study, reported in the Smithsonian magazine.

Egyptian fruit bats, it turns out, aren’t just making high pitched squeals when they gather together in their roosts. They’re communicating specific problems, reports Bob Yirka at Phys.org.

According to Ramin Skibba at Nature, neuroecologist Yossi Yovel and his colleagues recorded a group of 22 Egyptian fruit bats, Rousettus aegyptiacus, for 75 days. Using a modified machine learning algorithm originally designed for recognizing human voices, they fed 15,000 calls into the software. They then analyzed the corresponding video to see if they could match the calls to certain activities.

They found that the bat noises are not just random, as previously thought, reports Skibba. They were able to classify 60 percent of the calls into four categories. One of the call types indicates the bats are arguing about food. Another indicates a dispute about their positions within the sleeping cluster. A third call is reserved for males making unwanted mating advances and the fourth happens when a bat argues with another bat sitting too close. In fact, the bats make slightly different versions of the calls when speaking to different individuals within the group, similar to a human using a different tone of voice when talking to different people.

Skibba points out that besides humans, only dolphins and a handful of other species are known to address individuals rather than making broad communication sounds.

Clearly, this researcher hasn’t met our cats.