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OpenLearn Live: 16th September 2015

Updated Wednesday, 16th September 2015

When interest rates went above 3% a day. Then more free learning through the day.

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OpenLearn Live makes links between the world, and the world of learning and research. This page is updated during the day; there's also a Twitter feed @OpenLearnLive.

Yesterday, we previewed The Gamechangers, discovered how is attempting to solve the engineering crisis, and asked if your plates are too large

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Today's posts

Could trees help stop wildfires spreading?

The US is currently suffering another summer of wildfires - states of emergency remain in place in California, while Oregon and Washington have seen an incredibly destructive season. Even Alaska has lost five million acres to fire this year. What can be done to prevent these fast-spreading conflagrations?

One idea that's being proposed is changing the mix of trees in areas prone to fire. Planting cypress trees might create a natural barrier which could slow the advance of the flames, and give firecrews a better chance of bringing fires under control. The Smithsonian reports:

The trees are resilient and can grow in a range of soils, so Della Rocca and his colleagues suspect that they could be used to slow down and diffuse fires in a variety of settings. It might make sense to plant the conifers in California and other high and dry places that have been experiencing periodic fires, because the trees are hardy and can grow at altitude. It’s not as simple as planting seedlings in sensitive areas though. Anytime you introduce a non-native plant you risk damaging the native ecosystem. The species of cypress the group looked at is native to the Mediterranean, but Della Rocca says his team is doing additional tests to study the trees' effects in non-native regions

Read Can Cypress Trees Help Suppress Wildfires? at The Smithsonian

Read: Wildfire challenges in the Amazon

Read: Can bushfires be a blessing in disguise?

OpenLearn not live: Short time offline this evening

We'll be offline briefly this evening at 7.30pm, as some people attempt to unpick one of the knottier problems tucked away down in the courses pages. Apologies in advance, or, if you're reading this after we're back online, apologies.

On iPlayer now: Bringing Up Britain

Back after its rest last week, Bringing Up Britain returned to talk about divorce, separation, and the impact on families. Yes, Mariella and guests were someone thinking of the children - how do you share news of a break-up with them? Or should you try and stay together for the sake of the kids?

Listen to Bringing Up Britain on iPlayer Radio

You can also hear the programme on BBC Radio 4 at 9.30 this evening

Could the French system make divorces fairer?

Come on you blues - or maybe reds: The link between shirt colour and success

Does shirt colour make any difference to how football teams play? Would dressing in a different hue lift the fortunes of a fading baseball franchise? Candice Lingam-Willgloss explores:

Research by Hill and Barton (2005) investigated the link between uniform colour and match outcome in a number of different combat sports (boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling) at the 2004 Olympics, where competitors were randomly assigned either a blue or red uniform. Interestingly their findings revealed that that for all sports there was a consistent and statistically significant pattern that showed a greater frequency of winners wearing red than blue.  Conclusions can subsequently be drawn, based on earlier colour research, that this success is related to the psychological responses that individuals have to colour, in particular the perception that red is associated with dominance in the eyes of the opponent. Hill and Barton (2005) further suggested that this enhanced win rate could be reflective on an innate response to perceive red as a signal of dominance, however they did further surmise that colour would only really determine outcome in relatively even contests.

Read: The colour of success

The year since 'No'

It's been twelve months since Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. Gerry Mooney reflects on how those twelve months have changed Scotland - and the Union:

Writing this in Scotland there is no doubt that it feels a very different place. While it is at times hard to express this in words, the wider context that informs political debate and discussion has certainly changed and the wider constitutional debate has been a key vehicle of such change. The ‘Indy Ref’ has been the major catalyst that has brought forth a renewed interest in politics in Scotland, often expressed (and problematically expressed at that) as ‘anti-Westminster’ politics. It has also led to the widespread mobilisation of support for the wider independence movement – a social movement which has galvanised support among the young, disadvantaged, those often excluded from political discussion and debate and also those active across a wide range of social issues in many different parties, organisations and campaigning groups.

Read: Settling uncertainty?

On iPlayer now: The Gamechangers

Last night was the debut of the drama from the BBC and OU which told the story of how the rise of a computer game became a culture clash.

In The Telegraph, Benji Wilson praised the programme:

 Both Radcliffe and Paxton were excellent, with Radcliffe particularly beguiling as a young man both brittle and brilliant. It dealt with the moral issues with a balance and assuredness born of hindsight – the fact is that a decade on, the world hasn’t gone to hell in a handcart and video games haven’t led to a total moral meltdown. The handwringing over some schlock pixelated violence in games looks a little overblown now.

Nevertheless, The Gamechangers wasn’t glib in its analysis, re-enacting, in a particularly brilliant scene, the Alabama shooting filmed from behind the gunman’s head, the perspective swiveling exactly as it does in games like Grand Theft Auto, showing the extent to which gaming, film-making and real life have coalesced in modern culture.

Ryan Lambie, reviewing at Den Of Geek, wasn't as impressed:

Bill Paxton fares better as Jack Thompson, but this is largely because Paxton's seasoned and charismatic enough to make the most of a flat character. If the scenes at Rockstar feel like an extended episode of Nathan Barley without the self-awareness, the scenes at the Thompson household are like something out of The Stepford Wives; sure, we get that Thompson's doggedly determined to prove the link between violent games and real-world criminality in court, but we seldom get the sense that Thompson and his family are living, breathing people. Ironically, in a film about videogames, the players in The Gamechangers feel more crude and mechanical as the non-player characters in, say, BioShock Infinite.

DigitalSpy's Tom Eames saw parallels with the movie retelling of the Facebook story:

Carrying on with the Social Network comparisons, Joe Dempsie plays the Mr Wolf-like figure in Jamie King, who is essentially the Andrew Garfield/Eduardo Saverin of the piece. He plays him with a great deal of frustrated loyalty, and he and Radcliffe have great chemistry on screen.

The Gamechangers is beautifully shot for a TV movie. It cleverly uses elements from the Grand Theft Auto games in a way that works brilliantly on film, including the music, outfits, and even camera angles for some awesome one-shot takes.

Perhaps the best thing is to watch for yourself and make up your own mind...

Watch The Gamechangers on iPlayer

Read: Rockstar isn't impressed with the GTA Show

Read: Getting into water over Hot Coffee

BBC Four, tonight, 1am: The Last Day of World War One

There's another chance to see the Timewatch programme in which Michael Palin discovered that between the agreement of the Armistice, and the Armistice actually starting, the war continued to rage; soldiers continued to die. He uncovers a tale of how agreeing to peace turned into one last push.

Find out more about The Last Day of World War One

Podcast: Why the end of a war is a good place to start to understand it

This is 1990: The 3% a day interest rate

This week, our start-up segment is exploring some of the stories that won't appear in the plotlines of Shane Meadows' This Is England 1990. Yesterday, we visited the day one of the pillars of apartheid was demolished.

Today, we're heading to Brazil and the day interest rates peaked at an extraordinary level.

Sede do Banco Central do Brasil  - the Central Bank of Brazi building Creative commons image Icon Observatório dos Países de Língua Oficial Portuguesa under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license The home of Brazil's central bank

Normally, when inflation canters out of control - into and beyond hyperinflation - the concept of central bank interest rates becomes meaningless. In Weimar Germany, when (as described by historian Adam Fergusson) people started to collect pianos rather than save money, the price of borrowing money isn't entirely relevant.

But Brazil in the late 1980s & early 1990 managed a rare feat - inflation was out of control, but just about tethered to reality enough to not destroy the idea of the central bank quoting a meaningful interest rate.

However, the interest rate was so high, it makes the APRs quoted on payday lender adverts on daytime TV sound like a bargain. So high, in fact, that from June 1989 the central bank quoted rates on a daily basis - not in the sense of 'updating the rate daily' (although they frequently did), but in the sense of 'quoting the rate of interest to be charged on loans every day'.

These rates peaked on February 19th, 1990 at 3.626% a day. The effect of compound interest means that this translates to an annual rate of 790,799%. (As a comparison, it was an annual equivalent rate from Wonga of 5,853% that led to demands that something be done about the payday loans industry in the UK.)

This situation couldn't carry on for long, and shortly after interest rates peaked Brazil's new President Fernando Affonso Collor de Mello took action. In March, banks closed for three days to allow the introduction of a new currency, the Novo Cruzado; new taxes, a price and wages freeze and limits on overnight fund trading were introduced.

Although these measures did slow inflation - from an annual rate of 135,000% in March down to "just" 140% by May - the government couldn't resist demands to print more and more money in the following months, and inflation once again started to rise. It wouldn't be until 1994, and the introduction of yet another new currency, the Real, that Brazil's economy started to stablise.

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