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OpenLearn Live: 15th November 2016

Updated Tuesday 15th November 2016

Birmingham: Home of the photocopier; European names for the platypus; and the point of art. Learning and research from across the day.

OpenLearn Live is the place where the cascade of learning and research online slows just enough to let a few of the gems catch the light. In other words, we pick a few choice bits and pieces every day from OpenLearn and beyond.

Yesterday, we heard how early 20th century housing policies still trap African Americans today; met the inventor of insulin and sympathised with the NHS great copy-all crisis

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's posts


Can better design keep patients safe?

Experience in Northern Ireland suggests, yes:

Even when an institution manages to make genuine improvements in patient safety, too often these interventions cannot be replicated elsewhere or scaled up, leading to the curse of “worked once”, as she describes it.

One place that has managed to break this pattern is Northern Ireland, which has overcome the problem of poor labelling of lines such as intravenous lines and urinary catheters. A sick patient may have several different lines attached to them; these were not labelled in any consistent way – if at all – so a nurse might use the wrong line or leave a line in place too long, risking infection. Over 18 months, the health service in Northern Ireland came up with a solution. Soon, whether you are in a hospital, a nursing home or a hospice, every line will be labelled the same way.

Read the full article: Can engineering help improve patient safety?


Is art an luxury in these hard times?

Writing in Propsect, Naomi Goulder takes a long view of the question 'what is the point of art?'

Since Plato thinks virtue benefits its possessor, he tends automatically to consider non-virtuous desires “false” and disruptive. But whether or not we agree that true desires will always be for ethically good ends (e.g. Nietzsche disputes this), we can still acknowledge the psychological distinction between the “false” and the “true.” We all sometimes find ourselves assailed by desires for things that appear good but that, in cool and calm reflection (say), we think are not really so. In these cases, we need symbolic substitutes to help re-direct and appease desire, in order for us to see reality aright.

Read the full article at Prospect: What is the point of art?

Try our free course: Why teach art?


Remembering Leonard Cohen

The OU's Richard Danson Brown explores the theme of fatherhood in the late, great Leonard Cohen's work:

Throughout his work, Cohen specialized in troubled father-son relationships. His most famous song, ‘Hallelujah’, begins with the paternal relationship between the psalmist King David and the father God he pleases with his ‘secret chord’. Consider ‘Story of Isaac’, from Songs from a Room(1969). This is a pointed retelling of the story from Genesis. God instructs Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. As his title suggests, Cohen’s sympathies are squarely with Isaac. We see Abraham through Isaac’s eyes as a crazy fanatic intent on doing ‘what I’ve been told’. The second half reinterprets the biblical narrative as a contemporary allegory, condemning those ‘who build these altars now/to sacrifice these children’, insisting ‘you must not do it anymore’. There’s a contrast with Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, which includes a version of the same story. Dylan’s interest is on God as a psychopathic bully who compels Abraham to submit to God; Isaac is unnamed. What’s unusual about ‘Story of Isaac’ is that it shows Cohen lining up on the side of the young who were protesting against the Vietnam War and the old who were ‘sacrificing’ them.

Read the full article: Songs of Love and Hate: On Leonard Cohen


What do you call a platypus?

You might remember a few weeks back we explored the magic of the duck-billed platypus, the mammal which lays eggs.

We're returning to platypus now, because... what do you call them? It depends where you come from, as Brilliant Maps have discovered:

[B]oth the English ‘Platypus’ and Greek ‘Platypodas’ are derived from “flat-foot.”

Although in Britain the term duck billed platypus is also used as is the term ornithorynchos (meaning: Chicken-nosed) in Greek. The romance languages on the other hand have names based on the more scientifically correct “bird-snout.”

Further adding to the confusion, most (but not all), central European names for the animal come from “beak-animal,” whereas those countries that were part of the 19th century Russian Empire refer to it by names originating from “duck-beak.”

Read the full article at Brilliant Maps: What do Europeans Call a Platypus?

More from OpenLearn on linguistics


A week in Birmingham: Birthplace of the copier

This week, we're starting up each day with a story from Birmingham. Yesterday, we found out how a city that's nearly 150 years old has a flag that's just coming up to its first birthday. Today, we're going back to something we said in passing yesterday:

the city that gave us Duran Duran, the Phantom Fan Flinger, Kenny Baker and the photocopier

Now, we could allow ourselves easily to become distracted by the early years of Duran Duran, and the Rum Runner club. Very, very easily...

But it's actually that last item we're going to take a closer look at. You might be scratching your head and saying 'but didn't Chester Carlson invent the photocopier? And isn't he a New Yorker?' And that'd be true, sort-of.

James Watt's copy machine Creative commons image Icon Birmingham Museums Trust / Wikimedia under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license James Watt's copy machine

The first copying machine, which successfully and reliably would make an identical copy of an original, though? Well, that was James Watt's work, and Watt did most of his best work in Handsworth.

Watt's invention was almost a meta-invention - he invented a way of copying documents because he was an inventor, and he was driven to distraction by people copying his plans and making errors. Those errors often occured because of the sheer mind-numbing tedium of copying stuff. Maybe, he figured, a machine could do a better job because a machine didn't get bored.

Watt patented his device in 1780 - and quickly followed up with a portable version. Effectively, the device was like a mangle (to use a n everyday 2016 reference point) - you'd produce your original using special ink, and then squeeze that and a blank sheet of paper through two rollers, resulting in a copy. Over the next century, most commercial copying machines used a similar approach, until Carlson came along with his static electrical machine.

What makes an inventor tick? James Dyson has an idea or two...

 

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