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OpenLearn Live: 24th March 2016

Updated Thursday 24th March 2016

The mammals that hatch from eggs - and did Friends make us all dumb? Free learning from across the day.

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

Yesterday, we asked if Shakespeare has lost his head, and marked World Meteorological Day

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Today's posts


We're on a break

OpenLearn Live is going to enjoy an extended Easter break and will return with normal service on Monday, 4th April - but we'll have an Easter special collection tomorrow. However you're enjoying the break, have a great time and we'll see you in April.


On Grammar

Want to get to grips with grammar? We've got a short video introducing a new OU course that may interest you.


i, Robotish - with the cyborgs

People are electing to see if they can achieve better living through bio-circuitry. Frieda Klotz went to the cyborg fair to see what goes through someone's mind when they elect to plug themselves in:

Michael, who studies electrotechnics in Cologne, looks like a pretty normal guy, sporting a black T-shirt with a red alien on the front. And that’s the point: once the realm of piercers and body modifiers, tech implantation is fast becoming the territory of software developers, students and web entrepreneurs. Magnets allow users to sense magnetic or electromagnetic fields; RFID (radio-frequency identification) or NFC (near field communication, a related technology) chips, encased in biocompatible glass, can be programmed to communicate with Android phones and other compatible devices, allowing users to unlock their phones, open doors, turn lights on and off or even buy a beer with a literal wave of the hand. The connected devices of the internet of things are a gold mine for experimentation. Analysts predict that there will be 25 billion connected objects by 2020, and this swift rise gives implant technologies a wealth of new applicability and appeal. People with such implants we call cyborgs. And this event in Dusseldorf was dubbed ‘Science + Fiction: The world’s first Cyborg-fair’.

Read the full article: Half man, half circuit


Did Friends sow the seeds of the collapse of Western civilisation?

Friends, reckons David Hopkins, was a turning point in Western culture. And not one of the good ones, where we all start to head towards the light. No. The series' use of the smart character as the fall guy, as an easy punchline, helped coalesce an attitude towards knowledge and understanding that we're now seeing everywhere:

But the characters of the show were pitted against him from the beginning (consider episode 1, when Joey says of Ross: “This guy says hello, I wanna kill myself.”) In fact, any time Ross would say anything about his interests, his studies, his ideas, whenever he was mid-sentence, one of his “friends” was sure to groan and say how boring Ross was, how stupid it is to be smart, and that nobody cares. Cue the laughter of the live studio audience. This gag went on, pretty much every episode, for 10 seasons. Can you blame Ross for going crazy?

[...]

The show ended in 2004. The same year that Facebook began, the year that George W. Bush was re-elected to a second term, the year that reality television became a dominant force in pop culture, with American Idol starting an eight-year reign of terror as the No. 1 show in the U.S., the same year that Paris Hilton started her own “lifestyle brand” and released an autobiography. And Joey Tribbiani got a spin-off TV show. The year 2004 was when we completely gave up and embraced stupidity as a value. Just ask Green Day; their album American Idiot was released in 2004, and it won the Grammy for Best Rock Album. You can’t get more timely. The rejection of Ross marked the moment when much of America groaned, mid-sentence, at the voice of reason.

Read the full article at Medium: How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization

Watch our series The Language of Comedy

When comedy was crucial: A satire timeline


Egg week: Mammal eggs

Tomorrow is a Bank Holiday, and OpenLearn Live will be taking a break for a short while, so we're rounding off our week of notable eggs today. In case you missed any so far, we've explored these eggs:

We're rounding off the week with mammal eggs. Yes, mammal eggs. Laid by creatures like this:

An echidna Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: I_Love_Bull_Terriers An echidna

At school, you were probably taught that one of the ways you can spot a mammal is that they give birth to their young. It's the mammalian way. Eggs are for fish, and birds, and reptiles and... well, you get the idea.

Nature, though, has a habit of messing up the straight lines of science, and while nearly every mammal does give birth, there's five mammals which do it like a chicken does, and hatch out of eggs. These creatures are known as monotremes.

Only five species exist, and they're all types of echidna except (of course there's an exception) the duck-billed platypus. (If you were going to guess at a creature that behaves like a bird below the waist, you'd probably have gone with the one that looks a bit like a bird at the front end.) All these creatures live in Australia.

And, yes, they hatch. If you don't believe OpenLearn Live, maybe you'll take David Attenborough's word for it:

So how come these wonderful creatures are hanging around the back of science lessons coughing politely when a teacher writes "Mammal characteristics - live birth" on the interactive whiteboard?

Obviously, they weren't the only mammals which continued to lay eggs as they evolved. Australia used to be dominated by that type of animal. It's just that for mammals, that method of reproduction makes them less successful, and so were forced out of existence. Marsupials, keeping their little ones close, and tucked inside a pouch for warmth and safety were a better fit for the environment, and thrived. The monotremes were less successful - and, were it not for the ability of the platypus to take to the water, they might have vanished altogether.

Marsupials didn't compete in watery habitats, because their babies needed to suckle and were at higher risk of drowning. Extarordinarily, the fossil record suggests that at the point where monotremes nearly vanished, the echidna hadn't yet evolved.

So, the question as we head towards Easter is: when there are mammals which actually lay eggs, how have we ended up handing egg-delivery duties to a bunny? Surely it's time for the Easter Echidna to take its rightful place at the centre of these festivities.

Try a free course on mammals

See more from OpenLearn on natural history

Discover more about studying the life sciences with The Open University

 

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