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OpenLearn Live: 11th August 2015

Updated Tuesday, 11th August 2015

The Google rebrand; continuing our week of Japanese Nobel laureates; plus more free learning.

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Yesterday: Meet the mesons; mapping sunshine; Rocky Horror and Reggie Perrin

See all the OpenLearn Live series


Today's Posts


Rosetta and Perseids make it a magical week for astronomy

Monica Grady explains why astronomers are getting a two-for-one deal this week:

At the same time that the Perseids are lighting up the night skies, 67P reaches its perihelion   – the point at which its activity is expected to be at its highest. This is a prime focus of the Rosetta mission : the spacecraft has been travelling alongside 67P for a year, observing development of the comet’s tail, how the nucleus has outgassed and where jets have formed.

Read Night sky puts on a meteor shower to celebrate...


BBC Two, tonight, 9pm: Are Our Kids Tough Enough - Chinese School episode two

Tonight, the second episode of the experiment which brings together Chinese teachers and English pupils is on BBC Two. Here's a quick preview:

Watch the preview: Are our kids tough enough? Chinese School

Missed last week's episode? Catch up on iPlayer

Read more about the episode

Join in the lively debate about the experiment

Read some of the media response to the first programme


Listen over lunch: The Infinite Monkey Cage

Our sort-of-daily, roughly-at-lunchtime recommendation of a radio programme or podcast that you could slap into your ears while you consume an appropriate amount of calories. Today, we're going to suggest this week's Infinite Monkey Cage, Radio 4's science-can-be-fun fest presented by Robin Ince and Brian Cox. The latest show explores forensic science - including the specialism of forensic botany.

Listen to show via iPlayer

Download the show as an mp3

Try our free course in forensic psychology


Google rebrands as Alphabet

Overnight, Google has announced that it is restructing its business and creating a new holding company, Alphabet. Here's some early reaction:

Jeff Jarvis: What Would Alphabet Do?

Google was also a technology company, working on projects that didn’t fit with that mission.

So this move lets Page and Brin move up to the strategic stratosphere where they are most comfortable. It lets them recognize the tremendous job Sundar Pichai has been doing running the company that is now “just” Google. It lets them invest in new experiments and new lines of business — cars, medical technology, automated homes, and energy so far, and then WTF they can imagine and whatever problems they yearn to solve. It lets them tell Wall Street not to freak at a blip in the ad market — though, of course, the vast majority of the parent company’s revenue will still come from Google’s advertising business.

John Constine: Google Shreds Bureaucracy To Keep Talent Loyal To The Alphabet

Alphabet effectively creates more independent fiefdoms for Google’s superstars to rule. Rather than being the senior vice president or “head” of something, now they’ll be made CEOs with more of the power that comes with such a title. These wardens will control their domains, while receiving help from the crown when necessary in exchange for all the money funneling up to Alphabet.

If it’s starting to sound a bit like Game Of Thrones, that’s because it is. Rather than one giant realm ruled by a single family, Google is dividing its empire into territories. By naming its most worthy servants as wardens of these kingdoms, it keeps them loyal to the throne.

Cade Metz: Alphabet now lets Google chase moonshots and stay profitable

With Alphabet, Page can show investors that the company’s bread-and-butter businesses remain highly profitable, even if the moonshots fail to turn a profit for years on end. The upshot of Alphabet is that, beginning early next year, the company will report Google’s core earnings separately from moonshot earnings—or lack thereof, as the case may be.

“There’s the core Google business, which is very very profitable and largely funds everything else, and there’s all the new stuff, most of which won’t be profitable for years,” says tech market analyst and consultant Jack Dawson, who has no direct relationship with Google. “By splitting off all the experimental stuff, they can show how profitable the core business really is.”

Jay Hathaway: Google Has Become Alphabet; This Means Virtually Nothing For You

“Alphabet” functions as a tidy metaphor for the company that mediates (and monetizes) nearly everything we do on the web, though. As former Gawker EIC Max Read pointed out, Google is positioning itself as the Alpha and the Omega, some kind of internet god whose control over our experience the name “Google” is too small and silly to encompass.

Read: Online branding - why all the silly names?

Try our free course: Products, services and branding


Japanese Nobel Laureates: Yasunari Kawabata

This week, our start-up segment is focusing on five winners of the Nobel Prize from Japan. Today, we're featuring Yasunari Kawabata - 川端 康成 - the first Japanese person to be awarded the literature prize.

Yasunari Kawabata Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Public domain image

His Nobel citation described as the award as recognising "his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind".

Kawabata's talent as an author was recognised early - his short stories were being published regularly in literary magazines soon after he graduated - and he quickly became a key figure in the Shinkankakuha movement. This writing clique, influenced by European art movements like dadaism and cubism, roughly translates as 'new perpsectives' - seeing Japan in a different way.

Although Kawabata suggests that his work was heavily influenced by the war, many critics struggle to find many thematic differences between his pre- and post-Second World War writing; his key themes of distance and isolation are as strong in his 1920s short stories as they are in his later novels.

His key works include 1937's Snow Country, centred on a love affair between a Tokyo urbanite and a Geisha in a provincial hot springs town; 1958's Thousand Cranes, an episodic work whose hero, like its author, was orphaned at an early age; and the 1949-1954 serial The Sound of the Mountain, a family saga seen from the perspective of fading patriarch.

In his Nobel Lecture accepting the award, Kawabata explained that Western readers should not confuse the bleakness of his work with more political themes found in similarly bleak Anglophone works. Instead, he placed himself firmly in an Eastern tradition:

The following is from the biography of Myoe by his disciple Kikai:

"Saigyo frequently came and talked of poetry. His own attitude towards poetry, he said, was far from the ordinary. Cherry blossoms, the cuckoo, the moon, snow: confronted with all the manifold forms of nature, his eyes and his ears were filled with emptiness. And were not all the words that came forth true words? When he sang of the blossoms the blossoms were not on his mind, when he sang of the moon he did not think of the moon. As the occasion presented itself, as the urge arose, he wrote poetry. The red rainbow across the sky was as the sky taking on color. The white sunlight was as the sky growing bright. Yet the empty sky, by its nature, was not something to become bright. It was not something to take on color. With a spirit like the empty sky he gives color to all the manifold scenes but not a trace remained. In such poetry was the Buddha, the manifestation of the ultimate truth."

Here we have the emptiness, the nothingness, of the Orient. My own works have been described as works of emptiness, but it is not to be taken for the nihilism of the West. The spiritual foundation would seem to be quite different. Dogen entitled his poem about the seasons, "Innate Reality", and even as he sang of the beauty of the seasons he was deeply immersed in Zen.

Yasunari Kawabata died in 1972; although officially described as a suicide - a death that many feel consistent with his writing - some of his friends believe it was more likely to be the result of a tragic accident; perhaps an inadvertent unhooking of a gas pipe.

He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968; it would be 1994 before a fellow countryman, Kenzaburō Ōe, would win the same award.

First step to a Nobel Prize? Find out more about creative writing at The Open University

Try our free course Start Writing Fiction

Read Yasunari Kawabata's Nobel Lecture

 

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