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OpenLearn Live: 17th February 2016

Updated Wednesday 17th February 2016

The birthplace of cyberspace is in South Carolina, and the perils of sugar in hot drinks. Then more free learning across the day.

OpenLearn Live brings free learning into the heart of your worlds. This page will be updated during the day.

Yesterday, we explored testing drugs on pregnant women, our work with BBC Three and customer service in the public sector

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's posts


Living in a smart city

The delights of a 'smart' city, where internet-connected objects monitor, predict and please, seem without end. But there could be a downside - what if the data fell into the wrong hands? Security experts are already working on how to make a smart city a secure city:

The rapid growth of embedded computing and the “Internet of Things” (IoT) have been felt in many industries and areas, but few organizations and jurisdictions have been affected as quickly and as deeply as cities.  The emergence of “smart cities”   – those cities that “…integrate cyber-physical technologies and infrastructure to create environmental and economic efficiency while improving the overall quality of life” – have created important increases in the understanding of infrastructure usage, improved efficiency, and better service provision to citizens.  That said, the emergence of smart cities – and the installation and utilization of vast networks of sensors and data collection platforms – have also vastly increased the potential “attack surface” that these urban areas must protect and defend. 

Read the full article: The security risks of living in a smart city


Alternative finance

New research published today by Cambridge University attempts to put a figure on the size of the alternative finance sector in the UK - that's things like peer-to-peer lending, for example. The figure they've come up with is quite impressive:

The UK online alternative finance sector grew 84% in 2015, facilitating £3.2 billion in investments, loans and donations, according to a new report published today.

This is a significant increase in volume, but growth of the online alternative finance market is slowing down, with the annual growth in 2014/2015 being nearly half the 161% growth from 2013/14. Although the absolute year-on-year growth rate is slowing down, the report said, the alternative finance industry still recorded substantive expansion across almost all models.

Read the full article How large is the UK alternative finance sector?

Try our free course Managing My Money


BBC Radio 4, 4pm today: Thinking Allowed

The regular email promoting Thinking Allowed has just arrived at our inboxes, and today Laurie Taylor tells a tale about asking George Melly on the nature of American cities, and the power of myth-making to create a sense of place:

Did his view also apply to his home town? Was there an element of mythology, a chunk of the imaginary, in the way in which Liverpudlians regarded their own city?

His answer was concise. In his view Liverpudlians were altogether too practical, too close to the ground, to go in for mythologizing: 'Whenever two or more Liverpudlians get together,' he told me, 'they simply recite street names to each other and fall about with laughter. You don't get that in Manchester'.

All of this leads into the programme later today, which explores how imagination can shape how we see other people - even residents of Aigburth Road.

Listen to the programme (4pm or later) on iPlayer

See more about Thinking Allowed


A little coffee in your sugar?

Every so often, someone looks at the levels of sugars in high street coffeeshop products, and 'discovers' anew that some drinks in Starbucks et al contain more sugar than those traditional targets of ire, cans of fizzy pop:

Starbucks' venti Grape with Chai, Orange and Cinnamon Hot Mulled Fruit was found to have the highest sugar content of the drinks tested, with 25 teaspoons of sugar per serving, the campaign group said.

Costa's massimo eat-in Chai Latte was found to contain 20 teaspoons of sugar and Starbucks' venti White Chocolate Mocha with Whipped Cream was found to have 18.

KFC's mocha and Starbucks' Signature Hot Chocolate both had 15 teaspoons of sugar per serving while Caffe Nero's drink-in Caramelatte had 13.

Read the report at BBC News: 'Shocking' sugar levels in High Street hot drinks, warns charity

Why do we crave sugar so much? Chef Paul Merret and OU scientist David Shuker got to grips with this very question in our Ever Wondered About Food podcast on sugar:

We often think of sugar primarily in terms of its flavour, but of course in terms of the relish, and more generally in terms of jams and things like that, sugar is a preservative. And the reason it's a preservative is that bacteria don't like to grow and in fact they can't grow in a very strong sugar solution. It disrupts the cells, and so sugar is a very effective preservative. So actually it's a dual role: one which is as a strong flavouring but the other thing is very practical, it's almost the sort of sweet equivalent of salt - I mean salt is used for preserving. It does that preserving in a particular way; sugar does the same thing.

Listen to Ever Wondered About... Sugar

And what is it about coffee shops that make it difficult to walk past them without nipping in for a cup of something warm anyway? We explored that question as part of The Shops That Make Us Buy:

Prominently placed, shiny Italian-made coffee-making machines create noise and steam and, together with the clattering of crockery, suggest the presence of a busy and efficient service. At the same time it creats an atmosphere reminiscent of an Italian cafe. Depending on the kind of shop it is, a background soundtrack, perhaps of Jazz music, encourages customers to imagine themselves as participants in a scene of mellow urban sophistication. There are no televisions or screens in these environments, unlike pubs.

Explore The Shops That Make Us Buy


A week in South Carolina: Conway

This week, we're exploring settlements in South Carolina. Yesterday, we spent some time at Hilton Head. Today, we're moving on to Conway.

Dolphus M. Grainger Power Station, Conway, South Carolina Creative commons image Icon sara'mer under Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 license The Dolphus Power Station, Conway

Like many places in South Carolina, the first Europeans to visit the area of the modern town were Spanish. The first meetings between the Spanish and the locals didn't go well -  in 1520, Francisco Gordillo tricked 140 native Americans onto his ship and took them off to sell as slaves. Spain's King Charles was outraged when he learned of this treachery, and insisted the men be freed and returned to their homes.

Before we get too swayed by King Charles' humanity, he didn't have a problem with other Spaniards setting up a colony on the land, nor with the use of enslaved Africans to do the hard work there.

If you believe in karma, you won't be too surprised to discover most of the settlers were wiped out by malaria.

The next notable attempt to settle the area was in the name of a different king, George II. The 1730 Township Act created nine 'towns' - really just large parcels of land - and invited Europeans to move there, offering free land, free provisions for a year, and free travel to get there. The town that would become Conway - originally known as Kings Town - proved attractive to Scottish and Irish immigrants who had originally been living further up the East Coast.

While much of South Carolina was tossed and tumultuous during the Civil War, things were relatively quiet in Conway. There, the main agricultural activity was around the pine forests rather than plantations, so there were few slave owners in the town. (They did all vote to secede from the Union, though.) While other towns were subject to tussles, though, Conway kept its head down; after the war, it was less badly hit by the economic tremors of reconstruction as its naval stores and timber businesses proved quite resilient.

The end of the 19th century brought railroads and steamboat traffic, and with them a mini-boom. The forests, though, which had been a source of income for so long had been denuded; residents started to experiment with cotton and tobacco as replacement crops. Tobacco won greater favour with the farmers - a stroke of luck, as while neighbours in other parts of the state saw their cotton fields decimated by boll weevil in the 1910s and 20s, tobacco was unaffected.

By the start of the First World War, the town had grown to a thousand souls; by the Second, it was home to 5,000.

It's perhaps appropriate that we're writing this while OpenLearn is lost in cyberspace, as the greatest gift of Conway in the last half of the 20th Century was the very concept of cyberspace. It was the birthplace of William Gibson, the original cyberpunk and author of Neuromancer. Gibson didn't stay long in the town - his family moved a lot, following his father's construction work - but Conway has a solid claim as, if not the birthplace of cyberspace, at least the birthplace of cyberspace's father.

See more about science fiction from OpenLearn

See more about history from OpenLearn


Technical note

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