Science & Tech
A day in the life of an astronomer I Christy Cooney speaks to astronomy professors to discover what goes on in their department
f sci-fi has taught us anything, it’s that physicists are enigmatic, white-coat types. They spend their days in laboratories, possibly in a warren of some kind far beneath the Earth’s crust, relaying their exciting discoveries back to the surface to be announced on the evening news. But after three years in Warwick’s Physics department, I’d begun to wonder whether this picture was entirely accurate. So I sat down with three academics from Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group to find out what really goes on behind the scenes. I started by asking Dr Danny Steeghs what an observational astronomer does day-today. “There are a few really impressive facilities that every astronomer wants to use. So
“...by observing white dwarfs, we get a glimpse into the future of our own solar system.” Boris Gänsicke you have to come up with a good idea and explain it well enough to persuade a panel of scientists that, from the sea of proposals, it’s yours that should get time on a telescope. Then with Hubble, for example, the time you get is counted in hours. So every second is used to collect data. Analysis of that data is very complicated so will keep you busy at a computer for months.” “We also apply for research funding for the University,” said Professor Boris Gänsicke,
who was recently awarded a £1.6million grant by the European Research Council to employ three researchers for the next five years, as well as three PhD students. “This grant is awesome,” he added, smiling. “There’s so much happening in astronomy at the moment and the extra brains will enable us to analyse all the data we have available.” So what areas of research does the group focus on? And why? Dr Elizabeth Stanway explained, “I work on very distant galaxies whose light has spent 12 billion years travelling through the universe to reach us. I use some of the largest telescopes in the world – those with 8-10m mirrors – to detect the light emitted by very young stars. We study the evolution of stars because to understand galaxies like the Milky Way, we need to understand the building blocks and processes that made them.” And at the opposite end of the stellar spectrum, Professor Gänsicke studies white dwarfs, burned out cores of stars like the sun. “We know that there are many solar-like stars with planetary systems that look similar to ours. We also know there are a very large number of white dwarfs and there is no reason to believe that they didn’t once have planets orbiting them. That becomes fascinating because it means that by observing white dwarfs and searching for signs of planetary systems, we get a glimpse into the future of our own solar system.” Among the group’s most notable observations are the fastest orbiting binary star system, with an orbital period of just 5.4
» Astronomers observe solar systems similar to ours photo: University of Warwick minutes, and the most distant gamma ray burst, at a distance of 13.11 light-years, ever observed. “We’re also currently building equipment that will form part of an observatory on a mountain top in Chile,” added Dr Steeghs. “It’s a small telescope that looks at as much of the sky at once as possible to try and spot planets as they cross in front of their stars.” On the surface, astronomy sounds very glamorous, but it involves a lot of data
crunching. Are the hours of analysis worth it in the end? “It’s not for everyone,” admitted Dr Stanway. “But understanding the universe is part of understanding where we fit into it. And it’s difficult to describe how much the moments of realisation and discovery, and knowing that you’re adding to our understanding of the universe we live in, make the degree of rigour and sometimes tedium on a day-today level, worthwhile.”
Ebola: the next global epidemic? F Jon Turvey tells us about the deadly ebola virus and how it could spell the end for the human race
ilms such as 28 Weeks Later, Doomsday and I Am Legend attest to the terrors of a global pandemic, and history has shown us just how susceptible we are to disease. Historical diseases such as the Black Death, measles and smallpox have overwhelming death tolls reaching 100, 200 and 300 million respectively. HIV is a pandemic significantly affecting regions such as India, China and Africa. In Africa alone, the AIDS death toll is expected to reach up to 100 million by 2025 – a similar number of deaths to those caused by both World Wars. There are many viruses around today that have the capacity to be even more lethal. Ebola is one such virus, being studied here at the University of Warwick. Very few viruses have caused as much stir amongst the medical community as ebola. It is classified as a Category A bio-warfare agent by the Centres for Disease Control. The virus causes internal bleeding and multiple organ failure. It can dissolve the connective tissue of the face, as well as liquefying the body from the inside out. These disturbing symptoms sound like an excerpt from the latest zombie
» An electron micrograph of the deadly ebola virus photo: flickr/AJC1 apocalypse blockbuster, but this is the clinical reality of ebola. Since it was first identified in 1976, it was believed that transmission was facilitated through contact with bodily fluids, keeping
cases relatively contained. Recently, however, Canadian researchers have carried out experiments showing that monkeys are able to catch the disease from infected pigs without direct contact, giving possible evidence that
the ebola virus could be airborne. Should we be worried? Ebola has a 90 percent fatality rate, and there is no known cure or vaccine. This makes it incredibily deadly. However, researchers have only seen the airborne transmission of ebola under very specific conditions so far. Ebola also debilitates the host very rapidly, meaning victims rarely have a chance to transmit the disease. Professor David Evans of Warwick University was kind enough to put our worries at ease. He said: “I can sleep easy at night, I am certainly not worried of a killer virus scenario; it is not how our life works. Our lives are far neater, and there is an exquisite elegance in the relationship between humans and viruses.” For the majority of us, viruses are not a threat to the human race, but we cannot rule out the possibility of a major pandemic. Even if we are struck by a tragedy which kills the majority of the population, we don’t need a large number of people to carry on. We are a remarkably resilient species and it will take something very extraordinary to push us towards the exit.
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It’s the end of the world as we know it James MacKey weighs up the impact of the increasing digitalisation of our listening habits
or over a decade now, the world of music has been swept up in a massive cultural shift towards complete digitalisation, a sea-change that has unearthed huge challenges to all musical traditions. The last few years have felt like a sort of illicit utopia, where the internet has thrown open the doors to a vast record store, where the entirety of recorded sound lies tucked away, waiting to be taken and shared infinitely. We are perhaps the last generation who remembers a time before this world of opportunity was a mere click away, and the new immediacy of it all seems wonderfully progressive. Traditional geographical boundaries to musical discovery have all but dissolved. The idea that anyone can upload something instantly onto SoundCloud or YouTube and beam it to any corner of the world is thrilling. As is the fact that we can, within seconds, download or stream any obscurity… We are obscenely lucky. The listener is riding the wave of this Age of Information’s individualism. Almost infinite power lies at our fingertips, not only in our ability to sift through an immeasurable resource of history, but also in our capacity to dictate the direction of the industry’s ever-mutating evolution. The shadowy supremacy of file-sharing and the unique interactivity boasted by Spotify both cater chiefly to the listener’s needs and wants. And yet, it’s hard to shake the feeling of something being lost. This surge of individualism has created a culture where personal experience is seen as the definitive goal of new technologies. Our laptops and Smartphones are at once the most intimate items we own, and the most alienating. Our lives have become dependent upon the digital and transitory, an existence which is ultimately self-involved. The triumph of the listener has been the triumph of solipsism. We are forever browsing, entangled in a private world of temporary access, not possession. And there is simply too much: keeping abreast of only a handful of blogs is a Sisyphean task. So we’ll box-tick our way through, download an album which will sit
» Has cyberspace done irreparable damage to the industry? photo: Flickr/ Bert Boerland unloved in iTunes, barely listened to, consumed but not digested. Sheer ease of access, which previously took lifetimes to obtain, has merely served to numb emotional connection and patience. Trying to have a conversation with someone about music, my brain feels washed out when I try to remember whether I even enjoyed something. These machines have given us access to an unprecedented realm of music, and entirely warped our perception of it. As our cultural experiences become submerged in the digital, nostalgia for old formats and practises is ever growing. The web may bombard us with the entirety of history, but we feel the lure of yesterday in an altogether different way. For all the advancements of the last decade, we are forever looking back. Nostalgia often seems like the notable feature of our generation. Perhaps we seek to replicate the eras we’re told had a common energy, whose soundtrack was vital and real. Contrastingly, recent music seems fractious, and it speaks volumes that the past decade will perhaps be remembered for technological advancements over musical ones. But perhaps this nostalgic sentiment is more than contrived romanticism. I think back to my fondest memories of music, those moments of giddy joy so unique to musical experience. I tend to find none of these revolve around personal digital devices. And so we look back. Vinyl and cassette
sales increase yearly; their tangibility and crackle speaks to our yearning for something solid that has failed to melt into the web, something that has lived, and been loved. A fetish for the analogue may seem regressive to some, but it speaks to people’s love of the cheek-flushing, visceral sensation of music filling a room. It’s important to stress that any calls for the ridding of digital music are plainly absurd and backward. No new system can be built around diminished formats, and defeated industries. But those fond memories are memories of moments in time: music must reclaim its role as unifying force of social engagement, away from a solipsist detachment from narrative and romance. We must question how to harness all that seems progressive in modern listenership and maintain the warmth and immediacy that we seem to pine for. These technologies that are so integral to our lives must begin to fulfil their potential to breakdown boundaries between the listener, the music, and the artists. The promise of interactivity must preclude interaction with something outside ourselves. This state of digital flux can be considered disorientating, but it offers up boundless possibilities rebuilding something from the clutter floating around the web: something concrete and alive, which we all can cherish. Then maybe we’ll begin to look forward with a longing nostalgia for the future.
Foals Holy Fire
Palma Violets 180
Album Reviews C2C Tetra
C2C’s debut album has more of a geography to it than a narrative. Showcasing an ability to blend electronics with nigh every genre or quality with which you could label music – as demonstrated superbly by the juxtaposition of the gospel-like ‘Happy’ with the ethereal ‘Give Up The Ghost’ – the French quartet all the while maintains its central theme of electronic euphony, which itself is epitomised by the scratch sounds and perfect progressions of ‘Down the Road’. MP3: ‘Down The Road’, ‘Delta’ Robin James Kerrison
Call that a comeback? Why Fall Out Boy’s return runs a risk
At first glance, Holy Fire seems to be the perfect union of Foals’ first two albums; the angular, needling guitars of Antidotes combined with the atmospheric ambience of Total Life Forever, creating a varied, accessible selection of songs. However, looking below the surface, the majority of the album lacks progression or excitement. While there is a solid base of songs here, some fans will be left unsatisfied that Foals have fallen short of the high standard they could, and should, have scaled again. MP3: ‘Stepson’, ‘Moon’ Oliver Beard
Yet another band to be tentatively and tiresomely championed “the saviours of guitar music”, Palma Violet’s garage-rock revivalist shtick appears - from opener ‘Best Friend’ - to possess a tad more of the raw energy seemingly lacking in groups like The Vaccines. But it’s the band’s refusal to diverge from this boorish, scuzzy stomp that deflates any potential for an interesting take on the genre, rendering the album’s pervasive lyrical clichés all the more offensive. MP3: ‘Best Friend’ Ed Graham
all Out Boy have reunited following a three-year hiatus from the music business, spurring a US tour and the release of new single ‘My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up)’. While the drawn-out title is typical of the Illinois group during its heyday, the song itself is not. Swathing Patrick Stump’s vocals in sluggish production reduces his usually impressive range to a monotonous mess. Sure, the hook is mildly catchy, but it lacks the frenetic energy that made the likes of ‘Dance, Dance’ so popular. So, classic Fall Out Boy it isn’t. But the letdown of their latest offering begs a larger question: are band reunions worth it? Take That are possibly the most notable recent example of a successful band reunion. Major players in the booming boy band market of the 90s, they made a resurgent comeback to the music scene in 2006 as their album Beautiful World reached number one in the UK charts. Their success is testament to the band’s adaptability. Take That have not so much returned to old ways as forged a new path through the world of pop music by replacing boyish ballads with sweeping synthpop anthems. In fact, Progress, their second album since reuniting, was such a break from the norm that the band even “considered changing their name to The English,” writes NME’s Luke Turner. Clearly, reunions can be done with a degree of success. But should they? While reuniting is not an embarrassment in and of itself, it is difficult for fans and critics alike to dampen their lofty expectations and embrace new material that deviates from an act’s obvious strengths. 15 years in the making, the Guns N’ Roses LP Chinese Democracy was one of the most eagerly awaited albums in recent memory prior to its release in 2008. It faced a mixed reception by the time it finally arrived in all its bombastic glory, though frontman Axl Rose’s constant reshuffling of band members and persistent delays ensured that his reputation had been sullied along with that of his now-unrecognisable band. Group dynamics will inevitably change, and the reasons for a band’s split are unlikely to disappear lightly. Following their 2009 hiatus, Fall Out Boy’s members set about working on musical side projects that strayed from their musical origins, with bassist Pete Wentz even turning his hand to writing a novel. To judge Fall Out Boy by their first forays into their return would be remiss. And yet first impressions indicate that, in a musical environment where repetitious hooks dominate the charts, there is little place for the gleeful pop punk histrionics of Wentz and co. Above all, it is difficult to justify this reunion as reinvention on the band’s terms. Rather, it smacks of a forced change of direction; an attempt to fit a square peg in a round hole. This is not to say that Fall Out Boy’s reunion may not yet be successful. Perhaps, though, it is best to remember the feats of a band in their prime while recognising that they can no longer replicate them.
@BoarMusic firstname.lastname@example.org theboar.org/music Ramsey Marwan
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“Women don’t paint very well...
...it’s a fact,” said Georg Baselitz this month – Helen Cobby presents her rebuttal
» Georg Baselitz taken by Lothar Wolleh, 1971 photo: Wikimedia Commons
aselitz’s recent claim that “women don’t paint very well” and that art should be “brutal” has caused a great stir. He is intentionally provocative. He comes across, and indeed deliberately positions himself, as a lucky and wealthy man, with such prestige that he feels he can say anything he likes and get away with it. Although his ideas are outrageously ridiculous and can be offensive, his views force us to re-assess the impact essentialist notions of gender still have upon art and the art market, and vice versa. Some say we are in a postfeminist society, but here feminism definite-
ly comes in handy. Baselitz is a German artist who emerged after the war with all guns blazing. He rebelled against abstraction, wanting to paint the chaos of post-war Germany as it was. Like many of his contemporaries, he explored what it meant to be German in a modern world filled with pain, humiliation and denial of societal and psychological traumas. He revived German Expressionism (which had been denounced by the Nazis) and remade the human figure central in painting as a way to display harsh realities and the tragic atrocities of what man can do to man.
So when he claims “there is a lot of brutality in art. Not brutality against others, but brutality against the thing itself, against what already exists,” this is what he could mean: art is about ‘showing’, ‘confronting’ and ‘facing’ problems; it is about stabbing at what is there. In this way, he configures a bold, blunt and brutal definition of the ‘truth’ of art, what it should be, and how it should be executed. Baselitz’s controversial statements could be seen as being born out of Adorno’s theories about good art ‘grinding away’ at an issue and being like a riddle; it is enigmatic and does not form a static or complete whole. This subtle link suggests that Baselitz is all for the viewer working meaning out for themselves: it’s about waking up rather than anaesthesia, waking up and seeing the true horror of humankind – in this case, a generation of brutalised male artists. So when Baselitz says ‘women can’t paint’ he could mean that women artists normally work issues out in a different way from men. Often, this is done in a way that wounds them in the process. Of course, Baselitz is wrong about women artists being ‘unable to paint’ – and more to the point, being unable to paint with strength, conviction and even ‘brutality.’ Take Paula Rego – she definitely paints without fear. There is a comparable ‘darkness’ and confrontational aspect to her work, particularly in her fairy tale paintings. Baselitz’s argument configures art as power, and even destruction. These are both traits that are figured ‘unfeminine,’ which reveals the extent to which Baselitz is positioning painting as a masculine practice, and by extension, is defining modern art as a violent, shocking phenomenon. He does seem to rely on problematic essentialist definitions of masculine and feminine, reading men and women as intrinsically distinct, which in the end does not allow agency for either gender. Baselitz uses the market as a strong focus for his argument. He claims women are incompetent painters because they don’t know how to respond to the demands and imperatives of the market due to their gender. So he implies ‘difference’ is sociologically inscribed in the market. By using these essentialist arguments he is trying to make his argument
non-negotiable. In this way, he emphasises how art is at the mercy of the commercial market; its values and inclinations are dictated by current trends. Although we may agree with this, judging the value of (all) art on its market value is missing the point. Painting for the art market is very different from painting for other reasons – commercial art needs to be sensational, shocking and overtly eye-catching in order to sell. Furthermore, specifically judging women’s painting by ‘the market test’ is futile because historical, misogynistic discrimination is a dominant factor over skill that is determining its value. This gender bias seems to be entrenched in painting more than any other medium, so could this spark into debates about the hierarchical divide of art mediums and practices as a whole? If so, Baselitz is definitely treading on thin ice. Baselitz’s argument is particularly problematic because he is not critiquing the nature of the market and its impact upon artistic practice and perception. He is exposing the market, deconstructing it and battering its logic, only so that he can place himself within it and re-inscribe gender essentialism. He is not trying to tackle any of its problems. Indeed, he is just trying to set himself apart, as he has done throughout his artistic career, trying to throw a new perspective over things in order to make money and establish a prominent position. He is not critiquing his own privilege but attempting to add to it in a one-sided and self-interested way. This illustrates that art is ultimately about power. Baselitz is trying to stabilize this power for his own ends. So although his argument is clever, it is entirely self-serving and devious. It distorts and perverts artistic production as a whole because it manipulates and relies upon the current capitalist system. His motive to make money is particularly pertinent because his own art suffered significantly in the market last year as collectors didn’t seem interested in any of his later work. His interview with Spiegel acts as a fresh image for him, a new advert to revive interest in his own work. It is not really about women’s painting at all, it is just about him and his ego.
What’s on Richard III
The Bride and the Bachelors
6 - 9 March, 7:45pm, WAC, £6.50 concession
14 Feb - 9 June, Barbican Centre, £7 concession
WUDS bring us Shakespeare’s horrific but hysterical 15th century History.
Acclaimed show of that ArchConceptualist Duchamp and his followers.
BalletBoyz: The Talent 2013
The Anatomy of Melancholy
4 - 5 March, 12 - 15 March, 7:30pm, WAC, 7:45pm, WAC, £16.50+ £9.50 concession concession One of the most Reworking of a 17th century medical cheekily original and innovative (and some) self-help manual. Sounds forces of modern outrageous! dance.
New Art West Midlands
Tom Stade Totally Rocks!
Schwitters in Britain
15 Feb - 19 May, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, FREE Emerging artists from five West Midland art schools exhibit art of all kinds.
7 - 9 March, Belgrade Theatre, £16
14 March, 7:30, WAC, £15
Tate Britain, £8.60 concession
Canadian comedian Tom Stade calls himself “part devil, part dude” – mischievous & charming.
Tate’s gone kitsch with the help of Kurt’s cutting & sticking. Art historians call it ‘Dadaist destructiveness.’
Moscow Ballet, La Classique bring us a magical love story with much make-belief.
@BoarArts email@example.com theboar.org/arts Rachel Guthrie
Netflix comes up trumps
Raghav Bali on Netflix’s gamechanging, high profile, political drama, House of Cards
» “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?” Kevin Spacey photo: whats-on-netflix.com Raghav Bali
s this the beginning of the end for broadcast television? Grandiose statements aside and context forefront, in House of Cards, on-demand internet media streaming service Netflix has produced a monolith of a show, a significant stepping stone to resting among the great networks producing high-quality television like BBC, HBO and AMC. Not only is it one of the very few shows to be released exclusively on the internet but also the most popular TV show in the world according to IMDb. Not bad, for the company you thought was simply ‘the one that ain’t LoveFilm’. Adapted from the BBC mini-series of the same name that aired in 1990 (this time -swapping the tenure end of Margaret Thatcher with the modern age of the smartphone) House of Cards follows Francis Underwood, a powerful Democratic US Congressman who is snubbed the position of Secretary of State following the election of a new president. Accompanied by his equally formidable wife Claire, he responds by constructing a slow, methodical and amoral scheme, manipulating every politician, lobbyist, reporter and common citizen as pawns in his political war against those who broke their promises. Kevin Spacey, the face and primary driving force behind the series inhabits the role of Francis beautifully. His South Carolinian accent may initially give you a chuckle but Spacey dishes out brutality and elegance in equal measure with great proficiency and flair. Robin Wright, who plays Francis’ strong-
willed wife, confidante, and head of possibly the most unscrupulous charity since Kony 2012, excels particularly in her onscreen rata-tat exchanges with Spacey. Similar things can be said about the young Kate Mara who plays the sly and quick-witted reporter Zoe Barnes struggling to climb the journalistic ladder while juggling office politics. The show bolsters equally prestigious talent behind the camera in the form of David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club and The Social Network), arguably the greatest filmmaker of his generation. Fincher’s distinct colour palette paired with an orchestral score creates a
It is the most popular TV show in the world according to IMDb. Not bad, for the company you thought was simply ‘the one that ain’t LoveFilm’
more unique cinematic tone for the show and his fondness for intellectually literate scripts like House of Cards really shows. It’s clear the series borrows heavily from Shakespeare. Claire in particular evokes a more nuanced and less erratic Lady Macbeth while Francis’s tendency to break the fourth wall feels strongly influenced by Richard III. You won’t be able to help but squeal with joy when Spacey gives the odd smirk or eye roll to the audience. Although it might be refreshing to know what the character is thinking at all times, a lot more subtext could go a long way in building atmosphere rather than a simple
spelling out of plot points. However, a lot of the show’s strength comes from its compelling characters in particular its convincing portrayal of women in power without forgetting the undercurrent of sexism still apparent in political and journalistic culture. All in all it’s a familiar tale of one man’s revenge in an unfamiliar setting (Capitol Hill) executed with real panache. Perhaps what is even more fascinating than the show itself, is its distribution system. Netflix’s decision to release all 13 episodes of House of Cards online at one time rather than the usual weekly broadcast was a bold move, one that left the audience and potential viewers divided. The truly great benefit of this method is its ability to provide 40 countries with a new TV series simultaneously. Hopefully, gone are the days where we have to wait impatiently for our favourite American or Scandinavian imports to cross the ocean and grace our screens (though, you and I both know there are ways around that). This is a potentially huge step in the battle against piracy, especially since the price of the subscription is relatively small given the extent of their collection of films, sitcoms, reality shows and even anime. Essentially by cutting out the middlemen and the advertisers, Netflix has provided a platform for which original content can be produced to satisfy the needs of both the marathon viewer and the casual viewer. I can already hear the screams of approval from Art students with Mondays and Wednesdays off emanating from Rootes. The dawn of this type of internet television isn’t without its flaws. Linear television pro-
vides the audience with an indirect sense of community whether you’re watching it with friends, or live tweeting it with a bunch of strangers. Perhaps internet television draws more parallels to reading a book. Although you watch at your own pace, it’s a given fact that the sequels take much longer to come out (ahem, George R.R. Martin...), so don’t expect season two of House of Cards to be hitting your screens anytime soon. Most of all however, it’s the longer lasting sense of euphoric anticipation while waiting a week after a jaw-dropping cliff-hanger that I enjoy about linear television. ‘This is the beginning of the end for broadcast television’ say the pro-marathoners. ‘You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment’ riposte the traditionalists. What is most likely going to happen however is that both internet and linear television will continue to co-exist together, because effectively they are two sides of the same coin. As long as live or ‘event’ television exists, so will traditional TV broadcasting. So perhaps it’s still too early to throw the Freeview antennae in the bin just yet. Even if House of Cards seems like a $100 million investment by Netflix to keep subscribers from leaving, one cannot deny that without needing to persuade every demographic to watch new shows, there is significant promise for programmes with a specific niche being developed. Hell, one of the most esoteric but funniest American television sitcoms in the last decade, Arrested Development, returns with 14 new episodes concurrently released in May on Netflix. I wouldn’t be surprised if the economy stagnates that day.
@BoarTelevision firstname.lastname@example.org theboar.org/tv Sam Steiner
Imperial College Business School was an ideal choice due to its prestigious reputation worldwide. Simran Bedi Imperial College Business School graduate, previously studied BSc Economics at Warwick University
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