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OpenLearn Live: 31st August 2016

Updated Tuesday 30th August 2016

The brothers who started the mass production of aircraft. Then more free learning across the day.

Bringing together learning and research, and the things that matter to you, OpenLearn live will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we caught up with More Or Less, worked through a lot of tech stories, and measured the impact of turmoil in the Eastern Med

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

Transfer deadline day

Today's the day the transfer window closes, and football managers will be rushing to get their player purchasers through the checkout before the tills are switched off. Some large sums will be changing hands - but why are footballers so much more costly than, say, people working in a vital service? Engin Isin attempted to make sense of it:

The week that the Ronaldo transfer was announced was the week when London Undergound workers went on a 48-hour strike [External link]   over a new contract that demands about a 5 per cent increase. Many people were critical of the striking workers and it was frequently questioned whether it was right to ask for a raise when many were losing their jobs in a deepening recession. You could hardly hear a similar concern about the 100 per cent raise Ronaldo was due to receive. Why? Presumably we think Ronaldo, with his skills and talents, deserved it. But what makes us think that the skills and talents of workers who make the London Underground work are less worthy than Ronaldo’s footballing skills? We can surely survive without La Liga or EPL. Can we say the same thing about the underground?

Read: A footballer's worth

Does that money make a difference? Explore with our free course The Business Of Football:

Money will always be important to us because it is required to fulfil our most basic needs to live and it provides a degree of security and welfare. But the relationship between money and motivation is far from clear-cut especially in football where there are huge differences in wages between players and other staff.

To some, money may only be a potential source of dissatisfaction, because they work for other reasons. Herzberg himself viewed salary as a hygiene factor but our relationship with pay is probably more complicated than this.

Try the Business Of Football

The surface of Mars

The OU's Matt Balme has made a short video in which he explains how we map the surface of Mars. Watch it here on OpenLearn.

BBC Four, tonight, 10pm: The Forensics Story

BBC Four offers another chance to catch one of our programmes tonight, as it starts a rerun of Catching History's Criminals: The Forensics Story. In the first episode, we discover how forensic science made it easier to uncover the identity of a victim - the first step to uncovering a murderer.

Find out more about The Forensics Story

What can comedy do?

Mary O'Hara talks to comedians and researchers to see if comedy can do more than just a raise a quiet titter:

Only when Sophie Quirk links comedy to an established ‘serious’ subject, like politics, or to negativity do people think there is any value in it. “Just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s insignificant,” she says. “People think that [studying] fear must be very important. But laughter, the state of being amused – because it’s fun and exciting, that’s the reason it’s been neglected and that’s really, really odd.”

Research is exploring all kinds of aspects – from what happens in the brain when we ‘get’ a joke, to the cardiovascular benefits of a good laugh. It could also shed light on the nature of people who choose comedy as a career. For example, research presented in 2014 suggested that, despite their work, comedians had less activity in brain regions associated with the pleasure and enjoyment of humour compared to everyone else.

“This generation is when we are going to start seeing people studying humour like they studied intelligence,” Scott Weems tells me. “Humour may be the way of finally getting at what is special about the human condition… I don’t know if it will be in my lifetime, but we’re getting close.”

Read the full article: Can comedy change your life?

Short people: The Short Brothers

Because this is a short week (in some parts of the country; apologies to people in Scotland who are experiencing a five-day week), we're celebrating the lives of some people known by the name Short. We started yesterday with James Short who polished himself into scientific history with superior reflecting telescopes. Today, it's three Shorts for the price of one as we meet the Short Brothers.

The Short Brothers, Oswald (1883-1969), Horace (1872-1917) and Eustace (1875-1932) Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Public domain Oswald (1883-1969), Horace (1872-1917) and Eustace (1875-1932), photographed in 1909

These three were aviator pioneers. Their passion for flight had been sparked by balloons - Eustace and Oswald had established a business in 1902, selling coal-gas powered hot air balloons. They had some success, including a contract to supply spy balloons to the Indian army, but the company really took off (sorry) when Horace joined the others. This was the point in 1908 when the balloon business formally adopted the name Short Brothers.

Horace had been reluctant to join his brothers initially because he had other interests - he'd been involved in acoustic amplification with Edison's company and had worked on steam turbines with Charles Parsons.

They made contact with those other pioneering aviation brothers, the Wrights, and in 1909 Shorts acquired the rights to build planes to the Wright's design. Unfortunately, the Wrights failed to supply any actual designs, so Horace had to head down to the South of France to reverse-engineer blueprints from a finished plane.

They built nine biplanes in their factory at the Isle Of Sheppey, the first production line for aircraft in the world. The company started to experiment with its own design of airplanes, and found in the British Navy a voracious customer.

The outbreak of the First World War increased demand for Short's planes and flying boats; towards the end of the war, Shorts started building airships in massive hangers at Cardington. This endeavour was taken into public ownership in 1919, and became the Royal Airship Works. (The Cardington works have recently been revived as the home of the Airlander 10, currently the largest aircraft in the world).

The rest of the business remained in the brother's hands, and continuted to expand. Horace, though, had died in 1917, from a  brain hemorrhage which may have been linked to his enlarged forehead, itself a side-effect of childhood meningitis.

Eustace died in 1932, shortly after landing a plane. Flight magazine recorded the details:

Mr. Short had taken the little " Mussel " seaplane up for his daily flight on April 8, and when he alighted on the Medway after his flight, those on the slipway at Shorts' Works at Rochester noticed with surprise that he did not begin to taxy towards home, but kept his engine running, the machine taxying into the river bank, where it remained with the engine still running. When the boatmen who went out to tow him in reached the machine, they found Mr. Short apparently dead in the cockpit. He was taken to the sick bay at the works, where doctors administered oxygen, but without avail. It was subsequently ascertained tha t death was due to a clot of blood on the heart.  

Oswald was now the only surviving brother, continuing to run the company. Amongst the business' successes was the Sunderland Flying Boat. Although these were initially designed in the 1930s to serve the nascent international leisure and business flying market, they really came into their own during the Second World War. A plane which could land and take-off on water had obvious applications as a rescue vessel for stricken boats; they also proved adept in antisubmarine attacks.

By now, Shorts were manufacturing in Belfast - they'd orginally operated a factory there in a joint venture with Harland. Eventually the entire business would be focused on the Belfast factory.

As the importance of aviation in the war effort became clearer, it was obvious that the government couldn't trust the provision of planes for the RAF to private enterprise. In 1943, Defence Regulation 78 was invoked and the company was brought under government control.

Oswald remained involved in the business, at least in title, as he was made Honorary Life President. And the company - since privatised, and taken over by Bombadier - continues to carry the brothers' name.

Also from OpenLearn Live: Therese Peltier, aviation pioneer

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