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OpenLearn Live: 5th November 2015

Updated Thursday, 5th November 2015

The dog who uncovered an amazing cave, and a very short introduction to Boolean logic. Then more free learning through the day.

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OpenLearn Live brings free learning into the heart of your world. This page will be updated during the day, and you can also follow us on Twitter.

Yesterday, we took a first look at the new communications proposals, and caught up with colour and weather

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Today's posts

Listen now: BBC Inside Science

Just finished on the radio, and now ready whenever you are, it's this week's edition of Inside Science. On the agenda today: Boole, grid cells, and how your brain shapes your life.

Here's a tiny taste, with a really quick introduction to how Boole's yes-or-no logic basically makes computers work:

Download the full episode now as an mp3

Listen on iPlayer

Find out more about the programme

'Dickesnsian' lung disease

Some worrying health news from UCL today - they're reporting that bronchiectasis, which had been thought a disease consigned to the past, is on the rise amongst British pensioners. The university is describing it as being at "Dickensian" levels. What's quite surprising is that you're more likely to be affected if you're better-off:

The new research, published in the European Respiratory Journal, used anonymised GP records covering 14 million patients from across the UK to identify those with a diagnosis of bronchiectasis. The research found that bronchiectasis is surprisingly common and becoming more common, especially in older people. The disease affected approximately 0.6% of people aged 70 or over in 2004, but this increased to 1.2% in 2013. The condition was more common in women and among people with higher socio-economic status. Furthermore, the mortality rates in people with bronchiectasis were twice as high as mortality rates in the general population.

“Bronchiectasis is historically associated with untreated chest infections when antibiotics were not readily available,” explains senior author Jeremy Brown, Professor of Respiratory Infection at UCL and consultant at UCLH where he runs a bronchiectasis clinic. “We found that the disease has had a resurgence in recent years, particularly among more well-off members of society. This could be partly down to improved diagnosis in these groups, but whatever the reason we need better treatment options for patients.”

Read the press release at UCL

Read: What is epidemiology?

There will be fireworks

Remember, remember, the fifth of November, or perhaps the closest weekend if you're going to an organised display.

Yes, it's Guy Fawkes' Night in the UK - and also, interestingly, in Newfoundland, Canada, where they also mark the day. Shortly after a previous one, The Southern Gazette explained to its readers:

Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, is an annual tradition with a rich history in Newfoundland.

Just last Wednesday, Nov. 5, several communities on the Burin Peninsula, and many others around the province, celebrated the occasion.

In Marystown, several hundred people gathered at the Track and Field Complex where the town sponsored a large community bonfire. There were even fireworks, leftover from this summer's Come Home Year celebrations, unused because of poor weather.

Fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night are a bit of a rarity here, but not in the United Kingdom where the event originated hundreds of years ago.

If you're a regular reader of OpenLearn Live, you might remember a few weeks back we heard the story of the church at Stoke Dry, which had (slightly overinflated) connections to the Gunpowder Plot:

The church, according to myth, was one of sites where the Gunpowder plot was pulled together. There's little evidence that any plotting actually took place in the church porch - it hangs mostly on Sir Everard Digby, scion of the local landowners, having been one of the plotters. It's not even clear how deeply connected with the plot Digby actually was. He was the only conspirator to hand himself over to the authorities when the plot was discovered; while held in the Tower of London he tried to put his case to James VI/I - leading some historians to suggest he was a naive dupe who was in over his head rather than a hardcore would-be regicide. Either way, he was still hanged, drawn and quartered for his treason.

But what of the fireworks themselves? Here's a simple guide to the science of explody whizz-bangs:

A key ingredient is the basic blackpowder (later known as gunpowder) mixture that was originally discovered by 8th century Chinese alchemists. In fact blackpowder has been used as a major constituent of fireworks since the early firecrackers made by the Chinese in about AD1000. The English monk Roger Bacon introduced blackpowder to Europe in the 13th century. This explosive material consists of sulfur and charcoal (a fuel), mixed with potassium nitrate (an oxidizer).

Dog week: Robot

This week, we're celebrating the achievements of some remarkable dogs. Yesterday, it was Bosco the dog who confused the Chinese government. Today, we're marking the discovery made by Robot the Dog.

Trace of Lascaux French cave art possibly depicting a cave hyena Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Public domain Trace of French cave art possibly depicting a cave hyena

This isn't about robot dogs - K9 will have to wait until another time, I'm afraid. Instead, this story is more of a real life Famous Five adventure, as it's based on a trip to the forest made by four children and their dog. This all happened in 1940, in Montignac in the Dordogne. The kids - Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel and Simon Coencas - were searching the woods, convinced there was a hidden passageway linking Montignac castle with Lascaux Manor. And, as children tend to assume, any hidden tunnel must be stuffed with precious items.

They did make a discovery, though, and it was more valuable than any forgotten jewels.

Their dog, Robot, was running ahead of them, and he found a small depression in the ground. Excited, he started sniffing around the hole - presumably where a tree had fallen, unheard, in the woods. The children, convinced Robot had found the tunnel, rushed over and started to explore the opening. After using science (dropping stones in and listening for the echo) to check it was safe, they used their penknives to make the hole into an entrance wide enough to crawl through.

You can tell this is a story from history, as it features not just children playing unsupervised in the woods, but taking knives with them when they did.

Oh, and they had an oil lantern, too. Which, once in the hole, they used to look around.

And by the light of that lantern, they saw paintings depicting animals, etched on the wall by long-dead human hands. Robot the dog had uncovered what is now known as the Lascaux Cave Paintings.

These paintings - perhaps 20,000 years old - feature over 2,000 figures. Their discovery was double-edged; from a historical and anthropological perspective it was an extraordinary moment, but their status as a tourist attraction started to threaten the survival of the paintings. Crowds of visitors disrupted the environment in the cave, and some of the paintings started to vanish behind moulds and lichens. In the early 2000s, a symposium was called and plans drawn up to allow visitors to explore the legacy of the caves, without damaging the caves themselves.

And Robot, the dog who started it all? Robot drops out of the narrative quite quickly - but Jacques Marsal remained connected the caves, acting as their guardian until his death in 1989. But for Robot's curiosity, it is possible the caves would remain undiscovered to this day.

Explore ancient sites in the UK with our walk around Kilmartin Glen

Meet more remarkable dogs in our Hound Hub





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