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OpenLearn Live: 18th November 2016

Updated Friday 18th November 2016

Where roads meet and elegantly entwine; taking back control; and saving plants from extinction in the Midlands. Learning and research across the day.

OpenLearn Live plucks interesting learning and research from around OpenLearn and across the internet. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday was... quiet

On this day last year, colour on the television; why did the world appear to care more about terrorism in Paris rather than Beirut; and the tradition of Saint Monday

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's posts


Free course: Technological innovation: a resource-based view

It's perhaps not the most attractive title for a free course, but it's really worth your attention - it asks how an organisation can do inspiring and new things based on what they already have available.

In effect, it's innovation-as-lunch-made-from-leftovers. And a must-read if you're part of a group trying to think of how to be innovative.

Try the free course sample

Discover how to study the full course, Strategic capabilities for technological innovation


Listen over lunch: What does 'take back control' mean?

We hear the phrase 'take back control' a lot right now. But... what do people really mean when they say it? What controls, exactly, and taking them from whom to give to whom? The New Economics Foundation explores that question in their latest podcast:

Dip into our Brexit collection


Saving Leicestershire & Rutland's seeds

Rumex maritimus seed Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: University of Leicester Rumex Maritimus seeds

Every two years, it's been calculated, Leicestershire and Rutland lose three types of plants. As an attempt to try and preserve the biodiversity of the two counties, the University of Leicester has launched a new programme:

With support from the Friends of the Garden, the University of Leicester Botanic Garden has set up Genebank55, which focuses on plants throughout Leicestershire and Rutland, vice-county number 55.

A vice-county is a geographical division of the British Isles used for the purposes of biological recording.

The project aims to store seeds from the rarest species of local wildflower from the surviving populations in a deep freeze, helping to conserve them for future repopulation.

Read more about the project at the University of Leicester: Conservation project to save threatened wildflowers from extinction

More on conservation from OpenLearn

Previously on OpenLearn Live: a week in Rutland


A week in Birmingham: Spaghetti Junction

This week, we've been starting each day with a story from Birmingham. If you've missed any, here's where we've been so far:

We'll have to return for a second bite at the second city, as there are thousands to tales to be told of Birmingham, and its people. But for now, we're exiting via Spaghetti Junction - officially the most complex road junction in the UK.

Spaghetti Junction - Gravelly Hill Interchange Creative commons image Icon Highways England under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license

Gravelly Hill Interchange - to give it is proper name - isn't the only Spaghetti Junction in the world. The colloquial term has proved so popular that it's been applied to road interchanges all over the planet - Wikipedia maintains a list stretching from New Zealand to Canada. There's even a rival Spaghetti Junction in the UK - the Worsley Braided Interchange is also known as Spaghetti Junction. Worsley might be an older junction, but it didn't have the name first.

The nickname is sometimes credited to the Birmingham Mail's Roy Smith. He came up with the image, true, but the name was someone else's work:

Former Sunday Mercury reporter Bob Haywood contacted Hancock to put the record straight. “For the record, Roy Smith did not coin the phrase Spaghetti Junction,” says Bob, now retired. “He was given the simple task of writing a caption for an aerial view of the still under construction complex and wrote something along the lines: ‘It’s officially called the Gravelly Hill Interchange but from the air it looks like a plate of spaghetti.’ It was a lowly, and forever unnamed sub, who wrote the headline “It’s Spaghetti Junction!””

The sub wasn't actually "forever unnamed" - it was the inspiration of Birmingham Mail chief sub Alan Eagelsfield.

What of the road itself?

The design of the interchange is a lovely, logical solving of a complex problem. Ronald Jarman Bridle was set the task of fitting a six lane highway into a built-up area. That would be hard enough, but - as writer Joe Moran explains - he faced other challenges:

Spaghetti Junction was also finished just as the early excitement about motorways was curdling into disillusionment and anxiety about their effects on congestion and the environment. That is why, for such a complex junction, it is quite frugal with land, using just 30 acres. 

In order to pull off the brief, Ronald based the road around existing features, clinging it to the sides of existing rail, canal and river paths. This, though, had a knock-on effect - the pillars which supported the elevated sections had be designed so that horses towing boats on the canals could continue to do so without their ropes getting tangled up.

Although sometimes mocked, and often derided, at its opening Spaghetti Junction created quite a buzz. The mayor of Lancaster took advantage of the speeded-up connections between North and South to send then-transport secretary Peter Walker a rose; London, being London, responded by sending 243 roses to Lancaster. (One for each mile between the cities.) Walker himself described the opening of the junction as "the most exciting day in the history of the road system"; coach trips were arranged to allow those without their own vehicles to enjoy the experience of interchanging at Gravelly Hill.

And it is worth a trip in its own right - 18 different routes present their travellers, who are sorted and should flow easily onto the next stage of their journey. If you wanted to explore the whole thing, you'd have to drive 73 miles. And, every day, over 200,000 motorists wind their way through the junctions.

It's rather a beautiful thing, isn't it?

Futureroads: How will motorways be lit in the 21st century?

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