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OpenLearn Live: 21st September 2015

Updated Monday 21st September 2015

A state that vanished before dawn; the value of expensive trainers; public fruit trees - and then more free learning across the day.

OpenLearn Live brings together the world we live in, and the world of learning and research. This page will be updated during the day - and you can also follow us on Twitter.

On Friday, the rugby cup started; there were new pictures from Pluto; and a scary clown reassured us about AI

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

Map for Monday: Public fruit trees

Our semi-regular feature focusing on an interesting map is back today, and we're sharing a crowd-sourced map of public fruit trees that, although inititally based on London, has started to spread its bounty over the wider United Kingdom. You'll discover crab apple trees off the Old Kent Road, the pear trees of Islington, and even a small apple tree clinging on to the side of the A1 just outside Dunbar.

Explore the Fruit City Tree Map

The Roman influence on modern gardens

Can a scorpion fight brain tumors?

Is it possible that the threateningly named deathstalker scorpion could soon help increase cancer patients' chance of surviving brain surgery? To be honest, we wouldn't have typed that question if the answer was going to be no, would we?

 We are “still in the Middle Ages” when it comes to cancer surgery, says oncologist Dr Jim Olson. “If you look at the rate of individuals that find out that they have bulky cancer left after their cancer surgery, it’s staggeringly high – for some cancers like brain cancer, it’s as high as 50 per cent. For some very common cancers like breast cancer, it’s 30 per cent.”

What excites him is fluorescence imaging – a technology that literally lights up tumours so surgeons can see them. This doesn’t just have potential: it’s already proving to be effective in providing real-time image guidance to surgeons. 

5-ALA, also called Gliolan, is a dye that makes brain tumour cells glow red under UV light. The drug is swallowed by patients 3–4 hours before their surgery, to give it time to accumulate in their tumour cells. It’s been approved for use in Europe since September 2007 but has yet to be approved in the USA, where it’s undergoing clinical trials; the US Food and Drug Administration has so far refused to approve it, citing that the original trial didn’t have overall survival as its primary outcome measure.

Read How is a scorpion going to help fight brain cancers?

Do expensive trainers do any good?

A lot of time and money is poured into developing expensive running shoes; this money is then recouped from runners pouring their cash into the tills. But does shoe technology really make a difference to performance?

Adidas Energy Boost trainers Creative commons image Icon Towne Post network under CC-BY-ND licence under Creative-Commons license Adidas Energy Boost Trainers

Some research, just published, has asked specifically if the Adidas Energy Boost trainer does, in fact help the wearer - or does it "boost energy return on running economy", to be more precise. The findings? 

 The results showed that VO2 and respiratory exchange ratio were significantly lower, and shoe comfort was significantly greater, in the energy return footwear. Given the relationship between running economy and running performance, these observations indicate that the energy return footwear may be associated with enhanced running performance in comparison to conventional shoes.

You can find the published research at the Journal of Sports Science

Read more about what makes a great athlete and their pathways to success

Listen over lunch: Precession (or the wobble of the world)

The world, you'll be aware, doesn't revolve around you, but around an axis. And it doesn't revovle smoothly, but wobbles about. Which would be fine, except when you're trying to use the rotation of the earth to calculate things - like calendars, and where the stars are. The Astronomycast podcast explores the phenomenon, and what you can do about it, in a special episode about precession.

Listen to the prescession podcast online

Download the precession episode

Try our free course The Big Bang


The value of Star Wars

How much money does Disney stand to make from the new Star Wars movies? A lot, on toy and tie-in sales alone:

The fact that the marketing around the latest Star Wars instalment has begun some three months before the release of the film itself indicates Disney’s belief in the appetite for merchandise. The amounts of money invested in all sorts of different products is staggering. Marketing Magazine reports that Hasbro, the toy and board game giant, has paid US$225m for the rights to produce toys and Electronic Arts (EA) has the rights to produce Star Wars games and is planning multiple titles across consoles, computers and mobiles.

From images of Darth Vader on cornflakes packets and Campbell’s soup, to t-shirts, purses and Stormtrooper dresses, the possibilities are endless. There’s even a makeup line “coming to you from a galaxy far, far away”, with lipsticks in colours like C-3PO gold and stormtrooper silver.

Read The five billion dollar franchise

On FutureLearn this week

In case the 900-or-so courses here on OpenLearn isn't enough for you, our friends in FutureLearn have a whole bunch of free, online courses available. Here's what's starting this week:

The pop-up states: The Russian Democratic Federative Republic

This week, for our start-up segment, we're going to explore some diplomatic anomalies - states which came into existence and then, for one reason or another, rapidly vanished again. Some of these were planned events; some accidental.

We're going to start with the The Russian Deomcratic Federative Republic, a state which didn't make it nightfall.

The Tauride Palace, in St Petersburg Creative commons image Icon Ghirlandajo under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license The Tauride Palace, where pretty much the entire history of the RDFR happened

The RDFR didn't collapse for want of proper preparation - it had a full constitution, and a fully-elected government. After Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated in the February Revolution of 1917, and the Bolsheviks had led an overthrow of provisional government which followed in the October Revolution, a provisional government had been put in place to arrange elections. These were duly held, while plans for the state were laid.

Unfortunately, in the election, the Bolsheviks failed to win over the Russian electorate, and between the vote and the meeting of the new Constituent Assembly, they worked to undermine it. By the end of the year, Lenin was pushing for the Assembly to meet simply in order to approve new elections giving more power to the local Soviet workers' councils. By the time the body gathered in the Tauride Palace, the atmosphere in Russia - always broiling in this era - was beyond feverish.

Rather than use force, though, Lenin had a quieter plan:

There is no need to disperse the Constituent Assembly: just let them go on chattering as long as they like and then break up, and tomorrow we won't let a single one of them come in.

As the clock edged past half past four in the morning, the "chattering" was continuing - so the troops did the equivalent of a dinner party host emphatically tidying up to hurry guests on their way. The Commandant of the Palace made an announcement:

The guard is tired. I propose that you close the meeting and let everybody go home.

The final moments of the Assembly formally ratified the new constitution, calling the Federation into being. Off home went the citizens of the new RDFR. When they returned in the morning, the doors were locked, the Assembly dissolved and - by the end of the day - the RDFR had ceased to exist.

Read: What is to be done about Lenin?

Listen: Fluid history





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