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OpenLearn Live: 16th November 2016

Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016

Where Doctors once acted, now real doctors perform - a trip to Pebble Mill. Do apps update too often? And post-truth: word of the year. Learning and research from across the day.

OpenLearn Live is sort-of like a kingfisher, if 'the river' is online research and learning and 'the fish' are the most fascinating pieces therein. We'll be updating this page across the day.

Yesterday we explored what Europeans call platypus, remembered Leonard Cohen and asked what the point of art is 

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

Climate change responsible for reindeer death

Grim news from the North - and just in time for Christmas, as researchers have made a link between melting sea-ice and mass deaths amongst reindeer herds:

Scientists interviewed nomadic reindeer herders in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug of West Siberia, the world’s most productive reindeer herding region, to examine how global warming is affecting their way of life. While rain on snow does not cause problems in spring, it can be catastrophic for reindeer in the autumn when rain turns to an ice crust as plummeting normal temperatures return. This crust, often several centimetres thick, prevents the reindeer from feeding on fodder beneath the snow throughout the winter months. Two extreme weather events in 2006 and 2013 caused mass starvation among the reindeer herds, and researchers for the first time have linked these extreme weather events in the coastal mainland in northwest Russia with sea ice loss in the adjoining Barents and Kara seas. The findings are published in the journal, Biology Letters.

The most recent rain-on-snow event of November 2013 resulted in 61 000 reindeer deaths, about 22% out of 275 000 reindeer on the Yamal Peninsula, says the paper, which warns that these events are now increasing in severity. In this paper, the scientists combined empirical data and modelling for major extreme weather events in 2006 and 2013 to find that the likely trigger was brief periods of Barents and Kara sea ice thinning during early November.

Read more at Oxford University: Reindeer deaths in the Arctic linked with retreating sea ice

Discover more about animal life in the ice

Do apps need constant updates?

If you've got a smartphone, you'll know that your device spends a lot of time and energy pulling down the latest versions of installed apps. But... are all these downloads strictly necessary? Maybe not, according to new research from UCL:

“There’s a culture among app developers of getting more releases out than your competitors, but our research suggests they should think more carefully before putting out a release, as it might bear very little benefit,” says Professor Mark Harman (UCL Computer Science), the senior author of the paper.

The researchers analysed 26,339 app updates released on Google Play over a period of 12 months, from 14,592 apps which had all appeared in one of Google Play’s ‘Top 540’ lists at least once in the preceding year. Using a novel causal impact analysis technique they developed, the researchers measured success by looking at user ratings and frequency of ratings.

They found that for paid apps, 40% of releases impacted subsequent user ratings, compared to only 31% of updates to free apps. Despite this, among the releases which made an impact, the free apps had more positive effects. Among paid apps, the most successful releases came from the most expensive apps.

Read the full release at UCL: Most updates to mobile apps don’t make a noticeable difference

Do NHS-approved mental health apps work?

Post-truth is world of the year

Oxford University Press, keeper of the nation's dictionary, has chosen this year's word of the year. It is "post-truth":


You can see the other words which made the shortlist at the OUP blog

More from OpenLearn on words

A week in Birmingham: Pebble Mill

This week, we're starting off each morning with a quick dip into stories from Birmingham. Yesterday, it was the invention of the copier. Today, we're going to a place that will make people of a certain age wistfully remember bunking off from school. (I mean, "remember being off from school unwell with a headache of some sort".)

Pebble Mill, home of Pebble Mill At One, the official point beyond which your Mum could no longer say 'well, if you're feeling better you should go to school for the afternoon'.

It took its name from the BBC Studios complex which it called home.

BBC Pebble Mill Studios in 1992 Creative commons image Icon Robin Vanags under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license

The name, though, was much older. You might imagine that before it churned out TV programmes, Pebble Mill was grinding wheat into flour, but actually the original 16th century mill was a fulling mill. These mills were part of the process of making woollen cloth. Fulling was the stage in which the cloth was squeezed to get rid of residual oils and grease, and originally this had been done by hand - or by foot. Pebble Mill, though, improved on this process by using a giant water wheel to drive hammers to squeeze the cloth until the impurities were out. (The activity was named for the fullers' earth which was used as a detergent.)

The pools that drove the mill wheel were drained in the 1880s after - apparently - a surprising number of people drowned themselves in the water.

The BBC came in 1951, seeking to unite West Midlands TV and radio productions on one site. It would take twenty years to get from buying the lease to actually opening the new building - an incredible span of time considering that programmes were only made in the studios for just over thirty years.

The opening of the regional HQ was performed by Princess Anne. The choice of dignitary to cut the ribbon had been fraught. Local rivals ATV had recently opened their studios by inviting Princess Alexandra; the BBC felt they, too, needed a royal, but one of the new wave of younger Royals. The corporation's then-head of Public Affairs had been pushing for either Anne or Charles - "one up the scale" from the Princess who had opened the commercial studios across Birmingham.

Besides the titular daytime chat show, and its jazzier, more laid-back Saturday night sibling Saturday Night At The Mill, Pebble Mill turned out acres of television during its three and a bit decades of operation - numerous Plays For Today; the original Top Gears; Countryfile. In its last years, a new generation of kids home from school were entertained by the first seasons of Doctors.

Radio, too, found a home at the Mill - contained within the walls was the whole of Borsetshire and The Archers; the Asian Network and Womans Hour lived alongside the various iterations of BBC local radio.

The end for the studios came as the process of making television changed. The old studios would need expensive updating for an HD era, but that wasn't all. The structure had concrete cancer - the steel inside the walls was rotting, and the Mill was crumbling.

The BBC decided to move somewhere else - Archers, Doctors and all headed into the Mailbox in the city centre. Meanwhile, the Pebble Mill buildings were demolished. Now, the site has a new purpose - it's a hub for a new medical campus.

For more on other iconic buildings, explore our building stories

Graphic design and the history of TV





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