Saturday, November 16, 2013

Links 16/11/13

While I slowly close in on the end of the third draft of the ongoing, some random stuff I encountered this week on the internets:

The moss mantis.

CV Dazzle make up which fools facial recognition algorithms.

'Reconstructing the rise of life during the period of Earth’s history when it first evolved is challenging. Earth’s oldest sedimentary rocks are not only rare, but also almost always altered by hydrothermal and tectonic activity. A new study from a team including Carnegie’s Nora Noffke, a visiting investigator, and Robert Hazen revealed the well-preserved remnants of a complex ecosystem in a nearly 3.5 billion-year-old sedimentary rock sequence in Australia.' 

 The first and last flight of Buran, the Soviet Union's space shuttle.

'Earlier this week, Nature got a rare glimpse of the National Wildlife Property Repository near Denver, a 1,200-square-metre warehouse where the US Fish and Wildlife Service stores 1.5 million items — most of which were seized by law enforcement when they were brought into the country illegally. It is an eerie place stacked with heads of tigers, bags of seahorses and boots made from crocodile skin.'

See also: The Whale Warehouse.

The evolution of Mars - 4 billion years in under two minutes:

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Grandfather's War

When I was born, the end of the First World War was much closer in time than the end of the Second World War is to us, now - a strange, sobering thought. And when I was growing up, there were still plenty of WW1 veterans alive. One of them was my grandfather, Albert Charles Austin. He joined the Sussex Yeomanry, and as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force fought in Palestine.  Here he is, with some of his comrades (the purple x is my mother's):

He fought in the Second or Third Battle of Gaza; afterwards he took a photograph of a disabled Mark 1 tank:

At one point he photographed Bedouin arms - flintlock rifles and pistols - abandoned, according to the writing on the back, in Gares Abud (possibly the village of Aboud):

And he was present at or shortly after the liberation of Jerusalem. Here's a photograph of Bab al-Amud, the Damascus Gate:

He was a Victorian, born before the first aeroplane flight in a shepherd's cottage on the Sussex Downs, one of eighteen children. And around the age of twenty he was taking part in a battle with tanks, and soon afterwards saw Jerusalem, then still largely contained within those walls without which, according to a hymn he must have sung in church, was that faraway green hill. But let's not romanticise his war too much. In May 1918, his regiment moved to France, and was involved in the Battle of the Somme of 1918.  And it was there, or soon afterwards, that he was taken prisoner, and spent the rest of the war in forced labour.

I'm vague about most details of his war service because he never talked about it. It marked him for the rest of his life: he was a taciturn, solitary man, and spent much of his time working alone, as a gardener. It marked his wife, my grandmother too, and their children, my uncle and my mother (who because of my father's war service had a deep interest in Lawrence of Arabia, but that's another story). Wars cast long shadows. But on this day I like to remember him pottering in his vegetable patch, in the green shade of a peaceful summer evening of the long ago. I like to think that digging was a kind of assertion. Not of victory, because that's too strong a word, too loaded, but of nothing more than his survival of history.
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