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OpenLearn Live: 14th December 2016

Updated Wednesday 14th December 2016

Why are decisions about oil production made in a country without a significant oil industry?; how Podesta's emails were phished, and A poet reads her own work. Learning and research from across the day.

OpenLearn Live shakes the parcels under the tree of online learning and research and peeks through the wrappings of the ones that seem the most interesting. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we asked if skinny models have become a thing of the past; asked how you can recover from exercise and found out why we trust confident people

On this day last year: Star Wars, cheapest times to buy a plane ticket and Dorothy Wordsworth

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's posts


Calling an axe an ax

The Oxford University Press blog chops its way into the old, old name for an axe:

All the Old Germanic languages had cognates of ax, though the forms were not identical: Old Engl. æx ~ eax (æ was pronounced as a in Modern Engl. ax), alongside ex ~ øx, acus ~ akus ~ ackus, and akis elsewhere. Modern German Axt got its final t later. The most dissimilar form is Gothic aqizi. Gothic was recorded in the fourth century, but this does not necessarily mean that aqizi is the oldest Germanic form of our word. At that time, the Goths lived on the shores of the Black Sea and could have had a regional (“peripheral”) form, not current in other Germanic languages. Yet there is no doubt that we are dealing with the same name. The familiar search of etymologists for the so-called protoform will not bother us here. We can skip the details and make do with the conclusion that some word like ak(w)is– was known to all the Germanic speakers but existed in several shapes.

Read the full article at OUP: An ax(e) to grind

The journey from old to modern English


A typo tragedy: phishing's role in the US elections

There's a fevered mix of speculation and suspicion in the coverage of how hackers may have helped shape the US presidential elections. The New York Times has investigated the story so far - and while we're still some way from knowing who did what to whom and why - the access to John Podesta's email account seems to have been the result of a banal phishing attack, and a slip of the keyboard:

Hundreds of [...] phishing emails were being sent to American political targets, including [one purporting to be from Gmail calling for a password reset] sent on March 19 to Mr. Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign. Given how many emails Mr. Podesta received through this personal email account, several aides also had access to it, and one of them noticed the warning email, sending it to a computer technician to make sure it was legitimate before anyone clicked on the “change password” button.

“This is a legitimate email,” Charles Delavan, a Clinton campaign aide, replied to another of Mr. Podesta’s aides, who had noticed the alert. “John needs to change his password immediately.”

With another click, a decade of emails that Mr. Podesta maintained in his Gmail account — a total of about 60,000 — were unlocked for the Russian hackers. Mr. Delavan, in an interview, said that his bad advice was a result of a typo: He knew this was a phishing attack, as the campaign was getting dozens of them. He said he had meant to type that it was an “illegitimate” email, an error that he said has plagued him ever since.

Read the full article at the New York Times: The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S.

Spam, phishing and spoofing


Vita Sackville-West reads her poetry

The British Library has dipped into its wonderful sound archive, and dug out a real treat - Vita Sackville-West reading her poem Winter.

Why should a poet pray thus? poets scorn
The boundaried love of country, being free
Of winds, and alien lands, and distances,
Vagabonds of the compass, wayfarers,
Pilgrims of thought, the tongues of Pentecost
Their privilege, and in their peddler's pack
The curious treasures of their stock-in-trade,
Bossy and singular, the heritage
Of poetry and science, polished bright,
Thin with the rubbing of too many hands:
Myth, glamour, hazard, fables dim as age,
Faith, doubt, perplexity, grief, hope, despair,
Wings, and great waters, and Promethean fire,
Man's hand to clasp, and Helen's mouth to kiss
Why then in little meadows hedge about
A poet's pasture? shed a poet's cloak
For fustian? cede a birthright, thus to map
So small a corner of so great a world?

Listen at the British Library site

Want more poetry? Try our poetry prescription


Aah, Vienna!: The OPEC headquarters

This week, to mark our Thursday night series on BBC Four exploring Habsburg Vienna, we're digging into some other stories from Austria's capital city. Yesterday, it was the tale of sachertorte and how it ended up in court. Today, we're exploring how OPEC ended up based in the heart of the city.

OPEC headquarters, Vienna Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Priwo OPEC's original Vienna HQ

You probably don't think of Austria when you think of oil-producing states. In 2015, it produced about 27,000 barrels of petroleum a day - placing it about 66th in the global producers' league. It wasn't always such - back in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there were only two larger producers of oil in the world. But shrinking national boundaries took the best oilfields out of the country, and modern day Austria imports more oil and gas than it produces. Indeed, the nation is such a small player in the global petrochemical market that it's not even a member of OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

So how come OPEC's HQ is in Vienna?

It's Austria's relatively low profile in oil production that makes it a strong host. When the organisation was founded in 1960, there was a strong push from Middle Eastern oil producers for the group to have a home in region. The then Iranian Prime Minister, Abdel Kassem, lobbied hard for OPEC to setttle in Baghdad. Venezuela's Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso won the support of the organisation's founding secretary general, Faud Rouhani, for the idea that neutral ground would be more appropriate.

Vienna wasn't the first choice, though. Switzerland's fiercely protected neutrality during the Second World War had made Geneva seem a more obvious home. And, indeed, for a while OPEC was headquartered there. But after Rouhani's time in charge ended, OPEC started to make more demands of the Swiss - most notably that its members be given full diplomatic privileges. Switzerland said no, not only because it was unwilling to offer this blanket immunity, but also because the nation was trying to reduce its foreign population as a means of controling inflation.

Austria, by contrast, was attempting to remake its capital as a home for international organisations - the 1960s also brought the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN's Industrial Development Organisation to the banks of the Danube; eventually the UN would make Vienna its third hub city. OPEC settled in quickly, and remains there to this day.

It hasn't always been a peaceful tenancy, though. In 1975, Carlos "The Jackal" (Ilich Ramírez Sánchez) attacked the organisation. The New Historian remembers:

The attack on the OPEC headquarters in 1975 was by far the biggest operation of Carlos the Jackal’s career however, making his name recognised with fear around the world. The target of the attack was a meeting of oil ministers from oil producing countries, in the Austrian capital Vienna.

A heavily armed group of Arab and German terrorists, led by Carlos, stormed the site of the meeting with machine guns. Three people were killed, while 63 were taken hostage, including eleven oil ministers.

Carlos issued clear, simple demands. A communique explaining the Palestinian cause was to be broadcast on Austrian television and radio networks every two hours, and a bus would be supplied to take the terrorists and their hostages to Vienna airport. Austrian authorities, likely fearing a massacre and aware of Carlos the Jackal’s brutal reputation, swiftly met all of the demands of the group dubbed the ‘Arm of the Arab Revolution’. The terrorists escaped to Algeria, where all of the hostages were released unharmed.

It would be 25 years before OPEC held another summit.

International alphabet soup: Know your OPECS from your EFTAs

More on Vienna: Empire, Dynasty & Dream

 

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