Tag Archives: Pivot Points

Well strung

The Deceived Wisdom: The classic Stradivarius violin has a unique sound that justifies the reverence with which these instruments are held and the million-pound price tags. That's as may be, but scientific analysis of Stradivarius violins reveals there was actually no secret sauce in the wood nor the varnish used by the luthier ClassicFM's Tim Lihoreau refers to as the Cremonese Creator. Indeed, repeated blind tests with expert listeners and virtuoso players has shown that they really cannot distinguish between the absolute top-quality modern instrument and a classic Strad.
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Dark matter – Missing you already

It's a moot point that perhaps only one of Einstein's papers went through the modern scientific peer review process and I often wonder whether an email received from him today suggesting that he's overturned Newton's work with talk of warped space-time and wormholes wouldn't simply fail at the first or second step of my "Fraudulent Invention Debunkifier" flowchart mentioned around this time last year on the Pivot Points column.
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Cloudy thinking on light therapy

The winter blues are commonplace (allegedly). Most of us in Northern climes have dull days when we'd like to float a little longer in the dreamy cloud of a warm duvet rather than tackle the cold, hard-edges of cloud computing and the day job. Limited exposure to sunlight and the feelings of lethargy it brings have even been medicalized in the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, a rather too convenient acronym, to my mind. However, there are studies that show that the so-called "winter blues" are actually more common in summer or moreover, that there is no seasonal pattern to misery and depression at all. That hasn't stopped a whole industry emerging from this "illness" selling light as a therapy.
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Food chemistry or food culture

As the last remnants of holiday dinners, lunches, high-teas, suppers and celebratory breakfasts are collated and one last binge with myriad mixed flavors indulged, thoughts turn to taste. Specifically flavor and the combinations thereof. We all know that celebrity chefs are gluttons for an odd mix: sweet and sour is nothing to the TV cook who garnishes peppered okra with crème Anglaise washed down with a curried champagne spritzer with a hint of flint. And there are those who wouldn't think of leaving the supermarket without a good selection of cheese and wine.
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Looking forward to Christmas

In the West, it's relatively easy to get caught up in the euphoria of Christmas, isn't it? Regardless of one's beliefs in the origins of the Universe and humanity's place in it, countless millions of us succumb to the fake snow and the artificial sentimentality. The twinkling lights, the shops full cotton polymer resin reindeer, the children's (and adult toys), chocolate goodies, the interminable loops of festive songs on the radio, the TV shows you just know were recorded in July but have jolly tinsel and baubles nevertheless. Then there are the parties, the lunchtime "Christmas" drinks, Secret Santa, the bustling shopping centres, the ubiquitous sound of a Jingle Bells sample in every muzak track. Oh isn't it all so wonderful?
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Hazardous chemicals crossing borders

Anyone who has stood in line to have their bags, boots and body checked before getting on an aeroplane will know that international borders are well protected. After all, that young mother with her squealing baby could so easily be carrying more than the requisite quantity of fluid in a plastic bottle in her hand luggage. The old gentleman with the walking frame? Who's to say he hasn't packed it with old-school sticks of dynamite ready to hijack an autumnal tourist flight packed with mini-breakers. That surly teenager's personal music player with its incessant "tss, tss, tss" and fragile glass touch screen? It could so easily be converted into a lethal weapon with a sharp blow to the arm of the aircraft seat releasing a shard of sharp glass with which to threaten the crew while they point to the exits and mime putting on an oxygen mask in case of the aircraft losing cabin pressure...
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Science of sounds

In his latest book, Harnessed, cognitive scientist Mark Changizi, reveals how and why language, speech and music exist, and why they are apparently uniquely human attributes that separate us, as a species, from the rest of life on Earth. A fact that also gives us special responsibility for the Earth, you might say. According to Changizi, the "lower" parts of the brain, the bits that recognise the sounds of nature, the scuffs, cracks and bangs, were hijacked by the "upper" parts of our brain and give us speech as we evolved from our ape-like hominid ancestors.
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